For so long I have been guided by an idea that my father taught me: If you really want something to get done, you have to do it yourself. I live this when building and fixing my bus. I live this when fulfilling my daily needs. I live this when serving tea. At Rootstalk, this weekend, however, I learned this is definitely not always true.
Over a year ago Mountain Rose Herbs had asked me if the tea bus would like to participate in a festival that was just barely a glimmer in their eyes. They told me that as an online and wholesale business with no real storefront they wanted so badly to share knowledge face to face with the public. People were always asking how to do this, and what herb is good for that, etc. Thus Rootstalk Festival was born. Featuring over 30 educators, a dozen musical performances, plant walks, workshops, storytelling, conscious vendors, non-profits, and a Free Tea Pavilion.
I was asked to commit this Spring for a Fall festival. Hmmmm…. I haven’t planned that far ahead in a long time. I took a chance and said yes. Not wanting to save things for the last minute, I began preparations immediately. I envisioned lots of rugs, pillows, low tables, lanterns – you know, like a tea tent sounds like it ought to be, plus all the basics for serving tea and making it all function: hundreds of cups, large water urns, carboys for sun tea, towels, tubs, lights, tables, chalkboards, signs, rope, shelves, etc. Of course, life took its path, and I ended up with two weeks to finish my not-so-very-near-finished preparations. Amongst working on some cabinetry in the bus, I spent my days scouring thrift stores and garage sales, free piles and friends’ houses. Still feeling like somehow I hadn’t really prepared enough, I went to sleep knowing I was to take off the next day for Oregon.
Many of the twelve volun-tea-ers rode with me to Rootstalk or showed up early to help set up the Free Tea Pavilion. We spent a day and a half decorating the 20’x40’ tent that Mountain Rose had rented for us. This immense space made it possible to have nearly half of the tent be rugs and cushions, while the other half was our tea serving area and benches. Fabrics and Christmas lights were hung, rugs laid, cushion fluffed, tables placed. We set up a letter-writing table with supplies and a Lightfoot Box. On display we had alternative water heating techniques (Kelly Kettles, a Fresnel lens, and an Eneron Turbo Kettle).
The first day of setup I started to get sick, and as the festival got under way I had to step aside a bit from tea serving so as to not spread my germs. This made things weird for me. Usually it is just me serving tea, just me washing dishes, just me making it all function. With very little instruction, my fellow tea volunteers stepped up and served a massive amount of tea. Even though only two people were signed up for each shift, there were usually one or two other people helping pick up any slack – washing dishes, refilling sweeteners and milks, putting more water on to boil, making sun tea, cleaning, organizing, etc.
Two days at Rootstalk I awoke and poked my head out of the bus until late morning, just watching and observing. I watched the guests slowly trickle in for some morning warmth. I watch the tea servers getting the operation going for the day. Being sick was a good excuse to stay in bed and observe. What I observed in the volunteers those mornings, and throughout the whole festival, was an incredible ability for them to function well with each other, to have a great sense of importance in the service they were providing, to act with humility and equality with guests, and make the logistical end of things work too. For much of the festival I was completely hands off. This allowed me to see that my father’s words aren’t always true. There are people who will pick up the pieces and the slack and make things work when they believe in what they are doing.
On Saturday night there was a masquerade ball. It was this night that I chose to be on duty as much as possible. I served tea for hours. The tent filled with dozens and dozens of people, most of whom were in costume and masked. Everyone laughed, shared, and drank warm herbal brews.
Throughout the weekend we served about 2500 cups of free tea. With each tea a smile was had, a friendly exchange was played out, and a belly was warmed (or cooled with sun tea). The friendships made, the cuddle piles had, the slumber parties, the genuine connections, the community – these were the things that made this experience for all of us involved. So many thanks came from guests, volunteers, and the Mountain Rose Herbs staff. I was overjoyed with the love shared back to the tea tent volunteers.
I hope some of you who were there will post a reply to this post and share your experiences at Rootstalk and the Free Tea Pavilion.
See the previous post for Rootstalk photos.
UPDATE: Oh, and MRH donated all their profits from this event to Cascadia Wildlands. This donation came just as the State of Oregon called for the deaths of half of one of the last wolf packs in OR. The money will help pay for a lawsuit to keep these animals protected. Check out the Facebook note here.