Thursday, October 20, 2005

Camphill pumpkins

Sunday we drove out to Ceske Kopisty, to a collective farm called Camphill, and picked pumpkins with friends.We were a field away from the Labe river and tall cedar trees lined the banks - adding a Florentine view to the Czech countryside. Caroline and her friends ran through the pumpkin field, tripping over vines, hiding in the tall leaves that dwarfed even the largest pumpkin and child. We roamed too, from one row to the next, discovering carrots, beets, radishes, squash, dill all growing together with the pumpkins. Our guide watched in bemusement as I rushed from one vegetable to the next, exclaiming over the yellow squash, twisting pumpkins off stems, trying out carrot harvesting (harder than it sounds). When she found that I really did like radishes, she brushed aside my picks and offered me more, much more beautiful she said. Better for cooking. Hers were fresh and crisp, but I kept mine too, battered fruits of my digging.

Ceske Kopisty is 1 kilometer from Terezin, a Nazi transportation camp and Jewish ghetto in World War II, the last stop for many thousands of people before they were sent to concentration camps further east. It is impossible to come so close to Terezin’s shadow and not feel its effect, and I find it hard to imagine what it must be like to live and work next door. But perhaps Camphill is an antidote of a sort, and a memorial too. It began in the 40s, when its founder, Karl König, escaped from Austria and the Nazis to move to Scotland and the original Camphill. König established the house as a collective and group home for mentally handicapped people. Today residents and workers say they believe in the value of a simple life and of helping other people, and there are Camphill houses and villages throughout the world, following this precept.

The sun came out while we harvested. Then the wind - blowing in a cold front - paused for a moment and we said that Babi Leto, or Indian Summer, was still here. Will and I carried Caroline through the fields in a green plastic vegetable crate borrowed to haul our pickings back to the car. We swung her as we walked, singing "hopi hopi," guided by her friend Josh, heading us back to our cache of pumpkins and greens.

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