Geode: A wonder-filled event!
As some of you may know, my main art practice involves gifting magical free events to strangers, who stumble upon invitations I've hidden in public places. I absolutely love designing, planning, and sharing these events - it's one of the most impactful ways I'm able to put a little more wonder into the world!
The most recent event was titled "Geode" and was a celebration of the wonders found underground - colorful root vegetables, sparkling crystals, artifacts buried by aeons of time. It was appropriately held in the Kuna Caves near Kuna, Idaho, a stunning naturally-formed network of lava tubes extending deep into the earth. You can read the artist statement and see the album of work on my Event page, but I also wanted to share some of my thoughts behind designing this event here as well.
I was inspired by a specific early childhood memory of mine, one that has influenced the way I look at the world for nearly my whole life. Both of my parents are geologists and I distinctly remember one afternoon when they were showing me their collection of rocks and minerals. One at a time, I admired the colorful formations and sparkling facets of a variety of crystals, from amethyst to pyrite... filled with more delight with each new stone. Then, my dad handed me a boring, plain, dusty brownish rock. I was unimpressed. Really, this is what they were building up to? This boring lump of brown? I eyed it skeptically as my dad took it from my hands, then hit it with a rock hammer to neatly crack it in half. Inside it was filled with sparkling crystals. I stared in wide-eyed amazement as my little 5-year-old brain just about exploded.
I think we all have memories like this one, moments of wonder so intense we were left speechless and in total awe. New flavors, epiphanies, surprises, moments of love... I certainly enjoyed hearing about my guests' "Geode Memories" when we shared them at the event. (And I'd love to hear about more, too, if you'd like to comment below!) That sparkling feeling of wonder is what is at the root of so much of what I do. It seemed only appropriate to dedicate an event specifically to that.
This event was about more than just geodes, though. I was thinking about the beauties hidden underground, some thought-seeds planted in late winter. In those cold barren days of early February, I can feel a little shift in the ground. Though snow still covers the ground and the trees remain stark silhouettes against the winter sky, I start to feel a sense of awakening deep below me, in the depths of the earth. It doesn't feel like an active, busy sort of energy like the energy that comes flowing forth during the height of spring, but it doesn't feel like deep winter's slow hibernation, either. It feels like potential.
Budding potential, the ground is starting to subtly vibrate as it wakes
I can feel the deep thrumming in my bones
My bare feet on cold dirt put down roots and reach
to the source of the energy below
I am grounded. Stable. Connected. Soft.
I’ve been dreaming of treasure buried far below me
Of secrets and gemstones and lost artifacts
The wonder of discovery and nourishment of life
A mycelial network holding it all together
Just as a network of invisible gossamer connects us all.
- some thoughts jotted down on the back of a receipt after my first visit to the Kuna caves, the location for this event.
That night, I dreamed about gems. The gems in my dream began looking like crystal formations but soon they sprouted, sending silvery roots deep down below and peridot shoots upwards. The original crystals softened and became bulbous and round, then multiplied. I could see their life cycle expand as if staring into the side of a hill. I dug a few up and tasted them - rich, earthy, soft, and unlike anything I'd ever tasted before. I woke up with my head full of inspiration and began planning, testing, and creating.
The kitchen became a laboratory of sorts as I tested new techniques for making edible geodes and preparing such delicious and colorful root vegetables as had appeared in my dream. My table became covered in tinfoil balls, vials of oddly-colored liquids, smaller bowls of equally vibrant powders, and sugar crystals growing in jars. Friends and family would stop by to visit and declare that it was like stepping into the laboratory of a mad scientist. I mean, they weren't wrong...
Anyways, some while later and I'd developed a few recipes I was really happy with. (And will be sharing on this blog soon, so stay posted!) Meanwhile, I was busy in the glass studio as well, polishing and finishing some beautiful hand-cast crystal sculptures to tie into the experience.
