October is my favorite month.  I look forward to October the way snow-bound New Englanders look forward to spring.  I’ve been held prisoner in my air-conditioned home since June, because I’m unable to tolerate the Florida heat and humidity during the summer months.  Actually, that’s an understatement; I suffer so much during the summer months that it makes me wonder why I even live in Florida!  In October it finally cools down, and the relative humidity drops below 70 percent.  In October, I finally get to go outside to play.  So every October, I make it a point to meet up with all of my hippie friends to frolic together in the meadow for a week of music, dancing, celebration.

Which is why I find myself this weekend at MagnoliaFest, the annual folk-hippie music festival held at the Spirit of the Suwannee Campground in Live Oak, FL the third weekend of every October.  The music begins on Thursday afternoon, but since I just got back from a week-long vacation in the North Carolina mountains, I had to wait until after work on Friday to start the four-hour trip up here.  When I finally pulled into the festival grounds, Dickie Betts and Great Southern were wailing down at the Amphitheatre, playing the soundtrack from my youth.  Man, does that band ever bring back some old memories!  Dickie Betts was the favorite band of the original Valerie (some day I may tell you that story), and we used to listen to her Dickie Betts 8-Track on our beach-bound road trips, way back when … one blonde, one brunette, long hair flying in the breeze of the open windows as we cruised recklessly through the night in an old woody station wagon.

Rosemary getting her frolic on

Rosemary getting her frolic on

I’ve been coming to MagFest for about eight years.  The first time may have been right after Larry died (again … a story for another time), but it’s hard to remember now.  My friends Chuck and Rosemary bought me my first ticket, a pricey gift which for some reason I accepted.  I think they knew that I really needed a change of scene, and that a few days at MagFest would be able to heal what ailed me.  I remember being very burnt out when I got here that first time, and spent a lot of time sleeping in my tent. Since I’m not really a cook, all I had to offer to the community was a half dozen of those little wooden school chairs that little kids sit in, and a couple of tables.  I brought a stove and some coffee presses, and Cafe Valerie was born.  It was a tranquil spot where people could gather over coffee in the early morning, gently strumming on guitars and picking out harmonies as all the night people were heading off like a pack of vampires to their beds.

As it turns out, Chuck and Rosemary gave me more than just a relaxing weekend that first year; they gave me the family that I had been longing for.  Suddenly, I was part of a community of people who care about me and who are happy to see me every year when I return home.  Rosemary is a born networker:  she knows everyone — the vendors, the campers, the musicians.  Within minutes of meeting someone she knows all their most intimate issues, their hopes, their dreams.  No one is a stranger to Rose.  Because she is such a warm and welcoming person, Rosemary has attracted an entire community of people who now camp here together at every festival. Most of these people never knew each other before, and come from different places. Yet every year at Magfest … and often at Springfest which happens in March … we all manage to find each other and camp together.  We have become a family, and Magfest is our family reunion.

It fascinates me to watch the way this empty patch of woods by a lake turns into a crowded, bustling neighborhood every year.  Last year I came on Monday; for the first few days the only other people here were Rosemary and NC Cindy.  The solitude under the moss-covered oaks was peaceful and healing, like a balm for my soul.  Then, the people came!  Within hours, homes went up, paths were negotiated, territory was claimed, and a village appeared, as if by magic.  I love watching the way our group works together, helping each other set up camp in what turns out to be one huge commune in the middle of the loop. Working together as we do, we are all able to enjoy a level of comfort that would be difficult to achieve if we each worked separately.  My friend Lee calls me his favorite little communist; I’m beginning to see what he means.  I really like communal living, in its pure sense.  In this case, everyone contributes what they do best as we work together to create our group home.

In the past, the only contact we ever had with each other was here on the festival grounds once or twice a year.  Oh, Rosemary keeps in touch with everyone, of course.  She sends handmade greeting cards and makes phone calls to check in on everyone.  Rosemary is the glue that holds us all together.  This year, though, Facebook happened.  Many of us became Facebook friends this year, and have been following each other’s life events on a daily basis.  They were with me when my cat Pearl died; we watched Jeffery fall in love in New England this summer, and grieved with him when his ferret died.  Ruthie and Scooby were there, and so was Gigi. We got to be Phil’s biggest fans as his Nashvillain Band became more and more popular up around Atlanta. We all rooted for the Susians when Susie was fighting for her life this past year, and rejoiced with them when she won the Breast Cancer Survivor of the Year Award.  This year, when we all came together, we didn’t need to catch up.  We already knew.  We hugged and cried together even before words were exchanged.  Thanks to Facebook, we are all connected at the heart in a way that was never possible before.

For me at least, this might be the best MagFest yet.  The weather is absolutely perfect:  the air is crisp and cool without being too chilly, and the sun is shining warmly in a bright blue sky.  The love that keeps me coming back here to MagFest every year is magnified ten-fold this time … mostly because of the increased intimacy made possible by Facebook and The Attitude of Gratitude Project.  Plus, there is always a bit of magic involved in this Magfest community that is not available to us out there in our other lives.   Here, aside from a little homemaking, we have no jobs to go to.  Except for Jeffery of course — this IS his job!  Here, we have our entire days free to frolic out in the meadow, enjoying the smell of patchouli and campfires on the cool autumn breeze.  Here, we don’t have a care in the world.  We can play with our friends, dance to our favorite bands, and just celebrate the fact that we are alive and we are free.

On that note, I hear the meadow calling me.  Time to put on my dancing shoes and let the frolicking begin!

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