The moments leading up to Symbiosis were a little stressful and rumors of sandstorms and aggressive Indians intensified the packing of everyone’s festival wardrobe. This year’s gathering was held on the sacred grounds of the Paiute Indians in Nixon, Nevada and some of the Natives were not so happy about the event that was to unfold. Through technological communications many of us read online the uprising controversy surrounding the festival amongst the Natives who were in fear of an irresponsible presence from the festival crowd. Angry words filled with despise influenced the idea of a protest and if the imagery of my arrival couldn’t appear worse I got news of this wind from my Symbiosis planning group “Update from Pyramid Lake: huge 70 MPH windstorm wrecked havoc on the site. Many structures and installations that took days to build were reduced to piles. Tents are missing and an 80 foot steel dome was crushed like a can. A few minor injuries but everyone is in high spirits. Make sure u bring some good stakes, its straight raw out here!”
With these circumstances in mind, traveling independently across the country became a bit intimidating for a petite person like myself. Confident but concerned I called up my good friend and Live Painter for this year’s gathering, Andy Reed, for some encouraging advice. Andy told me not to give into the fear and these words would become my mantra during the first two days of my journey into and through the desert.
I arrived, from Charleston, SC, in Reno, NV early Thursday morning and thanks to thelowdown.org received a last minute ride with some friends I made on a connecting flight in Dallas. One pit stop, at Whole Foods, and close to four hours in line later, our wristbands were tightened and we were through the gate finally parking our car. Lucky for us, coming from Reno, the drive to Nixon was only 48 miles, so the four-hour wait wasn’t as bad as it might have been for some of those who drove days just to get there.
The rumored fury stirred up amongst the Natives was absent from our entry and many Paiute members smiled with gratitude at this once in a lifetime opportunity. I was relieved to feel welcomed by the tribe but I wouldn’t get away with all of my concerns that easily, for the instant I opened up the car door I knew my eyes would need protection. The wind hissed as I fussed with my goggles and sand blew through every strand of my hair. I couldn’t really think straight and once I began to gather my thoughts sand was crunching in between my teeth. Anxiety pumped through my bloodstream and on behalf of a deep breath, dust introduced itself to my nostrils. The desert’s dirt covered my freshly glossed lips and to rub them together was to exfoliate the mouth. I thought to myself “don’t give into the fear,” and worked on accepting the now.
Through the transparency of my snowboarding goggles my world was tinted with the color of a blood orange. As my eyes adapted to the eerie tone I passed by a sign that read, “This is not Burning Man” and adding to the confusion someone behind me ironically quoted “This is exactly like Burning Man!” From the top of the valley and to the left of the RVs I gazed upon a rocky wilderness empty of growth but filled with life. In search of the Tribal Council dome my ride, Jacob, and I wondered which one, of the many domes, it could be out there. After more than 30 minutes of searching across a jagged earth we both decided to forget about it and that it would be best if we set up our tent with what remaining daylight we still had.
As soon as we finished unloading our belongings I ran into a friend of mine who led us to a Tahoe family of his. My nerves settled at first sight of a familiar face, which made putting Jacob’s tent together a lot easier. At the current rate the wind was gusting it took a minimum of three people to set up any tent and in some cases I witnessed 5 people battling Mother Nature just to get their poles embedded in the ground. Fierce winds scraped through rain covers as I piled stone after stone on top of our tent’s stakes repeating to myself “don’t give into the fear, don’t give into the fear, don’t give into the fear.”
Once our tent was weighted down Jacob and I went our separate ways and I finally discovered Tribal Council’s dome conveniently located about 100 yards from my site. Things were looking up already and the first person to emerge from TC’s dome was Andy Reed, only I wouldn’t know it at first, because anyone who showed up prepared for this event was hiding behind a mask. Here I stood in a state of confusion mask-to-mask with an unidentified stranger and found peace in the seconds leading up to this solved mystery. I connected to Andy’s vibe, yet I had no idea it was he who was hiding. It was here when I first appreciated the need to be covered. Although the conditions were shockingly brutal, they gave the community an opportunity to connect without an attraction influenced by appearance. After revealing our identities and accepting the conditions, Andy and I made our way to the Earth Stage to catch our first act of the weekend, Bird of Prey.
