The first thing to do at this point is unload the tent
and other gear, and try to persuade the children to get
out of the car and come back into the house. After all, the festival is still 6 weeks away. This will also be good practice for later when you actually go since you will repeat this performance several times when, 2
miles from the house, the kids announce they have to go to the bathroom, or you suddenly can't remember if you packed a critical piece of camping gear. Practice this until you can unload the trunk with your eyes closed, because unless you arrive at the festival site before noon, you will probably be setting
up camp in the dark. I don't know why this happens, but at 2 of the past 3 festivals we attended, I wound up trying to tell the blue-tipped tent poles from the red-tipped ones around 10 P.M. The time
before that we just slept in the car and made camp the next morning. I don't recommend this, as sleeping
in a car with kids mainly consists of opening your eyes just when you're about to drop off to tell them it's
5 minutes later than the last time they asked, or getting out to escort them to a bathroom, into the bushes,
or if you're lucky, behind the car where no one can see (as if anyone else would be up at 4 in the morning who would care).
Try to spend at least one night prior to the festival
camping near home. The best place to do this is at a
public campground or state park. The backyard, tempting as it seems, is not recommended. For one
thing, it's too easy to run inside to use the bathroom and wind up checking e-mail for the next hour. Also, you need the experience of making sure that everything is actually going to fit in the vehicle you'll be using. If you feel you absolutely must make a trial run in the backyard, pack everything you'll be taking
with you inside the car. Make sure the family still fits, even if this means just driving around the block
and unloading again at the curb. Otherwise when it's time to go you may be surprised by having to make
a last minute choice of what to leave behind. Rational decisions are rarely made when you're already 2
hours behind schedule and still have fresh memories of sorting tent poles by starlight. At that point people sometimes toss out the box with the flashlights and extra toilet paper. Remember, if you have to go back
to the house for anything during the practice trip, it must ALL be packed back into the car the next day,
even if you just went inside for a flashlight. If you forget anything, try to live without it. Chances are,
you can. Besides, no matter how much you pack, you'll always forget something. Interestingly enough,
no matter how little you pack, there will always be some absolutely indispensable item such as a drum or
bag of face paints taking up space in the back floorboard that won't be taken out of the car until weeks
later. Just accept it; This is one of The Mysteries.
When not engaged in activities like practicing assembling
and igniting a propane lantern with your eyes
closed, use the time before the festival to take inventory of your clothing. Is it time to repair that cloak
with the safety pin holding the hem together? Can you still slip into that tunic? I'm the main costumer in
our house, and generally spend 8-16 hours making repairs or working on new outfits for us at the beginning of festival season. This is done the night before the first trip, because while packing I find out
that nobody has anything fit to wear. If it's their first gathering, chances are the kids' ritual clothing
consists of jeans and T-shirts with catchy Pagan sayings like, "Girls Rule and Boys Drool" and "I'm With
STUPID". In a case like this you'll want to make sure everyone has at least a couple of "Witchy" dresses or changes of tunics and harem pants. That way, not only will the kids have something to wear while
stomping through the mud catching tadpoles in the nearby farm pond as you struggle with coolers and
sleeping bags, but come time for the group ritual circle their "Backstreet Boys" T-shirts will still be clean.
When everyone has clothes and you're convinced that you
have more than enough cargo space to handle
enough gear to sustain you for the duration, it's time to check out the car itself. Check the oil and other
fluids, look for swollen radiator hoses or cracked fan belts, inspect the tire tread and air pressure, and
generally look over the engine compartment for any signs of leaks, loose wires, demons or anything else
that might give you trouble on the road. This won't prevent you from breaking down, but at least you'll
know you gave it your best shot while you pile tents, duffel bags, coolers and bedrolls on the side of the
highway to reach the bumper jack. On 3 successive festival excursions I've had to change a water pump,
fight the wheel because a brake caliper froze up, and get a jump start because the battery chose that
weekend to die. I've decided that preventative maintenance just means that something else will break
instead. Don't let this discourage you, just be sure to pack the tools last so you can reach them easily. I
recommend having your navigator hold the toolbox on their lap, as it saves time.
Speaking of navigation, you don't want to make the last
turn of the journey that appears on a standard
road map and reach for the directions that were mailed to you, only to realize they are still lying on the
kitchen table. If this happens, just pull over and call the festival contact number for directions. This is
usually printed somewhere on the site directions you left behind. The experienced festivalgoer tattoos this phone number on some extremity, later disguising it with another tattoo of runes or dragons. This explains why some Pagans tend to look like mobile art galleries by the time they've been to 6 or 8
gatherings. Under no circumstances should you pull over at some remote Mom & Pop diner wearing a
pentagram the size of a dinner plate or a "Born Again Pagan" T-shirt to ask these people where the Witch
gathering is. For one thing, they won't know. For another, they will probably make it their business to
find out, but not until after you've left. So far I've avoided this by making copies of any maps I get in the mail and stuffing them into the glove box, between the seats or on top of the sun visor before leaving. It
clutters the car a bit, but I still have directions to a Beltane festival I attended in 1995 handy in case I need to go back. As soon as you receive them, put the directions and phone numbers in the car, and check to
be sure they're still there while the kids run back in to use the bathroom again when you're trying to leave.
