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Thursday October 17th 2019

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MayDay 1974-2019: Tree of Life reflections

Photo by Susan Gust
The 2019 Tree of Life team stands under the ToL on the stage of HOBT. What keeps crew members there for decades are the same feelings and experiences that make MayDay a cherished event.

By CAROL AND DAN NEUMAN, CARETAKERS OF THE TREE OF LIFE

Performing the Tree of Life (ToL) at the Mayday Ceremony is an honor and a responsibility.  

It’s thrilling and scary.  

While all around thousands of people are cheering and exulting, and the adrenaline is coursing through your veins, you must have intense focus on the job at hand.  

The Tree has a lot of weight way up in the air and the gusty winds (and it seems there is always a gusty wind) billowing the arms like giant sails. As the Tree circles, the force of the wind shifts from one side to the other in an instant, requiring quick, decisive action by the people on the guy ropes, and no interference by any of the celebrants on the ceremony ground. No one on the crew relaxes until the circle and blessing are completed, the streamers come out and we join in singing, “You Are My Sunshine.”

  The ToL crew duties include ongoing repairs, maintenance, and storage of most of the parts.We gather each spring before the workshops to reverently make the Tree ready for the ceremony, painting new leaves, repainting the birds, and assembling its many parts. There is constant adjustment as age takes its toll on the Tree.

“Participating in the Tree of Life crew is a lot of fun. Learning about the ingenuity that Dan, Larry, and crew have applied to the building of it over the years is really interesting and reminds me of what the power of setting your mind on something can accomplish. It all started as a simple idea that grew into an amazing tradition. Through much trial and error, the crew has created a pretty solid system of managing the giant puppet that is the Tree of Life. Coordinated team work is imperative to making the Tree of Life successful, which is ultimately very fitting with the overall communal message of the MayDay Festival,” said Ilya, second year crew member.

What brings the crew members to this work, and keeps many of them there for decades, are the same feelings and experiences that make MayDay a cherished event for everyone else, too.

“In my work life I was surrounded by strangers –  fulfilling a role and purpose that were not authentic or very energizing. During Mayday and especially with the TOL crew, I feel a welcome part of a large, expanding community. Each year I identify and keep a new contact, a new resource, a new friend to add to my life. Even when it is raining, MayDay is like the sun shining on your face with thousands of happy friends,” stated Vicki, many decades crew member.

“I had been a jubilant spectator of the MayDay Parade and Ceremony since its inception when I was 25. MayDay was transformed for me in 2001 when Vicki recruited me for the ToL crew, along with my daughter, Hannah. When she left for college, my husband Dennis took her place and he continues in his stalwart role, older but just as devoted as we all are. To this day, it is my annual spring ritual to which my yearly calendar indelibly adheres. Passing it on, my six-year-old granddaughter Aria, bemoaned to me last week… “Bubbe.. MAYDAY can’t end!!  I’ve gone every year of my life!” said Lisa, longtime crew member.

Many people have been members of the ToL crew over these 40 years.  Some for a year, some since the beginning. All are greatly appreciated.  

There are three families with two and three generations on the Tree.  The children of the children who have grown up working on the ToL are stepping in to keep the family tradition.

“To have our family’s values reinforced by the many other souls we share this tradition which is remarkable.Our children, now grown, through the years have brought with them dear friends, fiancés, and significant others. Our son is coming from Alaska, for the weekend, just because it’s MayDay and it’s a family holiday. Our daughter, unable to come due to school demands, has traveled far in past years because it is an impor tant part of her and she is feeling a bit left out this year,” said Nancy, many decades crew member.

We’d like to remember Bob Caldwell and Sue Hale, stalwarts of the Tree of Life Crew who have passed on. Rest in Peace.

Note of Information for those who have not seen this event: The Tree of Life is shrouded as it rides on a carriage along the MayDay Parade route from 25th to 35th and Bloomington Av. So., into Powderhorn Park, across Powderhorn Lake, and rising on the western shore, TRIUMPHANTLY!

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