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I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees. — Henry David Thoreau

In recent years, I have begun the simple but beautiful process of more deeply exploring the state I grew up in. Prior to that, I rarely ventured beyond the straight line between Albany and New York City. Then I ventured to the Finger Lakes, to Fort Tilden, to Ithaca, to Corning, to Rochester, and beyond — and I loved what I found.

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

So when I learned that some of my closest college crew, the team behind the beautiful Equilibrio festival in El Salvador, were planning a low-key event for Fourth of July weekend last year, I knew I had to be involved.

I struggled with the decision, since my entire family was, as usual, going to be spending Independence Day on Martha’s Vineyard. But in the end, the chance to go camping, explore a new corner of New York State, and catch up with my college crew was all just too tempting to pass up. And so after borrowing a tent from my mom’s boyfriend and stuffing my car with s’more supplies from Trader Joe’s, I was on my way to Port Leyden.

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

I loved what I found when I arrived. So many familiar faces from college in Brooklyn, to Burning Man, to beyond. It was an intimately sized festival of sixty or so people, the perfect amount for a long weekend away. I staked out a quiet spot by the lake for my tiny one-woman tent, and set out to explore.

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

The three-day event was lightly scheduled; there were a few planned nature walks with a resident botany brainiac, some yoga sessions with a friend who was an instructor, and some group chores to keep the campground humming. But for the most part, this was all about getting back to the basics — swimming in a stunning lake, singing and playing guitar around a fire, enjoying simple meals with friends.

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

As usual, our pool float game was strong — though in this case, of course, they were lake floats.

"Pool

Pool Floats by the River at Port Leyden New York

Pool Floats by the River at Port Leyden New York

Pool Floats by the River at Port Leyden New York

Pool Floats by the River at Port Leyden New York

"Pool

Pool Floats by the River at Port Leyden New York

Pool Floats by the River at Port Leyden New York

One of my favorite things in life is a low-key day drinking sesh while catching up with old friends I haven’t seen in a while. Doing it while floating in the middle of a private lake in the middle of rural New York? Life just doesn’t get much better.

Pool Floats by the River at Port Leyden New York

Pool Floats by the River at Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

As with any event designed by the Future Clear crew, there were some incredible surprises and special moments — a sound bath installation in the pyramid by a New York artist, a special impromptu rap set by a pint-sized performer, and a concert on a raft in the middle of Moose Lake.

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

"Liberty

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

I’ve written before about the fact that I didn’t grow up camping, so three nights of sleeping in a tent, using a composting toilet dug into the ground — my greatest struggle! — and keeping a campsite tidy were somewhat new experiences for me. In the end, as usual, I left wanting to schedule my next camping trip — this time perhaps with a deeper knowledge of how to set up a tent.

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

I had big ambitions of working out every day — intense yoga classes, fresh air runs, and DIY tabata sessions. Instead, I did some self-practice with curious ants rushing over my mat, and swam happily in the lake. It was enough.

Yoga at Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Yoga at Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Yoga at Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

One of the things that kept me from enjoying more of the beauty nature has to offer for so many years was a crippling phobia of the dark. But over the years, that anxiety has eased a bit, and I’ve come to appreciate the beauty of sunsets like these without fearing what comes next (that said, I had backup batteries of my backup batteries on my headlamp.)

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

Liberty Festival 2016 Port Leyden New York

I confess — this is a short and simple post for what was a beautiful, back-to-basics weekend. I left recharged both by nature and the time spent bonding with friends new and old.

But I think these photos are worth a thousand words, this sweet video by my friend is worth a million — keep your eyes peeled for shots of me waking up with my tent and towing an enormous raft!

Are you potentially interested in joining this lovely gathering this year? Find on the page! While I’ll be spending the holiday with my family back in Martha’s Vineyard this year, I hope to return to Port Leyden should we be lucky enough to have the opportunity to attend another Liberty in 2018.

Are you a camper? Where should I go next?

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Liberty Festival • July 4 Weekend

Liberty Festival • July 4 Weekend

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20 Comments...
  • Jo-Anne the crazy lady
    June 14 2017

    Just wonderful, looks like fun and happy times
    Jo-Anne the crazy lady recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 15 2017

      Thanks Jo-Anne! Made some fabulous memories.

  • Ijana Loss
    June 15 2017

    You’ve got friends who do some pretty cool stuff! Sounds like an awesome little time, sometimes a low key party like that is just what’s called for

    • Meihoukai
      June 15 2017

      They are the best! So lucky that I have such amazing groups of friends from all walks of life <3

  • Marni
    June 15 2017

    Definite pool float goals! This seems like the perfect way to unwind, and nothing is as recharging as a trip out in nature.
    Marni recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 15 2017

      Agreed! Wish I could make it again this year!

  • Sandra
    June 15 2017

    Love the pool floats and this sounded like a nice way to recharge and chill with friends out in nature. Loved the music choice in the video looks like it fit the mood perfectly.

    • Meihoukai
      June 15 2017

      Zoe makes the best videos doesn’t she? Lover having her along on my trips! Thanks for watching/reading Sandra!

  • Vee
    June 15 2017

    Love the Talking Heads cover on the video, who was the artist? This festival looks so chill, thanks for sharing.

    • Meihoukai
      June 15 2017

      Hey Vee! Thanks for watching — I’ll ask Zoe to chime in with the answer!

  • becky hutner
    June 16 2017

    I fell in love with New York state last year with an all too short trip to the Catskills. Teepees, swimming holes, character-filled towns and glorious fall colours. So keen to see more!

    • Meihoukai
      June 17 2017

      Wow, that sounds lovely! Would totally read a blog post about it 😉

  • Dominique
    June 17 2017

    I used to live in a Dutch town called Leiden, there has to be some sort of connection there 😉 Looks like a fun festival!
    Dominique recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 17 2017

      There is a HUGE connection between Upstate New York and the Netherlands — tons of Dutch influence everywhere you look!

  • Jillian Michelle
    June 17 2017

    Haha the flamingo with the disco ball had me cracking up!! Love it! <3
    Jillian Michelle recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 17 2017

      Ha right?! My friends pack the best stuff 😛

  • Kim
    June 21 2017

    I love all the pool / lake floats! What a blast! This reminds me, I haven’t spoken to my college friends in a while…
    Kim recently posted..

    • Meihoukai
      June 23 2017

      Perfect excuse to send a catch up email, me thinks 🙂

  • S
    June 28 2017

    A beautiful retro summer weekend in outstate anywhere USA on a lake. Just lovely.

    • Meihoukai
      June 29 2017

      Thanks S! It was super retro, in retrospect! We had a blast.