Mementos and Memories

When I left my first Burning Man in 2005 I was wearing a Lamplighter charm on a thin leather strap around my neck.  I promised myself I would keep wearing that memento as long as I could to remind myself that I had stopped gaining years and started losing them because of a few days in the desert. I wore it faithfully until the leather strap frayed and the charm fell off.

As I prepare this post, I’m still wearing my Temple Guardian bracelet from this year’s Burn, reminding me that although 13 physical years have passed since I began my Burning Man adventures, I’m feeling younger than ever.  Physical evidence notwithstanding, the glow of Burning Man remains with me in the default world.

On rare occasions, my Burning Man swag initiates a conversation that includes questions about why I go and what it’s like.  More often, such dialogues begin after I’ve said something about my experiences in the desert.  It’s always fun to hear responses, which range from neutral to negative, with only occasional spates of genuine admiration and interest.  What’s most fascinating is how quick people are to give me their opinions of Burning Man even when they’ve never gone.  One person told me that Burning Man might be all right if it was free, but charging for it made it a “one percenter’s thing.”  She had already judged that a “hippy event” that wasn’t free was immoral.  Okay.

I’ve also noticed how many media stories written about Burning Man are by reporters who have never gone.  As a result, these stories are filled with inaccuracies, reek of preconceived notions about the Burn, and are entirely too reliant on a single interviewee’s point of view.  Message to reporters:  you have to go to Burning Man to write about Burning Man.  Otherwise, your stories will lack authenticity.

I don’t just carry a physical remembrance of the Burn; I carry its memory in my heart and my soul.  Even if I lose my pieces of Burner swag, I’ll never lose the feelings I brought back with me.  Although wearing my Guardian bracelet arouses some wonderful feelings deep inside me, those feelings are present not because of the swag, but because I served in the Temple and saw Burners become emotionally engaged with those they had lost.

But there’s so much more to remember and keep close to me about the Burn.  The incredible kids who camped with us, the birth of a city out of nothing and its dissolution back into the land only days later; the art, the energy, the fire, the joy.  The first time I wrote about Burning Man I said it was indescribable because it seemed to go on forever.  Now I know that my inability to find the right words was less about Burning Man’s size and more about its scope.

I am floating in a cloud of my memories, and I hope this high continues for a while; and that even when it ends, I’ll still long to return to the magical place that is Black Rock City.

Want to Burn? Commit now!

Heading home from Burning Man 2018, we had hours to talk about whatever was on our minds.  So, what did we discuss?  Next year’s Burn and what we’d do differently.  If you’re going to BRC, you have to plan, and that planning should start now.

Because you’ve been reading this blog, I’m assuming you have at least a passing interest in Burning Man. If reading the posts has inspired and excited you about attending next year, it’s time to do something about it.  First things first.  Commit to going.  It’s easy to say, “I want to go next year,” then do nothing because it’s so far in the future.  Such delays often extend until it’s too late to prepare adequately, until you miss key deadlines, or until you just lose your sense of enthusiasm.  But committing to Burning Man now is the only way to be sure that when August 25, 2019 arrives, you’ll be heading for or in Black Rock City.

Put it on your calendar now.  Not just the dates of the event (August 25 – September 2, 2019), but some time beforehand to pack up, and a day or two at the end to clean off the playa dust and undo the rigging.

In addition to committing, there are steps you can take beginning now to get you there.  Start by going here, the Burning Man website for valuable information.  While it’s way too early to find details about ticketing for next year, you can sign up for the Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter, one of the best sources of information about the upcoming Burn and related activities.  You’ll also see on the site announcements about Decompressions – events in various locations that follow the Burn.  We’ll be going to the San Francisco Decompression on October 20.  While Decompressions and other parties throughout the year are not the Burn, they give you an idea of what to expect and allow you to network with other Burners and get an introduction to some of the major theme camps.  It’s important to decide early whether you’re going to camp on your own or join a theme camp.  More about that later.

A yurt is another alternative for living at Burning Man

One of the most important early decisions is whether you’re going to tent camp or bring an RV or camper.  If you already own what you need to go either way, then you’re in great shape.  But many people rent campers for Burning Man.  Do it now.  It’s next to impossible to rent an RV or pull trailer late in the game.  Look into it immediately.  Reserve what you need with a reputable dealer that is used to renting to Burners.  It’s going to cost more to rent a vehicle for Burning Man than for normal camping (probably double the cost) because of the wear and tear and the cost of clean-up. But delaying your decision will almost certainly cause you to lose out.

