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Ragweed Myth

I rarely celebrate holidays for a number of reasons, one being "post event let down". While I appreciate special days as markers of time or reminders for reflection, too much joy makes me nervous. However, I did grow up with one "week of celebration" during this season that, when I attended, never failed to put a smile on my face.

Years ago, writing to a friend, I came up with the following description of that holiday:

I never got into the Fourth of July much. I think the only one I remember was when a sweetheart and I were biking around the city all evening and suddenly we stopped on 22nd Ave because the fireworks had started. We watched them for about five minutes then continued on our beautiful summer night ride. There were no flags and our transportation had nothing to do with Independence Day. Did the day ever hold much glamour for you? If so, I will give you a new holiday to choose from. This is the one I grew up with.

Ragweed day started in the 11th of July 1980 early one morning when a dozen cop cars or so showed up at the gate at five in the morning with a permit to search the commune I lived on. I was only three at the time and have no memory of the event. Apparently a helicopter owner, who had a reputation for finding the dope, had spotted fields and fields of marijuana on the Farm. So the sleepy hippies watching the gate lets the cops with their lights and sirens onto the private property where over a thousand hippies worked, played, and raised their hippy children. The cars drove to the field specified by the helicopter spotter, but alas instead of tons and tons of pot, all that the field held was tons and tons of ragweed, a weed that could be mistaken for pot from a helicopter. They sure don't smell the same.

Well, as you can imagine the cops were pretty downhearted, and they never tried a thing like that again, although some swear that those hippies worked all night to harvest the pot and plant ragweed in its place (the community staunchly denies anything like this happening).

However, the hippies thought the whole episode hilarious and created a holiday celebrating the day the cops weren't able to confiscate the property like they had wanted.
It started out a small modest evening of bands playing and little hippy children rolling down grassy hills and giggling in circles while their parents boogied till dawn. The grassy hills became spotted with blankets where the wee little ones would crawl off to sleep while gazing at the stars in the warm summer evening.

However, times change as they always do and the little ones grew up and rebelled and cut their hair. The big adults did the same thing, AND they moved away bringing the little ones with. Now there are no longer over a thousand hippies raising their little hippy children on the Farm, there are just a couple hundred and a few straggling kids who tend to argue about there being nothing to do and no one to hang out with.

Yet now, just like the salmon go up river in the spring, come June, all the hundreds of offspring, kids who were born on the farm, people who spent a few years there, their families and loved ones, feel the call. They start planning and groaning and debating whether their lives can be put on hold, whether their checkbooks can stand the withdrawals, and trying to balance everything so that when the beginning of July comes, and everyone else has extra days off because of the Independence thing, they can heed the yearning to return to the wilds of Tennessee.

If they make it, and sadly usually only a few hundred are able to go each year, they are rewarded with what can only be compared as summer camp for adults.

A full week is required for total Ragweed benefit, it starts off slowly, lounging around the store, finding people you haven't seen in five, ten, or twenty years and catching up on old times. Feeling like a kid again, you do nothing but play, go hiking, walk from the swimming hole to the store eighty million times, play volleyball, soccer, tag and other games with people aged 10 to 40. Hang out under the gazebo talking with almost strangers until the wee hours of the morning.

Then, just when you think you could get used to this, things start picking up, Tuesday and Wednesday are canoe and canoe recovery day. Usually 50 - 100 folks go down the Buffalo River, 2- 4 in a canoe. Not paddling at all, and stopping plenty to go swimming and picnic, it takes about five hours. People congregate and switch canoes; sometimes there are a few kayaks to try out too. Along the way folks stop to pick up trash - by the end of the journey there are always some extra canoes picked up along the way that wimpy folks left behind, and they are loaded with ordinary and extraordinary trash - beer cans and bottles (of course) candy wrappers and tires, tons of tires, miscellaneous metal machinery, cigarette butts, clothes... the things that find their way into this river, and its little the banks are incredible.

Then Thursday night is the community dinner where we all go to eat vegan food for a few bucks and fresh made ice bean (Visiting vegans usually die of happiness at this point) and chill and talk, eventually the dance party starts up at the community center and the younger crowd gets a chance to spin and show off their music and mixing talent. Somewhere in there the older guys get their chance to play stuff too (I think the d.j.'s sign up for time blocks) so that everybody gets a good hour or two to dance to the music of their generation.

Insert more hanging out and watching the stars here. Tennessee stars are so big and close; they look like dew drops of water littering the sky, your mouth just waters to taste one - surely they are the nectar of the gods.

