Seven Stories

One (1996)

1996. My first Burning Man. I had just driven through Gerlach. Behind me, a trailer held the solar-powered electric car I had built in Sacramento, ready for its first test on the playa. I found the entrance to the playa off highway 34, but from there the directions were vague.

“Go straight out two-and-a-half miles and turn right.”

“What should I look for?”

“Just keep going. You’ll see it.”

The route on the playa was a trackless free-for-all. A corridor of dust indicated there were other cars driving near me, somewhere. At the expected point on the odometer I turned, and faced the wind so the dust was gone. Still, I could see nothing but mirages in the distance. Trusting, I continued, but increasingly worried that this was to be a grand tour of the largest expanse of flat land in North America. Suddenly, tiny spots appeared in the mirage pools, and then more, and then a vista of tents and trucks and cars, with a few taller structures that were unrecognizable. Clearly this was the “city”, but why had it been so hard to see?

Later, I realized the trick. See, when the ground is hot, the air near the ground is less dense than the air above it. This makes light rays always bend a small angle upward when they are near the ground. Rays from the distant sky head ground-ward and are bent to horizontal so you see the sky where the ground should be, making mirages. The rays of light from Black Rock City are bent up toward the sky and are never seen from ground level, except when you get close.

Black Rock was the Invisible City, shrouded in mirages by heat and flatness, those old friends.

Two (1996)

In Sacramento I had been working fourteen hour days for a week to get the Solar Car running, and didn’t slow down when it was time to test it on the playa. A four wheel, four seat pedal car with solar panels and motor added, it was a kludged-together beast. Everything was going wrong, but I was prepared with tools and spares and determination. One by one I fixed the problems, lying on my back under the chassis, soldering flamed-out transistors. A topless babe in the next camp wanted a ride, and me being new to this bare-titty attention, I worked with ever greater enthusiasm, not pausing for a second to eat or drink till the job was done.

It was time to take her out for a good, long ride, my reward. She sat back and enjoyed the view, holding onto a metal support tube that went up to the solar panels. We were zooming past Water Woman when she exclaimed “this pole is getting really hot!” I resisted the impulse to make crude puns, and told her it was normal, no problem. Suddenly smoke started to spew out of the metal tube, and the wires above our heads caught fire. I stopped and she leapt screaming from the car. I flipped the emergency power cutoff switch and the fire went out, but it took a bit of convincing to get her back in the car so I could laboriously pedal her home. We finally got back, she ran to her campmates and I resumed my soldering and wrenching, ever more determined to find that short circuit.

Soon, I felt a bit faint.

“You need something to eat” said my friend, and started to make dinner.

“Excuse me. I think I’ll lie down till then.” I said. I went behind the tent, barfed my guts out all over the playa and collapsed. When I could walk, my friend took me to a more cushy camp where I could recline in a soft lounger and they fed me water and a fresh tomato and Swiss cheese sandwich on sourdough. It was one of my most memorable meals.

Later that night I was well enough to go watch the burning of the Hellco tower.

Three (1997)

I was supposed to meet my friends in center camp to catch the bus to Fly Hot Springs, but missed them. The next bus was so late, I gave up. “But wait,” I thought, “I’ve got my Solar Car. I’ll make the scene in style!” The journey was four miles-longer than the car had ever been run-so things started breaking. Toward the end I had to rip the main power cable off the emergency switch, strip the insulation with my teeth, and jam it by hand onto a copper terminal to keep going, green sparks falling on my head when I ran over bumps.

When I arrived at the springs I felt triumphant, but my friends were already gone. “What the hell” I thought. “I’ll take a dip since I’m here.” There was a huge main pool that wasn’t too hot, and so deep that you had to tread water unless you stayed near the shore. I found a quiet, secluded spot near some bushes to relax in. Soon I noticed that a half-immersed man and woman near me were holding onto each other, moving up and down slowly, and grinning. And there were two other couples nearby doing the same thing. I began to think that my Solar Car wasn’t the babe-magnet I had hoped (at least not when it’s on fire!). Feeling surrounded and out-of-place, I swam back to the opposite shore and prepared to leave.

All of a sudden there was a loud noise overhead. The news media helicopter roared over us and circled around and around, pointing the door down toward the bathers so the cameramen could get shots. Here was this warm water oasis, where naked people were discreetly making love, and now it sounded like a war or a police raid. Suddenly I felt indignation and outrage, a sense of invasion and violation. Being a cinematographer and voyeur myself, I was surprised at my visceral, emotional reaction. I shook my fist and cursed at them. Now I could understand the disdain so many burners felt for the newsmen and the peeping-Tom camera freaks. Ignoring me, they finally left, cameras full of porno.

I fixed the car and drove back. I was clean, renewed, and felt a closer connection to the city, now beginning to glow in twilight.

Four (1998)

I was driving the Solar Car far out on the playa, cruising for art. I stopped at a line of images stretched across my path. A photographer had been working on a book of pictures from the Apollo space missions, and had tacked a series of prints to the ground in a line that told the story of going to the moon. Walking along the line, I saw a picture of the astronauts’ moon buggy on a desolate lunar landscape. It looked shockingly like my Solar Car.

As I drove off. My Solar Car was the moon buggy. The playa was the moon. I had landed at a densely populated space port. For a few minutes, I could believe this.

