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.

Burning Man Goes Live

The gates are open, and Burners from around the world are pouring through, eager to experience a week of living in a utopian construct wrapped in a harsh, desert environment.  For now, that concept looks bright, colorful and entertaining.

White-out conditions threatened to make day one a struggle for the multitudes trying to navigate their way to the Playa.  The dusty haze lasted most of the day and we heard the gates were closed for a while (but that might have been a rumor).  It all turned benign in the late afternoon when the wind died down and the air cleared.  It was crystalline by night.

We waited until well after dark had fallen to venture across the Playa and sample the offerings at this year’s Burn.  We were not disappointed.  Highlight of the evening for us was the drag show at the Flamingo Motel (7:00 and E), which ranged from ragged to polished and ended with a hilarious one-man parody of “Les Mis” as he recalled it being performed by a small town amateur theater group.  During his rendition of “One More Day,” he played at least five different roles, including an operatic female singer and a “friend” of the director who was tone deaf.

These color wheels spin around and move vertically and horizontally. Fun and amazing

We also visited Playa favorite “Party Naked” for a drink, some conversation, and the offer of a free Hawaiian-style lei if we’d just take our clothes off.  We chose not to get “lei’d” that evening.

This giant spinning disc changed color patterns to music

We just missed Burner Buddies’ drive-thru snack shop where you could place an order for one of a choice of cheese-based items and pick it up at the next window – just like at home.  We watched a performance of a pretty good rock band at Center Camp and closed out the evening with a visit to our old friends at Lamplighters, where we camped for nine previous Burns.  The banner Lashes made for the Lamplighters’ bar still greets visitors.

Earlier in the days, Lashes and I were honored with a “Working for the Man” award from Cherub, the head of the Temple Guardians.  This award is given to around 300 volunteers each year out of the 10,000 who annually give their time and effort to make Burning Man a reality.  We were moved to have been so honored by the Guardians and our fellow Burners and will wear our new pin proudly.

Rabid Transit, the new and even more spectacular art car from the El Pulpo folks

The Playa was alive with art, fire, color and people on the first official night.  We believe we saw the art car that has replaced the famed flaming octopus (“El Pulpo”).  It’s called the “Rabid Express” and is a step up in sophistication but similar in its firey essence.

Meanwhile, our camp is humming along and Guardian training is apace with hundreds already certified for duty at the 2018 Temple, which is scheduled to open this evening.

If the internet remains viable, I’ll post again soon.


Blessed to Be Here

We began our second week in Black Rock City with one of those unforgettable Burning Man moments: the ritual blessing of the Temple, its builder and build crew, and the Temple Guardians by the Paiute Tribe of Native Americans.  The tribe’s reservation surrounds Pyramid Lake, NV, just a skosh south of Gerlach, and has a long relationship with the Black Rock desert, home of Burning Man.

Dean Barlese (seated), spiritual leader of the Paiute Nation, blesses Temple designer Arthur Mamou-Mani

Dean Barlese, the Paiute spiritual leader, offered a general blessing, then had his associates Keenyns Reed and Misty Young Bear bless individual members of the Temple team. Barlese told builder Arthur Mamou-Mani that this blessing was intended to remove any possible wrongs that may have been done to the land by the presence of the structure and by anything that may have been done or said within it. A similar blessing will be repeated by the Paiute post Burn over the charred remains of the Temple.

The Temple looks more and more like it was intended

The moment was made even more emotionally satisfying by seeing how much progress had been made on the Temple itself.  Having missed visiting the construction site for only a single day, we were amazed at how much closer the structure had come to the renderings of it we had seen initially months before.  The Temple is likely to open close to schedule.

Out late last night on our bikes, we passed one new art installation after another and a plethora of bright and blaring art cars – each one more clever than the next.  We love the spirit of human creativity that flows throughout Burning Man.  It’s what brings us back and renews us year after year, and I can’t recommend it too highly to my peers.

Art is not the only thing springing up on the Playa as we reach the official start of the event; we’re also seeing many more theme camps emerge from the desert surface and a noticeable increase in bike traffic on the rudimentary roadways.  Our neighbors on both sides have built out their camps and are fast becoming populated by new and experienced Burners.  Both Earth Guardians and Camp Vulcan have triple the number of campers we do and both have embraced us in Burner fashion.  There’s plenty of love to go around here in Black Rock City.

