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.
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.
Written on 12/31/12 at 10:25PM
It’s already here…2013. Most of the world has already sung the songs, watched the fireworks, shared the kisses and well-wishes. There’s just this little section of the globe that still sits in wait for the future to begin.
What a tender and sometimes bittersweet year 2012 has been. From huge global and national events (Newtown, Connecticut, my heart pours out to you) to deeply personal transitions, each morning I woke up and said, “This day I’ll move forward just a little bit more. One foot in front of the other.”
Morning is my best time. Like “BeeGirl,” I’m ready to fly! I’m full of the day’s best intentions, the list of “to do’s.” I flit from one project to the next with relative ease and sometimes efficiency. I’m working for the creative hive, making my share of life’s sweet honey, seeking out that perfect metaphor, the stories that we all share.
But evenings are tougher, filled with reflection, fatigue and sometimes regret. What else could I have done? Where did I get distracted, pulled off my sweet honeybee course? How could I have served my family, my community, my art better? Could have a “do over”…please?
Tick-tock, tick-tock: Just 1.5 hours until 2013. I’ve never been big on New Year’s resolutions. Oh, when I was a kid, I had long lists! But now I’ve seen how many I’ve let slip away. So, I tend to spare myself the disappointment and occasional embarrassment. But don’t I need to strengthen my will? You bet! “The hard work fortifies my will,” says Caleb Daniloff in his new book Running Ransom Road. “I move through this so I can move through that. One foot in front of the other. One run at a time.”
In 2013 I will hit that magical age of 64. Come mid-November my friends and family will all be ready to sing that classical Beatles Song, “When I’m 64, will you still need me?” This year I want to do more for my own art, my own well-being. I want to remember the vision I had at age 18 of what my Future Self would be: Healthy, happy, creative, full of intellectual curiosity and good books.
My hubby is saying this right now: “You should take care of yourself, B.Z. Get off the computer. Take a nice hot shower.” He’s right, you know. Hey BeeGirl, show me the flowers, help me follow that sweet honeybee course.
Tick-tock, tick-tock. My Future Self is staring at me through the looking glass, wondering what this new year will bring. So, adieu, 2012. I’m taking heed and putting one foot in front of the other.
A few months before this picture was taken (at a friend’s wedding), Emilee Elizabeth, the youngest of my grands, was visiting California.
We’d just moved into our new home, and boxes, boxes, boxes were stacked about…mostly in one room. Like all good little homemakers, I wanted to have the feeling of being settled when my daughter and grandkids came for a visit.
But then there was that last room, the overflow room. I had systematically stacked all of my art, sewing and craft supplies in this room. There were hundreds of books and a gazillion boxes of photos. And to make matters worse, I had a slew of boxes from my parents’ things crammed into the little 10’x10′ room. A maze, an amazing maze of STUFF. And then my daughter and her three children arrived into this chaos.
Immediately we went through GMA* and GPA’s* House Orientation: How everything worked and what to avoid. While the kids played and explored the weed-covered yard, I said to my daughter, Wren, “Come see the Guest Room.” She was duly appalled. We giggled about all the junk. We laughed, and each of us commented that finding anything would be done so by pure luck! She vowed that when she was living in California, she would help me purge. “I’m good at it, Mom.”
I noticed that little Emilee, not quite 4, had slipped in to the Guest Room with us, all ears and eyes. So, I continued that House Orientation, “Emmy, please do not come into this room without a grown-up. You’ll need to ask Paka (that’s me in GMA Land) if you see something you want to touch.” “OK, Paka,” she replied.
Right about then someone hollered for us, and we set to other projects, tasks, etc. Friends were stopping by to see Wren and the kids. I had food to prepare. The two big kids were pouring back into the house to tell about their outside adventures. Chaos had once again settled around us, like an old friendly and well-worn blanket.
