Craig and I returned home in the wee hours this morning from Camp Zoe, Missouri in the Ozark Mountains, where we spent nine days at Pagan Spirit Gathering. It was a true “time out of time,” a time between the worlds. Even though some people had access to the internet (though not cell phone coverage), not much news from the world beyond us trickled down. And that was just fine with me.
I discovered that I love being unplugged, both from the internet and the phone. Nine whole days. What happens when you unplug? It’s all about slow time, natural time, as my friend Waverly Fitzgerald so often writes about. The days at Camp Zoe were divided into sections that reminded me of medieval Hours: Waking; Morning Meeting; Noontime Meal; Noontime Concert; Workshop 1, Workshop 2 (or, River Play Time); Evening Meal; Evening Concert; Evening Ritual; Drum/Fire Circle; Bedtime.
There was plenty of time between each “hour” to sit and soak up the beauty of the Place; to visit with new friends and neighbors; to shop at the fabulous Merchants’ Row; to participate in the dozens of activities hosted by various groups and camps, or to do nothing at all.
Being unplugged slowed me down, but the heat slowed me down, too. I was my normal bright and perky self in the mornings, but my energy waned as each day lengthened into afternoon. I’ve never been too happy when the temps rise above 80 degrees or so; at Camp Zoe it was generally in the mid to high 90s I believe, with high humidity. I’ve never experienced anything like it before. Somehow, in all my years, I’ve missed being in a place with hot, humid summers. I have damaged lungs, and the humidity made it very difficult for me to breathe freely and easily. (I even spent a couple of hours in the med tent on Saturday, hooked up to an oxygen tank.) The time-honored concept of an afternoon siesta really hit home for me. Of course people who live in hot places withdraw during the heat of the day, and of course they emerge to dine and dance and do business again after sunfall. My energy returned each evening as Sunna slipped behind the Ozark hills.
I loved walking around at night in nothing but a light skirt and tank top; I think the nightly lows were around 72 degrees. I never stopped being damp though, until I washed the sweat and grime of the day off before climbing into bed.
I loved the dawn chorus each morning. So many bird songs and calls I’ve never heard before! I tried to get to know as many trees as I could. There were more oaks in this one place than I’ve seen in a long time. At night, the stars were laid out like dozens of dishes on a banquet table. One morning before dawn, as I stumbled back to my cabin after visiting the water closet, I stopped in my tracks and metaphorically went down on my knees. There in the eastern sky rose the waning crescent moon attended by bright Venus and her consort Mars. I nearly wept, and raised my hands in gratitude and praise.
So the heat and humidity were quite a challenge for me, but experiencing Pagan culture and village life for a whole week is something I would not have wanted to miss. At the second or third Morning Meeting, where the entire village gathered for announcements and previews of the day’s events, I was deeply moved by the inclusivity of the gathering. Representatives of the various camps made their announcements: Rainbow Camp for the GLBT community, Teens, Amethyst Camp for 12-Steppers, Disabled Camp, Drummers Camp, Psyche’s Grove for mental health, Kids Play Camp — on and on it went. As I looked around, I saw many elders but many young ones as well, all in various shapes, sizes and colors. All were celebrated for who they are and what they had to offer. I whispered to Craig: “It reminds me of that line from Starhawk’s book The Fifth Sacred Thing: ‘There’s a place for you at our table.’” Craig looked at me, then started scribbling notes. “There’s a song in that!” he smiled. By the next day, the song was finished and sung at a concert, and those who heard it, wept.
Craig and I were privileged to share a bunkhouse with some of the other presenters, and as the week went on we got to know Jerrie Hildebrand, Lydia Crabtree and Sparky T. Rabbit and his husband Ray, among others. Nora and Giving, my mermaid sisters from home, took good care of us all. I think the experience that first bonded us presenters was during the monsoon rain that hit on Tuesday morning for several hours, as the roof of the 1929-era Boy Scout cabin we were staying in kept springing leak after leak. It was kind of a Keystone Cops show there for awhile, as we scurried around placing buckets and bowls in strategic locations, and shoved the beds to drier spots. We were luckier than many folks; that particular rainfall was so fast and fierce that those who camped near the river had to frantically move their tents and gear out of the way as the river quickly rose.
I loved meeting Selena Fox and Dennis Carpenter in person, finally, after all these years. When Selena and I first hugged each other, neither one of us could remember if we had met before or not. But we hadn’t. I first started submitting my artwork to Circle Network News back in the mid-80’s, and I’ve lost count of how many covers have featured my work. I’ve exchanged letters with them (in the pre-internet days), talked on the phone and emailed, but this was the first time in person. It was so lovely to finally connect.
Another great connection was with a lovely young woman named Melissa, who graciously consented to model for me for one of the Gaian Tarot cards that I plan to do over. She has a beautiful, expressive face and killer hair — lots of braids with cowrie shells woven in. I introduced her to Julie Cuccia-Watts and Julie had the same response that I did: Model!! She photographed Melissa too, for a painting (or two or three). Thank you, Melissa. You’ve made a couple of artists very happy.
I was scheduled to teach three workshops during the week, and was pleased with how well the first two went. It’s always a pleasure to meet folks who have been touched by my work, and to meet brand new people too. I wasn’t able to teach my third workshop on Saturday, as my new friend Lydia Crabtree convinced me I needed to go to the med tent. She was right, too. (Lydia rocks, by the way. She is the founder of a new tradition called Family Wiccan Tradition International, focusing on spiritual practice within the family. Her book Family Coven will be out early next year.) I was grateful that Lydia ended up facilitating my workshop on ”Developing Your Reading Skills” from the handouts I had left, so I did not totally disappoint the workshop participants after all. Thank you, Lydia.
Tuesday’s rainfall wiped out Craig’s noontime concert but it worked out for the best, as he ended up playing three concerts plus joining Coyote Run on stage for several songs during their last gig. (Coyote Run! What a band! Woo hoo! I’m a new fan.) They’d be pleased to have him join them on a regular basis, but since they are primarily an East Coast band, the logistics might be somewhat problematic. (Hmm . . . now how do we get them out to the West Coast?) Craig was a bit surprised, then gratified at all the expressions of appreciation that came his way from people who have been listening to his music for years. He released two Pagan-themed CDs years ago, but has focused on other musical projects since then. “You just never know who your music is going to touch,” he said over and over again. It kind of blew him away. He’s been inspired to create another Pagan-themed album and already has a list of five songs for it, including the new one he just wrote at PSG plus a beautiful chant that Sparky T. Rabbit taught him. How cool is that?
There’s nothing quite like doing ritual with 800+ people under a blanket of stars on a warm summer’s night. We did indeed light the Solstice fires and celebrated the peak of the Sun’s power (both literally and figuratively!). Magic happens . . .
I’m deeply grateful to my mermaid sister Nora Cedarwind Young, who is a Circle minister, for finally getting Craig and me to PSG after years of coaxing and cajoling. Thank you. Love you.
I think that my favorite moment of the entire week was walking the candlelit labyrinth late one night with Craig. The labyrinth was huge, probably the largest I’ve ever walked. I was struck by the solemnity and grace with which it was treated by those who walked its rounds. No one had to be told to be silent as they waited in line. No one was pushed aside or marginalized; the slower walkers made room for the fast. Everyone was treated with dignity and grace. The altars of the four directions were included in the outer rings, and at the center was the sacred Solstice fire, kept burning all week long. Craig and I walked hand in hand, stopping to embrace from time to time. The star-strewn sky overhead was mirrored by the hundreds of candles on the earth below, arranged in an ancient pattern. As above, so below.
Peace of the summer night to you. Deep, deep peace.