David Lynch, Melody, Stephen, Mary and I picked up a drive-away car and headed west. I was dropped off in Detroit, Stephen went on to Texas, and David Lynch drove on to L.A. with Mary and Melody who stayed in Long Beach, California. I hoped it would be a healing and reflective time for all of us before the start of another busy fall schedule. I stayed with my folks in their new house on Green Lake in West Bloomfield, Michigan. I felt ground down to the bone so I spent a lot of time sleeping in, relaxing, and just sitting by the lake writing or visiting with my family. I loved not having to do or be anywhere. I especially enjoyed doing only my own laundry!
November 7-14, 1974. Most of us returned from our vacations refreshed and re-energized! David, Mary and Melody had stopped at Our Lady of Guadalupe Monastery in Pecos on the way L.A. and had pictures of them posing next to the Abbot’s huge pig.
They visited the Grand Canyon, the Petrified Forest, San Juan Capistrano and stayed in L.A. at David’s sister Lizzie’s apartment. Everyone had stories to tell about their vacations. Great fun! Only Shipen and Stephen seemed to have had the least enjoyable time.
When we returned to our apartment we found our subletters had left a terrible mess! There were dirty dishes in the sink and filthy counters and floors. It took at least three days of scrubbing and cleaning to get things back in order. Then we had to pack up the bus for a concert at St. John’s Church in East Hampton, Long Island. It took some persuading before we were allowed to use the parish tables for a platform but once again, Melody came through with her adept persuasive abilities. We played several concerts for the teenage youth group, who were rowdy but enthusiastic.
On Tuesday, Shipen asked us to gather together because he wanted to address some things that he felt we needed to talk about. He launched into a long discussion focused on the idea of personality traits, each of our characters and mindsets and then we discussed who tended to be chronically unhappy, who was always dreaming for something better, who was an incurable romantic (me), who was a realist, etc. He suggested that being locked into one of these mindsets created ongoing problems. (Shades of Clear Children!) Melody shared a vision she had that Shipen would be facing some kind of a crisis or trial in his life soon. [Which came true! More on that later.] I enjoyed the discussion and thankfully it was free of anger or hard feelings.
We returned to our rigorous schedule of daily offices and prayers, which now consisted of six “offices” a day: Vigils, Morning Prayer, Mass, None, Vespers and Compline.
November 14-21st, 1974. I went back to working four days a week in the Cathedral gift shop earning $95 every two weeks. Others worked on the winter tour to start in January. At the next chapter meeting we talked about new costumes and after a rather heated argument, agreed that the men would wear off white tunics and the women’s would be salmon colored and flared with an empire waist. Then we planned a Christmas party and sent out over 150 invitations. Melody wrote out our Christmas letter in tiny, elaborate calligraphy, which we then had copied. Next we watercolor painted each one before sending it out to our mailing list:
This year began (at the height of the energy crisis and in the dead of winter) with a tour of New England. Needless to say, these two factors made the tour as much a trial of endurances as a missionary adventure. Yes, we returned to the City for the close of Lent amazingly refreshed and looking forward to our first Easter at the Cathedral.
Our second tour to Maine and Vermont began April 20th. We did not know it as we set out from the Cathedral but this tour was to mark the end of an era for us. On May 1st, three years to the day from the time the white school bus had first been furnished, it died. As we were returning to New York, the main crankshaft of the bus shattered near Hartford, Connecticut. Though breakdowns and repairs had always been a part of the bus story, this time we did not repair the bus. The expense of doing so was simply too great, yet it was with sad hearts that we stripped out the bus insides and began an era of U-haul trucks.
From the moment we got on that first rented truck, there was never any question in our minds that the Trees would have to have another bus. There was great questioning, however, as to where money for a bus was to come from. A tour of New England and Canada was scheduled, to begin August 9th, yet as late as August 4th there seemed to be no source of money for another bus.
