One of the first things likely to strike you about most any Camphill community (there are more than ninety of them worldwide, from Ireland to Botswana to India) is the beauty and craftsmanship evident in the buildings and their furnishings. Much of the craft work issues from shops where the villagers are employed there are facilities for weaving, pottery-making, woodworking, candle-dripping, bookbinding, and jewelry-making, as well as dairies, bakeries, and gardens. At Camphill Copake a seed-saving venture has recently gotten under way, together with an herb garden and a laboratory for the preparation of herbal remedies and salves. There is plenty of healthy and fulfilling work to satisfy the villagers' strong need to contribute something worthwhile to society.
Camphill villages spring from the same roots as Waldorf education, and they share the Waldorf emphasis upon an artistically shaped life. This emphasis extends from the long, beautifully carved, wooden tables in many of the living units (where the resident villagers eat regular meals with their house parents and any children who live there), to the celebration of seasonal festivals, to the frequent gathering for artistic performances in an auditorium that is typically the architectural crown of the village. (In Copake, pianists Andre Watts and Peter Serkin are among those who donate their time to perform for the villagers and staff.) Drama, dance, dramatic speech, music there is always something to bring the community together in consciousness of the spiritual background of life in which we all are united. As a Camphill worker in Great Britain, Sybille Alexander, has put it:
The atmosphere in the villages is determined by the recognition of the dignity of each human being, the inner, spiritual work done by the leaders and, of course, humor, without which the community life would be unbearable.
I can vouch for the place of humor. A few years ago, on a slushy winter day, we took a visiting friend for a walk through the wooded village in Copake. Loafing along a muddy path, we were overtaken by two of the villagers, women of older middle age securely bundled up against the weather and walking to their jobs in the bakery. As they passed us, they caught sight of our sneakered feet and broke into a fit of hilarity. "You forgot to put your boots on!" they exclaimed, pointing and laughing. We acknowledged our folly and joined in the merriment. After a brief exchange they passed on ahead, still laughing and chattering gaily. We cracked up, too, as we reconstructed their conversation for ourselves:
"Imagine letting people like that in here!"
"Yeah, don't have sense enough to wear boots in the mud. I bet they wouldn't even come in out of the rain!"
"If you ask me, they're an ace or two short of a full deck."