That’s going to leave a mark! (the 2014 Lambstock experience).

While preparing for Lambstock this year, I built a little metal and wooden coffee pour-over stand which required copper pipe and some soldering to put together. During construction, I managed to brush the tip of my torch and create a little burn tattoo on the inside of my arm. No biggie, just a small occupational hazard. I have a lot of marks on me (I’m a coffee roaster after all). I’m looking at that mark right now, and I’m idly wondering if it will leave another permanent reminder of something that I did.

This year, Lambstock exceeded all of our wildest expectations –  for how much it could rain in a four day period. Outside of the rainy season in Latin America, I’ve never experienced such sustained streams of rain, with no relief. It rained while we packed for Lambstock, it was raining when we arrived. It rained while we set up and it poured while we ate. It precipitated while we watched “first nighters” arrive all dry and shiny, and it drizzled all night, punctuated with heavy downpours, but no clearing. During the early Sunday morning cloudburst, we brewed some quick pour-over coffee and fired up the water boiler. Shortly, as the morning showers continued, I began to realize that conditions that some folks might term “less than ideal”, might actually be wonderful for a coffee roaster.

Lambstock participants, seeking coffee in a sheep pasture, have always come in waves, and I am acutely aware of the “early wave” contingent, because that’s my group too. I am always interested in who else seeks the “early cup”.  Conversation through sleepy eyes ensues, and since it is, of course, still raining, there really is no place to go. What a great thing!  Friends are made in this setting.

Once other pasture inhabitants see someone walking about with a coffee cup in their hands, a second wave begins. This group is still seeking a relatively early cup, but just wanted independent verification that it existed before they ventured forth. A reasonable stance, since this morning it also involves donning a variety of boots and rain gear.

Then, magic. We kick the propane on the water boiler up a notch and start seriously grinding beans. Cups are refilling and conversation gets louder and smiles broader. The first early cuppers are back, if they ever left, and now they have brought their husband/wife/friend back with them to join in. This is a great moment. The gathering starts to surpass the ability of our little pop-up tents to keep it dry, but most folks hang anyway, some just flipping up their rain hoods and stepping out into the drizzle, conversation never pausing, while making room for someone new. Good vibes.

Photo by John Park

Photo by John Park

Then, it’s a steady stream of people. Some fiends, like myself, back for their third or fourth cup, some “mid morningers” getting their first one, and looking forward to the caffeine kicking in, as they take in the scene around them.

Demographics break down at this point, and the group’s distribution is just a melange of coffee drinkers. But it’s still pretty easy to see who has had their first cup or not. This goes on for a while, and finally some folk start to drift away, usually motivated by rumors of that mythical thing known as Sunday morning breakfast at Lambstock.  I will leave it to others to describe the delights which are presented there.  When I think about it I usually just slip into a daydream.

Time passes, and although still heavily overcast, the rain pauses for about an hour, during which we explore the use of the word “relatively” when applied to the word “dry”. Then it starts to rain some more.

Soon, scenes of pleasant human interaction emerge in other areas of Craig’s farm. There’s movement down at the cooking pavilion where chefs are talking and collaborating.  Craig’s staff is madly plugging logistical holes caused by the rain, but propane burners are on high, and exotic scents fill the air.  Industrial strength cookware is being juggled around with hypnotic skill, and the sound of chopping knives is puntcuated with the sound of laughter.  We’ll spend our day taking turns making coffee for lots of folks, but also partaking in the delights created by chefs cooking for other chefs.  It’s good to be a Lambstocker.

2014 was our 5th Lambstock. In 2010 there was just a pasture, a tent, a cooking pit and a garden hose. That weekend was sunny and hot, and the garden hose got a lot of use as a (mostly) “clothes on” shower. Since then, Craig has added cool stuff each year to give good tools to people who know how to use them. I can’t remember any rain at all in 2010, and there were even a few folks who literally slept out in the pasture, rising up like zombies in the morning, when the sun started to cook their brains. The only reason that the Dark Hollow crew (that’s us) was here in the first place, is due to Ben Hester (an all-around semi-crazy chef, and entirely fascinating person), coming over to sit around the fire pit in our backyard one night.  In the wee hours we kicked around the idea of “cowboy coffee” for some kind of chef’s camp-out, in a pasture, at some crazy shepherd’s farm. We liked the concept, but really, we had no idea what was in store.