The story of the week of August 2-9 would read like a bus driver’s Miracle Manual but we choose to think of it as a plain old nightmare. A “new” (1954) diesel road bus arrived (literally) hours before the Group was scheduled to depart. The new bus has had its share of ills – serious and otherwise – but at the time of writing it seems to be running well. Propane has been installed for cooking and heating. Cupboards of barn wood have been built. A mural has been begun on the ceiling and the interior is well on the way to being finished. Several new novices arrived in the Group just about the same time as the new bus. Mary, who had been planning to join the Trees for over a year, left her job at a chemical laboratory in Rochester, New York, at the end of July and joined the Group at the start of the Canadian Tour. Mary is quite an accomplished pianist, with a high soprano voice, and her descants add a distinct touch to our music. Melody, a geologist, joined the Trees a week after Mary did. At the time of this writing, two more new members are expected to come in January, Stephen’s brother and sister-in-law, Christopher and Patricia, should be with us on the Winter Tour. Since David K. left the Community this November to return to school, the Trees should number eight when we leave for Florida and Texas, January 16th. (Most of our friends know that Ariel and Sarah left the group just over a year ago. Ariel is now working in Florida and Sarah attending school in Michigan.)
This year has not only been an eventful one for the Trees, it has been an end and beginning of sorts. We’re often asked how we manage to live and grow, where we get money to continue. We, ourselves, sometimes wonder at what response to make to such questions. With $5,000 debt for the “new” bus facing us and the ever spiraling costs of inflation that trouble our world, we can only respond that somehow we do manage and we seem to be blessed in our managing. Many of you have asked how to go about making contributions to the Trees. Checks made payable to: The Cathedral of St. John – Trees Group, are tax deductible and are used to continue both the music and our community life.
We all hope that this year has been a blessed one for each of you and that Christmas and the New Year will be filled with all the riches of Chris.
A Blessed Christmas, 1974 –
The Trees: David, Shishonee, Stephen, Mary, Shipen and Melody
On Sunday, November 17th, we performed at St. John’s Church in Larchmont. Father McKenzie provided a delicious lasagna dinner in his rectory the night before. I found him to be a kind, affectionate and quiet man with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes and a humble, unassuming manner. We got along quite well with both he and his wife. For the Sunday Eucharist, we interspersed our songs throughout the service and the response by this upscale congregation was warm and enthusiastic.
That afternoon, I took a peaceful, leisurely walk along the shore of Long Island Sound. It was a cool, sunny day and as I strolled along the white sands, it seemed particularly beautiful, desolate and wild. Swans ventured close to shore and the sun warmed my skin as I walked. I found myself thinking about David Lynch and our relationship. What had become of the two of us? We were drifting further and further apart and I wondered why we ever got together in the first place? Was it really love or was it just a matter of convenience? It was only a year ago that we’d been getting ready for an engagement party. What had happened?
The Trees with the Omega Dancers 1974
November 21-28th. Carla Desoto, leader of the Omega Dancers, suggested that we experiment with a combined presentation of music and dance. Shipen had his doubts that he expressed rather pointedly, but we agreed to try it. We rehearsed with the Omega group for several weeks, sometimes practicing in the front room of our apartment, sometimes rehearsing over at the Cathedral. The dancers decided on costumes that would blend nicely with ours. Carla Desoto, Peter Maddan, Dorita and Antonia, and Kateri Terns were some of the dancers. We arranged for a joint dance/music concert at New York University’s Washington Square Chapel and hauled our instruments by subway for a rehearsal there to get used to the space. Meanwhile, Canon West was adamant that we should continue to perform at the Cathedral so we started our weekly Saturday concerts again in St. Savior’s Chapel. On the first afternoon there were about 40 people but gradually word spread and we began to play to groups of 60, 70 or more. Since we were all squeezed into such a small space, many people spilled out onto the floor in front of us and alongside the chairs. Sometimes, after concerts, we would get chatting with people who then came over to our apartment for drinks or dinner.
On Sunday, November 24th we borrowed the Dean’s car and drove to NYU chapel to give our first dance/music performance. As we played Psalm 45, the Omega dancers moved gracefully in front of us, dressed in yellow leotards and gowns while we were dressed in our festive off-white bell and tassel adorned robes. It was a grand success!
Thanksgiving, November 28, 1974. Stephen baked six loaves of our famous sourdough bread (raspberry, pecan, and marmalade), Melody baked four loaves of lemon bread, I made two loaves of my banana nut bread and we brought all this to serve at the Dean’s breakfast along with tea and coffee and juice. Shipen was away in St. Croix with Rodney Kirk and Richard for a vacation but we still managed to sing Make a Joyful Noise Unto the Lord without him.
