It’s hard to believe today is my last day at work. It’s hard to believe this is the last day I’ll come in, snarf the last cup of morning coffee lurking in the pot, and get a daily dose of morning banter from with Dale before sitting down to process the day’s news. Hard to believe that yesterday’s meeting with the news department was the last. Harder still to fathom leaving the North Country.
Last night we had a goodbye party (by which I mean bacchanalian feast) at Ellen’s. The table groaned under the weight of homemade pasta, corn fresh from the garden, Ellen’s famous flatbread, and a host of other delights. And so it was that on this particular balmy evening surrounded by good friends, I was inducted into the tribe.
Earlier in the summer April (another tenant chez Ellen and now dear friend) and I were puzzling over the sort of magical dynamic at work on the farm. What was the community we had entered and shaped? It wasn’t a commune (there seems to be a ‘been there, done that’ attitude to communal living in DeKalb). Boarding house, halfway house, youth hostel—none seemed right. And no pc hogwash about intentional communities, either. Given the mishmash of personas living under our roof, intentional seemed the furthest thing from accurate.
The word we settled on: tribe. Merriam Webster has a couple of definitions, my favorite being “a social group comprising numerous families, clans, or generations together with slaves, dependents, or adopted strangers.” That pretty perfectly sums up the group at Ellen’s. We number 6, or sometimes 7. We range in age from 20 to 65. We’re from all over. And everyone is or has been a little bit of a vagabond, a little bit of a stray. Nobody in the house really makes sense together. But we’re all looking for the same thing.
This is where the adopted strangers part of the definition comes in, jokes about indentured servitude and serf labor aside. On the Maple Ridge Road, a sort of merry chaos reigns. Everyone does their part to keep the garden/chickens/ /barn/sheep/equipment/turkeys/dogs/kitchen/cats/yard going. Everyone helps with meals and dishes. Everyone’s contributions are respected, everyone’s personalities allowed to flourish. And yeah, we all get made fun of—but there’s an equal opportunity harassment policy.
Living, working, and playing together during a North Country summer has made me (and, I imagine, my other housemates) really consider the things I value. Perhaps I border here on the cliché, but everything seems to involve the proverbial dinner table. First there’s food, and how it got here. I grew up in a city where vegetables come from supermarkets; where items are bought, not made. As a result, I’ve never really seen food come, as it does here, from garden to table throughout the summer. The process is sort of miraculous. But I recognize that it takes work, and here is item two: labor (tumbling utterly headfirst into the cliché here, but bear with me). I’ve spent most of my life being funneled through educational channels and while I’ve almost always had jobs on the side, I’ve never done much manual labor. Now, I rue knowing how to do next-to-nothing with my hands. (This, my friends, is soon to change. I’m thinking about starting a bathtub gin distillery. Any investors out there?) And I’m also starting to place enormous value on vocations like farming and craftsmanship, where hard work (hopefully) produces concrete, useful products. And finally, item three: good company. We get it at the dinner table, folks, and it certainly isn’t lacking on Maple Ridge Road. I’ve laughed a lot with the old tribe—and learned a lot from them.
So, the secret to tribal success: real food, real work, real company. Ellen’s got it figured out (perhaps this is what makes her such a good boss). Wherever I go next and wherever I end up, I know I’ll take those things with me. And even though summer’s drawing to a close and the winds are blowing me first to Texas, then to Vermont, don’t think I’m done with the North Country yet. I’ll be back here one way or another—you can count on it. In the meantime, long live the Maple Ridge tribe!