On-Playa Guardian training began last night with a full house of volunteers.  All signed-in trainees were provided with the traditional kerchief (specially designed to honor Temple Galaxia) and bracelet with a tiny bell – items worn by Guardians since the service began in 2002.  Trainees learned the meaning of “holding the Temple space” (the Guardian mission), the importance of withholding judgment over people and their actions, and the art of resolving a problem without drawing attention to ourselves or making the situation worse.

The new portal in all its lighted glory

Everyone was excited about the new portal that’s been created for Guardian Headquarters.  We’ve heard many comments about how much easier it is to find us now that we have a lighted entryway.  “Portal,” our Playa name for the creator and builder of the amazing new sign that welcomes people to Guardian HQ, continues to put finishing touches on his work.  For our camping area, we’re completing a few minor items after which we can call it a done deal.  Our population has finally reached double digits with more coming in every day.

We were able to take advantage of some communal showers last night – always a true Burning Man style experience.  Lashes had hot water in her women’s only shower area.  I opted for (actually, it was my only option) the co-ed showers and ended up taking a cold-water cleansing. I’ve gotten used to sharing my shower experience with naked men and women, none of whom care or pay much attention.

It’s windy and dusty yet again as we begin our Sunday while attendees pour into Burning Man.  But temperatures remain bearable (and are scheduled to stay that way all week) so I’m not going to complain about a little dust.  I’m just happy to be in a place where I feel younger every day.




Progress Report from the Playa

We’ve had a great day today, albeit a very busy one. As I write this blog post, it’s 9 p.m. and we’re still busy on camp build activity. In fact, we were too tied up in the camp to even wander out to the Playa. Nonetheless, I could see lots of new art coming up from our view on the Esplanade.

The temperature has been surprisingly cool. Gerlach is not expected to hit 90 for the next week, and while it’s still hot in the sun-drenched playa, it’s much more comfortable than last year. Evenings turn chilly and nights are downright cold. Night temperatures will be in the upper 40s throughout the Burn.

The first few tents have moved into the shade structure.

We hit some milestones today, placing our first tents under the shade structure. But tonight we had a major event with the installation of our new, lighted Temple Guardians portal. This year marks the first time that people can easily find TG headquarters and the training area. Lashes worked with builder and artist Jad Strutzel (playa name: Portal) to create the new portal and we were completely bowled over with the results.

Artist/builder Jad working on his TG portal; Lashes supervises

Part 1 of our new lighted portal. The side panels will go in a little later tonight.

We hear good things about progress on the Temple, but we’ll have to wait until tomorrow to see it for ourselves. We’ll report on that and other developments in the next post.

Progress on the Home-Building Front

Our camp population has grown to seven permanent members, plus a volunteer who’s waiting for his fellow campers to arrive.  We’re expecting at least one more camper today with the rest trickling in between now and next Tuesday.  It’s a small camp – a total of only 20; but we play an important role as headquarters for the Temple Guardians, the site of on-Playa Guardian training, and a source of manpower to fill in if someone can’t make his or her shift.

Our kitchen is fashioned out of a canvas carport

Fridge, sink and one of the Coleman stoves in our kitchen

We completed the kitchen yesterday and loaded up the 10’ x 20’ structure (originally intended as a canvas carport) with all the accouterments needed for gourmet (or at least utilitarian) cooking. In our kitchen we’ve installed a refrigerator, large commercial sink, storage shelves and several options for cooking the food.  There are two propane fired Coleman stoves that will remain in the kitchen and two gas grills for outdoor barbecuing; we also brought a “fire pit” good for roasting marshmallows or just sitting around and chilling.

Yesterday, when the wind died down, we grabbed the remaining loose parts of the yurt and rushed it to completion.  The wind easily turns the lightweight pieces into sails, and one missing section means no yurt at all; hence, it was crucial to take advantage of those few calm minutes.  Now it’s in and operational, which means the head of Guardian operations has his own place to work and sleep.

