Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Femfest 2009- Heat Lightning

August 4, 2009, 4:19 a.m.

About a half hour ago I woke up thinking there was a fire in the corner of the room, and knew at the same moment that the fire was not hot. The light of the fire was white and cool as it flickered in the corner at the foot of my bed. I remembered that my sister had left her phone charger plugged in on the floor, sans phone, (and why hadn’t I unplugged it two days ago, when I arrived at the cabin? I’m usually pretty good about being obnoxious about stuff like that.) (FACT CHECK: K says she would NEVER leave her phone charger plugged in-- it was her booklight charger, my bad.)

I sat up. Sure enough, the corner was flashing with light, but it was coming from under the thick brown curtain. It was coming from the sky.

It looked like aurora borealis on meth. Nebraska heat lightning sparked and flashed across the horizon, and from my window the view is full-throttle horizon. I stumbled out to the living room for my camera and tried to take some shots on every setting, including video, but the light show wasn’t making much of an impression on—well, not film, whatever it is in a digital camera that takes impressions. This is one of those things you just have to see for yourself.


Yesterday we were trying to figure out how long we’ve been coming here. Sheila M, who is 23 years old and who took it upon herself to design and print goddess t-shirts (purple on lavender, Artemis with bow, a phallic quiver slung over her shoulder and a mellow deer beside her) for the Femfest this year, says it’s been going on since before she was born. All we can remember, those of us who were alive at the start, is that back then it was more of a “grab your sleeping bag, I’ve got some good bacon” kind of thing. Those mid-eighties getaways were much closer to actual camping, with all activities—cooking, eating, sleeping, etc— happening outside, or in a tent, and we felt a little lame even then, a little ashamed that we hadn’t had to schlep our gear over hills and bogs to get to our campsite. Still, it was grand, and whenever it was that first one occurred, we decided that it should be a tradition, a sister campout every summer for the rest of our livelong days.

And we did it, every summer after. Except for Michelle (Sheila M's mom,) we were all single back then, and bosses were the only people in our lives who might hinder us. If someone couldn’t get off work for the full couple of days, we were still close enough to town to commute. I saw this proximity to town as a plus, enabling the hard-working and over-employed among us (insert modest throat clearing here) to enjoy a summer getaway. My sister K, though, believed leaving for any reason other than more ice, more wood, more s’more stuff, was a spell-breaking, bliss-busting violation of the rules that she had not and would not write down.

When the sisters started to breed, we began to desire amenities. With children came the perceived need for plumbing, shelter, refrigeration, and climate control. We changed venues, from the charming sub-roughing it of Fremont Lakes to the poor-woman’s “summer place” at (redacted) State Park. Our annual summer getaway has evolved from the spontaneous summer campouts of our late youth (I was in my mid or late twenties, and the oldest) to a highly organized and civilized outing.

After trying several settings here at (redacted) River over the years—some low-lying, primitive cabins, and two years at the Big Red Barn—just what it sounds like, dormitory style, with bunk beds and an unfortunate proximity to the horse corral and its attendant fly population— we have settled on our summer homes: (redacted). Reservations are made a year in advance.( Sorry about all the redacting-- I've been informed by a secret person who does not and will not make rules that these are secret locations.)

“Our” two cabins here atop the hill share both a fire pit and a grill. I’m in the nice cabin, the one with an actual living room and fireplace. The dogs and I have a room to ourselves, and Cary is in the other bedroom with her two dogs. In the other cabin are three bedrooms, and one has two bunk beds. This is deemed the boy room, and it holds the male children until they’re twelvish and their testosterone levels get too high to hang at the Femfest, whereupon they are harshly banished to the care of their fathers.

We set up our lounge area beneath the shade trees in a breezy spot with a view down into the meadow. From this fine location we watch wild turkeys and deer in the morning, and horses sometimes, and turkey vultures up above; this is also where we read our magazines, and where we take our breakfasts and our lunches, which can occur at any time. These meals are made up of Michelle’s homemade salsa on chips or her zucchini bread, Sheila’s tuna salad or fruit salad, the artisanal cheeses and chocolates that by tradition must be provided by Cary, Kathleen’s pesto pasta (if Grace hasn’t finished it,) and her everything cookies that have everything, really, that you could want in them, you need only think “pecans” or “oats” or “coconut” or “chocolate covered dried cherries” and that very flavor will dominate your next nibble. There will be peaches that cover you in juice, and watermelon, and smoky leftovers like roasted corn or eggplant, all washed down with coffee, hot or iced. It’s all the abundance we can muster.

Dinner, a more organized affair, is taken at the picnic tables, and occurs in the evenings. There is usually a steak night and a BLT night. Other than that, and the unwritten prohibition against leaving, there are no rules.


There is much to say about the evolution of our sleeping arrangements, but it is after 7 a.m. and I feel a nap coming on. (We nap whenever we want, for as long as we are able.) Let’s just say Kathleen, Sheila, and Michelle sleep outside most nights now. The heat lightening that woke me a few hours ago eventually led to rain around 5:30 and they had to drag their air mattresses inside. The sisters are spread out in the living room now, and if they can sleep, they will sleep for as long as they can.

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