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.

More Pruning and New Possibilities at General Seminary


The Close of General Theological Seminary


November 13, 1975. The next day we rose wearily and met with Sister Mary Michael at 9:15 a.m. This time everyone except Melody was there: Mary, Dorian, David, Sarah, Stephen and I. We talked about everything that had been happening. Then Sister asked about voting for a new leader and the importance of getting this settled as soon as possible. We discussed the inherent difficulties in cross counseling since Canon West might suggest one thing but Sister Mary Michael then might recommend something different. We talked about what we wanted a leader to do and what that job involved. Mary dutifully wrote down all our ideas (about the leader) since we agreed to vote the next day.

General Theological Seminary


Immediately after that meeting, we drove straight to General Seminary where we met Alan Jones who held a Eucharist in his living room, with all of us standing around a coffee table. He added his own poetry to the words of the Trial II liturgy. Afterwards, we discussed the idea of the Trees living at General Seminary and somehow being involved with the Center for Christian Spirituality. After the meeting, Alan showed us the dining hall, which was packed with seminarians eating lunch. Then he took us to a vacant ten-room apartment complex in Thompson Hall that was available but which hadn’t been used in ages. It was dusty and dirty and clearly needed a lot of work. However, as we walked through the rooms that seemed to go on and on, I found it exhilirating to envision the possibilities. The interconnected rooms seemed vast and spacious compared to the bus and our small two-bedroom apartment uptown! The grounds were beautiful with trees and beautiful ivy-covered brick buildings. There was a beautiful chapel lined with wood paneled walls and pews, and light streaming through stained glass windows.

Chapel at General Seminary


On our way back up town my mind was racing with possibilities. We could each have our own bedroom and privacy! The seminary was vibrant with young people everywhere and so much activity going on. We could easily attract new members there…One step at a time, take one step at a time.

Friday, during mass at the Cathedral we voted for a new leader. As pre-arranged, after Canon West announced the offertory, we each scrawled the name we had chosen onto a paper, folded it and placed it in the offering plate as it was passed along. As promised, none of us had discussed our thoughts or feelings, but instead had spent the week praying for the Lord’s guidance in choosing our new leader. When the service was over, Canon West silently stood at the altar and tallied the votes while we waited anxiously and prayed. Finally he turned around and announced that the vote was a tie, with one person abstaining. In his typically secretive fashion, he wouldn’t tell us anything more except to advise us that we would vote again in one week. Aargh!

Saturday we drove to Easton, Massachusetts for a performance at Immaculate Conception Roman Catholic Church where we met our hosts, Lucille and Mark. They fed us hot meals and gave us warm beds to sleep in for two nights, and some wonderful conversations. We performed Sunday November 16th during the morning liturgy and then gave a concert at 7:30 to a packed church. It turned out to be a good concert and we sold 18 records (and took home $400!). It was to be our last concert with all seven of us. Tensions were running high and soon three more branches would be stripped from The Trees.

November 17, 1975. Melody was caught up in an unusually volatile “blue funk”. Though we tried to be patient and understanding, it was becoming disruptive and difficult. I had no idea what was wrong and we weren’t qualified to help, even if we did. She and Dorian had a long talk, but again, it didn’t seem to help much.

During lunch with Lucille and Mark we stumbled upon the fact we all had a common love of the orthodox liturgy and of the Trappist monks. Straight away they drove us out to visit a nearby Trappist monastery for Vespers and then we left there and drove to a nearby Greek and Russian Orthodox Monastery where we stayed for dinner. We women had to wear scarves on our heads and all of us dressed in our long green robes. We were invited to dinner and the men ate in one room while we women were segregated and ate in another. Dinner consisted of olives, stuffed peppers, soup and bread. It was odd but a very enjoyable glimpse into another way of life.

Driving back to New York City, the bus broke down – twice! Time for another family crisis. As we limped along, Melody threatened to hitchhike home. Stephen kept trying to talk her out of it and finally she laid down on the back bed. When we finally made it home at 3:30 a.m., David insisted that she had to come out of the bus and after what seemed like ages, he finally managed to coax her back into the apartment. Then she refused to sleep in her own bed and insisted instead on sleeping in the men’s room. What next!

The next day we all slept in only to awake to another tense day. Melody continued to lobby for leaving and seemed to be having a melt down. She threw a plant out of the window and seemed very upset. Finally, Stephen got her to call Madeline who put her in touch with someone. Eventually she packed up all her clothes and Stephen took her over to an apartment at the Diocesan House. Worried, we kept vigil, changing shifts just as we had done with Shipen.

November 19th. Meanwhile, I was also worried about Sarah. She was spending more and more time away from the community. In the morning, Mary, David and I attended 7:15 mass. I worked at the gift shop and then returned home for rehearsal with just David, Mary and I. The apartment seemed strangely quiet and empty after the previous day’s madcap events. It was eerie, almost too quiet – what was going to happen next? Shipen called again to ask how Dorian was doing and, amazingly, asked how we were doing. He sounded a lot better, thank God. Maybe he’d come home soon I hoped…

November 20, 1975 – Another Day of Major Changes. The events of the past few weeks made it obvious that something was brewing. Ever since Shipen left, everywhere I turned, the group was falling apart. I felt as if I was watching a carefully woven garment slowly unravel yet I was helpless to stop it. Later in the day Sarah packed up all her belongings into six big boxes and shipped them back to Michigan. That should have been my first clue. After dinner, she informed the community that she was leaving and that she had booked a flight home for the following Tuesday. I was disappointed but didn’t try to dissuade her. Melody, we learned, would not be returning at least for a week or so.

