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Shaker Village, Sabbath Day Lake, New Gloucester

Put your hands to work is a fundamental belief of the community, originally from Manchester, England in 1747, who called themselves the Shakers.

On an autumn day, I took the drive north to visit their compound at Sabbath Day Lake. It was their fall Harvest Festival and it was packed with visitors, not what I expected.

I’d passed their village, just off Route 26, so many times on my way to ski mountains and always wondered about them. I never saw a person outside; I knew their Maine population was dwindling. Since they are celibate, their community will likely not survive.

The Shakers are a religious sect whose guiding principles encompass simplicity, utility, and honesty.

I identify with their principles.

It makes me wonder….with the craziness of our current world crashing down on us, perhaps a renewed craving for their lifestyle will return. People seeking a slower, calmer way of life, in a beautiful country setting, growing their own food without cancer-causing chemicals, building their own furniture, focusing on man’s most basic needs and only that, shunning the artificiality and consumerism that seem to be running rampant at this time in history.

They represent a community of members each participating in whatever way they can. All inclusive.

Living self-sufficiently, away from the outside world, is the Shakers’ way.

There is something both intriguing and frightening about that to me.

I’m always a little skeptical of communities like fraternities, sororities, religions if there is dogma and forced acceptance of the principles with no way out.

I believe in free thinking and free choice. I think we get to our “best” when we are each free to participate with our unique and authentic gifts. When we each are free to speak and share. When every person has a voice.

I am sure there are circumstances where you want “the good soldier” on your team, but I am concerned about anyone who would follow a leader without question or confrontation if asked to do something counter to their own values.

I worry when there is no room for diversity of thought or behavior or values.

I am intrigued by groups that establish themselves on certain shared principles.

But I’ve never been of that mindset.

I am more leader than follower.

And more of a loner.

But I’m still curious about this group.

The Shakers created their village in Maine on a hill comprising 1,800 acres in 1783.

It’s a beautiful plot of land. Fall foliage is peek as I kneel on the grass overlooking their pastures and pumpkin patches.

Still, I see no Shakers.

Lots of visitors are at their harvest fair – buying apples from their orchards, pressed cider, Shaker brooms and spices. Families milling about, looking at crafts, buying their wares, blue grass music playing to people sitting on the lawn.

It’s a kind, warm environment, I’m pleased to be joining.

But still, I see no Shakers.

The Shakers set about creating a peaceful life – planting apple orchards, vegetable gardens, a tree farm.

They sought to be industrious, never having idle hands.

They built stark white buildings to live, worship, build with wood in workshops. Today, all shades are closed in their buildings. I wonder – does anyone still live in them?

For years, I’ve loved the clean lines and quality of Shaker furniture – focusing on function first, a concept near to my heart. My home is filled with it.

For holidays and birthdays, I want a gift of something I NEED. That makes me happy. When others would be completely insulted and want something special and extraordinary and fun, I am more thrilled with something of use. I hate waste.

I am more a person of function and need, minimalism over extravagance.

The Shakers’ furniture making has stood the test of time. It was built with an eye toward functional form, not ostentation, but usefulness. It was made from cherry, maple or pine lumber. Adding inlays, carvings, metal pulls, they found to be prideful or deceitful. Instead, their drawers had simple wooden knobs.

Their peg boards would hold their ladder back chairs with woven seats after meals – so they could sweep their floors with straw brooms they still sell today ($60). There was a purpose for the peg boards, hanging all manner of tools, baskets, chairs when sweeping. There was a need filled, a solution made, in most everything they created.

Function over form.

I love the work of the Shakers, their creations.

I love a life built around need and function and nature. Self-sufficiency.

I identify with these parts of the Shaker community.

But I wonder about the dress of the few women still in the community I see on their website, the celibacy.

I enjoyed my visit. I love my Shaker furniture in my home; it is beautiful.

Thinking and learning more about any person or group is always worthwhile, and today I’ve done that.

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