Weddings used to be sacred and other lessons about internet journalism | Cultural Trendz |

Our Wedding

My wife Alexandra and I met five years ago, fell in love, and almost immediately began fantasizing about our wedding day, which, we both agreed, should take place deep within an enchanted forest. (You know, sort of like Lothlórien, the mythical home of Galadriel in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.) We wanted our wedding to begin with “Once upon a time…” and end with “…and they lived happily ever after.” But life rarely works out the way it does in fairy tales, as much as we hoped it would. The story I’m about to tell, ironically, begins where many fairy tales end: with a wedding.

On the day of our wedding, our friends and family walked by foot down a long winding path to the ceremony site. With each step the landscape grew ever more magical, more lush, and more surreal. Eventually our guests reached a beautiful gate in a clearing, just prior to entering the forest. Through that threshold, they left the ordinary world behind and entered an extraordinary world imagined as a kind of collaborative art project between me and my wife-to-be, Alexandra.

We wanted our wedding to be spiritual, though not overtly religious. Everyone is familiar with man-made cathedrals, but there is another kind of cathedral, built by God. In many old growth forests, redwood trees naturally grow in a circular configuration around the nutrient-rich soil where a dead tree once stood. Standing inside these clusters of trees, engulfed on all sides by the forest canopy, it’s hard not to be moved by the majesty of this natural “cathedral,” an ancient setting of unparalleled beauty.

We spent the better part of two years hiking through redwood forests all over California, trying to find the perfect spot for our wedding. Finding an old-growth redwood grove suitable for a wedding is no easy task.  We enlisted the help of Save the Redwoods League, a noted conservation group, to help identify an appropriate site and also to provide advice on how to avoid harming the natural redwood habitat. With their guidance, we ultimately settled on a redwood grove within the campground of the Ventana Hotel & Spa in Big Sur, chosen largely because the site had already been developed, thereby minimizing the impact on the forest and avoiding the issue of a large number of guests trampling a “pristine” forest.

The vision for our wedding was to integrate with nature as much as possible — to bring out the natural beauty of the site while incorporating the kinds of modern amenities that one needs at a wedding. Because we wanted to avoid any harm to the forest, we asked the league to send their Director of Science, Emily Burns, down to the site to advise our landscape architect on “best practices” for working within the forest.

After the ceremony many of us felt as though we never wanted to leave that forest, and indeed many guests remained there until the sun came up the next morning. We lay on the flower-strewn pathway, looking up at the redwood canopy above. The fog rolling in from the ocean enveloped us, imbuing the moment with a feeling of supernatural bliss.

The Monday after our wedding we woke up in our hotel room, newly married, and still buzzing from the most exciting day of our lives. With all the stresses and anxieties of wedding planning behind us, we were finally ready to relax, take a deep breath of ocean air, and enjoy the romance of being together in Big Sur. Many of our friends who lingered recounted their memories of the wedding, describing the event using words like “beautiful,” “tasteful,” “enchanted,” “epic,” and “a fantasy.” There was a kind of magic in the air, and most newlywed couples would have been free to bask in the afterglow of that moment.
The Aftermath

We were not so lucky.

We awoke that morning to a media backlash of epic proportions, a firestorm of press attacking our wedding with the most vitriolic language we’d ever seen in print. At the same time, a mob of Internet trolls, eco-zealots, and other angry folk from every corner of the Internet unleashed a fury of vulgar insults, flooding our email and Facebook pages.
This was the sort of angry invective normally reserved for genocidal dictators.

These reactions were so extreme, so maniacal, so deeply drenched in expletives, they seemed wasted on us; this was the sort of angry invective normally reserved for genocidal dictators. Some of them were so over-the-top that, had the circumstances been different, we might have found them amusing. Of course, it’s hard to find anything amusing when strangers are publicly attacking your wife two days into your marriage. This was supposed to be the most intimate, sacred, precious and romantic event of our lives: our wedding day.

But nothing is sacred on the Internet, not even a wedding. The headlines made a hysterical case for the damage done to the site with such titles as: “Eco-wrecking Wedding“; “Ecological Wedding Disaster“; “$10 Million Destruction of a Park“; and “Tasteless Eco-trashing Wedding.” We were charged and convicted, by the Internet press and the court of public opinion, with every imaginable environmental crime.