For older people, I strongly recommend bringing a trailer or an RV with air-conditioning and a few creature comforts. You’ll need a generator to power the A/C, so make sure one in included with the rental and that it’s in excellent working order.  Signing a rental agreement for a Burning Man RV or trailer, even if it is cancellable, will feel like a commitment to attending the 2019 Burn.  Take that step now.

By the way, there are alternatives to RVs, trailers, etc. including innovative devices like Shift Pods (actually invented by a Burner).  Shift pods are aluminum living units that can be air-conditioned or equipped with a swamp cooler.  Given the low humidity of the Black Rock Desert, swamp coolers are excellent alternatives to A/C.

Also on the Burning Man site, you can investigate the various theme camps you might join (https://burningman.org/event/brc/2018-theme-camps/).  The long-term camps include camps supporting the major activities, including Greeter’s Camp, Center Camp Café Camp, Lamplighter’s Village and others.  You can read more about the various camps online and contact mayors or group managers for more information.  A theme camp gives you a ready-made community, particularly helpful if it’s your first year at Burning Man.  The larger camps serve at least some meals and provide other services, but require a work commitment.  So, check carefully before you choose one.

There’s lots more preparation I’ll be writing about over the next few weeks, but I can’t urge you strongly enough to make that commitment now so when next August rolls around you’re ready to become a Burner.

Watch This Space

In the next few days, I’ll publish a piece on preparing for next year’s Burn.  If you’re interested in going, you can start now to strategize on tickets and begin to slowly build up the supplies and material that are needed.  I’ll share tips that we’ve learned over years of attending so that you can use the short-cuts that we (and others) have discovered.  By working ahead, you’ll avoid last-minute panic and over-spending on goods that can be purchased when items go on sale.  More to come.  Meanwhile, if you have specifics that you’d like me to address, send your comments through the site.

 

Four Reasons Burning Man Makes Us Feel Young

The 2018 Burn is behind us, but still fresh in our memories.  It was one of our best Burns ever:  good weather (for Black Rock City), a happy group of campers, more than our usual number of showers, an abundance of good food (we both actually gained a little weight), and an array of art beyond anything we have previously experienced.  Best of all, we celebrated the wedding of our son and new daughter at the Temple – a great moment for them and us.

The last piece of our campsite was this box of recyclable cardboard. The rest has faded into the Playa

Although we were eager to get home to friends, family, and dogs (we really missed those guys), we spent much of our drive from the desert to our home in Northern California planning for next year’s event.  After 11 Burns over the past 13 years, the magic and mystery of Black Rock City is rooted in our systems and an important aspect of our lives.  It’s why I have written and published Sunrise Burners for years.  We believe Burning Man has had a positive impact on our lives and our marriage, and we want other people who are 50 and older to enjoy those benefits as well.

The over-arching reason we keep returning to Burning Man is that it makes us feel younger.  We always come back energized, refreshed, and excited about life.  That’s a good thing for people who are approaching their mid-70s, and, we believe, would be similarly good for anyone with a few miles on them.  Younger attendees may see Burning Man as a gigantic party, but it’s so much more than that to mature people.  I’ll list what I view as the underlying reasons that we seem to grow younger after each Burn.

  1. We meet and get to know hundreds of people at Burning Man who are well outside of the norms of the rest of our lives.   I spent more than 30 years as a corporate executive and saw nary a tattoo or shaved head in the boardroom.  We all dressed alike, spoke alike, and competed for our piece of the pie.  At Burning Man, I meet people who would never pass muster in the look-alike world of big business and who aren’t interested in how much I earn or what toys I own.  So, getting to know individuals who look and act un-corporate forces me out of my comfort zone and into a broader world.  Because of Burning Man, I have learned to love and embrace people who I might otherwise have seen as anathema to my way of life.
  2. The creative intensity of Burning Man is both inspiring and stimulating.  It makes me want to grow creatively rather than sit back and retire from innovative thinking.  Burning Man reminds me that while I’m retired, I’m still alive and still capable of contributing to the world.
  3. Burning Man is hilarious.  The people, the art, even the way people cope with the harsh desert environment are full of whimsy and wonder.  Every time I see an art car that skewers life and the human condition, I feel joyful to be in the presence of people who refuse to take themselves and their lives too seriously.
  4. There’s always an undertone of Eros at Burning Man.  In my early years, I remember that each day was named for a sex act.  While that’s not done anymore, Burning Man’s embrace of sexuality is a constant presence.  From partial to full nudity to the many sexually-oriented camps and events, Burning Man deals more openly with our sexual selves than anyplace else in the world.  I believe that eroticism is a life force, especially important for older people.  Going to Burning Man has enhanced our intimacy in astounding ways.  We don’t do swaps, orgies, public sex, or anything of the sort.  But Burning Man has helped us keep our sex life vibrant.  Not bad for a couple in their 52nd year of marriage.

