Flame and Laughter

Trip Start Jun 01, 2011
Trip End Ongoing

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Flag of United States  , California
Monday, June 27, 2011

After a week in Southern California, it was time to head to the hills and the pines and the rivers again.  Spending the day on the zipline course, camping in the mountains, going to sleep bathed in the scent of campfire, the smell of sage and Ponderosa so thick in the air it was almost palatable, was just what I needed.

A long, toasty drive up highway 99 eventually led me into the foothills and the small town of Mariposa, which immediately reminded me of Estes Park - the self proclaimed "Gateway to Rocky Mountain National Park", where I lived during the summer of 2006 and helped launch a new hostel.  A wonderful couple that I had the pleasure of befriending this past winter were finding their home in Mariposa for a while.  A very free-spirited, nomadic couple - they had recently bought a van and turned it into a comfy little home with a bed, shelving, rolling drawers, pull-out table, even a "living room" of sorts, using almost exclusively items and parts that they had found.  One man's trash is another man's treasure.

I arrived just in time for their own little family reunion.  Dad (who actually lives there), mom, mom's guy, sister, sister's new guy, another sister, family friend (practically the fourth sister).  It was the first time in years since they had all been together.  I was hesitant, not wanting to interfere in any way, but Jacob assured that I would be welcomed and that it was not a problem.  He was right - I was welcomed right in with open arms, crude language, beer, bbq, plenty of laughs, and even a huge inflatable mattress to call home for the night.

They were all a little nuts.  But nuts in the good way.  Normal is boring.  Have you ever been to a "normal" family gathering?  BORING!!!  Crazy, but fun, caring, cohesive.  The father is one of the most unique individuals I have ever met.  I had met them all in town, and afterward headed back to his home a few miles outside of town.  An old convenience store converted into a house, blessed with the presence of probably a dozen guitars, a black widow and her legion of babies (does she eat them, I wonder?) in a large jar on top of the fridge, and a mirror at the end of the hallway that pointed toward the bathroom so you could see if the door was closed, implying that it was occupied and you need not waste your time walking down the hall.

Almost immediately, we were sitting on the back porch, overlooking a deep darkness, no other buildings nearby, the silence only interrupted by crickets, an occasional passing car, and the sound of a whip.  Yes, a whip.  John, the father, standing barefoot out on a large rock, practicing cracking the whip into the darkness, Indiana Jones style, trying to not hit his beer or his face.  He managed to miss his beer.  He's the kind of guy that can talk to anyone about anything.  "Come talk with me, " he would say, in such a manner that once he started walking away you knew that you had no choice and would need to follow and converse if you didn't want to face the consequences.  It was always enjoyable talking with him, don't get me wrong, just the way he said it and how he presented himself (they call him the King - he is a Leo, as are all three daughters, all having birthdays within a week of each other).  He did this to me, to his daughters, the new boyfriend, a number of strangers we came across.

The time I enjoyed most with these wonderful people were sitting on the deck until all hours of the night... er, morning.  The first night it was the two young couples and myself.  We talked, we laughed, we drank, and played music.  Lots of music.  Taking turns leading and playing different turns.  Two guitars, an acoustic bass, and percussion on whatever you could reach.  John played a number of songs that he used to play while his daughters were young, and they joyfully sang along with him, just as I'm sure they did decades ago.  We were playing one song when Becca got up to go inside for something.  We kept playing, jamming, soaking in the music when, out of the darkness, perfect, right on cue, Becca chimes in on a harmonica.  Oh!  It was so perfect.  We all just smiled and laughed, pleasantly surprised by the impeccable entrance she had made.  Oh, and I almost forgot the fire spinning that Jacob performed on the same rock that his father-in-law had been practicing whip on earlier.

The next night was much of the same.  I had spent the day in Yosemite hiking around a little bit, and met up with them for another grillout in the fairgrounds outside of town.  A group of teenagers with Moondance Adventures was camped in the surrounding area - just a large plot of grass speckled with tall trees.  They had all been in bed for a good half hour or so when Jacob decided to break out the fire spinning.  It was black, quiet, still.  I can only imagine the surprise it must have been from inside the tents when suddenly yellow light was dancing all around and the loud "woosh!  woosh!  woosh!" of something right outside.  Instantly, their tents were evacuated and they stood and stared, as did the rest of us, in awe at Jacob's swirls of flame dancing in the darkness.  I've seen poi and bos before, but he used a long rope with a bulb on the end, which was the part that was ignited.  So, he could let out some of the rope, allowing larger, slow loops with the flame, or pull the rope in, bringing the flame next to his body, spinning it so quickly that a yellow circle would be created, hovering and roaring in the air next to him.  The flame is awesome, but I think my favorite part is the sound.  Woosh.  Woosh.  Like a helicopter.  Some sounding strangely electronic at times.  A number of times, he would fling the flame out away from him, letting the rope slide through his hand, so that the flame would be suspended 5 or 6 feet away from him, lingering a couple feet off the ground.  For a moment, when the fire wasn't moving, there would be a moment of silence.  I'm sure I unconsciously held my breath.  Then, to break the silence and the tension, he would jerk the rope and bring the flame soaring and screaming back toward himself, then continue his dance of circles and loops.  Needless to say, once he was finished, spinning the flame faster and faster and faster until the night air finally extinguished it, we all went wild.  "That's my brother!  That's my brother!" his wife's younger sister exclaimed, so proud to have him as part of her family.

The night ended on the back deck again.  Music, stories, laughter.  Oh, the laughter!  It was the three sisters, their two men, a family friend, the father, and myself.  Lord knows how, but at some point we started passing around a flyswatter like the conch in Lord of the Flies.  Whoever had the flyswatter had authority, and was expected to tell a funny story.  And if anyone got ornery, they would be given a swift smack by the swatter, its current possessor enforcing their authority.  We laughed.  My, how we laughed.  For hours!  I told the story of when I was returning some items at Home Depot with my girlfriend at the time.  I removed an orange caulk gun from the bag and set it on the belt.  "What's that for?" she asked.  I couldn't resist the once-in-a-lifetime occasion.  I grinned.  "It's for squeezing caulk."  In disbelief, she turned bright red and looked down, embarrassed, but holding in a laugh, not sure of the appropriate response or behavior.  The checker, a young man of maybe 19 years old, also turned bright red, grew embarrassed, and was doing his best to not laugh, as well.  Everyone had their turn with the conch.  Everyone surely had sore cheeks and abdominals from the hours we spent engulfed in laughter.

It was so fun.  So beautiful.  So encouraging.  Delightful.  Simply, purely, deeply delightful.  Round 3am a few of us started dropping like flies (no pun intended).  I woke long before anyone else, and wanted to get into the park before it got too hot or crowded.  I left a note to the "Fun, crazy family" on the kitchen floor, admiring them and thanking them for blessing me with the time spent with them, welcoming me in to a space and time that was clearly so special and sacred to them.
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