Bird of Prey was making magic for most but my energy couldn’t compare to those on the dance floor. Disheveled at the sight of orange and jet lagged from my cross-country journey, I decided to layer up, shiver my way to warmth, and kiss Thursday night goodbye around 10 o’clock. The low for Thursday was 65 degrees, doable with one comforter and a warm snuggle blanket, but by 5 am, Friday morning, temperatures dropped to a low of 54 degrees. Freezing, I used the weather to my advantage and called the cold my alarm clock waking up, both Friday and Saturday, for some not to miss, epic, sunrise sets. The sand storm, from the night before, had settled and a light rain temporarily sealed away a foggy layer of dust. Alone and awake in the dawn of the desert I watched, in awe, as the sun rose slowly above the earth’s surface.
The first workshop for Friday, Energy Breath Work, wasn’t until 8:30 am so I had some time to kill before I embraced my lungs. I listened for direction and was lured in by the vibrations coming from the Moon Tent. Here, bumping soothing beats to boogie to, is where I found a new artist that I had never heard of before, Coop Da Loop. I got down for a minute and then pranced away from the jazzy sound waves to the silence of my own mind for a morning meditation in a cylinder shaped structure woven together with bamboo, the Pleiades presentation shelter.
After a brief moment inside my head I bounced down to my campsite to grab my yoga mat and reintroduce myself to the uncovered faces of my neighbors. Exchanging a smile never felt so good and calm with contentedness I meandered across the desert in search of the Om Dome for the day’s first workshop. But the Om Dome no longer existed and its structure had been blown to pieces during the first windstorm. Bewildered by the disaster I started to realize how much my now paralleled the unknown journey I had set out on. I came out West with a one-way ticket and had no idea of whether or not I’d return home. In search for some clarity all I continued to meet was uncertainty. Embracing the now I repeated to myself “don’t give into the fear” and continued this confusing path in search of any yoga class.
In attempt to take Rainbow Yoga, scheduled with Eric Wallace, at 9am I ended up taking Sacred Spirals and Shapes with Shifra Blumenthal instead. Everyone in attendance was just as disoriented as I was and soon enough I became a communication channel to explain the disappearance of the Om Dome. “The Om Dome was destroyed,” I said “ and all of the classes are implanting themselves wherever it be possible.” More up to date than most I was finally shutting my eyes and bringing unity to a group with the sound of three oms. This workshop explored the many spirals that run through the human body’s alignment and included a really fun partner exercise. My partner, Gina, had injured her big toe the night before, foreshadowing an injury I would soon endure. The land at Symbiosis was no joke and like the warnings from my planning group suggested, conditions were vicious. The ground was made up of head sized rocks and tumbleweed thorn bushes. Walking through the ground, at night, was like being one sorry minnow amongst a sea of sharks if you were traveling headlampless.
At 12pm the opening ceremony was to commence on the Eclipse Stage but, behind schedule, did not start until a little after 12:30. There were several characters involved in this presentation and each person played a different role in a theatrical performance that demonstrated the corruptive power of our present day’s society. Pink Floyd’s “Money” dropped change in the background, while one character appeared as a modern day man plagued with the lethal problems of our time. As the man pulled from his belongings McDonald’s, prescription pill bottles, trashy magazines, and an Iphone, several women appeared to remove these distractions from his grip. By the end of the skit the man was redirected and shown the light by his peers, symbolizing the power we as individuals hold. The speakers of the gathering then described us as a vessel, hollow like a gourd, for love to be carried through. Each audience member was then passed along the seed of this food and asked to plant a specific intention for the days to come.
I planted my strength in the pocket of the white fury vest I was wearing while my friend, Edwin, planted his in his mouth, genius I thought and together we hiked back to our camps. The sun was hot and I was in need of a wardrobe change. My turquoise face paint was screaming scandalous so I tore through my bag in search of my black lace pants and neon orange bra. I crowned myself with an S&M style, gold-spiked, headband and the perfect combination for a new adventure was born.
Dressed to impress I let go of the schedule and surrendered to my rhythmic flow which directed me back to the Eclipse Stage for a sparkling performance from another new artist, Tinker. The Eclipse Stage was shaped like a pyramid and hosted a sun shaped mirror at the point of its structure. To dance in the middle of this triangle, built from wood, was to mirror your image with the audience’s dance moves and moves Tinker’s floor had. I’m always impressed to see a woman laying down her beats right and Tinker did just that.
By late Friday afternoon I was sharing sunscreen with whoever had any to lend and making myself comfortable on the Sirius shelter’s floor for Harlan Gruber’s talk on sacred geometry. Harlan presented himself as a mathematical genius and to hear him speak was simply mesmerizing. His discussion revolved around the development of a “Transportal,” originally designed for the 2004 Burning Man. To sit in one of these vibrating portals was to be instantly lifted to a higher realm and reports from the mediation community share that tapping in comes a lot easier while in this space. I couldn’t wrap my finger around all the figures and numbers, he was discussing, so we exchanged info for a soon to be Sparkleberry interview.
