For me, when I write, the setting always comes first. I need a sense of place in which to feel comfortable. In A Berkshire Tale, I create the farm, with its barn and pastures, farmhouse and large front porch. It’s an idyllic place; old-fashioned and charming. Here stories evolve and places are visited from the comfort of a warm quilt bag on a hallway bench. This is where ZuZu first eavesdrops into the family’s dinner conversation as they talk about the Shaker history and traditions being kept alive in nearby Pittsfield at the Hancock Shaker Village.
The Quaking Shakers, so-called because of the violent shaking off of their sins during worship, separated from the original Quaker religious sect in England in 1747. Twenty-six years later, Mother Ann Lee founded and led the Shaker Movement in America after receiving a divine revelation. At the core of their beliefs were pacifism, celibacy and common ownership of property and goods. Men and women lived separately, welcoming all converts into their communes. The children they adopted were free to leave at the age of 21 should they choose to go into “the World”.
At the peak, there were about 6,000 members living in 19 agriculturally based communities in the United States. Some innovative ideas they espoused were equality of the sexes and the belief that God exists in all people and is both mother and father to all. The Shakers worked diligently to create a better society here on earth.
Times changed and with the coming of industry, the communes began to diminish and close.
Today’s Hancock Shaker Village is a living history museum striving to keep alive the traditions and the lessons taught by the original Shakers: simplicity, quality of workmanship and sustainability. The Village offers many family centered programs, events and workshops in addition to community-supported agriculture. From gardening, farming and backyard poultry to weaving, cooking, oval-box basics, music and learning timber-frame construction, something wonderful is always shaking in “The City of Peace”, one of the many settings I chose for A Berkshire Tale.