On Thursday morning the five of us, Dorian, David, Mary, Stephen and I finally performed the long awaited Psalm 137 at the Dean’s mass. We were told it was excellent, very good! After the service, I spoke with Canon West about my concerns and sadness over Sarah's leaving. He queried, “You want people who are going to want to be with you don’t you?” Dejectedly, I muttered, “Yes.” Then he advised, “She has been irresponsible and you need responsible people.” Then he suggested that those who should vote for a new leader should be the ones who would commit to being in the community for at least two to three months … and then said something about “taxation without representation.” Well, things had certainly changed in one week since our last vote with seven members! Once again, I wondered what he knew that I didn't.

It was a small group that trudged over to meet with Sister Mary Michael. Sister began our meeting by asking us again what we expected to gain from our meetings with her? What were our expectations? She wondered aloud if she was actually doing us any good? We reassured her with a unanimous, “Yes!” and explained we thought she was a good prompter, a person who could sit in on our discussions and help us get to the real issues without getting embroiled in arguing. Also I shared that I thought she was very helpful in getting us to write down our customs, rules, purpose and helping us form a monastic structure. Then we talked about Sarah's leaving and what Canon West had said about the vote. Dorian then announced Canon West had told him not to mention something but he’d better. He said he was leaving at the end of December so he didn’t think he should vote either! Oh! That was a shock! (No wonder Canon West had told me the vote should be limited to those who agreed to be with us in two or three months. He had known something was up!)

It was dead quiet until Sister asked us how that made us all feel? I felt oddly a bit too emotionally detached. Sort of like, what next? It was still painful to hear since I didn’t want to lose Dorian! Sister suggested something to the effect that anyone who threatens to leave should be allowed to go or else they were being held by persuasion and would have power over the group with their threats. In the end, we all agreed that only the four of us: Stephen, David, Shishonee and Mary would continue, for now, to attend meetings with her. My God! Just a week ago we were seven and now we were down to four? After an hour and 15 minute meeting, we ended with Sister's request that each of us write down on paper some of our thoughts and ideas for a Rule, including customs, duties, etc. She wanted us to bring them to the next week's meeting to which we agreed. I left the meeting shell-shocked.

That night during Compline I prayed for our small community and for Melody, Shipen, Sarah, and Dorian. We’d gone from 8 members down to 4 in just one month’s time! I prayed, Lord help us through these difficult times. Be with each of us and bring healing. Show us Your will. But please Lord, I don't think we can take much more pruning.

November 21, 1975. Even with all the upheaval and Trees members quitting, we were still receiving inquiries from potential postulants. Timothy Luce wrote us regularly and was very interested in joining. He was tenacious and enthusiastic and I felt badly about the timing since it didn’t seem right to bring someone so young into such a mess. He was barely out of high school! Yet he was not to be deterred and faithfully sent at least a letter a month (a delightful correspondence that he and I continued for many years.) Another aspirant was a young man named Hugh, a tabla player who had joined the Bahi faith but had said he was very interested in joining. Dorita asked if she might start joining our weekly meetings with Sister Mary Michael (we agreed) and if and when she married David, she might join the group. Then we received a letter from Max Dyer (the cellist and a good friend from Redeemer) asking if he could visit on his way back from Scotland (we wrote back, yes!). Was the Lord calling Max to visit for a reason? Maybe we just needed time to regroup and nurse our wounds…

Regardless of everything that was going on we had some decisions to make. At chapter, we had a long talk about closing our doors until we could determine a better way to screen potential members. We decided we needed to make sure they were seriously interested, mentally stable and called by God to join before we accepted any new members. It was something that Canon West had also suggested and with good reason.

Later that day we learned Shipen had moved out of Rodney’s and was living with his friend Rayner. Word was he was considering buying the gym where he worked out. We took the day off as another free day since Dorian had to leave to help his parents in Pennsylvania move in to their new home.

November, 22, 1975 – Tree’s Election Day, again. At 7:30 we donned our green monastic robes and solemnly walked over to the Cathedral for mass. Once again we turned in our individual votes for our new leader during the offering. (Melody sent in an absentee vote ahead of time.) After the service, we waited until everyone else had left and then quietly moved to sit in the front row. Canon West stood with his back to us as he carefully unfolded and tallied each vote. Then, turning dramatically, he stood silently for what seemed like ages as we anxiously awaited the results. He said that once again it was a close election with 3 votes for Mary and 2 for Stephen. Then he asked if we would consider making the vote unanimous, to eliminate any dividing into factions or other problems. Turning to Stephen, he asked him to move that the vote be unanimous, which he did without hesitation. Then Canon West asked, if there was a second to the motion? David seconded it, and then we all voted and Mary McCutcheon was our new official “leader.”