All of these factors combine to – essentially – subtract years from our metaphysical age each time we attend.  Will it do the same for you?  I can’t guarantee that.  But what’s the harm in finding out?  See you at the next Burn.

Going, going …

The city is disappearing, returning to its desert roots.  Driving along the now unmarked roads in Monday’s pre-dawn darkness ferrying one of our campers to the Burner Express bus stop for the start of his trip home, I was struck by the evanescent nature of BRC.  What had been bright, lively bars and theme camps had devolved into piles of packed gear set beside dust-laden vehicles ready to take on Burning Man’s legendary Exodus.  It had once again become difficult to navigate a city whose landmarks were rapidly vanishing.  The connection between our first day here more than two weeks ago and today was striking.  Déjà vu all over again.

The Temple ablaze

Last night’s Temple burn was the opposite of the previous night’s raucous celebration of the Man burn.  There were no fireworks or exploding propane bombs to ignite the structure.  A group of Lamplighters carrying torches marched to the front of the Temple and touched fire to wood.  The structure was soon engulfed in flames; it would take only a few minutes for the tower to collapse in on itself.

Most of the Burners watched reverentially.  When a few started hooting and hollering, no one picked up their cause and the sounds quickly died back down toward silence.  The Temple experience continued into its destruction, which seemed as spiritual as the building that is Burning Man’s center of spirituality.  It had been a beautiful Temple, and it was an equally beautiful ending.

We noted with some bemusement and wonder that we kept seeing art and art cars that we hadn’t seen previously.  It’s hard to fathom the breadth of art and creativity on the Playa, but you know it’s extraordinary when at the end of the event you’re seeing what appears to be new art.

Perky and Lashes in the afterglow of Burning Man. We’ll soon transform into our default selves

Catching up on some events this week, our new Temple Guardians portal received an accolade from Burning Man that is so rare I had never previously heard of it.  The award was for creativity that added substantively to the Burning Man culture.  It was presented to our portal designer, artist, and builder who took on the Playa name “Portal” with joy and pride.

I’ve read a number of major media articles about Burning Man this week, some positive but some otherwise, and occasionally had to wonder if I was at the same event being described.  So, I thought I’d address some of the negative issues.  First, the “sparkle pony” presence.  We did not come into contact with a single member of the glitterati that we could identify.  I’m sure they were here, but their presence was invisible to us.  The so-called concierge camps were also completely transparent to us.  I don’t even know where they were located.  Everyone we saw just looked like a Burner.  Lashes did meet a tech billionaire at the Temple, and while she bonded with him and his girlfriend (that’s how she found out he was so rich), she was not made wealthy or changed in any way by the encounter.  Also, on the racial diversity issue, we saw and met more African-Americans this year and I wouldn’t be surprised if the census reveals that fact.  There was even a Black Lives Matter camp.

Time to clean up our campsite, so I’ll stop here for now.  If I still have internet tomorrow, I’ll recap the reasons I believe Burning Man is so good for older people.

 

Sadly, It’s Almost Over

The Man is now a smoldering pile of rubble on the open Playa, which means – unbelievably enough – that Burning Man is nearly over.  The only major event ahead is the Temple Burn tonight (Sunday) at 8 p.m., after which it’s all about packing up, cleaning up, and making the two-part drive from Black Rock City to Tahoe, then on to our final destination in Lincoln, CA – a little east of Sacramento.

