Pilgrimage


by Jack Watson

The night was an entire universe modeled in scale; the Orphean journey into the underworld; the truth that every man walks through in these dimensions of allegory. The music reflected the climax in the drama of a Burning Man all-nighter; characters introduced, plot thickened, and now, resolution demanded. The bass thumped through the carpeted interior of the chamber in which we had sequestered ourselves. Drew and I lay crumpled and intertwined in this small, dark, lonely hole we had stumbled into in the Root Society dance dome. Bodily exhaustion contended with spiritual hunger (how does one sleep when the Universe is begging you to watch its immolation?). But the hole was lovely and black, soft and warm. I would not be surprised if it was some actual fairy grotto that cast a spell of sleep on interlopers and transformed them into captives eternal, enchanted and possessed. We flirted with surrender, and nodded for a while.

We had started the day with the determination that we would explore the Playa together after two days of not connecting. We helped each other put costumes together, set out on bikes, laughed and fought. At some point earlier in the evening we had bumped into some of our friends, but, being in a very different place, quietly excused ourselves, folding easily into the chaos and madness that is found on every corner of Black Rock City. Deep out in the playa our bikes finally succumbed to five days of battle with playa dust, the chains creaking and dry. They had been valiant but they would not, could not take us any further. We locked them up to (hopefully) fend off any mischief that the gremlins of the playa (who are always up to no good) might devise for the bikes, and set off on foot.

Off in the distance, lopsided, looking almost like it had crashed into the soft bed of gypsum dust, was a space shuttle. We climbed through an opening at its tail, and found a bar populated by aliens, super heroes, renegades and spooks. A lovely wood nymph tended drinks, and set us up with freshly opened coconuts, and the milk fed our stomachs, but also our minds and our hearts. We lingered, grateful for shelter and sustenance, enjoying the motley company. The bar shuddered, the patrons grabbed for handhold, and the shuttle drove away. Drew and I looked at each other, excited to be carried away. When it all lurched to a halt, we rolled out of the opening and found ourselves on the Esplanade at about 9pm (geographic 9pm, not chronographic).

Looming in front of us were two thumping, bouncing domes. Revelers spilled in and out, clutching each other, stumbling, parading, striding. Perhaps wanting to ease into this new frontier, we went into the smaller dome first. Cups were in short supply, but we put aside our squeamishness and accepted some spirits in glasses that may have met many lips that night. We danced; bouncing at times with the crowd, and at other times just the two of us. Layers came off one by one, and soon I was down to a pair of briefs that betrayed my true identity as a comic book hero. We shook, we gyrated, we kicked, and I’m ashamed to say, I probably also clapped (I consider clapping on the dance floor to be a faux pas). The night had the weapon of exhaustion, and the only shield we had against it was dancing. In this dark hour the night was winning, and we fled to the bigger dome, with the night right behind us. This was when the hole found and seduced us.

I have slept my whole life, wakefulness a dream. In Black Rock City, we are all refugees seeking some existential diplomatic immunity. Every morning I was there, I had to fight with an urge to flee back to the somnolent comfort of my decades long nap. I felt overcome by my own lameness, drowning in my own mediocrity. But the night is an avid hunter, and it wanted us to stay. Drew’s head was on my shoulder, and I had lost him. The music pressed down like a blanket, and told us that this was all there is, or ever would be.

I squinted out into the dome to see if there was any salvation from this hole consuming us, and there it was, the Deus Ex Machina. Golden fingers caressed my eyelids, glowing bolts of orange and pink flying from a cosmic bow, turning corners, searching and penetrating. The day had heard our distress, and was coming to our rescue. The music shifted, subtly at first, then fully proclaiming an aria of hope and succor. There was a resolution to this plot that seemed hopeless. I squeezed Drew’s shoulder, and told him “Look…the sun is coming up!”. We shook off our doldrums and knew we had to leave. We escaped the Dance Dome with our souls intact.

***

We were a long ways from home in every way it could be factored. We had tents and sleeping bags that we could set out for, that were indeed begging for our return. Our camp would soon offer breakfast, and sustenance in the desert is not to be dismissed lightly. It seemed inevitable that we *MUST* *NOW* go home, grateful to have survived the night.

