Monday, November 7, 2011

Rainbow Dream Family Faire

Friends, travelers, Moon Sisters, thank you all for your kind suggestions, remedies and well-wishes on my last post. In addition to the outpouring of loving kindness here several awesome ladies have also sent me lengthy emails about their wellness tips. Needless to say, I'm quite overwhelmed with gratitude. (And will reply to those emails in my wholly untimely manner;)

I'd also like to sooth the minds of those of you who were worried that in the spirit of some cultish resistance to modern medicine I was wholly abandoning the very idea that antibiotics might be what the doctor ordered (Pun. Intended.).

Fret not. Though I've been very sick, I have quite a good sense of my body and my intuition says I can clear up this mess without them. And just to prove my non-aversion to "traditional" medicine I'm totally downing a ton of controlled substance strength high fructose corn syrup cough medicine, which is doing a marvelous job at what no herbal cough remedy could.

All these amazing responses have got me thinking that we should have a whole conversation on wellness and illness and I will start assembling my notes for such a post. Sounds like you all have much to share on these topics. It's been so uplifting to read how thoughtfully and fiercely you regard health. Thank you. Again. So much.

But for now, I want to whisk you off to a magical, wondrous land, far far away from these earthly troubles, also known as: BARTER FAIR!

(I apologize in advance for the insane amount of pictures associated. If your internets is slow like mine, go ahead and make a cup of tea while this madness loads. Seriously...)

This strange cocooned time after blissed out Barter Fair days, has left me in a pensive mood. Usually my fair posts are just collections of images, but this time I wanted to share some thoughts on why it is that our little band of merry pranksters travels some 250 miles once a year to a little mountain top valley in the Okanagan.
The first, and sometimes the foremost part of any travel is the journey itself and the crossing from Western to Eastern Washington, is breathtaking; not only for the altitudes one much reach, but for the rapid changes in climate, flora and terrain once one crosses the Cascades.
This year C. and I traveled in different posses, I with four girlfriends and he with two awesome brothers (he kinda got adopted by the end). Us girls left a day early to camp in the North Cascades for a rainy night and were rewarded for our troubles with a leisurely morning cup of coffee and great conversation on the shores of Diablo lake and five or six rainbows reaching over valleys as the sun began it's ascent just as we descended through the pass.
High on sisterhood and mountain air, some of the rainbows looked like bridges between unseen realms.
There's so much beautiful country between the pass and the Fair, but sadly there's never anytime to stop to admire the eerie splendor of the Okanagan national forest, who's recently burned up trees loom on the side of the road invitingly.

Next year C. and I have grand plans to go camping for a few days on the way there, maybe visit some farms and simply take more time rather than speeding trough the mountains like demons, which was the how this trip went.
Getting to the Fair each year is like coming to a familiar, if seasonal camp might be for a bunch of nomads; the same sweet Eastern Washington faces, the same campsite at the far corner of the valley, the layout of the camp even, is often entirely the same. After long hours of driving, it's a welcome sight.
There are many things I love about the Fair, but chief among them, is the sense that one is among like-minded people.

While our little community up here on the Islands, is comfortably alternative, and we know that there's a mycelium of such alternative communities all over these United States and even the world, those peoples are always separated by the more "mainstream" society.

The Fair, on the other hand is more like a manifestation of such a community; thousands of people in the same mindset strolling straw roads, sharing food, bartering for goods and setting their little ones to play at the community organized daycare/play areas called Youthtopias.

The oddest sense of dress, or undress, raises no eyebrows, but delights your fellow travelers. At any moment a troupe of jugglers, people dressed in medieval or fairy costumes(?), or mountain man buckskins, or fur bikinis, might suddenly appear and you would not be the least bit surprised. It's like you're camped out in a huge, eclectic, ragtag gypsy encampment.

Everywhere you look there are people working, playing music, making food, sharing conversations, like this were a settlement more temporary than a few days. There's a real sense of community and you would not much hesitate to stop for chat or simply to warm up your hands at anyone's fire.

