Saturday, April 21, 2012

A Day of Green Darkness

I woke a bit after 3 this morning, peered at the large red numbers on the digital clock, heaved myself over, rearranging a cozy pile of snuggling cats.
It was still dark when I woke again to the sound of a gentle rain.
I padded into this room to close the window and then out to the sliding doors in the dining area.
I stood for a moment in the pre-dawn chill, gazing with satisfaction at the puddles which shimmered in the glow of the yard light, before returning to the warmth of bed.
At 6:15 I quietly collected an armful of warm clothing and tip-toed from the bedroom.
While Teasel clamoured to be picked up and her cohorts milled about mewing for breakfast, I pulled on sweatpants, fuzzy socks and a ragged 'hoodie.'
With cat breakfast served and hazlenut coffee perking, I headed outdoors.
Pebbles, her coat darkly wet, trumpeted from her pasture in a meaningful way.

The trees in the strip of woodland at our back boundary are in full leaf now.
The sky was pearly grey over a darkly green world.
We have been in a drought for the past month and could use several days or nights of this easy rain.
I was surprised that the birds were quiet this morning, perhaps huddling over nests tucked deep in the maples or in the old apple trees.

I have work still to do in tidying the edges of the strip which J. tilled up to accomodate my peonies.
He worked in some peatmoss yesterday and I set in three of my 5 new plants.
My two yellow peonies--"Molly-the-Witch" came from the nursery as rooted cuttings.
I have them in pots on the front porch and may not plant them out until early fall.
I think there is room for a 6th peony--can one have too many?
My intention is to plant self-sowing annuals here--poppies, nigella, larkspur.

Note how the limestone doorsill has been worn down by the scuffing of many feet.

J. decided that we would visit the Shaker museum, South Union Village, which is less than
an hour's drive away.
From the museum website:  Serene… peaceful… calm… these are the feelings that will wash over you after taking a short drive west of Bowling Green to the historic site of the South Union Shaker Village. The Shakers were an innovative, hard-working religious group, and this community was established in 1807 and closed in 1922. The village site now consists of several restored buildings including the 1824 Centre House, which contains one of the largest collections of Shaker furniture in the U.S.

On display are original furniture, crafts, textiles and manuscripts, including many journals from the Civil War era. During the War, the Shakers at South Union witnessed both armies as they marched through their village, stole their horses and wagons, and demanded meals and services at any time day or night. The war raged in the Shakers' doors and streets, but their pacifism persevered, and it is estimated they served over 100,000 meals to soldiers.

This village is not as large as the one at Pleasant Hill which we visited last August and is not a 'living history' museum.  Only one of the large 'family' dwellings remains.  We were delighted to again have an opportunity to examine the Shaker style of building and furniture making.
The Shakers were among the first to design 'fitted' kitchen cabinetry.
I chose similarly styled cabinets for several of the houses we built in Wyoming, and for the renovated kitchen here in Kentucky.
The kitchens in the communal Shaker dwellings were located in the basement with large windows at ground level.  The spaces are light and airy.
The Shakers at South Union were surprisingly progressive.  Before the village disbanded in 1922, electric light had been installed as well as indoor plumbing.
A huge iron range had replaced open hearth cooking.
A separate space off the main kitchen was the bakery with two brick ovens built into the wall and  furnished with a large food safe with pierced tin panels, a work counter with a shelf below for pans, and the various implements a baker would need.
In its heyday, each kitchen would have supplied 3 daily meals for about 100 people.

A Shaker 'spirit drawing'.

Representation of the Tree of Life from a
Skaker 'spirit' or 'gift' drawing.
"Inspired by visionary experiences, the gift drawings bridge the heavenly and the earthly spheres. Many portray glorious images of heaven intended to demonstrate to young, middle-aged, and elderly Believers the rewards that would await them by remaining faithful and by living their lives in accordance with Shaker precepts."
Text from "Simple Gifts" France Morin, 2001.

This bedroom would have been shared by two of the 'sisters.'
Note the gramophone in the corner, a rather 'worldly' item.
I paged through one of the facsimile hymnals on display and asked the docent if the Shakers would have sung a capella or if instruments were used.
Apparently a piano was allowed in some groups.  The songs I looked at were written in 4 part harmony.

Close-up of stitching detail on the Dresden Plate quilt.
I had to lean over the rope barrier to take this photo.

