There is something about the dust at Burning Man. It’s an “in-everything, everywhere, all at once” aspect of the experience there: part foe, part friend; part fear, part fun. It’s ubiquitous, unavoidable and inside every pocket, crevice, daypack, tent and shoe … There’s nowhere It isn’t.
Many people speak of avoiding the dust, keeping their tents dust-free (hah, as if such things were possible) and staying out of the dust storms. Understandably. So, why did I head out into a dust storm, intentionally, one afternoon? Short answer: I needed it. I wanted it.
There hadn’t been any big dust storms yet that year. Not yet at least. The days were going by and I wanted to feel it, to smell the dust in every breath, to be in it.
This particular afternoon I’d been feeling a bit blah and doing a bit of nothing back at camp (a perfectly acceptable option for any hour of the day), when I heard the wind pick up and felt a dust storm coming on. Yay, I thought, as I quickly transformed from being in a reasonable state of high-heat, late-afternoon doldrums to suddenly feeling excited and ready for an adventure.
Rather than hunkering down and staying in while the storm passed (also a perfectly acceptable option), I decided to pack my bags, fill my water container and head out for a stroll. As I emerged from my tent and saw/felt the direction from which the winds were blowing, I turned to face these oncoming winds and dust, and started walking straight into storm, head on.
It was glorious!
Wind and dust, and dust and wind. Relentless. Assaulting. Exquisite.
I walked for some time, not looking for anything to do, per se; rather, simply enjoying the smell of the dust and the feeling of the dust-filled air whipping about. I had no where to go, and no destination to reach; I simply wanted to be out while the dust storm raged.
At some point, a man in a covered, carriage-like bicycle pulled up beside me and asked me where I was going, and if I wanted a ride as far up as I Street where he was camped. (I was around D Street when he stopped beside me.) I told him I wasn’t headed anywhere particular, but I’d happily accept his offer of a ride. I climbed into the passenger seat, put my feet on the pedals below me, and helped power along his bike.
We chatted. Basic Burning Man banter. He told me he’d made his own bike, and I marveled over that. We stopped at the portos on the way to his camp, a wise move; and, eventually, in reasonable time at a reasonable pace, we arrived at his camp. He invited me in for a beer, at which point I met his sister, her husband, a good childhood friend of the two siblings and a neighbor camping solo whom they had adopted and welcomed in.
The small group had ferried their gear in with a 10-ft box truck and were using that now-empty truck as their storm shelter and hang-out space. I sipped the beer, yapped a bit, then thanked them for the company and hospitality, thanked my co-pedaler for the ride, and moseyed on.
climbing a pyramid
My moseying led me soon enough to a wood-structure pyramid–more Mayan than Egyptian–with a flat top and observation deck requiring a good 25-30 or so steps up to the top. I climbed it and found myself now looking down on the dust storm. It was glorious. It was beautiful. Like a wind-based serpent slithering through the city, I could see the dust storm blow by, below. I stayed up top the pyramid for a good hour or so, then felt it was time to get back onto the ground and back into the impact zone of the dust storm.
Once again, I felt exhilarated walking directly into the storm. I held as sacred the land and place and space where Burning Man takes place. I honored the dust storm as integral to the experience, and I kept on walking, face forward into the wind.
Nowhere I needed to be; nowhere I needed to go, all of which were quite perfectly acceptable options for anyone, at any moment, and in any circumstance. At Burning Man and in life.