Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Simple Summer

Traditionally, "summer" doesn't really start around here until after the fireworks on July 4, but that hasn't been true the past few years including this one. I don't know if this is the "new normal," and it may portend an undesirable climatic future, but in the meantime I'm enjoying 75 and sunny with a light breeze.

And so are our Woodland Park families judging by the pictures I'm seeing on social media. They're enjoying our beaches, hikes, and splash park fountains. They're riding their bikes, gardening, and spending the afternoon in parks. One group of a half dozen families packed up their bikes with tents and kids and spent a weekend camping together.

We're clearly a community of families who like to do the simple things together, and while rushing outdoors at the first sun break is something of a universal habit in the Pacific Northwest, our families tend to like to be outdoors as much as possible, even when the sunshine is of the liquid variety. And while I'm sure there is some self-selecting of like-minded folks during enrollment, I'd like to think that there is something about all of us coming together under the banner of the Woodland Park Cooperative School in the "Center of the Universe" that makes us more likely to just head out and embrace the simple joys of summer.

I've written before (here, here, and here) about our neighborhood's summer solstice parade, an event I've now been a part of for over a decade. It's not exactly a simple thing, I reckon, taking over the streets with homemade art and naked bodies, but it is essentially a simple act of joy, pride, and community. I tell people that despite it's notorious reputation, it's really more like a home town parade in the heart of a big city. I counted at least three dozen current and former Woodland Park folks taking part in the parade, including one ensemble of dragons largely comprised of us.

I made no plans this year, arriving at the staging site when I knew the participants would be assembling. I wore my regular street clothes -- shorts and a t-shirt -- and carried a costume in my backpack in case a friend (another WP parent) needed me for his last minute politically themed ensemble (he didn't). As I milled around, I was recruited by a friend who was serving as a parade monitor (a "hippie cop" as I call them, a job I've taken on the past few years) to help him block the road so that the renegade naked cyclists didn't block the official naked cyclists. These are the kinds of things we deal with on the solstice. My friend Angela then asked if I would be willing to push (no motors are allowed in the parade so everything is people powered) one of the three moving parts to the Green Hat ensemble, the group responsible for raising funds from the crowd to pay for next year's parade. That sounded like a low key way to be useful, so she outfitted me with a green cape and I was in the parade as simple as that.

I was pushing the float that contained the sound system used by our "barker," local business owner Jerry, who called to the crowd for donations. There was also the large green hat on wheels that is the namesake of the ensemble, plus a giant elephant puppet manufactured from artwork originally made for a previous parade. The rest of our group carried green top hats on the end of long bamboo polls that were held into the crowd to collect coins and bills.

Not long into things, however, one of the green hat solicitors asked if I would trade with her so I did. At first, I tried echoing Jerry, calling out like a kind of salesman: "This is how we pay for the parade!" "Please be generous!" and "Every penny you put in the green hat will be on the street next year!" That kind of thing, but it's exhausting, and I could tell on people's faces, somewhat annoying. So I let that go and instead just walked along, hat in hand, looking for eye contact. When I connected with someone I just smiled and said, "Happy solstice," not to the whole crowd as I'd been doing before, but directly to that individual, a one-to-one connection in the midst of mayhem. And they all smiled back echoing my greeting. That's what I did for an hour and a half, talking to people one at a time, "I'm happy your here," "Thank you for coming out to support us," and "Happy solstice," sentences that ended in smiles not exclamation points and sometimes lead to larger conversations in addition to donations.

Along every blocks, often more than once, someone I know would come rushing out into the street for a hug. It was mostly students and former students, but there were adults as well, like my long lost friend Jane who actually walked with us for a bit as we caught up and made plans right there in the middle of the parade. That's the sort of parade it is: a people's parade, one that we cobble together each year from meager means and the sweat of our own brows.

This year, I'd kept it simple. There have been years when I worked very hard on the parade indeed, putting hundreds of hours into it, but this year I just showed up and allowed myself to be swept up in things, simply connecting with the people of my community on the longest day of the year.

I took no pictures to show you because I was too busy just being there. Next solstice, you'll have to come join us. It's simple: just show up and we'll help you find your place. It's the way community ought to be.

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Nancy Schimmel said...

Sounds like the "How Berkeley Can You Be" parade we used to have here but it fizzled out a few years ago.

I think my favorite parade was the Black and White Parade in Moscow, Idaho. Big white floats made by architecture students from coated paper donated by a manufacturer of milk cartons, a bunch of people carrying signs saying "Better well-read than dead" wheeling shopping carts full of paperbacks that they tossed to the crowd, bands, a large impeccably groomed cow paraded by the ag students (she won the prize for "most sincere") and most people dressed in black and/or white. The float I remember was a giant paper mosquito perched over paper city skyscrapers. All pretty low-tech, hand-made, and amazing.

Teacher Tom said...

This was our 27th year!