Next, Canon West advised us that it was going to be a difficult year for us. First, he asked us not to speculate that Shipen would ever be back. Then he pointed out that we were too small of a community and he would prefer we had an equal number of men and women in the community. He said “he knew it had been hard on Shishonee when she was the only woman among four men” and that this had created a painful and difficult situation for her [and lonely!]. Since now there were three women and two men (since Melody wanted to remain in the community) he told us we needed to get another man saying, “it’s unnatural to be unbalanced.” He warned us to make sure any new people were carefully screened so they wouldn’t upset the community. If they were going to be someone who would come in and disrupt the family, he said “I’d rather we have no one than that kind of person!” He suggested we look for another man – a constructive, helpful, cooperative one…Then he got a sort of dreamy quality to his voice as he continued, “…like Harrol…Harrol is goodness itself, kind….gifted…someone like that.” Hmmm.

Next he said after we found someone, we must raise the question: Is this truly their vocation? He reminded us of the story of the rich young man who couldn’t give up everything to follow the Lord’s call. “So if a person finds you attractive, you simply must ask them to join on a trial basis. You must be certain that you will be able to live with him… You are all a bunch of exposed nerves. You know each other too well! You are like a bunch of ulcers walking around. We simply cannot have someone who will upset everyone again…someone who is irresponsible. It’s simply too hard on you!”

Then Canon West explained that the Greeks looked for the outer attractiveness and beauty in a person but he insisted, “you need to look for the inner beauty of a person. I just don’t want you to be seen as a bunch of attractive, young things walking around the place…” Just as he was wrapping up with his usual, “all right now my children…” Mary quickly told him of our negotiations with General Seminary and how we had seen the apartment there and all. He asked us about the practical aspects like plumbing, a stove, refrigerator, and we all agreed that furniture could be “found on the street” or bought cheap. After a little more discussion about the details, he ended the meeting saying he was leaving soon for Australia and would be gone until Christmas.

At 4:30 Dorian returned and we packed up and drove to Larchmont (except for Sarah who remained in the city). Once there we met Father McKenzie and his wife Ann along with the assistant rector John. We had drinks of cider and dinner in their luxurious mansion. They asked after Shipen and Melody but we explained both had taken leaves of absence. This led them to comment that we seemed to be quite a small community in comparison to our last visit but we assured them the music was the same. We reminisced about the last time we performed there when either Shipen or Stephen were doing the pew walk and knocked off a woman’s wig! Hah! They offered us accommodations of beds in their mansion, which of course we accepted.

The following morning we performed a variety of songs during both services, then met with parishioners who purchased 30 records, wow! We were not scheduled to do a concert, so after packing the bus we drove back to the City for an evening concert there, stopping for fast food on the way. We reached Marblehead Collegiate Church where we were greeted by Joan Eberbash, unpacked and gave a free concert there at 6:30 p.m for the 80 or so youth who came.

Unfortunately, we had reworked the concert after Shipen left with Melody replacing many of his parts so with her gone we had to scramble to re-arrange things once again. As a result, we struggled through the music and I found it to be a very difficult, rough concert. Stephen also had a raw voice due to a cold and we were all emotionally drained. Meanwhile, what were we going to do after Dorian left in just a month’s time! Nevertheless, the audience seemed to enjoy the concert and clapped politely. Afterwards, Joan had us up to her apartment for a casserole buffet supper with several of the youth. Stephen’s friend Eric was there as were Leo and Elizabeth who then left with Dorian to their place at 103rd. When we returned home there were only the four of us (plus Eric) to unload half the instruments at the Cathedral and half at home, so we didn’t get to bed until 1 a.m.

At music rehearsal the next day we listened to a tape recording of Psalm 44 made when Shipen and everyone else was still with us. It left me deeply saddened. It amazed me how complex and beautiful it sounded. Major parts were now gone such as the cello, clarinet and alto recorder that had been played by Shipen. Furthermore, I had written multiple harmonies crossing over and back, overlapping in a series of patterns. With only 4 people, we finally decided we would have to abandon the piece, at least until there were more members. Once again the hard reality of having only four musicians hit home. Clearly the music would suffer. Determined to carry on, David immediately started to learn Shipen’s and Melody’s clarinet parts and I wondered if I could possibly learn to play the cello? We decided it might be best to try working on something new so I launched into my ideas about a new program that would start with us wearing the alienated costumes and chanting the Anti Psalm. All of us thought that sounded great so immediately we started hunting around trying to find the words to the Anti Psalm, which we couldn’t find. So then we decided to go ahead and work on the song I Wander to use in liturgies. David added clarinet parts and Mary added organ and vocals. After dinner, Dorian managed to locate the words for the Anti Psalm.

Nov. 25th. We met with Canon Dennis after the mass to talk about record sales and a possible second pressing of the album. Seeing how dejected we seemed, he launched into a pep talk saying the sales of so many records pointed to the fact our music was an important ministry and that we must stablize ourselves.