Five (1999)

At Burning Man I was surrounded by artists but didn’t count myself as one. Despite my many previous creative projects in various media, I didn’t think I had gone through any kind of initiation that would define me as other than a dilettante. The Solar Car an Art Car? Nah! It was a statement of belief in “green” technology, but not art.

By this time I grew tired of the Solar Car and decided to create something new. I built a playa installation called The Tetrahedron, my first laser sculpture. Metal towers and wooden pylons rose above the ground, supporting a glowing geometry of laser beams above people’s heads. They would see the figure at night from afar, and come over to walk underneath and marvel. I was always there when it was on, so I watched and talked to them. All kinds of people had different positive reactions, but a few seemed to strongly connect with the sculpture and “get it.” One or two verbalized their feelings; “contemplative” “like a constellation.” These were exactly the words I used when trying to explain the work’s intended feeling before building it. Somehow, by creating a completely abstract work, I was able to communicate to a few people with surprising precision, making my words pop into their heads almost by magic.

Two-thirty in the morning, and no-one was coming by. Time to shut down. Freezing cold, I couldn’t feel my lips anymore. The moon was framed in a triangle of laser beams above my head. I thought about the effect my work had had on people over the last few nights. Looking up, I said “I am an artist.”

It was a revelation. A pivotal moment. I now had a new purpose that has become the most important thing in my life.

Six (2000)

The sculpture thing had taken off in a big way. Now I was being funded to make the Beaming Man, a 4000 foot long human figure that was the year’s theme-art focus. I had a crew of twenty people, a shop, heavy equipment and all the support the Burning Man organization could lend. Fourteen days of round the clock work in the worst weather ever. Our shop was a metal container with mechanical, electronic and optical work benches, often with three guys laboring in there at a time. One guy practically keeled over when the temperature hit 120, but it was the place to be during the dust storms. Me, I was in workaholic paradise, flying on a work high the whole time, never stopping. The more nurturing of my crew would practically have to feed me like a baby bird so that I, oblivious to my physical needs, wouldn’t injure myself.

We’d had the arms and legs working for a few days but, slowed by the storms, we were still assembling the head on Saturday. As it was getting dark, we began the nighttime alignment procedures we had developed from the previous setups. I worked the electronics to move a low-powered laser beam while a guy far away with a walkie-talkie told me where it was pointed. Move the spot along the ground until it’s in front of the tower, then move on up to the target. Just then, light and smoke and fireworks flew up in the distance.

“Damn! They’re burning The Man already.”

“Oh well, I’ve seen a few.”

“Yeah, let’s continue.”

We systematically aligned the last laser beam to its target, so I sped over to the laser source on my bike to crank the beams up to full power. The geometric form of the Beaming Man’s head glowed brightly, and my crew whooped and hollered over the radio. A thundering whoop and holler went up far away, thousands of people going berserk. They couldn’t have seen the head come on from that distance. The Man had fallen.

He’d died finally, and his escaping consciousness came to inhabit his spirit body, the omnipresent, lighter-than-air body that floated above the playa, and would be gone forever the next day.

Seven (2001)

Having missed the burn last year, I was determined to see and appreciate it this year. I knew I’d have to go back and activate my laser installation for an after-burn party, but for now I would be a spectator. The full array of costumed and lit-up burners had arrived in all their wacky vehicles. Party buses and mobile lounges ringed the outside, while people milled about wearing E.L. wire and glowsitcks and LEDs and fluorescent UV lamps. Having made The Grid-another laser art piece-I didn’t feel sheepish walking around in a T-shirt.

A reporter was interviewing a couple of beer-swilling yahoos. “Why doesn’t anyone report on my experience of Burning Man?” I thought. Minutes earlier, I had been interviewed by NPR. Still bothered about what I hadn’t said, I wandered through the crowd imagining brilliant sound bites.

Fire dancers. Fireball cannons. Fireworks. And then The Man started to burn. It was a terrific conflagration, fuelled by him and his wooden pedestal, creating a strong updraft that lofted smoke and embers high into the sky. Those who wanted to appear enthusiastic shouted “Burn him! Whoooo!” I stood serenely by until the flaming column started to spawn twisting tubes of smoke that moved on their own across the circle. One after the other these smoke devils headed out toward the crowd, running into each other, joining, disappearing. Everyone went nuts. I-the calmest, most rational person around-was yelling my head off too. Nature had decided to pay a visit, make a special appearance, upstaging everything as usual. Her power and beauty dazzled even those of us who’ve seen it all, and we were honored.

As Burners, our way is not to approach Nature with head bowed, knees bent, and hands proffering a humble sacrifice, but to look Her straight in the face and scream and laugh and jump up and down.

by Russell Wilcox

My Black Rock Wedding

How Did I Get Here?

When I leaned over to whisper in Andrew’s ear while squished in an IHOP booth in Reno Nevada, I had no idea whether I wanted to really do what I was about to propose; since that’s basically what I was about to do. At that moment, memories of the past month flashed through my head, all the long nights of talking and lusting, confidences, tears, and bliss, all these came flooding over me. I also recalled holding the five-year-old I nannied in my lap, and how when I leant over to give Andrew a quick kiss she looked up at me and asked, ‘Are you going to marry him?’ and without thinking I had replied, ‘Sure, why not.’

