Lara & Matt's mid-summer musical forest wedding

By on Jun. 20th
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Photos by Joleen Willis

The offbeat bride: Lara, Educator and Forest Land Manager

Her offbeat partner: Matt, Forester

Date and location of wedding: The bride's family ranch, Long Barn, CA — July 16, 2011

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: We had a week of camping out on my family timber ranch in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California that has been in the family for 150 years. One must drive down a three-mile dirt road to get to my parents' off-the-grid home. 250 people did this. Armloads of lupin came in from the 20 acre meadow, lichen was collected in the woods, bonfires were made, and everyone was told to bring their musical instruments. It was a down-home-meets-hippie-meets-intellectual-meets-theatre-meets-Tea Party-meets-Green Party-meets-banjo pickers and jazz musicians kind of party. We even had someone show up with antlers on!

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Music was integral, and friends and family sang, jammed, and played all day and late into the night. We had a dear friend escort the guests to and from the wedding site with her accordion. People danced their way to the wedding.

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My mother is a belly dance teacher, so we did a Bollywood flash mob in the space of a "couples dance" to get the dance floor kicking.

Our cake toppers were made by our friend Amy: bride and groom George Rodrigue Blue Dogs.

My mother made us a beautiful "Just Married" sign that we hung on our wedding gift, a red skidder (huge tractor with which to move whole trees). Our registry consisted of two things: the skidder and a saw mill.

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Tell us about the ceremony: My dear friend Tyler performed the ceremony that Matt and I wrote together. My friend Daniela blessed us with a Celtic blessing about work that I changed to "marriage," since a good marriage takes work.

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Everyone was handed a river rock as they entered the ceremony site. They were given a moment to bless it in whatever way they wished. At the end of the ceremony, on the walk back to the house, they placed their rocks in a pine cone heart at the base of a sapling so that our marriage may "grow its roots throughout the good foundation of a loving community."

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We closed with this poem:

Understand, I'll slip quietly
Away from the noisy crowd
When I see the pale
Stars rising, blooming over the oaks.
I'll pursue solitary pathways
Through the pale twilit meadows,
With only this one dream:
You come too.

From First Poems, Rainer Maria Rilke

Our biggest challenge: Our budget versus the sheer number of people. I have a HUGE family, and we all own parcels of the same chunk of land, so I have fourth or fifth cousins that I actually know well and work with. We had over 350 people invited and a budget of $10,000 for everything.

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I borrowed a lot of stuff and worked over the thrift stores, but the most helpful thing was "the co-op." A group of ladies from the college I work at all realized that we were getting married the same summer and that we all had the same "farm/outdoor/relaxed" wedding ideas with a bit of tradition thrown in. We created a "Wedding Co-op" where we pooled our drink dispensers, canning jars, tablecloths, signs, crafty things, and whatever else we could. It saved so much money and made me some amazing friends.

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My favorite moment: Matt and I slept out on the edge of the meadow under the full moon the whole week of the wedding and the night before. Spending that quiet time with him alone in the woods during such a crazy week was incredible. I feel as if that is where the actual wedding took place.

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I was also amazed at how many people came out of the woodwork the week of the big day in order to help us. People I hadn't seen in years showed up to camp with smiles on their faces and their sleeves rolled up to help. The morning after the wedding people streamed out of their camping places in the woods and cleaned up the whole party before Matt and I had even gotten up!

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We've been found!


My funniest moment: During our ceremony, three Black Hawk helicopters came right over the wedding! It was definitely a surprise. I guess we hit off an alert or something having that many people in such a remote place. They came over just as we were saying our vows, so close we could see the people in the cockpit waving.

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IMG_1094Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great? Snow! We had the longest winter on record and so much snow. Our wedding was in July and in June there was still snow on the ground. The river was so high from spring runoff that no one would be able to cross to get to the wedding and there were over 25 trees (big ones) that had fallen in the three miles of dirt road to my parents' home that we had to clear. Amazingly, the river went down (though my father and brother built a foot bridge just in case), the wet winter left the most amazing flowers in the meadow, and we managed to cut up and clean up all of the trees.

Bridal dressing

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You are not "giving in" to a societal pressure by doing some traditional stuff, you're letting your tribe envelop you in their love the way they know how. We could all use more love in whatever form it takes.

My advice for Offbeat Brides: The wedding day and all the stuff leading up to it are not really about you. I didn't want to have a shower at all, but ended up having two. They weren't really for me. They were for the beautiful and kind people who have helped get me to where I am. My grandmothers and aunts, my mother's friends who have become my friends, my mother, my future in-laws, and my girlfriends who have been there for all of it. These wonderful people want to celebrate with you, honor you, and show you how much they love you. I ditched so many offbeat ideas simply because they made my tribe of women feel unneeded or unwanted. You are not "giving in" to a societal pressure by doing some traditional stuff, you're letting your tribe envelop you in their love the way they know how. We could all use more love in whatever form it takes.

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Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!