A Typical Day at the Midsummer Gather
Oh, it is so good to be back among ‘family’- people whom I understand and who understand me. I wake early and listen to the birds telling each other good morning. We arrived yesterday, and setting up the camper, the vending/cooking/working tent as well as the campsite itself was tiring, so the taco supper provided by staff was a wonderful way to end the day. Opening ritual afterwards was good- a warm welcome, a feeling of security as the Circle around the campgrounds is closed, and the sense of family rejoined is always a great way to end up the day.
I head up the hill to the restroom, telling others good morning as we meet. We are quiet, as it is still early. This is the morning half of camp, so there are a few more people awake at this end, and I can hear laughing coming from Rick’s Café down the road a bit. When I get back to the campsite I grab my chair, my mug with tea bag and honey in it and head down to Rick’s. I get my chair set up and hold my mug steady as Rick pours some nice hot water in. I set back and inhale the steam, exchanging morning pleasantries with the other morning people. Pretty soon it is 7 am and Rick moves to the middle of the road, hands forming a megaphone. “It’s Coffee. It’s Hot Water Too” he proclaims, loudly, in both directions. As more and more people stumble in, I drink my tea, laugh at Annie’s jokes and grin at Rick’s stories. When my tea is finished I head back up to the campsite- it is breakfast time! After breakfast and clean up, we head back to Rick’s for morning meeting. Never very long, it explains what is going on, takes care of any problems and introduces everyone to each other. Definitely worth attending!
Next is a workshop, always good. When the workshop is over, it’s time to head back to the campsite for lunch. After lunch, hubby and I have gate duty, which is a great time to catch up on my own work I need to have done for the workshop I am leading later in the week.
A couple of hours later, we are done with our duty for the week, and he heads back to the camper to nap while I hit another workshop. Afterwards, while wending my way back to the camper, I stop at several campsites to visit.
We have supper when I get back, and then it’s time to clean up and get ready for the nights ritual. I really love all the different rituals we have during the week, being able to share with others what they do is part of the reason I keep coming back.
After ritual it’s time for drumming and judging some brews. I very seldom drink, but no one is pressured- you can simply pass the bottle on to the next person and no one says a thing. Some people get up to dance while the drumming is going on, and songs are sung from time to time. It gets late, so I tell everyone goodnight, snap on my flashlight and slowly head back up the hill to our campsite, enjoying the night and yes, stopping and visiting every now and again. I grab my towel and shower things when I get back, heading up to the restroom/shower building. I have to wait about five minutes for one of the showers to get free, but spend the time talking to someone who was waiting for someone else. I get my shower done, brush my teeth, wrap a towel around my head and head back to our campsite. I sit outside for a bit, combing through my hair, exchanging news with people going by (I am not the only one who ‘visits’) and generally just wind down for the night. Soon I will crawl into my bed, unzip my window just a bit so I can go to sleep listening to the drumming off in the distance while watching the stars in the sky.
Life is good…and tomorrow we do it all over again.
Envision your eyes flutter open — or not — but your body responds to the natural alarm clock of the woods that surround you….
GOOD MORNING! IT’S COFFEE! IT’S HOT WATER TOO!
You stumble off your air mattress, bed, or cot or you roll around on the ground attempting to get some covering on so that you can rush, or meander towards for your morning java fix and to set your chair out in a spot of sun to energize your body so that your mind might then follow.
While sitting amongst the ambiance of chatter and laughter and the sweet warmth and taste of the brew, a quick, well-timed morning meeting informs you of the day’s goings-on, the chores that have yet to be filled, and any other essential formalities that are needed to be taken care of during the day, as well as weather report.
Then off to make breakfast , shower , or back to bed .
You hear a bellowing that announces the Elders meeting… (Whatsamatta U, uh, I mean Pagan U). You continue sleeping or you check it out or you check out all the pretties the merchants have started setting up…. O-o-oh jewelry ! Rocks ! Art ! Pretty-smelling concoctions!
You might stop in to see what is up at the Silent Auction and put a bid down on a must-have thingy .
Oh wow, it’s time for the first of two incredible afternoon workshops that will be offered during the day. Don’t want to miss that, as the subject matter is fascinating!
Time for lunch already? Oh! Shinies! Lunch can wait – must have pretties. Then off for a quick walk in nature as that is why you are out here breathing fresh air. Hmm, maybe you will just sit here and yak with some folks and plot what to do for the Talentless Contest at the end of the week.
Did he say it was time for the second workshop? You kinda wanna go, but you really want to help build the labyrinth. You wonder if you want to get dressed for the ritual tonight or go casual.
