Where grown-ups get pagan and burn things

13 Nov 2012 | 05:32

“No one really knows what’s going to happen for the next three or four days,” said Daniel Mack, his jeans rolled up and feet bare. “But the flip side of that is everyone has an obligation to speak up.” Mack, an artist, is musing aloud to people seated on chairs and a picnic table in an approximation of a circle. This is the annual Woodlanders Gathering, a long weekend that brings 40 artistic, free-thinking types from as far as Vermont and Quebec to camp out at the sprawling Warwick Convention Center. It’s summer camp for grown-ups. Over the course of its 12 years, it has evolved – no, devolved – from a series of scheduled workshops into what Woodlanders have dubbed “sensitive chaos.” Suddenly Dave Wiener, a veteran Woodlander from south Jersey, is down on his knees in the middle of the circle, nudging a piece of animal scat onto a piece of paper to examine it more closely. It is, he reports, from a young red fox. After Mack is done talking, 10 people wander over to Wiener, who passes the specimen around so everyone can note its narrow and spiraled shape, the tiny vole bones and fur inside. The impromptu scat talk epitomizes what the Woodlanders festival is about. There’s a skeleton structure to the weekend – planned workshops in making ink quills out of cattails, cob oven building – but the most important time is between workshops. This year was the best year yet, said Mack, because the “make it and take it” folks, who feel compelled to get some concrete objet d’art out of the weekend, have self-selected out, leaving the people who’ve come for the antidote to our overscheduled lives. “If you can seduce people into playing,” said Mack, “they can never quite scab up and crust over in the same way.” By Becca Tucker