Parties can evolve. They can grow. They can become their own entity: something that stands alone, a creature that is manifested from the collective energy, ideas, efforts and emotions of the cadre. Bonnaroo, Rainbow Festival and Burning Man are examples of mass-gatherings that have evolved into something more than simple parties. These festivals are held annually. They are often hosted by the same core group of individuals and attended by many familiar people. Indeed, many regular attendees of these festivals have grown so close that they call themselves family. What makes these parties different, though, is the inescapability of their existence. What I mean by “inescapability of their existence” is that these festivals and parties would, and will, happen regardless of weather someone plans them or not. People will arrive in Manchester, Tennessee on June 10th no matter what. Even if there was a huge announcement that Bonnarro was canceled, people would still show up; they would still party, play music, and dance. They would still get heat stroke and get sun burned and get dehydrated and get weird. Although it would be a different sort of Bonnaroo, it would be Bonnaroo nonetheless. The same is true for our annual New Years party at the cabin.
By comparing our New Years party to Rainbow Festival, Bonnaroo and Burning Man, I do not mean to say that it is even close to the same thing. The worldwide awareness of, and participation in, these events goes far beyond anything that happens at the cabin. Also, the sheer number of people involved in these festivals is staggering, not to mention the amount of spiritual, physical and psychological energy that is expressed and created with them. There is only one major thing that our cabin extravaganza has in common with these enormous gatherings: the party will happen no matter what.
Invitations don’t exist. The guest list is long or short depending on who you talk to. After seven straight years, the New Years party at the cabin on the Washington coast has become a living thing. Food arrives in bundles. Wood arrives in truck beds. Friends sling complex directions—logging road jargon (turn left at the burnt stump)—across wireless expanses. Beer, wine, champagne, vodka, tequila and whiskey accompany Cola, orange juice, cranberry juice, Dr. Pepper, limes, lemons, Bloody Mary Mix, Margarita Mix and carrot juice. Our bar is fully stocked and our larder is overflowing with bacon. Everything is set.
The amount of food and drink is disproportionate to the number of people, but the number of people is disproportionate to the size of the cabin. Unswept floors are good beds; so are lofts and benches. At sleepy time, every space is filled and it’s hard to walk outside to take a piss without stepping on someone’s head.
The safety crew—Joss, Spencer and myself—rig ropes to prevent drunk partygoers from falling off the rickety, unstable porches. We nail asphalt roofing to stairs that have become slippery with mold. We hope and pray that the cabin survives another three days of overuse. I give the safety-precaution and toilet-location spiel to every new group that arrives.
Many new groups arrive and more are on the way. I can’t believe this many people are showing up, especially considering that I didn’t invite a single one. We break the thirty-person barrier long before midnight. Our land is crawling with euphoric friends howling at the full moon. Joss and I win seven straight games of beer pong—one for every year that the party has happened. By the time the clock strikes midnight and the fireworks go off, I’m clasped at the center of a series of arms over shoulders and I’m professing my love, platonic of course, to each and every person there. My boundless happiness is not alcohol induced—I remember it all very clearly.
My euphoria stems from the fact that all these friends are enjoying this place: the cabin I have worked so hard on for the past three years, the land and ocean that I have grown to love over decades. All these people have come because they want to share and enjoy the place too. They are enjoying it, thoroughly. And I know that even if I weren’t here to enjoy it with them, even if I weren’t able to put my arms around them all and express my happiness, they would be here anyway. I feel like the moment might last forever, and I want it to, but, eventually, a New Year dawns.
Leaving is very hard for me. The truck is packed up and the dishes are done. I’m headed home today, sooner than most people, because I leave for Antarctica on the 7th and I still have many things to prepare. Joss stays behind to host the last few days of the party. I’m not used to leaving the cabin full of people. Usually, I am the last one to leave and the cabin is clean and empty. I know this is the last time I will see this place for a while and the warm fire, warm hearts and laughter make departure difficult. I say goodbye to old friends and new ones. The goodbyes feel rushed, like they always do I guess. Suddenly, I am turning the truck out of the driveway and there are tears welling up in my eyes. I can’t drive because the further I go the more intense the tears become, until I can hardly see. I stop the car and cry for a while, not really understanding why, but feeling better for having a good cry.
When I start again the tears are gone but the emotion leaves a residue that lasts miles down the road. One thought eventually makes the tightness in my chest release: I imagine myself sitting in the Pentagon surrounded by friends. We are all enjoying the warmth of the fire, the smell of the cedar walls, the music that filters down from the band in the loft. The image is almost identical to the one I experienced on New Years Eve. The only difference is that this time, in my imagination, we are celebrating 2011. That this image will become a reality in exactly one years time is, I know, inevitable.