This is the story of The Trees Community, a semi monastic Christian group that left NYC on a bus in 1971 on a journey of faith. When most of our money burned up the first night, we relied on God for all our needs and he provided! We traveled the United States growing in our new faith, finding a ministry in music and eventually becoming artists in residence at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine. Seven years, seven "stories" are woven into this amazing journey.

The Long Goodbye: Leaving Pecos

The Trees in Pecos, New Mexico 1973

Almost from the moment we arrived at Pecos, it seemed to me we were preparing to leave this idyllic place. All throughout March, our last month at Pecos, I kept thinking...soon we must leave...please let time slow down... I found life at the monastery to be exactly what I thought we needed, a perfect blend of monastic life, daily work, an excellent venue for our musical ministry, and time to learn and grow spiritually. Unfortunately, Shipen and Canon West did not see it that way. New York City was a siren call luring us to return.

On our first day back after the tour we slept in until noon - miraculous! Then we put on a concert for the priest’s retreat, performance number 41 to us. It was interesting getting feedback from the Pecos brethren who commented that the music was beautiful, much tighter than when we left and our diction had improved. Afterwards, I went for a long walk along the Pecos River enjoying the white, snow capped mountains and the sunny New Mexico countryside – savoring and enjoying it.

The next day was a quiet day of rest for us. I practiced my harp, watched some TV and we had a family meeting. Shipen called Canon West to give him our weekly update. We had so hoped he would be able to come visit but he was still quite ill with shingles and it had spread all across his chest. It was clear he couldn’t come and though he offered, Shipen convinced him that it wouldn’t be wise. I was extremely disappointed because I had hoped that if Canon West came to Pecos, he might realize the monastery was the perfect home for us. Now he wasn’t going to come at all! Just great.

March 3rd we drove to Santa Fe to perform for the young people in the gym at St. John’s Prep School. Father Gregory of Pecos came along to help out. The hour-long program included all our uptempo songs as well as Radiant Joy. Following our concert, the students’ rock band performed. Pretty soon we were out twisting and shaking along with the kids. Finally we drove home to Pecos.

Sunday was another day of rest for both our communities. David Lynch, Father Gregory, Sarah and I drove up to Terrarro Canyon and went exploring in a mile deep mysterious cave. Shipen and Steve went on a long hike. David and I were at the point where the family allowed us to show some outward affection (holding hands, sitting together, etc.) but that was it. I still hoped Shipen would come around to the idea of allowing us to be married within the community but in the meantime, I tried to enjoy David's company as much as I could.

In one of the beautiful meadows at the Pecos Monastery

Preparations kicked into high gear for the day when we would uproot and leave. I found this increasingly hard to face. Each day after dinner, I would go walking in the cow pasture and look back at the familiar adobe buildings, trying to memorize them against the backdrop of the distant mountains. I listened carefully to the cadence of our friends’ voices, wondering when I would hear them again. I rode Maggie the priory horse bareback through the pasture, down near the river, and alongside the road into town. I kept thinking about how much this place matched my vision of everything that was dear to me: horses, good friends, mountains, beautiful atmosphere, a perfect mix of seasons, a river to swim in, enjoyable daily work, time to write and compose, sharing a cabin with my best friend Sarah, time for religious study and growth, a solid, workable marriage between our two communities, and a home base from which to go forth and tour. Here was one community where we didn’t feel swallowed up or pressured to join, where we were welcomed as a sister community and supported in our ministry. Would New York be as good as this? Would we be able to afford to live there? Would we survive the hectic city life? Reluctantly, I counted down the waning days as I grew more and more nostalgic facing our impending move.

I think Shipen on the other hand was eager to return to New York. He wrote Canon West laying out our concerns, hopes and expectations:

March 4, 1973

Dear Father West

We have reached home and falling exhausted only to begin again in four days for seven concerts in Albuquerque, the tens days rest and another 30-40 concerts as we begin our trek back to New York.

There are many things I should mention to you now so that our return will be somewhat in order. I will tell you our hopes and expectations.

First we hope to spend a considerable amount of time dealing directly within the witness of the Cathedral, that is to be formally connected in some way to its intensions. We are not coming to New York to satisfy our needs in the secular world and would prefer to work directly as religious serving the church. We would look for such work in whatever way it is available. There are seven of us.

Also we are a little worried about the quarters and food, and have told Rodney that we wouldn’t mind pitching our tents on the Bishop’s back lawn.