Canon West made his typical theatrical entrance to the breakfast and then sat enthroned at the end of the dining room table somewhat grumpily since he had previously informed us that he “detests this ill-placed holiday.” For Thanksgiving dinner, we all marched over to Carla DeSoto’s apartment for a real feast along with about 40 or so of her friends so off we went, brining our friend Arthur Eaton along. Thank God for that because two important things happened that night: Arthur met Carla and they hit it off right away (and eventually years later they were married). Unfortunately for me, as the evening progressed I noticed that David Lynch and Dorita seemed to be spending a lot of time with each other. I found myself singed with jealousy. Is it just my imagination or are they flirting with each another! I must be over-reacting. He wouldn’t do that to me. They’re just talking, right?
November 29-December 5th. I continued working in the gift shop, bringing in $180 for the month. Melody wrote a grant to try to get funds for our musical mission. We had some long discussions about becoming incorporated (for the grant) and better ways to promote ourselves. There were 75 people at the Saturday afternoon concert but even with a collection plate strategically placed up front, we didn’t net very much from the performances. Usually along with a little money would be flowers, notes, food, or other offerings. The current line up of songs was: John lived deep in the Wilderness, Koto, Eastern Sky, Annunciation, a reading, There is Such a Love, Your Name, Come my Way, the Village Orchestra and we ended with Praise God and spontaneous singing.
December 6, 1974 – My 23rd birthday. I really wanted a rabbit but instead Mary made me a white apron with a rabbit appliquéd on it. We had a huge chef’s salad with all kinds of bowls of extras like eggs, croutons, onions, ham, mushrooms, olives and French dressing (my favorite!). There were the usual chronicle readings, punch for all to drink (spiked of course) and two marvelous cake failures in keeping with our family tradition: a Pineapple Tough Side Down cake and an angel food cake with meringue covering it. When Shipen went to cut into it, the meringue actually exploded and pieces of white cake flew all over the room. None of us could keep from laughing, even those who had skipped the punch! Gifts were new shoes stuffed with cashews, perfume, toys and an apple which when opened had two tickets to the Nutcracker Suite inside.
As we listened to a Firesign Theater tape, I couldn’t help but notice that once again Dorita and David were chattering away in a corner of the room. Despite the festivities, I felt depressed that he could one, not only invite Dorita to my birthday party when we were still technically engaged but two, blatantly flirt with her in front of me. I felt quite alone surrounded by all the gaiety.
December 7-14th. As part of our religious education, Canon West suggested we enroll in various classes at the new seminary based at the cathedral aptly called the Cathedral Theological Seminary. Mary and I signed up for Biblical Theology taught by Canon Johnson. All of us signed up for Canon West and Madeline L’Engle Franklin’s class on writing sermons. On December 8th we played Fordham University for a service with about 350 people that was simulcast on the radio.
Meanwhile, my suspicions from the party were confirmed when I noticed David spending more and more time visiting his new friend Dorita. This left me churning with jealousy and emotions. I could not understand his attraction to her and I felt abandoned, angry, sad and hurt all at once. What was so special about her? Why didn’t he still love me?
December 9th. As another part of our education, Melody was instructing us in Church History. After the class Shipen launched into a monologue about what our position was within the framework of the Episcopal Church. He lectured about our past, in essence saying that we had been deprived and needy in terms of our insecurities and came to the Church for nurture. That now as our integrity as ministers of God’s word had grown, we could be a more active ministering force within the Episcopal lay community of the Church, that the clergy in church were a social class which seemed to have promoted a “stand back and let the priest do it all” attitude in their parishes. He continued that we should desire to be recognized as an incorporated religious ministering body (i.e. like the women’s guild) in the Episcopal Church. He said that having a written rule, order and monastic order within the Episcopal Church and having hands laid on us by the Bishop was no longer our direction. Oh. Really. He said we were now an active musical community of liturgical artists working for a revival of good liturgical art in the church. Hmmmm.