Emancipator set the sun for Symbiosis on Friday and, to the luck of the show’s attendees, was accompanied by violinist Illya Goldberg. After Emancipator soothed our souls, Lynx sang any remaining daylight to sleep with the empowerment of her voice. Later that evening, outside of an art tent, featuring the works of Android Jones, I ground scored $64! My intuition suggested I give the money to Harlan for the Transportal Project he seemed to be so passionate about. Hypnotized in the works of the creative forces I sipped on a glass of organic, kombucha, wine provided by Brew Dream and decided I would donate the money. I believe Harlan’s enthusiasm struck my mindset so powerfully because his dedication mirrors my own.
Beats Antique’s show was delayed close to 30 minutes at the Eclipse Stage and although their performance wasn’t worth staying for, the friends made in that time were. At 11pm I decided to turn Friday night over to my dreams and call it the end of my second night.
Shivering by 5:45 am I woke up for my third day in the desert, reapplied my glitter, and was happy to catch Mihkal’s sunrise set. Mihkal’s music was luscious and spirits, demonstrated by the twirls of Ali Guse’s hoop, were free on stage. Andy Reed’s canvas made an appearance for this set, as well and I was happy to photograph a journey through one of his paintings.
By Saturday morning the Om Dome was reconstructed and I was arriving late to Jonathon Wolf’s Atma Jayam Yoga class. Here I found pleasure in his hip opening exercises and after rubbing China Gel into my sore muscles I wandered down to the water and spent sometime with the lake. Along the muddy shores I dug my knees into the earth and snapped some of the most beautiful shots I would take all weekend. My eyes fell into the progression of the waves and giving into liquid temptations I headed back to the sands and recruited a gang I could submerge under with. Refreshing but chilly these waters were made for hot desert days but even in the water dangerous rocks still lurked beneath the clay.
After coming face to face with one of the desert’s snakes I indulged in a bowl of chia seed pudding and made my way to Yoga of Bass with Dub Kirtan’s Freq Nasty and Claire Thompson. In this workshop we explored the epiphanies we have on the dance floor and related them to yogic philosophy. We meditated to low bass sound waves and experienced the idea of a musical “highway.” As a new yoga teacher I was super inspired with this encounter and exchanged information for, yet another, soon to be Sparkleberry interview!
After Yoga of Bass I waited around for a discussion on the emerging age of the Aquarian and being an Aquarian myself patiently awaited the delayed words of my dawning to commence. Thirty minutes into the presentation, with some interesting knowledge gained, I decided to further explore my inner Aquarian elsewhere, so I slipped into my mermaid costume, and made way onto Opiuo’s dance floor.
Opiuo was my favorite set for the weekend and from the excitement I read on the audience’s face, it was pretty clear that he stole the hearts of many during that sunset. Crunchy and organic the ground dribbled with his sounds as I dropped it weird and warmed up for Dub Kirtan ‘s bass-infused mind massage. Dub Kirtan is a 14-piece project that performs underground dance music combined with Yoga Kirtan. What two worlds couldn’t collide better I thought as I explored some of the strategies discussed in the Yoga of Bass workshop from earlier that day. The first chant, “Lokah Samasta Suki No Bhavan Tu,” resonated with me most; for these were the words I sealed each of my practices with during my yoga teacher training. As I translated the Sanskrit, may all beings be happy and free, to my surrounding neighbors, it was hard not to get lost in the hypnotizing vibrations of Dub Kirtan’s vocalists; another top performance from the weekend.
Some of Gang Gang Dance and a little bit of Tipper later I stumbled upon “Psychedelic Friendship Bingo” and all of my childhood dreams were fulfilled. Bingo blotter in hand, I repeated with my competition the phrase of the game, “Friendship, like the setting sun, sheds kindly light on EVERYONE!” Two games lost and craving yet another wardrobe change I decided to make my way back to camp and in attempt not to get distracted from all of my surroundings I managed to smash my left pinky toe into a solid rock. “Shit!” I exclaimed the damage was done and unwilling to witness the aftermath I bit hard into my lip unafraid for the worst. But when I finally sat down and studied my injury I quickly realized how much trouble my foot was in. Blood splattered on my new blush-toned skirt and in order to make it through the night I knew I needed to amputate the remaining nail dripping with red. A snip here and sanitizing pour of vodka there, the surgery was complete. Phew, I thought as I tucked the problem away in my dusted covered moccasin.