Man on Fire

At this point in the process, the Burning Man principle that is top of mind is Leave No Trace.  It is always our intention to leave the Black Rock Desert in its original, pristine condition.  We rake through every inch of Playa surface for which we’re responsible searching for anything that is foreign to the land, removing it, and repairing any damage it may have caused.  Our goal is a totally “green” site rating on the annual Moop Map.  A good rating helps ensure us our same spot in the city next year.

Campers cleaning up what was our camp kitchen

Last night’s Man Burn was phenomenal.  Because our son is part of the Burn team, he was able to snag “inner circle” seating for the two of us and his new wife.  That put us as close as anyone other than staff is allowed to the burn itself, so we had our best view ever of the Man burn.  The drama begins with the raising of the man’s arms, followed by performances by fire spinners who populate the burn perimeter.  Once the fire spinners have doused their flames, the crowd quiets awaiting the burn itself.  The team directing the show lets the anticipation build for a few minutes before the first fireworks go off.  Then it’s the 4th of July plus New Year’s Eve rolled into one elaborate fireworks show.  The first sparkles come off of the Man himself, followed by a series of rocket launches from the four corners of the building, a light show from just below the Man, and a series of propane bombs that set the entire structure ablaze.

The building that supports the Man is nearly gone

During most Burns you see frequent “firenadoes”, mini smoke spouts that flow outward from the fire’s center.  But because there was almost no wind on Burn night, we experienced none of these phenomena.  Instead, we watched a fairly peaceful event leading to the eventual collapse of first the Man, then the building that surrounded him.   It was difficult to ignore the poignancy of this moment: the first Burn without Larry Harvey, Burning Man’s founder and leading light, who died this year.

Last night from 3 to 7 a.m. we stood our final watch as Temple Guardians.  These quiet, late-night hours gave us plenty of opportunity to see the Temple in all of its glory and to share in the grief expressed through thousands of personal monuments and statements lovingly placed within the structure.  I was particularly struck by the number of premature deaths – young people in the 30s and 40s who had gone too early because of illness, accidents, overdoses, or bad luck.  It made me appreciate the good fortune we have experienced in our lives and the lives of our children.

As we approach the end of the Burn, we realize once again why we remain enthusiastic participants.  We seem to grow younger with every Burn as opposed to aging as we’re “expected” to do.  Although we understand the reality of the situation, we feel more like peers with our young campers than their seniors.  Given our ages, that way of seeing ourselves feels incredibly good.

Winding Down, Ramping Up

After living in the desert for 14 days, we’re beginning to feels as if Burning Man is winding down.  But for many of the 70,000 attendees, the party is barely underway.  The burns of individual art pieces have already begun (Thursday night included the burn of a Dune-themed Worm Watchtower exhibit and Friday night was the burn of one of the larger art installations – The Great Train Wreck).  The Man burns tonight (Saturday) around 10 p.m. and the Temple burns on Sunday at 8.

The Temple at night

I finally had a chance to explore the Temple without interruption. Although its openness makes it seem light and airy, Temple Galaxia feels consequential throughout.  The repetitive arms make the structure seem endless and allow visitors to lose themselves in its solemnity.  The center reaches upward 20 meters and seems to embrace the sky (or the heavens if you’re in a more spiritual frame of mind).  You can feel the sense of reverence as you enter and see hundreds of Burners quietly contemplating lost friends and family.

Because it was Friday night, the Sabbath in Judaism, we attended a uniquely Burning Man style Sabbath service held by the camp Milk and Honey, at the end of which was an untypical Friday night meal (vegan and gluten free) for the thousand-plus people who came. We couldn’t stay for the dinner but ran back to our RV to change into warmer clothes and venture out on the Playa.  As the weekend approaches, more and more art pops up in the desert, and a larger array of art cars roam the sandy surface.  We were bowled over by a huge art car in the shape of an elaborate Renaissance-style church.  There were also snails, elephants, giraffes and other creatures ferrying people across the Playa, and one large, neon-lit version of The Man that had moveable arms that could reach out to Burners.

Mythical creature roams the Playa

We could see the giant color wheels (shown in the August 27 posting) from a distance and it looked like they were rearranging themselves in a new way.  But as we approached the piece of art we realized that the wheels were coming apart and moving individually across the Playa (possibly to a new location).  Despite their disconnected state, they still shone brightly and, although we knew they were being towed, they appeared to roll along of their own volition.  We never figured out where the wheels had been re-settled, but it was enough to see the massive undertaking to move them.)

