Over the course of the summer many dogs come and go from the farm with their human companions. These three I had/ve the strongest relationships with, though I have yet to meet Scott’s on and off roommate, Bear.

IMG_20170709_200406.jpgHolly, amidst the crowd on Cabin Crawl night. A lovely lady, new to the farm this summer and hopefully returning with her person this winter. Stafford-shire, pit bull mix with maybe German shepherd? She has a limp from an injured hip and six teats that hang low from her litter of 14! Twelve survived. She liked to sit on my feet and lean into my legs. In the heat of the day you’d find her resting in the silty dirt, basking in the direct sun. During rehearsal when we moved on site, Holly was laying near the shop where her person was building set pieces. When Randi first entered as Hellhound, Holly came bounding over woofing at the cast and stood alert like a minion next to Hellhound. Randi took Holly’s reaction as the highest praise.

IMG_20170821_211721Bella, once the young pup on the farm has become its matriarch. Golden retriever crossed with Rhodesian ridge back. She also has an long standing injury to her back leg from leaping off a second story deck chasing after her ball. Bella spends her time sleeping in the costume room or in the yard begging children to throw ball for her which naturally she can only handle in small doses these days. If she’s overdone it, her person puts a fabric flag around her collar notifying the company, despite what she tells them, she needs to rest her leg.

IMG_20170821_224437Coveted porch chair, all mammals first come first serve.

IMG_20170822_175323.jpgBest for last. Buddy. Arctic fox mixed with pocket wolf. Sporting a scarf with the company logo to identify him as one of the farm dogs. Pre-show he cruises the parking lot field greeting audience members tail gate picnicking. His wolfish eyes blazing with all the smorgasbord possibilities just beyond the fence. Two weeks to this day I’ll be up north cruising the wintry cedar forests with Buddy, Lisa and I ten paces behind, cradling our mitts around black coffee.


IMG_20170828_075038.jpgOver the years Kim has entertained a theory that what we perceive to be as ghosts are less supernatural in nature but more an imprint of energy. I didn’t really understand what he meant but on one of these occasions, as we were catching horses in the back 40, he likened it to a cassette tape.

A few years ago in late August we had closed the summer show and a small crew of us were still on the farm doing strike. We’d cleaned up from dinner but could smell something burning in the cook shack. It was strong enough our eyes were stinging but couldn’t see smoke or locate it’s source. Being an old building full of critters, our worst fear was an electrical short smouldering in the walls. We shut off the breaker box, as well as the supply to the propane tank and called the local fire department.

Five of us were sitting on the porch in the pitch dark when we saw the lights of not one but four fire trucks coming down the long dirt driveway. From a town that serves only four thousand people, it was awesome how completely absurd it was. Nine fire fighters in full gear, three complete with oxygen tanks and masks dropped out of the trucks and entered the building.

The whole fire department attended the call along with a few young recruits in-training. I quickly realized one of the fire fighters was an old friend of the farm, albeit a strange character. He walked confidently around the building waving at the walls, talking through his face shield about how old and poorly built the cook shack was and how one night many years ago while they were playing cards around the dining table, a fire just randomly flared out in the far wall by the kitchen sink. All the fire fighters clustered around the spot to inspect.

He was carrying an infrared heat gun with a screen and without warning he smacked the bench in front of me as hard as he could with the palm of his hand. In surprise I yelped and stumbled backward. He pointed the gun immediately at the bench. On the screen I could see a perfect infrared imprint of his hand. He said the gun registered heat so if there was a fire in the walls, this would sense it. Kim looked down at the hand print and back up at me. His electric blue eyes narrowed and he nodded. They didn’t find anything but the following summer the hot water heater in the kitchen lit fire. We tore the exterior wall open and blasted it with a garden hose. We didn’t bother calling the fire department.

As Kim and I lead the horses out of the Back 40 we reckoned the amount of energy we put into the shows every season, for better or for worse, must leave some sort of imprint on the land.

One of our days off this summer, on a particularly smokey afternoon I headed back to the farm with plans to avoid the dense particulate by curling into a book the rest of the evening in my cabin. I stopped in the cook shack to drop off my arm load of town run kombuchas in the communal fridge. A small cluster of the company were sitting on the benches around one of the 4’x8′ tables passing the time till heading into town for a movie. Not wanting to be entirely antisocial I sat down beside my theatre school pal Aj. The conversation moved from travels in Madrid and Barcelona to gossip about other theatre folk. It took a turn when they started relating stories about an actress from the city who is notoriously known as a dark witch. A brilliant performer they all agreed but any show she worked on terrible incidents inevitably followed.

