A different kind of Fourth of July.

The guys left for the Rainbow Gathering, and I decided to stay on the farm to get caught up on work and writing, and Sam came up with her family which was so sweet…. but by Sunday I was feeling a lot of FOMO, and MSA (Missing Shiva Alot), and got in the car and drove up to Vermont to join them.

After a nice chat with the skeptical Forest Service guys patrolling the roads in, I strapped on my pack and hiked in a bunch of miles to the back entrance. I followed a main path, and a lot of little ones through the Green Mountain forests, led onward by the sound of far away drums. Passing increasingly dense tent villages and common kitchens, the trail become more crowded, eventually ending in the center circle, which was actually a spiral. “Welcome home” and “we love you” were the common greetings.

A conch was sounded to call people in for an evening meal provided by donation kitchens. You bring a bowl, sit along the spiral, and the food servers come by with tubs of beautifully made food, unfurling from the center. There was all manner of dancing and yoga and song circles and talking and just being going on as people waited, in glitter and costumes and naked perfection. Eventually, a white haired woman in a long skirt stood up in the center and, in a strong and confident voice, called in the four directions, to make the circle and give thanks for the food.

I waited in the circle until someone familiar came by so I could find our camp, and just like that there was Kyther. My partner and his friends had conjured up the Good Vibrations cafe, serving up raw cacao, other superfood goji cashew amazingness, and late night chai to all comers. The camp was simply construced. Because there are no cars allowed in here, everything has to be hand hauled in- tools and tents and whatever equipment was desired- (in one camp there was a hearth oven baking fresh breads – made from 2 barrels and mud and straw- see picture below- people take this seriously!). There were many hands that cleared the grass, dug a fire pit, and collected downed wood for the fire, and put up signs.

As night fell, the musicians came, with ukeleles and drums and guitars and harmoniums and a didgeridoo, and the music went on all night, under the unfathomably vast night sky, the milky way dense and gorgeous, the tree tops dancing, the night cries and constant drumbeat from every direction. We wandered some, to other camps, to the Krishnas to dance and sing the maha mantra, for example.

At sunrise, the drums stopped, and silence fell. Until noon on the fourth, there would be no talking, just quiet – reflection and meditation. Approaching 12 o’clock, a thousand people gather and the circle is made; then we wait, for the children to come into the middle, they are held in the womb of community. When they arrive a cheer goes up – “All we are saying, is give peace a chance” – just that line from the song- is chanted over and over as a blessing on these kids and on each other and the world, people split into harmonies, the sound swells and diminished. Then the om.

Now, I’m a midwesterner, raised straight and clean cut as they come, and I know from the fourth of July: I know from lying on the grass waiting for fireworks, drinking non-artisan beer and chilled white wine and eating corn and BBQ, and wearing red white and blue. The summer night magic as a kid on the ball field on Washington Island, the years watching from the football field in Highland Park, the big Chicago Symphony backed Beethoven fireworks in Chicago’s Grant Park, the meadows in Sonoma. Years of parades that show off civic participation and veterans groups and our very fancy trucks and equipment, with big high school bands playing patriotic songs and the Beach Boys. The bombs bursting in air. The battle cries. So, there is nostalgia there.

But this was something very different, this was something that looked at the cost of the old way and said, too many have died for this, there are too many masks and hypocrisies in this way – too many people, and the earth, have been and continue to be trodden on to unabashedly celebrate the nation state. This celebration, anarchic and self-created, spoke this to me: this incredible abundant earth that provides for us always, these brothers and sisters exactly as they are, that we can be grateful for. That is worthy of protecting, of celebrating.

To continuing the explorations.

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