Friday brings square dancing, another delicious community dinner (vegan again) and the talent show. You never know who is going to perform. One year, Bobby Bonixson, hero to all who are and once were small children, played for the first time in 15 years. She played the song of all wee vegetarian children, called "white sugar." It states "gimmee gimme white sugar, everybody should eat white sugar, instead of meat, its only beats! Gimee a bububuzzzzzzz� - repeat a few times - all sung to a glorious eighties style pop song, much like Cindy Lauper or early Madonna: a great dancing tune regardless of age. There are usually a few dancing acts, some skits, and tons of music.

Despite dancing barefoot super late in the dewy grass, the women's circle on Saturday morning is not to be missed. It starts at ten and is worth setting your alarm clock for. All the women who can get up head down to the meditation meadow, in quiet groups, everyone still recovering from the night before. We stop on the edge of the meadow and make an un-perfect circle under the shade of the trees, women spreading out blankets, towels, chairs and cushions for friends, family, and babies. As more and more women arrive the circle gets bigger and bigger, until some women are behind trees, but we are all there and we are all connected. Eventually, one of the older women grabs our attention and the sharing begin. We pass around a stick or some other object, each woman or girl introducing herself and stating her female lineage and bringing others to the circle by spirit, since they couldn't make it in person. Once we have gone around, whoever wants to speak walks to the center of the circle, picks of the stick or object and states what is on her mind. Many talk about a specific hardship or joy gone through in the past year. When you are in the center the energy is incredible, intense, tons of women watching and listening. As subjects are brought up, responses are made and suggestions given, one at a time. Not everyone speaks, some folks speak twice, and yes, this can take awhile and sometimes it does get a bit boring. But just as often it is super inspiring and all in all very rejuvenating for the whole year. One time, women got so riled up about the sexism they face that they adjourned the circle and ran down to the swimming hole topless, sick of the fact that men can go topless but women can't. The men didn't object. Actually they are envious because try as they might, the men’s circle supposedly isn't that great. It takes place at the same time but on the other end of the Farm.
After the meetings we go to the swimming hole, relax, nap, sometimes there is a youth meeting, but just as often it doesn't happen - youth as a whole aren't known for their responsibility.

Then before you know it Saturday night is upon us. This is the big 7-11 (although for reasons already stated ragweed day is almost never held on the second weekend of July, we still call it 7-11 because that was the original date), the big night. The music starts playing at dusk and calls everybody. There is usually a silent auction to raise more money for swan trust (an organization buying forest in TN to preserve it), and many of the Farm venders sell stuff there - tie dyes, books, snacks (the best vegetarian tamales ever made), and of course ragweed day tee shirts. But don't worry, most people are broke and it isn't exactly a big money maker. As the music starts, it brings back memories of rolling down grassy hills until you were tired and dizzy then crawling off to find your blanket, the one that smells like home, where you fight for space with your brother and wrap your self up while gazing at the heavens.
But now, as an adult, sleepiness comes a lot later, sometimes not at all. The bands all play one by one, until they are done and it is free for all, musicians coming up to take over when others are tired, regardless of age, sex, or anything. You dance until you can’t; yet your body just won't stop - occasionally for a break you will wander away, but the music always calls you back. Sometimes there is a large bonfire too, away from the electronic music, with drummers and dancers circling it, weaving a rhythm as old as time.
And gradually as the fire darkens, the sky lightens and it is time for the new day, the New Year, to begin. Everybody still awake, gathers in a large circle, holding hands, we OM as best we can, young and old alike, all happy to be alive. You never know who is going to stay up all night, sometimes your best friend went to bed hours ago but here is her mother, still dancing strong - there is no telling.

And so Sunday begins, with everyone tired but happy and danced and hugged out (we all stock up on our hugs for the year at Ragweed). People start leaving, everyone staying as long as we can but the "real" world pulls us back.
A little tired we return, some years more reluctant than others. Regardless, if it was a good year, we returned refreshed, with a new perspective, a new sense of belonging, of roots, and naturally, with a secret smile on our face because no matter how much we try to explain our special holiday, most people have no idea.

Granted, not all Ragweeds are so glorious, sometimes it feels like a big old meat market or other times it seems like everyone except you knows and remembers each other. However, despite the occasional not-so-good-Ragweed, when you do catch the Ragweed bug and let the magic take over (and no, I am not alluding to any psychotropic substances) the myth comes alive.

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