Here be dragons.
There are edges and centres, known and unknown spaces to this map. There are braided desire paths, and wild, deep forests, and high walls and highways. There are clustered homes and circled wagons and there are gateways and gatekeepers. There are feuding tribes and border disputes and common land. There are strange beasts, and fae lords and ladies, and markets and taverns full of poachers and outlaws and travellers and everyday folk. The map, of course, is not the territory. The map is a dream and a hope and a record of the stories we weave.
This is the map of the tribe.
And because the map is true, but it is not real, in this way I can tell you the story of the camp that few people know. I can share the shadows and the magic; the battles and the journeys; the epic that is as yet untold. Other people will tell other stories – of joy and family found; of self-expression and daring on the stage; of laughter and love; of sunshine and firelight, of festival and tribe, and peace under the stars. Mine is no more or less true than theirs. It just has a little more…flavour. This is a bigger picture.
Here be dragons indeed.
Let it begin with the witches, then: good ones and bad ones, as in all the best tales. Imagine the dozens of spells cast against us whispered down phonelines and into the wind – digital and analogue. Imagine a widowed queen mother under seige; a star-struck lord with a poisoned hand; his right-hand man giving blood sacrifice; and a scattered coven-full of witches each braiding their protection around the borders of the land.
The circle holds and the tribe grows stronger.
But as the planets wheel, and moon and stars align, a passing fever blows over the land. Staid and stalwart folk turn ankles and throw axles; paths twist unexpectedly and tracks become boggy. Our heroine lies bleeding for a few short hours, out of time, out of kilter. The music of the heavens plays a discord and the earthly dancers trip; as the ordered steps of the courtly dance falter; miss a beat and then recover; miss a beat and then recover; miss a beat and then…recover.
And that discord sounding and repeating is a heartbeat siren call to the traveling beggars of the mother of shadows. From out of the darkness, hooded figures converge, singing a liturgy of despair, of broken lives; sharing their devotions and their wounds with any who will listen.
The healers and holders of the tribe step up and the circle is unbroken.
Tumbling over the borders come the players next. Exotic, dramatic; large of life and loud in voice and costume – they fill the markets and the taverns with wild tales and bawdy songs. They drink and eat and pay their way with dangerous smiles and teasing eyes. The tribe welcomes them with joy, and not a little excitement. People dance that have not danced in years; take up roles they have never had the courage for. Forbidden kisses fall out of dark corners and take centre stage.
The circle gains rainbow colours.
And what of our heroes and heroines? Younger sons and youngest daughters all. This group of friends began their adventure as they do every year – side by side, long ago and far away; scrambling to make their way; chopping wood and hauling water. But each year is a new story, with new parts to play; and this time fate separates each from the others. Each one must make their own way across trackless bogs and through dark forests; fight monsters and rescue maidens. Each finally finds the others; finds the centre; finds the tribe and the circle that holds it.
Each only makes it thanks to a silver sliver in their hearts that burns and calls like a guiding star within. Each is chosen for the part; each is transformed, inwardly and outwardly, by the journey. To regain the centre, each must play a role or two – Arthur and Guinevere; Morgan le Fey and Merlin; Robin Hood and Tuck and Marion and more. This is not who they are. It is just the price of admission to the ball. They join a host of supporting players, and the final dance, the final play begins.
The circle holds. The stars and the gods move on. The tribe is reborn.
And in the aftermath and the afterglow, the rewards are abundant. As the treasure chest at the end of our epic quest is opened, we find stronger spells and stronger bonds. We find our centres, and our edges rewritten. The borders of the land; the edges of the tribe are redrawn. We find laughter and ease and love. We find so many great memories; so many perfect moments. We find a tribe renewed. This is more than an annual event. This is a time out of time of weathered storms and endless days and wild nights and peak upon peak experiences.
This is family. This is love. This is the tribe. This is the circle rewoven. This is the map, and the story of the territory.
And deep in a cave, guarded by a wise hermit with a magical staff I found the one I didn’t know I was looking for. Where else? And now we’re resting and nesting and dreaming of adventures to come.
Shhh…here be dragons.
(All photos copyright retained by those generous people of the camp who share them.)