I went camping a few months ago for the first time.
I have a cousin Ashley whose world is a collection of good vibes and jingly skirts and glitter. Lots of glitter. She and her friends embark on these wonderful adventures that lead them to weekend-long festivals in the woods. And my lovely cousin must have seen something in me that begged to join as she invited me to tag along to a festival.
Naturally curious, I accepted.
â–º QUARTER FINALIST 2012 TEEN TRAVEL WRITING SCHOLARSHIP
An insane amount of effort was needed to convince my mother that it was a good idea. Nevertheless, I eventually found myself packed into Ashley's small car with a tent, blankets, suitcases, hula hoops, a little garden gnome painted blue, and various other camping necessities. It was almost as if I had stepped through a portal that would transport me to some strange, magical land.
Purple Hatter's Ball has its home in the Suwannee Music Park. The experience is not one that is easily described, and it is best to simply live it yourself. Me, I had no idea what to expect but what I found was a place my heart called home.
What immediately struck me was the simple beauty of the place. We arrived the day before the festival began so I was able to see the land untouched by hundreds of wandering feet. I found myself completely immersed in nature, surrounded by regal trees and the call of the gentle wild. Drifting in the cool, black water of the Suwannee River with the sun caressing my cheeks, I felt content. Lying in the grass and gazing upon the stretch of sky peeking through the canopy of trees, I felt safe in the tender arms of Mother Earth.
While festivals are built around music, I was enamored with the people. It wasn't merely Ashley's friends, a group that took me in as one of their own – it was everyone. Even those I had not had the chance to meet .These people gathered here, year 'round, and frolicked through the woods, not judging or scrutinizing or inflicting harm. Everyone could be themselves and live happily in the fact that everyone was okay with that. They all cared and loved one another. More importantly, they gathered to celebrate the life of their fallen sister Rachel Hoffman, a girl tragically taken from life far too soon. With the golden energy of the festival-goers, Rachel's family has been able to find some peace.
It was absolutely amazing being surrounded by such great spirits. There were smiles and feelings of comradeship and a general sense of belonging. I got lost one night and reveled in the greatest time of my life. I sat in a field with new friends, gazing at the brightest stars I had ever seen. Fate brought a group that had passed in a fleeting moment back, and together we all explored and adventured. I followed a glow stick path to find some of the kindest people I had ever met.
All the while, I felt a warm joy in my bones.
It's hard to describe what exactly the festival was like but it was, in a word, amazing. That weekend was the best of my life and, honestly, incredibly transformative. I realized that I had been lost for so long, in the unimportant things in life that inevitably make us all miserable. But I found myself in Suwannee. That weekend, I discovered who I am. Some may find the festival life unconventional but I went into those woods a lost soul and came out a better person.
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