But some part of me knew that we were not yet done. In another direction, just as far away, was the temple. La Sagrada Basura (“The Sacred Trash”) I had not been there yet, and the time remaining in Black Rock City was short. I had already missed visiting the Man, putting it off and then finding out it was too late because he is cordoned off in the day before the burn. I said to Drew “I don’t know what you need to do, but I am going to the temple if you would like to come with me.” We set off into the deep playa, not entirely sure of the way, trying to navigate the always twisting path from the Dark and the Profane to the Sacred and the Profound. (Usually they are not as far away from each other as you might think.)

Once we had our bearings, we walked together yet separate. A woman danced her welcome to the sunrise, accompanied by sonnet and symphony that we could not hear. Dust devils arced and leapt, illuminated by these first rays. Revelers began to pour from their cathedrals of excess and debauchery. We could not be seduced, we would not be distracted.

Several clicks out from the temple and intentionally placed, I am certain, to be in our path, was an ante-temple. It was small and white, symmetrical and beautiful. I pulled over and waited for Drew.

The word “temple” carries heavy baggage for me. In the religion of my formative years, the temple is a sacred place that access is restricted to. Esoteric mysteries are completed, boundaries and beliefs are challenged, allegory and metaphor are invoked as more real than the solidities of what we presume to be reality. I am now estranged from this, and the names they now call me are Expatriate and Outcast. The bolder among them would dub me Apostate. The temple is not approached casually, and I plumbed myself for the intention and courage to go on, to find my own Sacred, to rise to the occasion and dare to annunciate my own ritual and mystery.

Ancient wisdom collaborated with my own experience, and this ante-temple was designated to prepare for the visit to the temple. I set down my back pack. Drew was still out behind me. I took off my clothes, and put them in the bag. From the pack I retrieved a small bottle of hand sanitizer, with which I anointed the crown of my head at the third eye, and the throat, the heart, the spine at the small of my back, and the pelvis slightly below the navel. Drew arrived, and somehow knew that this was an occasion of silence, and I was grateful to not need to ask for it. I began anointing him in the same places. In a whisper, I told him “Before you enter the temple, one must cleanse himself.” I turned and set off, naked except for my shoes and socks and pack.

In the temple of my religion, a garment is given to cover your nakedness. I have often wondered whether the sin is nakedness, as is commonly assumed, or was it being ashamed of our nakedness; of the body and its various functions and sensualities. I walked to the temple naked to experience humility, vulnerability. To stand in the vision of all and challenge the shame and embarrassment that I knew would come, to defy the judgment that was most likely my own and only my own.

At La Sagrada Basura, as with every temple at Burning Man, people write on the temple wishes, intentions, prayers, meditations, and dreams. They pin up pictures of lost loves, lost children, people they have hurt, pets, and other detritus of the default world. It is a place of catharsis and hope. It is beauty in harsh angles and reclaimed garbage. Above one door of the temple there was a painted placard that boldly insisted “LOVE IS REAL”.

I walked through the temple and read what people had written, touching the things that penetrated my heart. I looked at the pictures. I watched a wedding party. I observed and honored fellow penitents in meditation that was sometimes anguished. I cried for the lost. When I was done, I found some inner chamber of the temple and took off my back pack, from which I retrieved my clothes. I put them on and asked someone to take my picture, reborn and whole, unashamed.

Then I found a pen and wrote on an empty space of some balustrade of the temple. I will not tell you what I wrote, because it is sacred, and you will never know because it is now all ashes and air.

The Man is gone, long live the Man

Holy crap, just like that it’s done.

Really?

Really.

There’s a fair amount of breakdown happening today in Black Rock City. People are pulling up stakes (quite literally), camps are knocking down their shade, and all of a sudden there are playa spaces opening up where crowded campsites used to be.

The playa is reclaiming its primacy. There shouldn’t be anything here, and soon there won’t be anymore.

There may be other kinds of breakdowns going on today too, of a more personal nature, but we’ll leave that for another time. Maybe when we get back to our customary lives, we’ll ask you what it felt like to have to leave this all behind.

