Inching Ever Closer

The 2013 collective to-do list is progressing nicely. We’ve made great strides in the last couple of weeks: two people checked off #98: “stay up all night,” accidentally, at a bachelorette party. (I was not one of those people, I am thankful to report.)  Caroline checked off #63: “Finish My MBA,”  which is just HUGE.  And then this weekend, we checked off seven.  SEVEN.  Boo-ya.

#29, “Attend Fire on the Mountain,” was a given.  It is an event not to be missed, and as long as they keep inviting me up there, I will keep showing up for music camping, which is really what this is.  Music and camping and fresh air and friends.  Four of us from the to-do list team went, and four others of us were hosting, so there was a pretty good representation from the 2013 list crew. #50, “camp in the Shenandoahs,” was deemed “close enough” by the author of that item; while we weren’t technically in the Shenandoahs this weekend, we followed the spirit of the law if not the letter, so that’s fine.  #73, “Camp/hike more,” is something I think our whole group is doing admirably well. There have been numerous camping and hiking trips this spring and summer, both solo and group events, with more on the books.  Our tents are getting a workout.  And I told you about #121, “concoct a signature drink for FOTM,” which was not my list item, but I enjoyed doing it anyway.  I’m sure there were others.  Can’t wait to hear.

Three of the items require a bit more explanation:

#53, “Do Andrea Reusing’s paper bag/bacon/egg thingy.”

It’s an old camping trick in which you line a brown paper bag with strips of bacon, crack eggs on top, add cheese and anything else you can think of, and hang it over a campfire until it’s done.  It sounds like it couldn’t possibly work.  Nobody watching us do it thought it could work.  We particularly got a lot of skepticism from the early-teenage crowd, who only stayed long enough to heckle a little before they abandoned the campfire altogether.  But Andrea Reusing runs The Lantern restaurant, and if she says it can be done, I believe her.

I’ve had two failures with the recipe already, but the first was only because I forgot to bring the eggs camping, and the second time was because we planned to try the trick at breakfast, and nobody is coherent enough at breakfast after a night on the ground to try something this risky.  We decided to try it for dinner this time.  We lined the bags with bacon, and then cracked a couple of eggs on top, sprinkled on cheese and ran a wire through the bags.  Two of us took each wire, and we dangled the bags over the fire.  It must be said, we dangled tentatively, well clear of any actual flames.  It took a long time, much longer than I’d have guessed, and one of the bags plunged to its death in the fire.

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In the end, it was pretty good.  One of the bags was undercooked, which is to say barely warmed; the other two were not quite solid, but not bad, either.  We served them with onions and sweet potatoes and ate them under the eaves of the barn by the glow of party lights, with music off in the distance.  I’d recommend all of that.

What we did wrong was that we didn’t just plunge them straight into the fire.  Scientifically, the bacon grease is supposed to melt and keep the bag from burning, and the bacon gets crispy and the eggs get cooked and nothing gets burned.  If you’re just waving them around kind of near the flames, you might as well be trying to cook them with a flashlight.  I’d have been game to try again, but Fletch ate the extra 1/2 pound of bacon in one gulp before anyone could stop him.  Next time.  Lesson learned: as Julia Child said, “The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking you’ve got to have a what-the-hell attitude.”

That might not just be about cooking.

#52: Get a bunch of people involved in a single art project so awesome you could cry

That one was Tracy’s goals.  I thought it was a great one.  It was pretty clear that Fire on the Mountain was the place to do it, and after a lot of texting back and forth we sort of agreed that bottle cap art would be really fun: portable, expandable, evolvable, achievable, collaborative in a long-term kind of way.  We got it started this weekend.

Tracy had a vision for this fallen tree, which is why she had a bunch of people drag it to a spot between the fire pit and the stage last time I was up there.  Yesterday she decided It Was Time, and when Tracy decides It Is Time, then you’d better believe that It Is Time, but she does it so nicely everyone thinks it was kind of their idea to start with.  She explained what had to happen to her brother Travis, in the blue there behind her, and he said, “Okay, you want this, like, by next Fire on the Mountain?” and she said, “Oh, I want this in the next 30 minutes.”

