The Group Quarters portion of the U.S. Census that I have been working on is getting ready to wrap up. This week our team has had a flurry of locations that don't make much geographic sense to each other...particularly the one I was assigned to, a monastery and retreat center about 30 miles to the west of my house. It's been my favorite assignment by far.
I called the monastery on Tuesday to make an appointment for picking up their paperwork and talked to a serene-voiced woman with a heavy Oriental accent. We made arrangements for me to come by this morning, so after the daily Census team phone meeting I grabbed my stuff and got in the car.
I had a rough idea of where I was going, but relied on Google Maps to help. Once off the interstate the two-lane road wove through rolling hills and a couple of small towns. I passed trailheads for bike trails, state parks, county parks, and nature areas. Eventually the Google voice told me to turn on a road which started off paved but quickly turned into gravel. A couple of miles down that road the voice again told me to turn, and I saw a sign for the monastery.
The facility is closed to visitors, so I wasn't surprised to see a locked gate blocking the road. I called the office and told them I was there. I talked to the same woman, who said she would walk the paperwork out. Five minutes later I received a call asking where I was. Evidently Google had sent me to the wrong entrance.
I got directions to an alternate entrance, which involved going back to the main road, turning at "a wagon wheel" mailbox, staying to the left two different times, and going over a low-water bridge. The woman told me she would be waiting by the gate.
Eventually I found my way there. By the end the road was two tracks of gravel with grass growing in between. You wouldn't come across this center accidentally! I knew I was in the right place when a short woman wearing khaki colored clothing started enthusiastically waving at me. When I drove up to where she was standing I couldn't see her mouth underneath the mask, but her eyes were smiling. By the dirt smudges on her tunc the woman looked like she'd been doing manual labor.
After the woman handed me the paperwork she apologized that she couldn't show me the facility, and invited me to come back when the center was opened. I thanked her for the completed form and the invitation, then asked where the best place to turn around would be. She allowed me to drive up the road into the monastery, as long as I turned around at the first opportunity and came right out. The first opportunity turned out to be about a half mile away. I went up and down a hill and over another low water bridge before I came to a shed next to a large garden. I carefully turned into the gravel area and backed out. When I came back down the hill I passed the woman walking up. She smiled and gave me a little wave as I passed.