At our chapter meeting, the three of us, David, Mary and I (Stephen was sick) talked about our future. We all agreed that our best course of action was to move to General Seminary. We wrote down some of our ideas and needs related to the move: what the contract with them should involve, what our rent should be, where to store instruments, should we work in exchange for rent, etc. Then we decided to tentatively schedule the Spring tour for March 20 through May 4th, a six week tour, out to California and then back. Since David said he was planning to get married in June or July, we decided it was a good timeframe. Then I said I still hoped to go to school and that I had applied for the spring term at the college nearby. Mary reminded me that the tour was more important than going to college. I conceded but said in the future I’d like to start college, maybe in the fall, yet still be in the community of course. Then we talked about how to revise the Christ Tree with four people, since creating a whole new concert seemed a bit too ambitious. David suggested I should learn how to play other instruments besides the harp, organ, accordion, drum, Koto, Cheng, guitar and tamboura. This set off a big argument since I thought I played enough instruments already and that was the end of that meeting.

At 12:30 we met with Dean Morton over lunch and filled him in on our plans to move to General Seminary, the upcoming tour and in general how things were going with the community. He was visibly dissapointed and NOT very enthusiastic about General. He warned that we’d be putting a lot of time and money into fixing up the apartment there and then they might ask us to leave (how prophetic!). Also, he pointed out that General was in just as bad of shape financially as many other religious institutions were, and in fact was even worse off than the Cathedral. He really didn't think it would be a wise move for us. Oh my! He recommended we stay connected with the Cathedral and urged us to reconsider.

After he left, we had another meeting to discuss our options, laying out the dangers and risks of such a move, and comparing staying or going. The chronicle entry laid out our discussion:

Reasons to move to General Seminary:

1. Exposure to the environment – a chance to mingle with the students and teachers at General, all of which is more oriented to being a family situation.

2. A chance to work with Alan Jones and to be actively involved in his newly formed Center for Christian Spirituality.

3. Housing – a chance to expand since the floor offered us has 10 rooms, a bathroom with a large attic on the floor above which might be renovated and used eventually too. We would hopefully offer our services in exchange for rent – an impossibility at the Cathedral.

4. Schooling – some of us could attend the courses at General Seminary.

5. We could work together on a new project, thus helping us get out of the rut we were in at the Cathedral feeling unneeded, misused and losing many important members since being at the Cathedral this last year.

6. We could still continue our relationship as resident artists at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, still give our concert series there and attend major services and events, but pursue other areas of activity at General.

7. Seminarians offered a great source of potential new postulants.


After laying it all out and considerable discussion, moving to General Seminary seemed the most promising course of action. We decided Mary and David would meet with the Sub Dean at General and lay out our proposal.

November 26, 1975. Mary and David met with the Sub Dean and were able to clear up many of our concerns. Eventually, they reached an agreement and we informed them we would like to make the move! The Sub Dean promised to speak to the Board(?) to work out a contract. He would get back to us in a week with their answer. We were filled with new hope and excitement, especially after David and Mary visited the empty apartment there again. As we waited for word over the next week, we talked about things like subletting our apartment (don’t ever burn your bridges) and when to move (December?). To me, suddenly our future was bright with possibilities and I felt more positive and hopeful than I had in a long time. It would be a long week waiting to hear from the Sub Dean!

Later that afternoon we met with Carla DeSolo and Dorita Beh to discuss our association with the Omega Dancers. Thetis Blaker had remarked that they spoke a different language than The Trees and that it was discordant and distracting to have them perform with us. We had been thinking similar thoughts but didn’t know how to tell Carla (the founder of Omega) without hurting her feelings. Stephen began by saying we had been going through a whirlwind lately with difficult losses in personnel and suggested that we needed time to adjust and assess what was left, who we were and how to continue. Mary suggested we could do occasional concerts with Omega and Carla suggested setting up a concert similar to last year’s at New York Theological. Several of us then admitted we'd begun to realize that we spoke different languages, that both were legitimate, but that they didn’t quite seem to compliment each other. In the end it was suggested Omega could still use our music and tapes but that the partnership should end. Carla seemed dissapointed. Finally, I had to leave for my dance class with Claudette Gazet so the meeting ended.

November 27, 1975 - Thanksgiving. For the Dean’s Mass we performed an instrumental “raga” with Mary on harmonium, Stephen on dulcimer and I played tamboura while David Lynch improvised singing verses from Romans. The Dean remarked afterwards that it was “marvelous” and Bob Barrett congratulated David on his ability to be so open to sing in the Spirit. Then Mary returned home to cook up a big Thanksgiving feast while we cleaned and decorated in preparation for the festivities.

At 2pm, Dorian arrived with Melody who was joining us for Thanksgiving. All five of us sat together in the men’s bedroom sipping eggnog and rum while Mary finished fixing dinner. We laughed and joked and it felt good for all of us to be able to be open and take a humorous perspective on the situation.