Neither Aj nor I knew this woman but we both sat rapt at the bizarre stories of this actress getting inside actors heads, affecting their performances and dreams; even one show where the two other cast members, one of whom was telling the story, both broke their legs while working with her. I could feel Aj shift uncomfortably, goosebumps rose all over my body. Jimmy looked up at the clock and said ‘Oh, we’d better go’ leaving the two of us in the fading sepia light of the cook shack. Aj’s boys, 5 and 7 years old, were nearby in their cabin watching videos, otherwise the rest of the company was down the mountain in town.

She turned to me and said she didn’t believe a word of it, that if someone tried to ‘cast a spell’ on her she would just laugh in their face. She believed that by using humor and by not believing, she could nullify any darkness. The thought that someone would do that made her angry and protective of her family. I gazed across the table to the trees beyond the porch. I said I wondered if there was a bit of a witch hunt being acted out against this woman and that even though I do lean to believing there is a spectrum we don’t understand, my partner, well he’s a total rationalist — BDing! My phone was on the table behind Aj and the message alert was overtly loud. She bounced with a shriek. Simultaneously, the stereo in the kitchen came on full blast announcing ‘POKEMON is here to SAVE the WORLD from DESTRUCTION!!’

We both leapt up and screamed. Aj grabbed my arm ‘I have to go check on the boys! You have to come with me!’ I snatched my phone as she pulled me towards the door. The message was from my partner. Shaking, I held the phone in front of her ‘Look, Aj look, it’s just a picture of a polar bear rolling on it’s back. It’s not bad. It’s sweet. It’s good.’ She clutched my hand firmly, leading the way as we hustled through the haze to the Gatehouse cabin. When we turned the corner by the red house office there was a massive garter snake in the middle of the road stretched from one side to the other with a big lump in its belly, likely a toad or a mouse. Aj and I shrieked again, wrapped arms around each other and together shrank into a low squat. As it slithered gradually to the bathhouse lilac bush, she said that she felt like she was hallucinating and from our crouch called out to her boys if they were alright. Her oldest boy swung the crooked hobbit door open, stuck his head out with a look that we were clearly interrupting them and said ‘We’re fine. We’re watching Pokemon.’

My plans to spend the evening in the cabin reading supernatural tales were erased by the strange happenings in real time. Both shaken we decided we needed to pee and it would be better if we stuck together. We examined the stereo back in the kitchen thinking it must have Bluetooth and just picked up what the boys were watching. How it perfectly connected to that sentence loud and clear was uncanny but we settled our nerves that a hiccup from the WiFi was to blame. I spent the rest of the evening with her vigilantly refocusing our thoughts to laughter and good times, steering our imaginations away from a trajectory of fear. Shortly after sunset the rest of the company started returning from town. As a crowd gathered around Aj, I split. I climbed the hill towards the cabin and could hear her recounting with great zeal, our spooky afternoon events.

IMG_20170828_080221.jpg The following day Jason told me that the stereo doesn’t have Bluetooth and it auto powers OFF when it’s not in use so it was really unlikely it just turned itself ON. I never told this to Aj. I must admit that every time we gather to put together a show, peculiar events occur. Generally we don’t even notice it at the time, too busy pooling our collective energy into the work. I always kind of wondered if our being outside to the elements, in nature, in the woods, if it plays tricks with us or makes what we are doing more charged, more potent.

IMG_20170716_055435.jpgThis picture was taken the morning of the August new moon and solar eclipse. It was also a Monday which meant it was our dark day at the theatre, a day off.

For over forty years on the August full moon this theatre company extends an open invitation to its greater community. Guests are invited to camp the night on the farm. The main event is a feast with a bonfire, when there isn’t a fire ban. Music is a big part of it and they’re encouraged to bring their instruments. Kids that are living on the farm that summer perform a shortened interpretation of the play. We also collectively participate in a Hang Up Tree. There’s a lot of ritual involved but as theatre folk we preternaturally excel at it.

Though, over the last several years the traditions of the event morphed. Rather than the exact night itself, it was hosted on the Sunday closest to the full moon as followed by our day off, focused an opportunity for recuperation. The feast whittled away. The night simply turned into a party, a faint whisper of its history, with a figuratively in-house cabaret. For the summer shows company these were sensible changes but the extended community felt excluded and like the spirit of its origins were being lost. With a changing back of the guard since last winter the origin story was reinvested in but with one twist, to host it on the new moon for new beginnings.

