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Democratizing Dust: A Meditation on Burning Man

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Democratizing Dust was written in the months following the 2007 Burn and is largely, but not entirely, descriptive of events and installations from that year’s gathering.

I wasted absolutely no time diving into the Mystery of Burning Man upon my return Home. With camp staked out, yet still remaining to be built, I readied the bike and sought to complete my pilgrimage. I rode eagerly through a mess of tents and RV’s and made my way to the Esplanade. The pre-maturely scorched man was immediately visible in the distance, as were the art cars criss-crossing the playa between. I kicked off my sandals and dismounted my bike in order to fully connect with the surroundings.

From our dreams to our senses and as real as the heat from a burning flame, the ephemeropolis is manifest once again. My attention then turned towards the soft, cool dust beneath my feet as I inhaled the sweet morning air of the alkali desert. Reverently, I sank to the ground and kissed the playa with gratitude for the gifts of Black Rock City. And just as my lips met the earth, a gentle gust swelled amidst the Esplanade to bejewel me with detrital debris.

And I couldn’t help but thinking, ‘What is this democratizing dust that spans as far as the eye can see? Who are these miniscule alkalai nomads commanding movement within our postmodern city?’

Perhaps it’s the medium of message from ancient civilizations, or from the Gods on high, an extra-dimensional crossroads that unites us with the unknown,

But what if they are the ashes of Prometheus, the dead corpse of a God awaiting primordial activation within individual human minds?

Or maybe they’re just 1’s and 0’s, composing the visible environment and ‘skins’ for the video game of the daimon,

How could we know?

Inspired by the wind, I hopped on the bike and began a day of observation and of appreciation for everything surrounding me. I remembered a line from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass and spoke:

This hour I tell things in confidence, I might not tell everybody, but I will tell you…

I see the morning Sun crawl around the backs of giants, withholding its glory that it may spare us from destruction,

I see those giants huddled in epochal sleep, creating the protective rim of our sanctified basin,

I see the unmistakable lavender mist arising from the triangle of horizon, twilight and eye- as real as a rainbow,

I see the vault of heaven spread vast before me, a pantheon peers down and awaits kaleidoscopic entertainment. Perhaps today the Gods will play along?

I see an extensive sea of once-moist crust, a ground of Being prepared by the Earth and Sun through one year that we may turn it to dust with each small step or each turn of the wheel- ever grateful to do our part,

I see explicate smiles of an implicate joy, nodal networking of hyperlinked hearts,

I see a few art-cars skimming the playa, warmth machines ready to steward our beings, and bikers skating around with their personalized machines,

I see bare-breasts on a giant see-saw with a pivoting tree, indeed bare breasts everywhere, gestures of tribal family, community, intimacy,

I see the protecting of remnants from the pre-mature burn, the guardians of confusion in the wake of Hermes, the once known God,

I see a scorched carcass standing with hoarse rigidity, it guards the vacant halls of exhibition, a logo for the ‘ecological world’s fair,’ it is a skeletal and humane mistaken ideology, 

I see the processional path from Man to center, from center to Man, and I traverse it,

In the café, I see a ganglion of dirty bikes and the flags of many nations,

The stilted carnies dressed like bumble-bees,

The bongos beaten, the dancing nearby,

The couches of yesteryear below the already tired, the wooden benches encircling our space,

And in it the masseuses who offer their hands, the relaxation below them,

The yoga teachers with calm intent, the students contorting into their body,

The authentic movers following invisible guides, the chains of stuffed animals smiling through plastic teeth, eyes and nose,

The lines for coffee, the vandalized espresso machines, the filling tip jars, perhaps these are the most absurd things in this Festival of Fools,

The paper-mache plant life creating scenes, backgrounds, displays,

The speakers, the cables, the microphones and stands,

The stage managers with polite authority, the performers concluding, the performers preparing,

The unique interactive sculptures and games, with no place to take quarters,

The ritual sites from consumer delights, Twinkie-Henge and the Pyramids of Gyoza,

A blanket of Legos, young and old play alike,

A chess game with dil-dos, of course black vs. white,

I see the flags rustle and stop to hear the wind passing through the café, I hear the democratizing dust scattering against the canvas,

