Saturday, August 14, 2010

Into the Woods - my first MichFest

** August 1997

I was white knuckling it down a dirt road. I knew there was going to be a dirt road. I just hadn't realized it would be this long. And I was on a rather heavy motorcycle. I was riding my husband's CB 1000. My bike was a 1982 Kawasaki CSR 750 - and it was on it's last legs, so James had graciously lent me his bike. I had over 1000 miles at my back, two miles to go and I wasn't sure that I was going to make it.

Finally, the gate appeared. Women waved, grining broadly with smiles of raw happiness, the skin on their faces relaxed across their bones with a freedom I'd never seen. It was as if the world had melted off their shoulders. My eyes were big. My face was not relaxed. Not yet. They said, "Welcome Home!".

Sarah and I were directed to park our bikes in a field of tall grass while we purchased our tickets. I looked at these women like they were crazy. Have you ever tried to park a heavy motorcycle in a field of tall grass? That slopes upwards? After three miles of dirt road and driving since dawn?

I started to protest. And learned my first Michigan lesson. There are rules. And you will follow them. So I parked in the tall grass, pushed a crumpled can under my kick stand and prayed that my bike wouldn't fall over.

After we had parked in motorcycle parking (a different part of the big field, but flat and equipped with hard things to put under your kick stand), unloaded our crap, signed up for our workshifts, and picked up our programs we loaded onto a flat bed pulled by a tractor and headed into the land. There were women everywhere. But no time to look around. Light was fading and we needed to get our tents up while we could still see.

After much dragging things down wood chipped paths, following M & R who had been to fest before, we set up camp. In the dark. And promptly passed out.

The next day, we awoke to rain. Luckily, since we had come on motorcycles, I had a rain suit and headed off to my intensive goddess workshop with Ruth Barrett. It was raining so hard, they moved the workshop under the kitchen serving tent. I sat shyly at the back with my head spinning. No one here thought it odd that I was a witch. Or dianic. The word "person" or "people" was gone from the language. It had been replaced by women (or womyn, or wimmin or...). It was as though I'd crossed a great divide into a mystical place. I was in Avalon.

I think that night we went and watched a movie. I know that night I returned to my Target tent to find a river inside. Literally everything was soaked. A boat could have floated in my sleeping bag. I could have used a boat.

I slept sitting up. In my rain suit. And leather jacket. And Sarah's leather jacket. Sarah offered for me to sleep in her (dry) tent with her. But I have a pride problem. And an accepting help problem. It's still a problem now, but it was ginormous when I was 25. Today, I would have been knocking on Sarah's tent and telling her to scoot over.

The next morning I walked out to the phones, called my husband and cried. I had it together til I heard his voice.

J - "Hello?" (pre caller ID)

Me - "Hi" (sniff, sniff)

J - "How's it going?"

Me - "I'm all wet, the tent leaked, it's raining, and cold and....(sobs) If it doesn't get better I'm coming home (more tears)"

J - "Ok, talk to Sarah, see if there's something you can do to fix your tent, and know you can always come home ok?

Me - (sniff) "Ok"

J - "Have fun, let me know what happens"

Me - "Ok" (sniff)

Which is where R found me, helped me collect all of my wet stuff, poured me into her car and drove me to a laundromat in town where we dried everything, had ice cream and bought about 17 tarps. Ok, it was more like four.

After working my kitchen shift, and for aforementioned pride reasons turning down the help of an astonishingly handsome woman, I tarped inside my tent, under my tent, over the tent. Hell, I tarped everything I could see. I spent the rest of the week asking people if their tents leaked. And collecting data on which brands remained dry (Mountain Hardware and Marmot were the leading non-leakers)

Wednesday night was the opening ceremony. Thousands of women sat in front of the night stage. Thousands of women sang and danced as we celebrated the festival. We rose as Amazon Women. It was magic.

I spent much of the next several days walking around in a daze. My eyes filled with the astonishing diversity of women. I'd been terrified I'd be too fat and embarrassed to shower (a result of highly disordered body image). I was wrong. There were plenty of women bigger than me. And proud and sexy in their bodies. There were women with beards and dresses driving the town tractor (it's michigan's public transportation system - there is a separate system for women with mobility related disabilities - it's goes more places), young women, older women, women wearing skirts with no tops and breast feeding babies, little girls and boys (up to age 4) playing, teen age girls running and whispering with their friends. Handsome butch women. Women in elaborate outfits. Naked women with chairs over their arms and shoes on their feet. Women who literally set up pickets fences around their tent sites. My head spun. I made a mental note to bring make up and cuter outfits the next time I came. And I smiled. When I called home there were no tears. Just excitement and laughter.

At the night stage that year, Tribe 8 played. And it was incredible. The sign language interpreter was fierce. And did costume changes. At one point she was on stage in boots and a modified white wedding dress turning ASL into punk rock. I couldn't take my eyes off her. Which is saying something because Lynn Breedlove is hot. Tribe 8 was amazing. But what changed my life was the mosh pit. I dove in and it smelled good. This never happens in mosh pits. When someone fell, there were many hands helping her up, when I coughed, a woman turned and handed me a cough drop. I felt safe in a way that I'd never felt before. We were all taking care of each other. Flinging our bodies with abandon, dancing, pulsing, soaring with delight, energy and healing. Our power rose above us, almost shining in the night sky. When I walked away from the concert my voice was gone, I was covered in the sweat of women. And filled with a bone deep peace and joy.

A few days later we left the land, exhausted. It took hours for my eyes to readjust to the world. A world with men. I felt disoriented.

When I got home, dirty, tired and road buzzed my husband was waiting. With a hug and a massage table set up. He wrapped me in Dead Sea mud, gave me a massage and poured me into bed. Being back in the world with men wasn't so bad. Not with men

I left my michigan wristband on for a week. And dreamed of the woods

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