The Lucky Ones

[First published in 2017 as “The Cows of Black Rock City,” this edition will appear along with many unpublished stories in a collection of shorts for Varanasi Sage — Due out in July!]

Twinkling lights strung around its frame, chain clicking in a dry loop, my bike created tracks on tracks in the dust, crossing tracks without pattern or reason.

In the dark of night, the high desert mirrors the sky; although the stars on the ground are colored, moving and spinning, dancing chaotically. In the dark expanse, we put on our lights and become technicolor shooting stars.

By week’s end, the thin layer of dust on my bike will gather to look as though it had been left forgotten in the recesses of a workman’s garage. Dust on my clothes, my skin and my hair, in my nose, ears and lungs. By week’s end, I, too, caked with dust, will look old and forgotten.

A herd of cows appears. Dim lights twinkle from their insides, differentiating them from the dust and darkness. Stationary, unafraid, wooden skeletons wrapped in translucent nylon. 

In the darkness of the playa, amongst dust and art, these are the lucky ones. Peaceful bovines, sacred cows, abundant goddesses of nourishment.  Their twinkling lights, the same as my own; viewing passing delights. Busses dressed like sheep and lighthouses, cars like genie lamps, golf cart abstract art, and bodies radically expressing themselves.

Our shared reality outside this city — the distortion of divine nature, the degradation of life by human command. Here they are not an exploitable object; a living, feeling being trapped in a pit of manure, in line for a violent death, never having eaten a blade of grass or stepped hoof in a meadow. I am a lucky one, in the darkness of the playa, amongst dust and art; not trapped in a war torn city, used as a human shield.

The sadness of contrast, a melancholy inspection, thoughts and emotions rising from the depths of another’s creation. Here in the dust — in the middle of nowhere — surrounded by darkness and lights.

69pAXiRXQS+FZoc0g2yLWw_thumb_2dd.jpg
Phuture Pasture by David Suckling for Burning Man 2017

Forest Song

[This story will appear in a collection of shorts for Varanasi Sage, due out July 1, 2019.]

I opened the door, welcomed by early morning light peeking around clouds, caressing the world. Unseen doves proclaimed the day’s arrival in trilling coos. Oaks stretched in wild formations. Brown grasses stood defiantly against their drought deaths. The distant scent of a wood-burning stove — a reminder of recent wildfires that stopped at the next ridge. Deer tracks in the dust said I was not the only one who walked the trail.

They carried a flash, a remembering from my youth, making eye contact with a doe. She led me past trees, through ferns and ivy to her fawn, chestnut with white spots, nestled in the grass. Vulnerable. The doe watched as I knelt beside her baby, as I touched its tiny head, unaware of the danger to its fragile life. 

Through oak trees, lichen drooped long from their branches, the filtered sun created irregular, glowing shapes on the forest floor. Branches and leaves formed a tapestry of life, thick with energy, magnifying their essence and intensity. I was just one small organism in the network of life.  An enormous oak whose wide-spread branches twisted and turned, defied all patterns and rules. I approached the grand dame in awe of her divine, ancient presence, and when I moved under her furthest reach, the forest suddenly went silent.

A covey of quail (dressed in fancy spots, stripes and bobbling headpieces) whistled as they ran on speeding legs. A crinkling — Towhee kicking up leaves, flying in unison on purring wings when I approached. Acorn Woodpeckers squawked, perched on tree trunks — wearing tuxedos and red caps — drilling holes, stuffing them. Their gleeful chucking like happiness on the wind. I passed a giant oak, split at it’s lowest, thickest branch — down the middle. The top half on the ground, the trunk standing a jagged obelisk, rotted at the split.

Around a bend, a rhythmic cascade, almost like dropping water. I stopped to listen, but couldn’t make out the sound.

Slowly and quietly I walked, listening without seeing the source. At the crest, down the shaded hill, 5 or 6 deer chased each other, leaping between trees. They moved in s-curves, criss-crossing, creating figure eights with narrow hooves, playing like children in the forest. Nearer and nearer, they were so absorbed in their chase they didn’t notice me. Closer and closer, astonished by the sight, as close as I could get on the trail.

Overzealous, I stepped off the path and my human feet crunched leaves. Without showing signs of seeing me, they bounded away in perfect time through the meadow. At the edge of the forest, an antlered male turned back to look at me — knowing me, beckoning me on. 

On the other side of the meadow, the deer had left no trace.

A thick oak with a large horizontal branch, an arm reaching, pulled me off the trail. I hoisted myself up, stretched my legs and reclined back. Cradled in her arm, I gazed past the canopy to the sky. Rustling, fluttering, croaking, squeaking, laughing, whistling, chattering, calling. Each voice joined in one abundant song.

I could have lounged for hours, held by the tree and listening; yet, the forest did not sing for me. Symphonies without need for an audience. A true artist: creating for herself. 