At 5 we sat down to a feast: turkey, mashed potatoes, acorn squash, sauerkraut, stuffing, fresh cranberry sauces, turnips, homemade butter rolls, tarts and mincemeat pie. Wow Mary! It was the first time that all of us had been able to relax together as a family since Sarah and Melody had left. Earlier in the day we even called Shipen to chat and wish him a good day. It was delightful and I privately wished it would never end.

Unfortunately, it didn’t last long. After dinner, Melody had to go, Eric and Stephen went out, Dorian left, David went over to Dorita’s for the weekend and everyone spent the evening with loved ones - which left Mary and I - alone again. Well, for a little while anyways.

Around 10:30 p.m., we had a bizarre call from someone named David who insisted he had hitchhiked all the way from Tennessee to come stay with The Trees. We tried to put him off but he kept insisting the Lord had told him to come. He said he was calling from across the street at the guard booth to the Cathedral and that he had nowhere else to stay. Oh boy! (Lord this better be your will!) Finally, we agreed to let him come over, thinking we could at least give him something to eat while we checked him out. A few minutes later we heard knocking at the door. When we opened it, there stood a scruffy looking young man with a dirty duffel bag slung over his lanky shoulders, ragged pants sagging low on his hips and a sad-eyed, filthy dog curled up in his arms. As soon as he walked in, he set the dog down and it rushed over to scarf down the bowl of cat food and then began defecating all over the rugs and floor. David said he’d found it by the side of the road in Tennessee and he felt the Lord wanted him to take care of it.

Immediately, I scooped the dog up in one hand while I laid out newspapers on the bathroom floor. Then while Mary sat talking with David about his travels and his feelings about Christian music and its limitations, I took the dog for a walk. It was covered in fleas so I gave it a bath, toweled it dry and doctored a cut it had on its nose. The next day, I went out and bought dog food, flea shampoo, a dog brush and flea collar. Unfortunately, when Stephen returned on Friday he was not pleased to see the dog and said it could stay, but only temporarily. I approached Mary and David, trying to convince them to let me keep it since I had been quietly lobbying for a dog for months! Unfortunately, the sick skinny little stray only made matters worse (it was not house trained) and the final decision was it would have to go when David did (which would need to be soon!). Meanwhile, David slept in a bunk in the men’s room for the next few days.

On Saturday we gave our first concert for the advent season over at the Cathedral. We began with Psalm 137, and did most of our songs, including a reworked Jesus He Knows. There were about 30 people in the audience including some people from the previous year and some of the St. Hilda’s crowd like Joye Klannit, and Kateri and David Karasek. Kateri commented afterwards that she noticed the holes in our music where Shipen had been. Afterwards, Eric took Dorita, David and the rest of us out to dinner at a tiny Viennese Restaurant down near Columbia. After dinner, we returned to the apartment for a long discussion with our visitor David about whether he should join or not. Mary suggested that he should relax and just give his mind a rest so that he could better hear what the Lord was saying.

Sunday, each of us worked on different new songs. Mary was writing an advent song on guitar, I worked on a new guitar song in open G tuning called “Do I Know You?” and a harp song called “Love one another.” David Lynch wrote a new guitar song called Mercy. It felt good to have creative energy flowing again.

Monday at Chapter meeting we decided to ask our visitor David to decide to stay or leave on one condition. If he felt called to join, he would stay for only two weeks to get a clearer picture of our community life, then he’d have to leave for a few months of reflection. After that if he still felt called to join the Trees, he should contact us then. Then we talked about the issue of the dog and what to do with it since David had decided that he didn’t want it after all and that he was going to leave it with us. Finally we agreed that if this was the case, we would take it to the ASPCA to be put up for adoption. (I was quite concerned that the way he handled the whole dog matter showed a certain amount of irresponsibility!). We also decided to send the alienated costume sample back to Lavrans by UPS so he could use it as a pattern to make us 5 more.

On Tuesday we met with Sister Mary Michael (without Dorita) and talked about and then decided that it would be a good idea to have Dorita begin attending meetings. Shen then asked us to share our ideas that we were to have written down regarding a Rule. I shared my ideas on members, authority, structure, vocation of community and vocation of the individual. We talked this over at length during the meeting. Sister then asked the others to please bring their ideas to the next meeting.

On Wednesday our strange visitor David left to hitchhike back to Texas. He had decided he was not called to our way of life after all. Though he'd told us he was going to leave the dog behind, he left in the same way as he had arrived with the little dog tucked under one arm and the duffle bag slung over the other shoulder. We breathed a sigh of relief. That afternoon we drove to Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York and gave a concert for a very small audience. We arrived in the afternoon, which gave us time to work on the Mustard Seed and Psalm 137. The priest had provided a huge platform behind the altar of the chapel so set up was much quicker than usual. The concert went well though it took some time to overcome the crowd’s inhibitions and self-consciousness. (This was usually the case with small audiences but rarely with big crowds). It went well and I felt confident that we were working out the last kinks caused by Shipen, Sarah and Melody’s departures. We were invited for dinner in a beautiful room in the parish house overlooking the Hudson River. Gazing out the window across the river I suddenly realized I was looking at Holy Cross Monastery, the same monastery we had visited a few years before! We arrived home at 2 a.m.

