“The people who are crazy enough to think they
can change the world are the ones who do.”
We were wild. We were free. Just him and me and our truck full of Peruvian imports, touring the West coast in search of a new kind of life. That which we sought felt, too often, just out of grasp. Still, we reached, because what other option is there? Giving up and settling back into the familiar path of job, apartment, A to B to C and then you wake up twenty years later and wonder where your life has gone… it wasn’t tenable for either of us. We’d gone through our years of sleepwalking, and the process of crawling out of that comfortable deathbed was both painful and seemingly irreversible.
We spent the summer driving from one festival to another, volunteering our time in exchange for a ticket and, occasionally, food. When I wasn’t working, I might spend time hanging out with the tailgate of the truck open, our wares laid out for purchase. Thick alpaca socks, brightly colored alpaca hats, tiny alpaca sweaters—are you sensing a theme yet?
More often, though, I’d spend my off time reading. Most of the festivals we found featured music and crowds that I had little interest engaging with. I’d done a lot of the discovery footwork, and while I’d managed to find a couple shining exceptions, most of our scheduled work landed us at bluegrass festivals. Nothing against bluegrass in particular—the skill I saw on display was mind-boggling—it’s just not my jam.
By late July, I felt burnt out and discouraged. We hadn’t made much money selling alpaca gear, the people we were surrounded by were often drunk (we were at festivals, after all), and the strain of summer heat and long hours in the car was getting to both of us.
Wild and free didn’t feel so wild or free. It felt like scrabbling up a rock face, fingers bloodied and muscles quaking.
After yet another discouraging festival (which we left as soon as our volunteer shifts were completed), we drove to Colorado to spend some time with my family. Spending time at the old homestead is always a difficult endeavor, whether I’m with my partner or alone, and this was no exception. Morale continued to slip.
We drove north and spent the weekend working gate security at a bluegrass fest in beautiful Lyons, Colorado. The setting was spectacular, the festival itself left me feeling like I was scraping the bottom of the barrel. The whole summer seemed pointless. Nothing was working, motivation had fled, and the prospect of a desk job had started to sound almost feasible.
This was, as we refer to it in the writing world, my long dark night of the soul. I was nearly ready to give up, pack it in, accept the ‘truth’ of what I’d been hearing all along: stepping outside the norm is ultimately a fool’s errand, and can only end in pain, destitution, and calamity.
We couldn’t leave Colorado, though. We had one more festival booked in the state before we would make the mad dash back to Washington what was slated to be our last festival of the year. So we rallied our spirits and headed up to Sunrise Ranch in Loveland, CO.
We checked in, found a spot for the truck—and turned around to find a huge double rainbow stretching over the lake at the far end of the parking area.
Everything changed for me, for us, for our focus, in the next few days. While other festivals left us plenty of time to hawk our wares from the back of the truck, the Arise Festival was saturated with music, workshops, classes, and presentations that appealed to just about every aspect of who I am as a person. My partner, too, found himself poring over the schedule, circling so many options that there wasn’t a spare minute left in the day. And while we’d made connections with people at the other festivals, within half an hour of pitching our tent we’d found kinship with a fellow festie that felt more real and more enriching than any other person I’d met along the way.
I’d been looking for Spirit all along, aching to find some sense of the Divine in dusty makeshift parking lots, air-conditioned casinos, and other people’s empty beer cans. (No glass at the festival, please!) Of course, the Divine is in everything.
It’s also true, though, that you become the kind of people you surround yourself with, and we’d spent precious little time in the company of others specifically looking to engage with Spirit.
Until we got to Arise.
A Sacred Fire burned throughout the festival, attracting Water Protectors from Standing Rock, Storytellers weaving joy out of words, elders leading ceremony, and, of course, people eager to get warm after chilly Colorado storms. This space made the festival for me. The music was great, the workshops and yoga classes I attended were lovely, but the Fire and the environment it created were what took me from hopelessness to having more ideas than I knew what to do with.
We drove away from Sunrise Ranch early one drizzly morning and spent the next few hours brainstorming all the ways we wanted to change the world. I filled the pages of our glittery gold notebook with ideas for new forms of education, ways to expand our business by following our passions of wildcrafting and creating, thoughts about community action and political activism. The world felt like it had opened up, after feeling so very, very small.
Finally, we were wild. We were free.
More than anything, we believed.