Walking toward the large white building which served as a granery.
The red barn beyond appears to have been a stable for horses.
At the right of the area was the South Union cemetery.
Over the decades of village occupancy, nearly 500 residents were interred there.
When South Union Village was dissolved in 1922 the property was bought by
Louisville businessman Oscar Bond.
Mr. Bond had the Meeting House dismantled and used the foundation stones when he built his own house on the property.  During restoration work, Mr. Bond's edifice was torn down and the foundation was restored to the original footprint of the meeting house.
Mr. Bond also removed the limestone grave markers from the cemetery, had them pulvurized and spread the resulting powdered lime on his fields!

J. was very impressed with the crop of winter wheat growing on the acreage surrounding the museum.
He requested that I pose at the edge of the field to show the height of the wheat.
You will note I am warmly dressed--heavy tights, a long wool skirt and a bulky knitted sweater vest
under my jacket.
The rain had stopped and the air was quiet, but decidedly chilly.

Close-up of the heads of wheat.

The gnarled trunk of an old apple tree.

A small brick building housed a large cauldron built over a brick hearth.
A sign stated that the Shakers had prepared steamed mash for the dairy cows here, from  grains grown on the property.
Only the foundations of the barns remain.
The window frame of 'the steam house' has been eroded by weather and a bird's nest is
tucked into the corner.

A plot of herbs growing at the back entrance to one of the buildings.
I noted sage, parsley, mint, lemon balm, silver-leaved thyme and a straggling rosemary snugged against the foundation--where it apparently survived the winter outside.
My hands were chilled, the sky was lowering.  We walked quietly along the path back to the warmth of the visitor center and then out to the parking lot.
In less than 10 minutes we were back in town and entering our favorite restaurant there.
Darjeeling tea spiked with lemon in a heavy ironstone mug warmed my fingers.
As we waited for our lunch to appear, we spoke of the things at the museum we had most admired.
J. is much enthralled with the wheat crop and determined that he will plant our back field to
wheat come autumn.
The graceful proportions of the rooms stay with me, the lines of beautifully crafted furniture.  I try to imagine working in the big kitchen, one of a team preparing meals, or perhaps working at a loom in the
weaving shed.
Sharing a space with so many others seems daunting.
I can't imagine celibacy as a spiritual choice.
I am fascinated by this glimpse into a lifestyle which was surely doomed by its peculiarites, even as it fostered and encouraged some of the most beautiful craftmanship in the country.


  1. I've always loved the Shaker style and work ethic and have visited Canterbury (twice), Enfield and Hancock Shaker Museums. I always love the tranquil atmosphere of these places. One day I'd love to go to Sabbathday Lake up in Maine which I believe is the only place that still has a tiny Shaker community. I have Shaker boxes from each of my visits and they give me pleasure every time I look at them.

  2. Thank you for the tour! Glad you had some rain. It's been pretty dry here too. The Shaker lifestyle has always fascinated me. I can see the good points, but afraid I'm too much of a loner to have enjoyed a communal lifestyle. Can't wait to see pictures of your peonies when they are in bloom!

  3. I loved this post, a little of all the things I like to read about.
    I would have enjoyed that visit to the shaker museum. When I saw the quilts, I thought PLEASE let their be a close-up and you did not disappoint me :-)
    I particularly liked the shaker tree, it got me thinking about a textile piece with all the autumnal coloured leaves- on my "do-list"!

  4. Find the Shakers to be very interesting people, can't imagine living communally or celibate. Do like their simple furniture style.
    Thanks for the visit.
    This is my 4th try to post, hope it works this time.

  5. What a lovely post. I shall return and read it again when I am not quite so tired (up v. early today). I like the Shaker simplicity too, but celibacy and/or communal living not for me!

  6. Rowan; I'm sorry that we never visited the New Hampshire Shaker communities when we lived in Vermont. One of those things we spoke of doing and never found the time. I'm glad you've had opportunity to go there.

    Jane; Its hard to imagine always being surrounded by people and having such regimented days. I'm sure there were close bonds formed, but there must have been irritating companions as well.
    My white peony bloomed in the pot before I set it out. The others are smaller and likely won't bloom this year.

    Kath; I thought of you as I leaned in for a close-up of the quilt. The stitching was as fine as I've seen on display anywhere. I can imagine the Tree of Life as an applique or crewel project.

    Janet; Three similar comments came through from you, so I chose one to post. Celibacy doesn't seem an appealing choice, does it!

    BB; Interestingly, one of the docents remarked that the advancement of the industrial age had a big impact on the Shaker lifestyle, speeding its demise. I'm still convinced that the vow of celibacy would have deterred many who might have found other aspects of the community appealing.