Coffee, sublime and ordinary. A beverage, a sanctuary, a passion, and a crutch. Coffee can be a simple staple or a connoisseurs delight. My journey with coffee started long ago and has evolved as I have grown older. Years ago a friend made me the perfect cup of coffee, Italian espresso. That ended my days of Folgers and freeze dried coffee.
Time to learn
It was only recently though, that I became really serious about learning what makes a good cup of coffee. I had found a source for coffee beans that was quite good. And it was not just my personal tastes, this coffee always got high praise. But unfortunately, nothing lasts. The coffee became hard to get once I relocated to Reno Nevada. But the loss of my favorite coffee created motivation to find the perfect cup of coffee in my new home.
So I ventured forth in my new community, looking for the perfect cup of coffee, one equal to my old favorite. Easy, right? Not so much. The java I really love is a dark roast, and the inexplicable trend these days is light to medium roasts. It did not take long to get used to the pierced and bearded barista telling me that dark roast was dead. Real coffee drinkers only drank light or, (sigh, if you must), medium roasts. The thing is though, the rare roast master with more than a years worth of experience never echoed this sentiment. And many of my coffee drinking friends really like a good dark roasted coffee. So I question this idea. I mean it is really arguing against several hundred years of coffee roasting experience, right?
So, the search continued. And on the way, I found out some things about coffee.
I was on the roof when Austin asked if I wanted a ride to the temple. I asked him what time it started, he said “eight o’clock”. “Oh crap”, I said, “I thought it started at nine, I gotta go!”
That’s great, I thought as I climbed down the narrow ladder from the roof of my camper, I am going to be late to my new life. So I quickly changed my clothes, hopped on my bike and started pedaling through the deep playa dust. Before the man burned it was pretty easy to navigate to the temple, you just found the man jutting out of the dry lake bed and aimed a little to the right. Now I had to follow the 15,000 bicycles, art cars and e-transporters that were all traveling roughly in the same direction.
When the man burns it is a huge celebration and collective fuck you to the status quo. There are hundreds of art cars, tens of thousands of people, loud music and a lot of partying. The vast playa fills with people. In the darkness all are riding bikes or on various forms of mutant vehicles, and everything is lit. Thousands of flashing, glowing and thumping vehicles and people traveling towards the center of Black Rock city. It is like watching fireworks in reverse, the explosion converging on the center.
As this event has gotten larger it has taken on more of a festival atmosphere. Its anarchic nature and embracing of art can be overshadowed by our commodity driven world. Instagram influencers’ pose before the artwork, branding their look and selling their products. More and more there are high end RV villages that house the rich and famous. These look more like sterile well guarded compounds than the open camps and villages that they have displaced. On the playa the young and wealthy, sporting Gucci costumes, are effortlessly propelled through the dust and darkness on electric bikes and half million dollar art cars.
The Temple Burn
This is a more somber affair. It adheres to a tradition that engenders reverence and respect. Because of this and the tactical advantage of leaving the Black Rock early, (avoids the traffic jam during exodus), the Temple burn is not as well attended.
A New Beginning
The temple serves as a ceremonial place to say goodbyes, to let go, to invite the new in. This year I had done all of these. Over the week I had written a series of letters to things I needed to say goodbye to and things I wanted to invite into my life. One clump of these letters had left me profoundly moved. I had sat in the middle of the temple with tears, and loss, and some regrets. I had decided that this opportunity to be here, to participate in this infant ceremony, was were I would delineate the start of my new life. What better way and place than a public display of grief in a place where judgement and money had been traded for personal exploration and gifting.
And it was looking like I might be late to my new life. The temple burns exactly on time, whereas the man burns after all the hoopla ends. I found the temple, (it was not difficult). And made my way to a spot on the perimeter. The moment I sat down the fire began at the South end of the temple. With help from accelerants and a lot of wood, the temple was completely engulfed in flame within minutes.
Fire has a life of it’s own
The radiant heat from the flames forced the people in front of me to stand and move back. This gave me an unobstructed view of the burn. As the temple burned, it ignited the tens of thousands of letters and offerings. This shot the remnants of these intents into the column of hot air. These flaming particles created a constellation of twinkling burning lights high in the sky. I was spellbound as I realized that the universe of tiny flaming embers carried into the clear desert air our collective prayers, hopes, love, pain and loss.
Then came the elders. Some Paiutes had told me the night before that dust devils were believed to be their ancestors, come to visit. As the fire burned the wooden temple it birthed flame devils. One after another they carried flame, embers and dust as they marched out of the fire and onto the playa. All going east with the wind. The flaming blessings, the parade of elders, the fires impervious radiant heat were met with a an eerie quiet. The temple burn tradition is that it is done in silence and with reverence. But with this procession of elements, ancestors, and intents, the people at times fell to howling, then silence punctuated with emotion.
This celebration, indulgence of art, love, life and chaos defies description. Try as I might, the description eludes me, and as soon as I think I have a handle on what it is all about, it changes. Like the universe of burning prayers, dreams and intents that were released into the night sky, not one of them the same; this event is as diverse as each participant. The definition of the whole is the sum of its parts and cannot be captured in a sentence or a paragraph. And that is my life and your life. To show up, give up judgment, embrace generosity, to have the gift of change, to be able to make different mistakes and be able to start over. This defies description because there are more pieces to come.
This last year seems like a lost year. Like at fifty six years old, I have been stuck in neutral for the entire year. The thing is a lot has happened. Medical issues, a vindictive law suit, relocation, a fire that eradicated almost everything I own. There has been good also, a new town, new friends a new relationship, (now over). So I am not sad to see this year disappear into the dust behind me. Goodbye Fifty Six.
And this year leaves as it began, with massive change. This time though, it feels mostly internal. The excuses have worn thin, I am left with the reality of me. And with that the fear of loneliness, lack of security, the loss of community. These things have haunted me always, but instead of living with them, acknowledging them and letting them go, I have ran, and stuffed and used people places and things to blot them out. But here I am, and here these fears still sit. Waiting like patient guardians for me to react, invoke and indulge. My payment? Anger, shame, fear and despair and the very real manifestation of all of it.
Do Something Different
So there it is, go down the same old path or sit in stillness with my demons, befriend them and let them go. I might just have a chance to simplify, to become discerning about what and who I let into my life, and have the opportunity to learn a little more about me.
It is with this backdrop I will enter my fifty seventh year. It is tough not to wonder what is in store for me next. I just want guarantees and certainty. But I know there are only two things that are certain: impermanence and death. With that in mind, this year I hope to garnish my path with love, joy, wonder and gratitude.
So this year I hope to take more risks. Within my writing and my blogging I want to be more real, this means vulnerability, (ugh). And I want to pursue the many stories that have asked to be told. I want to be in better shape, and be more direct. Finally, I want to face the fear and do the scary thing anyway. I want to be open to what the universe deigns to show me.
If you are reading this, please follow along, comment, provide insight, tell you stories. I want to hear them, I want to hear you.