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Sunday, June 10, 2012

Campground Sounds

The cottages are nearly touching.

Administrative Offices. 
Most people, when they hear that I live on the Campgrounds, do not imagine that I am a resident of a religious community.  The Martha’s Vineyard Camp Meeting Association dates back to 1827.  Methodists flocked to the Vineyard during the summer months to spend a week, sometimes two or more, to pray.  They pitched tents in concentric circles around a central meeting place.  Over the years, they built raised platforms to keep the tents off the sometimes wet and soggy earth.  Over time, industrious and imaginative Methodists (no, they are not mutually exclusive) built gingerbread cottages, decorative little houses that, in some ways, resembled the tents they hadlonbeen using.  These cottages, built on the very same tent platforms, were owned by the the prayerful Methodists, however, the land was owned by the Meeting Association.  By 1879, enough funds were raised to build an iron tabernacle to replace huge tent that had been rigged over the center of the campgrounds, Ocean Groves.  The Tabernacle provided a permanent solution to coping with the elements that could, on the long days spend in prayer, have adverse effects on the congregation.  The Tabernacle was restored and updated in 1999.  It is used during the summer months for church services, community sings and musical performances by many famous musicians.  The cottages on the Campgrounds are in a constant state of renewal and repair. They may pass from generation to generation and from family to family, but the cottages, together, stand like sentries around the tabernacle.  So much about this place is about its sounds. Perhaps that is just one of the many ways we find God’s expression in our lives.
The sounds on the Campgrounds begin with the birds. Around 4 a.m. in the summer months, the earliest birds begin to rouse, and with them comes their diverse calls and cries. The most annoying are the loud caws of the crows around 5 a.m..  Because the cottages are so closely aligned, I can hear my next door neighbor cough as she awakes. Just around 6 a.m. the first walkers stroll by the back of the house (our cottage is sandwiched between two lanes).  The early-risers' footfalls and their dogs' collars jingle playing like percussion instruments. By 7 a.m. on Mondays and Thursdays, time for garbage pickup. A Campground truck swings around gathering our refuge in record time.  For ten months out of the year, workmen are hired to do the painting, sanding and primping of houses.  At 8 a.m., they start to arrive. The church steeple rings on the quarter hour from 9 a.m. until 6 p.m. with an added bonus.  It plays a phrase of a hymn on every hour except noon and six. At those times, we are treated to a clarion of bells playing an entire hymn. Those bells ring year-round. The truth is that even after fifty years, when I hear the bells, every time, my thoughts turn to God. What a well-trained Methodist I have become!   
In the afternoon, during summers, around 3 p.m. families that loaded up their station wagons and vans before lunch, are returning from the beach. The outdoor showers splash and spray, neighbors call to each other over their fences to make plans to share dinner, children are sent outside to “Hang up your towel!" and "Get that sand off your feet.”  Between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. all the painters and carpenters retire.  Walking through the Campgrounds, there are the sounds of wine bottles opening, voices run like babbling streams, never really pausing and children play hide and seek, counting out loud.  Sometimes, homeowners sit quietly on their front porches with their noses buried in books. Only the sound of the turning page alerts a walker-by to their presence. With the Kindle, even that sound is gone.
After dinner, the rattle and clank of dishes and pans being washed abates.
Music, television, and an occasional instrument fractures the darkening sky with human sounds.  Gradually, only the whiz of a car or the heavier whirrr of a truck interrupts the night. While the Campgrounds are never silent, night lets sound rest.  For about six hours, an entire community grows still.  Then, the long fingers of dawn reach through the leaded glass windows that remain in many of the cottages.  The light brings with it the sounds of a new day. 

Inside the tabernacle, music rises.

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