As much as I miss the old-school Vinotok bonfires and all that came with it, I must say that the festival pullback in recent years has been good for the community. I must be getting older and the town getting mellower.
Focused less on a mind-altering night culminating in one of the biggest bonfires on the Western Slope that surely gave town and fire department staff along with all insurance agents heart palpitations, the refocus on centered community has been a positive shift. That’s not to say it wasn’t fun ‘observing’ the effects of psilocybin on often naked participants feeling the heat and the beat of the drum circle into the wee hours (great family fun as the kids grew up here), but I truly appreciate the new vibe that seems to drill down on the original intent of the whole festival that celebrates the people, the generations and the stories of the valley.
For many, the Community Feast and Medieval Fair is now a solid way to honor the valley’s spirit and break bread together while acknowledging the change of season with the Autumn Equinox. On the day of this year’s feast, September 22, the sun will directly hit the equator and there will be an equal length of day and night.
Some enjoy the characters and the mythology associated with Vinotok. For me, I particularly enjoy the altars. I passed one Monday on the Rec Path Bridge when I was heading out on a ride. Sitting on an Elk Avenue bench Tuesday morning, my kid who is the son of a Harvest Mother had me check out the meditation altar at Third and Elk. He pointed out there was an actual 24-hour sand timer hourglass in the sculpture. Very cool. Mojo and I checked out several altars along Peanut Lake Road and they all slowed me down, made me breathe, challenged me to think and look inward. Mojo is 12-and-a-half, so he already does all that. What is more appropriate than finding something that pushes you to slow down and breathe as we head into the fall season with the changing colors and attitudes?
I know from living here that the coming darker and cooler days can be a challenging time for many that have chosen to make a life here. The normal and expected economic slowdown, the early arrival of the stars in the evening and the later arrival of the sunrise in the mornings can push people into dark mental spaces. Add to that the fall’s low-pressure systems that bring cold rain and even early snow can tweak some people. It is not an easy time for many. Choosing to come together as a community, as a tribe, can perhaps help keep some of that mental darkness at bay. Vinotok seems to be respecting that.
The organizing council of Vinotok made a conscious choice to pull back…to re-center. Organizers have made clear that they felt the “flocking of people to our events has pushed out the community’s ability to participate.” They made an honest reevaluation of how to continue the festival — and growing it was not the top priority, or even on the list. They are purposely laying on the earth and touching the tribe’s grassroots. Good on ‘em!
In a letter to the people a month ago, Vinotok leaders were clear that attracting more and more tourists to watch bigger and bigger bonfires was not the aim. Instead, community was: “Our primary goals are to bring the community together to collaboratively celebrate the turning of the seasons, the bounty of the earth and the intimate stewardship connection we have with this land that holds us. As such, we have re-oriented our events so we may call our community in stronger, and so that our honoring of our earth, here in this specific place, drives our sense of being.”
Yeah, I miss the old-school bonfire but why would I argue with that ideal? Vinotok is now. Take from it what you will — whether it is sharing a communal meal and a drink, taking the altar pilgrimage, listening to liars or participating in any number of other events unique to our village — but embrace the fall spirit of community it is offering.