Since Canon West was hard at work shaping us into a monastic community, this seemed to be a radical new direction Shipen was now advocating. However, as often happened when Shipen began “preaching”, by the time he was done, I was convinced what he was saying made sense – at least for that moment anyway.
After vespers, our guests for dinner were Jack Bailey, a theology professor from Ann Arbor, and his wife. After eating, we played Psalm 44 for him explaining it was “a work in progress.” After hearing it, he asked if we had a tape recorder. When we said we didn’t he immediately offered to buy us one. We accepted gratefully (and he did!) but I wasn’t sure his wife was too keen on the idea by the way she glared at him. (Praise God for Jack and that tape recorder as we used it to tape Psalm 44 and many other songs that would otherwise now be lost!)
December 10, 1974. At our chapter meeting David suddenly announced that he and I had agreed to officially annul our engagement and henceforth he was disbanding from any emotional or personal attachment with me. What!? Is that so? It was news to me! He explained that he felt it would help us regain our own personal values and integrity as individuals in the family and would help end many of the emotional problems in the family. Baloney! Everyone listened then said they agreed and thought it was for the best. I was quite taken aback and sat quietly, nursing my wounded spirit. I was still in love with him but I realized he no longer loved me and that he had, in fact, fallen in love with Dorita! That was more to the point than all this stuff about disbanding from personal attachment in my opinion.
Later in the day I saw Canon West for confession and poured out my heart to him. After going on and on about it, all he had to say was “Were you shocked or surprised?” Both! So he was no help either and I suspected David had already been discussing the matter with him since he didn’t seem phased in the least. I wanted him to console me, offer advice or at least help me feel better but he gave his usual blessing and swept off. I sat in St. Savior’s chapel praying and sniffling until a huge group of tourists approached so I left.
From then on David was maddeningly bright and cheery as if he had no regrets at all. He was either off visiting his new friend Dorita, or brought her to the apartment. Meanwhile I fell into a haze of despondency and depression, feeling sorry for myself.
The Chapel at Greer School in Hope Farm, New York
December 14th. We drove to Greer Children’s Home in Hope Farm, New York and spent the evening relaxing and eating with the pastor there. On Sunday we performed for the children who clearly enjoyed themselves. Our early Christmas gift was a surprise donation of $100 (sorely needed!) and our pick of a Christmas tree. We drove home and decorated the apartment with fresh greens and our traditional tree.
It was at that point I noticed a subtle shift in our lifestyle that I found very disturbing. Our daily routines gradually were breaking down in almost imperceptible ways. The unspoken general philosophy from the men was that every person should be free to pursue his private life and go about his own personal business, i.e. go out to a movie with friends, go to a bar, or stay somewhere else overnight. Only one’s community life should be the concern of the rest of the family. Did this flow from Shipen’s new view that we shouldn’t be a monastic religious order? Was it because Shipen, David and others wanted the freedom to go off and date or stay out for the night? It was disturbing to me and all I could think was that it would bring about the destruction of our family if it got too much more out of hand. I poured out my worries and discontent in the chronicles but that didn’t help. Something was very wrong…
December 20th was our grand Christmas party. Shipen and the troops cooked for hours until there were hundreds of meatballs (four kinds), smoked turkey, salads, breads, cookies, candies, stuffed eggs and all kinds of goodies. A huge gourmet feast was spread out on our brass table. Candles, wreaths of green pines (from Greer Children’s home), and soft kerosene lantern light adorned the room. On another table was punch laced with 150 proof rum, hot cider and buns. At first we thought no one was going to show up, but eventually most of the Cathedral folk came over, the dancers and other old and new friends dropped in and even Chauncey Parker appeared. There was singing of Christmas carols by some, wonderful conversations and it was a great party with everyone meandering around enjoying themselves. Afterward Mary, Melody and I cleaned up while the men disappeared into the night.
Later in the week we spoke with Christopher Gambill and his wife Patricia. They were considering coming to join us but didn’t know exactly when, so we all decided to continue to pray about it. I went to see Canon West several times since I was having a lot of difficulty working through my emotions and dealing with David’s new involvement with Dorita.
Meanwhile, Shipen had met an incredibly handsome young man named "Dorian Gregg" whom he was now seeing. Dorian had a cherubic, chiseled boy-model look with a full head of curls and alabaster smooth skin. When he smiled, he seemed the essence of innocence and with his statute of David build, what a knock out!