Each year you meet a lot of the same folks, vendors and fair-goers and this further adds to the community feel. These folks are like your friends from camp as a kid, sure you didn't see them all year, but now that you're together again, it's time to trade tales.
These two lovelies, for instance, Maria and Laura, I've traded with every year that I've gone to fair, and this year they had upgraded from a cute little van a to a full on certified kitchen restaurant in a bus! Jupiter Jane Traveling Cafe had delicious food, warm apple cider and lovely ladies galore.
These Sand Point, Idaho gals, are so stylish and sassy I can't wait to see what they come up with next year.
Each year, it seems I end up trading with the same folk and shopping at the same stands. There's about three girls who I tried for clothes with, a lady I've gotten garlic seed from every time, a honey vendor, and my all time favorite: Last Word bookstore, the radical bookstore from Olympia, that each year brings it's choicest offerings out to the wilderness of Okanagan.
This year I stocked up on "Christmas gift" patches, vintage zines, political pamphlets and even a couple of books. Surprise.
I actually had a book in mind, one that is rather hard to find, but when I got there the gentleman in charge told me that sadly he had just sold his copy of it to someone else. Someone else? I repeated, a little incredulously. I'd been after the book for months. I have a knack for finding just what I need in bookstores. I had known that they would have a copy. For me. And now that guy had gone and sold it to someone else?
They were really happy about it though, he pointed out seeing my obvious disappointment and with those words I got over it. Obviously whoever had bought the book had been looking for it even longer or wanted it even more than me. (Can you tell that I'm very superstitious about books.)
And since Last Word is a totally epic bookstore I shrugged and looked into the box of books closest to me to seek for some other book I would love to have.
What did I find in that box, you ask? A copy of the book I was looking for. When I held it up to the guy, he was even more surprised than I. "I have no idea where that came from.", were his exact words.
That's because The Fair, my friends, is magic like that. Sometimes it really feels that way. You are outside from sunrise to way past sunset, walking, talking, snacking admiring, trading and connecting with countless people.
The hours I spent with the book merchant's girlfriend Hanna, pulling treasures from her piles and chatting, seemed that way, the long talk I had with an elder about the emotional, ideological and physical differences between the 60s and today, the time I spent reading a storybook to kids at the Youthtopia, all magic.
Firelight dances at the end of the day, magic. Climbing up the hill we were camped against and watching the clouds roll over the backs of her sister hills, magic.
There is an aesthetic about The Fair that is cohesive, sets you at ease. Everything seems homemade, homegrown and slightly ancient.
There's a bus that plays Yellow Submarine every night in its little outdoor theatre. There are hand-painted signs everywhere, not simply directing people to the free-store, or the common kitchen, but also proclaiming love and peace and other universal good things. There are folks on horseback patrolling the grounds.
There are prayer flags, healing crystals, tarot readings, animal spirits, healing workshops and peace circles everywhere and sure, perhaps it is too hippie for its own good, but really it's nice to be in a place where most of the participants still feel those good vibes.
Of course, partly because of its sheer size, there's also a very different side to the event. There are the drugs, more than just the herbal varieties, that so dominate the some of the surrounding countryside. There are the tacky stands and elephant ear vendors and the same mass-produced plastic nick-knacks that you'd see at any fair. There are even some white supremacists present and occasionally, if you venture to the "wrong" side of town you'll be just as likely to see a confederate flag than an earth flag. But regardless of all this, the overall feel of the event is safe and friendly.

We barely make contact with The Fair's small underbelly though, sticking each night to our own little nook, not only because, as we like to joke, we take this vacation each year with thirty or so of our closest friends, but because our party scene is simply the best.

Part of what makes Barter Fair so special too is, the very idea of bartering, that money simply won't always do for an exchange.

This year I bartered my customary hair barrettes and little bags of nettle tea, which were quite a success, especially with other folks who had herbs. Carrying them in my little suitcase I felt like an olden-time-y traveling salesman, or tinker, unveiling my wares and bargaining with them.
There is no better way to get to talking to folks than bartering
And it's so much more satisfying to get the things you need (or sometimes don't need) from actual people whom you get to visit with in the process.
Sometimes when you don't have what the person who's things you want would barter for, or they're simply not into bartering because they have to cover their costs, you're still buying something hand-hewn, grown with love, or fermented in a home kitchen.
Or as my lovely husband put it when he dropped a cool 6o bucks (and fifty cents for the peepshow to boot) at the stand of these buckskin-clad, island dwelling homesteaders: "Who else are we gonna give our money to if not these people?!?! Some corporation? Besides, they're bad-ass!"
True dat, homie, true dat.





