Overcoming Trepidations about Burning Man

A few days ago, I made a Craigslist purchase just outside a Starbuck’s in Sacramento.  It happened that the item was for our Burning Man camp and that fact sparked a typical exchange.

“I’ve always wanted to go, but my wife is dead set against it.  I’m not so sure either.  We don’t want to take our clothes off in front of other people,” he told me.

I sprung into Defender of Burning Man action.

“You don’t have to go naked; you don’t have to do anything you don’t want to do,” I told him.  “It’s the most chilled out place you’ve ever been.”

“But I’ve just had my 71st birthday.  I’m too old to go,” he said.

“You’re perfect for Burning Man,” I told him.  “I’m 73, and this year will be my 11th Burn.  In fact, I write a blog about Burning Man for people 50 and older on why they should go.”

After showing him the site on my smartphone, I made him promise that he’d read some of the posts and give it serious consideration.  So just in case my Craigslist friend finds his way to this site, I thought I’d reprint a piece I did in October 2011.  It is about my initial trepidations about attending, and why I came back over and over again.  Here it is:

Posted on October 18, 2011

I felt great trepidation once I had agreed to attend my first Burning Man Festival.  My fears focused on the many levels of misery I would experience during what seemed like an endless seven days in the desert.

Would I have to get naked? Would I have to take drugs? Would I suffer sunburn and dehydration? Would I get lost in a dust storm?

I was hoping to survive the event, and I certainly never expected to enjoy myself. What a surprise then to realize that Burning Man turned out to be not only fun but also the most pressure-free environment I had ever experienced in my life. Nothing was expected of me. Others may have gone naked (a small percentage, I might add), but no one expected it of me. Others might have done drugs (I definitely saw some marijuana being imbibed, but there was no demand that I do drugs). Others might have partied day and night, but I rested whenever I was tired. It was easy to take care of myself in the desert heat, and one of the prime directives of our camp was to “take care of each other.”

Best of all, from the moment I entered the gates, I felt a freeing spirit descend on me, and the weight of troubles and concerns lift off of my shoulders. It’s no wonder that I came back home noticeably younger looking and feeling.

Year One: Eric and I Lamplighting together at Burning Man 2005

Rather than my week in the desert being a miserable experience marked by sunstroke, sunburn and deep bodily embarrassment, it was the experience of a lifetime between myself and my son –remarkable since he was 40 years my junior and had little reason to stick around with his old man in this clearly youthful environment.

But stick with me he did. He watched me like a hawk, making certain his old man was not only okay, but having a great time and getting adequate rest and nutrition. In fact, the one time I had a bit too much to drink, he looked askance at me and said, “Dad, you’re drunk” in an accusing voice. I turned to him and slurred out the words, “Yes, I am,” and began laughing.

It was the greatest bonding experience ever between the two of us, and one we have never forgotten. Although we attended several more Burns together, we never went again without his mom’s presence, and it was never the same special “guy’s” event.

Year Two:  Judie enjoys her Barbie moment.

As wonderful as my experience with Eric had been, my fears would have been allayed if I had come alone. Nothing I have ever done, and no place I have ever gone, puts less pressure on you than Burning Man. Of course, that was my experience. And I would always caution you to carefully check out the group with whom you’re camping. Some rare camps do not observe the Burning Man spirit of “taking care of each other” and may haze newbies. It should be easy to find that out in advance. If you are camping in a theme camp, do some advance research to determine the history and reputation of the group. If you don’t like what you learn, find another group.

More about theme camps vs. camping on your own shortly.

 

 

Everything’s Sexier at Burning Man

Love is in the air at Burning Man, and it’s a great feeling.  From the moment you arrive, you’ll be inundated by hugs – beginning at the greeter station and continuing throughout the Burn.  There are hug camps and kissing booths, compliment camps, and smile camps.   Hugs are the greeting du jour of Burning Man.  If you have an aversion to being touched by other humans, be prepared to jettison that phobia and embrace another self – your Burner self.

