by John Parke
It’s my first burn.
We arrive tense and stressed from the City, the drive, the 11-hour days of preparation.
Everyone at camp is lying on the ground- immobile and dazed.
They seem different.
Relaxed, open, resonating, quick witted and expressive.
“Don’t worry, you’ll get the burn” – says a friend. My brow is furrowed, as I struggle to pitch the tent.
Then it started.
A pair of giant bunny slippers blew by with people driving them.
A solar-powered tricycle with a 12-foot high front wheel ambled along the horizon.
White dust muted all the images and colors of the desert and made them float in the air.
Women felt so safe and un-judged, they became as sexy and sensual as they had always wanted to be.
People greeted with smiles, jokes, tricks, treats, and if they were jerks, it didn’t matter at all because the who’s down in who-ville, tooted their bamboozles and wuzzles and drove about on their smizzles and fuzzles.
My skin burned. My hair stood on end, my legs powdered grey-white like a Masai tribesman. Charcoal body marks were applied to my forehead and chest during an impromptu ritual in a fierce sandstorm- even though I don’t really do that sort of thing.
Dehydrated, wondering, wandering – there is a black temple elevating up through the dust. Its shape is amazing. Arabian turrets spiraling up in air in pairs.
I get closer. The surface is amazing. Black and white Dover print art patterns. Superimposed, repeating images.
I get closer. The white spaces in the images are covered with writing. Poems, hopes, commitments, commemorations, proclamations of love, remembrances of people who have died.
I get closer, the temple – only four days old, feels ancient.
I get closer. It feels more powerfully sacred than any history-cluttered stained-glass cathedral I’d previously been in.
A beautiful woman gives my friend a necklace saying, “here, I want you to have this.” He talks about it on and off all day. Three days later I’m moved to tears as I watch him lovingly tie it around the neck of a healer who has just adjusted his body with resonant Tibetan Bowls. Her healing the most primitive, intuitive and powerful I’d ever seen. Next I’m in tears doubled over laughing about what a nightmare it would be to serve cotton candy (instead of snow cones) on the playa. Dry bright pink tumbleweeds blowing across the landscape, sticking to art cars and fake fur. People with the narrow white cones stuck on their faces in the heat. We are enchanted. We can’t stop laughing.
It cools down and the desert turns into a deep black ocean filled with shards of neon circling the Playa like rings around Saturn. A large metal scorpion whizzes by and blows fire from its tail. There’s a war going on at the border, submachine guns replaced by subwoofers – bombs replaced by bass. The earth thunders and shakes. Artillery rounds with rhythm. I picture soldiers and Iraqis setting aside strife for the favor of 4-4 time.
I discover gift giving is an art form. I experiment, adjust my phrasing, my attitude, my heart. I didn’t know it involved courage as well as non-attachment.
Gift receiving, I discover, is an art form. I shape my openness, repair my trust. My ability to express appreciation runs the gauntlet. At a certain level of joy, gross overstatements are not overstatements at all. You just raise the can to dust cracked lips and say, “This cold beer is from heaven, and so are you my friend.”
I return to camp. White dust dry, scorched red skin, and all smiles. My friend, who I haven’t seen in days, cracks a slight grin. “Yeah, you’re startin’ to feel the burn.”