Weekend prepper – Knox County Village Soup

It is late on a Thursday night. I have just finished packing for a two-day trip to Massachusetts.

In years past, I would leave for this particular holiday early Thursday morning with enough food and gear to last until Monday, but this year, like the last few, is different.

The first time I celebrated May Day by camping with friends in Western Massachusetts, I was in my early 20s. Someone from my hometown settled on some acreage in a small, quiet town and invited mutual friends to join him on the first Sunday in May, One of those mutual friends invited me, and my year found a point around which to balance my relationships to fellow humans and the natural cycles that feed us.

I don’t remember how I spent May Days in my late 20s, but I was back on the hillside at 30 as I began to grow a family. My kids learned independence and play, found other children to run with, and developed lifelong relationships with my peers, as well as their own.

As with so many traditions, there was no May Day celebration in 2020; it is not a dance that lends itself to online facsimile. Last year was one-day-only affair with no camping and I’m still not sure if I made the long drive or decided to wait for overnights to resume.

This year, our host put the word out Saturday camping was welcomed, and on Friday morning I packed from a less ambitious grocery list, leaving at home most of the utensils that spend the year in the large green tote marked “May Day” and planned to eat hot dogs and sausages and other things that don’t need plates or cutlery.

All my shuffling of cars this winter and early spring led to the purchase of a 2011 Rav4, bought in part for the adequate sleeping space that appears when the back seats are folded down. While I have always tented at May Day, I thought this trip would give me a chance to see how the new vehicle worked as a camper.

Friends who live close to the event let me try it out in their driveway on Friday night. I fell asleep thinking about those who would not be in the field the next day — men and women, mostly men, who have died over the many years we’ve been gathering there.

The car camper worked well enough for me to want to try it again, but not so well as to usurp my habit of using May Day as a time to sleep on the ground and start the warmer seasons with nothing but the nylon sides of my tent , some padding, and a sack of feathers between me and the elements.

I left my friends’ driveway, saying I would see them later that day, and headed to the place that has long been my home for two or three days each year as the season turns from the chill of winter to the heat of summer.

I was the first camper to arrive. Our host and a neighbor started the fire in the beehive oven, so I headed to the open hearth at the crest of the upper field to see about getting a fire going in one of the four stone hearths built I stuffed some dried grass into the spaces and lit a match. It was pretty windy, so I set the fire. low and slow, hoping to build up some coals by the time more people arrived.

While the fire got going I raked dead leaves from the other hearths and thought about setting up my tent.

The next person to arrive set the benches around the fireplace, using materials that were mostly in place from previous encampments. I sat tending the fire and watching the couple across the field fly their tent, like a kite, into place with the wind’s help, a dance they seemed to know quite well. Time for me to make my camp.

These are moves I have made before and I enjoy settling in to my usual spot, greeting my kids as they arrive, watching them play cool puzzle games with their friends. One of them cooks me a steak, I bring out the chimichurri and Atlantic Baking baguettes, more people arrive, and the conversations begin.

This will be a smaller crowd than in past years; only six tents will be set up on this field and fewer than ten car camps pop into life on the field below. We will greet with hugs the people we have missed these last few years. Talk will cover all the subjects one might expect and opinions will vary on just about everything. Among the tree huggers are those who would be thrilled to eradicate nature’s unpleasant species and we make and share pizza, remark on the presence of ravens and turkey vultures, laugh, sing, and for a couple of long sweet days we live in peace.

New families arrive, new children have been born, old friends have died.

When I wake up Sunday morning there is frost on the ground and by the time we dance the ribbons around the pole there are another 20 or 30 day trippers, and the sun has warmed the field to 70 degrees.

We have given our energy to the earth’s renewal, the day has done its magic and I am ready, once more, for the world to turn toward summer.

Shlomit Auciello is a writer, photographer, and human ecologist who has lived in Midcoast Maine since 1988. Letter From Away has appeared online and in print, on and off since 1992, and is published here on a weekly basis.

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