Touchstone Farm was like no place I'd ever seen. It resembled the hippie communes of my imagination, but its simplicity and eclectic beauty amazed me. The Dancing Barn was where the dancers gathered, and also where a group of us college students stayed overnight for our retreat. Its floor was covered with oriental rugs which overlapped in places to give a kaleidoscopic wall-to-wall carpet effect. Every object, ornamental and useful, had a handmade feel to it. Even the piano looked as though someone had managed—somehow, through hard work and love—to build it from scratch. The kitchen, where we giggled and scrambled tofu with tomatoes for breakfast, featured a hand-written sign: "If you set no-kill traps, please remember to check them often so the creatures inside may not suffer."
I walked the outdoor labyrinth and made sun tea. I wondered how the farm could feel so planned (as all places that harvest plants must be) and still remain so wild. At night, I swam in the pond. I slipped into a kind of relaxation I haven't achieved since. Touchstone is the one place I've ever felt that my physical appearance wasn't being scrutinized. My body didn't matter except for its ability to work, dance, hold hands. Relief is not strong enough a word.
And I never went back.
Touchstone Farm was just a little too far from where I was living to reach without access to a car. And I was not yet in a place where I felt I could reach out and find like-minded strangers who might want to, say, share a van to Easthampton. I thought about the farm often, though...until, gradually, I stopped thinking about it.
About a year ago, I began listening again to the one CD of Circle Dance music I have from Touchstone. Recently, when all sound and noise started to irritate me, I found I could still listen to Anja and Shakur singing. The vibration of Touchstone is in the music—it eases me into work-dance-hold-hands mode—but listening is not the same as being there. I miss the energy, the faces, the voices of these wanderers and mystics who are not really from anywhere except for a bit of a German or Irish or Boston accent. They say "hahmahny" for "harmony."
For weeks I was fantasizing about going back. It seemed like an especially ideal place to be pregnant—which is a strange thought, I admit, considering that Touchstone's inhabitants lead an almost monastic existence. I saw myself wearing blanket-sweater hybrids over flowy dresses, harvesting organic herbs, walking the outdoor labyrinth every day. This vision started to seem realistic and achievable—I knew Touchstone hosted various summer retreats and work programs—and then I saw what was really going on. I didn't want a retreat, I wanted to escape.
As I felt myself becoming more rooted to this life—and nothing roots one like a baby—part of me tried to rebel. I wanted to pull away from my current reality, leave my partner and child and car and garden that needs weeding and floor that needs sweeping so that I could go weed someone else's garden, sweep someone else's floor. And even more than a physical departure, I wanted to travel back in time, to the Touchstone Farm I experienced ten years ago. If only time were more fluid, I could truly escape—to the self I was ten years ago, when living forever in "a community of hermits who happen to like people" (as they often refer to themselves) was a more realistic possibility.
Even if I were to visit Touchstone Farm of today, my garden and my floor and my relationships would be waiting when I got back.
* * *
The Touchstone Farms I knew in those few days is gone. Watching D.S. Fine's 2008 documentary, Touchstone: Dancing with Angels (which had its premiere screening four years ago today, interestingly enough), I learned that a building inspection prompted the farm and center to close. Handmade kitchens in converted barns aren't easily brought up to code.
The entire film is available online.
The community rose up around Touchstone, and the farm and center was reborn. But it shook me right out of my escape-retreat fantasy to realize that such a powerful, magical place could die in the first place.