Ok, let me backtrack as what I wrote is completely true --- and for those that have been to burner events before are likely not in the least surprised that this is so.
So where was I that had me taming a wild REI tent that desperately wanted to be a kite alongside a superhero in tights? As I related previously, GMU had (mostly) capitulated, thus resetting my Must Graduate or Die limit to Spring '14. Again, this was an enormous relief, and I could all the better tuck into dissertation writing. However, I felt a little celebration was in order. I had scored a ticket to one of the local burner events, Playa del Fuego, from an old friend, doc_quixote. I had previously decided not to go as that was valuable writing time. But, after getting the stay of execution from GMU after such a painful and protracted battle, I felt a "screw you, I'm going" coming. So I did. And I'm glad I went as it was just the tonic I needed.
As to Bat Girl helping me, see, I have a Pennsic campmate that was also going to be at PDF. She camps with Camp Justice League. Yes, that is a thing. And they did indeed don superhero attire for much of the burn. They're an awesome crew, and seeing them cavort as assorted Bat This and Bat That and Thors and Superpeople of various stripes in tights never failed to lift spirits.
In any case, there was a slight wrinkle when I arrived on site. My friend Sarah that camps with them had my tent, which was borrowed for Pennsic. Priority one was to find her so that I could secure my gear to then pitch my tent.
Except, well, I didn't know where she'd be at PDF. Even if I found Camp Justice League, there was no guarantee that she'd be there. And cell phone signal was notoriously unreliable in the area, thus frustrating conventional means of coordination.
The solution was remarkably simple: I'd play my pipes onto the site! And so within moments an excited Bat Girl had homed in on my skirling. Mission: accomplished! Apparently bagpipes make for remarkly good homing beacons in crowded, noisy outdoor venues. Who knew? Portability is admittedly a problem, though.
It was unseasonably cold, and the wind fierce. It was also dark. This naturally made setting up my tent an onerous solo endeavor. Fortunately I had superhero assistance! My Bat Girl friend gave a much needed helping hand to tame the wild, flapping thing. The tent, obviously filled with calamitous and villainous ire from its wind fueled superpower, finally succumbed to our combined might. Its apparent weakness not a stake through the heart, but many stakes hammered with merciless glee. Go, go, Team Justice League!
The most memorable event occured Sunday night during the art burn. Sunday night is traditionally when various camps at PDF submit pieces to be burned. There was a spectacular colorful spiral tower to be burned, and some sort of wedding cake looking thing, too. However, the most moving piece was dedicated to those that had lost cats, but was later expanded to include other animals. It was comprised of a gaily painted wooden frame with silhouettes of cats on each panel. Next to it was a jar of pens, and passersby were encouraged to write a little something about a pet that has passed on. When I finally got a chance to look at it, it was already covered in emotional mementos to much loved and missed pets. There were a few pictures tacked to the frame, too, of long passed furry friends.
This was the most moving art piece I had seen at a burn. Reading all the notes to well loved pets was heart rending.
I took up a pen and wrote a note to my "Ungrateful Fur Tube," Seamus, that had succumbed to cancer a few years ago. It was an emotional moment, and I was very thankful for the folks that had thoughtfully dedicated clearly much effort into such wonderful and moving art. I miss the fur kid deeply, and I had a good cathartic moment scrawling words to that effect on the wooden frame.
Sunday night it was first up to be burned, and several hundred had encircled the burn area in rapt anticipation. I joined the crowd cradling my pipes as I had played some before the burn and hadn't had time to trudge back to the tent to stow them. As a volunteer fireman clad in heavy protective gear lit the piece, a mournful song boomed across the playa. It was a Cat Lullaby. And, well, as the old Scottish expression goes, "It'd bring a tear to a glass eye."
I was standing next to one of my favorite vets, Just Joe, and he turned to me as the song ended and said, "Now would be a good time to play Amazing Grace." I replied, "Well, I hadn't coordinated with the folks for that piece, and I'd hate to impose." I'm sensitive about playing the big instrument in tandem with someone else's work without getting prior permission, and felt I'd risk stepping on toes if I struck up.
Then the meowing started.
Or, rather, meowing of Amazing Grace. About a dozen or so people to my left were tearily meowing away that tune, and Just Joe and I looked at each other ... I knew that right then, right at the moment, if there wasn't ever a time to play Amazing Grace, it'd be right then.
So, I struck in my old 1955 Hendersons ... and a huge throaty roar from the gathered washed over me as the initial note skirled free. That was a first. That, in all my years of playing, had never, ever happened. Such a wave of emotion!
I wasn't in the best of tune since the pipes had gotten cold, but I played Amazing Grace for Seamus, for all those much loved animals that were lost, for everyone. And after the last note slid away into the night, the silence that folded in afterwards was as palpable as a heavy wool blanket. It was a moment writ solid into my memory.
For that moment alone, I am so very, very glad I went to the Spring '13 Playa del Fuego.