by Victoria Derr Valencia

When in the desert, speak to the desert folks.



“Be careful when you choose a theme.”

“A theme for what?”

His piercing blue eyes came back to meet mine, startled. “For your art, yeah. A theme for your art.”

His choppy brown hair flopped over, quickly covering his glancing eyes. His body was splayed, cheetah jumpsuit clad, atop a beanbag also adorned in animal print. The beanbag was fit into his carriage with a shaded roof. His bike turned couch contraption was parked in the shade of the music bowl.

“Come, come,” he patted the poofy bean bag, scooting his body over to invite us into his jungle cave. “I made it all myself,” he said as he scooted his body over to accommodate ours into the lounge.

His name mirrored his pose: “Pile,” he introduced himself, and his body was also propped against the bean bag haphazardly, like a pile that kept re-accommodating itself. Legs crossed over themselves, head tossing back and forth, surveying the dancers and hoopers in the music bowl, then coming back to meet our gaze.

“Jungle, yeah,” he spoke like he was chewing gum, or bugs. Jungle-onians chew bugs, don’t they?

“That’s my theme, jungle.”



Anahita and the under-the-breath mantras she spoke, in rhythm to the single drops she dispersed into workshop participants noses. A redhead went first, laying on the earthen benches with her head hanging from the edge of the seat.

Anahita spoke “Ether, fire, earth, water,”  with each drop that fell from the vial, making its way into the upside down head. A single drop of current pursuing the channels.

The circle of attentiveness from Anahita’s Ayurvedic hydration workshop began to disperse attention; students would take their turn, lying their heads to hang off the benches, letting drops fall up into their nostrils, then moving back to the circle, inhaling and exhaling, speaking on the sensations of eucalyptus and peppermint moving their way upwards their nasal canals.

“Ether, fire, earth, water,” Anahita repeated the mantra, with equal attention and care.

 Festival go-ers.
Festival go-ers.


A smackdab Taurus, with dreads and kind eyes, an open demeanor, a people loving playfulness. He lived the nomadic lifestyle, 100 miles to a new landscape, coming up to greet me from the dirt road, a structure separating the festival and the backroads. “How do you make money?” an imprudent question he greeted with a smile. “I have faith and trust integrity.” A festival volunteer, directing parking and sharing meals. His colleagues drove by in a golf cart and alerted him to a green dot situation. Michael was on break, sharing with us his nomadic philosophy. “It’s accepting things when they’re not the best at face value,” he shrugged.

A rambling rant of esoteric expressions, somewhat connected in philosophy, from the parking attendant to the busker to the masseuse in the healing oasis. To expel, express their philosophy and wait for a mirror. The man-made lake reflected this. The campground was its own microclimate, its own universe.

“Yeah,” Michael the vagabond Taurus continued, pulling me back from my macrocosmic moment. “And that’s my perspective on religious communities and the people who are wayward.”

 A painter.
A painter.

A fellow photographer

With a red t-shirt that read: CLIMAX at the APEX of the VORTEX.

 JC Jaress.
JC Jaress.


“So,” he started, a gravely voice. “The Earth has no trash can.”

An Earth Warrior and a soil advocate, wearing hiking boots and giving a talk on sustainability and regeneration in the This Land is Your Land presentation center. JC Jaress wore a red shirt, sleeveless, with a cartoon lightning bolt across his chest.

“Soil is a living thing. With a microbiome.” JC spoke of the two way channels in the mycorrhizal network, the symbiosis in trees talking to each other. The soil being the home for this network. The dangers of dying soil. “Dead soil doesn’t absorb water.” While he spoke, his hiking boots kicked up dust. “There’s 48 trillion pounds of eroded topsoil a year.”

JC gripped the graphs he’d brought in his hands. He slid forwards on the bench, and backwards again, his hands moving in circles as he spoke. A voice like the sound of scraping your heels against desert dust, and a movement in his conversation. The purple mountains behind him stood solemnly.

“The Earth is dying, we are dying,” he concluded. The desertification of the world, the spreading of desert’s magic dance and the desert’s dead topsoil and the desert’s glaring lack of resources to sustain fragile, human life.

 Pierette & Brandon.  To Gong, With Love.
Pierette & Brandon. To Gong, With Love.

Pierette & Brandon

The gongs had glyphs on them. Symbols. The gong with the Saturn glyph sat at the center, the south side of the circle. Venus was held by Brandon, gingerly stepping throughout haphazardly sprawled bodies, deeply entrenched in trance. Venus made a deeper sound than you’d expect the goddess of love to make. Brassier than you’d expect the planet of intimacy to make.

To gong, with love – a Saturday morning sound bath. The gongs shused the entranced bodies, like a mother lulling her child to sleep. Vibrations of sound mimicked being physically rocked from side to side, lowering you deeper into trance.

The kitchen crew chatted, washed dishes as background noise. The manager shushed them. A dog howled. The owner shushed her. A rat pack of 8 year old boys crouched, crunching on chips. The older sister shushed them.

But all these sounds, unplanned by Pierette & Brandon, added to the trance. Environmental factors, even unplanned ones, are a facet of life that many of us have learned to shift our attention from. Escaping what enmeshes us is an unrealistic expectation, an unrealistic idealization of what a life lived is. There will always be dirty dishes in the sink, and someone in the kitchen to do the noisy, and joyful, washing.



The unsung queen of JTMF.

The first person I photographed, and the person who kept appearing and reappearing throughout the festival. Like a desert trickster, Susy was everywhere I turned. Backstage during Radio Skies set. In Andrew Ecker’s drum ceremony, Susy sat banging her hands on a bongo. Kicking up dust as she left the music bowl. Sitting at the Boogaloo stage’s comfy couches.

She told us she had been volunteering at the fest for years now. “I’m a desert rat,” she said with a smile, her hat studded with turquoise stones and her skirt scraping the ground as she walked.