Your first visit to Burning Man can cause some cultural shock waves in your life – and that’s especially true if you’re settled into belief systems and habits.  At my first Burn, I was startled one morning when I stepped out of my tent and saw a group of naked men and women running behind a truck that was spraying the road with water (done regularly to keep the dust in check). After a couple of days of exposure to …  well … exposure, I became accustomed to nudity.  It had quickly lost its shock or titillation power.

However, the nudity, partial nudity and provocative dress combined with the many erotic activities (such as couple’s nude photos by a professional photographer, camps devoted to pleasuring one sex or the other, orgy domes, etc.) made for an immersive sexual atmosphere.  The hugs were fun, but the eroticism was fabulous.

Nudity at Burning Man was startling at first. But I got used to it.

I’ve always believed that sexuality is a life force, and that embracing your eroticism makes you feel young.  What I’m talking about is different from random sexual hook-ups on the Playa; instead, this is a ubiquitous and energizing state that infuses the entirety of Burning Man.  For my wife and I, it has changed our life together for the better, prevented the dulling down of our romance (even after 51 years), and made us act more like a young couple than a couple of old fogies.  We embrace the physical aspect of our marriage far more today than we did prior to the year we fell in love with The Man.

I believe the life-affirming erotic power of Burning Man has its greatest impact on people a few years beyond the “hooking up” stage.  It puts us back in the game of living life to the fullest.

My first Burn was 2005, the theme was Psyche, and the atmosphere was even more erotic than it is now.  Each day was named for a sex act (e.g., Oral Sex Tuesday); nudity was more commonplace than it seems to be today; and it felt like every other camp had some sexual purpose.

I realized after my first Burn that I felt a lot younger, but it took me a few years to make the connection between feeling younger and feeling sexual.  I’m convinced that the connection is real, and that my life is made better by feeling sexy for a week in the desert every year.

Opinions about Burning Man Can Be Wrong

Many of the people who have heard of Burning Man have some deep-seated misunderstandings of the Festivals. Among these misconceptions are:

1. Burning Man is music festival, like Coachella
2. Burning Man is a hippie rave, where everyone is on drugs
3. Burning Man is a one-week orgy, where everyone goes naked and has sex with each other constantly
4. Burning Man is liberal; conservatives are not welcomed
5. Burning Man is for the young – there’s nothing there for older people
6. Burning Man’s art isn’t serious – it’s just part of the entertainment

There’s a touch of truth in all of these statements, but for the most part, they are all inaccurate. I’d like to examine both the realities and the origins of the misperceptions:

First, while there’s plenty of music at Burning Man, it is not a music festival. In fact, the vast majority of music you’ll hear on the Playa is recorded and the biggest “stars” are the DJ’s. While there are a few live bands, there’s rarely anyone famous who performs there. For live music, Burning Man is far more noted for its rag-tag marching bands, drum circles, and volunteer performers at Center Camp (who range from excellent to ludicrous). Music constantly wafts out of art cars as they roam the Playa, but it’s rarely live.

Second, while there may be rave-like parties here and there in Black Rock City, they are neither universal nor part of the scheduled events. They just happen at times among Burners who enjoy raucous parties. The desert is big, and one party can’t influence the whole of Burning Man, so you may never encounter such parties. By the way, few Burners consider themselves hippies, and most of those are in their 70s or older. Many of the attendees don’t even know what a hippie is. And while some people do drugs while in Black Rock City, this activity is not ubiquitous and there’s absolutely no pressure to partake if you’re disinclined.

Burning Man art featured at the Smithsonian show running through next January

Third, orgies are neither universal nor “required” activities. Some people enjoy sexual activity with individuals they have just met on the Playa; others remain monogamous or even chaste. There’s no question about the erotic atmosphere that pervades Burning Man, but how you act on it (or don’t) is entirely up to you. Nudity or partial nudity is common, but not universal.

Fourth, Burning Man attendees probably lean liberal, but there are plenty of committed conservatives who come annually. In fact, the Playa is a haven where you can escape the constant drum of political talk or any form of news. Some of the art may reflect a political point of view, but subjects such as concern for the planet and human rights are far more typical of Burning Man art themes than politics.