Dec. 4, 1975. I continued working at the Cathedral Gift Shop but all my paychecks were still going to pay off the Trees debt. When they handed me my paycheck on Friday, I had to hand it back to the Cathedral, not easy when we could really use the $100! Luckily a little money was coming in from concerts so we had just enough for groceries and utility bills. It felt like we were spinning our wheels and we were eager to get out from under the high apartment rent.

Finally, the Sub Dean called with the good news that we were invited to move to General Seminary. Oh praise God! Immediately, we began talking about ideas for renovating our new quarters there. We were giddy and excited and I thanked God for answering our prayers and opening up new possibilities for our future. Yeah!

December 5th. Celebration of Shishonee’s Birthday. It was my 24th birthday (which we were celebrating a day early due to our Cathedral concert on Saturday). I was banished to the back of the house while preparations were made. I decided to take a nap. About 6:30pm, Dorita came in with an eggnog and rum - my favorite!. Then I was led with eyes tight shut into the living room where I heard strange rustling noises and lots of giggling. Finally, when I opened my eyes I saw Dorita teaching ballet to Stephen and David who were dressed in tissue paper tutu’s. Hilarious! They turned and did pirouette’s with arms outstretched looking unbelievably silly.

Dancing Ballerinas David and Stephen


All of us were laughing till we could hardly laugh any more when in ran Shimshi, our black cat, also dressed in a little tutu with tissue paper cuffs, looking wide-eyed and racing around as if a demon was chasing her as she tried to escape the horrible rustling noises of her little tutu. We freed her from the scary tissue paper a few minutes later and she promptly hid under a bunk bed. Next David walked over to something that was covered in a shirt tucked into a pair of pants. What on earth? David pulled at a belt and the clothing fell away to reveal a full length mirror – perfect for dancing.

Over wine, we listened to Beethoven music and then dinner was a meal of shrimp and cubes of beef simmering in a fondue (another gift). We finished off the meal with salad and more wine, delightful! Jack McClung arrived just in time for desert with was fresh cut up strawberries that we then dipped in melted chocolate heated in the new fondue pot, served with coffee and angel food cake (another favorite of mine).


Jack McClung and Trees at the dinner table


Then more presents: a jar of organic peanut butter, a jar of tamari soy sauce and a necklace from Dorita. As I lay draped in a new sleeping bag cover Mary had embroidered listening to the traditional poem on my birthday card, maybe I looked a little forlorned as I couldn't help but worry about what was happening to our community.


Saturday, December 6, 1975. This was the second concert of our advent series of concerts at the Cathedral and it was a rousing success. The crowd was double the size of the previous weeks and I was encouraged and my faith in the Lord’s purpose for us was renewed. After the concert, Jack McClung and other friends came over to the apartment to relax and talk.

Dec. 7-13th. On Monday, Mary got an urgent call from her mother that her father was in the hospital gravely ill. Stunned, she packed and quickly left us a list of things to be done, and then flew home. Stephen was left in charge. We prayed for Mary and her father, holding her entire family in our prayers and thoughts.

Tuesday we practiced a new bell/gong meditation inspired by a Balinese music tape we had. We invited Sister Mary Michael over for dinner after our weekly meeting. Following a tour of the apartment, she expressed amazement at how we had managed to live in such cramped quarters for so long. Damn straight! During our earlier meeting, we had delved into feelings embedded in our relationships, feelings of love-hate, mother-child, etc. We also presented our ideas for an organizational chart we had written up showing our idea of the authority structure of our community. It was a very good session.

On Wednesday Jack McClung, Emmet and Pat (good friends of David Lynch) joined us for dinner and got stoned afterwards which led to much laughter and a rowdy good time (even if most of us didn’t imbibe). The rest of the week was spent composing the Christmas newsletter, typing it up, zeroxing it and then stuffing over 300 envelopes. We held a meeting to finalize details for the makeover of our new apartment at General. We held a meeting to finalize details for the makeover of our new apartment at General. Stephen proposed that he and his friend Eric would paint it while the rest of us were away over Christmas vacation. This sounded like a great idea since Eric was a professional house painter with sprayers and other equipment. We agreed to pay him $200. I found it totally delightful and dreamed about decorating my own “cell” since I hadn’t enjoyed the luxury of my own private room since the log cabin at Pecos! I chose a bright, canary yellow for the walls of my bedroom.



Stephen painting our apartment at General Seminary


On Thursday we learned that Melody was considering returning or not. We agreed to meet with her beforehand to talk things over. After our chapter meeting, I rushed off to an audition at City College, breathless and excited at the possibility of being admitted into their dance program at the Leonard Davis Center for the Performing Arts. When I arrived at the audition, I was surprised to see that I was one of only two caucasians among a sea of african americans who were trying out. As I waited and stretching watching the others warming up, it suddenly dawned on me that these were all professional dancers. What was I thinking? I didn’t have a chance! I danced my heart out but, obviously, did not pass the audition. Disheartened, I went directly to dance concert by the Martha Graham Dance Company. Watching the intensely powerful performance, I realized I had been incredibly na├»ve. I would never have the kind of body or years of experience that those dancers had. Though I longed to dance as much as possible with the Trees, I realized I was not meant for a career as a professional dancer.

