After miles and miles of rocky dirt roads, the aromas of cut hay and lavender fill the air while couples do fancy footwork to the commands of a square dance caller with a Brooklyn accent.
"No running through the dance floor. Get that little kid a partner. A four-year-old can't dance on his own," he says forcefully.
I think to myself: "how did a New Yorker become a square dance caller?" The slightly paunchy man wears cowboy boots, a bolero and has rules that rival the Soup Nazi on Seinfeld. "Bow to your corner, bow to your partner, doe see doe and promenade," calls the husky-voiced man. I'm not in the Twilight zone, I'm three hours north of my home at a farm in rural Mendocino. Sure, it wasn't the best idea to go four-wheeling in my Prius, but we -- my friends and family -- made it.
A variety of families from different parts of California gather at the hippie camp for a week of "temporary community." Days are spent picking berries, gathering eggs, floating on inner tubes and milking Delilah the cow -- a black and white Holstein who mooed in delight after five gallons of milk was released from her teats. Creamy milk spilled into a big, weathered aluminum bucket.
For entertainment, I sit watching the square dancing families. Many look like perfect foursomes. But as stories pour out like Delilah's milk, I hear the configurations aren't as in sync as the quartets on the dance floor. Tales of divorce, infertility struggles, cancer, aneurysms and life's challenges spin in and out of the evenings dialog. The road trip starts to transition from a time to relax to a time to reevaluate.
My friend who invited me here lost her husband unexpectedly several years ago. She courageously shares that she over scheduled herself for two and half years after her husband passed. During that time, she sold a company, bought a house, sold a house, did a remodel, helped her daughter. She distracted herself as long as she could. And then, she started grieving.
Here there is no cellular service, no email and no room for distractions from our selves. Meals arrive family style at 8:30, 12:00 and 6:30. A rooster crows at sunrise and friends laugh at sunset. I've entered a community -- much different than the kind I connect with on Twitter -- and for several days, I have an instant family. Things are going great without technology. We've simplified and are still satisfied -- it's a somewhat familiar feeling.
I've have often wondered what community living would be like, as several of my cousins were raised Mennonite. I was the suburban mouse. They were the country mice. They wore traditional floor-length dresses, pressed shirts and scarves in their hair. My sister and I dressed in jeans, t-shirts and smothered our lips with gooey gloss. They made art. We talked about Andy Gibb. They shared. We gossiped. They listened. And, we judged. The simpler life was hard to fathom.
Yet over a dinner of fresh corn, sunflower laden salad and homemade pizza, I'm reminded of the importance of simplicity and resetting. It's easy to let schedules, shopping and endless "To-Do" lists get in the way of really being able to relax and enjoy the moment. As the sun sets, two red haired boys play football while their hiking boot adorned mom reads an Amy Tan novel. The kids giggle, they're pondering putting the frog down their mother's shirt. And although I'm sure she'd be alarmed, I think she'd also smile. It is then that I remind myself there is perfection in all of life's imperfections. This turned out to be a road trip of reflection.