90,000 Miles to Me

28,944 Miles • Shaker Simplicity

Heading northwest from Hartford toward New York and the Adirondacks, I found some lovely mountainous roads along a small river through a windy valley flanked by woods. Along the way I passed this:

  • Place name: Satan’s Kingdom State Recreational Area, CT—Really? Someone intentionally named their park this?
  • Street name: Polarity Way 

In the southeast corner of New York state lies the remnants of Mount Lebanon Shaker Village.

This particular shaker site was founded in 1787 as the first official Shaker community, called North Family, and became the leader in administrative and spiritual affairs and a model for all other Shaker communities that emerged throughout New England and south and west into Kentucky, Ohio, and Florida.

At its peak in the mid 19th century, Mount Lebanon spanned over 6,000 acres and around 600 people lived and worked here in hundreds of buildings. After a period of decline, Mount Lebanon closed in 1947. Only about a dozen buildings are available to the public today. Several others remain and have been repurposed as private homes, a school, and even a Sufi community.

Arguably the most impressive building that remains is the Great Stone Barn, thought to be the largest stone barn in the entire United States. It is enormous. Nearly 200 feet long, 50 feet wide, and 62 feet high. Due to its age, however, and because the interior wooden framework was lost to arson in 1972, it is now being reinforced on the south side by several steel supports.

It is three stories tall and the top floor was accessed at the top of the downhill road coming into the village. Because it is built on the side of a steep hill, wagons could unload heavy loads of hay on the top floor and the hay systematically brought down to the animals as needed instead of having to be carried up for storage. Ingenious. The wagons could then continue down the road and around to the bottom floor of the barn or the nearby carriage shed.

The carriage shed was a long building that was open on one of the long sides of the ground floor so that many carriages, wagons, and sleighs could be easily parked inside.

A hole in the first floor ceiling allowed a ramp to be lowered so that wagons or sleighs could be stored on the second floor in their off-season.

In this brick workshop, built in 1829, a wide array of trades took place in the nearly 17,000 sq ft, including woodworking, tailoring, shoe and hat making, and a shop for the community’s seed business. Over the years, different areas were repurposed as needed, sometimes serving as a schoolroom, vegetable storage, a laundry, and living space.

Around the back of the workshop, I found this lovely overgrown area, along with the one at the top of this page. I liked the “rural quaintness” of it. 🙂

To get into the Shaker spirit for the morning, I looked up shaker hymns online and found this one, “Simple Gifts”:

‘Tis a gift to be simple
‘Tis a gift to be free
‘Tis a gift to come down where we ought to be
And when we find ourselves in the place just right
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight

It occurs to me that the Shakers, Amish, and Quakers were all after a simpler lifestyle—in an era before cars, electricity, airplanes, computers, etc. The longing for a simpler life has been a common motivation to join monasteries and nunneries for ages before that. It is a thread that pervades history, long before modern complications gave rise to the slow food movement, and then slow gardening, slow parenting, slow travel, slow living, and my personal favorite, slow television:

My own Journey has been in large part a quest for renewed simplicity: trusting that by striping away both physical and psychological complications and the emotional burdens of those complications, I will be able to get at the core of my Self, and from there pursue a more core-driven life.

This project has already borne quite a bit of fruit, and I am hopeful for even more. I feel somehow ready for it. Primed, as it were. Like something has been working in me for a while and is ready to break away soon. I don’t know yet what, but this has now happened enough that I am beginning to rely on that feeling and trust that whatever happens, it will be a good thing.


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