Building a Temple

[Shalaco Wordsmith is your typical Bay Area Renaissance man: he dabbles in web design, writing, photography, art, Burning Man, adventure and zombies. He contributed this piece about his involvement with the construction of the Temple of Whollyness in 2013.]

I’d like to tell you the story of what happened when I set out to do something I dreamed about doing, but thought I couldn’t, and what I discovered along the way.

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Intention
Arrival in Gerlach
Arrival on Playa
Temple’s Arrival
Temple Build
Transition Ceremony
Temple Burn

Intention

I’ve been to That Thing in the Desert (TTITD) a handful of times and very much wanted to make that leap from attendee to participant by playing a part in creating the event. I dreamed of being on Man Krew (the crew that builds the Man), but felt it was a pie-in-the-sky idea that would never happen. I decided, however, to simply put my intentions out there and see what happens, instead of reciting to myself all the reasons I couldn’t do it. I didn’t make Man Krew. Instead I am approached with a role as ‘Internet Wizard’ for Temple Crew. I think to myself, “Establish an internet connection essential for the AutoCAD-based assembly of a massive pyramidal complex comprised of interlocking puzzle pieces of precision-machined wood, 80 miles from the nearest broadband-capable infrastructure, in the enormous, flat, dry, endorheic Pleistocene lakebed of ancient Lake Lahontan? Sure, why not. I hear it’ll be a plug-and-play setup.” 

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Arrival in Gerlach

Rolling thunderstorms rumble in the distance as Quickdraw (Jeremy Paul) and I approach Gerlach. A powerful group of storm cells is hitting Black Rock City (BRC) and there are reports of heavy rains and pooling water everywhere. That “dry” playa was threatening to return to its old ways as Lake Lahontan. Burning Man’s staff have put a Level 0 rain contingency plan into effect — a very technical way of saying that things are on total lockdown. There is no driving on playa, let alone in and out. Our brief stop in Gerlach has turned into an extended stay.

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Gerlach is the last town on the way to Burning Man. To most “Burners”, it’s nothing more than an inconvenient 25MPH zone before reaching the long-awaited final destination of Black Rock City. During my extended stay, however, I see that Gerlach is as enchanting a place as it is overlooked. Few take the time to explore its beauty and mysteries, and even fewer have wandered, gotten lost and witnessed the wonder of its antiquated cemetery, composed of wooden emigrant-era tombstones, bleached by wind and sun into anonymity. To the untrained eye, Gerlach is just another dot on the map. But for those who know that the magick doesn’t start and stop at the Burning Man gate between the last Monday in August and the first Monday in September, Gerlach and its many wonders, like the Miner’s Club, are destinations in themselves.

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Flash is bartending at the Miner’s Club. The fast-talking New Englander, with his finger-in-the-light-socket white hair, is something of a legend, but I’m just starting to put all this together now. “Hey-yah! How-ya-doing?” he cackles  in his raspy voice, standing next to a sign that reads “There’s other kinds of booze besides whiskey. SERIOUSLY.” The place is overflowing with Department of Public Works (DPW) members (the rugged, hardened anti-heroes who build the infrastructure of Black Rock City). The room echoes with their radio chatter. At this point, they are no longer certain if it’s their comrades — who are currently rained into BRC —that are stranded on playa or if we are stranded in Gerlach.

In any case, we’re all staying in Gerlach, with no sign of a break in the storms for a handful of days. Flash, the self-proclaimed “largest slumlord of the playa”, puts me up for the night.

I awaken to a flurry of inactivity. People are running in circles, accomplishing I-don’t-know what. Between meeting half a dozen freshly-arrived Temple Crew members, I learn that there is a possible sliver of a gap between storm cells — a way for us to cross the threshold of Point One into the confines of the soon-to-be Black Rock City. Muster everything you can and forget the rest, because we’re making a beeline for it! Hurriedly we pack,  our vehicles line the road’s shoulder, and we stand and wait to see what will happen next. It takes a special kind of person to lead a Temple build. Lightning Clearwater the III is equal parts tender, charismatic, tenacious and plain fucking stubborn. If anyone is going to get through those gates, it’s him. We load up our disheveled caravan and head to Point One.