But for now, there’s still a lot of story left. The Temple will burn tonight. The big cars and big crowds will gather in eerie, contemplative silence. The torch will be put to the Temple of Flux, and all the work and love and heartache and memories will float up into the desert wind.

It’s breezy and a little cooler today, but there is still lots of dust in the air. It could be coming from all sleeping bags and tents being shaken out before being loaded back into cars and trucks and RVs. Soon enough the bigger structures will come down, too. The Center Cafe will have to go back in it’s box for another year, the carpets put back into their railroad containers, the rigging wires rolled up, the shade tarps folded and stored.

Decked out in Burn night finery, and after she climbed the "Minaret," Kasey danced at the top of the keyhole.

We haven’t been down to the Gate today, but we know the line of vehicles leaving the city started last night, even before the burning of the Man. It’s the end of summer, the end of the Burn, and the other life awaits. At midday Sunday, there was about a 3 hour wait to get out of the City, and the population had already shrunk to 38,275 (from its high of more than 50,000).

Ideally, you think you’ll take home some of the life you discovered here. You certainly think that the people you met here will become a part of your world. And for some people, their lives really did change.  They’ll go back home only long enough to wrap things up and head for San Francisco, looking to find a place among the culture and community and free spirits residing there. (I am not making this part up. I know more than a few people who’ve made the move after Burning Man.)

Others will go home to stay, but they might try to keep the spirit alive through a connection with a Regional network.

We haven’t talked much about the Regional doings, and that’s our fault. The very lovely District Everywhere camp was the meeting place this week for the disparate elements of Black Rock Nation. You could read about the Kiwi Burn, for example, which has been going on in New Zealand for 10 years now. Or you could discover that Australia just hosted its first regional burn. And while New York has a very active group of Regional burners, there is also a contingent from … New Jersey! (We have a special place in our hearts for New Jersey. We were raised there, and we kind of think of it as the Hayward of the East. (And we say that in the most loving way possible.)

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Again! It’s too soon to let go, so we won’t! Not yet!

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A Little More of Everything!

Just more manifestions that I needed to be sure you have seen! I am thinking of all of you that did not get to come for whatever reason, those who thought they did not want to come and then regretted not coming, those who were there and are missing it already and those who are still there for the party.  And we are always thinking of all of you who will be there long past our departure getting it ready so we can come again, thank you.

As you can tell, I had a great time at [BM] I loved the weather, thanks for that big party in the desert!

Bliss Dance by Marco Cochrane and Crew photo: Xeeliz
TubaTron, the Flaming Tuba photo: Cory Mervis

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Yep, It’s Art, Fire, Creativity and Community!

As you are packing up, or starting home, or maybe already home I just wanted to share some photos that made me smile, reminded me why I go to Burning Man and keep me in awe of the art, the fire, the creativity and the community that are [BM] for me!

The Man and the Fire Conclave
Temple of Flux by Rebecca Anders, Jessica Hobbs, Peter Kimelman and Crew
Kate Raudenbush's Future's Past
EL Wire Costumes

photos:  The Blight   Thanks for more great photos!

The day to burn that Man

Hanging around the "Minaret."

It was a day and a night, and one blended into the other, and the experiences were not what you thought they were going to be, and then the ones that did happen according to plan became something else entirely.

We realize there’s no authoritative way to get an overview of what’s happening here, so we don’t really try. That’s one of the good things about so many people having so many different experiences, and maybe it’s one of the reasons why it is so hard to quantify the whole Burning Man experience. It’s this, but it’s also that. It’s my experience, it’s your experience, it’s ours together and it’s ours alone.

Umbrella man was back again this year, doing his thing in the afternoon sun.

We sat on the Poop Deck for a bit, a second-story structure that allowed us to look out over the Center Cafe and out into the open playa, and we thought about all the people having their own Burns — the ravers and dancers, the wanderers, the camps hosts, their guests, the old friends, the new acquaintances. It’s easy to think of all this as a communal exercise in shared joy, and lots of times it is, but there are plenty of times that it’s not, and you’re making your way on your own or with your friend or small group of friends.

