It happened one day, on the way to the Playa…
It’s funny how things work out.
After four years, it never ceases to amaze me how the Playa teaches us something new every year, whether we think we need the lesson or not. Sometimes those lessons hit us right square in the face and sometimes they slowly sink in over time, taking us by surprise when we least expect it.
Playa gifts are sometimes given, gifts you can touch, hold and feel, and sometimes they are experienced. These energetic gifts come from the Playa herself and give on a much deeper and energetic level, a level that approaches the mystical. I was given one of these gifts once…………. on the way to the Playa.
Planning for the Playa starts as soon as the dust begins to settle and the four wheels of the car hit the pavement. As the clear clean air of the open desert begins to fill our lungs, our minds turn toward next year’s journey. Ideas are formed, plans are hatched, dreams are dreamed………………Over the next year, some grow and fruit and others fade and dwindle, but in the end, a vision is formed and its essence is manifested on a distant desert at the end of a very long journey in a place called Black Rock City.
This year’s trip was shaping up nicely. A familiar current of comfort, comfort that comes from having made the trip several times before, was mixed with the spiced anticipation of adventure yet to be realized. As usual, the plans in my mind were turning out to be much larger than real life was going to allow. It never hurts to dream big. It was all coming together nicely. That is, until it all started to change.
Sometimes change happens in small steps and increments, and sometimes it just hits you like the old “one-two” punch. Wham! For a moment there I thought I was down for the count. Our daughter’s getting married this summer! Weddings take time, planning, and energy, lots of energy…………… there goes the art project. Next year.
That comfort that comes from knowing what to expect, that feeling that comes from always having your lover and partner along for the ride, that comfort that we just seem to always take for granted………. Well one day, you wake up and find that it’s about to exit, stage left! Bam! Part two, of the old “one-two”. After too many times to the Playa, she needs a break. I’ve been abandoned, left alone……… It’s up to me, go or stay. Wow! Plans change. I’m definitely down, but still not out for the count. That Playa spark is still glowing somewhere deep inside. I can feel it. I can also feel this new feeling. It’s not comfortable at all.
One day you know what to expect and the next, it’s a big, wide open world, with no safety net and no guarantees. You can imagine the implications……… go or stay, that is the question. Until you’ve actually made that choice, taken that first step, it’s all just theory and speculation. No plans, no art, no expectations…………. “Yes”……. The sound of that “Yes” echoed in my mind like a pebble dropped into a well. I had just started the journey.
A journey of a thousand miles starts with just one step. For me, it started with just one word. The step came next. No art, no plans, no expectations, on my own. This would be a new trip, a new experience, a new Burning Man. A new plan formed out of the vacuum of the last. Or rather, it would be more correct to say, a new plan had been presented to me.
The plan. Let’s see, head out the door, hit the road, and see what happens……. No expectations, no plans, no obligations, no strings attached. I’ve heard it said so many times, “The Playa will provide”. This year I’d put it to the test.
Traveling alone gives the mind time to unwind, to stretch out a bit and shake off the conditioned mental chatter of daily life. As the miles unfold, and the scenery zips by, the internal conversations begin to unfold. Too bad about that art project, it would have been great. A huge tree woven from barbed wire, man’s fear. Leaves of green ribbons transcribed with the hopes of participants, tied on to turn the limbs green. It would have been a masterpiece. Alone on the road’s not all it’s cracked up to be………………… or maybe it’s something else.
Timing is everything, and my travel timing was off. I was making too good of time. It’s amazing how things like that can happen when traveling alone. The last oasis was coming up, Goose Lake, a garden of shade and green grass in the middle of the Oregon Desert. Time for a nap, a little lunch, and regrouping before the next big push.
The nap was great, and now for a bit of a walk to get the blood moving. As I reached the edge of the grass, it stood before me like an apparition, a vision. The ball of old barbed wire was huge! An entire fence pulled, discarded, abandoned. Well, I still had some time to spare, so why not see if the old art idea could have worked. Back to the car for snippers and gloves.
Twisting, snipping, winding, bending……… a small shrub emerged. It was perfect. It was a miniature of the tree I had envisioned in my mind. It would have worked! It would have been great! But what to do with this shrub………… I know, I’ll wire it to a piece of rebar in camp…….. Ghetto Art! Load it on top of the car and off I go.
