I spent the long weekend at the end of August making art, playing music, and finding inspiration at a hand-crafted garden village in the woods north of my hometown. The Vale, as it’s properly called, is a community of artists living in cabins encircling a great hall designed specifically for performances of every variety; from painting, theater, and music, to poetry, brewing, and culinary arts.
The central hall started as a kitchen shack, and over time had evolved into a bonfire pit, an open dance floor, a covered dining area, and then a two-story art pavilion. Little alcoves full of chairs and couches can be found around the bottom floor, with the loft above serving as comfortable, well lit space to lay out canvasses and paints.
Upon arrival I set up my tent out near the cabin of a friendly shaman who offers to chase evil spirits off my shoulders with burning sage, finger-snaps, and magnets. Next to his cabin was an A-frame in which a dancer lived in his own recording studio; opposite him on the other end of the field an actor/playwright lived in a yurt next to the impressive vegetable farm he’d been keeping.
I brought apples from my tree at home to offer up for making pies and crisps, my ukulele, a batch of colored pencils, and several half-filled sketchbooks of varying age and use.
Once I had a place to dump my corpse after midnight, I went directly to the pavilion to see who had arrived and to pick out a deep chair to spend the days ahead working from.
The days were brutally hot. Once the sun hit my tent, it became an oven and there was no way to hang on to sleep. Instead I’d burst out and stumble to the far side of the hall to find coffee and other sleepy artists lounging around one of the several outdoor tables. Once the sun had reached that side of the building, it was our cue to return indoors and get back to our projects.
The nights were cooler and carried a different energy. Performers hit the stage, followed by dancing, childhood games, and the excitement of touring the works of everyone there kept us moving and stretching at intervals.
Like surfers standing in the tide, we would ride the waves that came to us, then come back to shore for food and conversation and visits to the lake. Riding the crest was being fully locked into your work; in the “zone” with work pouring out continuously. Sometimes I’d see the musical wave pass by with other surfers on it and want to switch over mid-stream, and sometimes I would. Mostly, though, I was deeply into finding the rhythm of coming in and going out with explorations in my sketchbook.
I’d go to bed just as the glow of the sun crawling up the horizon so I could get at least a couple of hours of cool darkness to dream in. I wasn’t the last to bed, though. Outdoors, a gathering of roasted, toasted writers, poets, dancers, musicians, actors, and acrobats would blather about whatever absurdities came to mind, and upstairs, steady-handed painters would stay hard at it until they could trade in their lamps for daylight.
After a dark winter and a dull Summer, it was exactly what I needed to remind myself of what good there is gathering, in meeting new people, and in riding the waves of inspiration. Nothing keeps you sharper than joining with others in the same pursuit.
I made some new connections in the cities nearby, and caught the sound of the festival train moving steadily onward through the winter. I’m hoping I can make it over to Cumberland for the Woodstove festival, and whatever comes after that wherever it lands.
The whole experience makes me want to reshape my big house and yard into a place where artists and musicians can come and play. Ever since strolling through the streets of Portland Oregon on holiday and seeing all these old houses turned into quasi-formal lounges, I’d wanted to build such a space – but until now I thought it was impossible. Things have changed, and I’m looking at my Autumn projects with a different eye.