Fifth, if Burning Man were strictly for the young, why would I write this blog? There are families with toddlers, young adults, mid-career men and women, and people as old as their 80s. Walking or biking across the Playa, you’d be hard-pressed to identify an “average” age group. Activities are open to all ages, and accessible alternatives with those with disabilities (age-related or not) are plentiful.

Finally, the creative value in the art created for Burning Man is subjective, especially given the frequent whimsical or provocative content. But one measure of the artistic integrity of what you’ll see at a typical Burn is a new exhibit at the Smithsonian’s Renwick Gallery entitled No Spectators: The Art of Burning Man. The show began on March 30 and will run through January 21, 2019. Click this link for more information. We’ve always considered the art our favorite aspect of Burning Man, and feel this new exhibit validates our sense of its importance.

Burners Bored? They’re Too Busy

“Seven days in the desert!  What are we going to do for all that time?”

Plenty.  But you won’t know about the myriad activities until you read your What When Where guide, which you can obtain only by entering the gates of Burning Man.

I’m here to help, because I have in front of me one of my guides from a past Burning Man, and I’m going to share with you some sample activities you can expect during your week in Black Rock City.

The events are broken into two sets of groupings:  first, by whether they are repeating or one-time events; and second, by one of 11 categories, specifically:

  • Care/support
  • Adult
  • Fire-based
  • Food
  • Games
  • Kid-friendly
  • Parade
  • Party/gathering
  • Performance
  • Ritual/ceremony
  • Workshop/class

The book itself contains more than 150 pages of listings (in small type).  One example is belly dancing class (probably taught by a professional) at 3 p.m. Monday.  At 9 p.m. on Wednesday, there’s a night art tour with introductions to the artists.  Up late?  From 11:30 p.m. to 1:30 a.m. there’s Midnight Warmup at the First Kiss Café.  It features tea and hot toddies.  Even later, there are a number of dance parties from midnight to 4 a.m. (such as the famed Spanky’s disco).  Each features a different type of music.  An early bird?  Try Energetic Yin Yoga at Naked Heart from 7 to 8:30 a.m. (I don’t think you have to be naked while you’re practicing your yoga exercises.)

If you’re looking for Burning Man’s legendary sexuality, enter the Slut Olympics from 2 to 4 p.m. Wednesday at Slutgarden (not sure what’s required but it’s suggested you bring knee pads).  Or, if you’re truly adventurous, take your lover to the Orgy Dome.  But be ready to share – it’s required.

Every day you can roller skate to vintage rock music at the Black Rock Roller Rink, play Bumper Cars and pick up Burning Man-themed swag at the Swagmart.

Whatever time you’re out and about, there are plenty of bars open, all of them serving straight liquor, wine, or specialty drinks at absolutely no charge.  If you don’t want to cook breakfast, head out to one of the playa’s pancake emporiums such as the Pancake Playhouse.  There’s no charge, but remember to bring a plate or you’ll be licking syrup off of your hands.

Nights are alive with burning art, outdoor movies, circuses and more.  And if you find yourself under-dressed for the Playa, there are several spots devoted to finding you the perfect outfits for your stay in the desert.  The largest is Kostume Kult, staffed by classic New York schmata salesmen (it’s Yiddish – look it up).  Speaking of desert, if you feel too dusty to move after a few days in Black Rock City, you can visit either the Astral Hair Wash or the Human Carcass Wash.  Just remember to bring a gallon of water with you and leave your modesty behind.

Bikes are crucial to your Burning Man experience, and if yours breaks down you can take it to one of the many bike repair shops such as Bike Repair@ShangriLa.  Again, there’s no charge, and you may even avail yourself of a lecture on do-it-yourself repair or bike safety.

Each year, we mark our What When Where Guide with all the happenings we don’t want to miss.  But there’s so much going on, that we rarely get to half of the events.  Sometimes that’s because as we’re biking our way to one event, we see something along the route that attracts our interest and we go there instead.