Now my mind was really starting to whirl, and the creative energy had been reawakened! As I turned East and started up the long, steep grade over the mountains from Alturas to Cedarville, the car began to slow to a crawl. The temperature guage was climbing. The trailer, water and gear were starting to take their toll. Then it happened. I had this idea….. if I could find an old bleached white coyote skull and a few bones, I could put them at the base of the bush and work on the whole fear thing! My eyes were on high alert. No bones, just the bloated desert road kills of recent days past. The temperature guage hit the red zone. Time to pull over and let the rig cool.
Up ahead was a long, dirt pull off, along the side of a steep canyon slope. I could have stopped anywhere, but I stopped where I did. I got out, walked to the edge of the slope, stretched and looked down. I could feel the chills climb up the back of my neck. At my feet was a bleached white coyote skull, and few bones. Exactly what I had seen in my mind's eye! The sneaking feeling that some other power was at work here was beginning to creep into my mind. I picked up the bones and hit the road.
My mind was really going now, arcing and sparking at high speed. Another idea! If I only had an old galvanized bucket, I could plant the bush in it and call it “From The Seeds Of Fear”. Perfect! Now I just needed to find a bucket……in the middle of the desert.
As I crossed over the pass and started down the grade into the desert town of Cedarville, I was still without my bucket. I had a plan though. As I drove through town, I’d look for a bucket in the yards and along the roadways. I wouldn’t buy a bucket, but if I found one, I would just explain that I needed it for this amazing art project, and ask if I could have it. It had to work. Things were just falling into place on their own, so why not.
Two trips through town, back roads, main street, and one more time just for good measure. No bucket. Well, it was worth a try anyway. Too bad, it would have been great. The great expansive, and vacant desert drive was still ahead. Time to get back on track and get on my way. Too bad though, as it really was a good idea…………….
Two hours down the road and I still found myself watching for a bucket. The ember was still burning, it hadn’t quite died. Then it happened. Up ahead, a bucket on a post? In the middle of nowhere? Could it be? It was exactly the bucket I had seen in my mind, dents, bail and all, and there it was, upside down, on a post. More chills. There hadn’t been a pull off for miles and miles, but here was one, directly across from the bucket on the post………I was beginning to feel like I was the paintbrush, and someone, or something else, was doing the painting.
I needed rocks. Not just any rocks, but good desert rocks. I’d use them to fill the bucket and plant the bush. You would think that rocks would be easy to find in the desert. Well they’re not. Where there are good rocks, there are no pull offs. Were there’s a pull off, there’s just dirt……. and dirt just wouldn’t do.
The sun was sinking, and I was making the last few miles before rounding the bend and dropping down to the Playa. No rocks. I decided to pull off the road, make a sandwich, watch the sun set and enjoy the last bit of peace and tranquility before diving into Black Rock City. The large pull off ahead was perfect. Sandwich in hand, I crossed the road to find my perfect picnic spot. Which rock to sit on? Then it hit me! Rocks, long lines of perfect, black rocks, just the right size, just the right color. Perfect rocks! Black rocks! Just what I needed, black rocks from the Black Rock Desert. No wonder I couldn’t find any along the way, these were right here waiting for me.
As I unloaded my armful of rocks into the trailer, I had the sudden thought that all I needed now was an old, weathered piece of board to carve the name of the piece into. I’d place it at the base of the bucket. “From The Seeds Of Fear”. I turned, not even a step, and there it was at my feet, the perfect piece of wood! Perfect size, perfect shape, perfect color………..perfect!
That night as I sat in camp and finished burning the letters into the wood with my red hot nail, I had the thought that the Playa really does provide. As I looked at the finished art piece sitting before me on the open Playa, I had this thought: It wasn’t just my art. It was a collaboration between, the desert, the Playa and myself, and maybe it wasn’t what I had first envisioned, but it was perfect.
What is Burning Man? I don’t know for sure, but I do know what it isn’t. It’s not a place. It starts when you walk out that door and it ends, well I guess it never ends. It’s often not what you expect it to be. In that particular year, on that particular day, I found it along the way , and it was perfect.