There is much talk of dust at, about and around Burning Man. As there should be. Burning Man and dust go hand in hand. But note the word; it’s “dust,” not “dirt.” Dust, not sand.
When I was still “a virgin” and people would speak to me of this dust, I could only think of airborne dirt, fine particles. I had no idea what they meant. I couldn’t. I hadn’t been there. Yet on my first day on the playa, exhausted beyond measure from preparations that taxed me, a night-long drive that stretched me and a full-day of camp build — in a dust storm — that had me pushing beyond limits I didn’t know I had, I sat in my tent for a few minutes, breathed in the air and said to myself and the place, “I get it.”
What I got was the ancient memory associated with a “dust” formed from a dry seabed. I got the memory of a place and time in which floating in the sea, in some form or another, was my existence … “my,” of course, being a rather difficult word to use as Jessie Newburn, born August 28, 1963, wasn’t there, per se. Yet I was. Some part of some part of me was. And I — along with everyone else who goes to Burning Man — feels it at some level. We give it different words and ascribe it different meanings. We try to wrap our minds around it and explain it someone who hasn’t been there; and our paths and means are as individual as the people who attend. Yet, we all come to a conclusion and greet each other by saying, “Welcome home.”
In the most alien of places. A place with not a life form on it. Where the alkalinity of the “soil” can burn you. Where the days are hotter than hot; and the nights, colder than cold. Where dust storms transform the landscape and space into an even more alien and inhospitable environment, this place we call home feels more human, more humane, more civil, more natural, more right, balanced, fluid, loving, expansive, accepting, receiving and able than any other place or space I’ve known.
The dust: once sea water; turned to “soil’ (earth), whipped into the air, met by Burners who bring the most exquisite fire art with both metal and wood at its base; we experience the elements in an exotic and alien, yet somehow utterly natural and right way: water, earth, air and fire. Smell triggers memories, and the ancient sea bed, made of countless now-dead sea beings and life, enters our airways through our nose and reminds us of what we already know.
Today, I picked up the boxes I’d shipped out on the DC container to Burning Man. As I approached the container and items being unloaded, I took a deep breath and let my hands lovingly brush across dusty boxes and equipment. The touch, the sensation, the smell! The dust. The dust. The dust. The dust.