And Then It All Burned Down

IMG_6786
So, did you do anything special Saturday night?

We kinda did.

What if you dreamed up the most impossibly beautiful and perfectly timed thing you could summon your heart and mind to imagine? And what if you labored all year to pull the strings and find the money and overcome the forces who would defeat you? And what if somehow, once again, you persuaded all your friends to help?

And then what if you actually watched it all taking shape, agonizingly slowly and with great effort, rising in the bright white heat of the desert?

And then what if it finally stood there, appearing and disappearing majestically between whiteouts, and in the evenings glowing with a mesmerizing tranquility against the purple of the hills?

And then what if in that moment of triumph of will and sweat, of tears and blood, what if you said, ok, that’s it. That’s enough. We are done with this. We dreamed it and we did it and now it is time to be done with it. So you lit the torch and set fire to the thing, and you watched the flames consume that which had consumed you.

That was our Saturday night, and we wish you were here.

And if you were here, thank you very much, nothing more to see here; time to move on.

Oh yes, there is still a Temple to burn tonight, but the apex of Burning Man has been reached, and just like that, it is time to get back to the present, and to the immediate future, and then maybe, some time later, to think about what will come next. But for now, strike the tent, literally pull up the stakes, sort your trash and get the hell out of Dodge. It is time to get back into the moment.

Weather reports Sunday morning were scaring the general population, and we secretly thought that this wasn’t the worst thing that could happen. People being in a hurry to leave was ok with us. We don’t mean to be harsh, and we mean this in the most loving way possible, but we are tired of your face and it’s time for you to go.

This giant Burning Man has almost come to a close, and it is going to take a long time to get everyone out of boomtown Black Rock City, and the sooner some people hit the road, the better for all concerned. So here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?

In the daytime, the saucer would come and go with the winds
In the daytime, the saucer would come and go with the winds

This is the day you don’t want to look at your clothes, or your hair, or the lines on your face or the circles under your eyes. Just put your head down and put one foot in front of the other. You can do this. Get going.

As we said, the weather reports are freaking everyone out. Oh my god, there is a 40 percent chance of rain for tomorrow. And the thick clouds that occasionally blot out the sun are reinforcing the message: Get out while you can.

If the rains do come, yes, the roads out of the city might close for hours, or who knows, maybe even days. Water will immediately make the playa impassible. The mud will trap you, wherever you are.

But we couldn’t help but think that the likelihood of all this happening was slim, and even if the worst were to happen, if the rain and the lighting and wind do return, we’ll cope. We’ll get through it. And you know what? It won’t be bad at all. It just won’t.

Last night, at the start of burn night, we walked out to the cauldron at the top of Rod’s Road. We watched Crimson pass the flame to the stilt walkers, who would carry it to the Man. There were Lamplighters in costume and all manner of official personage, but behind the formal procession there was a random group of strollers, accompanied by people rhythmically drumming, who were walking quietly with their friends. It was a lovely night for a walk; the temperatures were warm and there was no wind. What better thing was there to do but take a walk to the Man?

But then once you were out there, you were back in the crowd. The thousands had already begun to gather, and the art cars were blazing their light and sound, and there was great excitement and tension. The finale was coming: bring it on. Burn it down.

We found ourselves standing next to Larry his own self. So we asked him, “Do you have a favorite thing that happens during this week?” He thought for a moment, and looked to the ground, and answered somewhat hesitantly, almost quizzically. “Well, it kind of shifts from moment to moment, you know? It’s hard to say.” But is there one thing that makes you happy? Is it the desert, or the people maybe, or … “Oh yes, it’s the people,” he said.

And you picture that very small and ironically isolated group around First Camp, who’ve known each other forever and ridden this unpredictably huge phenomenon to unimagined heights, so big and so professional and more so every year, and you picture them looking at it in wonder, still small within themselves, but still amazed at the giant-ness of the thing. Does it ever astonish you that it has turned out like this?

“It’s kind of like the frog in the warm water,” Larry said. “It’s been gradual. … Oh sure, there are significant moments that I remember very vividly,” he said, but mostly it’s been a slow build to this giant burn.

