Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.
by Jon Robson
We spend the day clearing out the camp. In exhaustion, I collapse in my tent under my eye mask and try to recover from the lack of sleep.
I awake from my tent to find my camp empty and to see bikes cycling furiously, with purpose along the road. I look at my watch but am not convinced it is telling me the truth. Somehow, the only watch that is set correctly is never truthful to the time here. However, the urgency of the bikes around me, tell me with some confidence that the temple is burning or is going to burn very soon.
I quickly heat up some food, devour it and then begin to walk up the street towards the temple for one last time. The streets are desolate. Iconic landmarks have been dismantled or are in a state of ruin as the end nears. I walk closer and closer, until suddenly I see it, the iconic building with flames flicking from its head lighting up the horizon.
It is burning peacefully and slowly, very different from how the man burnt. I walk alone in a straight direction towards the spot where the man used to stand, across the sand and a strange thing happens. For reasons I cannot fathom, tears begin to fall from my face. As I move closer, with bikes shooting past me, the flames seem to grow. The flames grow into the shape of a phoenix standing tall with its wings hanging down at either side and suddenly from its beak it sings, projecting ashes into the sky.
My tears fall faster, and I find myself gently sobbing for reasons I cannot understand. I feel as if all the injustice in the world is here in this moment, in this desert. I find myself tearful for how such a beautiful object could be destroyed and as if I’m absorbing the sadness of all those around me. My head is filled of confusion at why it burns.
I realise that the ashes that now jewel the smokey sky represent all the words I have read inside the temple. The hopes, anxieties, insecurities, regrets, prayers and sadness of thousands of people are reaching out into the sky forming stars. I hear their voices in my head.
“I want to let go of my insecurity”
“I held you in my arms when you were born and I held your daughter in my arms as she was born…”
“I miss you brother.”
“it’s not my time yet”
“Dad can’t wait to see you again”
I watch them all dancing together in the sky. I continue to walk slowly and closer, gazing at the eye of the flame, my gaze following their dance through blurry eyes, as the blurry lines of bikes zip past me.
A man taps me on the shoulder and awakes me from the trance. He looks like a caveman. He gestures and grunts and I realise he’s offering to take my photo. I brush him off as I’m lost in a moment that no camera could possibly capture. He stomps off into the crowd confused. Awoken from my trance, I realise I can feel the heat of the flames burning what remains and that I can walk no more.
I watch the flames die, and with them the stars evaporate and there is calm. Someone waves a flag slowly ahead. I look around at all the people around me that remain and begin my slow walk back.
When you see the insecurities of a thousand people dancing as stars in the night sky, suddenly your own insecurities seem insignificant in comparison.