Fifty-seven miles north of Seattle (or one listen through Bob Dylan's Highway 61 Revisited), past fields, dirt bikers, clouds of dust, and the 79-year-old Bryant General Store, is a farm looking for a reason.
"If any of you have any ideas about how we can use this space, please talk to us," said Craig Hollow, a young, tanned architect with a ponytail. He was talking to a small group of artists and impresarios (pastier, ponytail free) who stood, last weekend, in the sun and barbecue fumes of Smoke Farm.
Hollow said a few more words about art and community and potential and concluded with "welcome to Smoke Farm." Someone else added: "Let's get back to drinking!" Artists and impresarios (Sarah Rudinoff, Greg Lundgren, Zoe Scofield, Lane Czaplinski, Brangien Davis, dozens more) opened new bottles of beer, poured fresh cups of wine, and continued their conversations, some begun while swimming in the river earlier that afternoon, about how great Smoke Farm is and what should be done there: a dance performance in the shed, a multicourse campfire dinner on the riverbank, a chamber quartet in the floodplain, stunt archery, installations in the woods, theater in the milking parlor, bands in the barn, video projected on the outhouses.
Smoke Farm was a 360-acre dairy on the northern fork of the Stillaguamish River, owned by the nine Smoke brothers. Twelve years ago, Craig Hollow, Stuart Smithers, and a few others bought the farm from the remaining three: Art, Burl, and Cecil Smoke. "Before our first meeting, I remember scraping my 'Brown for President' bumper sticker off my truck," said Smithers, a professor of Buddhism at University of Puget Sound. "Turns out they were the heads of the local Democratic committee."
Hollow and Smithers and the few others formed a nonprofit called the Rubicon Foundation (named after the river Julius Caesar crossed to declare war on Rome) and started raising money, hoping to turn the farm into a secondary boarding school.
Most of their money came from the dot-com nouveau riche and when the NASDAQ crashed, the money dried up and the Rubicons looked for other ways to raise funds. They applied for environmental restoration projects with the federal government, which traded Smoke Farm a mortgage-killing sum to restore a salmon stream and revoke its right to build on its floodplains.
The result: a 360-acre farm owned free and clear by an art-friendly foundation that's looking for ideas. Last weekend, the Rubicons invited artists, impresarios, and their dogs (one named Tiny Friend) to explore the property and propose ideas for a festival on the first weekend of September curated, in part, by Lane Czaplinski and Sean Ryan of On the Boards. (Send good ideas to email@example.com.)
There had been beer, barbecued oysters, and conversation. Late into the night, some sat around a fire and others in the milking parlor, playing Go. It felt like a new center of gravity forming, a little chunk of Arcadia, possibly the best thing ever.