10 October 2009

Wild Ride, Tame Music, Last Resort: FireTribe, Fall Equinox 2009

On the plane to Honolulu I sat next to a guy who had just sold his top-100 dot-com business, and so I wound up picking his brain on keys to success: the right domain name, key paying partnerships, reverse engineering Google from competing sites. All this I knew already; the difference was, he actually followed through and did the grunt work to make it happen.

On our approach to land we had a brief scare . . . to add to my list of "28 brushes with death." Actually I didn't realize until a woman told me later, that the wing almost dipped into the water. All I noticed was a rough rock-and-roll on the approach to Honolulu, as the small jet, with every seat filled, was buffeted by strong winds. She said she was shaken awake and looked out the window to see the water shockingly close.

I had noticed the funky young woman in the gate lounge; in fact I boarded the plane just behind her. A ukulele stuck out of a rip in a small backpack. She had one other small bag, and wore orange clogs or whatever you call those new plastic versions of the old Dutch wooden shoes. I thought she looked maybe the FireTribe type, but the packing list posted on the website specified non-melodic instruments. She sang a few notes softly just before entering the plane. Hours later in camp - it took a full hour and half just to pick up my pre-reserved, prepaid rental car from the zoo of an Alamo office - I recognized her and we became acquainted. Sure enough, the ukulele got some airplay at various times in the circle.

That rental fiasco began when I paid online as an add-on to my flight, via priceline.com. 40% off! the banner blared, but then it got tacked on again as hidden fees after I paid (not to mention the extra airline baggage fee when checking in my drum). Another $24 was tacked on for liability insurance at the time of pickup. And on top of it all, Alamo put the full charge on my credit card even though I'd paid already through Priceline; so I had to sort it out with a call to customer service a week later when I saw my credit card bill. Honolulu: what did I expect? While waiting I tried to buy a bottle of plain water from the machine, but it didn't deliver, so I punched the next choice - some high-performance mineral supplement concoction in blue, of which the first ingredient was sugar, topping a chemical stew.

There was a small gathering at the camp site, a Christian-run place where I'd been once before, at Winter Solstice 2002. Partly as a result of the low numbers, and partly as an ongoing intention of these gatherings to de-emphasize the heavy drums and open more space for light percussion, frame drums, singing and chanting, the energy of this circle on the first night was low-key. A few more people showed up on the second night so there was more dance energy, and one drummer in particular just wanted to keep pounding it out ... until he was told quietly to give it a rest. Ukulele, harmonium came in to fill the gap. Coffee with coconut milk was delivered to musicians in the wee hours. Still, on the first night I didn't make it all the way through, but only till around 4.

I dreamed I was in love with another man's woman. This is the reminder of what Eckhart Tolle calls "the pain body." I awoke from the drama to a sleepy camp, dull stirrings for breakfast at mid-morning. I wanted a break from the camp and a refresher for my dusty body and foggy mind. So I headed back down to the highway and the Ko'olina Resort, which could be seen off in the distance from the camp up on the mountainside. On the way I missed the turn and wound up headed back toward Honolulu. Everywhere on the highway there were construction lanes, last-minute signs for turnoffs, speeding traffic four to six lanes in each direction. I thought I would try Ewa beach as a second choice, but when I finally got to the area it was run down, not a good choice for parking a rental car or leaving backpack on beach while swimming. So I backtracked and finally made it to resort land - the other end of the socioeconomic spectrum.

Here the shoreline was sculpted into a series of four artificial "lagoons," each with large rocks piled to break the incoming waves. The grass around the impeccable crescent beachs was cropped like a putting green, and sprouted palm trees laden not with coconuts, but security lights and cameras. The water was all very lovely, the sand squeaky white and clean, but it was all a bit creepy.

Along the way, images:

- In a big black pickup truck, a young Hawaiian woman rides on the passenger side, with a bright flower (plastic?) in her hair over her ear.

- On the boulevards enroute to Ewa beach, people are walking under umbrellas against the midday sun.

- On an actual putting green of the resort golf course, a guy is doing pushups.

- At the resort, electronic speed monitors appear every 100 feet, flashing my crimes at me and scolding me to do as I'm told.

- Back at the FireTribe camp, above the fire pit where we engage in our pagan rites, a trail leads to another fire pit surrounded by benches like a little amphitheatre, topped by a large wooden cross.

On the second night I stuck it out to the end, feeling that the discipline of the practice demanded it. It wasn't about the jam or the party or the dance, as I am used to; but about setting aside whatever it is that I identify with, and opening space for the collective spirit and other individual spirits to unfold. Within this setting aside, though, the other challenge is to still allow and express what is genuine to flow forth through each of us to feed the fire and the dance and the song of the long night. So I was there at the end with Tara and Michael and a few others, with a long samba jam into dawn, where we had found that sweet sustained meeting ground of volume and tempo and groove and spice and holding it down and going off and coming back, listening and speaking in turn, organically, honestly, humbly; graciously and gratefully.

View slide show with more photos from Oahu and Maui

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