In the wee hours of Sunday morning I wobbled, injured, back to the Eclipse Stage and got gangster with Lowriderz. This stage was popping off all sunrise and I remained comfortably seated on a couch enjoying a third performance, in just 24 hours, from Freq Nasty, followed by Vibesquad and Glad Kill. It was here that I met the couple of the festival, Evan Weiss and Yunna Gleyzer, congratulations on their upcoming marriage and look for these love bugs celebrating their honeymoon at this year’s Burning Man!
Towards the end of Gladkill, around 7 am, I decided to get some much-needed rest but with the sun’s intensity in mind, I knew I was in for an uncomfortable awakening. My next plan of action was to indulge in yoga and bring some energy back into the body, but at the rate my toe was throbbing there would be no balancing upon this foot. Accepting my now I pulled out the schedule and was wide eyed to see Welder’s slot, but when I got to the romance, that was his performance, I knew I could go no longer. In a desperate need to retreat, I listened to my body and finally found some shade to sleep beneath.
I awoke, delirious, next to a half eaten avocado crepe around 4:30, just one hour before the moment the festival had all been waiting for, the eclipse. By this time I had a solid partner in line with my schedule and together, Nick and I, enthused each other for, yet again, another hike to the Eclipse Stage. A solar eclipse is measured by the Saros cycle and only happens once every 6,585.3 days or 18 years. The last time this phenomenon took place I was in kindergarten learning how I could view the wonders of this rare occurrence through a peer’s show and tell presentation. It’s odd to remember the places time takes us and I knew that my moment, with this eclipse, would be one that I would never forget.
To be a part of this experience, with such a motivated collective, was to burn with passion, just like the solar flares that sizzled around our black moon that day. The energy amongst the land was quiet and as volunteers handed out eclipse viewing glasses for the sky’s audience, I adjusted my donated shades for a journey across the sun. Surreal enough in silence, Random Rab heightened the experience with his delicate sound waves. As he played, I snapped shots of an imagination I couldn’t have dreamed up, and drifted, with the crowd, further across the earth’s light.
Slowly but surely the dark side of the moon centered itself with the sun. A ring of fire executed the circumference of the moon and looking into this reality was like meeting the universe’s eye for the moon was the pupil of god. The sky did not black out like many might have assumed but dimmed down the day to a warm grayish-blue. Absorbed in this happening the sounds of the festival were put on hold offering the eclipse a moment of silence. Deep breaths surrounded my gratitude but infectious concerns tainted my toe and it was time to visit the first aid tent.
“Man you really did a number on this one,” said the first medic to get an eye on my banged up baby. In denial about the problem I knew better than to be limping around without seeking serious medical attention, but regretfully hopped on avoiding the truth. To my luck, however, I hit my toe right and the injury sustained would be one I could live with, but not that much longer in this desert’s terrain. With the help of the wonderful people at the first aid tent I was cleaned up and feeling a little bit better about my walking situation, but still exhausted retired to sleep, super bummed to be missing out on Little Dragon.
When I awoke Monday morning my body was in pain. I spent a lot of time walking across this festival and on the last day the bottom half of my body was paying its price. I flexed my right foot forward and thought to myself, this must be what it feels like to have planter fasciitis and upon stretching out this leg discovered that my muscle was trapped in what seemed to be a permanent charley horse. Although signs pointed to dehydration I kept my body well equipped with water all weekend long. With both feet working at their greatest potential I continued to emerge painfully from my tent on a mission to catch Random Rab’s sunrise set.
Early for Rab, I got the opportunity to experience the premier of Desert Dwellers and their yoga influenced dubtronic vibrations. Irresponsibly, for the sake of my eardrums, I couldn’t help but stand directly in front of the bass and feel the wind of the music tingle upon my face. Ignoring the numbness amongst my feet the Dwellers were a glorious awakening indeed and all things got better when Rab took stage. I stayed for about thirty minutes of Rab’s set before seeking out another nap. Fortunately where I rested my head was close enough to the Earth Stage and it was the remainder of his set sang me to sleep.
The next time I awoke in this desert would be the last time I would awake here for a while. It was now Monday afternoon and the sun’s heat influenced the sweat beads forming along my hairline. My aching body regretted ever venturing across this land and fighting the negative thinking I packed together all of my belongings and prepared for my departure from this dangerous, but beautiful place.
For more pictures from Symbiosis check out our Photo Booth!
If you enjoyed this story please stay tuned in, with Sparkleberry Lane, for Jessica’s next tale from Lightning in a Bottle!