We took the plunge! We chugged ourselves and our cider press and 650 pounds of organic apples up to Tonasket to the Okanogan Family Faire. Four days of wackiness ensued. Memories commonly described as "unforgettable" and "amazing" were made.
The line to get in launched the adventure with original characters, double decker purple buses, hot pink buses named Floyd, an intricate wooden gypsy wagon, a rasta-painted, portable wood fired pizza oven, etc, etc.
We had studied the map thoroughly. We had asked many a veteran where to set up camp. We'd avoid the main stage and the drum circle, we knew. But once we got there, everything was different in person. So we asked an official by the gate, "Where's Youthtopia?" Which is where we figured we wanted to be: by the playground, the water, the first aide teepee. He directed us. But as we drove off, we heard him yell at someone else, "What the Hell is Youthtopia?" And that was our introduction to the quirky ways of Barter Fair.
All turned around, we finally found a spot next to some people we'd met in line. They had a 7 year old that Blue had played with, so it seemed like a good idea to set up next to them.
"So, what spots are you taking?"
"What about that spare on one the other side?"
"We're saving that for a friend. You're technically not supposed to, but we are."
The rule isn't a technicality. It's a respect for those that got up at 5 am to get there. Then Terra says, "And we'll need 5 feet of your space too. Hope that's okay!"
No. It wasn't. I didn't need all my space, but I wasn't going to let her save a space and take mine. If she needed five feet, she could get it from her lazy ass friend. So that set us off on the right foot. I was put on alert that our neighbor was a USER and we weren't going to be friends. I'll end up feeling used and angry if I don't pick friends that are at least somewhat careful to not ask too much of me. By the end of the weekend it was obvious that the second generation of that crew was catching the drift, demanding cider and extra cups all weekend. Sweet girl she had, but she was quickly learning her mother's method of interaction. Her daughter even told someone they didn't Need to buy our cider because she could just get it from us for free. So I sadly cut her off that gravy train. I love to be generous, but not used.
Huck noted that with such a free situation, so few social expectations and rules, it was interesting to watch what people did. There were those that tried to get a lot for a little, take rather than give. And then there were those who felt freed up to be extra generous.
Turned around as we'd gotten we ended up near the drum circle. Who knew that's what it was!? When we arrived it was just an empty grassy area with a fire pit in the middle. Drumming started at 6 pm and went on until 6 am. EVERY NIGHT. With fire spinning and screaming. ALL NIGHT LONG. Right outside our tent. By the third night, I was used to it, and almost slept! People yell "Barter Fair" and then everyone screams. Huck started yelling, "Barber Hair!" and I occasionally let loose with a little screaming. It's a weird tradition.
Barter fair can be divided into two parts: day and night. Day is fun, happy, kid friendly. Night is a drug induced freak show.
During the day, the place was paradise, with all the potential of human interactions at their peak. Whatever drawbacks our placement there had, one of the irrefutable benefits was being within sight and earshot of the playground. We could just look up and check on our kids. After setting up for a while, I went over to the playground to see that they were indeed as okay as they looked. And that is when I met my kids' favorite, non-related person ever to grace the planet: Life Has Meaning. Even without the impressive name, this woman is amazing. In fact, some of us have to get beyond the name to find her amazing. She is an old, white haired lady, with the most relaxed and pure face I've ever seen. She dresses in all unbleached natural fibers. So she's like an off-white angel. She asked just a few perfect questions which caused me to pretty much immediately spill the whole teary mess of our current situation to her. And then Huckleberry showed up to see how things were going and they got talking. And for the rest of the weekend Life Has Meaning was networking for us. Powerful people were coming to our booth all weekend, saying "Life Has Meaning said I need to talk to you." Who knows what will come of it all, if anything.
Our booth turned out to be the main play station for kids of all ages. We had the cider press and the kids all loved cranking that thing for a cup of cider. We had three of the world's best boys at our booth the entire time. They were 9 and 10. Ashton, Kai and Chris. They loved Coyote and I even let them take him for bartering walks all over the place (there were 15,000 or so people there!).
Blue played with three other 7 year old girls the entire weekend. And we were worried the kids would be bored! HA! Fat chance!
That first night, for some unknown reason, Blue puked all over her sleeping bag. So that was gross. Then we were down a bag. The last night there it got to the mid 20's. We just wrapped her up in all the coats we had and tossed a blanket over her. She was warmer than any of us.
Behind us was Ruby's Real Root Beer. Ruby is from Eugene, OR and has been doing this for years. He loved our quality product. And was really stoked to see us doing it "right." Lots of people just go there and lay down a blanket, cover it in junk and call that a booth. Other cider presses were there. But they had low quality apples and the presses were moldy and old. So he loved our booth and us. And he gave me several of the world's best root beer floats, made from scratch. Now, some of you may know that Root Beer Floats are my current version of Communion, the Sacrament. To partake of a Root Beer Float is to know God. In fact, that is my new name for God: RBF. "Dear RBF, please help! Thanks." So, you can imagine that Ruby was one of my favorite people there. And he had amazing food too.