Now you may be asking yourself, “How can someone propose and not know if they want to be married?” Quite easily, if you’re not taking it seriously. I have always loved a good party and weddings are usually great parties. I even enjoy ritual when it’s not cloaked in heavy amounts of dogma and remains fresh, vital, and relevant to those involved. These preferences partly explain how I came to find myself in an IHOP booth contemplating a haphazard proposal to my boyfriend. You see, we were on our way to Burning Man. A festival of intense, experimental, artistic anarchy that comes in the form of a temporary city, built in one of the harshest climates on the earth for only a week.

Having attended Burning Man two other years, I generally knew what to expect. Lots of heat, dust and incredible opportunities to create, destroy and explore various realms of myself and my boundaries. And was I ever excited to be going back. For Andrew, this was his first time. We had prepared food, costumes and articles for trading (nothing is for sale, only for barter on the desert floor, affectionately known as the playa), but we were never quite prepared for the intensity of our feelings for each other and our sudden need to be fully committed and devoted.

Now back to the IHOP, where I leant over and asked, ‘So are we going to do it?’ His reply, ‘Sure, why not.’

It’s very easy to get married in the state of Nevada, almost too easy. For the low price of $50 and the display of two driver’s licenses, anyone can walk into the city hall between eight a.m. and midnight and walk out with a wedding license. During the weeks before heading South, I had jokingly mentioned that we should get hitched. My reasons, I had never done it and it would be fun. For years I had prepared my family for disappointment, I would never do the big church wedding, heck I didn’t even believe that marriages could actually work, and the notion that one person would be able to put up with me ‘forever’ seemed ridiculous. Yet somehow, there I was, early morning Reno Nevada, August 27 2001, clutching a wedding license and beating a path to our rented SUV.

Black Rock City, Nevada

We didn’t mention our plans to any of the friends we were camped with or saw on our journeys around the city. Instead we had made plans to ‘marry’our friends in a mock ceremony at some point during the week. At Burning Man you can find almost every service you would find in the ‘normal’ world, but twisted into something very strange. You need Boy Scouts, there’s a troupe of them. Join up and try to get demerit badges in activities such as lap dancing or being a bitchy neighbour and triumph in their slogan of ‘Be Impaired’. The same goes with churches and wedding chapels. Every year, more and more denominations spring up offering their services.

Early our first morning on the playa, Andrew and I came across the Black Rock Wedding Chapel, complete with it’s own 7 foot Elvis head and a spin-a-vow wheel that resembled the one on Wheel of Fortune. This was the place. We knew it the moment we saw it. Only question was, did they have real ministers that could perform a legally binding service? As our luck would have it, three out of the four people that built the chapel were ministers with the Church of Universal Love, registered in the State of Nevada, and willing to perform a ceremony for us.

At this point I began to contemplate what I was doing. We had already decided that we would keep the marriage a secret from our friends and family for the next year, and just tell them on our anniversary. This satisfied three goals, one) that we not be questioned, since we had only been together just over a month, two) if it didn’t work out then no harm or embarrassment done, and three) it seemed a rather trickster thing to do. With the date set for Friday August 31st at sunset we began to make the rest of the wedding plans which gave us some distraction from really engaging with the real life possibilities of what we were about to do.

As the days moved on I realized that I did want to be married for real. I wanted to commit myself fully to Andrew who was the most incredible person I had ever encountered. I started wanting to build a life with someone and create a bond that went beyond what trust could describe. I felt I was in a minor quandary, here I was feeling a yearning for established notions of commitment and monogamy, but I didn’t want to express myself in a traditional way during our wedding. Neither did Andrew.

We were lucky enough to find bachelor and bachelorette parties going on Wednesday night for another couple that we could just join in with. We also managed to procure Black Rock’s only magical taxi to shuttle us to Friday’s service. Everything just seemed to fall into place including our intention to make this a real marriage. In my mind, this decision was cemented when Andrew looked me deep in the eyes one night and told me that he did want to commit and could not be with anyone else.

Waking up Friday morning in our tie-dyed dome I began to get excited. We had chosen our wedding outfits from costumes we brought with us. As we made amulets from sand dollars, crystals, stones and hand blown marbles that were playa gifts, the reality of our wedding began to set in. That day Andrew asked the next door neighbour who he had bonded with to be the best man. At this point we had given up the decision to keep our nuptials a secret and told a select few, the rest would be told at the service or when we got back home. I was lucky enough to have three of my close friends attending Burning Man, so I felt happy that our community would bless our love. I would also have three of the most interesting and diverse looking bridesmaids I’ve ever seen.

The Wedding

After downing a shot of tequila each Andrew and I climbed into the taxi and were off to the chapel. When we arrived there was a fluster of activity, friends arriving and gathering, the ministers making last minute checks with us, and many shocked faces as we told them we were getting legally married. As the dust settled and the sun began it’s decent, Andrew and I stood surrounded by friends and the ministers in front of the large Elvis head.

Dressed in my ‘Princess Leia’ outfit and clutching a mismatched bouquet of blinking roses and dusty blooms given to me by friends and neighbours, I felt in awe of my sexy partner in his homemade fractal pants and pink cowboy hat. We had managed to put together a wedding that felt fun and special to us in four days, without much stress and with no disagreements. Many of our friends still in shock at our announcement observed our happiness with yells of encouragement and smiles as wide as canyons.

