For a community of musicians, artists, and those who love to be immersed in such things in the PNW, the Summer Solstice has been a time of gathering together in the lush forests of Red Hawk Avalon. We gather to share music, storytelling, the vending of handmade crafts and herbal medicinals, and to celebrate the changing of the season. Over the years, the attendants who have maintained a consistent presence over the years have become like family.
With the rise of COVID-19 came a two year pause in these festivities. With the reuniting of our community for an extended 5 day festival on the land that has held us through so much, came a flood of energy and emotion. One of the beautiful traditions of this festival is the fireside ritual each evening. On the opening day we gathered round the large firepit, wood stacked high awaiting the large blaze which would kiss the sky and illuminate the faces who have shared in this scene so many times before.
A man who has been helping to caretake the land in preparation of this event stood and spoke. A basket of damp fertile soil from the earth was passed around and as everyone held some in their hands he spoke of our connection with the land. He spoke of community. And he spoke of grief. He acknowledged that there were some faces missing amongst us and that we have experienced so much loss over the past years since we last gathered. He invited those who felt called to speak a name aloud of someone who meant something to them who had died since our last gathering. Tentatively, a name was called. A few moments later another was spoken. The grief began to build as name after name was called out amongst the group. So many names, so many of which had passed before their time. The heaviness hung in the air and tears fell freely.
Following a moment of silence came an invitation of release and celebration. Together we howled to the sky in a wild release. And the fire was lit.
A new addition to the land this year was the building and beautifying of an altar to the dead. There had been one tucked back into the trees in previous years, but it was definitely time to bring it to the forefront. I created a large bundle of funerary herbs and flowers to bring to the land and place as the first offering. Over the following 5 days I witnessed the altar grow as pictures, poems, candles, and offerings were added. Often, I would walk past and see someone spending time in the space in quiet reflection and remembrance. I witnessed a small child toddle up and point to a photo of his father who had died in a tragic accident mere months before and it almost broke me to pieces.
This ritual and this altar were an important addition to this community gathering. Grief needs to be normalized, honored, and shared. I am so proud with how we came back together after a time of such loss and held each other through both our laughter and our tears, our triumphs and our griefs.