Our night ended with a bike ride through a quarter mile long lighted “tunnel” that left riders feeling as if they were being sucked into a vortex.  After that, we headed home only to suffer a broken bike chain that meant walking one of our bikes home from deep Playa.

Neon man is mobile and boasts moveable arms to touch people

On the way back to the RV, we tried to make a final visit to The Man only to discover that the area was already closed off in preparation for the Saturday night burn.  We’re going to try to catch an art car ride to that burn this evening (in fact, we hope to be on the dragon art car pictured at the top of this blog).  We’ll try to get a little rest after the burn so we can be ready for our 3 a.m. to 7 a.m. Temple Guardian shift.  We signed up for that time because it’s the final shift before the Temple closes in preparation for its Sunday night burn.  We’ll be sharing that shift with Mary, our new daughter-in-law and unicorn mate to our own unicorn son.  Meanwhile, he will be quite busy preparing for the Temple burn during which he’s responsible for the burn perimeter – critical to the safety of Burners and the smooth operation of the entire event.

It’s almost clean up time for our camp, which is a rigorous undertaking.  We need to be all green on the Moop Map (moop is Matter Out Of Place) in order to ensure that we can keep our placement for next year.  We’ll comb every inch of our area, picking out even the smallest bits of trash and digging up any grease or other materials that pollute the desert surface.  Leave No Trace is one of Burning Man’s 10 Principles, and we’re devoted to playing our role in returning the Black Rock Desert to its pristine, natural condition.

Time is tight for us for the next couple of days, but I’ll try to get in a post about the Man Burn tomorrow.

Wedding Vows – At Last

I’ve seen many weddings on the Playa, attended a few, even been the celebrant in two vow renewal ceremonies (for our 40th and 50th anniversaries), but the wedding of my son Jacob and his new bride Mary was unique.  It was the first Burning Man wedding at which I officiated and it was also the first I had seen between two unicorns.

Unicorns in love. Picture courtesy Grassy Road Studio

The wedding was held in front of the Temple – appropriate since Jake (Playa name: Carousel) headed up the Temple Guardians for the past five years and remains active within the organization.  The two were wed in beautiful, hand-made unicorn costumes that included stunning masks.  They played their roles perfectly, whinnying and nuzzling as naturally as if they were the real things (well, the real mythological things).

As I told the dozens of attendees how these two kindred spirits had met 30 years ago and almost instantly fell in love, only to be torn apart because of prosaic issues of family, location, and religion, I could feel a surge of empathy and understanding. The rebirth of their love was miraculous and reached its pinnacle with the two deciding to move in together, and, eventually, to marry.  That marriage took place today, August 30, in the Black Rock Desert of Nevada.

The wedding was followed by a brunch/reception that featured mimosas, waffles, eggs, cupcakes, and, of course, plenty of bacon.  The bride and groom plan to honeymoon at Burning Man.

This jewel-like art installation changed colors and shapes continuously

We had two great weather days here in Black Rock City.  Low winds, mild temperatures (for here) and azure skies.  Those benign conditions have scattered today in the face of near white-out conditions, resulting from an uptick in wind speed.  Looking out toward the open Playa, I could see only the first large art installations and nothing more.  The man and the Temple had disappeared into the dusty haze.

This year’s giant puppets from Spain walk and talk

The Temple opened yesterday (Wednesday) around noon and is already one of BRC’s busier spots.  More about it tomorrow. Meanwhile, other art installations have been completed and are now being viewed and enjoyed by Burners.  One of particular note is this year’s giant puppets from Spain.  Last year there was only one puppet, but this year there are two characters who are sometimes seated, but can also stand, walk, and speak to each other.

Fries, Art, and New and Old Friends

Early Wednesday morning (just a little past midnight) we achieved one of our Burning Man dreams: trying Poutaine, a gooey French fry treat from Canada.  We’ve failed in several burns to reach the head of the line at Midnight Poutaine, a Quebec-based camp that serves up this totally unhealthful but delicious favorite of our northern neighbors.  At previous burns, we’ve either been too impatient to stand in the long line, or too late to get a serving.  Once we were near the front of the line when they announced “we’re out of potatoes.”  But not last night.  We spent at least an 90 minutes in line for the grease-laden goodies, but the time went quickly because we met a young couple expecting their first child in January and clicked with them.  We’re going to have dinner at their place tonight.  They live in San Diego, but their original homes are Serbia and France.  It was so entertaining to talk with them that the time flew by and before we knew it we were eating our greasy fries.  Midnight Poutaine even supplied the wooden forks and a burn barrel for the trash.