In the sober and hungover light of morning, it seemed that the only way to go from here was back. You want an idea for the Man base next year? How about a giant bale of hay? How about twenty people tugging on ropes to pull the Man upright? Ok, you want something different? How about a bigger Man, then. And a theme that simply says, it is what it is. Leave the explaining and the postulating and the theorizing to others. It is what it is. No more, no less.

The Man Krew celebrated after lifting the Man's arms
The Man Krew celebrated after lifting the Man’s arms

White fountains of fireworks streamed from all around the saucer, and then rockets shot skyward and surrounded the Man in greens and reds and whites and golds. And then BOOM, the accelerants in the Man exploded, and he was on fire, and then another BOOM and the flames spread around the saucer itself, until the whole giant thing was glowing orange-y white hot, radiating heat. It was better than any light show could ever hope to be.

And then it struck you again, but for the first time this year: We’re a strange bunch. We work and scrape and hustle for months to build the most beautiful thing we can imagine, and in 90 minutes burn it to nothing. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.

And what is left?

The present, always the present.

And in this present there is nothing but ash left where the Man once stood. The fire burned hot, even if the hippies grew impatient waiting to rush around the flames. But this morning there is nothing left. And so here we are, in this moment. Formed and influenced by the past, dreaming of the future, but inextricably in the present, in the now.

Oh, and don’t forget: There’s a morning DPW meeting at 7:30. There are zero more days till Playa Restoration begins.

IMG_0917
There was still lots of celebrating on Burn day
IMG_0926
And romance, too
IMG_0927
There were all sorts of visitors to the Photo Chapel in the afternoon
IMG_0949
And Mike Garlington took a bow, as well
IMG_0974
A Marie Antoinette competed in the Fashion Show at Center Camp Cafe
IMG_1044
One contestant bribed the spectator/judges with cupcakes
IMG_1166
Justin Credible was both host and participant in the Fashion Show
IMG_6323
At dusk, people started their walk out to the Man
IMG_6346
Stilt walkers carried the flames
IMG_6362
And the fire cauldron was carried out, too

IMG_6363

IMG_6367

IMG_6391
Spoono watched the goings-on from his art car

IMG_6403

IMG_6439
The crew that manually raised the Man’s arms into place was nervous before the start
IMG_6480
The Man Krew celebrated
IMG_6531
Hundreds and hundreds of fire performers took part in the Fire Conclave

IMG_6558

IMG_6606

IMG_6619

IMG_6633

IMG_6684
And then the big show began with a waterfall of fireworks
IMG_6689
Few people had more to celebrate than Charlie

IMG_6713

IMG_6778
And then the Man was set ablaze
IMG_6784
… with a big boom
IMG_6823
The structure of the saucer remained intact as the fire roared
IMG_6881
Joe the Builder and Tracy watched the blaze together
IMG_6887
And then it was time for the clowns …
IMG_6944
Scarecrow stood watch at the Photo Chapel, as he often does at the Gates

IMG_6947

IMG_6976
Flamethrowers approached to set it on fire

IMG_6995

 

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.

47 thoughts on “And Then It All Burned Down

  • Wow, beautiful pics. So sad I missed this this year, especially the Photo Chapel. Nothing but awaiting the birth of my first born could’ve kept me away, was hoping he would’ve been born today… hurry up and pop out little man! See you all next year!

    Report comment

  • I was tired, sunburned and had thrown my back out earlier in the week when I found out my Saturday afternoon ride was postponed until an indeterminate time on Sunday. Little did I know that meant I was in for the most gorgeous, mind blowing Man Burn I’ve ever seen. I’m pretty sure the fireball scorched the stratosphere. Deepest appreciation to everyone who made it happen.

    Report comment

  • I love the Message that BM conveys. I am writing from Venezuela, but had the privilege of spending the ’60s & ’70s as a college student in the US. BM captures much of that spirit. My son and his girlfriend were present in this year’s event, as they have been in some of the recent ones. I’m happy they were able to attend. They’ll be better persons because of it. Keep up the good work.

    Report comment

  • Probably the first in my family to watch Burning Man …Chat site on UStream , pictures ,video and audio where fun to be a part of the experience . I hope to enjoy the future pictures people post of the event .