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Arrival on Playa

Coyote leads our company in serpentine patterns along remote paths of dry playa through the gates at Point One. In what SF Slim would later describe as “a humorously prescient coincidence”, our early arrival passes welcome us to the “Lake Lahontan Retreat and Water Show”.

Photo by Vertumnus

Coyote is BRC’s superintendent, and an original member of the DPW. We’re just arriving, but he’s already been out here two weeks, surveying every single arm, leg and intersection of the city with his elite, tight-knit team of 12 , working and sleeping in a plywood octagon where that golden spike first ritualistically penetrates the playa.

He takes us beyond the horizon to the place they have surveyed for Temple. Sparse settlements can be made out in the distance, a lone commissary tent, and a monolithic Man-base towering, yet still overshadowed by the horizon. We are led across a vast desert through an incredibly young Black Rock City — with no emergency medical services, no road signs, no spires. The first structures of Burning Man soon far behind us, we reach a blank expanse marked by a single orange flag. This is to be the Temple site.

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Before Black Rock City

The playa is different than I’ve ever seen it. Packed hard from the rains. Deep cracks outline large chunks of playa, grouped like clusters of cells forming the skin of the desert and stretching to the horizon. There’s something incredibly enchanting about Black Rock City when its population still lingers below a hundred. Before its rows of annular neighborhoods start to fill in with theme camps, before First Camp, Center Camp, and the port-o-potties arrive. Before the fences and streets and The Man come to town, it’s an entirely blank sheet of toothy 300 lb. vintage coldpress rag paper.

Gregg Fleishman, Quickdraw, Lightning, Aaron, Baltazar Santana, Andrew Pederson We say a few words to celebrate our arrival to the Temple site and set our intentions for the space. Then we begin transforming the Temple from a mere schematic into a physical place.

Cowboy Carl’s lone outpost along Razorback Mountain.

A sprouting ranger station

Temple’s Arrival

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The Temple arrives, creating a striking contrast with the surrounding landscape. Precision-cut pieces of structural paralam and plywood, entirely flat-packed on flatbeds and semi-trucks. Attributes of its brilliant design by Gregg Fleishmen.

As we begin to survey the Temple build site and crew camp, there is a striking difference between our initial footprints, tire-tracks and brushstrokes, and the surrounding deserted desert landscape.

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There is a stark contrast, a gapping disparity, a contradistinction between the gaping barren arid alkali flats, dried by wind and sun, laying open before us for miles in all directions… and the beginnings of a construction site.

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Months of planning and engineering went into designing this structure, which will take weeks to build, only to exist for seven days. It’s said to be the largest temporary interlocking wood structure ever. But isn’t every structure temporary, in some sense of the word? The only difference is this one is intentionally so. Gregg Fleishman is the main designer and Terry Gross (Lightning) & Melissa Barron (Syn) are lead co-creators, spearheading the collaboration of a dozen artists and hundreds of volunteers to coalesce a unified vision.

Scott Mahoney & Gregg Fleishman
Lightning Clearwater the III Lightning would kill me if he knew I told you this, but he has just begun the final leg of a marathon race to complete the construction of The Temple before The Man can be finished.

Gregg is soft-spoken to say the least, but speaks with great gravity. You have to listen very attentively to catch most of what he is saying, and then take a moment to understand it. This majestic sanctuary is crafted completely out of geometric interlocking wood pieces that fit together without the use of nails, glue or metal fasteners. Its central pyramid is 87′ x 87′ at its base and 64′ tall.  And he’s the one who knows how the 45 different shapes, the 603 major struts and 10,775 wooden pieces are to interlock to form The Temple of Whollyness.

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Our Camp One of the splendid luxuries of working on Temple Crew is feeling like you are camping at the edge of infinity. Up until the event, the crew gets to camp on the edge of the horizon in deep playa. I’m just starting to realize that being recruited to Temple Crew has not been a consolation prize, but something far greater than I had even dreamed of. The surrealism of camping on a construction site in the dry lakebed of what was once one of the largest lakes in North America is only heightened by the fact that, since the Temple structure is only held together by interlocking pieces — no nails, no screws — it’s the quietest construction site you could ever chance upon. Besides the booms, scissor lifts, VRs and cranes used to hoist pieces and get personnel to those hard-to-reach places, everything was assembled with hand tools and large custom-made wooden torque bars that looked like something out of the Flinstones.

