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”.