June 10, 2007

The Festival at 3 a.m.

The last links of jalapeno smoked sausage have been washed down with wildly inappropriate wines. From the tentsites in the hills come guitar chords and whoops of celebration, and no one shouts, “Hey, I’m trying to sleep.” You sit at a campfire with people you don’t know, listening to songs you’ve never heard before. You half-stumble in the dark on the path to the community toilets, moving aside into a branch of a juniper to let two lovers pass on their way to their tent. Down in the hollow you stay another half-hour to watch the fire dancers twirl their flaming torches behind them and through their legs and across their shoulders as they bend and turn and arch their backs to a fierce song strummed by a hoarse singer.

If you spread your sleeping bag at your host’s campsite you’ll just toss awake listening to the song circles at the campfires. So you keep walking past the darkened outdoor stage, past the entrance gate, to the rocky, rutted farmer’s field that’s the parking lot, and for ten minutes you search for your car. Sometimes a couple or a threesome walks nearby, uncatchable phrases fluttering like batwings. Eventually you fit your key into the door lock. You perform a number of tests to see which would be less uncomfortable, curling up in the back seat or lowering the front seat, and your head knocks the rearview mirror awry and you knee knocks into the gearshift. The rear windshield is damply mud-specked but is that an almost-full moon through it? No, it’s the white light from the parking lot lamppost.

You get into position but you’re still awake. It’s a matter of waiting now, waiting for your mental state to shift, for hybrid animals, long-gone friends, and movie stars to appear and the landscape to change like a slide show, and then for it all to bow goodnight and sink away. You watch your consciousness slow down, speed up, a leg twitch, a new thought, a replayed conversation, a remembered face, will your mind spin till morning, which side will the sun rise on, will you wake up with a neckache, and is there any reason not to feel that this is the peak moment of your life?

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