    Report comment

  • 2013 was my first, and far from last burn. Proud to be among you all! See you in a short. In the meantime, sending love and hugs. Until next year new friends. ~sleeping beauty

    Report comment

  • I could not make it this year to the Burn, do to a very lucrative occupational requirement……….. I put in my resignation before the embers cooled. Peace, light and longevity to all you burners. See ya next year

    Report comment

  • You, good sir, are amazing, as well as being an absolutely fabulous playa buddy. Thanks for everything this year. It was a great pleasure to spend this burn (albeit short for me) with you.

    My love to you, to the Berkeley contingency, the Marin rep, the Tuscon crew, and all who joined the “Grammas” this year. Thank you all for a wonderful time!

    Crazy Pants

    Report comment

  • My daughter attended the festival and was supposed to be back home on September 2, 2013. But as of today Sept 4, she has not and I cannot reach her in her cell phone. I checked with the Sheriff’s office and they said there had been heavy rain and people are having rough time getting out. Can anybody provide any update, info etc. Are some people still staying out there? I checked at the Reknown hospital and she is not admitted there either. Thank you for any info.

    Report comment

  • I’m curious about the attitude John Curley expressed here. Why run everyone out so soon even before the temple burn? In the past I thought it was appreciated that people stay behind to help with the clean up. Now if a BIG storm hit and rained all night, yes that would be a problem for all involved. But the weather report I looked at on-line didn’t suggest a torrent of rain. So, tell me, did it really come down on Monday as so direly predicted?

    Report comment

  • What fantastic photos!! I wasn’t able to make it, so, it was great to see them. Thanks for sharing them. You truly rock.

    Last week I uploaded the ones I got in 2003, as a tenth-year anniversary tribute, to my blog, the Styrous Viewfinder.

    Warmest wishes, Styrous

    Report comment

  • to the mom: It’s work getting out of Black Rock, so I’m sure your daughter has a dead cell phone and will be home safely soon.

    Rain on Monday:
    It sprinkled for 20 minutes on Monday. It did not slow the exodus down, save a few minutes. There was some grey water accidental dump from an RV and a BLM guy stopped traffic. Finally people said screw it and went around, even with the threat of a ticket, apparently. So one guy made it worse than the rainstorm threat.
    The exodus out at noon on Monday was 7.5 hours as a result.
    Probably should have been about 6.

    Last year at the exact same time the exodus never pulsed and was 90 minutes to the road. So the raid threats and rain threats were a waste of time. People are at the event to celebrate!

    The radio threats to leave before the temple burn were just plain silly. “we urge you” and such. Lighten up people at BMIR, and show the burn spirit and keep the tone in the spirit of the event, rather than make crazy, urgent, “leave now” demands. The rain threat was always 30% and there’s a wonderful Sunday burn that everyone should stay for, period.

    Now it looks like Tuesday is the new day to leave!

    Golden Boy

    Report comment

  • Fellow Cosmic Miners unite! Add anyone who felt the heat of the burning coals of the Man. We need all the breadcrumbs we can gather: pictures, videos, testimonies, builders, aesthetics, burner power, etc. to honor the ultimate Playa Swag that was offered this year at Burning Man 2013. IT TAKES A VILLAGE TO RAISE A CHILD.. or an idea like this.

    You say you want a revolution? ;D

    Report comment

  • Hey John Curley, this is John Hurley. This was my first ever burn, and I was working the entire time at Rampart. The view from Rampart lends a bit of a different perspective of the celebration. Coyote certainly lived up to the Native American myth of the clever prankster, and sent many a banged up and bruised burner in to see us. Hope to see and expereince more of the full spectrum next year, and maybe work just a bit less……

    Report comment

  • I am a virgin for 2013. Spent only a short time as I was delivering a 72-year-old gramma from Boulder CO to Port Orford OR, and Burning Man was along the way. Gramma wanted to check it out. To me, it was like this:

    If Burning Man was only a campground, it was the best campground imaginable – all camp themes and creative shade solutions.