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So a bunch of guys hauled the tree around in the right direction, and someone found a log that was almost exactly the right height for a column, and Willow found a rock to shim it up, and then they laid a nice flat board across the top. This entire process took less than eight minutes.  It was astounding.

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And then we got into the art project.  We’d come with a bunch of bottle caps to get us started.  Julia and Willow did the layout; a lovely abstraction of fire, and mountain, and sky. I started nailing the hell out of all of those bottle caps.  We took turns hammering and sorting and patterning. Nobody else had any idea what we were doing.

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We got quite a long way before we ran out of bottle caps.  We knew we wouldn’t finish, but part of the fun is keeping it rolling, so we’ll leave it till next time, and get more people with hammers and bottle caps and imagination.

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We came back down to the bar after the potluck dinner, and someone had done this:

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and then they filled it with votives and lit them as the sun went down.  Someone put a few more candles on the bottle cap bar.  We watched through the evening as it got dark, and people discovered it.  I turned around at one point and there were a bunch of men leaning on the bar, talking and laughing, and it was already just right.  And every time I turned around again to look, there were different people either poring over the bottle caps with flashlights, or picking out their favorites, or just leaning on it while watching the band from a distance.

It’s pretty great what lovely things you can get done if you can get a crowd of people working together.

That might not just be about bottle caps.

#97: Burn my NaNoWriMo novel ceremonially

I did National Novel Writing Month last November.  It’s the thing where you write a 50,000 word novel in 30 days.  I cheated, in that my novel was less of a novel and more of a factual account of a series of 2012 events which read like a Southern Gothic Conroy-esque Faulkner tale.  I was angry angry angry about this series of 2012 events.

I wrote my 50,000 word novel in 12 days.

That may say something about the amount I had to say, and the force with which I had to say it, so the words just poured out of me in a dam-bursting kind of way.  I knew while I was writing it that I wasn’t going to share it.  I knew a day or two into it that I wouldn’t even go back and re-read it.  I’d say of the 50,000 words, about 1,000 of them were beautiful, and 40,000 of them were just angry, and the other 9,000 were just moving the story along. I knew I wanted to let all of that go, and I wanted to do it in a way that was both utterly complete, and at least a little bit dignified.  Because Tracy and Gregg’s farm is the kind of place where you can go and celebrate and let go of things, both, I decided to do it there.  I printed it all, and it was too thick to staple.  I made a cover.  I bought sage to throw into the fire with it, because sage purifies things.  I went up there prepared.  I deleted it from my computer, and wanted to make it final.

I took it down to the campfire when we did our bacon and egg thing.  I thought we’d eat dinner, and I’d gather the relevant people, and then we’d have a moment of silence and pour a libation and watch it burn.  I decided while our eggs were cooking that I didn’t want to get all dramatic about it, I just wanted it burned.  So I threw it into the fire and said, “Girls, that’s it. It’s done.” And I was totally, 100% fine with the whole thing.

Then something happened which I wasn’t expecting, not prepared for in the least. It was twilight, and getting chilly, and the flames were rising, and as the novel started burning, pieces of it started peeling off and floating away.  One by one, in dime-sized fragments, and in shreds, and little slivers of paper, the pages crumbled, then took to the sky. I stood there watching, unable to say anything, but my eyes got really big and more than a little watery.  It felt like that scene from Charlotte’s Web when all the little spiderlings fly away on their own threads.

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It wasn’t the whole thing that took to the sky, though; the bulk of it stayed in the flames and burned on into the night.  I like to think that the part that floated off into the ether were those 1,000 beautiful words, and that the other 49,000 disintegrated and melted away into bits of carbon and will fade back into the earth.

That might not just be about writing.

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