by Steve Bivans
Many years ago I had the pleasure of attending a great gathering of hobbits.
It was in the woods, somewhere in North Carolina, on a blue moon, and the memory of it, while faded into tones of sepia, has never disappeared.
It was a perfect night at the Prancing Pony Inn. Music, friendship, Shireness and community came together in one perfect moment. Alas, the night ended, and the hobbits departed on their journeys, some to the fires of Mount Doom, some to clutches of Uruk-Hai and the darkness of Fangorn. Some over the razor sharp crags of Emyn Muil, and some to the plains of Rohan. But all are still dear to my heart.
That night was only a small part, a very small part, of a larger reunion of souls, people with diverse backgrounds and histories, but common humanity: not unlike the souls that wandered into the raucous pub in Tolkien’s Bree. Once a year these brothers and sisters, children of Mother Earth, come together to celebrate another year, and to renew their bonds of friendship. The first time I ever had the honor of attending, I was simply blown away by their outpouring of love and generosity. I went back for several years in a row, before events, time and distance separated us in body, if not in mind and spirit. I think about my fellow hobbits every year about this time, and I miss them.
The first time I was invited into the community, by one of my best friends in all of Middle Earth, Monk (yes, that’s what we call him), I was hooked. The event takes place on private property, moving every year to a new location. Much as Frodo and his companions, their beds are in the woods and fields of a private farm. It’s a camping thing. Now, don’t think for a moment that we’re talking about ‘roughing it,’ however. Ohhh no.
I made that mistake the first time I attended. I showed up with my girlfriend and a couple of other friends, Daryle and Christy, all of us thinking, “Hey, we’re veterans of camping! We’re packing LIGHT!” By the time we had found our ‘spot’, on the edge of some field, we had seen the most elaborate campsites ever constructed this side of Gondor. There was one set up in a field under this enormous military-style tent—the thing had a telephone pole for a center pole—complete with sofas, recliners, end tables, lamps, and…the kitchen sink, oh yeah, and a full sized RANGE, hooked up to propane. If there was ever a true hobbit camp site, it was THAT ONE.
And there was no skipping second breakfastes around THERE! Oh hell no. We camped next to this modest camp site, run by a couple of wandering hobbits, named Jeff and Jim, only two mind you, that had a total of 6 mega coolers in their campsite, as well as two grills: one gas, one charcoal, like some kind of ‘in the woods Grillin’ and Chillin’’ episode with Bobby Flay and whatever his redneck friend’s name was. Those guys never stopped cooking stuff, allllll weekend long! And they were constantly offering us delicacies. I was a happy hobbit, to say the least!
One of the coolest things about the whole experience was that many, or most of the campsites had themes, like ‘Under the Sea’, which was right next to our little, pathetic campsite. These guys had transformed the forest into an aquarium, with blue tarps overhead, little plastic fish hanging from every branch, fishing nets, sea shells, you name it. It seriously felt like you had dived under the waves into the set of the Little Mermaid, or something. In fact, when we first arrived, a real live mermaid—topless mind you—came running up to give us all hugs! Now THAT’s the way to start a party!
The most impressive thing about this gathering, however, wasn’t the themed campsites (which were varied and amazing), or the food (beyond amazing), but the people themselves. I don’t think I’ve met more generous, friendly, and caring people in one place in my entire life. It was our first time attending, but the fact that we were ‘virgins’—something they hold in esteem, not derision—meant that we were singled out for special treatment, which really meant, ‘love these guys till they pop,’ I think.
My buddy, Daryle, and I wandered around from campsite to campsite on Saturday night, carrying as much beer as we could bear, much like ole Frodo and Sam and their overburdened backpacks, but after awhile our supply began to dwindle, as it does—all beers seem to have holes in them. Our dilemma was met with such generosity, that sometimes I had more drinks than hands! Every campsite we stumbled into opened their arms—literally with hugs—and their coolers, and their grills! Food, booze, food, booze. “Oh, you need some water? Here, help yourself!” We had such a wonderful time that all we could think about when we got home was, “Damn, I can’t wait till next year!”
And we did return the next year, but with our own theme. I guess you’ve probably figured out what that was. Middle Earth, of course! Our campsite that year, was wonderful, but nothing compared to the third year, and that is what I want to talk about.
We arrived the third year with a plan: build a treehouse bar—our own Prancing Pony Inn—in the center of the campsite, and throw open the doors for ‘business’, well, not really. There is no capitalism at this party. No money exchanged, just hugs and smiles, and Prancing Pony Punch. What happened next, that Friday night, is mostly a blur, though it has never left my memory, and I doubt it ever will.