I was on board with most of this, except as an ethical vegan and the only vegan in the company. The main event of the traditional feast involves slaughtering a lamb and roasting it all day on a spit. As it was also the day off I decided I was getting off the farm as early as possible only returning later for the gathering. I wasn’t going to volunteer my help to set up for the party if there was going to be a body cooking out in the open.

Heaping on to my already fragile and frustrated state, early that morning I could hear the neighbors dairy cows wailing. It’s a distinct vocalization the females make after the babies are taken away so their mothers milk can be used solely for human consumption. The newly born females are kept to perpetuate the dairy industry. The males are shipped off as veal meat. The desperate cries from mothers who think their newborn children are simply lost and will find their way back to the call was ringing in my ears as I hustled down the hill carrying my wicker basket full of smoky, dusty laundry.

I got in the car that I’d borrowed from my sister for the summer, made it two miles down the road listening to Neko Case’s The Worse Things Get, The Harder I Fight The Harder I Fight, The More I Love You album and when Nearly Midnight, Honolulu came on I had to pull to the side of the road completely overwhelmed with a hatred for humanity and sobbed for the mother cows who would never nurse and likely never see again their calves again.

IMG_20170821_104644Emotionally spent, I went straight to the organic grocer the next town over and got an uber green juice: romaine, celery, cucumber, kale, broccoli, parsley and drank it while the eclipse happened. This far north I thought it was kind of a non event but everyone on the farm passed around the welding mask from the shop and said it was pretty cool. I dithered about town solo, drinking coffee, texting Lisa while doing my laundry, enjoying what was a rare day without murky air and took advantage of that by a wander in the provincial park woods. I got three separate messages from people warning me that the spit was gruesomely centered right in front of the cookshack. While that bummed me out, I also felt grateful to identify the friends there who respected my ethics. They might not follow suit (yet) but they get me and they care.

I headed back in the early afternoon and when I stepped out of my sisters car I could smell the cooking flesh saturating the air. The mothers next door were still calling. I scrambled the back route from the dirt parking lot up the deer path, past the cistern water fall, past Jason’s secret hammock, traversing my clean laundry behind the ATCO props trailer and popped out of the woods on the Blue Horse road behind the gazebo. I settled in the cabin for a few hours of reading before the social obligation of the feast.

IMG_20170806_150746I mostly wore black Toms all summer and got this ridiculous shoe tan. It’s kind of shocking how naturally pale I could be if I didn’t spend so much time in the sun. I got a few more texts cautioning about the gross spit. I started having visions of everyone eating the lamb with their hands, ripping chunks of flesh right off the carcass, fat juices dripping off their chins, fingers slick and greasy, all the while savoring the taste and talking with their mouths full.

Consumed by this I didn’t want to go down the hill at all. I wrote a long Instagram post about how much it sucked, then deleted it. I had to stop reading when a bag piper started warming up their instrument in the gazebo and the drone was so loud they may as well have been in the cabin with me.

I was laying on the bed staring at the ceiling when I heard a male voice nearby scream ‘Fuck! -aurgh- Fuuuuck!’ My first instinct was to run and see if someone was hurt, then I heard voices I didn’t recognize laughing. My blood ran cold. I locked the cabin door.

Locks were only added to the cabins a few years ago after a teenage girl in the nearest town was murdered on Halloween night. She was walking the railway tracks on route to a costume party, dressed as a zombie. It was months before the killers identity was uncovered. In that meantime some creep was sending threatening emails specifically to the female members of this theatre company, telling them that they were next and what he would do to them. Two weeks after the murder and with the killer still at large, I arrived on the farm for the winter show prep to a grimly, surreal quiet, everyone was weary of being scared. With November nights being longer than days, we each had a buddy system. I had my dog Luka, who’s silhouette cast like a large black wolf. Everyone had a knife on their belt, in their boot. Communal meal breaks were spent testing and discussing the action and speed of each of our one-handed, opener blades. In the spring, through DNA testing they caught the guy who stalked and murdered the girl but who’d sent those email was never uncovered.

