Family and friends gathered around a campfire in a field.

What Creates Community?

Spring is renewal, resurrection, return of life to the riparian woodlands in our prairie pothole region of Northwest Minnesota. Unfathomable glacial action created this amazing combination of wooded maple hills, sloughs, ponds, and lakes, interspersed with meadow and prairie transition. It is a wonderland of activity, color and sounds we share with returning showy wood ducks, awakening animals, nesting hawks and crows, and the tasty wild leeks and showing bloodroot flowers.

Swan swimming in blue water

In V-form and honkings, and thousands of flights, I see communities returning to make more communities--in tens of thousands of snow and blue geese. This is repeated in lesser intensity and numbers all across the spring nights and days…in the evening I hear the common loon flying over as it calls–seeking open water in pond and slough amidst iced-over lakes. The bird songs of robins and ruby- crowned kinglets, cardinal and red-winged blackbird are all calls to others in their community—first the pairing off, then the shared nest-building, and soon 3-4 younglings will double their parents' efforts. Wood ducks are back and finding their way to the new house my granddaughter and I hung 12 feet up—I imagine and tell her of their balls-of-fluff babies floating down out of the nest and lightly bouncing before heading to the slough—that is, if they are parent-protected from raiding squirrel, hawk and crow. 

Fresh maple syrup being ladled from a copper kettle onto a plate of pancakes in a wintry woods

As our family goes through the work of making 12-15 gallons of fresh buttermilk batter, hauling griddles, pots, tables, and utensils hundreds of yards into this woodland for our Easter in the woods celebration—and this year shoveling tons of snow!–we realize the responsibility it takes to produce joy. Like our TC Chocolate, we begin with an end goal in mind--smiling faces, child-laughter of play in the woodland, and renewal of acquaintances that come together only for this event! The planning, sore backs, and slogging through snow are forgotten and we remember and cherish the joy of community, goodness of being together, out-of-doors, united by all that the good, rich land and its people provide.

People and place make community; the hard work and willing help of those who don’t care who gets the credit bring joy of shared-life-together. It is said that two people staring at each other is not so much love as infatuation; but two people working side by side and then experiencing something beautiful, together, is the real spirit of love. Friendships and caring mean giving extra effort to support the community that supports us, and by community, I mean all that sustains our life—plants, animals, rich soils, water and all.

We can teach our grandchildren things that we could never learn in a lifetime because the art of living in community with soil, land, nature and neighbors does not belong to any one of us—we may think we keep community but often community, quietly and reverently, keeps us.

When I think of our chocolate, I realize that there were so many things that were passed on…more thankful with more years to see…especially the ethic giving the opportunity to test and try these things that were hidden in the soil and the humus, like humility to learn from the land we live in. What nourishes us is the complexity of life and the small simple habits that bring us to appreciate and cultivate life and community right where we live.

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