Much to the consternation of our ministers, we had chosen to recite the Elvis vows they kept for mock ceremonies. With silly promises of not stepping on his ‘blue suede shoes’, or treating him like a ‘hound dog’, I vowed that he would always be ‘my teddy bear’. Andrew promised to ‘love me tender’ and never leave me at the ‘heartbreak hotel’ and to always be my ‘hunk-a hunk-a burnin love’. These vows delivered in full Elvis style elicited laughs and grins from us and the crowd that had gathered during the ceremony. While posing for pictures with our friends I realized that this was the wedding I had always dreamed of, despite that realistically with all of the luck and randomness, our wedding could have never been planned exactly this way. Feeling the craziness of being at Burning Man for the week, combined with the intensity of our connection and the joy of our simple ceremony, I was overwhelmed with a sense of euphoria that is always better when shared with those you love.

We certainly didn’t have a ‘traditional’ wedding, but we created a meaningful ritual that worked for us on many levels. We’ve been told repeatedly by different people that ours was the best wedding they have ever attended. Our friend Kodiak who photographed the wedding wrote that our ceremony was ‘full of life and love’. It was also full of a lot of our personalities. We managed to keep the parts that worked for us within the traditional marriage ceremony; a gathering of friends, a legally binding ceremony, a bouquet of flowers to toss, vows, an exchange of love tokens and of course the kissing of the bride. But we also managed to make it an expression of ourselves by creating our own amulets, wearing what made us feel special and comfortable, and keeping the ceremony full of life and fun as well as short.

After the wedding we co-opted the Black Rock Boy Scout’s Mamboree and turned it into a wedding reception. To end off our streak of ‘planning’luck, the Boy Scouts had a cake, which we ceremoniously borrowed as our wedding cake and fed each other pieces in the traditional way. Like most things and events on the playa our wedding was magical, strange and once in a lifetime experience, afterall, not everyone gets a free wedding cake that says ‘ASS’.

by Steph

Lt. Mutti – A Mascot

I began attending BM in ’99. My group was The Masquetorium. Often while pestering the chef, I would find myself compulsively changing the trash bags in the cans which were stored near the kitchen. I observed that there was a trash separations system similar to how most people separate trash in their homes.

The following year, I camped with the same people. A member of the group was required to become the “responsible party” for LNT policy of the group. The well intended individual selected had created a monster of a recycling system. There were about ten different containers to catch the stuff. Halfway through the week, I realized that my compulsive behavior was at work again, and that I was often resorting the stuff that people either couldn’t figure out which can it belonged or were too lazy to go further than the first on they came upon. I took it upon myself, reduced the number of cans, and did what I could to persuade the others to follow the new breakdown. That entailed mostly ME checking the things six times a day to resort what the people discarded and change bags.

Last year, 2001, my third plan to return home to Black Rock City, brought me into a new group; AZTECA. When first meeting with the chiefs, I point-blank offered to coordinate the LNT, and specifically organize the trash/recycling setup. I told them about the two previous years where people say they will take charge, but it ended up being a lot of my work. I figure it would save me some grief if I took the job from the beginning. So I was the garbage man. I will share the details of my system at another time; you will love it.

While practicing my trash/recycling separation at our workshop before the event, I got a reputation for being very strict with tidiness. I had a breakdown for the workshop based closely on the one for the playa. If someone wanted to combine or add a can, I would firmly say, “The system I have created works perfectly, it will not be altered” or something equally heavy handed. I got the nickname, “Trash Nazi.” It was a term of endearment. Everyone was grateful that I was so “serious” about that chore.

It was soon after this that Dale East gave me an East German border guard uniform of lieutenant rank. It fit me like a glove, and it looked frighteningly like a nazi uniform. I pranced around the workshop practicing goostepping, blowing my whistle, and saying things like, “You vill crush your cans — Ve have vays of making you crush your cans!” I suggested a riding crop and Dale again did it a step better — he “issued” me a riding crop with a small strand of cool-neon glued down it’s length. My fellow artists praised the character. They thought it was very suited for my personality, especially my attitude about the recycling. It was observed that the appearance was indeed extremely intense and was even frightening. So, to soften it up I took a soft name, Lieutenant Mutti. Mutti is the German word for Momma or Mommy – not Mother, that is the more formal, Muter. I wanted my authority to be one which people would willingly and mirthfully submit.

Tuesday, 8/28, Dinner — This is the night that was the “highest” and the “lowest.”

To start; I helped prepare that night’s communal food and was asked to make some serious announcements to the group about the usage of communal water and the dish washing station. I emerged in uniform for the first time from Dale and JB’s RV to a thunderous cheer. You could have knocked me over with a feather, so to speak. My fellow artists had been living for four days under my “system” and seemed happy to assist maintaining it. My announcements were well received, and everyone complied graciously from that time forward.

After dinner, while walking the playa, most of Lt. Mutti’s interaction was pleasant. My friend and I noticed the intense fear in people’s expressions at times, but also intense arousal and mirth. Anyone who spoke with me found the character to be stoic, but approachable and eventually flirtatious and/or funny. Once they learned my character’s title and purpose most loved it. Some thought I was portraying an “enforcer” of LNT, but if someone threw trash at my feet and said, “What are you going to do about that, Trash Nazi?” I would turn to any other people near me and say, “I have no more authroity than they, and you, have; please pick it up, is all I have to say.” As for the riding crop, I never let it leave my hand. If someone asked to hold it, I declined. My reason: it is a weapon; I appear as an intense authoritarian figure among the most liberal group on the planet — the conclusion: many of them wanted to use it on me! That is not the purpose; it was neither in my interest, nor was allowing someone feeling their Cheerio’s to use it on anyone else. If anyone was going to give a cool-neon spanking, it would be me, and only when requested under the right circumstances. “I only swat those whom I have permission to hit.” If a man points to his girlfriend and says, “I give you permission to hit her,” and she indicates that she is not interested, I would smile and ask him, “Are you sure it is her, and not you that needs discipline?” Lt. Mutti is not aggressive. He doesn’t need to be. His very presence is provocative enough.

