Breathe Deep

When we drove into Camp Mather in Northern Yosemite friday morning, three things happened simultaneously.

1. Giant fluffy snowflakes began falling through the dark forest.

2. We realized we hadn’t brought socks for Fern.

3. And I realized I had forgotten my sleeping bag.

So we said screw it and turned around and went home.

Actually, we just held our breath in the pregnant pause after I stated the third thing…and then tumbled over the cliff into adventure and the unknown, with laughter.

I had expected cold, like San Francisco cold. But friends, it’s May and I did not plan for February. With no gloves, no sleeping bag and only the fleece jacket that I borrowed from my housemate at the last minute, I spent the first two days as a block of ice. Or perhaps I should say, perfecting my intricate inner design as a unique snowflake. The nights were long and hellish, but the joy I experienced during the days kept my heart going, cozy as a furnace.

I think we got the very last camping space, far away from the jam sessions and right on the edge of national forest. We decided it was the Perfect Spot.

My style for the festival was Whatever could be layered on top of something else.

We had a secret path that took us to either the main stage or Birch Lake. Fern was delighted by the amount of pine cones. I was delighted by the tree faces.

And the many plant allies growing along the way. I was able to do several walking meditations over the weekend, and reveled in my own uninterrupted presence and thought processes. Healing.

California Mugwort.

When we bought our tickets, I had been envisioning the first Hurrah! of the summer, complete with swimming. So had Fern, who was very proud about her new (and first) bathing suit. However…

With temps in the low 30s, it didn’t look like that was going to be happening.

We spent the first day mostly setting up camp and figuring out how to survive. That first night I slept perhaps 2 hours, kept company by the late night jam sessions and my own prayers to make the time pass faster. The next morning I leapt out of my marble tomb as soon as the sun rose.

Poor little git kept crying out, “My hands! My hands so cold mommy!”. Of all the things we remembered to bring, her mittens were one of them. We also used them as socks.

We made up a song for the weekend, which we sang every five minutes. To the tune of the Everything is Honey song from the new Winnie the Pooh.

Everything is freezing.
Especially my toes.
You know what else is cold?
Well, I’ll tell you, it’s my nose!

Every little finger tip
Has been nipped
What a trip
I just don’t know what to do..

But I guess it doesn’t matter,
as long as I’m with you! 

We headed over to the dining hall to thaw out over breakfast.

They have an open mic every morning, each act earnest and heartfelt. Everyone we heard was a talent, especially the unexpected performance by The Railflowers on Sunday.

A friend had recently given me one of their CD’s (thanks Amber!). I knew I was watching Strawberry history as the hall grew quiet and then erupted in applause. I’m sure they’ll be booked for next year.

One of the best things we had heard about the festival was the late night jam sessions. Because of the babe (and the cold) we missed out on this element. However, there was always something wonderful playing somewhere, and everywhere we walked we discovered good stuff.

We headed over to The Meadow, where we spent most of the day.


Jeff gets a little wild eyed when he’s cold. (Also, every time I look at this picture I feel lucky. And like giving him a good kiss.)

Fern found a friend with the same impeccable taste as her own.

We had also heard about the family atmosphere, and it was so right on. What a pleasure and what a DIFFERENCE it made to be at a festival where 1. Everyone was relatively sober (instead of on MDMA) and 2. Most folks were over 35. Maybe I’m getting old, but I have no desire to party like I used to. Get off my lawn.

Plus, there were so many happy kids and so many bedraggled parents to hob nob with. Every time Fern set up her squawking, there was a sympathetic parent by your side, asking if you would like a vodka tonic. Fortunately, despite the cold and overstimulation, she was a trooper.

Swishy swashy swishy swashy.

That afternoon, we all took a snooze back at camp. We were awakened by cheers of joy, as the sun broke through the clouds. The entire festival was shouting encouragement.

The sun teased us the rest of the afternoon, with temperatures dropping lower than the evening before.

I See Hawks in LA.

I shook my head when I saw this picture and told Jeff, “You always get the most awkward snaps of me.” He replied, “I just take pictures.”. Thanks a lot, buddy.

The next morning was definitely SUNday. After breakfast, we strolled to Birch Lake for the revival, where there was inspirational storytelling and music that uplifted heart and soul.

Tim Snider opened his set with a haunting version of Amazing Grace, using his electric fiddle and looper. Chills travelled all over my body from the music and the sun thawed my poor bones.