We are not tremendously rich but, if all goes well we should be able to enter the City with a little over $1,000.00, but the problems with our bus are almost continual and it needs constant attention = money. Hopefully if we continue to do concert tours, we may find a better solution. The bus has been a good friend and a nice home, but it is tired and in need of a long rest. We are in hopes of finding a lonesome Greyhound somewhere and a sympathetic donor.

Our work could include the possibility of concerts wherever specified by the Cathedral, the area of cultural exchange not excluded, again depending on sponsorship.

We would need an area of rehearsal and study and have had secret hopes concerning education in the Schola Cantorum, all of us salivating for all kinds of instruction as you know. You will find us still quite crude but willing to listen and to improve.

We hope as a perimeter group in the Christian life, to offer you a full musical and testimonial presentation of the experiment. In other words we would like to bring home what we have found for your consideration. In the past two years of journeying in the unknown reaches of discovery, we do now feel that we have something specific to offer, and hope for a reception of some sort, then to discuss the relative merits of our work as minstrels in modern Christianity.

Income is always a problem if we are not performing. All concerts to this point have been by donation only and we have had no secure income for over three years and have learned to deal with this insecurity in a secure way, namely, faith. We don’t like the idea of being charity cases, and yet we are not interested so much in making the buck any way we can. So far the Lord has not provided us with a patron, and the list for needs for the symphony is long and expensive. We are still playing broken down guitars and rusty zithers. Some of the musical directions we wish to explore are gravely hampered due to this problem. Again faith will reign.

These are the minimal necessities and we would appreciate some correspondence as to what to expect upon re-entering the city. As I said, we can live in the bus if necessary. In fact, it may take a little doing to get us out of it.

With love in Christ,


On March 6th we finished morning chores, rehearsed then packed and left for a short series of local concerts, beginning with St. Adains Episcopal Church in Albuquerque. While families gathered for a pot luck supper, we tuned and prepared for the concert. Sometimes I wished we didn’t have to adhere to the rule of always eating after the concerts, especially when there were mouthwatering smells pouring in from all kinds of delightful homemade foods. Rules are rules so my stomach growled as I kept tuning the harp and tamboura. At 7pm, we performed an hour-long concert of quieter, more reflective selections without the crucifixion and resurrection songs or the “up tempo” songs. Unfortunately, we had agreed to play for donations and we barely took in enough money. By the time we finished, there was not a spot of anything left at the potluck so we had to use the few dollars we made to pay for our dinner at a local Chinese restaurant. Grumpy, tired and starving we finally got to eat at 10:00 p.m. Eating chop suey and rice sitting slumped around the table, we realized we were still mentally, emotionally and physically drained from the California tour. It was midnight before we reached our next stop and slept in a cold, deserted parking lot outside St. John’s Episcopal Church.

At 5 am in the morning on Ash Wednesday the janitor for the church banged on our door wanting to know what we were doing parked there and insisting we had to leave. Stumbling to the door, Shipen groggily explained we were performing there and still a bit huffy the janitor left. We struggled out of bed, dressed, held morning prayers and then went out to breakfast. Returning to set up, we rehearsed for most of the afternoon. At the Ash Wednesday service, we opened with Daughters of Jerusalem and played most of our music, leaving out the rowdy banjo songs, ending with Fervently we Pray. Dean Haverland commented in perfect Anglican fashion, “Splendid show!” Then we were off to Jeff Sells for dinner with their emerging community, a brief time of sharing, then we were split up into different households for the night.

For Lent, Shipen and Sarah decided to give up cigarette smoking (which later turned in to merely moderating their smoking), I gave up seconds at meals and no snacking in between. We all renewed our commitment to one another and laughed about last year’s fast at Redeemer and how the “soup” evolved from thin broth to a four-course meal in a bowl!

On March 8th we met for breakfast followed by rehearsal at St. John’s. We worked on the Baptism section, which was finally starting to come together. We learned the afternoon concert was cancelled so we continued rehearsing. Sarah and I both had nasty colds that were getting worse. Father Cruise had arranged an 8 pm concert, so we packed everything back onto the bus and drove to the University of New Mexico to set up. Unfortunately, right after we parked, the University’s police pulled up and informed us we would have to move immediately or be ticketed. When we tried to comply the bus wouldn’t start, so we pleaded with them and they agreed to let us stay till after the concert. We rushed in, set up and were disappointed when only 20 people showed up for the concert! Whether for 200 or 20, the show must go on. Of course, we received no money either.