December 13th. Mary returned sad and somber. Her father had gone into a coma (liver cancer?) and passed away two days previous. She returned to perform in our upcoming concerts, then once our concert obligations were over, she would leave for a short while to help her mother. Faithful Mary!

Chapel at Greer School - Millbrook, New York


Saturday’s concert at the Cathedral went very well. We whisked everything into the bus and headed out to Greer School in Millbrook, New York. There we met Reverend Alan Ford who helped us unload into a small old stone chapel. Once everything was safely unloaded, we walked over to one of the children’s cabins called Hamlet cottage. As we stepped inside we were bombarded by a swarm of smiling, friendly children who peppered us with questions, then served us pretzels, punch and dinner. Afterwards, Alan showed us to our rooms in the guesthouse where we could finally relax, watch TV and read.

12/14/75. The next morning we rose early to tune up and then performed for the entire school. We limited our program to about 30 minutes of music: Mustard Seed II, Taka, Psalm 45, Banjo, Chant and part of Psalm 46. This was followed by a quiet communion and lunch with Alan. We were touched when he gave us a Christmas tree as he had the previous year (how kind)! After eating, we packed up and drove to Poughkeepsie where we set up and gave a 7:30 concert at St. Andrew’s Roman Catholic Church in New Jersey. The church seemed like a huge gymnasium with folding chairs for pews and poor acoustics. We couldn’t use risers so we set up in no time and then worked on Jesus He Knows and talked about last minute changes to the concert. We performed for about 200 people and then sold 14 records afterwards.

There was no dinner and since we were starved by the time we tore down and packed up, we decided to stop on the way home. Unfortunately, we forgot one important detail, making sure the gas tank was full. So before we got very far, the bus ran out of gas. David and Stephen hopped out to find a gas and Dorian stretched out on the back bed while Mary and I passed the time seeing who could repeat, “toy boat” really fast without blowing it. Pretty soon she and I dissolved into laughter and I was surprised at how much fun we were actually having in spite of everything. There was no tension and arguing, no threatening to jump off the bus and leave. No Shipen glaring and snarling at how immature and babyish we were. By the time we got gas and finally stopped at an interstate cafeteria to eat, the greasy food tasted fabulous and all of us felt better!

12/15-20th. On Monday, we met with Melody to discuss her re-entry into the community, problems with her relationship with me, and other issues. Eventually, we agreed she would not be reworked into the music, at least temporarily. She would move back on Thursday.

The rest of the week we focused on preparations for moving to General Seminary. I worked at the Gift Shop, we wrote letters, cooked, did laundry, the usual. There were no group rehearsals, just individual practice and song writing. On Thursday, Melody came home at 9:00 a.m. Welcome back! A half hour later, we met with Sister Mary Michael and did some role-playing. Sister had advice for treating one another fairly and lovingly and we discussed the issue of visitors smoking marijuana and feelings about that. We kept coming back to the question of how to make decisions, by vote? By a majority? By the leader’s decision? We discussed various options but agreed to come back to it later. That evening we attended Phil and Sara Weihi’s “Rock Opera” play.

Friday, we picked out our new rooms at General. Both Stephen and David wanted the same room so they had to flip a coin. In the end, we agreed that Mary and I would have the two rooms off the common room, David got the three windowed room and Melody got the long end room. Stephen ended up with the small middle room next to the library.

Saturday’s concert was the last in the Advent series and about 50 people came. It was an excellent concert and I felt a mixture of elation at how superb the music sounded, yet sadness because it was Dorian’s last performance with us. Afterwards, we gathered at the 110th Street apartment for a goodbye dinner for Dorian with some close friends. Stephen had prepared a festive dinner of shrimp and beef fondue. We ate, talked and relaxed with friends, yet for me the evening was bittersweet. Dorian had been gracious enough to fulfill his commitment to the Trees but it was finally time for him to leave. I found it painful and distressing, though I shoved those feelings deep inside to deal with later.

It was one more goodbye in a series of goodbyes that left me numb. Dorian had been with us for seven long months and then suddenly he was gone, swept away by the same tide that had taken Shipen and many others. As we hugged and said goodbye, I don’t think I even paused to reflect on how much had changed since Dorian had “climbed on the bus.” He stepped off and moved on to whatever future awaited him. I hardly knew him before he was gone. I wondered if he would continue his spiritual journey or if he’d be sucked back into the maelstrom of the City?

After dinner, we attended an excellent play called “Mother Courage” by the Performance Group, Richard Shekner’s company.

12/21/05 Before we split up for Christmas vacations, David, Melody and I were called to an IRS hearing with our lawyer, Jim Proud regarding the corporation’s exemption status. When we arrived, we met an odd little man who from the start of our conversation seemed cold and unmovable. He reminded me of the angry bank auditor in the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life.” He stated his case in clear, concise terms and then leaned back in his chair and started humming each time Jim Proud attempted to respond. (I wondered if he did that to block out everyone's answers?) The IRS man stated that we would need to prove:

1. We were primarily a religious community that plays music, not vice a versa.

2. We were controlled by a high authority in the Episcopal Church particularly that we were under the complete authority and control of that church and not “foot loose and fancy free” (Hmmmm, quite intuitive on his part).

