Thanks to friends of friends at Koinonia Farm, while hiking through New York we had a chance to take a day of rest in a Bruderhof community located very close to the trail. (Check out some basics on their Christian communal groups on Wikipedia if you aren’t familiar; I wasn’t very). I cannot express the sincerity and volume of their hospitality. I think they’re trying to show how god’s love must feel, to make us wonder that it comes despite our having done nothing to deserve it. Perhaps they are following the “love your neighbor as yourself” dictum… except sometimes I am not that good at loving myself. In any case, we were met at the road and brought to their lovely, immaculate home.
(They are so clean and orderly that the next day when I hung my camp towel on top of one of my trekking poles and stuck the pole in the ground outside the building, I returned in an hour to notice that a drying rack had been set underneath the towel, with the pole relaxing on the top rack.)
They were gathered under some big trees in a circle. We had arrived in the midst of an end-of-year celebration for their schoolchildren. The children were honored and asked to shake hands with elder members of the community. (There is also more handshaking there than anyplace else I’ve been. They would put politicians to shame.) Then the young men wheeled forth coolers full of ice cream with strawberries ladled on top, and handed them out to everyone. Everyone sang songs, people asked us questions and welcomed us, and then we went to bed.
Our host’s sister and her niece, about twelve years old, hiked with us the next day. They are excellent hikers. They put on tennis shoes along with their regular attire of long dresses, plain work shirts, and wide-brimmed cloth hats over their braids, then gracefully and swiftly moved down the path, jumping logs, scrambling up boulders. It was a treat to have local experts along on the hike: Jodie pointed out wintergreen leaves and a raven’s nest, and Carrie and I mused on flowers we were trying to identify.
It was so interesting to observe at least the surface of another community, another culture. Their subtle accents, perhaps due to German origins and/or their exile time in Paraguay, evident when they say foam, light, or settlers. Their children nimbly climbing trees. Their singing together at every gathering–and there are many gatherings. (And it was with disbelief I watched as everyone did so… the guys are not secretly wishing they could go home and watch Monday Night Football? They really want to sit with their families and sing in three-part harmony simple and cheerful songs about hiking, rambling, being on the sea, loving each other, and the moon? It seems so.) And their desire to impart to their younger generations the urgency and drive with which they were founded in Germany in the 1920s, a unity born both of newness and of persecution.
They sent us off the next morning with a dozen freshly baked oatmeal-raisin cookies, a loaf of braided bread baked golden brown with sesame seeds on top, and a feeling of immersion in kindness. We are very grateful. These are the unexpected Trail experiences we will never forget.