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The Woodford New Year

Woodford Folk Festival At Sunrise

I’m sitting in the Chai Tent with my New Year adventurers when I look at the time. It will soon be sunrise. I’m momentarily surprised that I’ve even made it this far. Around me, a comfortable crush of bodies and buddies fills the space. Most are in the floating realm between awareness and dozing. Above our heads dubious smoke, incense and dust hang in a hippy cloud. It settles on tired musicians strumming and drumming a slow, almost unconscious tune. I make a move to stand.

It will soon be sunrise.

Of all the people who have made the first hours of my new year such a dance fuelled adventure, nobody can find the energy to rise with me. So I walk alone, through Woodford in a rare moment of quiet. My boots kick up tiny clouds of dust with each step I take in the gravel. I’m exhausted and totally unbelieving with each metre I propel myself forward. I suppose I’ve passed the point of stopping. Now there is only a need to keep moving.

I have only a vague idea of where I’m going. To Vollywood, where the volunteers rest, over the bridge and then skyward to Woodfordia Hill. In the end, I hardly need a sign. There’s a steady stream of sunrise hunters making the same journey as me. Some have been sleeping, and shuffle with their dreams still catching in their hair and slipping from their eyes. Others, like me, shuffle and dream of having dreams, of sitting down to rest and to sleep.

But not yet.

The slope to Woodfordia Hill seems impossibly steep on my weary legs, like I’m climbing into the clouds. On my way up, the sky begins to get the slightest of tints. I quicken my step. It will soon be sunrise. On my way to the top I pass the giant Tibetan prayer wheel. So many people have passed it with prayers and wishes for the New Year that it seems to spin of its own accord. Over the gentle whisper of its orbit, I can hear music. There’s stage on the hill. It dominates my sight and exhausted attention as I’m drawn into the echoing tones of the simple melody. It is enough to almost send me into a trance. The crowd in front of the stage certainly seems to be experiencing a different reality. But then again, this is Woodford.

I linger until I feel as though every note wriggling out of the speakers is on a singular mission to glue my top eyelid to my bottom one, then I walk on. The ground is dewey and slippery, but I pick a path without obstacle, thankful not for the first time for my boots. I make my way around the stage until I finally see it.

A sign.

Not even the metaphorical kind. An actual sign on a hill, the hollywood for hippies, painted in cooperating, clashing colours and oozing love.

WOODFORDIA

And scattered around it a motley bunch of sunrise chasers, of new year welcomers, of Woodfordians.

I don’t trust myself to sit down on the soft, comfortable grass. I am well aware of the fact that the dampness will do little to ward of sleep. So instead I walk up to the sign and lean directly in the centre of one of the Os. I find this both fitting and comedic, although I’m reasonably sure the later is the result of a Woodford sized exhaustion. I look around me at the gathered crowd of the dedicated, then out to the horizon.

It will soon be sunrise.

Bursting through the clouds that might have threatened to shadow the morning, the first sunrise of the new year is something else. Hardly magnificent to the point of breathlessness but it has a magic just the same. A palette of pink, orange and yellow, the light plays off the clouds and flecks of water on the grass. There is a kind of eerie silence among those gathered. It reminds me of the night before, when a half hour before the new year every reveller great and small stopped for three minutes in total silence. That three minutes is how Woodford takes stock of the old year, before celebrating the new one.

But the silence on the hill at sunrise tasted different in my ears. Less ceremony and more spontaneity, a different kind of sacredness. There’s something in the air that stays our tongues. Even the jittery teenagers with their lingering acid trips and their young love watch in awe. And I lean on my O and watch the day unfold, feeling the lost hours of sleep building hammocks under my eyes and not caring in the least. When I go to work on this year’s first day I will feel every minute and second of my exhaustion. But I will wear it like a coat covered in badges of honour because I was here. I saw the year begin.

The sun has risen.

This post originally appeared on BarefootBeachBlonde.com, the pre-evolved version of Maps And Mandalas. I’ve republished it here with its original date because I love it that much.

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