Posted January 25, 2010 in Combermere Diary:
Combermere Diary (January 2010)

by Paulette Curran.

As I write this in mid-November, we are continuing to enjoy an unusually mild autumn. But though it doesn’t feel like November, the view from my window confirms that it is. The bright leaves of autumn are gone, the pine and spruce trees are a dull, dark green, and all else is varying shades of gray and brown.

But November has its beauty, too. This is the time of year when you can really see the beauty of the shape of the trees and their branches.

Late autumn is the season when the farmers and gardeners "put the gardens to bed."

Just this morning I mentioned this to a new Korean guest, and, of course, she looked puzzled. One of the gifts of having so many visitors for whom English is a second language is that in trying to explain our English expressions, we ourselves discover how graphic and clever some of them are.

"It’s like putting children to bed," I told her, after a few moments of thinking it out. "The gardens will sleep all winter, and soon they’ll have their snow blankets."

Actually, there’s lots of work to putting gardens to bed: cutting down perennials, mulching; disking; cleaning, oiling, and storing tools and implements, etc., etc.

Other things get put to bed as well. The outdoor parts of the museum—such as the antique carriage and farm implements, the chairs and benches—are cleaned and brought into the museum building.

The motorboat and canoes, the raft, and the buoys, are pulled out of the water, cleaned, repaired and stored. The bicycles, which we use for transportation as well as recreation, are also repaired and put away.

The leaves and pine needles are raked, the wood boxes filled. The screens are taken down and replaced by storm windows, and shallow trenches are dug and gravel laid to direct the snow run-off.

We’ve also still been dealing with our abundant harvest. For example, we gave lots of potatoes to local food banks.

Three of the staff returning from MH Ghana put on a presentation in word, song, and image of the closing of the house.

Maureen Denis, the former director, expressed deep gratitude for all she learned there, especially what it means to live in a stance of gratitude in all circumstances and for all things.

The Ghanaians, she said, live that way, and though they have little, she saw great joy in them. "You see how transient life is," she said, "and you learn not to cling."

All Saints Day is probably the most beautiful feast in November, and its falling on Sunday this year made it even more special. As usual, it began for us the night before when some of the local children, dressed as saints, processed through our dining room and told us about their saints.

These children celebrate All Saints Day instead of Halloween, and it is wonderful for us to be a part of it.

Our own celebration of the saints is different every year, and this year it was simpler than most. We had hors d’oeuvres at our dinner tables while each person showed a symbol of his or her favorite saint to the others at the table and told them about that saint.

Then on All Souls Day, as has become our custom, we went to the cemetery after lunch and prayed the rosary. And the library put up a display of the photos of all the deceased members of our MH family. We don’t often mention displays, but the library puts them up for every celebration and event, and they add so much to our information and enjoyment.

In the last few years, it seems, many of our young staff and guests play musical instruments and play them well. And many of the guests who don’t play love to listen and sing. Jam sessions seem to be one of their favorite recreational activities.

This past summer, as we told you then, Marie-Therese McLaughlin organized a music night. Well, she did it again.

The call for performers came only shortly before the performance, so the week before was filled with music. In every nook and cranny (and believe me, it isn’t easy to find an empty nook and cranny at our place), and during every spare moment, people were practicing, practicing, practicing.

Some performers were the same and some different from last summer, and again it was wonderful.

It was also, as is every such event here, very international, and included, among other things, Korean songs, Ghanaian song and dance, Canadian Maritime ballads, two songs written just for the occasion, and can’t-keep-your-feet-still percussion playing.

We have lots of working guests these days—a total of 35 men and women right now, though the number changes constantly. Among them is an especially large number of Koreans—nine longterm guests. (You don’t come all the way from Korea for two weeks.)

One of our current longterm guests is a woman from India, who came to experience Catherine Doherty’s community. She read the book, Poustinia, 27 years ago, and deeply affected by it, made one of the rooms in her house into a poustinia. Then she gradually entered into a variation of the poustinik way of life.

The amazing thing is that she did all this knowing nothing about Catherine or Madonna House other than what was in the book. In fact, it is only very recently that she discovered that Catherine had founded a community in Canada!

Well, we began this column with trees, and one thing that is happening this week is about trees, too. Most of you know that we live in a forest, but you may not know that the part of that forest that is our land needs to be taken care of.

This week Fr. Louis Labrecque and Scott Eagan and others are cutting down a few really tall old trees, trees that have rotten parts. This is a job requiring a high level of skill, especially when a couple of those trees are very close to buildings. This is one of the many instances when we are very aware of God’s protection.

Well, I guess that’s all the news for this month. May the coming year be one of peace and blessing.


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