I am sitting with my knees tucked into my chest on the cool dust of playa floor. It is day five, I am exhausted and I have just lost Her to the Belly of the Burn. My feet are aching beneath the melt of leather boots that have become akin to the skin of my calves. Their once supple straps now encrusted with white silt making me into a two thousand year old Roman statue from the knees down. And I officially want to go home. My three-year-in-a-row love affair with Black Rock City has officially lost to the dissolution of my senses in this moment of cold and night and I am brought to a complacent halt… along with my adrenals.
And I am testing Her.
“Test one, two.”
(With my mind).
In Boredom and Bemusement.
About 100 feet in front of me, I watch thousands of bodies the size of my cuticles walk in, up and around a massive wooden structure that is Our Definitive Centre, Our Citadel, Our Versailles of Lost and Found, Our Temporary Mall of Soulful Repent: Our Temple of 50,000 people on a random Thursday night in Nevada. I find warmth in its exquisite offering of celebration and solace, an architectural marvel detailed by thousands of fairies who arrived a week before, armed with tool belts and teeny tiny knives. They swarmed a fury of marvel and genius into its delicate facades and friezes.
I am sitting between piles of dusty playa bikes, chains quietly creaking and hanging with a decrepit heaviness. Everything has become dehydrated with the dry of silt. I impatiently spin one of the piled up tires with my numb hand then curl it back to my mouth and blow on it, wishing for mittens. It is a deep freeze characteristic of desert – sneaky and instant after the last spill of sun. I have been like this for about an hour now, under-dressed and unprepared. Rookie move… and we are kilometres away from the home of our camp, the luxury of cellphones left back at Gerlach.
And I know she can hear me. I try again.
“Ally, it’s Julia. I lost you, I am freezing my ass off and I’ve been here for about an hour. Our bikes are locked together, I don’t know your combination and I can’t feel my ears. Tell the others I am okay and I am waiting.”
I watch and wait.
On one end a cluster of people watch a couple get married on stilts. One of them does a back flip and the crowd cheers. A remote control UFO hovers 200 feet above them, flashing and dive-bombing their heads below. Pyrotechnic flares of Over-the-Top-Big-Top magnitude boom from the tail end of art cars and lick the distant horizon of grey slate mountains as though teenage giants are playing a game of matchsticks behind them. A circus of men dressed like sea creatures swim their way around another end of the temple’s periphery, pedalling between strings of mile high balloons. In between the temple walls dusty clowns, lost starlets, pirates, angels, demons, sorcerers and shamans walk and prostrate past one another, brushing knuckles, knees and handlebars. An interpretative dancer rolls on the ground between them, dodging feet and leaping with the designs of a ballerina pixie around its almighty pillars. She is the embodiment of White Silk Fetus meets Fred Astaire Just Singing in the Rain. What I once considered bizarre from the outside-in, becomes banal in this moment of inside-out.
I can’t see Her but I know she is one of the thousands of wanderers I am watching. I imagine she joined one of the disorderly pilgrimages, from one open aired archway to the next, gracefully stepping her boots as though walking a tight rope. Her arms moving slowly, fingertips brushing the edge of her thighs, showering the playa floor with invisible rose petals. Her sapphire eyes peering intensely from behind a hood of fibrous hemp, swimming left to right, right to left, up, down, down and up. Watching. Amused. Bewitched. Bewildered. Consuming and Consumed by the path that is illuminated in front of her and is illuminating it for those two steps behind. Kinda like Billy Jean, is not my lover. She might even be humming it. Then I realize I’m humming it.
She most likely had to pause for the same Snoopy hovercraft that breezed past my ankles feet five minutes earlier. She probably stopped, quietly smiled and did a slow twirl to watch it pass. She’d have closed her eyes, arms hanging loose, shoulders collapsed forward in a good kind of way and danced to the techno/house that pulsed from its speakers. The tail end of its gritty engine leaving her quick in the dust, a tornado of sand and reverb… and she’d be happy as a pig in shit.
To a passing stranger, she is a Skywalker Ballerina but without a Luke nearby. And they are curious to find out more.
One more twirl and I see her in New York City, moving swiftly between bony elbows, cellphones, manic gestures and women who wear running shoes with their business attire. Ally negotiates the city like she’s on a skateboard, faster and somehow taller. A bored boy at a bus stop films her with his iphone and a small Italian man drops his hat and almost trips her with the curve of his back. And then she is home to her Chinatown apartment. The door slamming behind her. A hot bath and glass of wine later and she is blowing Spirit out through the crack of her apartment window. Her chin resting on her knee, the thin blue of its dance curling between rooftops and hot summer brick, mashing into an olfactory buffet of deep fried squid and dumpsters.
She closes her eyes and says a prayer.
Another twirl and she is blowing Kootenay mountain air out through her mouth behind the tuck of Gortex. Her lungs and heart are tumbling together in ecstatic love with the grip of ski and skins on snow. She is following a crystalline track, one way up, several ways down, with friends in the distance of a high alpine traverse. A field of powder and sun makes her eyes squint behind goggles. She suddenly finds herself thinking of the women in their running shoes and the dumpsters and squid and the little old man and thinks…”Wow, women still do that?” And laughs to herself.
I know she can hear me so I close my eyes and say it again. In my head, that is. Fists clenching and everything…willing it like a kid wishing for the Tooth Fairy to arrive before she falls asleep.
“Ally, it’s Julia. If you can hear me, I am freezing and have given up doing jumping jacks and dancing on passing art cars. I’m almost passing out by the bikes and I’ve been here for about an hour. Hypothermia-ish perhaps. Where are you?”
A mouse with giant eyes, ten feet tall and mounted on a diesel bus pumps by me, sending a wave of a remix that I’ve heard a million times before. It competes with a riff of hard rock from another passing car, one that’s hard to come by in this kind of desert party. Hundreds of people heave from the rodent’s belly, thumping feet and arms protruding from the windows of its flank and hind. Its break lights flash to a sudden halt and a few dancers fall off its tail end, yielding to a fleet of winged creatures on unicycles…without lights. I laugh at the ridiculousness of the event and quickly stop with a kick of cold wind and the disconcerting chill of my dropping body temperature.
The edge of impatience is best tested while traveling with friends in packs.
About ten minutes pass. I finally see her. She walks towards me, the others lagging slightly behind, they aren’t as aware as she is to the minor amount of peril I am in. She smiles brightly as she gets nearer, although I can’t really smile back because my lips have gone numb and I catch myself drooling onto the tuck of my bare legs.
She kneels down next to me and places her hand on the skin of my kneecap, like a mother who just found her wounded toddler under the monkey bars.
“Babe, I heard you about twenty minutes ago, I tried to corral everyone and told them you were cold, hungry and waiting for us by the bikes, but they got distracted by a woman on a harp and a troupe of men dressed like monkeys that showed up with a hot dog stand.”
I nodded as she helped me to my feet and tucked her fur coat around me.
“Of course monkey men showed up with hot dogs.” I thought and tried to slur out.
Only at Burningman.
And, yes, of course, only Ally Bogard could hear my urgent telepathic message.
She always hears us.
All of us.
Especially when we really need her.