This past week the residence staff and I (Mary Claire) headed down the road about three miles to the Maguire House for our orientation retreat. At this retreat, we went over what we would be doing in the Blackburn House and our jobs at Blackburn’s Chapel. It was interesting mix of what we covered. Some topics ranged from lofty, theological conversations to mundane every day living, to the proper way to stand on a blanket (I’ll get to that soon). The week was a whirlwind of getting to know each other. At dinner, we would share personal stories of our lives had led us to Blackburns’ Chapel. During the day, we went through sessions on the different aspects of our job, the different forms of worship, what it means to have vocation, and the community of Todd itself. It was both exhilarating and exhausting. We laughed together, we cried together, we got frustrated at each other, and we lived together.
In one such session, the Great Andrew Florence (Recreational Director of Crossnore School) came to impart his beneficial wisdom on that little known academic subject matter of “fun” and “team building.” One of our activities included how to stand on a blanket. The goal was to fit all five of us on one blanket. It was easy the first time. Then Andrew folded the blanket in half. Again, it was fairly easy to fit all of us on the blanket. Then he did it again. And again. We continued the process until it was a little 1ft x 1ft square that we had to fit all of us on entirely. We took it very seriously. It was in this moment, I believe, that we truly became the Blackburn Team. Cue dramatic music.
Enter Matt Gundlach. One year experience at Blackburn House with two plus years at Koinonia Farm. Expert gardener and farmer, though he claims none of that himself. Farmer Gundlach also has extensive training in theological and literary matters as well as sustainable farming. A seemingly intense man, Farmer Gundlach is in fact very compassionate and well spoken. A firm believer in the responsibility care of the Earth has transformed countless minds to consider the dangers of humanity’s oblivious nature to nature itself. He is a thinker in the truest sense of the word and a problem solver at heart. His problem solving and thinking would be tantamount to the mystery of the blanket challenge. As a side note, Farmer Gundlach also has encyclopedic knowledge of jazz music. It had no bearing on the challenge but I have no doubt will be helpful in a stitch later on.
Then there’s Jaimie McGirt. Community guru, McGirt is known for her profound influence in the world of team building. A natural communicator and leader, her mediation in the blanket challenge got us through many a rough moment and some, quite literally, stepped on toes. Previously having worked with Appalachian Voices, her knowledge of sustainable methods of living rival that of any known (at least to me) being. McGirt has spent a great deal time on a grand farm venture learning from various farmers and studying up on the best methods of farming. She also makes a mean veggie chili and has extensive knowledge of the fermentation of dandelion wine. Her mediation was key to the threat of the blanket.
Susan Schaller was the next member of the team. World renowned author and infamous American Sign Language interpreter, Dame Schaller has traveled the world and across the United States several times. Not only is she fluent in ASL but also British (note: copyright Susan Schaller 2015) which she taught to her twin babies and they are now fluent. Her book, A Man Without Words was recently adapted into a play that had a world premiere. The off-broadway, on-Appalachia production was a huge success. Rumor has it that she turned down several major production companies from Broadway and LA. There is discussion of the play being up for a Tony. Dame Schaller is also known for her meditation practices and nonviolent methods. She was a persistent spirit throughout the horrors of the blanket trial and through her study of crudely developed hand gestures was able to communicate effectively for the team. Her passions include exploring the spiritual and pockets.
Most recent member of Blackburn House is Ingrid Forsyth. Recent graduate of the infamous Appalachian State University, with not one, not two, but three degrees in piano performance, religious studies, and the Spanish language. Professor Ingrid though spending a great deal of her time with her nose in a book, has a lot of hands-on practical knowledge. Both a teacher and a student at heart, Prof. Ingrid has traveled Europe and studied the elusive, meditative Christian practice of Taize. A passionate soul, Prof. Ingrid’s meditative prayers led the team through the many disheartening minutes of the blanket terror.
And finally myself. Mary Claire Grube. I don’t claim much in this world. Just a few Pulitzer’s and Academy Awards here and there. I tried to help lighten the mood mostly.
Nonetheless, this is now the Blackburn team.
I’ll spare you the details of the gory and twisted blanket tribulation. The important thing is we survived with but a few stubbed toes, lost shoes, and scratches.
It might not have been so dramatic as that. We did grow closer over this past week, and I was struck by the many qualities of the Blackburn House that are brought to the table. We learned a great deal about Todd, about its roots. Todd has many roots that are deep and historical. I’d like to think that as silly as it sounds, Blackburn House 2015-2016 is laying down our own roots through even as something as ridiculous as the blanket challenge. Now, Blackburn House roots in this year might be shallow, comparatively. We’ve just met each other and are struggling to fit with each other and with Todd. I hope Blackburn House’s roots will run deep this year.