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What an amazing splendor it is to witness the open desert give way to the infrastructure and art installation of Black Rock City, a beautiful privilege. The transformation of an open landscape into a bustling metropolis.

First the street signs start showing up, then Blackthorne arrives with his team of Spirates who set about with their sledgehammers and screw guns and brute strength installing spires.
Spirates
Blackthorne

It’s beginning to look a lot like Burning Man… every time we meet. With the addition of the Spires, the open playa quickly begins to look a lot more like Black Rock City. Next the big art projects start rolling in. It is a wonder to see how quickly and easily Truth and Beauty is assembled. This nude figure emerging from the desert.

You blink, or turn around, and another dozen people appear, standing around their completed installation.
Marco Cochrane and the Bliss Dance Crew’s Truth-is-Beauty
Rebekah Waites’ Church Trap
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Ryan Tedrick’s Coyote

Mike Garlington’s photo chapel

Temple Build

Survey Says

Turning back to the Temple, we see that now the measurements have been made. 96 individual temporary footings measured so precisely that each interlocking connection will be able to snap into place with only a mallet. We can now begin to assemble the Temple.

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“It all begins with this humble looking but sublime structural connector node. Six identical pieces that puzzle together to form the keystones to the cluster structures we build.” ~Syn

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Stack of nodes. After the foundation has been surveyed to 1/16th of an inch, and checked and double-checked and double-double-checked, the first level begins to take shape.

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Heavy Equipment And Transpo (H.E.A.T.) are the unsung heroes of Burning Man. It’s with their collaboration that every major art piece gets installed on playa. H.E.A.T operates the cranes, telescopic forklifts, 85′ articulated boom lifts, skid-steers, trenches, backhoes, hysters that do the heavy lifting necessary to build the infrastructure and large art installations at TTITD. You will find Chaos (H.E.A.T.’s manager) slinging two radios, and talking into both of them simultaneously. He knows where every piece of heavy equipment is on playa at any given time, where it’s headed, and when it needs to be there.

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Working into the sunset to complete the Temple on time. Heavy equipment shows up and the Temple of Whollyness begins to take shape. It took five days to measure the site to its exact specifications, however the five-story structure snaps together in just six days.

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Brent is our Rigging Captain. He ensures things are done safely. “Getting to beer-thirty with the same amount of body parts that you started the day with is the goal out there.”
Handsome Chris negotiates a few pieces into place.

The rainstorms have left the playa packed and conditions ideal throughout most of the construction. Days are cool and calm. But eventually some dust storms roll through. Standing in front of the nearly complete Temple, I watch as a perfect day is overcome by a dust storm in thirty seconds and suddenly I can no longer see my shoelaces.

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Cesar says Temple Crew’s meals are so good that he hardly noticed the dust storm. Thanks Awesome Sauce Kitchen!

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Zach Coffin operates a crane to help with some of the heavy lifting.
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The top of the Temple, the ‘Eye’ of the pyramid, is being put into place as The Man is ‘picked’ up and set on it’s base in the distance.
The ‘Eye’ of the Temple is picked.

Now that the Temple is assembled and skinned, four of its component art installations can begin: stone, light, textile and sound.

Stone Choreography: The conceptual ‘altar’ and axis mundi for The Temple. For this aspect, Jael (James LaFemina) created his first sculpture. A 24-ton, 15-foot-tall black igneous basalt stone Insuksuk sculpture — a personification of the human spirit as a stone landmark used by the Inuit, Inupiat, Kalaallit, Yupik, and other peoples of the Arctic region as navigational aids. The sculpture is built from basalt Jael sourced from Mount Adams and the Yellowstone hot spot. Then he painstakingly stripped away layers of time to reveal its black core. The scale is magnificent, with some of the cuts on the basalt taking around five hours each on a large diamond wire saw. The sculpture will aid in focusing the energy of Temple and grounding the structure.

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Bunnie is the Shadiest of the Shady Ladies.