I was once attacked on the playa that night. It was unprovoked, and my friend and I did not see the person coming. He grabbed my crop, and tried to take it from me. I refused to let go, and he continued to struggle with me, yelling and bending the crop in a manner in which it could have been broken. Once I finally disentangled myself from this person, a woman, his girlfriend I later learned, jumped in to attempt the same thing. This was far from fun, and had to be the worst experience I have ever had at Burning Man. I had taken to yelling at these mad people. This went very against what my character is really about, but was a reflex reaction to being assaulted. I am happy to say that that was the only time things got out of hand. Most of the experiences have been good enough to much more than compensate for that episode, and now as a result, I am much more alert when parading.

Someone in One-Tribe, the camp with the giant red lion, saw me that evening. They immediately approached me and said, “We must have you for our opera! It is called “A Five Minute Requiem for the Twentieth Century,” and nothing would be more fitting for that than a nazi.” I pointed out that the uniform is East German border guard, not fascist. They said, “Even better! the Berlin wall did fall!” I agreed, attended rehearsals, and when they performed the opera I was a big part of it. They videotaped it too, and I am dying to see the end product. They claim that I am “all over it.”

Even after Burning Man, the character makes appearances. Lt. Mutti was recognized at Flambé Lounge by many people. Pleasure Sean took a beautiful photo of the character that is on the website.

Lady Bee even requested that the character make an appearance at her birthday party. I perform with The Mutaytor, and occasionally, Lt. Mutti tears it up onstage playing percussions. I am sure that there will be more to this character. Look for him on the playa. in 2002!

by Anthony


It has been a long journey to get there. Long years and long distances, and as anything so encompassing in life, one forgets why one started in the first place. I am 35 now, so some 18 years had passed between my mother finding me playing football with friends on a gray November day. She came to tell me that my father had hung himself. It is a bitter pill that I have never been able to completely swallow. He was a funny, gentle, wonderful man.

All this time later I found myself wandering outside the Temple of Tears, and somebody I had never met before told me a story about why it had been built. Friends and I had seen the temple the night before and were amazed — more like shocked — that somebody would build such an incredible structure and erect it on the Playa. We did not know what it meant, but it was so complex and beautiful in the playa half-light of midnight.

Standing right there the next afternoon, covered with dust, I understood that I had arrived at a wonderful oasis on my journey. I was aware that this man telling this story about his great loss had told this story many times before, but within his words I found rest. I remember he said that here on the Playa we face things without judgment that the world will not face at all. It is sad that in this world one would have to go to a barren desert with a bunch of “misfits” to finally find understanding and solace. So hard is the reality of our everyday lives.

Well I lost my long-held composure, and this man came to me and asked if I was alright and grabbed my hand and looked into my eyes to make sure. His honesty and his compassion were palpable. I went into the temple and wrote on the blocks and cried on the alter and other people cried with me and we held each other. After that, I have had a calm inside me that I have very rarely known. Although I didn’t even talk to anybody in the temple, I owe them a debt of gratitude for the care and concern they expressed. Within those temple flames went such pain and shame and confusion, I cannot say. Thank you Black Rock City.

by Bevan Corry

Black Rock Dessert

I am sharing this because it seems to provoke wonderful longing and mystery for all who hear it. So hear it is:

Sunday. Day after the burn. Late afternoon. 4 of us are walking down “Infant Street” around 9 o’clock, when suddenly, some folks come up to us offering ” black rock dessert.” High as we are, we are somewhat skeptical of stopping to sample and ingest this strange, black bowl of substance unknown. The kind folks are quite enthusiastic and insistent, however, and our curiosity gets the best of us, as we turn around to check it out.

The story (I will leave it to the reader to decipher fact from fiction) as told to us:

“For the last 4 or 5 years, we have been collecting burnt desert from the ground where the man burns. The gypsum gets so hot under the man that it ‘crystallizes’ and forms into gypsum sugar. We finally have enough to make a “dessert,” so here! You can eat the desert! It tastes really great!”

Naturally, I paraphrase, but its something to that effect. The “dessert” was black, crystalline, and looked something like ground-up oreo cookies or brownie mix. We took our first bite………

No kidding – this is the BEST dessert I have EVER eaten…normally, I don’t even eat dessert. It is delightfully sweet without being “sugary.” Perfect tactile texture, crunchy but not hard. Easy to swallow, and demanding to be partaken of. We took several mouthfuls, and then turn to leave. The entire afternoon and evening, I am filled with regret at 1. not having eaten more, and 2. not getting their names!!!!!!! Fantastic.

