This year’s Purple Onion Festival last Sunday – on the cusp of the Equinox - was another wonderful celebration of all things local.
Transition Town Peterborough has now organized five of these fall festivals. Powered by hundreds of volunteers and the passions of a few key catalysts, TTP highlights the effects of a globalized oil-dependent economy on the earth. The Festival holds up the power of an alternative locally based economy.
Can you imagine an economy not dependent on oil? It wasn’t that long ago that our ancestors couldn’t imagine an economy without slave labour. (Although global slavery is alive and well still) Somehow the addiction was curbed in our so-called “developed” nations. What might be the twelve steps to getting us off oil? The Purple Onion Festival helps us imagine…
It was cool and breezy and heavily overcast at 7am when I arrived on my bike to help with the set up. A few homeless guys were appreciative of the large party tent set up the day before providing them with better shelter than bushes or doorways. I could tell which of us were homeless and which were the avid environmentalists by the steel and plastic coffee canisters in our hands.
The Downtown Business Improvement Association supplied the portable display tents. The rain started before we had them all set up. It was an exercise in group dynamics as we slowly created two teams of four with seven people. People wandered from team to team as the need arose – then leaving the first team looking for a fourth to take one of the four legs. It was quite a square dance.
But we got them up in time for the vendors and caterers.
It was raining pretty steadily by the time the seven caterers started cooking. Smoke escaped from the big tent as aromas enticed my empty belly into action. A bagel at the Silver Bean and a chat with a guy who’d spent the night in his wheelchair in the tent tied me over.
As we munched and chatted the rain became torrential. I could feel the hearts of the POF organizers melting into the ground – a year’s worth of meetings, thousands of small and large decisions made, phone calls, emails, money spent on promotion – all threatened to be washed away by the environment we were there to celebrate and protect.
I noticed a woman standing at the end of the dock that runs out from below the Silver Bean patio. She stood under an umbrella and by her stillness I could tell that she was loving being in the midst of that precious rain falling. Like a Blue Heron standing still she was not enjoying the environment – she was in it – or “of” it. She shifted my attitude. I let go of the sorrow and the worry of what this rain meant and instead embraced the wonder of our Mother’s lifeblood.
And then she put the umbrella down. No – I thought – is she? She squatted then sat on the edge of the dock. Then, she slipped into the river and swam. I’m not sure who else saw her but me and my new buddy shook our heads and laughed at her immersion. She transformed before our eyes from a urbanized human prepared to endure the weather into a creature of the woods and waters at one with the elements. What better transition?
And then the rain slowed. The first performer of the day sang the clouds away and the sun came out. I cashed in some Canadian loot for our local Kawartha Loonies and got some food. Locally owned and operated restaurants featuring locally raised edibles – what better way (other than taking a swim) to immerse myself in the environment from the inside out?
Fed and watered, I strolled my way around the puddles and sampled vendors offerings of all kinds of local foods and assorted good things for my health (and the community’s). I didn’t try the Cricket flour but was told it was tasty. Piles of fresh veggies were being carted away by happy families. There was a carnival atmosphere but instead of games of chance – these booths offered a chance for the survival of our human-scaled society.
Thinking Globally and acting Locally, we joined in with the international Climate Change rally. We may not have had quite as many concerned folks as gathered in New York, but we showed Peterborough’s passion. A series of speakers organized by our local chapter of Grandmothers 4 Change fed our heads and hearts with the reasons why we all must change our habits – and the minds of decision-makers.
I think I bumped into almost every Community Organizer I know. And I met a few more too. And i'm sure there were many more in the crowd i haven't yet met. It’s so very cool how this community comes out and supports one another. Peterborough has a web of activists who understand the interdependent nature of all social issues – and act on it. Other Environmental groups were there showing that collaboration wins out over competition. And even after a heavy week of Pride events, the connection between an inclusive community and a sustainable community wasn’t lost.
Perhaps the only sector missing were my church friends. The Sunday morning start might have had something to do with it. But a number of people managed to both worship and show up for the Climate Change rally at 1:30pm. I wonder which one Jesus would have showed for?
What better way to pray than to spend local currency on local foods? What better way to feed our spirits than to come together with Peterborough folks and rally in solidarity with the tree-huggers of the world? What better way to walk our Jesus-talk than to step into the Promised Land if even for an afternoon?