In a valley that, if observed from up high, resembles a bowl- there is a village of twelve houses. They hold farmers, bakers, and candlemakers. These houses do not have televisions, pets, or microwaves. They sing and bless their meals. They are from Europe and Asia, South America and Africa. The people live together without necessarily a lot in common, but their service to each other, their time, and their place.
What I’ve described is Camphill Village, an intentional community that operates under the philosophy of Rudolph Steiner and supports the education, employment, and day-to-day life of adults with intellectual disabilities. I am spending my third co-op here for the Fall of 2020 in the foothills of Copake, NY. It is the center of a movement, in the middle of nowhere.
From the get-go Camphill was not a regular community and did not try to be. After quarantining for two weeks, I went to live with eight others in my house, Aspen. As dinner guests came and went in the coming weeks, there was a common story amongst the older long-term volunteers. Namely, that they came to Camphill at a young age, were spellbound, and stayed for life.
I can understand this trajectory. In particular, I work on the estate of Camphill. We rake leaves and stack wood. We collect the compost every Friday, and get to smell it, too. We tear down old sheds and ride with the wind in our face on the flatbeds of dump trucks. We laugh together.
It is relaxed, necessary work, or, as was said to me on my second day, “we’re glorified landscapers.” And even in that remark, that was not sarcastic but humbled, there was a little hint that suggested that, really, we’ve got it good. And I think everyone here knows that they’ve got it good. For each person has their part and purpose. There are estate people, and candlemakers, and bakers, and weavers, farmers, gardeners, and grocery clerks. The village supports itself happily and eagerly as a well oiled machine. There are readers, violin players, cyclists, and certified-eurythmy-experts. People work hard to retain Camphill’s goodness and so it does. And its goodness retains its people.
That is much to say, the majority of Camphill’s goodness is in its people. You see, living with those who are differently abled was initially a learning curve. I am no good measure of my ignorance before I came to Camphill, and continue to be blind to what I do not know, but I will say that as I have lived here I have felt a shift, whatever that means. Looking back, it was an unrealized belief of mine that people with different abilities were apart from me in important or fundamental ways. And since my time here, I no longer recognize that belief in myself. Instead, I find the people here as different from me in fundamentally unimportant ways. Just like everyone else. I am reminded of other people I know in their quirks, I enjoy the presence of their personalities, we share and poke fun. In that way, Camphill is just a community, with people, in houses.
Camphill has led me in an experience that will stay fresh with me long after I leave. Communities share their lives together, which seems obvious, but is a less clear and more interesting fact as I’ve learned what it means to share life. In its sorrows and joys, and intimately, in a village of 200 people. All wrapped up in a valley, that, if observed from up high, resembles a bowl.