Here comes ice – you should get a couple bags for the cooler. You decide on making Hawaiian Chicken and salad with rice for dinner tonight, wondering if others might like to join you.
You then think you will make the cherry cobbler tomorrow for the Community feast. Decisions, decisions…ok, you choose to wear the huge honking bone necklace you got last Solstice as a gift, then you can wear the big honking ring you purchased earlier from your favorite merchant (sure it was supposed to be a gift…now it is a gift to yourself).
You can hardly wait for the drumming and the fire (picture drums and fire HERE) You have always loved watching the fire spinning and stories. You have brought some <ahem!> Adult beverages to pass around at the fire. Hmm… what? 2:30 in the morning? Time to stumble back into your camper, tent, cabin, teepee , or Yurt, and pass out until the morning ….where…
GOOD MORNING! IT’S COFFEE! HOT WATER TOO!…
I adjust my sleeping bag as I turn over. I am not sure what time it is but I know it is still early morning. Then I hear the daily call:
"It’s coffee. It’s hot water, too. Come and get it!"
Rick is in fine form this morning. I know that others will hasten to his campsite to get their fill of his sweet elixir. They’ll carry their camp chairs down to his fire and gather round to visit and drink coffee and come awake. I am not a coffee addict so I roll over and snooze for a little longer.
About half an hour later I come fully awake. My tent still looks dry despite last night’s rain. I guess some of the festival lore is true. If you let Keith stand in the West during ritual, you can expect rain shortly thereafter. I smile to myself remembering how some of the festival veterans tried to push him more toward North, but he wouldn’t budge. I gather up my toiletries and head for the showers.
Outside my tent I see that others are assessing their camp sites for any damage from last night’s storm. As I make my way down the road that runs through the middle of camp I nod or call out a greeting to my fellow campers. I don’t know them all by name yet, though most have stopped by to introduce themselves. Michelle is taking her vending items out of her car and setting them up in the booth at her camp site. Lou is testing a string of lights at her camp site’s electrical outlet. That lady is always busy. I wonder when she sleeps.
Not too many folks are stirring at their individual camp sites. They are either sleeping or down at "Rick’s Café". There are many water outlets, fire pits, and picnic tables throughout the camp so there is scattered individual activity here and there. I can’t quite tell if there are enough people awake to create a line at the showers. There rarely is a line, though. There are three shower stalls for women and, I assume, as many for the men. I am not a patient person. I quicken my step so as to arrive before any unknown rivals.
I wave hello to Rick as I pass his campsite. Rick and several of his guests wave back. I pass the playground, empty for now, and reach the shower facilities. The shower facilities, while no Waldorf Astoria, are five-star for a campground. First of all, they’re clean. If you’ve been to many campgrounds, you appreciate a clean facility. There are flush toilets, a huge mirror above the sinks, and three individual shower stalls. Yes. That’s shower stalls with curtains. And I am in luck– there is still an empty stall. After a luxurious hot shower, I finish my hygiene routine and head back to my tent.
By now there are two children at the playground and one older boy coming out of the camp store’s mini arcade. The children who are here seem to be treasured by the adults. The adults all seem to make a point of calling each child by his or her name. One of the vendors, they call her Auntie Estelle, likes to find odd little jobs for the kids so they earn a little extra money. A couple of the older guys love to teach the school age kids the proper way to whittle or chop wood. Whenever I pass by one of these lessons I have to wonder who is getting more out of the exchange-the teacher or the student.
Most of the folks here are in their thirties or older, past the "raising kids" age. There are a few young families here. The other campers seem very supportive of them and encourage them to come back again next year with more friends who have kids. [Editor’s Note: This account was written about five years ago. Since then, our demographics have changed significantly — there’s a full range of youngsters now!]
By the time I hang my wet towel on my clothesline it is 10 a.m. and time for the morning meeting. Every camper is supposed to attend the morning meeting to hear the daily announcements. Most do, but it’s not a big deal if you don’t. I grab a granola bar and head down to Rick’s to join the group. It was explained to me on my first day here that the morning meetings used to take place at the community circle at the other end of the camp. After a while, someone had the bright idea to just hold the meeting at Rick’s since most people were there anyway. It’s been at Rick’s ever since.
Neva gets the meeting started. I do admire the way Neva runs the morning meetings. No BS-just announcements: Any program changes? Any facilities issues? Reminders about who has signed up for which volunteer duties. Done. The whole thing can take as little as ten minutes; if it takes more than twenty minutes, Neva gets impatient; she’s looking forward to the first round of workshops.