The wood fired pizza guy was also a good one. With the world's BEST pizza. He'd been doing the fair for 17 years. We got along great with him too. Also, Ruth Isreal was good to do business with. She's a tiny dred-locked old lady from the Love Isreal tribe. I finally met the famous local wild edible guru: Skeeter. He was thrilled to trade the world's most beautiful and perfect Hubbard Squash for several of my wild edible cards. And I was flattered into shocked silence. He also asked if I'd be interested in doing illustrations for his wild edible books. So I was doubly flattered. He's also one of my brother's closest friends, so that was fun to introduce myself at the end as Matt's sister. Matt was also there, as an old salt veteran. We all adore him, and I felt honored to have him bless my site with his presence. I was so excited he was there! And then he finally said, "What would you be doing if I wasn't here? Okay, so just do that." And I calmed down and had some lunch. I met his new girlfriend, a dead ringer for a woman we used to know named Elsie. She was easily lovable, energetic, and compassionate.
90% of the people there had dredlocks. So that felt comfy for Huck.
The best thing about the fair was meeting people. Here, in Wenatchee, I see familiar faces and our conversations always begin, "So, do you know if you get to stay or not?" On the one hand, it's a nice question, because, I try to tell myself, they Want me to stay. They wish I was staying. It's important to them. On the other hand it's an annoying and almost offensive question that can sound like "I'm not going to talk to you unless you're staying." Which isn't very thoughtful or inviting. Staying or not, I still need friends. It's a question that can feel like it's more about them than about me and it leaves a bad taste.
But here, no one wanted to know that. No one was staying. We were all there to enjoy the moment. To have real conversations. To be kind. To love. And nearly every conversation reflected that.
Another cool thing was that I knew lots of people there! Yeah! Lots of folks from the Unitarian church and from Bruce's farm and from Pullman/Moscow area. So I actually didn't feel like a total "out-cider", not like one could feel that way for long there anyway.
Being near the first aid teepee probably provided a skewed view of the events. I'm sure it made the place seem wilder than it really was. They mostly dealt with bad acid trips, and a few slivers. The only first aid facility I've ever seen manned by a psychologist!
For the record: acid, meth, heroine, cocaine, ecstasy, etc were all VERY discouraged there. Though present, the organizers were working hard to root it out, even launching their own under-cover stings. We did find it necessary, however, to taste test all the cookies and brownies our kids bought. No problems were found, happily.
But on the second night we had two girls invade our campsite to work through their bad trip. I was almost asleep when I heard voices WAY too close. So I took out my ear plugs. And sure enough there were two girls yelling right next to my ears. So I said loudly, "Wow, sure wish I could sleep, but I can't because there are these people yelling outside my tent!" Didn't make a dent in their conversation. So I got out of bed. There they were, literally, 6 inches from our tent, absolutely in our campsite. Yelling about their bad trip. So I said, hands on hips, "Sounds like you're having a really intense conversation here. I want you to have a good trip and all, but you need to get out of my campsite." They just looked at me, no IDEA what was going on. So I inflated myself a little and yelled, "YOU NEED TO GET OUT OF MY CAMPSITE NOW!" Being a mom, I almost gave them to the count of five. But they got the point and skeedaddled.
The first night, we got tipsy on the neighbors bootleg wine (the other neighbors sold "Rasta Pasta"). But by the second night I realized that especially at night, I would need all of my mental faculties fully available on a moment's notice. So I didn't have another drop to drink. I didn't smoke anything, which doesn't mean much. Just being within a 10 mile radius of the place, one would inevitably be stoned.
We made about $500, which wasn't as much as we wanted. People said it was a very slow year for purchasing. I bartered away most of my cards. The plant people and gardeners loved them the most. Another artist bought some too.
It was an exhausting adventure. And I loved it. I didn't think I would. But I did. I'm still recovering, so I think I'll go attempt to reclaim some of those three nights of sleep I lost.
P.S.: my birthday turned out to be only slightly better than the year before (you may or may not remember my extended ER visit, where I nearly died of the flu. For those of you who don't know about that, just trust me, I'm not a wimp). At this rate, I'll have a good birthday again around the age of 64. I did get to buy some snazzy new fancy shoes and Huck and I went out for sandwiches. Also, Huck gave me the most beautiful clay leaf platter. Too bad I accidentally found it in the closet a month ago. Coyote gave me a Dollar store wine glass and a calculator. Blue gave me a card on a napkin. And the neighbor girl gave me her tiara, fresh-made, that day, at pre-school.