I don’t think there’s such a thing as a standard wedding. I’m no expert, that’s for sure, but I think we managed to pull off a pretty good one for our daughter last month, even if I do say so myself. Over two-hundred people descended into our canyon to take part in this country wedding. A live bluegrass band played in front of a rustic fountain I’d put together featuring an antique hand water pump feeding into a converted cattle water trough. Guests had a choice between barbecue or vegan, and home-made horsd’oeuvres. Each ivory-draped table displayed vases of fresh-cut flowers, candles, napkin-wrapped utensils and champagne flutes. Some out-of-state folks, I heard, thought that our venue was part of a Hollywood set and couldn’t believe that people actually lived in the log cabin. The mix of attendees was incredibly diverse, perhaps due, in part, to the combinations of the families involved.
Jessie’s two dads walked her down the stone steps off the front porch and through the bark laid path leading under the canopy of oaks. When the question was asked, “Who gives this woman?” they replied a choral, “We do.” Chuckles rippled through the crowd. Tom is her biological father and Kent is the dad who helped raise her with me. She feels doubly blessed.
When guests arrived they entered something that had taken on a life of its own, regardless of what we had to do with it. Perhaps Denise and Henry, let’s say, follow the signs and balloons from the top of Mussey Grade down to the dirt road where they turn left.
“Follow that car in front of us, Dear,” says Denise. “They must know where they’re going.” She notices the ravens flying overhead.
Hand-painted directions and two strapping young men, the brother and a cousin of the bride, urge them forward through the open gate and up the narrow lane curving to the left. Henry notices various other signs: FOLLOW THE PARKING ATTENDANT’S DIRECTIONS, NO PARKING, BATHROOM, QUICK SAND, POISON OAK AREA… “This is interesting,” he says to Denise. He pulls forward and backs into his parking space, as instructed. She holds his elbow with her right hand while pressing the wedding gift under her left arm as they walk down the solar-light lined path toward their destination. It is now 2:30 PM.
Quite a few people are already milling about, waters in hand, under dappled sunlight speckling the scene. Denise sets her present on the gift table and Henry ushers her to a seat near the split-rail fence.
“They sure have done a lot here. This place is lovely,” she says. Wood chippings completely cover all the areas from the natural bowl where the ceremony will be held, to the driveway and creekbed containing the tables, as well as the dirt road leading in. She picks up the hand-fans off their chairs before sitting down and hands one to her husband. “Another nice touch. Oh yes, I heard that Jessie had spent a couple years teaching in China. I’ll bet this was her idea.”
A friend of the family officiates the service referencing a parchment book she hand-crafted, marked with a silk ribbon. This beautiful piece of artwork will also serve as her gift to the new couple, complete with their chosen verses and dialogue. She orchestrates the “Handfasting,” draping strands of different colored strings over their joined hands, explaining how each one signifies a specific strength in a marriage.
Denise nods her approval. The four-year-old “Ring Bear,” as the bride’s nephew calls himself, does a splendid job carrying the basket holding the rings and sitting up front with his granny. The flower girl is a tom-boy and sports black shorts, a white button-down shirt and suspenders. Her preferred title is “Expert Horticultural Attendant.” The bride’s two sisters join the bridal party along with two friends. The chosen color is a deep purple. Six groomsmen, including the man of the hour’s brother, flank the groom. They are all wearing suspenders over white shirts and black pants.
The year leading up to this event has felt like non-stop preparation for me. When Jessie first told us that she wanted to get married here in the canyon, for sentimental reasons, I was thrilled. I’ve always been open to this, but I really had no idea what was in store. An absolutely humungous guest list along with multiple expectations from the other families involved had me reeling.
First of all, in order to accommodate parking for over two-hundred people, massive amounts of brush clearing had to be done. This meant hand-clearing, with shovels and machetes, an area out-of-sight from the proceedings, to ensure a beautiful country wedding. In turn, the chippings from the piles of scrub oak and buckwheat became the ground cover for the entire venue. This was made more aromatic by bringing in additional loads of various tree shavings. Spreading all this by manual labor took weeks.
Jessie’s dad’s family and Sean’s folks came up from the city a few times for our potluck work parties. At first, the creekbed had seemed a bit rugged to Jessie’s step-mother. When we originally showed it to her she said, “You’re going to grade this, aren’t you?
“No. This is one of our most level areas. It is a country wedding, after all,” I’d responded.
“The Aunties” have hearts of gold. One of them has construction skills and installed a hand-rail along the rock steps. They made most of the signs that we posted everywhere. I’d made a list, complete with arrow directions, for them to work from. We hung Christmas lights in trees and on the porch, placed solar lights to designate the path to and from our parking area, wrapped potted geraniums with burlap and ribbons to accent the seating area, and “The Aunties” loaned us an elegant canopy for the beverage area. We picked up a very large livestock water trough from the feed store for iced drinks.
When our good samaritan neighbors received their invitation they offered their tractor to smooth out the road. I had a couple loads of asphalt grindings delivered and thanked them profusely. Their guest cottage became the honeymoon suite.
My friend volunteered to arrange all the flowers. For months, we saved interesting jars and soaked labels off. She borrowed my truck, since I had a shell on the back, and picked up the multitude of lovely blooms on Thursday down in San Diego. My sister and another friend helped trim, wrap bouquets and arrange on Friday. On Saturday, the day of the big event, she drove the truck, filled with over a hundred vases of beautiful flowers, very slowly in the dirt road. So gradual was her progress that one of the groomsmen jumped out of the car behind her and ran past, laughing all the way up the road. I heard this story later from both of them, independently.
Five-hundred pounds of ice was brought in that morning. I’d hired two parking attendants, four servers who happened to be my advanced dance students, and my assistant to help manage the day. Sean’s parents generously covered a lot of the escalating expenses, and Jessie’s dad and step-mother helped with all sorts of things including making the horsd’oeuvres the night before. I suggested that an outline should be made detailing the order of events… for the helpers, similar to what I do for our story ballets. However, I’m rather clueless about wedding etiquette and such and recommended that someone else might want to take this on. It was Sean’s mom that stepped up to the task gracefully.
From 8:00 AM that morning the place took on a life of its own. Every square inch of the house was occupied. The bridal party was up in the loft getting their hair and make-up done and then the photos. Jessie used the bedroom upstairs for her changing area… The groomsmen took over our bedroom downstairs. I finally had to kick them out to get dressed myself. The step-brother who brought the vegan/gluten-free food spread out in the kitchen while the flower crew set-up shop on the dining room table. The log-railed staircase and living room overflowed when the photographers set up. All these independent microcosms were functioning on their own, but also as part of the larger macrosystem.
As my son escorted me down the aisle I felt as if we’d entered a completely different world. It was like a magical atmosphere had descended and transformed our yard. I’d never felt anything quite like this before. It was clearly a different zone.
Quite a few people asked if I had considered opening our place as a wedding venue. I don’t know. Perhaps the canyon is asking to be shared?
Chi Varnado is the author of two books. Her memoir, A CANYON TRILOGY: Life Before, During and After the Cedar Fire, and her children’s book, The Tale of Broken Tail, are both available from www.amazon.com. Chi directs The Ramona Dance Centre: www.ramonadancecentre.com. Her collection of essays, Quail Mutterings, can be found on www.chivarnado.com.