    If Burning Man was only an arts installation, it was the best art show imaginable.

    If Burning Man was only a fireworks show, it was the best 4th of July imaginable.

    If Burning Man was only a party, it was the best par-tay the planet has ever experienced.

    That it was all that – and populated by a people who were on their best behavior; i.e., participants were invited to be the best, most generous, most kind, most creative, most artistic, most free they could imagine themselves to be – made the entire Black Rock City an evolved, enlightened space. I went to the Temple on Saturday afternoon and the electric buzz inside was palpable. It raised my eyebrows with surprise, I laughed, I cried, it was beatific!

    Report comment

  • As a Virgin Burner but long time follower of Burning Man I was very excited to finally be able to attend. It exceeded my best expectations. The Man burn was unbelievable and the art, incredible. But the most powerful aspect was the emotional content. From the Temple to the friendliness of everyone. Thanks for being so persistent in your endeavor. You have brought something beautiful into the world and burned it leaving the ashes inside of all of us to bring home.

    Report comment

  • I had a wonderful burn. Like every year, it was the the best ever.

    But I feel betrayed by the Org here. In this post you let it slip how eager you were for us to leave as soon as possible. I feel like we got the bum’s rush out.

    We were planning to leave Monday morning, but the urgent announcements on BMIR pressing us all to get the hell out ASAP convinced us to leave on Sunday at 5:45PM.
    BMIR said there would be a 2 hour exodus if we left then. It was actually a 6 hour exodus, not counting counting the 2 hours it took to get through the city from 8:45 to DPW’s dropoff point (I had a big box of food and beer for DPW, but was I going to stop and get in their line at that point? Um, no).
    So my camp missed the Temple burn (and seeing the basalt stones at dawn in the ashes) and started a long drive at the end of an exhausting packing day. I got into Fallon at 4AM.

    I’ll be interested to know if the accident/fatality rate was higher this year.

    In the words of one of my campmates: “I’ll never believe anything I hear on BMIR again”.
    And like many others who had the same experience, I’ll be leaving on Tuesday morning from now on. So the plan to get rid of us as early as possible backfired.

    Report comment

  • Wow this was mind blowing. More to do and see than one could do in one week. As a virgin burner I had expectations. They were far exceeded. The community here was amazing to say the least. If we could spread this mentality to the rest of the world we would be in a much better place. Everyone was beautiful in mind body and soul. Tibercio nailed it in his words. This was a truly amazing experience. Something special going on here.

    Report comment

  • John, thanks for taking pix of the Photo Chapel burning! Bonefire Bob let me do a short performance with my fire canon and I am in the shots you took. I am wearing the cowboy hat and have a hand-held flame effect device. I performed every night this year and took few photos. Had a blast! Also spent a lot of time with the Neverwas Haul camp. A different kind of year.

    Report comment

  • Ideas for the man base? How about building something different for once! Sure, the man base changes, but the man is always the same. Same design, same neon, same arms that raise, same man. We’ve taken to calling it the “boring recurring art” around our camp. Yawn.

    How about building a huge effigy that ISN’T a man? “Burning Octopus was better 5 years ago, before all these yahoos showed up.” “The secret to enjoying Burning T-Rex is to get out and PARTICIPATE!” “2013 was my best Burning Celery Stalk ever.”

    Report comment

  • I too questioned the “It WILL rain from noon Monday…leave before then” message which was spread in-person by rangers Sunday morning and repeated every minute or so on Gate Radio through Sunday and Monday. Finding one of the remaining Wi-Fi signals on Sunday afternoon, I accessed the official NWS and AccuWeather forecasts and yes they were calling for just a chance of a shower Monday night.

    Frankly this Burning Man, my first, was going too well for me to prematurely leave my camp and volunteer roles in cleaning up. So my strategy was to help strike camp while all the lemmings queued up to leave, then sometime after noon Monday I’d stream out the gate without any waiting. OK it was more like seven hours, but we got to see that stray shower and lots of fun along the way.

    All in all as close to perfect a week as I could’ve ever dreamed up. Every waking hour, I was saying to myself, “This is totally $#%@ amazing!”

    Report comment

  • Leave a Reply