We gathered together with our bikes and yup, just as I had feared, there was a whole bunch more of us than what I felt comfortable with. I had a feeling that Charlie making an announcement at lunch inviting whomever wanted to join us was going to bite us in the ass. But it was too late. We had invited our friends to journey with us through the streets of dust to the Foam Dome - a true oasis in our dry and sun baked city. They were excited to help us with the gift we were planning on offering to our extended community within the Foam Dome.
I put on my husband's old external frame backpack with the shop vac strapped to it and was ready to go. Salmon, the most burly of our troop, offered to carry the awkward pack and I graciously accepted. We set off - nearly twenty of us - a big pack of bikes navigating through busy streets without traffic lights. Dodging oncoming bike and art car traffic while trying to stick together. We passed spectacles-a-many as we made our way through the neighborhoods of Black Rock City.....a bicycle with giant race car tires driven by a guy with technicolor hair and fishnet stockings, a village of beautiful tee pees that looked striking against the crystal blue sky, a woman on her bike that was made to look like a unicorn, erotic sock puppet theater, circus training camp and a walking banana.
We arrived at the Foam Dome. There were hundreds of people standing in line in the heat of the day waiting to have their turn inside the dome. Charlie and I had been here the day prior and connected with a few people who run the operation and made arrangements to come back today with a few helpers. But....almost 20 people to help us?!?!? I felt completely overwhelmed and I did not want to take advantage of their gracious invitation. Charlie and I discussed how to handle the predicament we found ourselves in and came to the conclusion - when flustered, just be honest.
So we found the coordinators and told them that we originally did have just a few helpers but then more and more camp mates showed up enthusiastically to help us. I felt bad because the situation did put a bit of a burden on the hard working very busy volunteer coordinator. It took a little while to figure it all out but in the end it all worked out and the group of us made our way inside the oasis. We proceeded to take all our clothes of and get in line with the close to a hundred other naked smiling people. As we waited our turn we laughed and danced to the loud music from the great DJ looking down on us. When it was our turn we were directed up a few steps into the clear elevated chamber about as big as the back of a semi truck.
Standing butt naked, shoulder to shoulder with our friends and perfect strangers we felt giddy for what was to come. From above, the costumed workers looked down on us with big smiles on their faces and we all chanted "Foam! Foam! Foam! Foam!" We joined them in the countdown, "3 - 2 - 1....." and then all of the sudden the most glorious substance spewed out of the hoses they were pointing at us.....loads and loads of Dr. Bronner's foam! OMG! In that situation, all you can do is close you eyes and start rubbing up against your fellow foamy friends as you squeal with delight! You feel absolutely elated and are in utter disbelief that just minutes ago you were feeling parched, overheated and had a weeks worth of dust and funky build up in your hair.
I do realize this description may sound like one big foamy orgy. And yes, it is the perfect opportunity for you and your good friend to be silly and spread the foam on each others slippery breasts; but that being said, the energy in the foam chamber is playful rather than sexual and it is a safe place for some good clean fun....yes, pun intended.
After the praised workers from above sprayed us down with clean water to wash away the foam we all exited the chamber - clean as a whistle and experiencing high levels of euphoria. Most people danced away over to their stashed clothing, got dressed and slowly made their way out to make room for more people to enter. As for our group, we had a special service we were going to provide.
I got dressed and then got the power cords set up. Charlie got a couple chairs and a small table and set them up next to the stairs leading up into the foam chamber. We plugged in our hair clippers, created an altar on the table and unstrapped the shop vac from the giant backpack. For the next five hours we offered haircuts with intentions.
Amidst the chaos of a sea of naked happy people dancing and people's delighted squeals over the loud thumping of the DJ's beats, we created an opportunity for people to experience something else quite unique. For each person that sat in my chair I would first greet them with a hug and introduce myself. I secured the haircutting cape around their neck to keep hair off their naked body and then I would take a quiet moment to burn sage and waft the smoke up and down their body to set the stage for the haircut ritual. I would then squat down and look the person in the eyes as I asked them what they would like to let go of through the act of this haircut.
Some people felt stumped and needed a little coaching to get clear and others spoke with certainty and purpose. Then I would ask what they would like to call in or what positive aspects do they wish for. Some people kept it simple with a word or two while others shared in more depth. It was such an honor to connect with people in such an intimate way and for such a brief amount of time. We would then discuss what they wanted me to do with their hair and I would jump on in - working as fast as I could so that we could serve as many people now waiting in our line.
I did not bring scissors with me - just my full size clippers as well as a new small one I bought for doing intricate design work. I wasn't interested in doing 'normal' haircuts. I do 'normal' haircuts every day at work which I find quite satisfying; but here at Burning Man I am going for radical! Most people had minimal guidelines and requests and encouraged me to let loose and be creative.
As I worked, Salmon ended up being my extra set of hands. I would section off hair and he would hold it as I shaved an area. I would hold out my clippers and he would know to hold them momentarily. I would give him a quick glance and he would use the shop vac to suck up hair collecting on the person or on the floor. We had a really cool non verbal communication happening and it allowed me to sink deeper into my creative process.
Five hours had passed in the blink of an eye and the Foam Dome had shut down for the day as we were finishing up with the last of the people patiently waiting for their haircut experience. After finishing with them we began to pack up....remnants of burnt sage, well used clippers clogged with greasy dusty hair, and a shop vac full of hair with many peoples intentions.
As we got our things together a group of about 30 or so people gathered and a friendship wedding ceremony began. We looked on as two close friends spoke of their love, appreciation and commitment to eachother. They exchanged vows as well as tokens of their love for one another. One offered a poem he had written for her. And she offered him a lock of her hair in a locket to express her friendship. We cheered along with the rest of the crowd as they were pronounced best friends and then headed out the door.
Our exhaustion set in as we peddled home against the wind. Five hours of working as fast as possible and being as present as possible with other peoples energy is both enlivening and depleting. We arrived back to camp over an hour late for supper and were so grateful that our friends had lovingly put food aside for us. We ate and all told tales from our day and life was good.
A couple days later I emptied the contents of the shop vac into a paper bag. Charlie took the paper bag of hair and intentions out to the temple and found a place to set it. And there it sat amidst the rest of the prayers and letting go's in the form of written word as well as symbolic mementos of every sort. On Sunday night I sat on the dusty ground surrounded by my friends and tens of thousands of other people of Black Rock City.
The sound of quiet was surreal after being immersed in non-stop noise all day and all night for the past week. We looked on as a single flame rapidly grew within the 100 foot tall temple. Within minutes the entire structure was ablaze and you could feel the heat on your skin from a long safe distance away. We watched as the flames transformed thousands of peoples prayers into a glittering whirl of embers that looked like a million brilliant orange stars fleeing up into the black sky above. I swear I could see the souls of peoples lost loved ones in the huge billowing rolls of smoke. It was as if we were witnessing them breaking free from something as they swooped around each other like a school of slow moving fish.
As I sat there reverently and watched this years temple burn, I thought about the paper bag of hair and the prayers, hopes, dreams and letting go's that it contained. I thought about the people who's hair I had cut and connected with intimately but briefly. I thought of them scattered throughout this huge crowd of tens of thousands of people. I felt connected to them, to rest of the unfathomably huge crowd that I was part of, and connected to the world at large. I felt moved, renewed and inspired. And as tears of gratitude trickled down my face I thought, "THIS is why I go to Burning Man each year."