Truth or fiction? I’ll let you decide…

by Gary Dempster

The Goat Truth

I did have the honor of finding and exploring the anus of truth. Although it was 4am in the morning and I could not think of a truth I needed to be answered, I found truth in the meaning of playa life from the friendly and open conversation with the Oracles (4 guys and 1 girl late on Thursday Night/Friday Morning). The oracles were in awe of the orange little glow stick that I had in my mouth although they did not see my 70’s prom outfit that I wore (I did lose my prom date that night…). After becoming one with the goat by pulling my pants down, I did feel that the Goat Truth had some mystical powers that guided me on my journey that night. For as much I wanted to keep my head up the goat’s ass longer, there were others waiting and it was time to go. I did give my oracles a gift of some miniature liquor bottles in which they gave me a sticker of the Goat Truth.

I did hold that sticker as a well-received and earned find on the playa. It held a certain meaning to me, and that night, which was one of the more misguided nights, the anus of truth gave me some direction. For how I would enjoy this memento for ages to come.

Just as I was to depart from the Playa late Monday Afternoon, I was in the final stages of a ceremonial sun shower in the middle of Justice Street with only a sparse amount of vehicles and humans still in eyes view. It was time to go, but I stretched out the shower and leaving the playa as long as I could. While getting my finds together, I came across my goat truth sticker and fond memories came to my mind. I put the stick on my dashboard so I could look over on my drive back to the bay and maybe find some of the truth I could not ask for that night. At one point I reached across my car and accidentally knocked the sticker off of my dashboard and I saw it float in the air as it exited my vehicle. I immediately realized what occurred and jumped out of my truck to retrieve my truth. As the burning spirit would have it, a gust of wind blew across the playa and before I even saw the sticker hit the ground, it had vanished. I looked all over the area under and around my truck to no avail. The gust of wind blew the truth away, it was no where in eyes view from my truck. For how can I lose the truth? It was just as easy as a simple wrong movement. I did fail in the ethos of “Leave No Trace”, albeit unintentionally. The truth was gone, blowing in the wind. Did my truth end up in a big bag of MOOP? Or maybe the truth is still blowing in the wind and maybe someday someone will find the truth and it will guide them in their journey. Or maybe the truth will spend eternity just blowing in the wind on the playa. I tend to think that the truth will always be blowing in the wind.

by Freshiedoug

In the Eye of the Beholder

It is a surprise to many to learn that Northern Nevada is home to not one, but two, of the world’s premiere art events. Reno’s “Artown” (formerly “Uptown, Downtown, Artown,” see: was voted the world’s best downtown art festival by a European civic association in 2000. “The Burning Man Project” on the Black Rock Desert north of Reno, is likewise on its way to becoming one of the great art festivals of all time.

Artown runs the entire 31 days of July with over 200 events and exhibits in more than three dozen venues around the city, making it the largest civic art festival in the world. From Clog Dancing to Opera, from live painting demonstrations to ensemble theater performances, Artown covers most of the spectrum of mainstream art, both amateur and professional. For everything else there’s the week long celebration of “radical self expression” called Burning Man.

Artown, with its packed schedule of open air concerts, intimate theater presentations and wine-and-cheese gallery receptions is fairly easy to describe; Burning Man with its art cars and fire twirlers, costumed revelers and naked exhibitionists, massive art installations and practical joke theme camps is equally, and oppositely, nearly impossible. Many who have tried to describe Burning Man have compared it to Woodstock, Mardi Gras, The Rainbow Gatherings or the Grateful Dead concert phenomena, but such comparisons fail utterly. This festival is so truly different that only by attending can one understand it.

Burning Man takes place on a dry lake bed, a vast flat expanse of alkali salt called a playa. In this same place in recent years American and British teams with rocket powered cars vied to set the World Land Speed Record. The Burning Man site, called Black Rock City, is over 100 miles from Reno, and, as one San Francisco writer quipped, even further from civilization. The playa is both literally and figuratively a blank canvas onto which the art of the attendees is painted.

The playa of the Black Rock Desert is a harsh, inhospitable environment. Nothing grows there, nothing lives there; no plants, no birds, no visible insects. Summer day time temperatures exceed 110 degrees Fahrenheit for weeks on end. The dirt beneath your feet, and soon in your hair, under your clothes and in your food, is a pale shade of tan, fine and powdery. The least little breeze raises clouds of it. When the wind comes up, and it can blow at hurricane velocity, white-out conditions occur. Fault-block mountains of the Great Basin, twisted and blackened with ancient lava flows, ring the site. The few sparse junipers on their heights do nothing to soften the stark, sharp outlines of these crags against the pale blue sky. Under some circumstances this strange, inhuman place could be seen as beautiful; under others it could be life threatening. Your ticket to Burning Man makes that clear. At the top of the ticket, in all capital letters, it reads: “YOU VOLUNTARILY ASSUME THE RISK OF SERIOUS INJURY OR DEATH BY ATTENDING.”

Beneath that it reads: “You must bring enough food, water, shelter, and first aid to survive one week in a harsh desert environment. Commercial vending, firearms, fireworks, rockets and all other explosives prohibited. You agree to read and abide by ALL rules in the Survival Guide [handed to you at the entrance gate and also available on the website]. You agree to follow federal, state, and local laws. This is a LEAVE NO TRACE, Pack it in, Pack it OUT event. You are asked to contribute 2 hours of playa clean up before departure.”

For the entire event in 2000 there were about 1,000 people treated for cuts and scrapes, broken bones, dehydration, and such. All of the injuries but for a handful were minor (two people were hit in the head by flying debris and were flown by helicopter to local hospitals). A thousand sounds like a lot, but consider, Burning Man was, for that week, the fifth largest city in the state! How much action would a hospital or urgent care center get in a similar week in a regular town of that size? Lots more! And, this was under extreme camping conditions with extreme weather conditions (75 mile an hour winds, white out blowing dust conditions, rain all of one night and clinging clay mud that followed). Under such circumstances these folks performed very well in deed.

Yes, these were conditions that most normal people would hate, but these folks clearly aren’t normal, and are proud of it! Many Americans, not just Burning Man attendees, are glad that we still have a Bill of Rights sufficiently intact to allow the nonconformist, the truly Free American, a place to be free. The continued existence of Burning Man says that the First Amendment, at least, is still alive and well. Some see Burning Man as something of the sociological equivalent of a canary in a mine – when The Burning Man Project is dead (from the deadly fumes of censorship and religious intolerance) the Republic, they fear, probably won’t be far behind.

While the Burning Man festival lasts but one week, ending Labor Day, Black Rock City is inhabited by a handful of people for several months before and after the event. The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) controls the land and they require that the playa be returned to a pristine natural state after the festival. This requires an army of volunteers to rake and sweep the site of any evidence of human presence; and hundreds of dump truck loads to haul away ashes from the ritual burning of dozens of works of art.

Prior to the festival’s official opening the Monday before Labor Day, a growing number of artists arrive on site to begin constructing their theme camps and installations. Installations for 2000 included a three story Buddhist Temple, an amazingly elaborate maze, and a giant Pegasus erupting out of the desert floor. Also, Burning Man Project staff spend weeks laying out the City’s unique ground plan, setting up port-a-potties and erecting official structures, like Media Mecca, the gathering place for journalists covering the event.

The very center of Black Rock City is where The Man, a towering wooden stick figure with triangular head and up-raised arms, stands. A circle, a mile or more across, is drawn around him. This space is left open for art installations. Fringing that open circle is the curving arc of streets that make up the camp grounds. The streets that run in parallel concentric arcs are named for body parts. The street that fronts the circle is Head Way. Open on one side to the playa art area and a distant view of The Man, the other side is a miles long curving row of theme camps. For 2000 these camps included a sexual themed miniature golf course with bar called “The Foreplay Lounge;” “Thunder Dome,” a geodesic dome wherein amateur pugilists fought each other a la the Mad Max movie; and “Antarctica,” a 50 foot freezer trailer that provided respite from the desert heat. The remaining streets were The Boulevard of the Brain, Throat Road, Heart Avenue, Gut Alley, Sex Drive, Anal Avenue, Knee Lane and the furthest from The Man, Feet Street. The radial streets that intersect these parallel ones are named for the minutes and hours on the face of a clock. My group, Installation 23, was on the corner of 7:30 and Brain.

Center Camp, at 6:00 and Head Way, is one of three circular structures erected by The Burning Man Project for use by festival attendees. The other two are Community Satellite meeting areas on Brain at 9:00 and 3:00. Center Camp is a vast circular pavilion a couple-a-hundred feet across with two small stages, and a variety of open and sheltered seating, providing a unique meeting area. It is the only permitted vender on the playa, selling hot coffee and cold sodas. One attendee I met there called it “a really cool coffee house.” Stretching left and right of Center Camp, for a mile or more in either direction, the body part named streets terminate at 2:00 and 10:00, leaving the top of the clock face open playa.

Just as a state or county fair has many events, so too has the Burning Man Festival. Without a working time machine, it is impossible to see all of it. With thousands of people expressing themselves through parades, stage shows, dance parties and interactive art exhibits, spread over five square miles of camps and open playa, hundreds of interesting things occur simultaneously – and do so ’round the clock for over a week! The center piece, the grand culmination the week’s activity is the burning of The Man. This is no simple bon fire, but a spectacular pyrotechnic display – one conducted as a mock religious ceremony!

The Man stands atop a 20 foot tall stepped pyramid made out of hay bales. The Man himself is another 40-some feet tall, his outline illuminated by neon tubes of many colors. On the final day of the festival, as sunset ignites the clouds with dazzling reds and pinks, thousands of people begin to converge on The Man. A circle of lights set in the playa, a safe distance from The Man, begins rhythmically flashing, warning the attendees to stay back. Officials stand elbow to elbow around the circle, admitting only those with “pyro passes.” Those who enter form dozens of small circles around The Man and begin a solemn chanting.

When darkness has fully fallen the burning of The Man begins. A cloud burst of fireworks erupts from his head. The chanters become acrobats twirling flaming batons, dancing wildly about his feet. As the fire spreads to The Man’s body more and more fireworks of many types are released. Whirling wheels of fireworks descend to The Man on wires from surrounding towers. More fireworks are shot off from all over the festival site. A fire cannon blasts great scorching balls of black smoke and fire into the starry night sky.

On the Christian Right there are those, who have never attended Burning Man, who say that this is a Satanic Ritual, that The Burning Man Project is Satan worship, and, for all I know, some probably even claim that its founder, Larry Harvey, is the Anti-Christ! This is probably nonsense. I did not see any Satanist activities anywhere in Black Rock City, at any time. I did, however, see a lot of pretty women wearing little red horns – but whether those horns were indications of a religious conviction, or just last year’s Halloween costume, I will let you decide. I have to admit, though, the fire twirlers around the base of the Burning Man creeped me out a little. They reminded me way too much of the fire imps dancing about the giant Devil in the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence of Walt Disney’s film Fantasia. But, I must add, that was just me.

Burning Man truly is what each attendee brings to it. It is a blank slate, an elaborate physical ink blot test, a kaleidoscopic Etch-a-sketch left in the desert for those who can find it to draw onto
it, or from it, what they will.

The core philosophy of The Burning Man Project is given as “radical self expression.” Let’s break that down, starting with the word “radical.”

Radical comes from the Latin radicalis meaning “having roots.” The first definition of radical in my Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary is “of or from the root or roots; going to the center, foundation, or source of something; fundamental; basic.” The political definition of radical is given, in part, as “favoring fundamental or extreme change; very leftist.” Burning Man certainly goes to the very core, the root of what being a human means. It is also extreme, in just about every possible sense of the word. “Leftist” on the other hand doesn’t really apply. While it is hardly a
“conservative” activity, Burning Man eschews politics in any conventional sense. Indeed, one of the funniest moments for me was when a group of “protesters” came by our camp. They were dressed head to toe in white and carried large white “protest signs” that were totally blank. While they went through motions as though they were shouting or chanting slogans, they uttered not a sound!

“Self” is defined as “the identity, character, or essential qualities of any person or thing,” and “the identity, personality, individuality, etc. of a given person; one’s own person as distinct from all others.” While “expression” is partially defined as “a putting into words; a representing in language; a stating,” and “a picturing, representing, or symbolizing in art, music, etc.” and “a manner of expressing; especially, a meaningful and eloquent manner of speaking, singing, etc.” We are not talking about mere hedonist self gratification, as some who have not attended the event have mislabled it. This is a celebration of identity. Breaking the bondage of conformity to peer pressure and corporate image, the individual is free to shed the three-piece suit and power tie, the Crew Kid cap, the pants-suit and sensible shoes, and wear a wild costume, or absolutely nothing, reveling in the nearly unlimited possibilities of self statement.

In that “a stating” definition we see that Burning Man is far more than self indulgence, it is communication. 25,000 people are there to tell, and to listen, to who they are. As a Utopianist I am struck to my core by what this means. Black Rock City is an ongoing experiment in community building, and more. Unlike cities of the past, based on mutual protection against the elements or enemies, or on making money, Black Rock City is built to further communication. Here we see, in all its strange glory, the missing element of the Internet: physical communication. Black Rock City is the Internet in hard copy. It is the first true city of the Information Age, the first metropolis of the Twenty-First Century.

Further, in “a manner of expressing; especially, a meaningful and eloquent manner of speaking, singing, etc,” we see the artistic expression of self that is the greatness of The Burning Man Project. For Burning Man 2000 something like 150 major art installations were erected over the five square mile site, quite possibly making it the world’s largest art gallery. From live music to performance art, from interactive art pieces to body painting, from a fake Post Office where one waits in line to be yelled at by the clerk to elaborate quasi-religious rituals, hundreds of art events happen continuously. Parades of one sort or another were just about hourly occurrences.

At other “art festivals” one encounters venders hocking alleged “arts and crafts:” wooden name plates, Aussie hats, tole painted saw blades, Indian beadwork made in Taiwan, and on and on. Not a speck of that at Burning Man! Absolutely no vending, no display of corporate logos permitted. Purity of message is thus maintained.

Of course, just because its “art” doesn’t mean its “good.” Some artists don’t grasp that they need to communicate with their audiences. Some art is just done for shock value. Some is done simply because it can be done. Some is clearly the work of disturbed minds. But then, that is true of nearly every gallery and modern art museum I have ever visited. On the other hand, some of the pieces were impressive, moving, inspirational and/or delightful. As a working artist I was thrilled, awed, and, yes, even made a little envious.

A very high percentage of the attendees work in high tech jobs. Many techies are frustrated artists. I was once a computer programmer. I know many of these folks found tech jobs as a way to express their innate creativity and still make a living. Many find building crazy artsy stuff, like turning a VW Bug into a flying saucer, covering a bicycle in lights or building tiny robots that scuttle about the desert performing strange feats, a much needed outlet.

The quasi-religious rituals of Burning Man are another important outlet. The religious urge is one of the great human drives. I am sure I could babble like a pop psychologist, or a graduate student working up his doctorial thesis, on the deeper meaning of Burning Man — but I will spare you. Let me just say, I felt something…

Saturday night, as the last of The Man turned to ashes and the crowd began to disperse, I felt a sudden and quite surprising feeling of release, like a heavy burden I didn’t even know I had had suddenly been removed. This was followed instantly a joyous sense of renewal. “Release and renewal!” I said aloud to no one. I looked around, wondering if others were feeling this. I wondered if I were telepathically experiencing the sensations of some in the crowd around me, or if something in me had somehow burned up with The Man. Buoyant, I returned to camp and a wild and wonderful evening.

Before I next fell asleep in my own bed back home I had already conceived of a design for our camp at next year’s Burning Man. Yes, once you go, you’re hooked. To quote one of my fellow “burners,” a tall brunette Operating Room Nurse from a major regional hospital, “Its the ultimate!”

by Jerry E. Smith


Celebrating a god who shall remain nameless
Creating a faith that can remain blameless
Acknowledging all that we know is divine
Is the artistry in your life the light and love in mine
Reminding myself of the reasons for living
Laughing loving learning giving
Building a city in the soul of a nation
That’s what I did on my summer vacation

by Reed Hortie