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Survival Fest 2014

September 2, 2013

Last night I stayed at Beverly Beach State Park with my daughter, sleeping in my covered pickup truck on our way to the Oregon Coast Aquarium. At eight years old, she found fascination with an uncovered tree root and had a great time. At thirty-seven, I was disgusted.

Camping in state parks is an exercise in futility. Which is to say, most campers seem to bring everything they need to feel they haven’t even left home. It might be more accurate to say they do whatever it takes to ensure their habits don’t have to change even though their location has.

People who camp at festivals like Burning Man, on the other hand, go specifically to have an experience that’s different from their everyday lives. They leave their video games and televisions at home. Most music is performed  live or selected to set a mood. Meals tend to be communal.

At a State Park, the land is divided into neatly labeled lots. Vehicles, hammocks, tents, and clotheslines serve as fences. While waving a greeting isn’t discouraged, there isn’t much expected or desired in the way of meeting your neighbors. It’s not a community.

At festivals, people camp wherever they can. They make a point of meeting their neighbors and sharing resources. The landscape appears less like a divided grid and more like a crowded beach.

Of course, the experiences have things in common. There’s always someone who doesn’t get it: a redneck yelling at his neglected dog; a hippie blasting music after the party’s over; parents expecting their kids to know what to do in a foreign environment. What it usually boils down to is people too caught up in their own trips to notice what’s going on around them.

I have a feeling these ego-centric people – from both examples – return home unchanged except for a vague sense of disappointment. Some went on the trip hoping for change and not finding it; some went without a clear purpose and came back confused, probably heightening their belief about the amount of gear necessary to enjoy a camping trip.

The alternative energy revolution has made it so easy to bring gadgets into the woods that most of us have forgotten how to ‘do without.’ Why bother, if it isn’t necessary? All you need is a good battery, a cheap inverter, and some LED’s to light up a campsite. Add a boom box and a wi-fi amplifier and you may as well never have left home.

There are many reasons for going camping; it would be presumptuous to assume I knew them all. Maybe the campers at Beverly Beach’s homes are so cluttered they truly felt they were roughing it. Maybe the late-night music lovers just don’t want the party to end; maybe they’re prolonging the experience as a delay tactic against returning to their daily lives. Maybe my own reasons for camping – escaping the city and re-connecting with nature – aren’t popular anymore.

But I don’t think so. Intuition tells me I’m not the only person disillusioned with State Parks. Intuition tells me the festivals available in this day and age lack what I – and many others – are looking for. Now I’ll admit I’ve never been to Burning Man. But I’ve heard enough about it to feel certain it wouldn’t sustain the conditions necessary to commune with nature – stillness, no electricity, no vehicles, and a like-minded community.

What I propose is a Survival Festival, in which attendees must park some miles from the site and carry everything in. Electric appliances are forbidden. Matches, lighters, stoves, tents, water filters, and prepared foods are heavily discouraged. Of course life mustn’t be endangered; water is available, as well as first world medical aid, but the challenge is to do without as many creature comforts as possible in order to discover how comfortable you can get with natural materials.

The festival’s focus would be experimenting with survival tactics: starting a fire from scratch; collecting water from stills and morning dew; building traps, snares, and dwellings; and sharing what you learned. Each experiment would serve to connect the participant with nature, and opportunities would abound in which to wander off and seek solitude.

I envision a crew arriving early and digging holes, building outhouses, and preparing some simple infrastructure. After the festival they would dismantle everything and cover the holes. Like Jack Johnson’s Kokua Festival, it would be a zero footprint event. Maybe he would even show up and sing some songs.

Now all that has to happen is to find a venue, a budget, and organize! Who’s in?

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From → Rants

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