Textiles: Where form meets function. Bunnie Reiss and her team of ‘Shady Ladies’, (designers: Abi Kelly, Carmel Dunlap, and Rachael Fisher — and a team of talented female textile artists, quilters, weavers, knitters and seamstresses) came together to craft 4,000 square feet of textiles that complement and shade the courtyards of the Temple and its visitors from the harsh sun.


Light: Bentley Meeker uses the five different types of electric light: edison tungsten, incandescent, halogen, fluorescent, and LED, to give participants an awareness of the different types of lighting used since the advent of the electricity. Sound: “If the Temple is art framing space, Aaron Taylor Kuffner’s creations are music that accent silence — the space between sounds and the space from which sound emerges and returns.” Gongs meet robotics in an innovative approach to playing ancient instruments that create deep vibratory fields of moving air.

Temple Blessing

We invite the Paiutes to bless the Temple. Chairman Lowery and the Paiutes’ spiritual leader Dean accepts our invitation and crafts a special ceremony at the Temple just before the event begins. It was crucial to honor the Paiutes since they are the keepers of the sacred land we have our annual event on, so it was incredibly important to include them in the spiritual heart of the event — the Temple.

Transition Ceremony

Now that the Temple is complete, it is time to gift it to the people.

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Lightning Clearwater the III, Syn, Dr. Deb & Gregg Fleishman lead the transition ceremony.

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An amazing celebration marks the transformation of the Temple from a collaborative conceptual piece realized by its creators to a canvas of remembrance for its visitors. Large pieces of decomposed granite (DG), initially dismissed as a potential hazard, were stacked in sculptures reminiscent of the Insuksuk, the center stone monolith. The Temple transforms as every nook, cranny and reachable space is filled with the love, torment, blessings, curses and overflowing feelings of its visitors. This final collaboration between Temple and attendees was best sublimely expressed by a sculpture designed by Arthur Harsuvanakit and Evan Atherton and constructed by attendees.

Burning Man Community Sculpture by Arthur Harsuvanakit and Evan Atherton

Temple Burn

I had never before missed a Temple burn. But as I arrived, it was already a heap of smoldering remains. The Temple had burned without me, and in so doing, had given me something to mourn. Something lost to the world that could never be replaced. But it was not truly gone. While helping to build the Temple, we had all created a place in our mind and the minds of others, living experiences and building relationships. As immortal as it was ephemeral. I walked up to its ashes and launched the orange flag that marked its placement into its flaming remains. A piece that was once so integral, that I had found masquerading as M.O.O.P. sent back into itself.

This year I requested to be on Survey Crew. Still waiting to see if opportunity will once again present itself from an unexpected direction.

How Turnkey Camps Get Placed

Citizens of Black Rock City – everyone is talking about Turnkey camps and the Placement team wants you to know: we hear you! You’re speaking up on social media, talking at parties, doing deep dives at regional events. We’ve received more than 400 post-event emails and hundreds of comments through the Feedback form.

This is a good thing. Speaking your mind and sharing your opinions is the most important thing you can do right now.

The Placement Team placed over 1,300 camps in 2014. Theme Camps, camps for volunteers coming in early to work, camps for artists, Black Rock City, LLC department camps, camps within the BRC storage container program, and Mutant vehicle camps

We also placed about 25 Turnkey camps. We define Turnkey camps as those that offer a public space and interactivity in addition to private spaces for larger groups and are typically built by a producer, rather than a traditional camp lead.

Turnkey (or Plug N Play as we used to call them) first caught my attention in 2011. I recall placing a group who needed help finding the right place for their trucks and equipment. At the end of 2011, it seemed important to set some guidelines for how Turnkey camps could create places that were mindful of the Ten Principles. (more…)

Killin’ Time Till Resto

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The signs were not good at all.

First off, we were headed back to the Black Rock desert to visit people who, incredibly, had never left the playa.  Some of them had been there since July, and it seemed the only question was just how cracked out they would be.

All their friends and everyone else who’d been to Burning Man had left them behind. They had to know that we’d been eating sushi and pizza and burritos, and we’d been showering whenever we felt like it, and when we used the bathroom, it didn’t the way only a PortaPotty can stink at noon.