New Years Eve we played at the 10:30 service in the nave. David was sick (flu?) and proceeded to throw up behind a screen while we performed. Afterwards, we drove to a party at a friend of Shipen’s. I felt really uncomfortable and self-conscious and eventually we left.
January 2, 1975. Christopher and Patricia Gambill finally arrived from Dallas to join us. We gave them a whirlwind tour of New York City and then spent the rest of the week working them into the music and helping them adjust to our routines. They moved into the “chapel” so they could have some privacy. On their first morning David popped his head into the chapel and said “Once more with feeling!” He meant this innocently enough referring to the fact that he had already made the rounds to try to wake us all up. Hah! Welcome to the Trees. And then we were eight.
January 7th. Canon West came to our apartment and formally blessed our new Virgin Mary icon that Lavrans had painted and also our new chapel. Since we were still holding services there, poor Christopher and Patricia had to roll up their sleeping pads and blankets every morning and lay them out again each night. Typical of Canon West’s love of pomp and ceremony, he dressed in his best vestments and used a scepter filled with holy water and incense in the blessing. He seemed especially somber and serious and had very little to say.
January 8, 1975 we met in Chauncey Parker’s office for the official signing of our incorporation papers establishing us as a nonprofit corporation (a move we hoped would help us elicit more grants and tax free donations). He barely glanced at what he was signing but to us it was a great historical moment. Of course we celebrated afterwards, toasting Melody for all her hard work. Each of us became officers in the corporation with Shipen as president and Melody, Stephen and I as Vice Presidents. David Lynch, of course, was treasurer.
Later, we taped a radio show with 93.9 FM to be broadcast on January 10th or 11th. The interviewer’s question and answer session was excellent and our performance was top notch. The problem was that the microphone they used to mike the instruments either wasn’t plugged in or didn’t work so when we listened to it later, the music could barely be heard! Too bad because it had been a flawless performance. Oh well.
January 9th we recorded a tape for the Omega Dancers and Father Jack Bailey to use during his Easter Service. Then we sang and recorded Psalm 44 at the Cathedral for the dean’s mass (this early version is the only remaining tape of it). Canon West assured us he loved it and that it was “an elegant interpretation” of the Psalm.
Lord we have heard with our own ears
Our fathers have told us the stories
Of things you did in their days
In days long ago by your hand.
To plant them in the land you uprooted the nations
To let them spread you drove the peoples out
It was not by their swords they won the land
It was not by their arms they gained the prize.
It was your hand, your arm, and the light of your face
The light of your face because you loved them.
You it was my kind my God
Who won those victories for Jacob.
Through you we trampled down our enemies
Through you we overthrew our aggressors.
For I do not trust in my bow
Neither does my sword save me
We conquered our enemies through you
You defeated all who hated us.
All day long our boast was in God.
We praised your name without ceasing
Yet now you abandon and scorn us.
All this happened to us though we have not forgotten you.
We have not betrayed your covenant
We have not withdrawn our hearts
Our feet have not strayed from your path
Yet you crushed us in the place of jackals
And three the shadow of death over us.
If we had forgotten you
Or embraced another God
Wouldn’t you have found it out?
You know the secrets of the heart
For you our lives are being scarified
We are counted as sheep for the slaughter
Wake up Lord, why are you asleep?
Get up! Do not leave us forever.
Why do you hide your face?
Why don’t you say something?
Why don’t you listen Lord?
You forget we are being exploited, cheated, oppressed
We sink down into the dust
Our body cleaves to the earth.
Stand up and come to our help.
Redeem us for the sake of your love.
At 4 we drove out to play at Morningside House Old Folks Home where we performed with the Omega Dancers. I was very angry and upset, feelings fueled by my jealousy as I watched Dorita dance and David look at her all moon eyed. Directly after the concert, I stomped off without speaking to anyone and spent the next two days sulking at a friend’s house. It was painful to have to watch their unfolding love affair and I was finding it especially difficult to work with Dorita and thus the dancers. I tried to talk about my feelings with Shipen and Canon West but they were so blasé it seemed as if no one really understood or cared what I was going through. After my two-day hiatus, I decided I needed to buck up and deal with it. With David’s birthday approaching, I bought him two tickets to a Jazz concert, knowing full well David would take Dorita with him and not me. I’d show them I could be a good sport, but it sure wasn’t easy!