After the meeting most folks meander down the road to the workshop tent stopping along the way to admire the vendor goodies. I head the other way. This morning I am doing my two hours of volunteer time–gate duty. The gate is not a gate. It’s really just a rope stretched across the road. If someone pulls up to the rope, you verify that they have indeed pre-registered, hand them a packet of materials, then lower the rope so they can drive in. Since the gate has a pop-up shelter and is near the bathroom and camp store, this is not an onerous duty. None of the volunteer chores are, really. This festival requests only two hours of volunteer time for the whole week. I’m glad to have mine behind me.
After gate duty it’s lunch time. I head back to my camp site to prepare my simple lunch. As I approach my tent I notice that my can opener is sitting on my picnic table. I loaned it to the folks at the neighboring camp site yesterday at dinner. They have returned it, washed even. Peggy stops by to offer me a hot dog. She made too many for her family and would hate to see them go to waste. I politely decline. She travels on down the road to offer hot dogs to the next camp site. Since I still have about half an hour before the next workshop, I decide to kick back in my reclining camp chair and read a trashy novel.
I reach the community circle just as the first afternoon workshop begins. Jaimie is teaching us about effective cord magic. He spends about twenty minutes sharing his experiences and techniques with us. Then we each get time to do some work with cords. While we work several of the participants ask questions or share their experiences. Since there about dozen participants there is plenty of time for individual questions. We chat quietly as we work. I learn that Jim is from my home town. We exchange email addresses so we can meet up after the festival. By the time the workshop ends I feel that I know enough to try my hand at cord magic at home.
The next workshop also happens at the community circle, so I just stay in my comfy camp chair and the workshop comes to me. The workshop presenter, Murphy, asks us to angle our chairs differently so we can see her better. Half the circle is in shade and half is in the sun. Murph prefers the sun and has positioned herself differently than did Jaimie. For about the next hour I learn the basics of working with the Orishas. I am more of a Greek Pantheon follower myself, but it is wonderful to learn about another tradition.
The next event is the community feast. We have about an hour to prepare a dish to share. Luckily, having read the festival website before hand, I knew this was coming and I baked in advance. For me preparation consists of yanking my pan of brownies out of my cooler. Back to my novel.
Once everyone is assembled at the central picnic tables John says a blessing and the feasting begins. Some of these folks really went all out. There is lamb provided by Bob, Lou, and Otter. Linda made a wonderful salad. I make a note to get the recipe from her later. Shelly has made to-die-for macaroni and cheese. The list goes on and on. There are soups, breads, chips, desserts, vegetarian dishes, and several beverage choices. It is enough to give someone a food coma. I understand now why the community feasts happen only twice in the week. No one could possible eat like this every day! People eat and mingle and eat and mingle for well over an hour. Reluctantly, folks drift off one by one or two by two back to their own campsites. There will be just enough time to wash dishes before the evening ritual.
I am very eager to attend the evening ritual. The chance to worship with other pagans is one of the main reasons I am attending the festival. At home, I am a solitaire but I do miss group ritual. The elaborate Midsummer Ritual happened yesterday. It was just the right mixture of reverence and frivolity. Everyone left the ritual circle with a little sun token and a light heart.
When I arrive at the ritual circle I notice that there are different ritual leaders tonight. When I very politely ask why, Annie explains that just about anyone who volunteers to lead a ritual can do so. The people who organize the festival don’t feel the need to lead every ritual. They welcome diversity.
In just a few moments the ritual begins. I notice that there are fewer people gathered for this ritual than yesterday’s ritual. Maybe everyone is sleeping off the feast food. Mama Cat leads us. She puts up a circle and then tells us a story that reminds us to honor Mother Earth and all of nature. It is a very short, yet poignant, ritual. I find that I am as moved by it as I was by yesterday’s more elaborate one.
It is getting dark now. People are starting to drift over to the community fire. I head back to my camp site to grab a few things. One of the first things I grab is my bug spray. I apply a liberal dose to my ankles and neck. I throw on a pair of jeans and a light jacket. It can get cool in the evenings even though it is late June. After a stop at the outhouses at the far end of the campground, I join the rest around the fire.
The community fires are one of my favorite parts of this festival. There’s lots of drumming. I love it when Rick and Wolfie really get jamming. If the drummers really get a good beat going, there are usually a few women who will get up and start dancing. And when the drumming dies down there is always something to take its place. Ro will sing a song, or Robin will play her violin–one night we even had bagpipes. I don’t yet feel confident enough to offer up a song, but, maybe next year.
And so, that is how my day ends—sitting around a camp fire, surrounded by like-minded pagans, with the energy of the circle rising and falling, ebbing and flowing. And even when I get so tired that I have to head back to my own tent, I can still faintly hear the drums and the laughter lulling me into a peaceful sleep.
It has been a good day.