So these folks had to be bitter. And they were probably resentful, too, because who wouldn’t be? By the time we rolled into town, they’d already been working Playa Restoration for days. And they had a lot more mooping to look forward to. They’d been walking slowly across the empty desert, sometimes getting down on their hands and knees, to pick up what the partygoers had left behind.

But worst of all, these lost souls might even be hostile, and that made us nervous. Who the f—were we, all clean and shiny and caught up on sleep, to come sashaying into town? What the f—were we doing there, and who the f—did we think we were?

And then there was the trip itself.

The stench of broken dreams had been with us since before Truckee. The sky was dark orange, clouded by the smoke from fires ravaging Northern California. Reno seemed like some Saudi Arabian town in the middle of a dust storm. The sky there burnt ember, and it  smelled of smoke and destruction.

 

D.A. has been doing Playa Restoration for fifteen years
D.A. has been doing Playa Restoration for fifteen years

By the time we got to the other side of Nixon, where the beauty of the ancient lakebed usually hits us in the face, we were almost ready to turn back. We couldn’t see more than a couple of hundred yards on either side of the road. There was no sun, no glowing, golden hills. There was only smoke, and the growing sense of dread that this was all a very bad idea.

D.A. has been doing Playa Restoration for fifteen years, even though they haven’t called it “Playa Restoration” for nearly that long.  He’s been around since the days when only a couple of dozen people would stick around after everything had been trucked back to the ranch, after everything had been stowed away for the year.

Brukka was telling us about the old days, too, when it was a just small bunch of really ragged people who did the cleanup. They didn’t eat well, mostly stuff out of cans, and they didn’t sleep much. They did drink pretty hard, though, which only served to make things … volatile.

There were no fluffers, there were no support teams, and no one really knew they were still out there. There was no such thing as a Moop Map — there was only the need to leave no trace.

The BLM has always made Burning Man clean up after itself. It’s pretty simple, really: Officers will come to random points in what had been Black Rock City, and they’ll put stakes in the ground, and they’ll stretch out lines. Then they’ll inspect the circles of desert defined by those lines, and if they find too much crap  … boom. Inspection fail. Permit pulled. Event over.

So this Playa Restoration is serious business, and it is quite literally true that the future of the event depends on leaving the desert the way we found it.

Sometimes you have to get down on your hands and knees to clean the moop.
Sometimes you have to get down on your hands and knees to clean the moop.

And all the work is being done by people who haven’t seen home in months, and who have spent very little time with anyone but each other.

(more…)

Early Man-Man: proto-Burnin’ Dude builders and inspirational catalysts

If you’ll notice, talking to most of the elders of the Burning Man tribe, they put emphasis on the third syllable of the name of our weirdo company picnic. “The burning MAN,” they say, with a “The” at the beginning each time. All the rest of us say “BURN-ing man.”

So that’s how things used to be different right there, is the early Cacophonists emphasized the event’s syllables differently. That’s how you can tell an old-timer: They were there when “The burning MAN” was the only thing going on at “BURN-ing man” besides a sculpture or two, some buckets to poop in, and a bunch of people shooting guns or drinking or dragging each other around on tarps behind pickup trucks.

Just a statue and some surrealist freaks hauling junk. That was it.

from http://brokeassstuart.com/blog/2014/08/11/local-legend-of-the-week-burning-man-founder-host-to-the-sf-cacophony-society-p-segal/
Cacophony Society members invited Jerry, Larry, and the Burning Man out to their “Zone Trip Four” in 1990. Miss P Seagal, founder of Center Cafe and doyenne of Cacophony, stands with the Man. Photo stolen from BrokeAssStuart.

Old-timers also know the other originator of the Burning Man sculpture besides Larry Harvey, Jerry James, designed and built the Man almost singlehandedly in the four years it was on the beach (1986-1989). Not to say Harvey didn’t do anything, but he definitely wasn’t the lead builder, since he was more of a thinker-type than a carpenter-type person.

So, factually, Jerry James was the co-founder of the Man’s design as well as first lead builder. James paid for the materials and everything out of his pocket, for the first years. Carson Duper and Bill Nolan also helped build the Beach Man. In ’91, Jerry James backed out for various reasons, and first Dan Miller and then Chris Campbell took over as main Man builder.