Thinking of this as I locked the door I sat on the edge of the bed and my feelings on the night were souring deeper and deeper until Lisa messaged that she was on her way up from town. I couldn’t let the introvert support club down. I pulled on my worn out Toms which I’d unsuccessfully tried to fix with black hockey tape and headed down the hill just in time for the hang up tree’s bag pipe procession out to the stud pasture. The sun was just setting. The feast was over.

IMG_20170821_223331.jpgThis was originally welded a decade ago as the Three Witches cauldron for Macbeth. It was dragged each night on stage with a stone boat by two draft horses. Right before its entrance I would crack a couple road flares and drop them into the bottom of its belly, sending up smoke and casting the witches in an ghastly, orange glow. Jill and Aiden used a truck to drag it up to the tree grove in the stud pasture and filled it with water so people could rinse the paper mache off their hands after pasting their hang ups on the tree.

IMG_20170821_222858.jpgTraditionally with a Hang Up Tree you write something on a piece of paper you’d like to get rid of in your life, tie it to the tree and the whole works gets lit on fire. Sometimes people throw in photographs and letters, occasionally money; once Dragoslav tried to burn his leather jacket. With a strict fire ban this summer Aiden and Jill had to work around it. Aiden collected drift wood from his secret beach and constructed the tree. Jill then ‘lit’ it with battery powered LED’s. They had a bowl of paper mache and pens with non permanent ink. When you smeared the paper on the tree it would work the ink into the paper keeping the hang up private but still infusing the intention into the process.

They hadn’t anticipated the size of the crowd and ran out of paper mache long before everyone could wrap the whole tree. Though it did get pretty well coated from the other side. They had hoped everyone would wrap it on the horizontal encasing the tree but most people ran their paper along the vertical. This picture doesn’t capture just how massive the structure was. Linz hung his hat on it. When I found him playing his guitar on the porch the next morning I asked him why he did that, he said ‘I’m done with being a cowboy. I’m going back to being an Indian.’ The tree will likely be burned during the Walk of Terror at Halloween.

IMG_20170821_222909.jpgMy favorite part was this gnarly root.

When I caught up to the crowd Maryke wrapped her long arms around me and wouldn’t let go. I saw so many old familiar faces, I was happy I’d come down. I never made it over to the paper mache bowl but even if I had it would have long been empty by then anyway. Jill had lit installations along the path and we walked the far eastern side of the stud pasture through the timber barn field over to the show site where the kids put on their version of the play. I walked with Mark, my old carpentry buddy and he said he could tell it was me coming down the hill because of my gait. I asked him what he meant, he elaborated ‘Your gait, your legs their muscular stride… like a horse…’ I looked up at him as his grin widened ‘Like a Clydesdale.’

We started the kids play with the funeral prologue and moved to the main seating area on the bleachers. It went super meta and involved a prequel they called The Ballad of Jacobs Ladder. One of the kids tried to release the stages trick walls. I cried out from the bleachers ‘No no no you can’t trip the walls!’ I was grateful I’d asked the technical director back in tech week for safeties on the latches but I also shot him a dirty look from across the bleachers remembering how much he’d resisted that same safety request. I checked the walls after and luckily the mechanisms hadn’t broken when the kids reefed with all their tiny weight on the cords. We still had a week of shows to do, the last thing I wanted to be doing the next day was fixing the set.

It’s an unusual aspect of this outdoor theatre, we can’t close and lock the the stage doors each night. We don’t have any doors. Everything is exposed, available to be tampered with twenty four hours a day by humans and animals alike. Comparative to regular theatre a healthy sense of humor helps with this kind of chaos. In retrospect, it’s pretty remarkable we pull this off season after season at all. Some burn out, some never come back but those of us that lingered this long start to crave the unexpected that it constantly presents and as we say, those of us that stay become part of this weirdly dysfunctional family.

IMG_20170805_060602The party trickled back to the cook shack when someone sat down at the piano. A stand up bass followed, along with an accordion, guitars, banjos and a mandolin. Lisa and I turned off the lx by the tack shed and watched the northern lights pulsate across the horizon. Our eyes caught the occasional star shoot across the sky. We silently appreciated the dance of yellows and greens in that way close friends feel each other without needing words. I rolled out my hang ups and fears and dispersed them up into the vast, moonless night. Past midnight we we’re both frozen from standing in the dewy grass and too tired to engage with the ramping up party. I walked her and Buddy to their car and tried to stealth my way through the shadows around the front of the cookshack up to the cabin but got called out by the smokers around the fire pit doing, as we called it that summer ‘The Gypsy Fade’. Regardless, satisfied with the nights events and being a part of this community that are like family. My proverbial wolf pack. I smiled and waved from under the crab apple tree and went to bed.

