Dawn & Benjamin's off-the-grid forest handfasting

By on Oct 4th
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Photos by Kris Krüg

The offbeat bride: Dawn, sustainable design technology geek and educator (and Tribesmaid)

Her offbeat partner: Benjamin, actor and presentation coach

Date and location of wedding: Channel Rock, Cortes Island, BC, Canada — September 15, 2011

Our offbeat wedding at a glance: We wanted an intimate wedding in the forest, co-created with people we know and love. I'm from Canada and Benjamin is from Northern California. We'd both spent time studying sustainable business at Channel Rock, a magical place up on Cortes Island, BC. It's an off-the-grid, somewhat remote 140-acre conservancy and environmental retreat centre, run by close friends and mentors.

Channel Rock, Cortes Island, British Columbia

Everyone came in by boat, and stayed in tents or yurts. We were camping, but not really: even the tipis have warm blankets, and there's hot water for showers. The Channel Rock team rented a few necessities like wine glasses and extra furniture from the local village. Their cook, Dianne West, made all the meals in the big kitchen, along with an incredible wedding feast. The seasons were scrambled and running late, so the gardens were still offering up pounds of shining blackberries, food for dinner, and odd species of late-season apples named after motorbike gangs.

Some friends had been married there years before and had left an arbour in the garden. We pulled it out and covered it in forest greenery. We set up a cairn with rocks representing all of the people who couldn't be there with us. Otherwise, we had to bring everything in by boat or backpack, so we didn't have many decorations, just some white candles to put in mason jars and some ribbons. The setting was plenty by itself: huge trees and purple starfish.

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Our stylist friend Nicole, who helped us all with clothes and makeup, decorated the dinner table and chairs with shells and stones from the beach. I hand-painted a vintage dress, and our one splurge was a pair of new dress shoes for Benjamin.

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On our wedding day, we woke up to rain drumming the tents. It rained on and off through the day, and we trooped around in rain gear with crossed fingers and big grins. My sister and I jumped into the freezing ocean water. A girlfriend held a pipe ceremony for all the women, while the men heated up the sauna. The weather flirted with us, but amazingly we never had to open the umbrellas at the ceremony.

At dinner, we were at one long table, and everyone spoke openly about their contribution to our marriage. This took the place of readings or speeches. We wanted everyone to be able to eat together and celebrate with us.

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Tell us about the ceremony: Our good friend Sara officiated. She is a social worker, priestess, and stand-up comic all in one. She had prepared the circle and led each person in one at a time through an arbour. Everyone was a standing participant in the circle. Our parents put their hands on our shoulders to bless us. We read vows scribbled on tiny papers stuffed into our pockets and boots, and then exchanged rings — Benjamin's carved with a Haida raven, and mine with a wolf.

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The ceremony and handfasting were very simple. We'd found a book of knots on a shelf in a cabin, and Benjamin braided up the cord while people were getting dressed. The cord was wrapped around our hands, and each of us held the ends.

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Our biggest challenge: We work in sustainability, and we wanted a small footprint. Travel was the biggest environmental impact, but this would have been true no matter where we went. Getting 17 people to Cortes Island involved a mashup of planes, boats, ferries, and buses from all over Canada and the U.S. We managed all of this by keeping our group small and arranging for folks to travel together. Once we got to Channel Rock, nearly everything was solar-powered and locally grown.

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My favorite moment: My dad walked with me down to the canoe. He was handed a painted paddle, a gift from former students of our school. The sky opened as he led us across the water, and as we waited for a signal behind some rocks, we finally had sudden break of sunlight. My dad paddled us in, and everyone was dancing up on the rocks to our friend Mitch's guitar. This wedding was all about community, and there they were: people we love, all on the ridge looking down.

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Was there anything you were sure was going to be a total disaster that unexpectedly turned out great? There was a moment, just before my dad and I headed down to the wedding site, when we were told that the canoe had a hole and was sinking. For a blink, my dad was crestfallen, and then worked to cover up his disappointment. As we walked down to the water, carrying umbrellas against rain that might return at any moment, we talked about different ways we could come into the ceremony anyway. When we reached the beach, someone had found a replacement boat and had already covered the seats in white sheets so that our clothes wouldn't get dirty. We gingerly got into the orange canoe, and paddled out around the point.

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What was the most important lesson you learned from your wedding? There are many things, like the weather, that we can't control. But we could gently steer everyone's outlook. Everyone was taking their cues from us, more than in any other situation, so we made sure we were relaxed and happy and totally unattached to specific details. If the bride is unshaken by the downpour, no one else has to waste energy worrying about a bride who's freaking out about the downpour.

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Care to share a few vendor/shopping links?

Enough talk — show me the wedding porn!