wired windows...

The Black Rock Desert stretches for miles on end. A flat, dry, hard-packed, lake-bed gives way to the eruption of panoramic mountains. At sunrise, mirages glisten in the distance. The illusion of water that once existed in this landscape. No shade, only shadows. No shelter, only dust. These are the elements faced in taking down the temple, but they were also the elements in mind when the Tasseograph Trash Tea Temple was envisioned.


Shrine takes down the top layer of windows—those that singularly hang from the steel beams directly below the upper platform. I offer to help and he instructs me to set up an additional ladder and take down the remaining windows on the opposite side. Tucker and I handle the ten-foot ladder with ease, hoisting it on-end near the corner of the temple. I step up the first few rungs—solid in my boots despite their thickly treaded rubber soles. The two over-sized metal buckles that adorn each boot give gentle indications of every step up—cling clingcling—and each wobble of the ladder—clingcling clingcling.

Standing on the highest rung where I can reach the top of the windows and still maintain secure balance, I begin untwisting the first of many mangled messes of wire. As with much of the temple, the wire is salvaged—not making for neat twists, but rather unruly spirals, dangerous tendrils, and roughly cut ends. I find a rhythm in the repetition—twist twist unwrap straighten, twist straighten push through tug—twist twist unwrap straighten, twist straighten push through tug. My fingers begin to redden.

Freeing the bottom is easy—twist twist unwrap. The window swings gently without restraint. The side anchors prove a bit more difficult as they often need to be manipulated through old window hardware—straighten tug straighten tug… tug… tug…clip. I tuck a pair of needle nose pliers into my turquoise hot pants.

Timing is key. Maintaining equal distribution on both mounts, I lift the weight of the window frame and unhinge the top wires. Balancing at the top of the ladder, careful not to bang the glass on the steel structural beams, I slide the wires free from their unforgiving holds. My arm muscles strain as I grip the frame with my fingers—fingers already raw from handling too much wire. With my free hand I grasp the top of the ladder steadying myself for descent.

I look up and notice that while I struggled to liberate my first window, Shrine had managed to detach three—three to my one! Despite my slower pace, my duration will prove useful. I won't let Shrine’s mastery of the unhinging dissuade me from completing the task. Stepping off the ladder, I round the side of the temple to where the windows are laid out. We stack them in neat piles of three, ensuring that none of the wires scrape the paint. Moving back around the exterior of the temple, I resume my task.

While working along my designated row, another crewmember shows up and proceeds to disengage the lower windows. These windows hang off each other in columns of three, creating the main walls of the temple. None hang perfectly parallel; every one slightly askew. That, paired with the windows’ constant shifting, create a disquieting aesthetic. Just one-way the architecture itself performs.

Every now and again, someone rides up on a bicycle, asks me a question, shares praise for the temple, or, occasionally, offers me a hand with one of the windows. More often than not, their timing couldn’t be worse. Despite my struggles bringing down the windows, I still find it easier to manage them on my own than attempt to coordinate a hand-off to someone else.

Back on top of the ladder, I hear Shrine say, “looks like there’s a white-out headed our way.” I look up to see that he is right. On the not so distant horizon a dust storm is brewing. I watch the boundaries of the Esplanade disappear as the edge of existence creeps closer. In preparation, I re-tie my bandana over my mouth and nose and reposition my goggles to hold the makeshift dust mask in place. Trapped under the thin black cotton of my bandana, I recognize the sweet smell of sweat mixed with my acrid breath from the coffee I had that morning. I recognize the only smells on the playa are those created by humans. The wind whips through the temple, and the alkaline dust bites at the bare skin of my belly, my back, and my thighs. The force of the wind pushes the window I hold, threatening to rip it from my ever-tightening grip.

The anxiety of dropping a window has plagued me all day; the sound of crashing glass cascading over the metal ladder; the wood frame splintering into paint chips and slivers; Shrine’s decorative painting scattering in a million colorful shards on the Playa. In this moment, I am actually afraid it may happen. I struggle to maintain my balance while the wind magnifies the ladder’s vulnerability—clingcling clingcling. It rocks gently. I counter-balance, holding the window frame with white knuckles.

The second wire won’t come loose and I’m leaning awkwardly away from the ladder with one hand gripping the frame while the other wiggles the wire—tug tug straighten tug. I can’t see Shrine, although he stands only five feet below me. I hope he can’t see me either, in my precarious position. With a final tug, the wire slides out of its hold. I throw my body back over the ladder to keep from reeling off. I take a moment to regain my composure, but only a moment because the window is getting heavier and heavier.

I start my descent—step wobble step wobble, gust and grit. The wind pushes my window. I grab it with both hands in time for it to only softly bang into the ladder. I stay propped there in mid-air, tucking my head near to my chest, holding tight to the window, listening to tiny particles ping against the glass.

Only ten more windows to go.

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