The guys initially started building the Man at the shop where Dan Miller worked, called Sound on Stage, in San Francisco. Then they moved operations to Campbell’s house in South City. Miller was the main helper in Man-building from the beginning, instrumental and around in the first place because he literally lived inside the closet in Larry’s apartment. Miller took over as lead Man builder in ’90-91 (because Jerry James left) and then Campbell from ’93 or ’94 to ’99 or 2000.

After burning a Beach Man for four years, the cops famously told Harvey, James, Miller, and the guys they couldn’t burn their fifth one on the ocean that Summer Solstice in 1990. It was Danger Ranger, John Law, Kevin Evans, and Sebastian Hyde’s idea to ask those “latte carpenters” then if they wanted to bring the wooden figure to the San Francisco Cacophony Society’s latest outing, called “Bad Day at Black Rock,” which was to take place in the desert. This would mark the Cacophony Society’s fourth “Zone Trip” outing, as opposed to their usual pranks and culture-jamming events locally, and surreal weekend excursions to Southern California.

the first Burning Man t-shirt. so dark, & very not ravey or smiley, no?

(more…)

Early Man: Proto-DPW

Back when the Man’s knuckles still scraped the ground as the Earth’s crust cooled, there was no official setup and cleanup crew. There was no official anything. As the years have gone on — this writer joined the DPW in 1998 — we have built from scratch an annual temporary city and a rock-solid worldwide society, fanning out over the ‘90s and ‘00s from amorphous clumps of mayhem into an intricately-designed temporary autonomous zone requiring some half-zillion volunteers who come early to set up the whole thing, and a full zillion DPW and Gate/Perimeter folks to make Restoration happen. (Which we used to just call “cleanup,” but that wasn’t specific enough.)

this was Collexodus in 1998 - this and just two of us in the Bucket car, rolling through the streets begging for food & water through a megaphone
this was Collexodus in 1998 – this and just two of us in the Bucket car, rolling through the streets begging for food & water through a megaphone

Not to toot our collective clown horns too much, but even governments and disaster-relief agencies come to Burning Man leadership for protocol now in building and striking large sets, organizing masses of people and traffic, and crowd control for people who generally don’t like being told what to do.

Hordes of #Occupy organizers from around the country were calling in to the Burning Man offices during the height of #OccupyWallStreet, asking advice on how to move and maintain the throngs of GenXers and millennials who flooded the streets seeking change. A lot can happen with a countercultural movement if you start with a blank slate and a bunch of kinetic energy.

We come to Burning Man to slam into something harsh — to make ourselves tougher. Some go harder than others. Those who go hardest pick up the inevitable detritus left behind.
(more…)

A finale full of Grace

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There were so many things to like about the Temple of Grace burn last night, it’s hard to pick a favorite moment, so we won’t even try. We’ll just tick off a list of things that were just about perfect:

— The weather was calm, warm and dust-free. The sky deepened from pink to purple to blue to black, and by the time night had fallen, the fire from the Temple threw a warm orange glow on everyone’s face.

— The crowd was unusually respectful. There were many art cars lining a perimeter circle, but, as in years past, their sound systems were turned off for the burn. There were few, if any, raucous outbursts that would have changed the mood.

— Marisa Lenhardt Patton sang “Freebird” as the fire was lit, a fitting nod to the DPW’s fallen brother, and an echo of what happened two years ago, when a blaring version of that song offended many in the crowd. This time, it was only a single, beautiful voice.  That song was followed by the Doors” “The End.” And then there was only silence and the sound of the fire.

— David Best his own self actually asked a Ranger to lower her voice as she was telling the crowd what to do and where to sit.

— Similarly, David made sure that all of the people who were privileged enough to be in the inner fire circle were sitting on the ground so that the crowd that had gathered behind them would have a good view, too.

— When fire engulfed the structure, it collapsed in the most graceful way possible, a half-twisting pirouette of flame and wood and embers. The Temple of Grace, indeed.