3. We were using our funds for public service not as personal income.

4. We were a growing religious community (well, not sure about that point!)

Jim strenuously argued our case but the IRS man just kept leaning back and humming giving the distinct impression he wasn’t listening! He insisted we would need to satisfy the above four requirements by February 30th. With that he stood up and abruptly announced that the meeting was over. Well!

Below is a copy of a letter Dean Morton wrote in an attempt to explain our “official” status with the Cathedral. Though I don’t think it did much to convince the IRS, it does provide a glimpse into our daily life prior to moving to General Seminary:

18 December 1975

Mr. Landau, District Director
Internal Revenue Service
120 Church Street
New York, N.Y. 10007

Dear Mr. Landau:

The Trees have been a resident religious community at the Cathedral since May, 1973. They are a group of committed Christians who are trying to live the monastic life in a contemporary setting. The Reverend Canon Edward N. West, the Sub-Dean of the Cathedral, has been their spiritual director for the last four years and he was instrumental in helping the Trees to plan their present disciplined life at the Cathedral.

The Trees attend the Holy Communion daily at the Cathedral and they have become an integral presence at the Thursday morning staff communion service and breakfast where they play some of their original music as a form of worship. When in New York City, the Trees also present their meditation on Saturday afternoons in Saint Savior’s Chapel of the Cathedral. At other times during the year, such as Pentecost, they have given freely of their gift of music to the enrichment of our worship services. The Trees have never requested the Cathedral to pay them for the contributions they make to our life or worship and they are always willing to take on extra volunteer tasks at the Cathedral when they are needed.

As a religious community within the church, the Trees follow the traditional disciplines of monasticism. They rise an hour and a half before the daily 7 a.m. Holy Communion for personal prayers and devotions in their apartment chapel. After the communion service at the Cathedral and breakfast, they spend the morning at work, breaking at 3 p.m. for a short prayer service, which is followed by music practice. They sing vespers at 5:30 when they do not attend Evening Prayer at the Cathedral, and conclude the day with supper, Compline and silence.

Many of our regular communicants at the Cathedral have become good friends of the Trees and the Trees are always most willing to invite others to share their fellowship and food. Often, strangers who have heard the Trees ask to come and visit them. The Trees are always open to giving hospitality and consider it to be part of their ministry, even though their living quarters limit the number of guests they may have at one time.

The members of the community are now working with Sister Mary Michael Simpson, the Cathedral’s pastor counselor, in writing down their rule of life. They are preparing to join the Conference on the Religious Life, a conference of all the religious orders in the Episcopal Church and Sister Mary Michael has, I believe, been helpful (since she comes from a more traditional religious order) in writing down what the Trees Community means by its rule and by its interpretation of the traditional vows of poverty, chastity and obedience.

Should you have any further questions about the community, I can be reached at the above address.

Sincerely yours,

The Very Reverend James Parks Morton, Dean


Also attached to the letter were a breakdown of our concert income, a list of donations (free concerts), and a copy of our daily schedule (well, at least how it used to be till voted down).

December 26, 1975. Melody heard a strange mewing from somewhere outside the apartment. She went to investigate and found a stray kitten wandering around on the eleventh floor, looking abandoned and forlorned. She brought it in, fed it and named it Naomi, after the woman in the Bible who refused to leave Ruth. Shimshi accepted her so we had a new “member” of our household.

January 11-18, 1976. Over vacation, I visited my parents in Michigan, Mary went to help her mother deal with matters concerning her father’s death, and Stephen stayed in Alan Jone’s apartment caring for his two dogs while he and Eric painted our new apartment. David flew out to Los Angeles with Dorita. While in Michigan, for some idiotic reason I impulsively decided I was going to get a dog. I saw an ad in the paper for collie puppies and before I knew it I had fallen in love with a precocious tan and white puppy I soon named Lena. I used the money I got at Christmas to buy her and then brought her back with me on the plane. It didn’t occur to me I should ask the rest of the group, which was rude and a major mistake on my part! I was nervous and apprehensive but I figured the puppy would win over everyone’s heart easily. I was a bit worred about Stephen, who I knew would take a lot more convincing. Only Melody was there the night I arrived at our apartment and she didn’t seem to mind. However, when everyone returned for chapter meeting the next morning, boy did I get an earful! Mary asked me if I realized that I had stepped on member’s individual rights by bringing back the dog and asked me to apologize to everyone, which I immediately did. She asked if I would agree to handle the dog with discretion so it wouldn’t be an offence to others. Yes, absolutely! When Stephen returned later from working on the apartment, he had quite a lot to say about it. He was upset and resented the fact that I had gone against the community’s wishes. He felt I had completely disregarded his feelings with my brazen act. I apologized and asked for forgiveness, and he said he’d think about whether we should sell the dog or send it back to Michigan or let it stay. He was not happy about it and I’m not sure anyone else really was either. Oops, very selfish of me!