Cherub enters the new Temple Guardian’s World Headquarters

The wind is up this morning so there’s no way to cover the shade structure with its tarps.  It’s likely to turn benign late this afternoon, so we should be able to complete this project then.  We’re working on building our camp shower right now.  When the shade structure and shower are complete, we’ll be largely finished with the camp build.  Then we’ll need to outfit the training area.  It requires lighting, installation of the sound system and seating.  Lashes and a mentor from our home community created three new benches and a seat this year in a system known around here as Playa-tech.  Playa-tech furniture can be broken down into flat pieces for easy storage.  The older benches are solid pieces that use up a lot of the precious storage space in our container.  We will eventually replace all of those benches with Playa-tech furniture, but not this year.

Camp plumbing crew hard at work installing our outdoor shower

Hand-made storable furniture by Lashes and her mentor

We also have new neighbors.  We’ve always been adjacent to Earth Guardians, but our other neighbor camp is now Vulcan.  I was surprised to discover that rather than a Star Trek-themed camp, Vulcan is a circus and fire performance camp.  We’re expecting lots of entertainment next door!

See you soon for my next update.

Brrs, Boredom and Busy Days

Day 5 of our sojourn in Black Rocky City brought our first taste of Temple Guardianship in 2018, and an introduction to the chilly late night desert air.  Shifts were set to begin at the Temple build site at midnight and there was a need for two people to take the 3-7 a.m. watch, so, with some reluctance, we volunteered.  We had already worked a long day building the major elements of our camp – kitchen, tent campers’ shade structure, the office yurt, etc. – so when the alarm sounded at 2:30 a.m. we were groggy and slow to move.  Nonetheless, we made it in the nick of time and took our positions at the front of the Temple build site, making certain that Burners did not put themselves in danger by crossing the perimeter of an active construction area.

Time passes slowly on a shift at first, more so when there’s almost no one around, and after about 15 minutes we wondered if this night would ever end.  In addition to the boredom, we were growing colder by the minute – despite dressing in clothes we thought were adequate for the weather conditions. Eventually, a few random visitors wandered to the site and were eager to chat about the Temple’s progress toward completion.  We happily gave those folks our full attention, which allowed us to ignore the clock for a bit.  Soon enough, 7 a.m. rolled around and we were escorted from the site in a heated ATV.

Our reward was a hot breakfast at the commissary that feeds mainly staff and long-term workers who build the city.  Back at camp, we jumped right into the build process only to find that our top guy was due over at the Temple for a shift beginning at 11 a.m.

“Don’t send Casey,” I protested.  “We need him here.  I’ll go back.”  So, I found myself back on duty in front of the Temple build site for another four-hour stint.

Near white-out conditions from blowing Playa dust and smoke from western fires made work tough, but not impossible.

Good news:  it was much warmer by then, and there were more people stopping by to check out the ongoing work.  Even though it was largely a one-man effort, this shift seemed less onerous than the one beginning at 3 a.m.  Bad news:  the wind was up and the combination of dust and smoke from western fires was thick.  I had to don goggles and a dust mask for almost the entire time.

On this shift, I met a fascinating array of fellow Burners, including one from a kinky sex site we had wandered into a few years ago in the middle of the night.  She invited me to come back with my wife to actually try some of their wares.  I presented the idea to Lashes later in the day but she demurred.

Temple Progress: The spire has been placed on top of the main body of the structure. Workers in the foreground include Temple crew and volunteers responding to a call for helpers.

I’m happy to report lots of activity and clear signs of progress at the Temple build site.  The crew and Guardians had put out a call for volunteer helpers and the early Burners had responded – some bringing power tools with them.  When needs arise, Burning Man becomes a vibrant, loving community, and it’s always a pleasure to watch that phenomenon unfold.  I’m also pleased to tell you that there are signs of life across the Playa as art installations are under construction all around us.  The Man build is also full speed ahead and seems close to completion.

It’s been a long day and I’m ready for whatever dinner we can scrape together followed by an uninterrupted night of sleep.  More to come…

On Our Way!

Note:  This post is unfortunately out of order.  It should have preceded the other post dated August 21.  

Just a quick update for my fellow senior Burners: Lashes and I are in Reno, ready to depart today for the Playa. We’ll reach Black Rock City sometime this afternoon. Hope some of you will stop by and see us at Temple Guardians Camp, 5:30 and Esplanade. If not, I’ll post if I can from the Playa (difficult to do), and most certainly upon our return.