So, if the potential for boredom is stopping you from attending Burning Man, push that excuse off of your chart of “no’s”.  If anything, there’s too much to do in just one week on the Playa.  Hope to see you there.

 

 

 

Brain Games on the Playa

It was well after midnight (our favorite time on the Playa) and we were trying out food and drinks gifted by different camps when we began to hear some music wafting toward us. We were drawn in like moths to a flame only to discover that a live hip-hop group was performing at an intimate tent-based nightclub. As people in their 70s, we have never been especially fond of hip-hop. In fact, we’ve found most of it repulsive – especially the “gangsta” style rap with its violent and misogynistic lyrics. On the other hand, we’ve enjoyed work such as Common and John Legend’s Oscar-winning song from Selma, which combined Legend’s singing with Common’s rapping. And that was the very type of hip-hop we ran across that night at Burning Man.

The group consisted of two male rappers and a female singer. They were uniformly excellent. The music track was pre-recorded, but it was their own composition and performance. We fell under the spell of this group. The woman’s singing was tuneful and enticing. Best of all, it meshed perfectly with the rap, which was poetic, funny, and pointed. This may have been the first time we listened so carefully to rap lyrics. We stayed around for the entire set, dancing and joining others in urging the group to “play one more” whenever they announced that this was their final number.

The jellyfish from last year’s Burn. Is this what made my brain work better?

We’re never going to be hip-hop aficionados, but we discovered that rejecting all hip-hop out of hand was limiting our artistic experiences. So now we’re paying more attention to rap, aware that it’s both poetic and musical, and watching as the art form evolves and broadens its appeal. Without this Burning Man experience, we’d probably remain in our musical bunker and continue to avoid rap/hip-hop as an art form.

Finding and engaging with new experiences (whether it’s music, art, or the people we meet), is a positive brain exercise – especially important for older people. It’s probably one of the reasons that we return from Black Rock City energized and feeling younger. So, you can choose to dine on jellyfish (or take Prevagen) or go to Burning Man for a shot of youthful energy and brain stimulation. I don’t know if Prevagen works, but I am certain about Burning Man.

On another topic, many of you may already be aware that the 2018 theme for Burning Man is “I, Robot,” which is the name of a hit movie starring Will Smith. The film was originally inspired by a short story by famed Sci-Fi writer and biochemist Isaac Asimov. But this year’s theme is not the only Asimov-inspired aspect of the 2018 Burn. The Temple (artists’ rendering above), which is currently in early stages of construction, will also be named for a work linked to Asimov, “Galaxia”. According to the Org, the Temple is “inspired by Gaia in Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series, GALAXIA, which celebrates the hope in the unknown; it is the ultimate network, the fabric of the universe connecting living beings into one entity.”

So BRC in 2018 will be a sci-fi lover’s feast, and personally, I can’t wait.

No Pain, No Gain

I understand why people find Burning Man intimidating and feel resigned never to attend – even if they have an interest in the art or participating in the Burn’s unique, principles-driven culture. Given the harsh desert environment, the requirement to bring your own food and water, and the presence of those dreaded porta-potties, I can’t fault anyone for such a decision. In fact, that’s the way I felt as I approached my first Burn. I had to fight through personal apprehensions as the date neared and felt fairly certain I would not survive the experience (I have a tendency toward overblown fears). But the minute my son dragged my sorry ass through the gate back in 2005, I felt a sense of freedom, unlike anything I had ever known. The experience of that first Burn, and each one thereafter, has made a permanent impact on me and enhanced my life. Let me count the ways.

People: After more than 30 years as a corporate executive, I found myself judging people largely on external factors – how they dressed, speech patterns, grooming, etc. At Burning Man, I learned to see through many of the surface features to find the real people underneath. I wasn’t just interested in “accepting” a broader array of people, but in embracing them. And while I began this practice at the Burn, I have expanded it to the whole of my life ever since.

Awareness: For reasons that are hard to explain, I seem to be more aware of the world around me since attending Burning Man. I’m particularly alert to natural beauty, which is especially pleasant during the winter months when we live adjacent to Lake Tahoe. Maybe it’s because spending a week or two in the flat, lifeless Black Rock Desert has taught me to find beauty everywhere.