He was our favorite performer of the weekend and we caught all of his sets.

We spent most of Sunday at the lake.

The water was cold, but she was not to be deterred.

By the afternoon I was finally able to change out of tights into leggings, my feet joyous to finally meet the forest floor.

There was a children’s parade.

In fact, it was even warm enough in the afternoon for this.

At the Mather General Store.

That evening, it was only cold as opposed to painfully freezing, and we headed back to the main stage for one of my favorites. Robert Earl Keene.

“Cause we all want one!”

I love this guy, for his smooth guitar, his soothing twang and for his ability to capture aspects of small town life and its inhabitants, replete with dysfunction and beauty. Listening to him feels like going home.

Our last morning, Fern looked at where the main stage was being dismantled and said, “I want another song”. I can relate. Last night, after we had arrived home, unpacked and put food in our bellies that I could actually digest, I spent a long time looking up musicians and reliving my favorites. The trail of breadcrumbs brought me to back to the woman who started it all for me. Before Joanna Newsom, there was a folk movement in the 80s and 90s that made up for what it lacked in coolness with tunes good for the simple life.

I hope you all had a good, long, beautiful weekend. What did you do?

Responses to my last post stirred up a lot for me. A dear friend recently told me how she and her partner often have “Do Overs”. I feel like I want to have a Do Over on that subject, so look for that on Wednesday.



14 thoughts on “Breathe Deep

  1. Hey! I’ve looked at this post a few times now, and by the time I finish daydreaming about camping and live music in the bush; it seems to always be time to go pick up a child from somewhere or light the fire. There is some freedom in a crowd of over 35s I think. Less threat of violence and chaos (if any)- the crowd were are there to participate with the music, not just get loaded and hook up like the youngies. Your campsite is lovely, looks like a little home away from home – now I’m looking forward to trying it out with our kids, we haven’t done it yet! Shame on us, calling ourselves New Zealanders. A beautiful time anyway. Our weekend was funny. We unsuccessfully tried to particpate in “Wellington for $1” Sunday – but ended up having a way better time in the rain at the Botanic gardens. xx

  2. Mary,
    I feel so bad. I should have warned you about the potential freezy temps of the May Strawberry Festival. I’m sorry you had to suffer like that but am so glad you and the fam got to bask in the awesome vibe that is Strawberry. I encourage you to venture back for the end of summer festival when bone chilling and teeth chattering are not an issue.

    I feel like a bear joining the world after a long snooze. I’ve not been reading blogs or doing much more than wearing a deep groove from home to work and back again- that and mommying the boy. That said, catching up on your posts… I’ll just say, just as with parenting, spirituality/religion etc. etc. the issue of food/diet and what is “right” is so loaded, you should get a medal for being brave enough to share on these inter webs. I find the whole thing so confusing. Between the China Study and Weston A. Price my head spins. But overall, I believe in what you’re doing (not that that matters), acting on behalf of Fern and her health and listening to what your body needs. We may all be human but we’re not all the same, duh. My husband puffs up like a hot air balloon if he eats a lot of grains. I don’t feel grounded without them. The boy turns into a spinning top if he eats a slice of bread and will have nothing to do with meat, but can eat fruit like a monkey. Personally, whatever it is we end up eating I try to make sure it is whole, live etc., as much as possible. Sprouting, soaking, local, you know. But my current concern is the amount of plastic touching our food. I can’t even think about it right now, because I’m overwhelmed. So pretend I didn’t write that. Wishing you well and admiring you’re spirit over the blogoshpere.


    1. no worries about strawberry! thank you for urging us to go, cold or not! we loved it.

      the china study and w. price are totally two bookends that confuse the heck out of me too. and like your family, jeff can eat absolutely anything with nary a problem, but a piece of cheese looks at me sideways and i’m sick for days.

      and the plastic thing. right there with you. i shop in bulk as much as possible, not sure if you have that option where you are. but forget about trader joes…the whole store is saran wrapped.

  3. yes, bulk seems to help. luckily i don’t live within 30 mins of a trader joe’s, so can’t succumb to that one. however, it seems at new leaf, where i shop, if you don’t want plastic you’re s.o.l, or you pay tons more(on top of the more you’re paying for organic etc.) for the glass container. have you heard this podcast about vertical urban farming?

    i’m going to take a listen tonight.

    or seen this films on cuban agriculture post ussr?


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