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Warm breeze on my face, the rustle of leaves. Laughter. A country band on the River Parks pavilion, festooned with small white Christmas lights, the only backdrop an American flag painted on a wall constructed of somewhat warped 1 x 8 boards.
I walked toward the pavilion, wrapping up an evening walk on the river's edge, where magic and mystery prevail in the level of the water: today up on the banks, tomorrow almost gone except for stagnant pools between the mudflats. That's how it is for a river functions as flood control for an upstream dam and reservoir. Sometimes I spend time counting turtles on the rocks and logs. At other times, I observe homeless sleeping rough on the grass and residents of nearby half-million dollar homes walking their miniature dachshunds and coveted-breed dogs.
It's 8:30 pm. The days are getting shorter. It's warm, but it's already dark, and I feel a bit sad to usher in the end of the summer, although I love the autumn, with its heady temperature changes, gaudy leaves, and robin-egg football season skies.
Lights are flickering in my peripheral vision. I flash-wonder if I'm genetically doomed to lose my peripheral vision. My dad has fought a losing battle with glaucoma, and although my eye pressures are fine, my opthamologist has referred me to a glaucoma specialist, although he says I'm 20-30 years younger than most he refers. Oh. Well. Thank you. I guess. I have researched the items that cause eye pressures to increase, and I realize I already do everything I'm supposed to, except I could cut out all coffee and avoid yoga. I find avoiding the Downward Dog does not present too many problems. Coffee -- well, that's another issue.
So in my still-intact peripheral vision, I see flickering lights. I look toward what seems to be people juggling fire, and I mention them to a couple of people standing near.
"Oh yes -- there's a big group that comes out on Tuesdays. Almost 50. Tonight it's just a few. Real fire, except the light on the ground. The circle of light is an LED light."
I approach and I see two individuals -- a woman with what seems to be a hulu hoop with equidistant sources of flame, and a man with two flaming balls on the edge of what appears to be a long jump rope. It's a chain with two fire sources, and it's called a "poi." The woman is working with a fire hoop.
Their movements are fluid, well-choreographed, and I feel I'm suddenly in the woods on the edge of the palace of Theseus in A Midsummer Night's Dream. I will never forget the Shakespeare in the Park evenings in Edmond, Oklahoma. My son, then 11, would go with me, and we'd sit on a couple of beach towels and watch the actors. By far, my favorite was their interpretation of A Midsummer Night's Dream, set far in the future, rather than in classical antiquity.
I ask one of the dancers how long she has been fire dancing. She says for 3 years and she runs workshops. I wonder if fire dancing is having some sort of resurgence, with Burning Man vibes. It merits investigating.
In Chengdu, China, I had the opportunity to go to a Tea House, which was a place you could eat dinner and then see a variety show with acrobatic acts. Juggling was big, and juggling tea pots, ones that actually had water inside them was pretty amazing. There was also a bit of juggling items that could be set alight -- I often wondered what would happen if the flaming items in the air ever collided with the numerous silk scarves one was wont to see in the highly decorated locations.
Others are videoing the dancing, so I suppose it's perfectly acceptable. I take out my phone and capture a few performances, thinking how amazing it is to be able to stand 2 feet from the circle of light, and to be so close that I can smell the fuel, hear the flames. When the lead dancer says "Switch" I watch the movements with delight. I love the way that they incorporate the aleatory yet seemingly perfectly predestined musical accompaniment.
This is not my first close-up encounter with fire and its arts. I will never forget the Novruz Bayram holiday, the first day of spring in Baku, Azerbaijan. All throughout the city one could see small improvisatory fire art, as people shouted and then jumped over the flames. The practice dated back to Zoroastrian days, with Mazda the god of light, and a competition between good and evil. In theory, each jump over the fire burned up one year of misdeeds. My curiosity got the best of me and I paid the interpreter to take me to a group with a tiny fire where they would let me jump (for a gift of vodka). I jumped numerous times, but probably not enough to clear the slate. Oh well. It was a start. While I was leaping, I really never felt any fear, or that I’d fall. Granted, the fire was small.
Other fire art could include July 4 fireworks, but I’ve preferred to keep my distance. I, like all other young children, liked sparklers, which I now consider to be good for nothing but mutilations.
Again, my thoughts float back to Shakespeare in the Park and the actors portraying people in varying stages of enchantment. I wonder if someone will sprinkle pansy juice in my eyes and if I’ll be a helpless captive of the first thing I set my eyes on.
Moon higher in the sky. It casts a strangely orange glow. The waters of the Arkansas River (yes, there is water tonight) sparkle and glow with golden moonlight, while the park sizzles and sparkles with the white-light fire whirling in the tender night.