What are we marching for?
I’m planning to dress as a vegetable and walk through my town in a few weeks. I’m pretty sure that at least a few people will join me. If so, it will be an actual parade. If not, I’ll be one more harmless weirdo walking around the planet.
While the country is swept up in a whirlwind of marching for important reasons, this parade doesn’t have an obvious cause. It’s simply a surprise party for the vegetables, to welcome them back for another growing season.
Our area grows abundant produce. But it’s also known for dropping pianos from the sky, a quirky bit of history that we are inordinately proud of. As one of my friends says, “another week, another god damn piano drop.”
The first piano drop was on April 28, 1968, when onlookers in Duvall wondered not “what is the sound of one hand clapping,” but rather, sought to answer the LSD-inspired koan: what is the sound of one piano from helicopter? Live music was performed by Country Joe and the Fish, a year before they played at the somewhat more famous festival in Woodstock, New York.
The second piano drop was in 2012, when a large corporate grocery store re-enacted the event, this time dropping the instrument from a crane. Rather than the drug-crazed sixties rock and roll setting, this was a sober, “everyone stay behind the hazard tape” affair. The store erected a concession stand to sell Coca-Cola and hot dogs to the tame crowd. The third drop, a year later, was orchestrated to celebrate Duvall’s centennial.
I didn’t go to the third piano drop, as much as I love this town. It seemed weird, like creating elevator music from Country Joe’s “I-Feel-Like-I’m-Fixin’-to-Die Rag,” the dark, satirical protest anthem about the Vietnam War and corporate America. Still, I understood why we held the event. The town had grown from 600 people in 1968, to its current population of 7,000. The gigantic trees that draw us to this landscape have been leaving on logging trucks for decades now, returning as lumber, and assembled into identical beige houses. The rapid growth threatens to eclipse our quirky, small-town culture.
People move here because it’s a charming town with a gorgeous natural environment and an easy commute to Microsoft, but the very fact of us living here changes it. We don’t like to admit that; we prefer to think that the next guy, the one who came after us, who is responsible for change. We long for the world as it was at a particular moment in time, and resent changes that occurred after we made ours.
We cling to our piano-dropping heritage because we want for our town what everyone wants: to be a little bit special. We don’t want to focus on what we’re becoming: a town filling up with beige houses. Love is that way sometimes. We see what we want to see, and ignore the parts that don’t suit us.
This is why I want to have a parade. I want to reclaim some of our eccentric history, and invite newcomers into a strong, connected culture of non-commercial, whimsical fun. To remind us all that this is a unique place, and in the midst of everything else going on in the world, there is goodness happening right here. Livability, that elusive quality that we all seek, doesn’t equal proximity to big stores filled with plastic, or faster ways to get everywhere, or a big house filled with stuff. It involves connection with the people and landscape.
Parades are the most absurd things ever. As you already know, here’s how they work: half of the people walk down the middle of the street while the other half stand on the sidewalk to watch. Who thought of that? And why did it catch on?
It’s ridiculous, and every time I think of parades I’m torn between the impulse to laugh and the impulse to cry. I usually cry because for some reason, it triggers a deep connection to the sacred – when people do something strangely hopeful in the face of hopelessness, like having a baby or carrying a snail across the street, or sending a postcard to their senator. But a parade adds an element of whimsy and festivity that makes the business of being mortal on a doomed planet bearable.
I wanted to create a project that says, loud and clear: I get it. Life is absurd; we’re going down in so many ways: everyone we’ll ever love or know will die, and so will we. The planet is heating up so quickly that it’s beyond repair. There’s a weird angry red haired comb-over man at the helm of this beautiful little planet, and he seems bent on tweeting it into oblivion. And at the same time, a parade says, fuck you mortality. We’re dressing up as vegetables anyway, we’re going to have fun and celebrate our limited time on this dying planet. We aren’t afraid to love this town, this valley, and the people who populate it.
And maybe that IS part of the resistance. Maybe it’s deeper, subtler, sillier than I’ve previously thought. Maybe it requires persistently working to love and respect one another, regardless of political orientation, and being aware that the seeds of fear and hatred that are running amok right now exist within each of us. Our work is to nourish our own more generous natures, and cultivate it in those around us. Perhaps, as we tap into our creative power and parade down the street, not in anger, but as celery, without words or symbols or uniforms, we’ll be able to see more clearly that we’re all of the same species. We all long to belong, we all love our children unbearably; we all want a little fun and ease in our lives, we all hope that when the end comes for ourselves and our loved ones, it won’t be too terrible. We’re not that different from one another.
I hope this parade places a metaphorical a stake in the ground that says, “THIS is what we stand for. We are a creative and caring species. We care about each other, we care about each other’s children, we have bright dreams for our children’s children’s children. We live and work and eat and grieve and dress as carrots together. We are a community.