Sunday, May 10, 2009

35 and Counting

Yesterday, Sandhill celebrated its 35th birthday as an intentional community. We had over 80 people join us for a lovely all-day party on a sunny day in the 60s. I doubt if there was anyone present who knew everyone in the dinner circle, and that's part of the magic of the day. Perhaps more startling is the recognition that a goodly portion of the attendees were in their 20s, and therefore not yet on the planet when Sandhill was launched. I love watching their faces when I lay this out. (While it's not true that we used to read by kerosene lantern after dinner, we did pre-exist the Internet and Face Book.)

For decades now, we've co-opted the pagan holiday of Beltane to mark our anniversary, joyously eating,
drinking, and dancing on the advent of summer. For a couple days ahead we bustle around: sweeping, mowing, and preparing special foods. It's a time of suspending normal routines to laugh and connect. Celebrating our primal, aminal urges.

After 35 years, we've settled into a predictable rhythm for our Land Day festivities. We have a kids' activity around 2 pm, May Pole at 3 pm, potluck feast at 4 pm, sweat lodge rounds beginning at 6 pm, and contra dance at 7 pm. Repeat as needed. If you don't manage to have a terrific time, it's your own damn fault.

For more than a decade, my special Land Day niche (aside from a bit of cooking) has been setting up the sweat lodge. This year I had yeoman help from Thomas and Charles from nearby Dancing Rabbit. Thomas is a long-time member, and Charles is a work exchanger (WEXer) there to help my wife Ma'ikwe build her house this summer. They overhauled the sweat lodge structure (which was sadly sagging, not having been attended or attended to since last year's Land Day) while I nurtured the fire—it takes at least five hours to get the iron and firebrick up to temperature (you want them glowing red).

All during the afternoon, while the main party ebbed and flowed up by the White House (the original farm residence, which contains our kitchen and dining room), I entertained anyone who'd venture down by the pond, to see what all the smoke was about. I stoked the fire and kept the iron and bricks nestled in the center. On Land Day, the sweat fire is like a side show at a three-ring circus.

By 8 pm we'd done four rounds in the lodge and I had the fire stoked up for a fifth. I passed my pitchfork to others, and retired for the evening. By then we'd made the transiton to dark. There was about an hour before the rise of the full moon, during which the glow of the coals emerged from the gloaming, and those present got increasingly transfixed by the pulsing embers and dancing flames.

Beltane is a pagan cross-quarter day, and it doesn't get more elemental than a sweat lodge: fire, water, earth, and air. This ritual goes back much further than 35 years. It goes back more than 35 centuries. Yesterday was the one day a year I give myself over to being the fire tender.

Another year, another sweat, and the cycle continues. Ho.

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