Thursday, September 13, 2007

Sand Storms

You can seem them floating towards you. If you spot them in time, you may have a couple of minutes to prepare yourself: put on your goggles and your dust mask, and get yourself to a place where you can sit comfortably and wait it out. Ideally, this would be a camp where you can find good conversation and perhaps good food and drink. Of course, whatever you consume will have dust on it. And every thought you convey in conversation will have dust on it, too. Your very words will be dusty. People who are sick of the frickin' dust already will sit quietly, not eating or drinking or talking.

It is a dusty summer in the Black Rock Desert and even the gentle daytime breeze flicks sand into your eyes. Throughout the week there were intermittent white-outs lasting a few minutes. On Thursday and Friday, we got the intense sandstorms for which the playa is known, with clouds of sand covering the sky and turning the air green, blasting us with winds up to 75 MPH for hours. The wind tests your tent and your shade structure, and probes your camp for anything you didn't secure properly. Just to see if you were well prepared.

The Museum Camp set up the back of our U-Haul truck as a kitchen and a place of shelter. On Thursday and Friday, when the worst storms of the week hit us, most of us ended up sitting in there. I have a vivid memory of Treiops, the most sanguine human I've ever met, casually cooking himself some macaroni and cheese while the camp was consumed in a roaring funnel of sand.

It is even more interesting when you're caught out on the open playa, as Sarah discovered. She was out visiting the art and goofing around (as seen here, shortly before the storm hit) one moment, and hiding under some debris the next. A passing stranger gave her his own dust mask, and she ever so slowly and blindly found her way back to camp, where we were sitting in the truck drinking vodka and watch the wind cut into our camps. Like Dave's tent below. We watched the wind take his tent down and fold it up, as if telling him to pack up and go home.

Sarah, shortly before the storm hit

The wind packing up Dave's tent. Note the tent pole getting tied into a knot, at left

After four or five hours, the sand quickly fell and something else blew in and it smelled like, and felt like, could it possibly be oh yes Lord yes it was, gentle and cold redemptive RAIN, glorious drizzles of rain in the sunshine! Thousands of people emerged from shelter to let the rain fall on them.

The closest thing to rain we had felt all week came from the trucks that watered the pathways through our camps, to help keep the dust down. They crawl along slowly, spraying the water behind them, and campers will strip naked and run behind the trucks to snatch a free shower.

We came out from hiding and exulted in the rain, feeling the sun and the raindrops on our skin at the same time. It wasn't long before people looked up into the sky and saw something even more wonderful.

It was the first double rainbow I had ever seen with my own eyes. To boot, these were full, 180-degree rainbows. One could feel several thousand people gasp at once. Soon after, the sound of far off cheering and applause, the foolish and beautiful spectacle of people with sand in every pore of their skin applauding the sky.

1 comment:

Little Mama said...

It was cool to be surrounded in that dust storm, not being able to see what was around you...for about 30 seconds. Then with some unease, I realized that if I could see any of the cars, bikes, people, they couldn't see me either. *gulp*