It often happens to me that I get worn out by people and too much stimulation and at The Fair, I usually need time to process all that I've experienced. There's nothing better for this feeling, than hiking one of the surrounding hills and watching the mayhem from a bird's perspective for a bit.
Climbing the hills, one gets the sense of how expansive Eastern Washington is. The little mountains go on forever and you get hit by this wanderlust to simply get on horseback and ride on over the next ridge and the next.
There's so much beautiful natural flora there: wild sage and mullein and countless interesting, dry prickly friends you want to stay and name. Next year, we promised we would certainly come early, or perhaps stay late, and wander a while.
At night there were times when it seemed to me that I was traveling with a early 1900s carnival. An impromptu band would form around the fire-pit between Ian's big gray bus and our friend Summer's chai tent, seat itself on the hay bales and start playing the most amazing folk tunes, at times three accordions strong, then suddenly a group of fire jugglers would appear on the roof of the bus, or a completely different impromptu band would form a few feet over and you would wander around between them dancing and drinking whiskey a little uncertain where and when you were.


All in all, I think we love The Fair because it is an adventure, a different paradigm, and not a vacation from reality like some seemed to think. It simply seems that for a few days each year, people make it a place that's closer to their ideal, without the distractions and demands of modern America.

Or in the words of the anarchist bookseller, Sky: "I don't know what that is out there, but this is the real world."
What do ya think? A bunch of deluded hippies, or a little piece of Utopia?

All my peace and love either way,

Ps. Brigit, not a single head-dressed hipster. I don't think I even saw a single actual hipster. Just hippies. Maybe they don't have them in Eastern Washington?!?!?!


  1. "and not a vacation from reality like some seemed to think".

    Seeing the images I get just the opposite idea: everyone seems to be just what they are, and that's great. For me, that's reality.

    Amazing landscapes, by the way. I got goosebumps!

  2. My God, the colors in these photos are out of this world. Actually, everything here feels almost unworldly. So Incredible, Milla. All of it.

    What I wouldn't give for a little slice of that magic. . .

  3. hahahaha! i love you. the loin cloth guy freaked me out a bit. mostly just because loin cloths freak me out. even the word "loin cloth" is sorta freaky. i'm glad you had fun! man, washington is gorgeous.

  4. i am completely transported. thank you for sharing these visions. completely understandable that you would travel any kind of distance to get there. i especially like the contrast to burning man, which is the big focus down here. i haven't been to bm since 2000, the barter fair seems much more my speed. i like knowing that you needed to take your little break too, to wander in the hills. it's the kind of thing i would do.

    as much as i swoon over these types of posts from you, i also often walk away feeling....sad? melancholy? only because, as i know i've said before to you, that at one point in my life i was heading towards a lifestyle like that...and then i came to the city...and now though we are trying our best, we can't seem to get out! there is a lot that ties us here, but my heart wants to run away to eastern washington. so these posts, more than anything, are little homeopathic reminders to me to stay on course, to hold onto my dreams a little longer.

    i hope that wellness infuses your life, that all the advice you got was helpful (mine i realize was written when i was sleepy and not so insightful). collections of symptoms can be so mysterious, but the healing journey can be phenomenal. i hope that for you. xoxoxo

  5. This post actually got me a little choked up. The complete freedom of this event is truly inspiring. To live life with such an open heart and mind is breathtaking. If only all people could open themselves to an experience like this... Real life indeed.

  6. I've been making a list of places to roadtrip to with my friends during the summers, and this one just got added! I love crazy hippie/homesteader/folk atmospheres, and the idea of making a little bag of wares to trade for useful, homemade things really appeals to me. I always said I would travel around selling weird things out of a bus, haha, this looks like the place to do it!

  7. And I'm so happy there were Idahoans there! I don't know where all these cool Idaho-dwellers are hiding, but I need to find them!

