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.
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.
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.