“Show me the way,” I whispered. “How can I create like you?”

Close your eyes.

Moments passed, my ears opened to subtle layers of the song. Singers unashamed of their sound they received at birth. Each day a new score created without doubt or self-consciousness. Each voice accepted exactly as it was — knowing it had a welcomed part.

Burning Intentions 2018

It’s time for Burning Man! The past two years, I’ve shared my intentions for the experience because writing intentions and having a witness strengthens their power. This post makes the third. Thank you for being my witness.

This year, I’m taking a new project — a meditation and lounge space I’ve been dreaming of for several years and fundraising for with many collaborators. May the Lounge be a sacred space of healing and connection; may it bring all who enter deeper into wholeness and unity.

I’m teaching my workshop, “Meditation and Writing,” three times this year: Monday, Wednesday and Friday 3-4 pm at Stellar Dusty Moon 5:30 & H (in the Lounge!). May the workshop serve us in the unique way that we need for our paths; may it provide us with insight, peace, and grounding.

My favorite part of Burning Man is the art — may I meet the artists and have profound experiences with the art.

May the workshops I attend guide me in my journey and connect me with others. May I see the heart of the earth in everyone I meet!

Our Eyes Meet

We cross into Reservation land in Northern Arizona. The desert before us, a desolate beauty with colorful streaks, glows beneath the pink hue of the setting sun.

On the outskirts of town the highway curves past hills. Gathered at their base, shanties and shacks form small a small line. Broken boards, torn roofs, tires, cars and trucks appear abandoned and disregarded. But I see there are children’s toys and someone walking into a shack and others sitting on steps and chairs out front.

We pass at 60 miles per hour. The extreme poverty fades into the rear-view mirror.

We stop at a gas station just after dusk. A man walks to the car parked next to me. He is, perhaps, ten years older than me. Our eyes meet on opposite sides of the window. A thought flashes into my mind — were his parents or grandparents among the stolen children, forced into Christian boarding schools in an attempt to decimate their culture?

The lineage of oppressors claim me as their citizen.

***

Early in the morning, a jewelry maker sits in a long line of artisans in Santa Fe’s town square; they’ve rolled out their wares and tell the tourists passing by, “feel free to handle.” The jewelry maker looks like he is sleeping, with eyes closed and arms folded around the large yellow “G” on his green sweatshirt. His porcupine quill jewelry has caught my eye, and I kneel down to look.

Amongst his jewelry, I find a feather pendant that is perfect for my niece.

“Excuse me,” I say.

His eyes open.

“Sorry to bother you.”

“No bother,” he smiles.

“How much is this one?”

He tells me the price. I say I’d like to purchase it and hand it to him.

An older white man stands above us and jokes that he would never buy from a Packers fan. “At least you’re not for the Cowboy’s,” the older man says as he continues down the block.

“Never a Cowboy’s fan,” the artisan jokes back as he places the necklace on a card, carefully stringing the chain through notches that will hold it in place. “Although my mother is probably smacking me right now for saying that.”

But the older man is too far to hear him.

“Your mother likes the Cowboys?” I ask, still kneeling, admiring the porcupine quills dangling from silver earrings.

“Oh yes,” he said. “All her life. Now she has passed and I’m sure she is angry with me for saying anything bad about them.”

Our eyes meet.

“I’m sorry you’ve lost your mom. I can only imagine what that feels like.”

He sighs. “She died on the fourth of July. It’s what she wanted. She was on dialysis for twelve years. My sisters convinced her to get the treatments when she first got sick. After twelve years she was tired. Every time she came home she was like this —” he rolled his eyes back, put his arms out, and swayed his chest like he was off-balance.

“That’s a long time to endure so much pain.”

“Yes, I understand her choice,” he says. He holds the little package containing the necklace in his right hand.

“Thank you for sharing that with me,” I say, looking up at him.

“I miss her. I think I will miss her for the rest of my life.”

I take in what he has said. “I miss my Gramma more now than I did two years ago when she passed.”

He nods and I ask about the porcupine quills.

IMG_6286

Unmasking the Monuments

We drove in after dark. Large shadows, looming in the night like masked phantoms, lay in wait.

Half an hour before first light, wind shook the camper van. Rain urged us to stay under covers with tinny percussions. But we had come with one purpose: to witness dawn unmask the monuments.

I put on my warmest clothes with a sense of defeat and doubt. We wouldn’t have much of a sunrise in a storm.

When I stepped outside, as if on cue, the rain eased to a drizzle, merging the space between earth and sky, wrapping us in mist. Lightning flashed in the distance — dancing in bold streaks — thunder clapped to proclaim the illumination.

I sat patiently for the show. At first she was only a fleck below the clouds, but soon, a sliver of pinkish orange light at the horizon split the sky.

