One of my early vivid encounters with the mystical Jackalope was with a stuffed and mounted specimen, proffered for sale at some tourist stop along I-80 on the prairie well West of the Mississippi, with accompanying legend, sometime in the late 1970's. A fine specimen it was, part Jackrabbit and part Pronghorn, captured no doubt by a native using ways unknown to the white man. I declined that offer, $12.95 being too rich for my then-vagrant blood. At the time, the Jackalope appeared to me as nothing more than a quaint symbol of urban gullibility for rural folklore. I saw no value in possessing one.
Since then I have encountered countless lifeless examples of the horned Jack, hanging in the offices of lawyers and accountants, lurking on the end caps of truck stops, occasionally popping up in swap meets, flea markets and curiosity shops, and once proudly worn on the head of a bald dwarf running in the Bay to Breakers wearing the Jackalope, and little else. Never had I encountered a living specimen. Until one bounded into my vision, iridescent and ethereal, in the lighting and rain of the 2013 Jackalope Love and Freedom Festival, above the Rim of the White Mountains, not far from Heber, AZ, just a week or two ago. Jackalopes are real, and wear a garb of symbolism richer and more mysterious than ever I imagined. The living Jackalope cannot be captured, caged, owned, enslaved, or killed. He appears and works his magic spells only where no scent of aggression or domination lingers. How badly now do I wish one near, always! The price is dearer than $12.95.
So went my first pilgrimage to the festival that celebrates the Jackalope in the the only manner that he can truly be celebrated. In freedom. Absolute absence of clamorous claims of authority. In the wild, far from the stench of aggression. How sadly rare are such festivals! How glad I was to find one! Let me share a little of my experience there. Perhaps you will join me there next year. Or perhaps you will start one of your own, in some sacred spot near your haunts. Let a thousand Jackalopes bloom!
My trek began in Los Angeles, from where I drove to Flagstaff, East to Holbrook, Southwest to Heber and to the Jackalope meadow from there. Having returned by way of Phoenix and I-10, I can report that the Northern route through Flagstaff is slightly longer, but more desirable for those who wish to avoid steep grades and sharp curves. Very little of that entering by way of Heber, the entire way from L.A.
The Jackalope is unique among gatherings by lacking any organizing entity, entrance fee, official sanction, or detailed plan. The plan is limited to three elements: place, date, camp in peace. Within that broad outline, order spontaneously emerges and develops towards higher forms. 2014 was the third such Jackalope in Arizona, and reportedly the largest so far based on the perceptions of some of the campers. Not that any registration or census is taken, or ever will be. The meadow is generally within the purported borders of the Federally-claimed Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, but the land is not without more senior, and more moral, claims.
Despite the scent of Federal claims, this year no sightings of rangers or other Federal agents were in evidence. Perhaps the goings on were monitored by some means; if so, what foolishness that would have been! Perhaps the Rangers were busy elsewhere, having sensibly concluded from the prior years that the gathering posed no real threat of harm. Given the generally well-armed stance of the campers, perhaps the agents choose to avoid unnecessary confrontations and hijinks. The Jackalope, you see, lept into the meadow without meekly asking for permission. So the campers could not say why there was no confrontation this year. Tales were told of helicopters and armed agents, in the previous year.
My impression of the campsite was of an extended family renunion, the pow-wow of a very small tribe, clumped into a few different areas. The presence of campers was far from overwhelming. The land in the general vicinity could hold thousands or tens of thousands without difficulty, if only the campers are responsible and enough porta-potties or the like can be serviced from nearby towns. Thsi year, one or some of the campersd arranged for placement of porta-potties around the camp; these never came close to overflowing nor was there ever a wait to use them, so by that measure there was plenty of capacity available. One wonders how large Jackalope could grow before some limit is reached. Perhaps half the present population of the planet could be safely accomodated on the surrounding hills and meadows for the entire Monsoon season, if only the spirit of the Jackalope were left alone in all its creative power to freely mitigate what problems might arise.
Unlike Burning Man, Jackalope is entirely family friendly. Non-aggression is a powerful ethic of respect for the preferences of others; provoking offense unnecessarily is frowned upon. This ethic tends to shield each camper from unwanted exposure to behaviors thought offensive. All could find in the woods surrounding the meadow a neighborhood or niche to their own liking.
Open carry is entirely legal in Arizona, so those who wished to bear arms could do so freely without fear of the "Man." Many bore arms, but not I. There was no danger from fellow campers that warranted arming myself. The safety of the camp rested primarily on the ethic of love and freedom -- not on any technique or technology for violent self-defense.
If you will come, what you should bring will depend on who you are, what you have to share and what comforts you most value. I could have obtained nearly every desired meal on site, had I wanted to, thanks to the most generous efforts of the Navajo wagon, whose specialties included barbequed sausages wrapped in freshly fried dough, with a tasty array of condiments and fresh toppings. On Sunday night, a group of campers shared a pot luck feast. Bring something, anything of value and be prepared to make a trade or donation. You may be surprised how effortless living in the woods can be, among people of good will.
The Monsoon rains can be cool, so bring a jacket and poncho for the evenings. A large roll of Muletape and several tarps can go a long ways towards constructing a confortable, dry campsite, if you are reasonably handy, without the need for pop-up structures or hard shells. The campsite was amazingly free of biting insects, mud, wind, or poison oak. There was thunder and lightning every night, and sometimes at other times -- punctuated reliably by intervening periods of warmth and dryness. Conditions were not quite as mild and predictable as California in the Summer, but overall the camping conditions were world-class, and only enhanced by the nightly thunderstorms. Just come prepared. If you can, plan to arrive and set up camp in the morning, not the evening.
'A' is for Jackalope, as everyone knows. So I was not too surprised to stumble across this natural 'A' just outside the main camp, up the hill from Earnie's camp.
Truth spoke on the trailer stage. The main entertainment was talk of every type. Talks from the stage. Panel discussions. Random encounters. Talks over the roasting pig. Pow-wows under the pop-up. Talks over meals, and around campfires. Talks under tarps, in the rain. Larkin Rose appeared Sunday evening, at dusk, and talked about the advancement of stateless society, as a massive storm cell approached, dusk fell, and the air fairly crackled with electricity. A photographer, A. Subset, was snapping photos with a Ricoh. He showed me one, with Larkin on the stage bathed in light surrounded by dusk, his audience rimmed and interconnected by a web of back lighting. A great photo.
Nature was hiked.
Jacklopes abide by the N.A.P. There were no police, and no rules -- yet somehow, no violence, no running amuck. Is the state a necessary evil to constrain the violent impulses that must inevitably arise in human society? Jackalope says "No!" and smiles, while chewing a blade of grass.
Medicine Man's rough ride. There were several medicine men or women in the camp. Whatever medicine was needed could be had. And other healers of the body as well.
Jackalope appears in the clouds below the sunburst.
Jake's Jackalope (Vision). Saturday evening, I was not in a sociable mood, so drew this instead.
The photos above are but pale shadow of the experience; I could have taken many more. Others did and some are posted online. Many thanks to those who shared.