The community comes together in the middle of each day. The kitchen has been busy since dawn and now people are enjoying mahi mahi, marinated tofu, fresh green salad, edamame, fruit, and grilled asparagus. The sun shines with a warmth only found at higher altitudes. The wind which so often plagues mountain valleys is quiet for now. The tables outside fill quickly, leaving only a small number in the usually crowded dining hall.
They are a great mixture of humanity, from teenagers to grey haired elders, men and women equally, of all backgrounds and classes. Children are the only absence, there being only a handful living on the land. Lilly, only 16 months, passes comfortably from hip to hip, lap to lap, smiling at everyone.
Plates are quickly heaped full of food and just as quickly cleared. The rota crew goes to work in the dish room. A circle of chairs out behind the kitchen fills up with relaxed smokers who chat away and watch the hacky sack game on the adjacent unused tent platform. Another group of young men start up a football game in the green space down the hill. Vajra, 8 years old, watches until one young man takes time out to show him how to properly throw a football. In the benches set in the pine grove a quiet few sit reading, while others go briskly about their business or chat happily in groups. Many impromptu meetings take places, questions asked and answered, an extension cord or radio, or special piece of fruit exchanged.
Soon enough they start to break up. The set up crew crowds into the back of the beat up silver pickup, some on the tailgate, some on the roof, and sets off to the next campground to be erected. A dozen or so head back up the hill to registration and the front offices, another dozen or so to the maintenance shop by the lagoon, and a smaller handful start the hike south to The Great Stupa of Dharmakaya, which is never finished. The remainder scatter throughout the land and among the cluster of buildings surrounding the dining hall.
The kitchen staff remains to start on the evening meal. The magpies hop around searching for abandoned scraps while the kitchen cat keeps a sharp eye on his own food dish. The sun still shines and the quiet breeze just manages to stir the prayer flags. I head west, back up the hill to grab a shower and a nap. The set up crew passes me in their truck full of tents. I walk slowly and breath deeply the thin air and contemplate happily my soft bed.
Thus passes my first noon meal at Shambhala.