Black against the night sky, the monuments began to emerge, to take clearer shape, to reveal their red rock, to show they surround us near and far, to claim their land. Castles, cathedrals, ancient architecture shaped by the Artist’s hand, etched and chiseled into towers, walls, cliffs, and colorful layers.

When dawn captured the sky, we stepped through red sand in the direction of the three closest monuments, the only ones on the early morning trail. The smell of rain rose from the earth, but it was dry and quiet. Passing clouds, their softness, an ever-changing background, emphasized the stoic rocks.

Walking below, standing at their feet, staring up at their grandeur, I felt the knowing of the One far greater than I. Ancient energy, with the power to lift its own monuments and hold them in its hand as if to say, “This — is my Creation.”

Rain continued its pilgrimage to earth as we finished the trail. I looked to the monuments, a rainbow appeared momentarily, as if to say, “So are You.”

IMG_5607

Canyon Meditation

We chose not to look at the map and found what we believed was a path. As we walked, the forest seemed to hold us while birds sang its melody. We passed elk tracks preserved in dry mud and saw a tree that had been used as an antler scratching post. I wished I could walk without knowing our destination.

Upon hearing human voices speaking languages from all over the world, we knew we were close — and suddenly — the forest opened.

A magnetic pull from my heart led me to the canyon rim as though I were under enchantment. My body shook with adrenaline. Before me, a chasm ripped the earth and rocky, layered peaks formed colorful monuments, temples, pyramids, and fortresses. Spires and pillars rose from the ground like giants. Greater and larger than Stonehenge, than Chichen Itza, than man could ever be.

Nature’s chisel wielded by the Great Artist etched walls with shadowy crags and adornement. Creation coalescing into wonder from nearly two billion years of both violent and gradual evolution written in the rock. Lava and mud spreading and widening the canyon carved by wind and water, plateaus rising, glaciers melting, the continent crashing into volcanoes and making mountains. Erosion — pushing, pulling, forming megaliths and smiles that become wings of expanded freedom. A testament to my limited, human experience.

The river deepens the canyon as she moves to the sea — her former grandeur evidenced in decorated cliffs — she is now a mere trickle of what she must have been before dams and reservoirs closed her veins like tourniquets.

The Artist exhibits the freedom to transform, to shift — to evolve into beauty, into living inspiration.

Even with their loud voices, the other tourists don’t bother me. The vastness is large enough for us all. So large that I sense I can give all the heaviness of my heart to the canyon. All the pain of memories and attachments can release. And my heart will become expansive; my heart and the canyon will merge into one, magnetized like the continent and crashing into volcanoes. If I let it fall, it will tumble into the river and be swept away to the ocean. I can let it go — I can give it all to the One who is capable of transfiguration.

I hear the wind before I feel her. She comes up from the canyon depths and brushes my face. I feel the coolness of her touch. She is a whispering echo saying, “hush.”

Crows fly with feathers straight and light in the space between earth and sky. Above the canyon, below stars. Small, yet fearless. As we must be.

IMG_5645

The Cows of Black Rock City

My bike, with twinkling lights strung around its frame and the chain clicking in a dry loop, glides along the dust, creating tracks on tracks, crossing tracks without pattern or reason. 

The high desert, in the dark of night, mirrors the midnight sky.  

Now, the thin layer of dust on my bike, by week’s end, will gather as though it hasn’t been ridden for decades, but instead, left old and forgotten, in the recesses of a workman’s garage. Dust on my clothes, my skin and my hair. I wear a scarf over my mouth and nose, but there must be — there has to be — dust in my lungs. By week’s end, I will also look old and forgotten.

Colored lights move and spin and dance chaotically. We become our lights in the dark expanse; nothing else to differentiate between us and the nothingness, we put on our lights and become technicolor shooting stars.

A herd of cows appears out of the dust and darkness, dim lights twinkle from their insides, the only thing differentiating them from the nothingness. I ride up to them. Stationary and unafraid, metal skeletons wrapped in translucent nylon.

Sadness wells in my heart.

Peaceful bovines, sacred cows. An object. Not a living, breathing, feeling creature. Yet these are the lucky ones, in the darkness of the playa, amongst the dust and the art; they are not trapped in a pit of manure, in line to die never having eaten a blade of grass or stepped foot in a meadow.

Their twinkling lights are the same as my own. 

Our shared reality — the degradation of life, the distortion of our divine nature. Yet I am one of the lucky ones, in the darkness of the playa, amongst the dust and the art; I am not trapped in a war torn city, used as a human shield.

I remember feeling this way last year — or was it the year before? The sadness of contrast, a melancholy inspection, sudden thoughts and emotions inspired by the depths of creation. Here in the dust — the critique of modern industry, modern society, modern greed — in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by darkness and lights.

The Herd of Cows in the morning