  8. Hello Milla. I recently discovered your blog(s). I seldom comment on folks' blogs but I feel compelled. This fair is not my jam. I am not conservative at all in the political sense but I do have this odd sort of groundedness that calls for a certain propriety. Golly, I'm not terribly eloquent at the moment. I'd just like say that *despite* this, where I may feel more different and distanced from a blogger in just a case, I feel more connected to you. That speaks to your marvelousness, genuineness, and over-the-top likability...Ugh, I'm gushing, sorry. You're great, the end.

  9. These pictures are amazing and beautiful!

  10. Wow, you painted this picture so well in words! I love how I felt the ups and downs of it with you (loin cloth man and the native nakey woman) and then the magic of it all, bartering... the found book, your gorgeous handmades to barter. What an awesome time!!! The pictures are fantastic, and what I wouldn't give to sit around and play music all night long under the stars. I wish every night ended that way. My definition of mental health! :D xx,

  11. ahhh the sweet pure magic of barter fair, how i love to live it vicariously through your words and images. my favorite picture is the one of the woman with a peaceful look on her face, in earthy colors, spinning yarn. and the little band at night! i love the displacement of time. i hope whole cities and towns are inspired by this, and make people park their cars around the outskirts, and build lives and livelihoods on bartering and healthy homemade goods. it is truly an inspiring wonder and i love to think of your dear and cozy encampment there! parasols, owls, dried herbs, contraband books...oh heaven!!!!

  12. Ok, I've now officially been through this post THREE (!) times, each time feeling more transported by your beautiful images and wondrous words, each time noticing some new little wonderful detail, be it the dreamy imagery on that magical painted bus, the group of folks gathered off in the distance within the peace sign up on the hill, or my personal fave little detail, the victorian doll stamp I thrifted for you on your little bags of nettle tea, love love love!

    I love the story of how you found your book too. Before I read the part where you did find it, I was going to ask you what it was so I could unleash my magical book finding mojo on your behalf!

    Hey, I think reality is definitely what you make of it and it seems you and your band of merry pranksters merge with all these delightful hippies each year to make a little piece of utopia for sure! I would LOVE to experience this for real with you one day :)

  13. wow wow... so glad I came across your blog. Beauitful pictures, beautiful everything. keep on truckin' man


  14. ahh! i feel like i was just there with ya...i wish!
    this seems like it would be such a fun experience. beautiful pictures and words. the scenery is quite gorgeous, i don't blame you for wanting to stay longer.

  15. WHOA. This looks and sounds absolutely incredible. It's like Burningman without the drugs and techno. I'd LOVE to go!

  16. another year, another overwhelming barter fair post :) i have already visited this post twice, and i still don't quite know what to say. so much beauty, laced with magic and a sprinkle of brutal love love. thank you so much for sharing your trip with us <3

  17. Wow!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    Glden is the light there, and the time you had. I do hope you are faring a bit better, and that you might enjoy a look at the jopys of the Bio regional swap, I posted on it today. xx

  18. Oh en lukenut vielä koko juttua,sillä niinkuin sinä minäkin sain jonkun tappotaudin reilu viikko sitten.
    Päätin mennä terveyskespäivystykseen,kun rupesi kuumetta olemaan melkein 40 C. Enhän mä sieltä enää omin avuin pois kävellyt,vaan jäin saman tien sairaalaan. Keuhkokuume ja verenmyrkytys-Antibioottia suoraan suoneen ja luoja ties mitä muuta,mutta nyt olen jo taas kotona ja ryhdyn lukemaan postaustasi. Näyttää kyllä tajunnan räjäyttävältä:-D

  19. I've been sick honey so i waited till i felt better before commenting here. i first saw these pics on flickr, and man they blew me away. i particularly love the travelling cafe ladies. Finding that book is enough to have me believing in the magic of the place too. Things like that happen...maybe you just wanted it so much you wished it there! I can imagine I would also become overwhelmed and I was kinda relieved to read that you found some respite in the less bustling hillside. if only i could visit E Washington too! I hope I find you somewhere on my trip next year!

  20. Gosh I love your blog! I just love it! Have I told you that before? I don't think I have, which is really silly of me, because I've been reading it here and there for literally years and have always loved it. I'm so inspired by your words and beautiful images. Thank you!!!

  21. Thank you so much for sharing! I loved all the pictures and wish I had been there!