Back in 2014 it’s still raining, and there’s some wear and tear starting to show on a few of the participants. “First night” this year was huge, and everyone came to enjoy it to the fullest, some without consideration of little details, like “is my tent dry”, and “did I pack a raincoat”. Still, spirits are high and Craig’s staff is doing everything they can to assist in smoothing out the wrinkles. Fortunately, even with all of the rain, it has not been chilly. Even the downpours have been relatively warm, and though wetness may be a nuisance, it’s August and nobody is going to freeze to death.

As the rain continues to fall, a few Lambstocker profiles begin to emerge. They are:

1) Resist it

2) Embrace it

3) Screw it

4) One with the universe

We’ll take #3 first. We’ve done a bit of traveling and camping in our lives, but even we would have to admit that conditions could possibly reach a point where we would bail, no matter how wonderful the temptations to stay.  I really don’t know what it would take for us to leave Lambstock though. Maybe an ice storm would do it, but even then we’d have to test it.  And, I guess, a balance exists in everyone’s internal mechanism that dictates the eternal question, “should I stay, or should I go?” And of course, this balance is different for each person. Some folks bailed. And I’m not talking here about the people who left because they had to. A number of people were lucky enough in the first place to get the time to enjoy Lambstock even for one night, and the sorrow in their backward glances as they walked away from the scene was heart breaking. So we’re cool with y’all, ok?

The “resist it” group are of people who have a tough mental attitude, usually combined with at least enough rain gear to withstand the elements. But this is a sliding scale. You can have a minimum of gear, but have amazing mental discipline, and things will still be in balance. They look confident and prepared, and you can bet that they are on top of the situation.  Lambstock, being the epitome of a “farm to table” event, means that farmers and producers, as well as chefs, are represented. Farmers are strong in the “resist it” group, and seem to have a stoic acceptance of things they cannot change (but with real good rain gear).

I encountered the first “embrace it“ practitioner on Monday after it had been raining pretty solidly for 48 hours. I observed you don’t really need much gear because the clothes you’re wearing can only get so saturated. Then, in perfect equilibrium with the elements, no more rain will be absorbed. Honestly, this is about my favorite group since they’ve forgotten all about fighting the elements, and now are just going with it. These folks seem to be having a lot of fun. Alcohol could be a factor.

Finally, there is a group that seems a little surprised that the weather even causes much comment. “Put it in perspective” they say, “it’s just so insignificant”. And in comparison to everything else going on, I can honestly say, they are right. These folks seem to live in the moment, and, interestingly enough, make up most of the chefs here. I imagine that they, as a group, are more accustomed to working right through a little adversity, while concentrating on the important things, like seasonings, ingredients and flame heights. These people are in “flow”, a kind of “one with the universe” state. This level is difficult to achieve, but inspiring to observe.

And sometime during all of these occurrences, time just drops out.

And you didn’t even notice. Maybe someone says something about having to go to work on Monday, and you realize that that’s tomorrow (or possibly today), and you just haven’t given it much thought. Out here your priorities have been completely rearranged. You are so actively engaged in the moment that your mind resists even thinking about anything else – a deficit of attention because you are so pleasantly assailed by your senses.

Breaking camp and leaving Lambstock really is a rude awakening, and I think that the social media posts I see about people still thinking about Lambstock for weeks or months afterward reflects the deficit that they still feel after returning to the “real world”.

So the mark that Lambstock leaves on you, and can’t easily be shaken, is a pleasant psychic scar that tempts you to remember and daydream.  A little reminder that a gathering of incredible people camped out in a sheep pasture, ate amazing food, and put up with a little rain.

Photo by Helen Cason

Ben Hester aka “Bilbo Baggins”

P.S. If Ben Hester hadn’t asked us to be at Lambstock in 2010, we wouldn’t have been there in 2014 to see him ask Tammy Kuper to marry him. We love serendipity.


Roaster John