January 10th. David Lynch’s birthday party. When David arrived he was surprised to see we had strung the front room with prunes, raw sugar packets and streamers. As he walked in we sang, “Duke, Duke, Duke, Duke of Prunes, Prunes Prunes, Duke of Prunes…” to the tune of Duke of Earl. (David was renowned for his long bathroom sessions!) We all enjoyed pink punch spiked with 150 proof rum and hour d’erves. Then we gathered around our radio eager to hear the broadcast that had been taped earlier. It was so full of static and the levels so low we grew frustrated and shut it off. Instead we put on a Stanley Turintene record, ate dinner, opened gifts and then reminisced by telling Bruce and Patricia old bus stories and reading from the Tree’s Chronicle. I was still feeling hypersensitive and during a serious section everyone started laughing. I got so upset I refused to finish reading it and I stormed off to the women’s bedroom. David left to pick up Dorita for the jazz concert and the party broke up. I ended up crawling into bed at 12:30, feeling unloved and lonely once again.
In just 9 days we would be headed out on tour again and I was certainly ready to get away from the City. To me I thought we were at our best when performing the music and actively engaged in our nomadic ministry. I did not like the way New York City’s siren call was affecting the men (except Christopher) in our community. They were being pulled away from the contemplative life and more and more only we women were left to keep up the routines, services, and prayers of our religious Order.
January 12-17, 1975. My sarcastic entries in the Chronicle reflect some of my disdain for all the romantic affairs going on around me:
“Last hectic week. Concert Sunday at Newark, New Jersey. Then, after driving back home from Trinity Cathedral, ah, the sad partings. Oh precious sigh-ings of love as lovers must spend the last dear moments together before they part. Tuesday we drove and ferried to Governor’s Island and played at 7:30 for the Coast Guard family. A good concert. Christopher and Patricia Gambill joined in on several songs. Also, the $300 was much needed this week!
Friday, Canon West blessed the bus and us and we had an hour-long talk with him. He’d question us on Religion, and Divine Office, our personal needs, money, economics and privacy, making sure we had everything in order before we left. Saturday we dragged anything of great value over to the Cathedral, cleaned up the apartment for the four subletters who move in today, packed up instruments and belongings into the bus, and snatched bites to eat in between. And, of course, tonight those who had them, spent the last night in lover’s arms – ah how sad the parting. It’ll be a long time before we can see each other again. Oh cruel love! The tour will last until May 2nd. Good bye, my sweet, my dear.” [end of excerpt)
January 18th was the last day before the start of the winter tour and it was also Mary McCutcheon’s birthday (which we celebrated the following day). Meanwhile, what did it take to get ready for a tour? Here’s the short list: David Lynch cleaned closets and his desk and bought an extra battery to run the TV and quadraphonic tape deck on the bus, Steve finished up secretarial chores, prepared instructions on plant care, and packed up the men’s desk and files. Shipen took the bus to the garage for a once over and did carpentry work during the repairs. Bruce and Daryl, visiting friends of Mary’s, packed away extra clothes under the storage space in the living room. (This was a plywood platform covered in carpeting with a staggered series of sitting areas with removable panels to get to the storage areas beneath. This was where we stored our instruments when living in the apartment.) Mary and Melody sewed and sewed the new peach colored (Shipen insisted they were “coral”) women’s costumes, trying to finish them in time. All free hands helped pack kitchen supplies into the bus and David Lynch packed all the instruments, trying different arrangements until they all fit!
Then finally, FINALLY, all twelve of us sat down at the copper table, said grace, broke bread and ate! With everything ready at last, we strolled over to Dean Morton’s house for a bit of relaxation and conversation, cocktails and something to eat (again). We toasted Mary’s birthday and then listened to some Russian Orthodox music while talking about the tour. Somehow this led into a long discussion about our experiences at the Church of the Redeemer. We returned to the stripped down, empty apartment and slept in our sleeping bags, ready to set off in the morning for the winter tour.