David Best watches the burn ...
David Best watched the burn …
... and then threw his arms up as the structure fell with a twist
… and then threw his arms up as the structure fell with a twist

The fire lasted just about as long as seemed appropriate, and when the fire perimeter was dropped, the crowed moved slowly forward toward the flames. Best left the people he had been sitting with and called out, “Maggie! Where’s Maggie?” and went off to be with his wife.

The smell of sage and copal became thick in the air, and people pulled picnic blankets and food and drink toward the smaller piles of embers. They joined together to share what they had brought. (more…)

Burn night

Crimson Rose led the procession up the 6 o'clock boulevard
Crimson Rose led the procession up the 6 o’clock boulevard

The big Man is just a pile of smoking ruins now, even if people are still picking through the ashes, looking for burnt treasure.

We imagine that the biggest treasures have already been scooped up – Joe’s big nuts and bolts, the ankle and shoulder metal, even the cables and anchors that kept the Man upright for so long.

This year’s burn went longer than most. He was a mighty big Man, after all, constructed of 20×20-foot limbs and spine, and the whole thing took awhile to consume, which was not unexpected. You build a big man, you get a long burn.

We  don’t have a problem with a long, slow burn. It has its advantages: More time for visiting, more time for appreciating, more time to soak in the flames. We can think of many times when we have been reluctant to be the person to douse the flames at a campout, because there are times that we don’t want the night to end.

But we admit that we were waiting for the Man to fall last night so we could escape the sound. Yes, yes, we know the saying, “If it’s too loud, you’re too old,” and maybe that’s true. But honestly, we always thought that one of the corollaries of radical self expression was that your actions not impinge on another’s experience, and let’s just say there was lots of impinging going on last night. We do not expect to hear a DJ exhorting a crowd in a way that might work at spring break in Daytona Beach, but doesn’t work on the playa. At all.

Crimson gave the signal that the arms should rise
Crimson gave the signal that the arms should rise

Plus, we’d like to be able to HEAR the burn. Not just the exploding shells and fireworks, but also the crackle and pop of the flames, the whoosh of embers falling, and, last night, even the climactic crash of the Man’s big legs.

But no. Last night that was not possible. And yes, we might be the slightest bit cranky about it. We’re not saying that there shouldn’t be sound and celebration, because this is the big finish, the Bacchanalian moment.  But there’s got to be a way that the sound cars don’t take over the experience. It’s not your show, comma, dude.

Anyway, onward.

The night began as it always does, with Crimson Rose transferring the flame that has been burning at the top of the keyhole in the El Diabla cauldron since Monday to the Luminferous, the wagon that carries it to the Man. A grand procession of flame-carrying stilt-walkers and drummers and Black Rock citizens processed up the 6 o’clock boulevard, then made a circle around the giant Man. When their circuit was complete, it was time for the Man’s arms to rise so that the fire conclaves could commence their show. (more…)

Touching the elephant

 

 

Here are some quick stories from the week, in hopes of giving you a little sense of what’s been happening at Burning Man.

When the event starts, it is impossible to keep up with. The Roshomon effect is especially strong, except we’re not touching various parts of an elephant, but a fire-breathing Tyranosaurus.

The day starts early and ends late, it is full of both giant spectacles and tender intimacy. All things great and small.

So from our narrow little perspective, a peephole view of the past few days.

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A sliver-y moon brightned the eveing skies on Friday
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Erica drank a margarita from the end of the Zebracorn
Chris and his Zebracorn
Chris and his Zebracorn
And then out of nowhere you meet a supermodel
And then out of nowhere you meet a supermodel
Scott London and Sydney Erthal, whose wonderful new Burning Man book, written by Jennifer Raiser, is tearing up the Amazon charts
Scott London and Sydney Erthal, whose wonderful new Burning Man book, written by Jennifer Raiser, is tearing up the Amazon charts
Little kids seem to adapt to the desert extremely well, especially when they have experienced and self-reliant Burner parents
Little kids seem to adapt to the desert extremely well, especially when they have experienced and self-reliant Burner parents
"Are those heavy?" we asked. "My shoulders are killing me," she replied
“Are those heavy?” we asked. “My shoulders are killing me,” she replied
The Lamplighters off to light the lanterns around the city
The Lamplighters off to light the lanterns around the city

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