I. The Silence (December 2013)
It was the last city council meeting of the year on a frigid, snowy evening two weeks before Christmas, and the immediate future of the Whoville encampment was on the line. A few days earlier, the police department had made public its intentions to evict the 50-person camp sometime within the coming weeks. The thought of so many people being tossed back onto the streets around Christmas time had prompted a community response unlike any I had seen before up to that point. In the hour or so before the meeting, the plaza outside City Hall quickly became a crowded scene with protests, press conferences, and media interviews simultaneously occurring as council members started to filter into the building.
“This is a Pagan event” a visiting California-based Pagan exclaimed to me at Faerieworlds this weekend, and she was not wrong. I replied as I have often replied: It’s a Pagan event, but it isn’t a Pagan event, which allows it to become something unique and special. Over the years I’ve been attending and working at the little faerie-themed mythic festival in my hometown of Eugene, Oregon many have tried to sum up what makes this event so special. How it isn’t a transformational festival, or a Pagan festival, or a music festival, or a fantasy festival, but contains elements of all of these. Perhaps like those magical fairy markets depicted so often in literature, it is the undefinable collision of everything that creates the liminal magic.
Long before Ken Kesey was an author or a Merry Prankster, he was a farm boy from Springfield, Oregon, and the old hippies I often encounter never let me forget it. While most outside of the Willamette Valley know Ken Kesey best for either his books or his psychedelic adventures, much of what is remembered about Kesey on a local level comes not from his years in the spotlight as a 60s counterculture figure, but from his role and actions as a generous, community-minded family man who spent the vast majority of his life in the Eugene/Springfield area. Kesey was a wrestling star at Springfield High School, a graduate of the University of Oregon and had married his high-school sweetheart prior to embarking on a decade-long adventure that began as a creative writing student at Stanford and culminated in a six-month sentence for marijuana possession in 1967. After his release from prison, Kesey returned to his family’s farm just outside of Springfield, where he lived until his death in the fall of 2001. I’ve heard Kesey referred to jokingly as the “patron saint of Eugene”, and sometimes I feel that such a sentiment is more accurate than most care to believe.
The fact that it was the spring equinox did not occur to me at first. I was drawn out of my house by the rare March sun, and was immediately and utterly transfixed by a vibrant downtown which had suddenly come alive after several months’ worth of of gloomy weather. As I stood there, soaking up the sun and the atmosphere, I heard the familiar yell in the distance, and when I turned around I saw John Brewster coming around the corner on his bicycle, uttering yet another variation of his trademark line:
“I love America and I love the sunshine and I love freedom of speech, but LTD can lick my sweaty, shaven….”
Spring has arrived, I thought to myself. The locals are officially no longer in hibernation. In a town well known for its eccentric and colorful residents, John Brewster is one of a handful of figures who stand out even amongst Eugene’s characteristically odd landscape.
[The following is a guest post by Zay Eleanor Watersong. Zay Eleanor Watersong is a teacher in the Reclaiming Tradition of Witchcraft, community organizer, and law student. She got her start in Reclaiming with the Ithaca Reclaiming Collective and the Pagan Cluster, sharing priestessing roles in Pagan circles internationally and Reclaiming circles nationwide since 2003.]
“Anthro-arrogance is not an option,” stated one of the law student organizers for the 2014 Public Interest Environmental Law Conference (PIELC) at the University of Oregon in Eugene as they opened the conference on February 27. “This conference, this planet, expects action.” University of Oregon students took this to heart and continued a long history of protest at the conference with a 100-person walkout shortly thereafter during one of the keynote addresses, protesting the speaker’s anti-transgender stance. It was an interesting echo of the controversy at PantheaCon in 2012. Hopefully PIELC too will learn from the experience. This conference, now in its 32nd year, has a long history of bringing together legal scholars, lawyers, activists and organizers to discuss the pressing issues of the day and weave synergistic relationships to address them. It brings together so many who are working at the leading edge, whether in blockades or in the courtroom, to protect the earth which we hold sacred. There is a deep magic in being able to see the web of laws and policies that hold the current system in place, and seeing the points where if we push just a little bit, things can shift. Practicing law and practicing spellwork are not that different.