As promised, we went back to the Traditional Ways Gathering last week. This time we drove in through Wisconsin and back out through Michigan, reversing last year’s trip. As always, the first stop is in Breezewood, Town of Motels (always say this in a 70s soap opera announcer voice).
More accurately, I suppose, it should be Breezewood, Town of Gas Stations and Truck Stops, but that’s less…romantic? We always stopped there when I was a kid on family trips West to Ohio. It has this status as a place you Must Stop, even though it’s only 90 min from home, now. We went into one of the souvenir shops (because who doesn’t want a tschotchke to remember Breezewood, Town of Motels?) and it had all these mounted animal heads all over the place. Very odd. I imagine the cape buffalo would be very confused to find that its final resting place is off the Turnpike in South Central PA.
Back on the road. We didn’t leave Frederick until 4 pm, b/c we were taking a rental van. Our van is at about 198K and making some weird “your transmission is in its final days” noise, so we decided to just put the money into a rental rather than put the money into our van and still wind up stranded on the Upper Peninsula at 3 am. We pushed through until just outside Toledo before calling it a night. We crashed at the Perrysville (?) La Quinta at around 11 and were back up and out by 7:30. Breakfast at a nice little restaurant that took far too long and on the road for the second day.
Wisconsin is large. I’d forgotten to pack a sweater, a serious mistake for Lake Superior in late August. Late August in Northern WI=Late October in Frederick, MD. All hail the internets, as we neared Fond du Lac, I did a search for a Goodwill, followed Google Maps, and found a St. Vincent dePaul thrift instead. “Google Maps: We might not get you where you want to go, but we might get you somewhere better. Or not.” I ran in, scored two sweaters (one Woolrich, one the ski brand Kuhl) for 4 bucks total (oh how it pained me to not spend two hours in there!) and hopped back in the car. Fond du Lac is a hole. We went to a gas station before we left and were less than charmed by the neck-tattooed population. On the highway, most billboards were for either “adult” book and gift stores or were anti-abortion. This amused me. in fact, much of the midwest that we saw seems to be strip clubs and porn shops, according to the billboards. Also, there are casinos. But it’s the East Coast that’s the Liberal Devil’s playground, is it? Mmm-hmm.
Finally, very near sunset, we arrived at camp. We’d mailed our tents ahead to Emily and Michael (thanks guys!) and they had them set up and ready. I’d brought the EZ-up as our kitchen and we set it up between our tents. I had my wire grids and cable ties to make our shelves, and I set to unpacking. Once dark, Steve left to go check in to his hotel. This time, he wasn’t on the company dime, so he didn’t have a reservation at the fancy-pants B&B. Instead, he’d gotten a room in one of those cute little motels like we stayed in the previous year on the UP–wood paneling, bare bones, door to the outside. Only, as it turns out, they didn’t have him checking in until Sunday. So he had to drive around trying to find a room. Of which there were none. So he called the fancypants B&B and they had one spot left. Meanwhile, back at camp, I’d decided I’d misunderstood and he wasn’t coming back, but had that niggling “but I’m pretty sure he was, so where IS he?” in the back of my head. Bedtime comes around 9pm at camp. When it gets dark, you go to sleep. None of those super-bright LED camp lights and blaring boomboxes like you get at a state park. Steve had left before it was fully dark and didn’t have a flashlight, so he’d used Ben’s ipod as a light to find his way back only to find the entire camp silent and black. I heard him sigh outside and got up to hear his harrowing tale, felt bad that he’d had such a time, but relieved to have touched base (okay, it WOULD be nice to be able to text sometimes), and said good night. Gave him a flashlight to get back out again. Then I was able to sleep. Zonk.
6:30 am, the sun comes in and up I get, grinding my coffee and getting breakfast. Since we were getting in so late on Saturday, Emily and Michael offered to feed us all, since I hadn’t yet gone to the store. Yummy pancakes with maple syrup Ezra and Michael tapped in the spring. Emily and I went in to the co-op to shop for provisions. Lord, it’s like shopping in Hawaii, with high prices and crappy produce. Lots of decently priced local meat, at least. Emily’s family took the plunge into omnivorism about the same time we did, so were equally flummoxed by how to cook meat, but also equally eager to eat great quantities of it. SUCH good summer sausage and hard salami. mm.
I spent most of Sunday setting up camp and then sitting in the sun on the beach with a book. The kids ran wild. It’s so beautiful there.
