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The Best Worst Wedding Ever

Wind, Rain, and Hail Couldn't Dampen the Joyful Spirit of the Day

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It was in the darkness of the third power outage, a river of mud forming fast at the west end of the tent, that I realized I was living the wedding of my dreams. The downpour, wind-driven and pounding at this point, was an accidental backbeat as people broke into song from the depths of the dark, “Going to the Chapel” rising up joyously and unexpectedly from the belly of the tent’s ocean side. People were seren­dipitously singing by candlelight in the deluge on the edge of the Pacific Ocean.

There had long since been a boardwalk bridge fashioned out of shipping pallets to allow people “mud free” travel to and from the bar, and my wife — my just-wed partner in crime forever — was about 30 feet away, sparkling and laughing amid a soiled sort of madness that most brides would have no problem calling a nightmare. The wonderful power of it all grabbed me from behind in a warm, full-body embrace; I felt my throat tighten and my eyes tear with a type of joy I had never before known in my life. (Yeah, that’s right: I’m admitting in print that I cried at my wedding.)

They say rain on your wedding day is good luck, and, well, if that is the case, then my sweet Anna Marie Jensen and I have the L-word coming to us by the truckload. We got married last November, 11/11/11 to be exact, in the rain and mud and hail at El Capitán State Park. It was a storm that, at least so far, is the biggest and baddest we have had here on the South Coast in months. We tied the knot outdoors, on the point of a point that is special to all who have spent time there.

The skies threatened, delivering the bad news the weatherman had been speculating about all week, but the first fateful drops didn’t start to fall until the nearly 300 guests had assembled for the ceremony on the grassy seaside meadow, their smiling faces fully exposed to the early afternoon elements. The drops became real rain just as my wife-to-be marched into view, her entrance sound-tracked by two electric guitars and the roar of a white-capped sea. Wearing a dress that I had gone to lengths in the preceding months to not peek at and flanked by her mother and father, “Palindrome” (my nickname for her) approached. Unbeknownst to me, her head at the time was swirling with the idea of putting the whole ceremony on hold and reconvening up in the Ortega Group Area, where we had a large tent set up for the evening’s reception. Luckily, no pause button exists for magic. Even more luckily, the truly nasty stuff didn’t start until we were done with the ceremonial formalities and had moved on to climbing in a giant old sycamore tree for photos.

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There is no shortage of what you might consider “horrific” anecdotes from our wedding. It started with the State Parks, due to a scheduling conflict with planned park renovations, threatening to pull the plug on the whole plan just a few short weeks before the wedding day. Then there was the rain, more than two inches of it by the time it was done, and what it meant for our mostly outdoor affair: the sunset cocktail hour, the fire-pit lounge, the custom-built tiki bars, the taco-truck dinner, the dance floor under the stars, and the plentiful camping for our guests were just a few of the “best laid plans” that had to be reimagined at the last minute, thanks to Mother Nature.

But with each of these “losses,” we received unanticipated treasures in return, such as the aforementioned group sing; the memory of some of my closest friends, dressed to the nines, digging a trench in the pouring rain on the uphill side of the tent to divert water from the dance floor; or one of my best men, Sky, getting electrocuted not once but twice as he struggled to suss out the constantly failing generator situation; and the image of my wife laughing and informing a concerned cousin that she couldn’t care less about the mud streaks slowly making their way up the backside of her dress; and the toasts that, due to failing power and leaks in the tent, were made under a giant umbrella draped in battery-powered Christmas lights. A friend of my parents observed the sunny day after our wedding that the ceremony and reception “were like some sort of wonderful Fellini movie.” I like that; no, I love that, and I am fairly certain that would have never happened if things had gone as planned.

You see, ultimately, weddings are like love itself — an all-in sort of gamble where risk and reward are directly proportional to one another no matter what type of measures you may take to “protect” yourself. For us, like every couple holding hands on their way to matrimonial bliss, even though we planned and crafted and argued and dreamed and planned again to create the wedding of our dreams, we ended up with something else, something even better. This boy from Cape Cod who hates shoes and this girl from Montana who hates spiders ended up living a dream that fateful Friday so boundless with wonder and insulated with love that it could only exist in our actual lives. Getting dirty along the way and the late-night mud-wrestling were simply icing on the cake.

Wedding on Canvas

The first time I saw a wedding being painted was at my friends Dave and Lynn’s nuptial hootenanny. It was early fall, a vintage Santa Barbara stunner of a day, and they were tying the knot outside in the courtyard at the Santa Barbara Historical Museum. Plein air wizard Chris Potter, a dear friend of the couple, had his easel set up alongside the various matrimonial pomp and circumstances, and when the action got underway, his paint brush started blazing, creating a real-time rendering of Dave and Lynn’s big day. Even better, the finished product was then used as the front of the thank-you cards the couple sent out a few months later. It was an awesome and creative touch of timelessness in this day and age of technology. After all, true love is a work of art.

For our wedding, the art happened a bit differently, that is to say, we didn’t plan for it at all. Fred Gowland, a good friend of both mine and Anna’s, was a guest, and being the celebrated and constantly entertaining artist he is, he decided to paint us a picture of our wedding day. He did it after the fact from a few snapshots and his memory. The result is a dreamy, emotion-filled rendering, not of an actual moment, but rather of the feel of the day itself. It hangs in the hallway outside our bedroom, and whenever I pass it, I cannot help but be a little bit transported back to the magic.

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