I sculpted the invitations for this event out of porcelain, then grew alum crystals inside to form the invitations. Colorful scrolls tied with string and sealed with a sparkling gem were tucked inside, then the geodes were glued shut. Some friends and I hid them all around town during a music festival, hoping they'd be found by strangers up for a mysterious adventure.
Soon, the replies came pouring in. A guest list was formed. A plan was made. Close family and friends came together to help me pull off the event during a rough month of health problems and several ER trips. They worked tirelessly to ensure I didn't have to push myself to the point of another severe flare-up, and I am so grateful for their help and support!
One team went to the caves early to clean up before the guests arrived. They picked up several garbage bags of trash to make it a pleasant space (and because we all believe in leaving places cleaner than you found them.) Then, they lowered all of the tables, chairs, heavy Dutch Ovens, food, and other supplies by ropes several stories down from the top opening of the cave. While they were out there battling gravity, my co-Wondersmith and I finished the final preparations on the food, then drove out to join them.
As the guests arrived, they were a little disoriented. Driving to the caves feels like you're driving out into the middle of a cow pasture, until you get out of the car and walk up to a small opening with a ladder coming out of the top. A glance downwards is dizzying, as you see that that small hole is actually an expansive and deep cavern below! The guests bravely made their descent, crossing the threshold into an experience of adventure. Once down in the cave they were greeted by all of us and the other guests, giddy with the excitement of this trip into the unknown.
Once everyone had arrived (promptly on time, I might add!), we settled down at the table and talked for a little bit about the inspirations behind the event. I shared the same geode story I've shared here, then listened in fascination as each guest offered up a story that was just as magical and just as personal. One of my favorite things about doing these events is seeing strangers open up to each other like that; those vulnerable moments are so full of beauty to me. As we listened to back stories that involved impulsive moves, new cultures, moments of realization, and other such wonder-full subjects we munched on geode appetizers made from red grapes coated in wild violet and blackberry goat cheese and rolled in crushed cookies to look like rough rocks.
Then, it was time for the main course. One-at-a-time, the other volunteers and I carried out condiments. It was really fun watching the faces of the guests as we did this, as they tried to puzzle out what we might be eating. Sprouts... guacamole... pesto... sour cream... such an odd array of sauces! Finally, we carried out the last "condiments": small hammers. The confused looks on the guests' faces were particularly amusing to those of us "in the know."
All became even more strange when we carried over the Dutch Ovens full of warm brown rocks. I explained that the rocks were actually clay wrapped around root vegetables, which had been coated in fragrant herbs and big leaves and roasted in their clay shells. I told them that they'd have to crack open their lunches with the hammers. An excited frenzy followed this explanation as the guests grabbed their warm rocks and began hammering. Soon, a couple of guests discovered extra surprises: instead of vegetables, some of the clay lumps contained pretty little rocks, wrapped protectively in tissue paper. While the other two guests that found their bonus surprises were excited, I think perhaps my favorite reaction was from one that looked a little crestfallen. Quietly he said "oh, okay. Um. I guess I don't get lunch then?" We laughed and explained that he was of course allowed to go grab another lump and find a root vegetable to eat in addition to keeping his new artifact. The excitement of discovery lasted for a while as guests unearthed their colorful finds - purple potatoes and sweet potatoes, bright red and yellow beets, and glowing orange yams. These were topped with equally colorful sauces: vegan blueberry tahini sauce, guacamole, turmeric sour cream, yellow sprouts, pesto, harissa butter, and small bowls of colorful flavored salts that looked like tiny little gems.
Once everyone had had their fill, we decided to take them on a little adventure. Armed with headlamps and flashlights, we set off into the depths of the cave. After a little while, one guest discovered an unexpected wonder: a sparkling crystal with a note on the bottom! Once the news of this treasure spread through the group, a buzz of excitement set them off on a treasure hunt. Similar crystal structures were discovered in various nooks and crannies as we ventured deeper into the cave.
