We drove to the monastery through a blue-and-gold evening, the cornfields and maple trees and old red barns shining with the very last bit of lovely autumn light. By the time we were driving up the winding road to the monastery, a chill was creeping into the air, and I could see that flowers alongside the road had been killed by a hard frost.
Retreat Friend and I took a few minutes to unpack, carrying our bags into the little bedroom we’d share, and then we sat down to eat the sandwiches we’d bought in at the Gorgeous City bakery. The little guest cottage is small, but one whole wall is a big window that looks out over the sheep pastures, facing the winding road we’d just driven up. We ate and talked while the sky above the treeline grew dark and then we walked over for evening prayer with the monks.
The octogon-shaped chapel has a stone floor, with plain wooden benches set in concentric circles around a simple stone altar. Four doors lead outside in the four directions. Retreat Friend and I came in the east door; monks in dark robes were walking in through the northern door. At night, the chapel is lit only by candles. In the dimness, Brother Tractor took his place by the big harp that has stayed in the same spot for the fifteen years that I’ve been coming to this monastery.
As the monks chanted and sang, accompanied by the harp music, I scanned their faces to see how they’d survived the summer. Brother Beekeeper gave me a smile; he’s always the same. Brother Silence, who celebrated his 85th birthday over the summer, wasn’t at the service so I worried whether or not he was well. I was happy to see that Brother Sculptor, who’d come from a monastery in Vietnam last year, was still here. The youngest of the group, a postulant the same age as Boy-in-Black, stood serious and solemn in the semi-circle of monks, most of whom are old enough to be his grandfathers.
When I woke up Saturday morning, a thick fog had descended on the hills of the sheep farm. Misty grey swirled across the chapel, the guesthouses, the barns, and the pastures. From where I sat drinking my morning cup of hot tea, cozy in the chair by the big window, I could see the blurred shapes of sheep climbing the pasture hill. The crooked old trees in the apple orchard looked like they just might come to life and start pelting apples.
The fog stayed all weekend, accompanied by a misty rain that touched my face every time I walked over to the chapel or up to the women’s guesthouse for meals. It was as if the hills of the monastery had risen into the clouds, and the rest of the world simply disappeared. I built a fire in the little stove in the guest cottage and spent Saturday afternoon doing a jigsaw puzzle in front of the window, watching the sheep as they meandered around the pasture.
Unfortunately, time doesn’t stand still at the monastery. Too soon, Sunday afternoon came. Retreat Friend and I packed our bags, cleaned the little cottage for the next guests, and drove down through the grey mist to find our way back home.