When we renovated the kitchen of this old farmhouse we installed two sinks because generous guests are forever asking, “what can I do to help?” So all through this glorious month of bounty – fruit, vegetables and convivial gatherings – cheery teams have put those workstations to good use.
The teams migrate as projects are conceived. One morning someone wakes up and says, “let’s build an extension to the deck.” And out come the power drills.
On the hottest afternoon of the year our neighbors Nikky and David * arrive with expertise and physical prowess to help move the huge custom doors on the extension to our winery.
Another day it’s “let’s finish the rock garden and Japanese fountain,” so an army of muscles drags a 700 pound, carved silex stone into place, using logs, ancient Egyptian style.
One morning the team is at play in this garden, quietly creating cairns of rock upon rock, delicately balanced risings that defy gravity. When the wind demolishes these ephemeral sculptures, no one weeps, for the ongoing game allows for another artist to muse, puzzle and arrange a different tower of balance.
On a group outing into the woods the team discovers a wall of ripe blackberries – “un mur de mûres mûres…* Two hours later baskets are laden for tarte making. The berries are barely off the vines before someone organizes an expedition to the orchard with an out-size chariot to collect all the fruit there, and then a dozen hands cook up a years’ worth of apple-pear compote or fig chutney or plum jam.
For a week we are treated to al fresco dinners of 14, meals lavishly prepared by our Brazilian guests and followed by midnight playoffs in the pool. And let us not forget the serious semi-finals of petanque which revealed all manner of national hilarity – on this evening it was Brits vs. Yanks and Brazil vs. France. John worked as referee by serving up cold rosé.
So much fun, so much delightful community – it’s enough to send one scurrying to the convent!
In fact, this all starts to remind me of something I once read about life in a cloistered order. The monk or nun complains they’ve come to this place for quiet and peace, not conflict – which inevitably rises in community, even a community dedicated to spiritual goals. The wise Mother Superior reminds the novice that it’s “for the friction” that we come together. For that rubbing up against the other. Collegial or delightful is terrific but it’s the moments of conflict that force us to learn about ourselves. And hopefully arrive at some semblance of self-mastery.
I’m the first to admit I am no saint, so as the teams of petonque players and deck builders swirl around me, I muse about my inner demons and concentrate on a high frequency blackberry tarte embellished by an almond pâte sablé, and crème patissière. Then I collect my pruning scissors and head for the vineyard. The grapes need extra air and sun before harvest and it’s my pleasure to oblige. In return I find sanctuary, a sort of working meditation, my only companions the long and silent, leafy rows.
*Our neighbors Nikky and David Field – Chateau Champs de L’Ombriere – wonderful white wine!
*Another team game, a word game: “un mur de mûres mûres, rammassé par des gens mûrs qui murmurent. ” (A wall of ripe blackberries, gathered by murmuring mature gents.”)