My second visit to the playa was in 2014, but it was my first time to see the Temple burn. My friends told me that it’s a more solemn event, a quiet event, a time for reflection and a time to let things go. I didn’t have a particularly emotional time, it was similar to attending a funeral for someone I didn’t know. I felt an air of sadness, but I was not sad. I was in observation mode.
When the Temple dome collapsed, it slowly spun, then fell into itself. The crowd gasped, and for a moment I could feel some emotions stirring. But that was about it for me. I was there to quietly watch. The crowd was mostly very quiet. After the collapse, it seemed that many of the people who were holding their emotions back let them go. I heard many people sobbing around me. As if I was at a stranger’s funeral, I simply stood there and watched with my friends. I knew that some of them had left memorials or other tokens and were watching them burn to ashes. I remembered doing this in church camp many years ago. It’s quite a powerful thing. Back then I might have fought the urge to cry or feel sad. I’ve learned that it’s okay to be sad. It’s okay to cry. It’s okay to mourn loss. I told myself it was okay to feel something, but there was nothing to feel.
Someone was crying behind me, sobbing quite loudly. I turned to look and saw a lady in her mid 20s dressed in a furry jacket with cute bear ears on top. Her face was pinched up as she cried, tears streaming down her face. Her body shook when she sobbed. I can handle someone being sad, but not being sad and alone in the middle of a crowd of thousands. So I slowly walked to her and offered her my hand.
She took my hand, then pulled me for a hug. Hugs seem to be the currency at Burning Man. I wondered to myself, “How does a middle-aged man hug a young woman at a large event?” Very carefully, I thought to myself. So I put one arm over her shoulders and held her while she buried her wet face in my furry jacket. I’m glad I was wearing that jacket, the fur was probably very comforting. I like to bury my face in my German Shepherd Ranger’s coat, it’s so warm and soft. She held on tightly as she continued to sob.
After a few minutes her breathing slowed down, I could feel her release her grip on me so I let her go. Resisting the temptation to say something like “it’s okay”, I just looked directly at her. She looked back. We didn’t bow or anything, I simply let her go and returned to my friends. They were silently watching the embers from the Temple. I looked back a few minutes later to see that she was gone.
First of all, walk/bike onto the open playa in the dark and rising wind to retrieve your art car.
Next, stop halfway out and just stand there (with the wind still rising) taking pictures of the Man like an idiot tourist because he looks cool in the dust storm…
… pausing only to close your mouth because there seems to be a lot of dust in it …
Continue past the Man — trudging on foot now because the air’s too thick to see through — and wonder at how Burners’ lights seem to suddenly pop up out of the dust just in time to avoid running into you. Notice that everyone else seems to be headed into camp in the opposite direction.
This is barely a story; it’s way too short and without a plot. But I swear to all the Playa Gods, this is exactly how it happened.
We were tearing down the French Quarter, moving tons of stuff, large beams by the hundreds and heavy cast iron railings. I felt like I had just exhausted my very last bit of energy and would collapse right away if I didn’t immediately get some replenishment.
Crossing paths with a campmate, I shouted “I need bacon NOW!” And just as I say the last word, “NOW”, another campmate, Jen, shows up, turning around the corner about 15 feet away. She comes straight towards us with a large aluminum tray in her arms full of freshly made bacon, shouting “Bacon anyone? Bacon? Bacon?”
I am not here to apologize or pardon myself. Instead I’m here to let you know what has bothered a lot of people for over two years: why I played “Free Bird” at the burning of the Temple of Juno.
In his wonderfully written essay, “Building the Temple”, John “Moze” Mosbaugh explains just how seriously Burning Man takes the Temple. Moze states that there is a “sacredness, solemnity, a sense of remembrance, grief and renewal.” This is an essential juxtaposition to the high intensity of the rest of Black Rock City, providing an “emotional nexus” as Temple creator David Best called it.
When I first stepped foot into the Temple of Flux in 2010, I was floored by the energy washing over me. Never, even at a funeral, had I ever felt that magnitude of emotion. The power of the space is very real. Many Burners have arrived at the thought that the Temple should always be a quiet space for remembrance, celebration and contemplation of life and death. I’m totally supportive of that idea. But I want to explain that it wasn’t just a “Play some Skynyrd!” moment that propelled me to blast “Free Bird” during the 2012 Temple burn.
On our first night, we birthed eight people. Maybe twenty. It’s hard to know. When beings are flying over you, under the night sky, supported only by your fingerprints and palms, numbers seem a strange reality to track.
We had made our way out to the deep playa by means of a few different vehicles — an island complete with palm trees, a multicolored bus with seats on its sides. We had climbed up and through a spinning metal globe, levering ourselves up through triangles of space, watching the lights of the Esplanade blur as those on the ground pushed the sphere in faster and faster circles. We had cased several strips of porta-potties, oriented ourselves to the compass points of the Man and the Temple. We lit our own path as we trekked through pockets of soft and sinking sand, each of us with battery packs stored on our persons. (more…)
I wasn’t a Burner my first day at Burning Man or my second.
I wasn’t a Burner until my third day.
Wasn’t a Burner until I decided that I wanted to be the performer dancing for the crowd.
Wasn’t a Burner until I went to the Temple and cried as I let go of my self-hate, my insecurities, my anxieties.
Wasn’t a Burner until after writing on the Temple wall and growing I decided to gift the marker that had been gifted to me to a tattooed, bad-ass looking-mother-fucker, sitting outside the Temple.
Wasn’t a Burner until when I handed him the marker he looked up at me and started crying. And I sat and I heard his story, his pain and struggle. And I took a little of that struggle off his back with an open ear and a firm hug.
Wasn’t a Burner until I realized that with the tiniest act, I could change the world.
I’m a Burner now. I know where True Home is but I try my best to make everywhere I am Home, one open ear and firm hug at a time.
Two Burners embrace in the middle of a dust storm at dusk. (Photo by Lucas Swick)
The announcement was made during the Critical Tits event, “White out in approximately ten minutes,” just enough time to get back to camp, maybe. I immediately began my return on my aging bike, a bare-bones, second-hand, yellow vehicle, fifteen speed new, now one. As miserable as the dust storms can be, a greater concern was visibility and the importance of being in our 1958 Jewel trailer as soon as possible. (more…)