IMG_20170828_064146.jpgThis is the backside of the four hundred pound draw bridge that cut my leg open seven years ago. It got heaved out of its storage space in the Goat Palace and straddled between the Boutique and Bio Board to block audience members from wandering between the structures but mostly to cover up the direct view to the compost behind the cook shack. Every morning I would look at it and flashes of the Devil and his minions waiting inside the horse drawn wagon for the bridge to be lowered by me, wearing a wolf mask as a monstrous game show ring girl, struggling with the safety latch till it released and the winch whirled through my shin, my leg pouring out blood and staining the stage. The black Percheron’s reared but the drawn bridge anchored them. The worst of it averted, stitches to my leg being that summers sacrifice.

2017, was forest fire smoke. Apocalyptic sepia drenched skies. Daily ash coating the props tables and bleachers, our lungs and eyes. It didn’t matter which way the wind blew, massive wild fires were burning in every direction around us but never a direct threat. Unlike 2003, what we dub ‘The Year of the Dragon’ when the fire came so close we were emergency evacuated and cancelled a week of shows till we could resume. I kept trying to capture the haze on camera but it never accurately portrayed how thick it was and how slow and dumb it made us all. Nor, how it made the summer not feel like a summer at all. As a rural outdoor theatre company we exist outside at least 16 hours of any given day. As government air quality statements warned the public to stay inside and close their windows, we could only shrug and squeeze the well water out of our bandannas before wrapping them around our faces and carrying on. At least the smoke kept what was supposed to be a record breaking scorcher a lot cooler than predicted but also gave us a taste of how the ice age must have started.

At one point it had been two weeks plus without the sun, just a dreary blanket of smoke and the hope that tomorrow would be different. What kept our spirits up was that we were doing this high energy devil at the crossroads story where love triumphs in the end with complex, weird and haunting quasi-bluegrass music to near full houses. The summer had a great ensemble; so important given that we are working and living together on a isolated mountain plateau for two months, too many parties that had me questioning my sobriety but stay the course and a queerness, a quiet strange I’ll muse over in a few separate posts as I get my legs back on this, whatever this is.

IMG_20170719_214133.jpgTech week. I had bad insomnia this summer and tried out a few herbal sleep supplements. During tech, when we work late into the night, I skeptically thought I’d try one of the tranquility pills before heading out to walk the lights; when the light designer goes over each of the lighting states with the director and stage manager. As the assistant stage manager on summer shows I always offer to be a body on stage, otherwise know as a ‘light walker’ recreating the stage blocking so the director and designer can communicate what is and isn’t working before we head into tech rehearsal with the ensemble. By midnight the herbal supplement that I thought wasn’t going to work had me swaying and hallucinating under the stage lights with bats swooping down catching moths and fat, crunchy june bugs drawn to the phosphorescence. Kate watching from the bleachers eating a bowl of watermelon said I looked like I was melting and Jamie left the cook shack party to swap me out so I could go to bed. I took this picture as I drifted pass the shop on route to my cabin.

IMG_20170720_053249.jpgSunrise. The first scene was a funeral procession to a church where the drunkard Reverend inappropriately espoused fire and brimstone at the wake. This is also when some audience members would leave and on their exit complain to the front of house manager that the show was offensively mocking Christian values. Ce la vie. The back side of the tack shed was used as the church. The inside of the tack shed served as my quick change booth for Hell Hound and Mephistopheles. To the right, the Timber Barn rain venue that we never had to use. We had one blast of rain all summer, a torrential twenty minute down pour two hours before the show.

IMG_20170820_054826.jpgAnother sunrise, late in the summer when the mornings are cool and the sun, what there was of it, has dried the life out of the grass. I love late summers last gasp.

img_20161006_144149Sjaak’s vegan white chocolate via Food Fight Grocery admired in Upper Left Roasters.

img_20161006_120031Staring blankly at Jan’s wall calendar I realized it’s mid September and being mid September means it’s almost October and October means we’ll be on route to Portland and Portland means I’ll be eating one of these gut busting, umami rich, greasy nutrient loaded, appetite quenching Pixie Retreat RAW’r millet burgers. This past week I’ve been waking up thinking about the flax onion cracker buns and PDX coffee coffee coffee.