Our friend Joel wanted to celebrate the beginning of summer in an ancient and traditional way. So he did what modern people in search of tradition do, and went online. That's where he learned about Midsommar, a Swedish solstice festival in which revelers (and after months of Scandinavian winter, the Swedes know how to revel) decorate a may pole-like cross called something that sounds like "schlong," dance around it and drink heavily.
Joel and his wife Holly decided that Lightning Point Campground in the Angeles National Forest would be the perfect place to set up their schlong. We weren't able to join them for the official ritual (which wasn't so official, seeing as how it took place a week after solstice), but we drove up Saturday night in time to camp and appreciate an only slightly-wilted schlong.
AK and I were finally able to break in the tent my dad gave us for Christmas. My dad, who loves camping but hates discomfort, always preferred motor home camping. When I told him we cooked dinner over the campfire, he said, "Well, I guess that's nice if you don't mind the smoke."
I kind of feel like this is my travel hat now. It goes with my lots of places, but I almost never wear it in L.A.
Holly grew up in Colorado and knows her way around a mountain. She handled burning logs with her bare hands.
Joel and Holly taught us a classic Midsommar song (complete with hand motions) and were kind enough to stage a reenactment of the previous night's festivities.
At dusk, wild animals started to emerge.
L.A. puts on a good sunset. (I know, I know, it's the smog, but whatever.) In one direction: piney silhouettes and a gorgeous mountain-scape. In the other: a valley of twinkling lights to remind us that, even though there was no running water and there were only two other cars in the whole campground, the city wasn't far away. (Not to detract from the pretty-sunset moment, but I have to mention that although there were only two other camping parties, we saw them both peeing. Beware overconfidence in the remoteness of your biffy.)
We toasted to Midsommar with shots of Aquavit, a Swedish liquor made from potatoes and caraway. Soon we were slurring, "Gimme some more of that Aquanet."
Then, the moment we'd all been waiting for (you know, besides the schlong dance): Joel and Holly busted out their pie irons--a magical and wonderful apparatus that was new to AK and I--to make fire-pit pies. The recipe: Slather butter on two slices of the cheapest, squishiest white bread you can find. Place one in each side of pie iron. On top the bread, place whatever delicious sugary ingredients appeal to you (AK: apple pie filling; me: marshmallows, chocolate and graham crackers, for the sheer decadence of making a s'more sandwich, which is like a sandwich in a sandwich). Clamp pie iron shut. Place on coals. Eat. Take up serious exercise routine so as not to die of butter overdose.
When the fire died down and we zipped ourselves into our sleeping bags, every noise began to sound exactly like a bear nudging the tent with his nose. As my heart pounded and my eyes refused to shut, I wished that I had a boom box and a CD of soft traffic noises to lull me to sleep. Maybe punctuated by the occasional gun shot.
But we made it to the morning, and suddenly all that quiet seemed peaceful again.
We took a walk along one of the many sunny mountain ridges, where we enjoyed the view, spotted lizards and talked about graduate programs like the pioneers we are.
I think this sign had something to do with ATVs or maybe horses, but we took it as our cue to head back to the city.