Sunset over Lake Tahoe. Now I see it. (iPhone Photo by author).

Love: After 51 years of marriage, my wife and I love each other more than ever. Has Burning Man played a role? I think it has. It’s a shared experience that we both love and reflect on throughout the year. It’s a period of time when we rely almost entirely on each other. It’s provided us with a whole new set of friends – many of them quite young – who inspire and energize us and renew our own relationship.

Sex: Burning Man is suffused with eroticism, and its presence adds a dimension not just to our time on the Playa, but to our lives as a whole. Since we began attending Burning Man, our love life has blossomed. Sex is not a fading aspect of our marriage, but an ever growing and improving wonder.

Creativity: Year in and year out, we are amazed and inspired by the creative energy on display at Burning Man. The art is not just aesthetically pleasing, it is clever and innovative in ways that make you re-think your own ability to add fun and enjoyment to the world. Typical Burning Man art engages both sides of your brain by employing both technology and traditional art to create something unique. Sometimes, the best art at Burning Man is of the mobile variety. The art cars are something to behold.

Would it be worth enduring the trying negatives of Burning Man for the plusses I’ve listed here? It is for me.

Free to Be Burners

I’ve written numerous posts on this blog listing reasons we love Burning Man and feel others our age will love it as well. Those reasons have included the creativity, the diversity of people, the whimsy, and the eroticism that are hallmarks of the event. But one factor I’ve never mentioned – possibly because I didn’t notice its presence until this Burn — is freedom. This year, arriving as we did to a raw and unstructured Playa, it was clear the moment we stepped out of our RV that we were unencumbered by our day-to-day lives. We felt totally free – untethered to anything outside of the next two weeks. The feeling of weightlessness was palpable, and energizing. Here we were, parked in an empty plot of desert with practically no one in sight, and feeling totally fine with our situation. It was exhilarating.

We may have noticed this sense of freedom, this absence of pedestrian constraints, because we had been away from Burning Man for two years; hence, 2017 felt a bit like our first Burn. But because we were experienced Burners, we weren’t overwhelmed as are most first-timers; we were instead aware of our deeper feelings. In the nothingness we encountered arriving this year, we found liberation.

Tent-top light show underway in Deep Playa

This lightness of spirit permeated our entire experience and left us at ease in the face of challenges such as leading a camp for the first time and dealing with the typical harsh elements of Black Rock City. It also allowed us to revel with abandon in the joys we’ve always found at Burning Man. I remember watching a deep playa light show, transfixed at the movement of the LED’s synched to mostly classical music. Burners laid on the floor of the tent-like structure watching the light show projected onto the “roof”. You felt like you could watch forever.

That same night we saw a gigantic puppet created by a French artist. I had seen her before, but she was attired so differently that I thought this was a second such art installation. It turned out that the artist’s crew changed the puppet’s look daily – quite an undertaking for a figure that was probably 25 feet tall.

Giant puppet in open Playa. Her outfits changed daily

The art not only inspired us with its beauty, creative effort, and remarkable desert-ready execution, but also spoke to the sense of freedom in which we basked the entire time.

weather largely cooperated in giving us leeway to set our own schedule. In fact, this year’s greatest meteorological challenge was not dust storms, but heat. The temperature reached at least 119 degrees and confined us to our air-conditioned RV between 11 and 4 most days. The nights cooled, but not as much as usual. As a result, our lighted outerwear was too warm for the balmy desert evenings – even at the 4,000-foot elevation of the Black Rock Desert – and remained back in the RV or hung on our bikes. Desert weather is fickle and I would recommend bringing warm clothes for the evenings despite this year’s warmth. I also think we made the right decision staying out of the heat during the hottest part of the day. Some of our young campmates were fine taking on mid-day activities, but I’m certain it would have sapped our strength.

But even the heat could not dampen our sense of liberty at being at Burning Man. It was, without a doubt, our best – and freest – burn ever.

