First there was an earthquake. We were evacuated at college for that one. Then there was a hurricane. The winds didn't blow as strongly as predicted in our part of the world. But now here comes the fire – burning bright at Burning Man far away in the Nevada desert. And Ben, my husband is going out to join them. He leaves for the festival tomorrow, very early. Our son Alex has been out on the playa for weeks already, helping to build the temple there this year - the central edifice of the city. He’s also the fire engineer on the temple burn which marks the end of the festival. It is to be a week filled with joy and art installations and draws 50,000 people. Alex’s blog – www.burningmen.weebly.com can tell you more.
Alex wanted Ben to see what it was all about, to experience the ethos of being yourself –because everyone else was already taken. And when he produced a ticket, how could Ben refuse?
Ben flies out tomorrow morning, culminating a miraculous confluence of events – which involves his retirement from a job he’s held for the last two years. He will rent a car and drive across the desert, and Alex will be at the gates to meet him.
I cannot imagine going to Burning Man myself. I gather it is a fun fair that goes on for a week – neon, installations, and many, many people – scorching sun and no escape. But I witnessed what the festival did for Alex and what an epiphany he experienced last year. I hope it will be, not just enjoyable for Ben, but also life affirming.
Our daughter Rozzie is visiting from England before she begins her PhD at Oxford. For the last week we’ve been taking forest walks, and going to cafes, talking about books and cooking together. Meanwhile, I’ve begun the new semester and have one hundred new students to teach.
So now we are helping Ben to pack, finding things from the impractical and whimsical to the functional and necessary – a tilly hat, a stocking cap, a scarlet cape, goggles to keep the sand from his eyes.
The weather is green and shady here in Virginia. The cool air is finally moving through. So why go out to the Nevada desert? I know that biblical figures have wandered the desert, and often found answers to the deep and urgent questions in their souls. So I hope that Ben will find some answers there. But also, I hope he will thoroughly enjoy himself!
One last thing: with the earthquake and the hurricane of the last few weeks, I find myself reciting a poem by John Greenleaf Whittier. We sang it at my father’s memorial service. This is the verse that keeps running through my mind:
Breathe through the pulses of desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
Let sense be dumb, let flesh retire;
Speak through the earthquake, wind and fire,
O still small voice of calm.