I stuck near the back, making sure we didn't lose anyone on our adventure. Ironically, it was I that was about to get "lost"! Having loaned our only headlamps to a couple of the guests, I was relying on their light to guide me into the cave. After an excited cry was heard ahead of them, those guests took off rather quickly and I was left in a startling darkness with my geologist mom (one of the dedicated volunteers, of course!) We laughed at our predicament and stood still in the oppressive darkness, waiting for the group to come around again. I think those few minutes in utter pitch backness were some of the most magical moments in that event, for me. They were so still and silent and dark and heavy in the midst of the color and chaos of our gleeful troupe, a stunning comparison and one that filled me, in turn, with wonder. Soon enough our group returned and lit our way back with their headlamps and flashlights. We emerged from the darkness to discover a perfect sunbeam illuminating the table in a sort of divine light. I heard at least a couple of gasps of wonder - though one of those could very well have been my own.
After some photo ops and sunlight basking, we settled back in at our clay-covered table. Dessert was brought out in the form of colorful fruit platters, then a final treat was brought to the table: confectionary geodes, the result of those mad scientist experiments mentioned earlier. These candies sparkled with sugar crystals and shone in vibrant colors - all derived naturally, not a drop of food coloring. (Yes, recipes coming soon.) Some guests ate their geodes as candy and others saved them for later. Thermoses of warm milk were brought out, and some guests dunked their geodes into the cups to make a rich geode cocoa, a tasty treat as we warmed up from our chilly expedition into the caves.
The event ended with lots of smiles as we each recounted our favorite moments and laughed at the inside jokes that had formed during the couple of hours we shared together. Looking down a table full of mirthful grins filled me with a deep sense of wonder too: how incredible that a group of total strangers could come together so quickly through a shared experience - one that definitely took some bravery to attend. I am always honored that others are willing to chase that adventure when it is honored, that they trust me with their time and safety to give them something they will remember for a long time to come.
Finally we reluctantly said goodbye and our guests scrambled up the ladder into a bright, beautiful afternoon. We cleaned up our feast and hoisted everything back up through the mouth of the cave, the same way it had gotten down. We returned home, dirty and exhausted but filled with joy to unpack a little and then enjoy some quiet time. Everyone went to bed early and I, at least, had more dreams about underground delights and hidden wonders. Oh what a beautiful day that was, all around!
I hope you've enjoyed my recounting of this experience, and I would LOVE to hear about your own "geode moments" in the comments below! I also want to take a moment to shamelessly plug my Patreon page. While I began doing these magical events out of my own pocket, I just couldn't afford to do that anymore (especially with disabling and expensive health issues!) My supporters stepped forwards to help me continue my work of sharing wonder with the world in my particular style, focusing on the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. While I am far from being able to support myself entirely on this yet, I am hopeful that someday I will be able to. For now, though, it is a huge help to not have to pay for each event out-of-pocket, and I wouldn't be able to do what I do without that support. If you'd like to join my amazing team of patrons you can learn more about the program on my page. You can pledge a monthly donation in any amount of your choosing - even just $5 helps tremendously! For higher pledge amounts there are a variety of fun rewards to pick from, from high-res digital downloads of mandalas to a little treat shipped to you every month to entrance into the Secret Society of Wonder. If you'd prefer to make a one-time donation, you can send one through PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also help by spreading the word about my work to your friends!
Finally, I want to leave you with one final thought: I honestly, truly, deeply believe in magic because I realized a few years ago that I can just make it. It may sound like a fairytale to stumble upon an invitation to a fairy picnic in the woods or discover a message-in-a-bottle on the beach inviting you to an undersea-themed picnic or even pick up an unusual rock to discover not only a sparkling interior but also a ticket to a memorable lunch deep within a cave... but those things are all real. They happened. I made them. It's taken a lot of work and perseverance to get to the point of being able to do them as often as I do now, but it has all been one million times worth it for the happy smiles and grateful emails... not just from the guests, but from other strangers touched by the fact that that magic is out there in the world, just waiting to be found. You can make your own magic too.