Sunday is a preview of the classes, so we walked around the class tents chatting with instructors and putting our names in for things we wanted. Steve most wanted to make a deerskin book, I most wanted to do wet felting. Other things were negotiable.
We cooked dinner and ate around 6. It was really nice to have another cook–we’d decide on a sort of food, say Thai flavors or Italian, and then each cook a dish. Twice as much to choose from with the same amount of effort. And then? Michael did dishes. Woo!
Steve was a bit sad to not be going back to the B&B, as it is pretty swank, but he headed off to his motel and we all turned in.
Monday is the first official day. It was nice to be back in morning circle, it hardly seemed like a year had gone by. I have always liked the idea of having a vacation spot and time, where you go to the same place and see the same folks and so I was so happy to get to see the familiar faces. New ones, too–on the other side of my tents, more friends of Emily and Michael set up. Suzanne and her daughter Emma (who was VERY kind to Lily), and in the middle of the night, Amanda arrived with her kids Finn and Elsa. She showed up around midnight and had to meander until they found their tent where Michael had pitched it. All they had to do was crawl into bed. Emily gave her a cup of joe in the morning and she , was ready to go. See? it’s a magical place.
My morning class was a drop spindle spinning class. Lily took it with me. I was sad that Molly, my wool-dyeing instructor, wasn’t back this year. I was not gifted at drop spindle, but it was nice to get some instruction as I’d had no luck figuring it out on my own. One of the other women in the class was nursing a toddler and spinning at the same time and still doing better than I. We all swapped our nursing stories and forged some connection among the middle aged ladies.
As I’ve said, everyone at the Gathering is welcoming and kind, but there are definitely groups. The youngsters, in their 20s, are the scruffy Dickensian waifs in their holey wool sweaters and deerskin pants and skirts–all earth tones and actual earth. They are bare foot or wearing hand-crafted sandals or moccasins. Then we have the folks in their late 30s-late 40s with older children. We are in the bright colors of synthetic fabrics from REI. We wear Chacos on our feet. Finally, we have the “elders” in their wolf sweatshirts, jeans, and sneakers.
I came back to camp and ate my lunch on the beach. Ben came up and asked if there was any breakfast left. When I told him no, he was mightily offended and we had the “But I didn’t get very much!” “then you should have eaten it when it was available!” exchange. One of the young buckskin moms was on the beach too and laughed. After Ben stalked away, she said how nice it was to see that other families have the same exchanges. I told her how relieved Emily and I were to hear her husband (Buckskin Brad from last year) say their trip in had been grueling with the kids all bickering. The joy we take in the suffering of others.
My afternoon class was Venison Jerky 101. It was one of those “Well THIS is a different place than last year” moments. It was a lesson in drying raw meat. Roach and Amelia brought in a roadkill deer from the previous winter. They were telling us where it was from as apparently deer in some areas are more likely to carry the equivalent of mad cow disease. He showed us how to slice it very thin and then hang it up on a line in the sun and wind. I sat there on the ground, knife in hand, giant hunk of deer on my cutting board, listening to a man named Roach tell me not to worry about the maggots. “By the time they hatch out, the meat is dry, so they die.” I don’t think we’re in vegetarian land anymore. That slab o’ critter was the most visceral thing I’ve faced since returning to meat, but I was determined to Win at Meat, so I dove in. I had to tell them I’d been a 20 year vegetarian up until about a month ago to try to get a few extra credit points. They didn’t declare me Champion of All Deer Slicing, but i think I did well.
Class was short, so I read in the sun on the beach until time to make dinner. Steve showed up with ice cream from a local dairy (Tetzners, so adorable and local that it operates on the honor system). He’d brought a half gallon each of chocolate and vanilla, so there was plenty to share around to the kids around us. AND it was at that perfect slightly melty on the edges stage. mmmm. There was opening circle that evening, where everyone has a chance to speak and introduce him or herself. It was really nice for about 2/3 of the way around, then I felt like “Okay, we’re all happy to be back, this place is like a family, look forward to it all year, can’t wait for the rest of the week, it’s magical here. Noted. Good night.” The older gents tended to be seriously long winded. I feel like if you have to start with “Well, people tell me I talk too much” you might need to re-evaluate. Best part, though? A woman who said “I have a gift for knowing your true name, so if I call you by a name that is not yours, it’s not just that I’m forgetful.” I am TOTALLY stealing that.
Back to camp and to bed. A gorgeous day.