In which I drift back again to Camp Zoe and Pagan Spirit Gathering.
In thinking about PSG, moments from that week come back to me in small flashes at times. To start with, the drive down was punctuated with questions. I had never camped for such an extended period of time and had doubts about my own ability to handle the weather, keep myself fed and other physical concerns of that sort. I also wasn't sure what to expect from the people attending, the rituals, the workshops, etc. My biggest concern, that my tendency toward introversion at times would keep me from truly connecting with the other people attending, was looming larger as I got closer to the campground. Making that turn into Camp Zoe, inching along behind other cars from all over the country, I turned off my radio and just listened to the sounds of the forest, hearing the murmur of voices and an occasional bell in the distance as I drove up the steep hill into camp. As I wound around into viewing distance of the gate, a few people's voices stood out. "Welcome home," they called as they waved people through. I'd been following the PSG list on Yahoo and knew this was their greeting but I hadn't thought about how it'd feel to be the recipient of it. When my turn came, after having presented my paperwork and gotten my map and asked a couple questions, I kind of basked in it. I liked the idea that this community wanted most to start the people joining it with a gift, with the feeling that they'd arrived somewhere that contained all the comfort and acceptance that one's true home should have. I felt a huge bundle of my concerns shift away as I slowly drove further into the camp, accepting at least the potential for true connection with this part of the Pagan community being proffered so freely.
That feeling sort of ebbed and flowed over the next few days. The diversity presented in PSG was almost overwhelming at times. I had people camped near me that went beyond me in terms of their seriousness and introversion while others camped near the main path and offered food to all who walked by at times. One of my neighbors, displaying great restraint, witnessed me fall out of my tent the first morning we all woke up at Camp Zoe and managed not to mock me. Another had a nice kitchen set up at her campsite that she was kind enough to share with us all. We made a nice little community and, when Jimmy's daughter (they camped a short distance away) stepped on a bee on her way to my tent one afternoon and was panicking from the pain, people came running from all directions to help us out, bearing ice and helping hands to get her to the med tent (one of many, many visits there for me).
That first day, putting up my tent, cutting open my foot in the process (visit number one to the med tent), I discovered really quickly just how unnecessary half the clothing I brought was. The heat was breathtaking and I ended up giving up a lot of my usual ideas about what to wear and not wear. I still went barefoot for most of the week, especially after my flip flops wore identical cuts in both my heels (multiple visits to the med tent for those). I also noticed early on that time just seemed to run at a different pace at PSG. Time seemed to just flow, sometimes speeding up, sometimes allowing me to savor the moments that I knew I'd want to remember forever. I've never been someone who tries to do everything and I've never managed to fully defeat my tendency to need to turn in early. There were nights, however, I pushed past that to attend drum circle and dance into the night (although that was mostly later in the week as I felt more comfortable).
Being a morning person, though, had the benefit of connecting me with people that I wouldn't have met otherwise. A festival of around 900 people means that you'll almost continually see people for the first time. The people that I met on more than one occasion were people that, as the universe would have it, I really felt connected to. But, I digress. One morning, a notably quiet one, I ventured down to the creek to sit on the bank and just be. After about ten minutes there, I was joined by Sarah, who had come to that spot to capture on film some of the beauty the creek offered. Immediately, I was struck by just how beautiful she was, typifying an ethereal, Piscean artist in many ways. As she snapped some photographs, we introduced ourselves and talked about our common interests (photography, animals, nature, our experiences of PSG) and found that we had similar outlooks on several topics. For a while, it was just quiet and we were just watching the still-misty water flowing around the bluffs and rocks. That creek was such a welcome respite over the week, not just for the relief from the heat it offered but for the peace I always feel around water. That, among other things, seemed something I shared with this new friend.
After we both realized that morning meeting was getting close to starting, we walked up there, continuing our conversation on the way, comparing impressions of the campsite and spots we'd found to swim and escape the heat. I found myself, as we kept talking, discussing books and music that we loved and sharing recommendations, lamenting a bit that she was straight but being glad as always at making a new friend. During morning meeting, they came around with some necklaces to gift everyone with. Choosing colors that spoke to each of us, mine purple, hers blue to remind her of the water, we discussed meeting up later to visit other spots in the winding creek and cool off. We met up a couple more times as the week went on, swimming and talking and exchanging contact information and agreeing that next year would find us both back at Camp Zoe.
Other days, other events: I participated in the most meaningful ritual I've had the chance to be involved with. I got clear, straightforward insights into the direction I need to take in my life as we walked a midnight, candlelit labyrinth under the full moon and I felt so strongly the connection to the earth we're blessed with. I laughed, I sang, I danced, I played, I thought and wrote and grew immensely.
It was that kind of week, all in all. Peppered with moments that stand out and stretches of time with which to contemplate and consider all that noise the outside world brings to 'real life.' One of the reasons it took so long for me to write about this is that the experience touched me on so many different levels. I had plenty of the kind of fun people normally associate with vacation and, yes, it was hot and, yes, I got time to relax. But it was so much more than that at the same time. The people I met there, the feeling of connecting and re-connecting with the deepest parts of myself-those are the memories I continue to carry with me and return to as I keep in mind the idea that the next 11 months represent preparation time to return home.