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Burning Man Essay – ‘Welcome Home’ by Janet K. Smith   Copyright 2009

“Do you have any guns? Drugs? Glitter?” Nope, nope and nope. We passed our tickets out the car window and heard, “Welcome Home”. I opened my mouth to correct the guy but he’d already handed us a map and was waving us in. I shrugged it off and we started to search for just the right place to live over the next week.

Day one and I’d never felt farther from home. We thought we’d prepared for the heat and the dust, but a website can’t convey the reality of our new neighbourhood environment. By 4:00 p.m. we were settled in and ready to explore Black Rock City.  A French maid in fishnets and heels was the first Burner we met as we entered Center Camp.  After a ceremonial cleaning with a feather duster, I gave him a bracelet in thanks, and he gave me the nicest smile and a hug. ‘Welcome home’ whispered through my head. 

Day two started at 4:30 a.m. to the throbbing techno beat. “You awake? Want to get up?” followed by “Sure, why not” had us up and outside, ready for the day to come.  Orion hung to the right of the Man and I felt my heart lift under the moonless, star filled sky.  Sunrise presented ribbons of pink and gold, turning to a brilliant orange as the sun launched the new day. We made sure we saw every sunrise and sunset for the rest of our days at Burning Man.

By day four we were sleeping, eating and playing whenever we wanted to; time stopped being relevant and we let our bodies and our curiosity lead us where they may. Welcome home.

On day five we were leaving the Man at dusk and heading for Center Camp. We stopped to look at the lights and colours of the community as they sprang to life against the dark cerulean sky. So many people were moving to the music; the sound seemed to fill the air and their hearts. Welcome Home.

It hit me so hard I had to stop and catch my breath. I am here. Not in my usual, distracted, future-existing self, but really here – now – in this moment. I am fully and joyfully occupying my space in this place and time. I am fully me. I gasped at the simplicity of the concept. Home was the place where I was comfortable with myself. Where I was accepted and welcome, where it was safe to express my preferences, talents and opinions.  This hot, dusty, moon-scaped playa and the community it inspired gave me all of that. I am Home.

Back in Canada, I checked the clock: 219 days till the Man burns. Some days it’s enough to know the door will open again, if only for a week in September.

Short Story ‘Just Another Evening’ by Janet K. Smith   Copyright 2010

She heads straight out to the wood shed, hoping he won’t notice the bin is still empty.  She knows she shouldn’t have left this chore so late, but it’s a dirty job, and she always seems to pick the wrong logs. Pulling her wheelbarrow alongside the stack, she begins to grab the dry, cedar logs from one end of the pile. They drop into the metal base with a satisfying thump. Puffs of dust mushroom up around her, filling her mouth and nose with the musty, grainy tang of drying wood. Thankful for her gloves, she wipes the cobwebs, pill bugs and clumps of soil from each piece, and carefully positions them for the bumpy journey across the lawn. She opens the small door on the outside of the house and catches her breath as her father yanks open the inner door. He scowls at her as she unloads the wood.

“It would be nice if just once I could make a fire without having to deal with these oversized chunks, but it’s all about making it easy for Amanda, isn’t it?” he sneers. Her father turns his back to her and begins chopping the wood for the evening fire. Lazy, stupid, selfish, foolish: unspoken words echo through her mind with every swing of his hatchet.

Short Story ‘Reflection’ by Janet K. Smith   Copyright 2010

Lacey smiled back and obediently opened her mouth as he scooped another sample, holding it out to her. As she chewed her eyes opened wide and she smiled, “These are really quite interesting. Nutty and crunchy; they’re not creamy or wormlike at all.”

“Adventure can be pleasurable. Now try this one. I know how it looks but taste it before you form an opinion,” Carl said as he placed a bowl in front of her.

A grimace of disgust flashed across Lacey’s face when she looked down at the bowl full of murky liquid surrounding a small furry bat, complete with outstretched, leathery, wings. She nudged the bowl away with one finger. “I don’t think this one is my style.”

“It’s Fruit Bat Soup and I must insist you try it,” Carl said as pushed the bowl back towards her.

Lacey knew she had no choice. She wanted to say something, anything, to draw his attention away from her struggle, but as she picked up her spoon and dipped it into the muddy liquid, a spicy, gamey aroma made her stomach contract into a tight, heavy ball, and left her mind blank. Looking up at Carl and meeting a stare of expectancy, she took a sip, aware of each floating sliver of flesh. She let the hot liquid burn her tongue in an effort to deaden the salty, foreign taste, and then put down her spoon.

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