Once there and checked in, unload the car and set up camp.
If you're lucky, you'll be able to drive up
and park at the spot you intend to call home for the next few days. Although this actually happened to me once, more often the parking area is a short hike away from the actual camping spot, usually less than a mile or so. This is so as not to spoil the primitive atmosphere created by the small city of multicolored
ultralight graphite-poled ballistic nylon biodomes rising from some hayfield like malignant crop circles on a reclaimed nuclear waste site. The presence of tire tracks just spoils the effect. Deal with it. Gather the
family, a process that should take no longer than an hour or so depending on how many merchants they've spotted and the location and number of bathrooms and muddy farm ponds, and get everyone to
pitch in. Select your site carefully, as tent camping with small children and late-night drum circles
sometimes don't mix. Tent walls are about as soundproof as window screen, and the whooping, yelling
and stomping around late at night can throw the drummers off their beat. Try instead to find a spot close
to the outhouse, preferably upwind.
It's best if you delegate who carries what while you unload.
Otherwise you won't realize until the tent is
up that they also brought the car tools to the campsite. I'm not sure what uses an adjustable wrench and
a set of jumper cables are in a tent, but at our last festival they were there. I'm just glad my spare tire is
firmly bolted down, or the kids probably would have brought it, too.
Once everything is at your selected site, pick out a spot
for the tent. This should be a nice, flat area
devoid of tree roots, anthills, or what appear to be small dried-up rivulets that will, in event of rain, put
the Mississippi River to shame for sheer water volume. Usually this is where you just piled 900 pounds of camping equipment hauled a mile by family members who are by now discussing your sanity. Rather than ask them to move everything you own another 10 feet, it's safer to pick an alternate spot. Just hope
the ants go for your food instead of you, and pray for clear skies. Later that night you will have to sell
the idea that tree roots actually make good pillows, but at least right now you can set up the tent.
Once you've made camp and rinsed the mud out of the children's
festival clothes, it's time to go enjoy the gathering. This will
have to wait because the kids will by now be staring into the cooler saying,
hungry." Don't bother to mention that they left half a hamburger in the back seat on the way to the site,
and there are still 3 left in the bag. They don't want hamburgers, they want wieners, marshmallows and a pointed stick, because just a short way from camp they see smoke rising from a communal fire. By the
way, a good method of teaching Pagan kids their runes is to print them in the bottom of a cooler, because
they will spend approximately 4 hours daily staring into it watching the ice melt. I found that by tossing in one of those chemical light sticks, you can have the camper's equivalent of a refrigerator light so they can
do this at night, too.
After everyone is finally fed, dressed and bandaged from
the burns and stab wounds incurred while
roasting wieners, gather up your happy band of heathens and go explore the festival site. Be sure to take
your wallet, checkbook, and credit cards, because merchants abound at these affairs. The kids will "Ooh" and "Aah" over everything they see, and you'll be lucky if you don't will wind up taking home as much in
purchases as you brought in camping equipment. Sometimes you don't even need to spend a fortune to
do this. I once bought Willow a $2 package of incense that she proceeded to trade with merchants stick
by stick for goods with a combined retail value of about $39.50. She might have done better, but she
wanted to keep half the incense to bring home. If your kids are very young be sure to keep an eye on
them while you shop, as a festival can be a confusing and frightening place in which to get lost. Many a
time I've torn through a gathering site searching for my children, who "...were right here a second ago..."
only to find them napping on their sleeping bags back at the tent. Next time I'm going to try harder to
keep up with them so I don't get lost again.
Festival ritual circles are fascinating for young children.
No matter how late they begin in the evening the
kids will insist on staying up to participate. This means that you will be saying "Shh!" every 2 minutes
when they ask what's going on, tell you their feet hurt, ask to be picked up, demand to be put down,
complain that they're cold and finally fall asleep on the ground wrapped in your best cloak. This last
always happens just before the circle opens so you have to dive in and pick them up before they get
stepped on. That should be avoided at all costs, as muddy footprints don't easily come out of a velvet
cloak. The reason you wrap them in your cloak is not because they're cold, but because it makes it
handy to scoop them off the ground and carry them back to camp over your shoulder. Once back at the
tent, just dump them on top of their sleeping bags cloak and all. Once you're convinced they're safely in
dreamland, if you have any energy left you can enjoy the bonfire and drum circle until the wee hours of
the morning. Don't worry about the kids waking up scared in the middle of the night. They will sleep
soundly until dawn, then sneak out of the tent and eat the rest of the wieners for breakfast while you
sleep late. They won't wake you up until later, say about 6:15.
This will more or less be your schedule for the rest of
the gathering. If you can survive a weekend like
this, then you are definitely parent material. You might also fit in well in Marine boot camp. No matter
what, when you're finally home, the gear is stowed away, and you've had a nice long soak in a real
bathtub, you are guaranteed to have one question on your mind: "When can we do it again??"
Oakdancer - 8/15/99