After a jump-start, we limped over to a Union 76 truck stop and ate at the restaurant while awaiting repairs to the alternator. What was the Lord trying to tell us? Take it easy? Don’t spread yourselves too thin? How much thinner could we get? At 1:00 am we left Albuquerque but north of Santa Fe the bus immediately began sputtering - again. We pulled into a GMC dealership at 3:15 a.m. to wait until morning when they opened. Laughing and joking about the ridiculous hilarity of the situation, we finally got to bed at 4:30 am!

Two hours later at 6:30 am, David rose and arranged for repairs. Due to the noise, the rest of us woke at 8:30 a.m. Tired and faced with a $102 repair bill and three concerts scheduled for that day, some of us sick, and all of us worn to the bone, we wondered why was the Lord letting this happen to us? With the bus still not ready, we tried to figure out what to do and realized that we would have to cancel at least two of the concerts, if not all. When we called the woman who set them up she was very upset, but we patiently explained that there was nothing we could do. Reluctantly, she cancelled the afternoon concerts, then drove over to pick us up. We squeezed all the instruments into her vehicle and then drove to her house for naps since sleep had been impossible in the noisy dealership. By 4 pm the bus was allegedly fixed so we picked it up then drove to Valley View United Methodist Church in Espanola, New Mexico and set up. At 7:30 we walked out and were amazed to see a huge audience of over 200 families. We found them amazingly responsive and we enjoyed ourselves despite everything.

Weary travelers, after a week on the road we drove home to Pecos and slept in. With our impending departure in just twelve days, Father Gregory spent nearly every day visiting Sarah (and us). They had become good friends over the past months and I suspected he had a crush on Sarah. He had been a total gentleman but nevertheless, his visits raised a few eyebrows among the Pecos nuns and monks.

Steve and Shipen seemed to be caught in a creative outpouring, working madly on all kinds of new and old poems, stories or songs. Ariel continued faithfully rehearsing his cello and arranging concerts for the journey to New York. We worked on polishing up the rough edges on the Temple and Baptism oratorios. Slowly, reluctantly, we started the tedious packing-up process and also worked on a little surprise for the brethren at Pecos.

On March 15th we had arranged to play a special farewell musical evening for the monks and nuns since a new retreat was beginning the next day and there would be no other opportunity. After rehearsing solidly from 9:30 in the morning until 7, we still didn’t feel prepared and were scurrying around handling last minute details.

8:00pm showtime. We had set up Shipen's big army tent from the Loft with candles, lanterns and rug. Dressed in our old robes over which we wore our nomad’s serapes we whisphered last minute prayers and then solemly marched into the room as David played a simple shepherd’s melody on flute accompanied by drum. As the last chord sounded we quietly split up, some went into the tent, David K began lighting lights, while Sarah and I served sassafras tea to all the Pecos brethren. Sarah then announced the evening's unusual proceedings. From the tent came the sound of meditative music played on koto, balangi, cello and flute which continued while I read the Bishop’s Shepherd boy poem. Then, the music moved from pensive and mysterious into the song Radiant Joy on acoustic guitar and flute, (a song taken from one of Canon West’s books.)

One by one we stood up and gave as truthfully as possible our personal testimonies of thanksgiving for the many ways we had each been blessed during our eight months stay here. I could hardly hold back my tears when it came to be my turn. Next we sang The Pecos Song - a silly song David Lynch about our Pecos friends.

Next we played the new additions – the Temple song, Wilderness Garden and Baptism. This painted a picture of the struggles of Jesus’ early years, the temptations and personal trials he went through. Shipen then related this to our family’s trials and growth, sharing about our period of darkness prior to coming here and thanking the brothers and sisters for their prayers and quiet, unspoken support. This was followed by Steve’s song Sometimes I feel Distant and his poem, King’s Grey, followed by Madeline L'Engle’s poem 104th Street Broadway Bus in remembrance of her prayers and our loving connection to the Cathedral set to random, odd plucked notes on koto and balangi.

The evening ended with embraces and many tears. How special those incredible brothers and sisters had become to us over the past seven months: Fathers David and Alquin, Brothers Clarence, Gregory, Bruno, Aaron, Albert, Gil, Louis, Michael, Joe, Gerard, Jack, Miles, Sisters Judy, Margaret, Mary Jo, and all those dear monks and nuns. The dearest to my own heart was Sister Margaret Miller who shared a cabin with Sarah and I and with whom I had worked, sharing many wonderful conversations.