Monday, August 6, 2007

The Big Draw

We are in Week 6 now--the last week of the summer program. I've had a chance to read some evaluations from departing volunteers. There have been "issues" this summer, there always are. Personality issues, and space usage issues, and food issues, and so on. This is hard work. We get up for breakfast and eat in a big room full of relative strangers morning after morning, then on to peer group, arts and crafts, lunch set-up, lunch dishes, pool duty, blanket time, supper dishes, evening meeting, lodge duty........ ending by bed in a cabin you share with several others. No privacy, no luxuries, no maids or butlers. No air conditioning. This place is an old farm that has been variously upgraded (or not) over the years. I can't even stand up straight in the volunteer shower room, I hit my head on the fluorescent lights. That made scrubbing it out this Saturday a bit of a challenge.

So, why do so many who come here become so .... captured by this place?

We've had a large retinue of local teen volunteers all summer. On any given week I have had a squad of them for many jobs big and small. We had eleven babies last week, so it was all hands on deck for babysitting during peer group time. This week, the youngest child is four, so I am finding jobs for the teens that are related to closing down the program for this year. Things like scrubbing and storing our baby supplies, or testing all our school scissors to see if they can actually cut anything. (Turns out, a large percentage could not. I think they may be the original school scissors purchased by Mother Boniface in 1924.)

Why do they come? Why would someone leave their comfortable home to sweat all day here, washing dishes and so on, and in the case of the local teens, test a gross of school scissors? It does not make any kind of sense. And the families: granted, they do not have to work the way the full-time and local volunteers do, but they are essentially trapped here for a week, eating food not of their culture, sleeping in dorms with people they may not have met before arriving here, going along with our schedule and our program and our silly songs with motions. What is the big draw?

Even now, when I am tired and frankly ready to shut things down and move on, I am simultaneously sad to realize that next week they will all be gone and it will be very, very quiet here. There is something about this place, even at its most difficult, that pulls us in. We cannot explain it to our friends, we cannot show it in pictures or capture it in video. We come, we live life here, and some of us just keep coming back, ruined forever, captured. It is no real explanation to say this is holy ground, and yet it is the only explanation. All ground is holy, but here.... it is just easier to recognize.

Friday, August 3, 2007


What does the expression "easy as pie" really mean? In the text game I play on my brother's website, I have created a character noted for pie-baking, and since coming to Trinita I have begun to take up the art in real life. During Week 3, more as a stress-reliever than as an act of generosity, I baked lemon pies for our volunteers. The hardest part was finding lemons buried deep within the inner recesses of our industrial refrigerator.

But alas, some do not like lemon pie. So last week (Week 4), I was feeling generous and baked chocolate pies. That was somewhat more effort, as I had to stir it over a double boiler and it took a long time to set. But during Week 4 we received a donation of two boxes of almost bad apples. Sister Florence, the Queen of Arts and Crafts at the time, helped me peel and slice enough for six pies, and we froze it. I was eager to bake apples pies for Week 5.

Week 4 was like a dream it was so easy. Sr. Maria Lauren brought Mexican families from her parish in Philadelphia, and we had a great time with them. Lots of babies to hold, little ones to play with, and teens who all went along with everything and enjoyed themselves. In the lodge the teens and adults played a game called Apples to Apples. The title to the game was another sign to me that I must bake apple pies. Apples returned on Friday when our cook Diane was reaching for a gallon container of applesauce in the fridge and it slipped. It was like an explosion of applesauce which covered everything, including Diane. But it seemed only funny rather than distressing--perhaps because the week was so easy.

Easy as pie. Not. This week, Week 5, I baked two apple pies for our dear volunteers. Not to say they aren't worth it, but it was not so easy. Some unexpected things came up and I could not start baking until late. I could not find any lemons anywhere this time--not even a bottle of juice. I made the crust by hand. I did not get them into the oven until almost 11:30. And they took forever to bake! Why? I can't figure out why they took so long. I did not get to bed until 2:00 AM.

They came out good though. The lemon juice we had added to prevent browning was apparently enough. But I've done enough pie for now. I think next week the dear volunteers will get Mama's chocolate cake pudding instead.