Dear City Mice of San Francisco:
My family and I are your Country Mice Cousins from Tuolumne County. You bathe in our water as it flows from our mountains. I hear you’re worried that we won’t take good care of our land. But we promise we will.
Three generations of Strawberry Music Festival, that’s us! Me, the hub who died in 1991, the hub whom I love deeply now (largely because he is a Strawberry Guy), the kids and now the grandkids, one of whom is in college. Strawberry has been our home away from home since the first festival. Our entire year is planned around these words: “We’ll do that AFTER Strawberry.”
We Strawberrians are a vast community, a rich extended family that shares this love of “The Strawberry Way!” You’ll never meet a gentler, more conscious-living group of people gathered, working together, playing together in peace with full attention and intention to care for this place that we all love: Camp Mather. Here is that Ultimate Promise: A WHOLE BUNCH OF FOLKS will continue to act in good faith to care for Camp Mather. We are a mindful, environmentally sensitive group, exercising careful self-regulation of water, resource and forest management because we have a deep collective conscience that demands stewardship of this piece of land and of each other, all 6,000+ of us!
Our Strawberry Team takes every decision into thoughtful account. They are the most conscientious and well-planned people imaginable, and they expect the same of all their Festival Attendees. In addition, the Strawberry folks have made huge improvements to Camp Mather over the years, always addressing every major concern with dignity and a willingness to “make things work, and make them work better!” And that will happen again, if you just give us all a chance!
Our own natal family lives in Tuolumne County. We understand the threat and consequences of the Rim Fire more than most. We felt the devastation all over our south county. We live with the stories every single day, and we are very conscientious about what needs to be done. We are ready and willing to be your first line of getting life back to normal for that area.
My family also works for the Festival in very fun jobs that are part of the Festival’s community glue: My husband is the first face that folks see when they arrive. He invites them to have fun and to be strong, positive contributors to our Vagabond Village. I am the Strawberry Storyteller, a job I’ve done since Festival #1. I’m asked to hold the lore, the traditions, the memories of our time at Mather. My kids and grandkids have worked on the Kids’ Crew, on the Ice Crew, at the Drink Booth and more. Our family history is intertwined with the history of Strawberry in more ways that I can count. And we are just ONE of many families, who could all tell you similar tales.
All of us who attend this event are really just one big, happy octopus, a “family” with strong tentacles. We’ve loved and laughed, cried and mourned together for 32 years at Mather. Our children and now their children have grown up in the shade of Camp Mather’s pines and cedars. We’ve watched the quaking aspen at Birch Lake. And during those last hours of every Fall Festival, we hold each image, storing up Mather’s beauty over the months between until we see each other again. Deep love and friendships have been discovered and nurtured. People falling in love, wrapped in the embrace of the most open and accepting people that you’ll ever meet.
Chucks in our Camp
Everyone takes care of everyone at Strawberry with love and respect, kindness and humor. Our memories and stories are in the dirt, dusty dreams drifting on mountain breezes. We bring it home in our sleeping bags, on our feet, under our fingernails. We don’t celebrate just one festival at a time, but the cumulative effect of all the festivals. Nothing could be sweeter.
But it isn’t all about rainbow dragonflies and leggy tadpoles (although they are pretty darn important, let me tell you). The Strawberry Music Festival is Tuolumne County’s largest tourism event of the year. The Festival sustains the economic health of a large segment of our county. The Hwy 120 Corridor depends on the life of Strawberry and Yosemite. The aftermath of The Rim Fire/Yosemite Fire has had disastrous economic effects that came on the heels of a long economic downturn. We were just starting to look up again, and then came the fire. For weeks we sat in vigil, waiting to hear where the fire had stopped, people checking in with each other from all over the nation: “Is Camp Mather OK? What about Evergreen?”
Camp Mather and the Evergreen Lodge are huge assets, but another year of little or no income for these two vital businesses (plus all of their “downstream” contractors, vendors, suppliers) may take things beyond recovery.
Have you taken time to uncover the Strawberry Diaspora? Oh, what you would learn! Many of the first Burning Man devotees were Strawberry Kids, weaned on communal living with a keen awareness of making a small footprint and liking dirt. Many of the musicians at your own Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival got their start at Strawberry Music Festival. The Telluride Festival and the Kate Wolf Festival both based their family outreach programs on the Strawberry Kids program (Kate performed for many of our early festivals. We cried together when she died). And on any night, some world-class musician will say, “I’ve been trying to get to Strawberry for years! And I finally made it!”
Come be with us. Dance in the meadow under the moon. Watch the stars shoot across the dark sky. Roam from camp to camp and listen to the gentle songs of love for each other. Stand beneath a streetlamp and listen to a group of younguns carry on Old Time Music traditions. Wake with Yoga by the Lake as drums roll out a rhythm for the day. Sing with us, add your voice to our chorus. Stand and laugh silently to the antics of a Blue Jay and a squirrel squabbling with each other. Watch kids splash in the mud after the water truck rolls by. Go meet our Festival characters, and collect a hug from The Turtle Man, Cactus Bob or the Coffee Fairies. Soak in the wonder of little neon-glow children twirling and dancing in the night~little sprites of pure joy! And join the Sunday communion, an affirmation of human goodness, at the Birch Lake Revival.
We are real in a way that most people never experience. We are Strawberry, a very big Family of Choice, traveling the miles to celebrate this little blue marble called Earth and the serenity of our forest home!
We beg you to reconsider your decision. We beg you to open a genuine dialogue with those of us who have lived and loved at Camp Mather. You worry that our activities will harm the area, but in truth, we are a source of healing–a large group of people, committed to protecting and preserving this land and the strong cultural traditions of our community.
Imagine: Since 1983, our first year at Mather: Nearly 60 Festivals, and each one with its own magic.
B.Z. Smith, One of Strawberry’s Village Storyteller