Perspectives: Appalachia

Author: Clare Catalda

During fall break, I experienced a different way of life in the Appalachian mountains. Along with nine other Notre Dame students, I immersed myself in the lifestyle of Nazareth Farm, a nonprofit community in rural West Virginia. The visit was a seminar trip run through the Center for Social Concerns. 

Defining instances of this new lifestyle included bucket showering (showering outdoors in a wooden structure using only a cup, Dr. Bronner’s 18-in-1 soap and a 5-gallon bucket of water); going to the bathroom in outhouses during Tuesday night’s weekly energy fast and never knowing what the time was, but being content that we were on God’s time.

Amidst these drastic lifestyle changes, however, the one that was most impactful for me was the way my seminar group, the residents of Nazareth Farm and I spent our leisure time together, confined to the walls of the upper O’Connor Room (the OCR).

Every night, at approximately 10:10, the staff turned off all the lights in the farmhouse except for those in the OCR, the only place you were allowed to hang out after “bedtime.” Wanting to make the most of the time we had together, most people spent at least a little bit of time each night in the OCR, engaging in personal or group leisure activities and enjoying each other’s company. 

Sitting on the carpet of the O’Connor Room one night, leaning back against the couch with pen and moleskine journal in hand, I lifted my eyes from my paper and allowed myself to experience the loveliness of the room. To my left sat Catherine, snuggled up in the corner of the couch, serenely knitting a baby’s blanket. On the couch next to her sat Ryan and Dominic, two residents of Nazareth Farm with whom I had been in and out of conversation. The topic of conversation was a story about Dominic’s grandfather, a recruit for Mussolini’s orchestra in Italy. 

Turning my attention to the carpet in front of me, I watched some of my fellow Notre Dame students, Thaddeus, Drew, Sophia and Claire play what appeared to be a lively game of cards. At another spot in the room, Julie thoughtfully created a friendship bracelet for her mom’s birthday. Anna and Elizabeth were enjoying a relaxed conversation, while Caitlyn was seated criss-cross on the opposite side of the room, similarly unable to resist observing and enjoying the people who surrounded her.

Appreciating the rarity of this simple yet fulfilling ambiance, my mind drifted to the recreation of the drawing-room in the Pemberley home from Jane Austen’s 1813 novel “Pride and Prejudice”. 

“Mr. Hurst had therefore nothing to do but to stretch himself on one of the sophas and go to sleep. Darcy took up a book; Miss Bingley did the same; and Mrs. Hurst, principally occupied with her bracelets and rings, joined now and then in her brother’s conversation with Miss Bennet,” Austen wrote. 

With this scene in mind, I felt like I was living in 1813. 

As my thoughts returned to the happenings of the O’Connor Room, I began to understand what was so different about the way we lived here in the mountains of Appalachia compared to the way I live back home in Indiana. It was not simply the bucket showers, the outhouses or the lack of phone service that called me to a new way of life, but the cornerstone of “community” that Nazareth Farm embraced — a practice that cultivated a sense of steady joy among our little community.

By structuring our days on the farm around living in community, I learned the vitality of spending intentional time completely present with the people around me.

Leaving the farm on Friday morning with my group, I knew the car ride back to Notre Dame was going to be the last time I would live in “intentional community” with these people the way we did together at Nazareth Farm. 

While this thought saddened me a little, it also inspired me to consider ways I could continue to build and maintain intentional community back in Indiana, either with my seminar group from Nazareth Farm, in my dorm community or at Sunday family dinner at my grandparents’ house.