Our wedding, it was written, illegally damaged the redwood forest, trashed a Big Sur campground, and threatened the habitat of a special-sounding fish, the “endangered” steelhead trout. The press described how we had “trampled” a “massive ancient redwood grove,” run roughshod over a “pristine” public park, leading to “sedimentation” of a creek that was a spawning ground for steelhead trout. The press claimed that redwood trees had been cut down by bulldozers, and that we had destroyed this very sensitive, fragile, redwood habitat. The wedding was widely derided as “tasteless,” “obnoxious,” and “extravagant.”
Nothing is sacred on the Internet, not even a wedding.

If our friends were sending us congratulatory messages, we never saw them. If Alexandra’s friends were complimenting her choice of wedding dress, she missed those messages. Indeed, if anyone was saying anything nice about our wedding, it was completely lost in the noise, drowned in the sea of hateful, spiteful messages. Our marriage announcement and wedding photo on Facebook elicited hundreds of these messages from angry bystanders telling us to “fuck off,” and calling us “selfish,” “contemptible,” “disgusting,” and “hypocrites.” Descriptions of me included the words “douchebag” and “prick,” of my wife, the words “gold-digger” and “whore.” Luckily amongst the rabble were some unusually creative hate-mongers who managed to keep our attention by dispensing inventive insults like “douchemonster,” “jackassery,” “jackwagon” and, my personal favorite, “douche canoe.” (I have no idea what a “douche canoe” or a “jackwagon” is, but I’m assuming they are neither forms of transportation nor compliments.)

We were told that we should be “hung” for our crimes, “preferably on a lamppost since trees are too good [for them].” A number of people thought jail time “to make an example of [him],” was warranted. A more thoughtful commenter suggested that “jail time in Salinas with the Norteños” would be a more appropriate punishment than, you know, regular old jail time. That just wouldn’t do.

We expected the histrionic media backlash to be short-lived. That may have been wishful thinking. The assault continued for days, with wave after wave of articles, each headline more hyperbolic and more scathing than the last, each story further inflating the alleged cost of the wedding, the damages, and the personal attacks.

After days of enduring this public beating, I had reached my limit. I took to the Internet to defend our wedding, hastily penning a letter intended to refute the most damning story, Alexis Madrigal’s post in The Atlantic Wire, which had labeled our wedding “the perfect parable of Silicon Valley excess.” Though not alone in his criticism, Madrigal’s voice stood out among the crowd of voices condemning our wedding, partly because his story was better articulated and came from an otherwise credible writer, and partly because it drew sweeping conclusions about me and Alexandra, our intentions, and the deliberate and wanton nature of our so-called crimes.

Never mind that none of the accusations were actually true. Truth has a funny way of getting in the way of a great story.
Setting the Record Straight

I cannot be too hard on Alexis Madrigal, as he was kind enough to read my email, kind enough to apologize, and had the strength of character and journalistic integrity to post my email publicly along with a sort of retraction, something most reporters would be too prideful to do. As I wrote in my response to him, nobody chooses to get married in a redwood forest unless they love redwood forests. Furthermore, our wedding did not take place in a park, on a nature reserve, or on any other form of protected public land. We rented our wedding site from a company operating a luxury hotel, the Ventana Inn & Spa, owned by two multi-billion-dollar private equity firms, both experienced players in California real estate. The site of the wedding was a private, for-profit, vehicular campground, largely paved over in black asphalt, full of compacted dirt, giant holes dug in the forest floor and mounds of dirt piled up around those holes.
Never mind that none of the accusations were actually true. Truth has a funny way of getting in the way of a great story.

This property had been used for events before, including at least one wedding. When we first visited the site, the road-surfacing machines were still laying fresh tarry asphalt across the remaining unpaved parts of the campground, and bulldozers were dredging out camping “pads” for RVs to park in. The entire forest floor was gone, replaced with dirt and asphalt.

The natural vegetation you would expect to find in a pristine redwood forest had been bulldozed – no sorrel leaf ground cover, no ferns, no wildflowers. While many old growth trees remained on the property, the site had been subjected to a century of logging, and much of the remaining forest was second or third growth. All of the greenery you see in our photos, the ferns and other plants, had to be brought into the site, by us, in order to recreate the look of an undisturbed redwood forest, which this forest was decidedly not...


Read full post here: