A Wedding in the Woods
I met Shaelyn and Carl while I was drawing portraits at a holiday party last December. They were clearly in love. I asked what they liked about each other and we ended up laughing about Shaelyn’s answer. Later they asked if I’d draw at their wedding in August. Of course I said yes, and I marked it happily on my calendar like something so far away it was mythical.
On Saturday August 10, I drove 170 miles to a lodge tucked away in the woodlands of McKenzie Bridge, Oregon, a town about an hour east of Eugene. Loloma Lodge emanated charm. In the forest air I felt the energy of a sacred pact about to form. Also, maybe rain. I was greeted by two cheery women, Emily and Marin, who worked at the lodge and were wrapping silverware. They took a break to find flowers for my table and choose a new place where I would be dry if it rained. They found a good spot near the bar where my back would be to the trees. I took my post and Brandi, the bartender, made me a pink gin cocktail with a lemon slice.
Soon, loud cheering down the hill meant the ceremony was complete. The DJ played a classic while the guests rolled up, seeming happy as can be and very comfortable with each other. A crowd formed as everyone got drinks and lingered nearby, dressed in bright colors and watching me draw the first brave subjects, Doug and Mel. The first 10 people that I drew were Carl’s law school friends and their significant others who reported being warmly welcomed into this goofy and beautiful family. I drew big, colorful earrings and all sorts of curls. Perfectly trimmed mustaches and smiling eyebrows. They all chatted with me easily and took turns flattering each other as they held hands under the table and answered my questions about how they met.
Shealyn and Carl printed stickers of the portrait I drew in December and stuck it on bags of coffee beans to give as gifts. Some people mentioned the stickers when they sat down and were really excited to be drawn. Some got really shy and laughed at themselves for blushing as I studied them. As the evening stretched on, a light rain began to fall. I drew a couple who met in Hawaii two weeks prior. She agreed to be his wedding date because she’d never been to Oregon. He couldn’t stop looking at her. He reminded me so much of my brother with his strong brow and irresistibly sweet face.
A sort of line formed and I picked up my pace, drawing kind eyes and neatly groomed beards, collared shirts and necklaces. Guests seemed so happy with the portraits, even the ones that were particularly bad. We laughed a lot. It felt good to be there. The crew of women who worked at the lodge made sure I had something to drink at all times and insisted I break for dinner and try the brisket. I made myself a quick plate and didn’t finish chewing before I was onto the next pair of portraits—a father and son who really seemed to like each other. It was sweet.
When the dance party started, the music got loud and people boogied in their chairs across from me. The DJ played the perfect mix of old soul classics and songs that had all ages on the dance floor, including the 93-year old grandma, Miriam. One side of the family was Cuban and some of them traveled to the wedding from far away. Sometimes people would watch over my shoulder and comment while I drew their friends. One guy encouraged me to add some more wrinkles. The spirit of celebration grew as time passed and drinks flowed freely.
My heart was full and I got into my stride. I drew the cousins and the aunts and uncles. Drew a baby fast asleep and listened to people tell their stories. Every now and then someone would look at me and say, “You really love doing this, don’t you?” because it was obvious, and my hand wasn’t tired yet, and I hadn’t drawn a person I didn’t enjoy drawing—even the folks who were too shy to look right at me, who turned hot beneath fancy clothes and hoped I’d capture their features without making eye contact. I drew the grandma who joked with me over the music and needed help getting out of her chair. I drew the best man and the parents and was observed intently for 30 minutes by someone’s kid.
Finally I drew Shaelyn and Carl again. This time as a married couple telling me about how they look forward to continued dancing in their kitchen to the disapproval of their dog, Archer. Carl said Shaelyn was stuck with him forever now. “There’s no take backs,” he said. When I finished their married portrait, they gave me hugs and said I could stay later if I wanted. It had been four hours since the reception began but most everyone was still there dancing, talking, or waiting til my chairs were empty so they could sit down. I stayed for another hour and drew some of the family who’d been working up the courage to stop by. As I finally packed my things, Brandi offered me a Coke for the long drive ahead—3 hours back to my own wooded countryside west of Portland.
I took one last bite of chocolate pecan pie and waved to newly familiar faces on the way to my car. I thought of Carl and Shaelyn’s genuine sweetness and excitement to have me, and I decided this was one of my very favorite nights. I flipped on my headlights and crept through the gravel to get back on the road.
All the way home I was buzzing, kept awake by gratitude. By the energy of connection and the magic of passing moments between strangers. There was a hint of sadness to driving away, knowing I had felt at home in just a glimmer of their world. They stayed up late around tables donned in flowers and I could almost hear them talking by the fire—a great big family united by thousands of mundane moments that added up to make something unbreakable. A love that transcends explanation, that withstands the change of circumstance. A love that would trim its mustache and get on a plane, or speak a vow and build one life with two souls.