I remember that earlier in the evening I had volunteered to emcee the live music stage—yeah, they have really kick ass music—and when I returned to our little campsite and the treehouse, there must have been about 300 people surrounding it, on top of it, under it! All singing, dancing, drinking, eating, laughing, basically, being hobbits. I was blown away! I quickly climbed up to the second floor and looked out over the sea of humanity around me, lit up in the glow of torches and candles. It was magical: elvish magic.
The moon—which was blue that night—was shinning down through the leaves and branches of the small oaks on which the Prancing Pony had been constructed. Music filtered up from below. My friends were all around me and my head was spinning, in a similar way that I suppose ole Samwise Gamgee’s was when he first met the elves on the way to Bree. Time stood still, it seemed. Then the coolest thing ever happened.
Two of the most talented musicians at the reunion, Kitty West and Mike Edwards, climbed up to the second floor of the pub, with guitar cases, cracked them open, and the scene that happened next, was indescribable. What was already a perfect night, was perfected. When I reflect back on it even now, I can scarcely believe I was there. It still seems like some magical dream, as if a portal had opened up and pulled us all into the land of elves, dwarves, hobbits and men. In some ways, I’ve never left that night. A part of me will always be there. It is almost exactly the same feeling I got when I read the Lord of the Rings for the first time. I was transported to another place, another time, and never returned: not all of me anyway. The outpouring of love and friendship was immeasurable.
The generosity that night, out paced anything I’ve ever seen before or since. We had brought with us what we thought was plenty of supplies for the weekend, but the party on Friday was so enormous that when I woke the next morning, I was afraid that provisions would not hold out for Saturday night. But to my amazement, when I asked my fellow hobbits, Chris and Danno—who had run the bar downstairs all night long, sometimes with their butts hanging out, hey, there are strange things in Bree, ya know—informed me that, “Oh no! We
actually had MORE booze than we had originally brought with us!” Apparently, nearly everyone who came to the Prancing Pony that night, brought a bottle or two with them, which they donated to the cause! Now that’s some generous hobbitses!
All this illustrates something that we, as a species, need to learn, or relearn. What is important on this planet, is not how much we accumulate for ourselves, or our immediate families. No, that can all be swept away like a hot wind from Mordor. Our Shire can be scoured by the likes of Saruman and his nasty orcs. The black fear of Ringwraiths can sweep through our communities and destroy our wealth, health and homes.
All this is happening as we speak, in our world, much as it did in the world of hobbits. But we can repair that damage. We can rebuild our Shires, if we work together. If we all pitch in. If we all bring something to the party, we can remake that magic. I think it was the Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, who once said, “You could not step twice into the same river.”
This is true. The water is ever changing. Maybe the bed has wandered under the pressure of the flood, or the wind has swept it’s dry crust away to the east, or to the west. But the bed is still there, even if it’s buried under ground. All it needs is water. It waits there for us to open the flow. Will we do that? Can we? I believe we can. Our river of community, of Shireness as I like to call it, is not dry. It may only be a trickle, but that’s nothing a little rain can’t change. Let’s wish for rain. Let’s MAKE it rain: rain friendship, love, compassion, community and Shireness. If we do, then the Sarumans and Saurons of our world will be washed away in a flood down the River Anduin. As the great Robert Plant warned us:
Now, cryin’ won’t help you, prayin’ won’t do you no good,
When the levee breaks, mama, you got to move.
So while my old hobbit friends are gathering in the woods of Lothlorien, I hope they will accept this little post as my dedication to the spirit of Shireness that they introduced me to so long ago. There have been many years, and many more miles to separate us. “The road goes ever on and on,” as Bilbo once sang, but I hope that wherever that road has led you, that it one days leads you back to the green, green hills of Hobbiton, and the laughter and hospitality of the Prancing Pony Inn. And when it does, I hope that I am at the bar, talking treason with Butterbur, smoking a pipe with Strider, and drinking ale with hobbits. See you in Five. 5 what? I don’t know, but 5. Happy Boogie. Love you all, but I won’t list your names—as it might incriminate you. You know who you are 🙂
I hope y’all will take a few minutes and read about the book I’m writing, Be a Hobbit, Save the Earth.
It will be on Kickstarter by the end of May, and I need all the help I can get to finish it up! Oh yeah, and drink a couple for me! SPECIAL OFFERS! Subscribe to my blog (on the right), and you’ll get special articles, advice, recipes, and news about my books!