It’s a little like traveling alone — the highs are so high, and the valleys so deep.

We like to explore our immediate neighborhood, and yesterday we went out to 6:30 and D to catch up with friends at Red Lightning. There was a group meditation exercise going on, more than a hundred people under the shade of a teepee, being led on their journey by a woman who helped them isolate their pain and banish it. We lingered on the outskirts for a bit, then decided that our thirst was of a more physical realm, so we took a seat at the bar across the street at the Conscious Dreaming camp.

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Fast, faster, fastest

The DPW begins its parade. Remember, the extended middle digit means "I love you" in DPW speak.

Please, can someone put this week in a time machine and slow it down? It’s going way too fast.

After all the iffy weather and freezing nights, it’s been beyond gorgeous in Black Rock City. Hot, but not ungodly hot. And the playa on Wednesday night was just a wonderful place to be.

The moon is waning, but still, it rises above the horizon line a little later each night, and it’s all huge and orange, and sometimes it’s partially obscured by a puff of clouds, and it just is the most beautiful thing here, even with all the other beautiful things here.

The days and nights seem to blend together, and no one is getting much sleep. The Cafe is crowded with body dancers and massage therapists, and just standing in line waiting for an iced mocha is one of the most entertaining things you can do, because the people-watching is just the best there is.

We don’t like to take the camera out all the time in public places. Sure, most of the folks love to have their picture taken, but some don’t. And walking around with a long lens and snapping some candids of people who are unaware of your intentions is just not cool. So we stay away from it.

We’re staying in Media Mecca, which is just across the street from the Center Cafe, and this year there’s a big huge wonderful Narwhal parked out front. Wednesday night, as the stars came out, the ship was lit up for the first time. One of the talented folks in the Mecca took the mike and serenaded us with sing-along songs of a nautical kind. He has an operatic voice, and  the beauty and clarity of his voice snapped everyone to attention, and a small crowd gathered around the boat.

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Tutu Tuesday

Man, I LOVE this place. Things are in FULL SWING out in Black Rock City. Hope you’re here, safe and happy.

Man
Man

Black Rock City has filled out nicely and the streets are alive with promenading citizens and there is just SO much to do. Everyone is having their various parties and socials, fashion shows, meet ups, performances,  so many events you can never make them all. The place is one big pie and there are an infinite number of pieces. Don’t worry about getting yours, there is more than you could ever handle.

Tutu Tuesday became Tophat Tuesday and we’ve been visiting and socializing and gifting ever since. My favorite sticker of the week so far is “It was on Fire when I got Here”. We’ve already had rain, a double rainbow and traffic all the way from Empire. We saw the City grow and the sound camps are up, pumping out their ever present soundtrack of ambient insanity.

JB made a really cool map for center camp
JB made a really cool map for center camp

Some rumors I’ve heard include that next year’s THEME is going to be either “Life on Mars” or the “Baby Monkey in Underpants”. Out at 2:15 where the four story tall traffic cone is near DISORIENT they were giving balloon rides to people who weigh under 150lbs, but some girl was up there and one of the tethers broke so they had a little difficulty getting her down. I hope we don’t see a bunch of ravers flying away Saturday night after the burn, up, up and away. Be careful out there. We’ve got some dangerous ART this year. If you’re at the Mansonia Institute of Urban Studies in Center Camp this year stop by and see Dodger’s Pyrograph.

Megatropolis
Megatropolis

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Peacetropolis!

Peacetropolis! ~ image by Ashanti Vivia - SentienZe MediA (Artist's Rendering)

On Thursday morning  these are the instructions to create the image above:

Meet @ the Man )'(  Thursday September 2nd @ 11 am.  We (Burners/art cars/buses) will extend in 4 directions to start.  Up to temple – down to center camp – down to 7:30 – down to 4:30.  Get ready for satellite flyby pix @ 11:41 am exactly!!!!! :D    Ắsḩḁŋṫi ૐ Ṽiṿiḁŋ

There is going to be a satellite photo taken of Burning Man on Thursday morning at 11:41 exactly, and this is Ashanti’s vision of creating a peace symbol for the photo.  We will let you know how it turns out!