Burning with Buddies

We’ve made many friends at Burning Man over the years, and we’re always eager to see our Playa buddies when we return.  In fact, we are often amazed at how many people we know as we wander around Black Rock City.  For example, this year our vehicle was inspected by a former Lamplighter friend (Playa name: “Hey You”), who had moved over to the Perimeter Department.  We love the fact that we have a unique set of Burner friends in addition to those people we’ve known from the default world.

We came away from Burning Man 2017 with a whole new set of Burner Buddies: the (mostly) young people we camped at Temple Guardians.  As a result, we now have new Facebook contacts whose lives and achievements we can follow.  It’s as if we’ve gained more grandchildren to brag about.  Some of the “kids” (yes, I know they were all adults, but they seemed like kids to us), were incredibly caring people.  I remember a time I was on a ladder trying to erect our big shade structure and one of our campers insisted that I come down before I hurt myself.  I don’t think I was shaky while on the ladder, but there’s no question that I was old while climbing.  Like this camper, many of the other young people treated us like respected family members who needed, and deserved their concern.

This year we also found out how much fun it could be to share our Burn with good friends from the other parts of our life.  A couple we’ve known for years were invited to camp with Temple Guardians, and we were thrilled to learn they had accepted.  Our friends parked their trailer right behind our RV and helped make 2017 our best burn yet.

We enjoyed nightly Burner-style happy hours with our friends, often ate dinner together, and even went on a Temple Guardian shift together.  Our friends were also part of our wedding party and presented us with a thoughtful, memorable gift: a set of Champaign glasses commemorating our 50th anniversary at Burning Man.  Those glasses are now in a treasured place in our house.

The 2017 Temple, the site of our main focus for the entirety of the Burn

Camping with generationally correlated people meant for at least part of each day we wouldn’t have to ask what some word or phrase meant, or do our best to tolerate music we normally shied away from.  The four of us could relate seamlessly.

Spending this special time together has not only strengthened our relationship but has also inspired us to continue going to Burning Man.  This was our 10th year on the Playa, and though we’ve asked many friends to go with us, it was the first time we actually experienced the Burn with personal friends who were near our age (please don’t take offense, Jason and Mishy.  We know you’re younger).  It enriched our experience so much that we will now put even more energy into convincing others to join us.

This lighted tree in deep playa changing into its fall colors

If you’re planning to go to the Burn in 2018, I recommend strongly that you share the experience with good friends.   It’s well worth the effort. But you have to keep in mind that asking older folks to go to Burning Man is like selling door-to-door.  You’re going to be turned down many times before getting to “yes”.

Art on the Playa: A Moveable Feast

It was our first night out on the Playa after spending nearly a week getting Temple Guardians camp up and running, when we saw what appeared to be a traffic jam — albeit, a very colorful one — along the Esplanade. Once our eyes and brains had adjusted to Black Rock City phenomena we realized that it wasn’t heavy traffic we were seeing, but a long line of art cars waiting for their stamp of approval from the DMV (Department of Mutant Vehicles). We had never noticed a line with so many cars in previous Burns, and we were stunned by all of the creativity in one spot. The effort people put into designing and building art cars is extraordinary.

Art cars lined up for DMV licensing

We’ve often thought about building an art car and bringing it to Black Rock City, but have never had the commitment or skill to do so. Still, I can’t imagine anything more fun than riding around the Playa, picking up Burners along the way, melding into the array of Burning Man activities, and making indelible memories. But it’s not easy to do. Burning Man sets a high bar for approval of art cars. Check out this link for more about the requirements.

Art cars purportedly began with the Cupcakes – motorized, round confections that zipped around the Playa. These one-person mobile snacks return every year even as most art cars have morphed into elaborate designs with room for passengers. My first year at Burning Man (2005), the most memorable art car was a gigantic flower built on a cherry picker. The blossom moved up and down and reached out toward people in an inviting, albeit scary, way. I’ll never forget that flower. It symbolized the size, scope and creativity of art at Burning Man, and it inspired me to return year after year.

