Drag shows were "big time." I felt at a disadvantage as there wasn't room, on my bike, for a steamer trunk full of clothing. Most people arrived in cars full of evening gowns, high heels, wigs and wedding dresses. In some cases it was "truck loads."
Oh dear, what could I bring to the dance?
Then I remembered the tail light on my bike was one of those flashing LED
blinkers. It had a setting where the light traversed across the reflector
like a moving disco ball. The light was a hit along with my bike shorts
and fairly athletic body.
Often the day would start, after breakfast, with a heart circle where men could share inner thinking. In heart circles, someone could talk and have the entire group listen. The talking role was passed from person to person. Often there was a lot of competition for "getting the floor." People had a lot to share. Just sitting back and listening to the stories could be quite an experience. Facilitators would try to keep space open, for new people to speak up and current feelings to be expressed.
Toward the end of one circle, there was a unnerving interruption. Someone from the lodge staff came in to announce that a small fire had broken out on the property. It was quite a long ways from the conference, but still cause for concern. Forests were tinder dry. He said, "If you hear an alarm bell, volunteers are needed."
By lunch, no alarm had sounded. People hoped that the lack of any bell meant things were okay and the fire was out.Then, half way through lunch, a crew from the maintenance staff came dancing through the lodge. They were wearing no cloths. That is, no clothing except for hard hats and tool belts. Nearly naked workmen, in nothing but tool belts and hard hats, are a nice way to say, "don't worry." "The fire is out." "Now it's time for another show." It was especially nice as they were young, buff college age folks. Instead of a fire alarm, there was the sound of spoons clapping against tea cups as everyone broke out in applause.
Drag Queen Hike, stewardship of the land
Besides pageantry and dances, the conference offered many rich experiences. There were writer's workshops, massage classes, heart circles and more.
One doesn't normally associate drag with forestry, but Breitenbush Conference Center had recently purchased some land across the river from the lodge. Its previous owners had not taken care of the parcel. There was lots of gravel and old pipes strewn around. Now that the land was safely under Breitenbush management, its "time to heal" had begun.
participants decided to help Breitenbush Center heal the land. A ceremony
took place with people hiking to a "vortex" in the land parcel. It
reminded me of things I have read about in Native American life. A bit
different than your normal "real-estate" transaction. Do most realtors
talk about the "vortex" of the land?
Shows, at the gathering, were full of home spun talent. Even the stage was a make shift work of art. Curtain rods were held up by C clamps that someone, who thinks of everything, happened to bring along.
At one point, the show stammered to a stop, a cord must have been tripped over, but there was an old "honky-tonk" style piano in the room. Someone sat down and played a tune from the film OKLAHOMA. Soon the whole lodge was singing, "Oh What a Beautiful Morning." Well over a hundred people were swaying back and forth, in unison. It was an experience to remember. Before long the show was back on track.
Transition from fairy life to normalcy was gradual, for me, due to the fact that I was bicycling, rather than speeding away by car. As I rode, down the gravel road away from Breitenbush, cars would pass full of people I had met. There were friendly honks and waves as the cars passed. Soon I was back on the paved highway where more of the general public goes by. Mothers with kids, retired loggers and many others would also wave when they saw the conference people waving at me. For a moment, it made the whole world seem friendlier.
Waving stopped by the time I got past the resort town of Detroit, Oregon. Conference people had all left by then, but bicycling brought out different sides of "normal" civilization. At one of my rest stops, near the top of the Santiam Pass, there was a parked car. Someone was taking in the view.
He saw my bike and decided to share a story. It was about the bike ride his dad had just gone on called the "Ragbrai Ride." That ride goes across the state of Iowa. Every year Ragbrai brings close to 16,000 cyclists from all over America. It's in "mid America," but the ride is crazy. Lots of costumes, nudity and partying at camp stops. It has been described as a "MARDI GRAS ON WHEELS;" just the thing that the drag queens would love. Maybe some year I'll be part of Ragbrai.
Power house that kept it going
Electric power for the dances and all of Breitenbush conference center was coming from this quaint little mill house. Isolated by several miles of national forest, Breitenbush was not on the power grid. It generated its own electricity. Small scale hydroelectric power.
There is enough power, usually, to run the kitchen,
lodge and a small community of cabins. There are cabins for guests
and also for permanent residents of Breitenbush.
The wooden shunt has been in service for many years.