One Year in France

The searing heat of the summer has shifted to the damp chill of autumn. The sunflowers have progressed from promising buds to bright beauties to shriveled black ghosts of ripening seeds, and now the fields are back to the beginning, a rich brown earth. The first year here in this intentional community in France has passed in a flash, and the second year promises its own particular set of memories as the renovation project roars through the main house. I thought I’d stop on this cool Saturday and think about what the first year has brought us and what the second year portends.

I have learned so many things this year about making a dream manifest. First and most importantly, it matters who the people are who create this dream. There were ten; now there are twelve Stewards of this community. When we came here in dribs and drabs over the course of the year, some of us knew each other well, others not well at all. No one knew everyone well. One year in, it is hard to imagine that we haven’t been together always. There are ways we are so different: the twelve of us were born in six different countries, come from different social classes, religions, family systems. And there are ways we are much the same: we are drawn to this experiment, we listen well, we tend towards collectivity and kindness. Sometimes the nature of the experiment itself creates the conditions for a particular kind of person to join into it. In this case, the people who were drawn into our circle are exactly the right people for making the circle beautiful. I find this a powerful lesson for the creation of other dreams. I’ll now ask myself: How can the dream itself create the conditions to draw the right people towards it? How can the right people create the conditions for the dream to come to life?

It also matters who partakes of the dream and how they become a part of it—those who stay once (or more) also create this space that they visit. Wendy pointed out that the guests as much as the residents make up our dream. Without the guests, it would be possible for us Stewards to become very internally focused and to find ourselves tripping over meaningless annoyances that spring up like weeds in any human system. But with them, we are somehow more outward focused and also more connected with one another.

I have lost track of how many guests have sat around our table, have walked around our pond, have snuggled in one of our many beds. Would it be forty? eighty? They have swum in the river, bought fruit at the market, plunged into the pool in the shimmering heat. They come and learn our young traditions: they pick their napkin and napkin ring, they join us in the gratitude round at dinner. They bring their traditions and leave some behind—a new game, a dance move, a way of arranging the furniture.

One evening this summer, in the August that had dozens of people come through, a handful of Stewards found ourselves in the kitchen together in a rare moment of quiet. We were chopping and separating eggs and grating cheese for a dinner that was to feature three kinds of souffles for 18 people at once—the kind of project dinner that is both amusing and somewhat terrifying simultaneously. And suddenly we looked up from our work and breathed in our community and the way we create together, and we were overcome with joy that this was our life and that we had found each other. We fretted that the souffles wouldn’t rise well in the heat, but we knew that all was well in any case. (And the souffles were delicious.) As I dream into the future, I’ll wonder: Who are the others who are necessary for the dream to become real? How do we connect with those people? What is the exchange we offer one another?

This leads me to the way the land holds us, the joy and peace that seem to be the firm clay of the earth. We learn from the quiet grace of the trees, from the stable beauty of the stone buildings, from the joyful artwork of the painted ceilings. The land and the houses tell us all will be well, that the human error is to believe that we are the strongest things or that our time scale is the most appropriate. Here the time scale is of the seasons: spring: thick with mud and the golden green that promises new life; summer: shimmering with heat and the laughter of children; autumn: golden bountiful harvest, and winter: heavy with fog and glittering with frost. And centuries: trees that were planted as Shakespeare nibbled on his quill pen and considered the plot of Romeo and Juliet, buildings that were stacked of stone before Louis XIV became the sun king. This place will outlive us all. The trees will watch us come and go. The buildings will hold generations forward as they have held generations behind. We are woven through with the past and the future here. This is always true, everywhere. But here we have cause to remember. Lesson: As the dream expands, I will consider the time scale and try not to simply center the time scale of my own life.

As we look ahead, our fingerprints are beginning to be pressed into the earth, to harden in the clay. We have dismantled our big house in order to restore it to something of its former glory. We are unpiecing some of the renovation that has been done to it over the last century (where passageways were closed to make common spaces private and thus rentable) and restoring the home to something we imagine it once was: a glorious place for gathering, for eating, for talking, for dancing together. And we are adding our touches: here the kitchen is not a hidden space but a centerpiece. Here the floor needs to work for those who need to wheel through the rooms as well as those who saunter through it on foot. Right now, it looks like mess and dust and dirt floors where there was usable space just two months ago. But that is the way of most forms of growth: there is the messy demolition before the remaking. In this year, we have discovered this is as true about each of us as it is about our buildings. We will all fall apart a little before we fall back together, new and old all at once.

PS the photo today is dawn, French-style. Who needs spring blossoms when you can have blossoming clouds each morning…

8 thoughts on “One Year in France

  1. Beautiful words about wonderful unfoldings,Jennifer – lovely to have the glimpse. Wishing you and yours well for winter’s festivities.


  2. So inspirational Jennifer. For me, your words tap into a deep, whispering yearning for such a community. I can only imagine how much courage and commitment it takes – which provokes and challenges me to lean into how we create a more intentional community for our immediate and extended family. Thank you for sharing. xxx


  3. I always love reading your reflections, an amazing experience that will continue to give joy and inspiration, thank you for sharing. This motivates and reminds me to take more time to notice the beauty around us within community and environment. We in the process of building a home to share with friends and family in our beautiful New Zealand bush – I can’t wait. Aroha mai aroha atu. Pip


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