Wistful Thinking

Five years after our 2018 visit to the legendary Black Rock Station described in this post, we returned to Burning Man’s work ranch on June 2. The ranch sits some 21 miles beyond Gerlach and about 10 miles past the point where we’ll enter the Black Rock Desert for Burning Man in a couple of months. It’s hard up against the desert proper and is a rough-hewn facility where DPW staffers work full and part-time on a year-round basis to ensure that Black Rock City rises on schedule from the near-empty desert. I urge you to read (or re-read) this post to learn a little about the team of loving misfits who make Burning Man happen every year.

We returned to this remarkable worksite where the thousands of theme camp containers and the bones of some old art cars are stored, and where such critical work as the construction of Black Rock City begins. The changes in the years since our earlier visit weren’t dramatic, but were noticeable. Pre-pandemic, the ranch seemed better equipped to support visiting theme camps on their work weekends. Meals were prepared and served throughout the weekend five years ago. Now, weekend food service is spotty (although the food that was served was delicious). New restroom and shower facilities have been added, which vastly enhances the creature comforts. The provided housing was about the same: minimalist boxes that had windows and air conditioners, but not quite as clean as I remembered from our earlier stay. Still, more than adequate.

DPW Burners tend to be a tough lot, but unlike the typical construction worker crowd, these folks show all the love and caring for others that is found on Playa. Hugs abound and everyone welcomes strangers such as our crew of visitors. Still, our stay at Black Rock Station served as a reminder that only a few people in the world can thrive as Burners. I’ve been one of them since 2005, and though I see myself as a citizen of the Default World, many of the things that Burning Man changed in me remain fixed in my psyche: I don’t look at people the same way I used to, making judgments based on dress, grooming, and body art. I am fiercely supportive of the rights of all people to take their place in the world and I still treasure the role of sex in human relationships – however, people choose to imbibe in this great gift that nature has provided us. I have less and less patience for the insane pontifications of our so-called leaders who are truly acting like B.F. Skinner’s rats seeking out their treats.

At this stage of my life, the discomfort took a greater toll on me than previously. That’s probably because aging is the toughest thing I’ve ever experienced – and there’s nothing I can do to stop it. I’ve begun to recognize that part of my reaction to aging is curmudgeonly in its nature and that has entered my behavior pattern. Maybe after this year’s Burn, I’ll feel differently. After all, it’s the art-filled Playa that has always inspired and excited me, and the ranch has only hints of that environment.

As we departed the ranch, we crossed paths with the cricket hordes that have infested all of the Northern Nevada deserts this year. They were everywhere, and our tires crunched over them as we headed toward Gerlach.

In my earlier post on visiting the ranch, I wrote that we felt a sense of nostalgia when we drove off – a feeling similar to that of departing Black Rock City at the end of Burning Man. This time we felt more wistful, in part because of the strange sight of so many living and dead insects scattered across the road, but in part because hanging out with young Burners made us more aware of our age. Like the plague of crickets, each birthday seems to arrive unexpectedly; but in reality, it’s inevitable.