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I stumbled across an essay written in September of 2002 for a college course called “Reading and Writing the World.”  It seems fitting, worthy of sharing, after weeks of inner and outer intensity.

My grandfather (blessed be his memory) passed away three weeks ago. Its brought me into greater and more loving contact with my family, especially spending the last weeks of his life with him.  I’m in massage school now, and deeply involved in that world and all the other worlds to which I belong.  Lineage, and lifetimes of training are increasingly apparent.

All of this, reminding me that I am the result of the love of thousands.  And, my dear, so are you.

“Walking, I am listening to a deeper way. Suddenly all my ancestors are behind me. Be still, they say. Watch and listen. You are the result of the love of thousands.” –Linda Hogan Walking on the Trail and Off.

Quite without knowing it, I set out to discover my chosen family. This summer was a gift in disguise. Like the shock of a spring fed lake on a sweltering day. Like water so cold that it takes your breath away. Like that gradual cooling, first to a “normal” body temperature before that hyperaware place of clarity that chills you enough to last through late afternoon heat into the cool release of sunset.

This summer, I got in my car, with no expectations and no final destination. I had food, clothes, a tent, art supplies, and some music. I knew where I was sleeping the night I left, but not three days later when it would be time for me to move on.

Listening. Letting go of expectations. Listening. Listening to a deeper way.

Each place I visited, each friend I met and collected into my chosen family, added depth. Like the creatures of the forest, I ate when I was hungry, slept when I was tired, dropped what I was doing in the face of opportunity, adventure, or chaos. I lived in the moment. I moved on in a fluid motion, never rushing, but never staying long enough to force the patterns of my living on my hosts.

I finally stumbled upon a farm in Easthampton that is positioned somewhere between Wallstreet and Avalon, though significantly closer to Avalon. I came from my grandparent’s air-conditioned condominium plunked on the edge of a golf course to this little enclave out of time nestled in the midst of suburban Massachusetts.

Shaker calls Touchstone a community of “hermits who like people.” I came and offered: “will work for food.” I received, in return, a chance to live in unobtrusive human harmony. My job was to reclaim the Meditation and Medicine Wheel gardens—drawing them back, if not to neat herb plots, towards something that wasn’t simply hogweed infested grasslands.

The gardens, like Touchstone herself, feel like a dream that has been realized just outside the plane of reality where most of us—even the deeper, slower, softer set that the farm attracts—walk. The gardens, flower beds, and herb plots often seem as confused as the plants themselves. Neither farm nor farmer are sure who belongs and who does not in the tangle of mints, grasses, flowers, and reeds. There is a loss of intention. A dream within a dream, broken just at the moment where dreaming becomes cognizant.

“Be still, they say. Watch and listen.”

I got dirt under my nails. In fact, I was always dirty. Dirt likes me. If cleanliness is next to godliness, and God is, as I suspect, Dirt, I was in constant devotion and fervent prayer. My feet, black-brown, deeper, nestled in between plants on sandy soil or cobbled walls, listened. My skirt brushed the plants, brushed the dust, brushed my feet, as I squatted in the garden. Reached in blindly. Uncovered hidden treasures. I pulled weeds, yes, but I also pulled mints and tansies and small nameless things that choked out all other life. I sat with the gardens and listened to their confused mutterings, hopeful dreaming, and silent prayers for rain.

Chosen family, uncovered quite by accident like the rose bush behind the grape vine. Traveling with my ancestors behind me, all the people and the little plants and grasses breathing in the hot air, uncovered by dirty hands. The result of the love of thousands.