We survived Burning Man 2009!
Well, first lets get the obvious question out of the way. What is Burning Man?
I’m sure countless others have taken a stab at answering this question, and I doubt very many of them will have done it justice, either.
Burning Man is a week long festival in northwest Nevada’s Black Rock Desert. This ancient lakebed is now a huge, arid, high-mountain desert. The place is truly barren, void of anything except the distant weathered mountains that surround the valley floor. For a single week this empty playa is transformed into a vibrant urban oasis, home to the 50,000 residents of Black Rock City. Friends of every age, race, creed, and identity turn out to display their ideas, exhibit their art, explore their imaginations, question their shared reality, and celebrate some of the most basic human experiences. They bring with them everything necessary, to not only survive in this harsh environment, but to create a thriving community based on radical self-reliance and radical self-expression. At week’s end the giant wooden effigy (referred to as The Man) is ritually ignited to a multi-colored pyrotechnic explosion.
Virgins of the Burn, Dusty and me, along with friends Christie and Justin, were taken under the veteran wings of Kevin and Melanie. We arrived in the wee hours of Monday morning, not long after the gates had opened. Within 4 hours we were through the various check-points and on our way into the city. It was pitch black out, and all we could see were the blazing stars, illuminated Man and immerging camps. The basic layout of the city is pre-determined and marked off. The largest camps are allowed in a few days before the official open, and they have first dibs on the prime locations. After that, it’s a free-for-all. We drove around for a while before finally deciding upon a resting place. We made our best effort to set up camp before wearily falling asleep to the thumping heart-beat of Black Rock City.
In the days to follow, we wondered through a filthy but spectacular wonderland that far surpasses even the wildest imagination. It was hard to believe this was still planet Earth. We were in a constant state of awe at the creativity, ingenuity, and unabashed expressiveness of Burning Man’s feral citizens. Each day brought thousands upon thousands of new-comers. Before long there were campers, trailers, tents, showers, bicycles, domes, flame-throwers, fire dancers, dance floors, racing snails, flying fish, absinth lounges, giant birthday cakes, banana battalions, tee pees, bars, art cars, golden calves, rockets, DJs, nudists, naturalists, Neanderthals, newly-weds and nice bodies in nearly every nook and cranny of the city!
The generosity of Burning Man’s participants is unparalleled by any social contrivance I’ve ever experience. Every day we were invited into perfect stranger’s camps to enjoy a good meal, relax in their comfortable space, or to partake in whatever that camp had decided to contribute. Money is worthless here. It’s not even a barter-and-trade situation. People simply bring more than they need and freely share their playa gifts with anyone and everyone. The days quickly fill up with well-made plans, only to be overlooked entirely by an endless number of distractions and excursions along the way.
The fierce desert winds caused daily dust storms. From the moment we arrived, we were covered in playa and would have remained that way if not for a make-shift shower and evaporation pool the girls brought with them. The rest of our gear didn’t fare so well, and even now we’re still finding playa residue on things. But ultimately it’s us humans that resemble ‘dirt’ in this pristine environment and thus we are the one’s who must leave no trace that we were ever there. There are comparatively very few rules at Black Rock, but letting a single piece of trash touch the ground means (as our dear friend Sayben would say) “you’ll have a whole bunch of assholes up your butt in a real hurry.”
Will we go back again? Absolutely! Plans are already in motion for next year’s Burn. With the knowledge we’ve gained from this experience, we’d feel comfortable coordinating a decent sized camp of our own. And the list of our close friends who’ve expressed interest in going grows weekly. We can’t wait to go back and re-live the whole thing over again.