Another art car played a major role during my second year on the Playa. We were telling a couple we met at Elders’ Camp about the wedding we would be holding in a few days to celebrate our 40th anniversary, and they offered to take us on their art car. It was a solar-powered trike with a gigantic toilet at the center. You had to climb up to and through the toilet to board the car, and we laughed our heads off about riding to our wedding in a mobile commode.

 

Art car picking us up at our RV

Happy couple aboard their wedding chariot

 

Some of our favorite art cars over the years have included a gold duck apparently built on a large truck chassis. It required spotters walking in front to help the driver avoid obstacles – including people. This year we were entranced by a mobile bear that kept changing colors. We’ve always loved the rolling Boom Box, and this year we also saw a roaming Rockola jukebox. The last two were blasting music from speaker displays that might have been found at an arena rock show. Wherever these art cars stopped, a crowd of dancers gathered and a party commenced.

Our favorite art installation this year was the lighted tree in deep playa. It continually changed, rotating through the four seasons – the deep green of summer, the multiple colors of autumn, winter’s frost, and spring’s light greens. We sat mesmerized in front of it along with hundreds of other Burners who couldn’t get enough of this homage to nature.

Burning Man is endlessly stimulating. We had forgotten, after a two-year absence, how much we had missed the intensely creative environment of the Playa. It always inspires us, urging us to keep moving forward, no matter what our age.

Creating our Burning Man Home

Returning to Burning Man after a two-year absence was reminiscent of to our first-time experience. The visceral excitement upon reaching the Playa, the sense of awe from gazing across the brightly lit Esplanade at night, the greetings with hugs rather than handshakes by friends new and old. It was a thrill to be back.

2017 was also exciting because we were participating in a new camp – Temple Guardians – and we were appointed camp grandparents. Well, not exactly. Lashes was appointed mayor of the camp and we both had a multitude of responsibilities from readying our plot of playa for camping to taking everything down at the end. In fact, at a little more than two weeks, this year wound up being our longest stay on Playa.

When we arrived six days prior to the official start of the festival, Black Rock City was more raw and undeveloped than we had ever seen it. It was challenging to find the site of our camp because most of the road signs had not yet been erected and we arrived in the early morning darkness. Once we figured out exactly where we were located (which turned out to be literally inches away from where we parked and fell into bed), we realized the extent of our responsibilities. There was practically nothing at the site of our camp. One structure at the front was partially built by the Department of Public Works, but it was the training area for the Guardians and had very little to do with the camp. There was also a container with what we hoped would be the camp’s necessities.

It took us a few minutes to figure out how to get the door open, but once we did we found ourselves facing a Pandora’s box of “stuff” – some useful and some not. After digging through the seemingly random contents, we located piece parts of our camp including a huge shade structure that would cover the entire tent camping area, a much smaller “kitchen” and a yurt that would become part of our common space.

This training location at the front of Temple Guardian Camp was the only existing structure when we arrived

We jumped into action, erecting some Temple Guardian flags and banners and setting up benches in the training area, then we were stumped. There were hundreds of seemingly random metal and canvas parts in the container but no instructions to follow. We were clueless about how to put together the critical structures and began wondering why we said “yes” to this job.

Suddenly, as often happens at Burning Man, an answer appeared in the form our new friend Casey, who was a Guardian volunteer and had been involved in taking down the camp the previous year. He made sense out of the pile of parts, then showed us how to put them together. At first, it was just Casey and me doing the building while Lashes plotted out placements and created a map of where people would go. Soon, campers with early entry passes began trickling in and each one joined the build team. Together, we managed to pull the camp together before the bulk of campers arrived. Meanwhile, Lashes drew the placement map on a whiteboard and set it near the camp entrance on the Esplanade. Then we located a light so the board could be illuminated at night.

Camp “kitchen,” our first completed structure

By opening day, our camp looked organized and neat – almost as if we knew what we were doing. We were not only thrilled with the results, we were also amazed at our good luck. As campers arrived, they took their assigned spots and settled in, never realizing how close we came to a disastrous start.

I’ll begin to describe some of this year’s art and other Burning Man adventures in my next post.