Friday, June 26, 2009

The hills are alive with the sound of mooosic

I was fortunate enough to spend the first half of this week at the beautiful Abbey of Regina Laudis, nestled among the hills of western Connecticut. I learned about wool (preparing sheared wool to be turned into yarn), bee-keeping, gardening, orcharding, butter making, and running a small dairy. These are all things that I'd heard about before arriving. What I hadn't expected was how much the joy and thoughtfulness of the Sisters' spritual pursuit was mirrored in their professional endeavors. This was not a bunch of simple women who tinkered with sheep and flowers and prayed for everything to work out. There was quite a bit of worship throughout the day and night for the nuns (and any visitors who cared to participate) -- I attended Vespers services, which consists mainly of the Sisters singing a series of gorgeous psalms in Latin in the late afternoon -- but the prayer and humility of each and every Sister I worked with was complemented by a scientific curiosity and a devotion to her academic field. Many of them hold PhDs, attend conferences, are professional artists, scholars, cheese-makers. I was clearly the student here, and was amazed at how the Sisters seemed genuinely open to all kinds of questions about their craft, about living in such a cloistered yet intellectually engaged community, about the connections between spirituality and food and the land.

From the moment of my arrival I was welcomed into the community. Even when I may have taken more than my share of strawberries and herbed soft cheese with chives at lunch or the dreamy icecream at dinner -- I couldn't resist the startlingly delicious dairy or fresh produce, and it was the feast of St. John the Baptist so I suspect the Sisters on kitchen duty were pulling out all the stops. I daresay some of the soups were divinely inspired: the cooks' hands were surely blessed. (I resisted the temptation to run into the kitchen and kiss the cook, as I had after consuming the most sublime lavender creme brulee ever during a trip through southern France a few years back. Partly, this was due to the Abbey's kitchen being in the enclosed -- and thus off-limits -- portion of the building.)

The women at the Abbey clearly appreciate good food, but also have inculcated the value of conservation, as instructed by Saint Benedict. I read up a bit on St. B. one afternoon: he had a few too many rules for my liking, but his insistence on not being wasteful of any resource -- be it food, water, the land, the human spirit -- holds a good bit of appeal. Finding meaningful, useful work for everyone, taking into account one's interests and abilities, is one of the cornerstones of the Abbey's philosophy, and during my time there, I couldn't help but notice how everyone embraced their given tasks with zeal. I even found myself thinking about how lucky I felt to be a part of this community one morning while pitchforking cow pies into a wheelbarrow outside the dairy -- hardly glamorous (or sweet-smelling) work, but oddly satisfying. (Also, I was still giddy after bottle-feeding one of the young calves, and being nuzzled by a few of the large, peaceful cows as they ambled past me toward the pasture. And I'd guzzled a large coffee with milk squeezed right out of the cow into my mug: the Sisters call it a cow-puccino, but it's really more of a latte.)

After a blissful 3 1/2 days, I departed, filled with gratitude that this community so readily welcomed me into their midst to learn and work and reflect. I hope to return here some day... maybe I'll get to try my hand at making cheese and ice cream the next time around.

Sent from my Verizon Wireless BlackBerry


  1. this is such a beautiful post ibti! it seems like you've captured the essence of the people and the place as well as the food.


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