Leopard on Wheels: a new art car on the Playa

We ended the evening back at Lamplighters, renewing friendships and dancing to the mix-tape of 80s music blasting into the lounge.

All day Wednesday was glorious in terms of weather.  Winds and the resultant dust were minimal, the temperatures were mild, and the air was crisp and clear.  We don’t get that many such benign days out here so we exulted in it.

Hard-working Midnight Poutaine crew fries potatoes, then makes them worse for you with their delicious goo

Our camp is now complete in every way.  All of the planned build is finished and all of the expected campers are here and settled into their tents and campers.  The wedding party for tomorrow morning’s nuptials is also complete since my younger son and his wife have arrived and are staying with us in the RV.  I’m looking forward to officiating at the ceremony, Universal Life Church of the Internet credentials (which also allowed me to marry or youngest a few years ago in Phoenix).  Officiating at Carousel’s wedding seems only fair since he re-married us last year at the Burn for our 50th anniversary.

The wonders of Burning Man continue to amaze us.  Art cars seem glitzier and more elaborate than ever this year and creativity runs rampant across the Playa with art installations popping up everywhere.  We love being here because it makes us feel young, alive, and sexy.

Talk about a set of Big Wheels…

Because of minimal rain over the past six months, the Playa surface is smooth and well-packed, meaning bikes rarely get caught up in the mini-dunes that appear some years.  Riding is a pleasure this year.

Tomorrow at dawn we’ll be celebrating my older son’s wedding to his new bride, returning to our camp for a 9 a.m. reception.  We’ll be serving mimosas, waffles, and plenty of bacon – the “official” food of Burning Man.  I’ll report on the event in tomorrow’s post.

Tu-Tu Tuesday Arrives, without the Tu-Tu (So Far)

Our 9th day on Playa was fairly uneventful as we had to stick around Guardian headquarters and provide support to several of the training sessions.  We also held our first official camp dinner and annual camp meeting, in which Lashes set out the rules, thanked our set-up team, and answered questions.

Whiteout our window

We’ve experienced whiteout conditions every day we’ve been here this year.  It’s never been so horrible that we couldn’t go out on Playa (as long as we wore appropriate protective gear), but it has been a constant part of life.  Yesterday, as our youngest son Eric and his wife Natalie were approaching the entrance, the gate was shut down because of blowing dust.  What might have been a brief wait turned into several hours of frustration; but, that’s become part of the Burning Man experience ever since the population was increased to 70,000.  The good news is that more people were given WAPs (Work Access Passes) this year, thus lessening the crowds coming in on opening day and beyond.  WAPs used to be known as Early Arrival Passes, but Burning Man wanted people to understand that if they came early, they came to work.

The weather this morning is magnificent.  The air feels clean, the temperature is mild, and the breeze is light.  Now if I could only find my Tu-Tu.  I need it because today is Tu-Tu Tuesday.

Campers put together Guardian swag

This morning our camp crew was converted into an assembly line putting together the package of Guardian material given to each person who completes the training.  The kit includes this year’s bandana, a bracelet with a tiny bell attached, and a laminate that identifies them as Guardians.  Stringing the bell onto each bracelet drives me crazy in part because my eyes aren’t so great anymore but also because I’m a klutz.  I complete one for other people’s 5 or 6.

These two happy unicorns will be wed Thursday at dawn

We hope to spend lots of time on the Playa today and, as a result, to have more to report and more pictures to post by tomorrow morning.  Meanwhile, we’re now in serious prep for the Thursday morning nuptials for our son and daughter-in-law-to-be.  We’ll be walking out to the Temple near dawn in the White Procession, an informal and mostly disorganized procession from various points in the city.  The wedding is scheduled for dawn (6:22 a.m.), after which we’ll return to camp for a reception featuring waffles, mimosas, and the ever-present bacon.

See you tomorrow.