A few minutes later I noticed that Emilee was quietly playing with a familiar basket, but one that I hadn’t really noticed since we moved in. The basket was brimming with little plastic-molded toy animals.
“Emmy, where did you find that?” I asked.
“In the Guessing Room,” she replied. I squelched a big guffaw. Not in the Guest Room, no. She called that room like it was! And so that thickly cluttered room was dubbed that day!
These days “The Guessing Room” has been thinned out and is not terribly cluttered, but the name remains. Now just 7 years old, Emilee told me recently, “It’s still the ‘Guessing Room,’ Paka, even if you can find stuff in there now.”
This kid hears a story once and has it. She takes it and embellishes it. She choreographs her re-tellings and uses her body, voice, gesture, repetitions. She has a full bag of tellers’ tricks that I’ve noticed she’s learning how to use, spiced up well with a vivid imagination.
Early in the Summer we sat snuggled together in a big yard chair. I told her family history stories of our Wyandotte Indian heritage. Suddenly she asked, “So, I’m a Wind-Up Indian?” I chuckled, then gently corrected her pronunciation. Then I told this busy girl that she was a Wind-Up Wyandotte.
As we sat quietly, cuddled together in the glow of Summer’s twilight, I heard her murmur, “I didn’t forget that I was Wyandotte, Paka. I just never knew.”
Slowly, gently Emilee emerges as the family storyteller, the one in our clan who just might carry on the oral tradition. At least that what it looks like this week.
If you have someone in your family, who shows signs of carrying on your family lore, encourage him/her. Help that youngun to learn the stories of your family history in a way that is playful, sustaining. Let him/her take the story and personalize it. If you’re concerned about historical documentation, then record the facts in a place that can be passed down. But if you just want the stories to live on tongues, then let them take on a new life for a new generation! And then listen to those young tellers enjoy creating new stories as they emerge into their own lives and times. Emilee’s oldest sibling, Sage, loves to write–another way to carry on the storytelling tradition in families.
*– In “texting” lingo GMA = Grandmother & GPA = Grandfather.
I grew up moving. As a kid I attended 14 schools in 4 different states. So as I approached my adult life, I just wanted to put down roots! Joni Mitchell’s song, “Back to the Garden,” filled my head and heart. I wanted to plant flowers, vegetables and maybe even trees! I wanted to be a part of a huge shift in America’s collective conscious–To change the world one seed at a time. I wanted chickens, a dog and two cats in the yard.
Then by luck and lore I traveled to the Mother Lode. My college sweetheart and I sang, “Paint Your Wagon!” as we trekked up Highway J-59 out of Merced into the foothills. What a sight!
On that first trip, I knew that I had come home. I had found my place. So, the plans to come North took form. Within 18 months, that feller and I were packed up, rolling out of Los Angeles.
But the moving didn’t stop! Even though I’ve lived in Tuolumne County since January 1973, I can’t count how many times I’ve moved! Wait, let me count: Downtown Sonora, Big Hill, Tuolumne, East Sonora, Downtown Sonora, Columbia, Downtown Sonora, East Sonora, Downtown Sonora, Fairgrounds, Uptown Sonora, Jamestown, Lambert Lakes and now Lime Kiln area. Fourteen moves right here between two rivers. After a while, I quit unpacking some of my stuff. I just moved the whole box…LOTS of boxes! At 62 any sense of permanence, any kind of physical anchor has escaped me, except in the way those boxes have stayed and been my nomad’s home.
But now it is time to empty those well-traveled boxes and baskets. I’ll try to remember why I lugged them about. So, this Summer I’m organizing my sewing room and a new space, The Art Shed.
If we dream of living creative lives, then we can create spaces where our imaginations can grow. Freeing myself from way too much clutter has been an ongoing project for about twenty years. This Summer I am digging deep into abandoned layers. Like an archeologist, I’m sifting, sorting, classifying, and yes…throwing some of it away. I’ll try to share some of this journey with you.
Here is one little shard: