A storm, a wedding, and the early burn

Wheewww, boy, what a Saturday.

It was the first really big whiteout dust storm of the year, and it was a bad one. And it came as more and more people arrived from San Francisco and Austin and Portland and all the other big points on the Burning Man compass.

We were coming in from Reno, and we could see the effects of the wind as we neared Gerlach. It looked like there was smoke from a forest fire blowing across the valley in the distance, except of course the smoke wasn’t gray, it was white. It actually looked more like a blizzard of dust.

When we passed through Gerlach and got a glimpse of the Black Rock desert, we knew we were in for it. The city was obscured and the wind was howling. We had to inch our way up the entrance road,  and when we finally got to the city we had to stop the car every few feet and wait for a break in conditions to continue. It was bad.

The storm threatened to delay or even cancel the early burn, the big gathering where all the construction camps make wooden sculptures to burn. It was also the night that Foxtrot and Huckleberry were to be married, and it was going to be tough for people to find their way to the Commissary for the festivities. One thing for sure, it was going to be a very white wedding.

It was dark when we headed out for the wedding, and along the way we picked up Phoenix. She stayed in the car with us for, oh, about 15 minutes as we tried to maneuver from the Center Cafe to the Commissary. Normally it’s a two minute drive, max. Tonight, we nearly ran smack into recycle camp. It was just that bad. We overshot the Commissary, and as we passed the Ghetto, where most of the DPW people camp, she piped up from the back seat, “Oh, this is fine, you can drop me off here.” Right. She’d have better chances on foot than we were having in the car.

We finally made it over, though, and joined the throng in the packed Commissary.

Hayseed called out to the room to listen to the music, and the couple made their way through the aisle. The wedding party exchanged hugs and kisses, and then it was time for Ghost to officiate.

He told us to honor the Paiutes who had lived on the land first. He summoned spirits from the north, the south, the east and the west. He lit sage to banish the harmful angry spirits, to make way for the loving ones. He was articulate and moving and real. He spoke of love and commitment and standing up for each other when times were tough. He was both serious and joyful. If you weren’t touched, if your heart wasn’t moved, you may not be ready for love.

Huckleberry read a poem he’d written do to Foxtrot when they were first in love, 17 years ago, before their lives became intertwined again.

Soon Foxtrot and Huckleberry were passionately embraced in front of the whooping crowd. They were married now, and the party was ready to roll.

Dylan took up the accordion and the other musicians joined around him. The DPW people crowded around, singing and dancing and hoisting champagne. If you had an idea of what you’d want your wedding guests to do at your party, this was it.

The walls of the tent were still flapping and snapping as the wind continued to howl outside. The dust may have been blinding, but the inside was full of light and music and joy. Another metaphor for the event itself.

And then it was time to burn some s—.

The structures were in place out beyond the Man. There was a giant wooden spider from Heavy Machinery, because one of their operators had run over an electrical spider box. There was the chicken/horse from the Temple, outfitted with piles of kindling to help it burn. There was the triangular obelisk from Oculus. And there on the end, there was the giant wooden monkey clutching a skyscraper, with a batch of Barbie Dolls in his grasp. In the year of Metropolis, King Kong had made an appearance.

As if by wizardry, the wind calmed. Dave X started the fireworks, and the giant balls of sparkle and flame burst over our heads. The sculptures went up in flame, one by one, and the crowd warmed itself by the light of the fires.

When Sunday came, it was as if the Saturday storm had never happened. The temperature was cool, the sky was filled with those puffy clouds that you only seem to really see out here, and all was calm. It wasn’t just clear, it was sharp. Yes, it was as if the storm had never happened, except for the thick coat of dust that covered every single thing that you had brought with you.

The early burn was also an imposter party, and Logan came as Cowboy Carl.
Goatt poked the embers, making sure the last of the Oculus burned.

The wedding crowd was ready to celebrate.
(photo by Erica Bartel)

Ghost burned sage to cleanse the spirits.

About the author: John Curley

John Curley has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 he spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. John is a longtime newspaper person and spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle, where he was a deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since leaving the Chronicle in 2007, he was a contributing editor on Blue Planet Run, a book about the world's water crisis, and for the past two years has been a lecturer at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism. He has also started an event and editorial photography business, and is also working on a book about the "Ten Dollar Doc" from Arco, Idaho, which will make a lovely film someday.

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