Beltane Celebration

Worse Than Camping!

May 2, 2023

This is the Tuesday Newsday Post from May 2, 2017, updated with an additional personal story.

My exhaustive search for an interesting tidbit for May 2nd turned up very little. It would seem that everyone was tired after all of the May Day activities on May 1st.

May 1stSCottish cow, like some of its calendar counterparts in the fall and winter, is a significant date. Prior to it becoming International Workers Day to honor labor, it was also the date of the ancient celebration of Beltane. This event was one where the women were excited because they could FINALLY get the cows out of the house and drive the beasts to the field. Kind of the equivalent of the mom who tells her kids “Go outside and play!” They followed up this bovine removal by making a huge bonfire and, I would surmise, to burn all the straw that – after many months of being the peasants version of rugs – undoubtedly assaulted the poor woman’s olfactory senses and encouraged the proliferation of vermin.

BeltaneA huge outdoor feast was held around the bonfire. We refer to this as ‘camping.’ No doubt the men stood around the fire drinking mead all night and the celebration became rowdier and rowdier. This would, of course, lead to men doing stupid things… like jumping through the fire. From the Infallible Wikipedia:

“According to 18th century writers, in parts of Scotland there was another ritual involving the oatmeal cake. The cake would be cut and one of the slices marked with charcoal. The slices would then be put in a bonnet and everyone would take one out while blindfolded. According to one writer, whomever got the marked piece would have to leap through the fire three times. According to another, those present would pretend to throw him into the fire and, for some time afterwards, they would speak of him as if he were dead. This ‘may embody a memory of actual human sacrifice’, or it may have always been symbolic.”

But back to the long-suffering wives. I can only imagine that May 2nd was THEIR day of celebration. The cows were now out of the hovel, it was as clean as it would ever be and, with their men passed out from too much drink, it was a time to kick back and enjoy one day without backbreaking labor.

It’s at times like these when I reflect on all our modern conveniences: houses with central heating, running water, heck- hot water from the tap, flushing toilets, supermarkets. There are so many things to be thankful for in today’s world. It is nearly impossible to imagine what life was like for our ancestors hundreds of years ago.

Camping, perhaps, gets us as near to how it might have been. As I was growing up my mother would have nothing to do with activities which involved sleeping out in the forest. It was definitely not her thing. That might have been because it WAS my grandmother’s thing and my Mom hated being dragged out into the wilderness as a kid.

I suppose having not been introduced to the activity when I was young, I found the concept exciting and intriguing. I dabbled in backpacking on a couple of adventures with my BFF Daphne when we were about 20. Certainly the hubby and I had any number of memorable camping adventures, sleeping in tents and cooking over campfires, as we traversed the Western US in our early married years.

I think it was our very first camping experience, however, which stands out and serves as a reminder of how difficult it can be to not have running water, flushing toilets, and a decent kitchen.

The year is 1979 and we have been dating for a couple of months when the boyfriend – now the hubby – has signed up to run the seven mile Chuckanut Foot Race in Bellingham. The run is on Saturday morning, July 7th, and our plan is that after the race is over we are going to drive up to the North Cascades via Highway 20 and go camping. I live in Eatonville, Washington – an hour’s drive from West Seattle – where he lives. From there to Bellingham is another hour and a half-ish. I had gone to West Seattle on Friday night so we could get and early start and make it to the race the next morning.

Having a good time exploring the North Cascades with nary a care in the world.

By the time we get there and he runs it and then eat lunch and then dink around seeing the sights and meandering our way up Highway 20, the day is nearly over.

Being young and clueless, it never occurred to us that perhaps there would NOT be a campsite miraculously waiting for our arrival. By the time we get to the campground it is near dusk and the place is full.

Ever determined, we find a service road that goes between two campsites and one of the occupants of the adjacent campsite says, sure, put your tent up there, we’ll never tell.

So there we are, struggling to get the tent set up (it was a monstrosity – an old canvas tent from the 1950’s which must have weighed 150 pounds. JK. No idea how much it weighed, but it was heavy) in the near dark and we haven’t even gotten to fixing dinner.

Eventually, with the tent erected, we turn our attention to dinner. Thank goodness for canned foods because we were exhausted and cooking was NOT on my agenda. The BF got his little charcoal fueled hibachi going and we opened a can of ravioli and a can of asparagus. I cannot recall if we had an actual pan. I think we did have ONE pan, but perhaps we didn’t. What I do know is that we ended up sharing whatever container between us and not using plates. We heated the asparagus first and ate that, then the Ravioli. Truly, the ONE thing which made the whole ridiculous situation bearable was that we had a bottle of champagne – well not real champagne as it was Andres.

After finishing the food and the entire bottle of Andres, I crept off into the bushes to take care of business and then crawled into the sleeping bag for the night. The one pan and two plastic cups were dirty but I didn’t care.

The BF( now the hubby) carrying the Hibachi out from our ‘campsite’ the next morning

That experience alone should have been enough to deter us but it wasn’t. We got smarter about what we packed and we upgraded our camping equipment over time. A little gas powered stove. Containers of water. A lighter weight tent. Air mattresses. A tent trailer. A bigger trailer. Hotel rooms.

But one thing has endured over the years. Any time we’ve gone on a camping trip we always have Ravioli, Asparagus, and Bubbly, on our first night camping. And for a few nights or a week, a camping adventure is fun but not as a way of life. I’m much too reliant on my creature comforts, not to mention that sleeping on the ground in a sleeping bag on top of an air mattress which will, undoubtedly, go flat in the middle of the night is not my idea of a fun time.

And Andres. We no longer drink that either. Gotta draw the line somewhere.

As always, the infallible Wikipedia provides an exhaustive recount of Beltane:

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