I hear the cacophony of communication, a brim and broiling nexus of caffeinated life,

I hear the accordion pumping, the boom-boom of doumbeks,

I hear the jewelry of gypsies rattling at play,

I hear civic-discussion, the informed exchange ideas,

I hear disgruntled baristas, the megaphone speeches remind us so that we keep forgetting,

I hear the solo cellist using digital boxes to layer his live quartet. He is elegant though he picks his nose between movements,

I hear an anarchist speak of the noble lie and I know that the federal Rangers lurk, the Pershing County sheriffs skulk, the Washoe County sheriffs snoop, and the Nevada Department of Investigations slinks somewhere, in some place, we hope that they are having a good time…

Riding from the café, I smell pancakes and chai tea near an RV close by, the chef shouts “FREE BREAKFAST!!!”

I smell smoke from a fire, a barrel of wood is finishing its work for the night,

I smell gonesh and see a small temple adorned with copper trinkets and photos,

I smell bacon floating into a neighboring tent full of vegans, it is Burning Man after all, no more hippie than cowboy,

We pause in abeyance as the Sun draws us near, we are challenged not to resist the Sun, but to act with it, it within us-

I feel the heat on my face and I feel the moisture evaporate from the cells of my skin,

I feel the democratizing dust that’s made its way into my hair and into the corners of human form, no person can avoid the dirt attacks of the cosmic custodian,

I feel the wind on my face as I bike through Black Rock City,

I feel the bumpy steel welds that form sculptures of a sorrowful mother and child,

I feel the taught edge of canvas providing shade for humble campers,

I feel the vibrations of electronic bass drums emitting from all directions, a sonic oasis beckons me,

I taste an iced yerba mate and listen to Rabbit in the Moon,

I taste mint-laden cous-cous, kale and simmered chick-peas, I dine with new friends,

We step into the Hooka-dome and we taste strawberry and peppermint tobacco to quicken our digestion, lying on pillows and Persian rugs,

We taste a small drink, a sacrament of cheap California wine,

We taste each-other’s lips, gently, friendly, so politely, adding and subtracting dust from hers and from mine, and we watch the gypsies dance…

Then visiting the neighbors, we dream to Chopin,

I awaken alone, momentarily, to a note of sweet gratitude.  The silence is soon to be filled with the music of Pink Floyd, the inhabitants shuffle as quietly as mice. I’m off again and into the Playa,

The Sun hangs low now, I can’t will it away, it’s an overpowering glory that somehow fuels those Mercurial, diaphanous virtuosos that still continue to dance in the splendor of Being,

We are one step closer to the Sun-

My next ride will be in the vehicles of imagination,

A confessional taxi, in which I hear all your secrets,

A chocolate cupcake and a battle for speed,

A bevy of small wake-boarders listening to “Carribean Queen,” they think they’re in the Florida Keys!

An aluminum shark, a Cheshire cat, a glowing skull, a fire-breathing dragon, a hippie-bus and a hot-rod from the future with a dinosaur hood-ornament,

I ride in a traveling middle-eastern city, a UFO, a crawling fly, an antique railcar, a capitol building attacked by an airliner,

A Roman chariot, a Starship Enterprise, a garden with a flower growing several stories above me, a dark pirate ship with tattered sails playing heavy rock n’ roll,

And I slow my pace on The Purple Palace to take a guided tour of the city, the driver tells it was once a metro-bus bought on internet auction…

I see the domes of the Esplanade, the towering palm trees,

I see the oil derrick and am told that it will explode in a giant mushroom cloud,

I see the swinging monkees, the church of TV’s, and a purple human head with a space for meditation and music inside,

I see the galloping steed built of rebar and tire treads,

I see two oil tanker trucks snake vertically into the sky, some God has bent the hard steel and left them in the most vulnerable pose,

I hear bluegrass bands playing on the backs of trucks,

Do you suspect that I have some agenda, some schedule for the remainder of the day?

I have as much as the wind has… and as much as a flame rising from wood into ash. I am an improvised decision. I am the truth told through lies.

* * *

Image by Sarah Bartell, “Burning Man: Sharing the LOVE,” courtesy of a Creative Commons license.

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