Posts for category Tales From The Playa

September 30th, 2013  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

The Temple

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.”

“always missed”

“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.

September 27th, 2013  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

The White Forest

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.

by Jon Robson

Erika and Katie need to pee. Having just met them and also needing to pee, I decide to join them. The three of us, on our feet, walk down dark roads trying to follow the blue lights to comfort. Finally we find them, and after braving the “porta potties”, we begin our walk back to where we had met. As we do, we debate on what to do next. Then quickly in solidarity we conclude that we should find the “white forest”, a beautiful relaxing oasis in the middle of the desert that I had stumbled across the day before. A place where the floor is coated with the softest of furs and where seven feet above, strips of white plastic flap in a wind self created. A place of tranquility, comfort and relaxation.

We walk and walk and walk. All I knew was this magical place was near the temple, which was near the man, which no longer existed having just gone up in flames. Reaching the temple took longer than I remembered, and once there, we all felt the need to walk inside. Inside our eyes danced around the walls as we read sad stories of loss and heart wrenching stories of dying hopes and desperate dreams. A girl approaches us asking if we dropped some things. She opens the palms of her hands to reveal a phone and a watch. The watch is mine and I take it, confused to how I lost it. I ask her if she knows the “white forest”. She says she found it earlier but doesn’t know how. We say goodbye and continue to walk further around the temple, surveying the walls. Erika wants to write so we search for a spot amongst the angst that Erika can pin her feelings to and leave unanswered questions that can be detached from her and burnt the following day. As Erika writes she is tapped on the shoulder. The girl from earlier has decided to join us. We walk out with her, and the girl bounces off the sand. Due to her terrific energy, although her real name is Ali, Erika decides to name her “ninja”, just as she has named me “puppet”, a name which I like to think has some roots in a theme of loyalty rather than manipulation. We wander into the darkness to seek this now mythical place.

We walk and walk and walk for what seems forever until eventually we hit the fence that lines the perimeter of the desert. Erika asks what lies beyond there and I tell her it is the real world. We take it in and enjoy the quiet and the loneliness of being this far from the real world and from the world we now live in, as if living in a state of limbo.

A strange man cycles up to us. He stops and reveals he has a Polaroid camera. He offers to take our photo and we accept. We talk to him and then he parts. The four of us walk again back the way we came, alone. Harsh dust storms roll in and the four of us shelter together and wait them out. We share drinks, coats and hugs to keep warm and once the storm settles we walk and walk and walk. Another storm hits, and again we sit in solidarity riding it out, as our water supplies begin to dwindle.

Soon the temple comes into view and it becomes clear to me that the “white forest” cannot be found.

The destination is not the important thing. It’s always about the journey and those that share that journey with us. It’s about the things we share that are capable of making our minds mesh together; that dilate and shrink our eyes; that make our ears prick up in amazement in unison; that make our blood pump faster; that make our hearts explode.

The four of us, having been alone together now for several hours, return to the desert, to a rising sun and to civilisation. Four strangers now forever bonded through our experiences, no longer strangers.

September 25th, 2013  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

The Man

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.

by Jon Robson

I watch the man burn amongst the most spectacular fireworks and explosions you could imagine. I feel a sense of calm to see it burn as if all anarchy and hate is disappearing with its removal from the world. I yearn for someone special to share this moment with, to replace these negative energies with something more positive.


Like meerkats the people in front of me rise with the flames and block the view. I rise with them, only for two arms to grasp at mine and my lower back to turn me around. A lady behind me tells me I’m too tall and she cannot see. Somehow, someway, in a way to compromise we fall into a warm embrace. My arms clutch her and her head pushes affectionally into my chest. We watch together in near silence, with the occasional shriek and wow as the man burns until there is nothing left but a wooden wireframe. Then we together clutch one another knowingly as if we have known each other for years and years, as the last piece of the man hits the floor. As only smoke remains, we separate and talk for the first time. The first time properly seeing each other’s faces.

Tamara asks if I saw her shirt. I say I didn’t, and she steps back to reveal it says “free hugs”. She admits that I am the longest hug she has ever given away. I step back and reveal the 8 watches on my 2 wrists and the 9 watches that hang around my neck and say that it must be related. We hug one last time and walk away without exchanging details, for it seems more special that way.

As she leaves I look around me, the desert now a stranger without a distinctive wooden man in its heart. When everything around you that know best and love dearest is destroyed, surprisingly the one thing that shines the brightest and helps you through, is Love.

/ and the world ended /
/ in fire, neon and chaos /
/ beautiful it was /

September 23rd, 2013  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

Spectacular Send-Off

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.

by Monica Angrand

It was my Mom’s choice to have her ashes go into the Burning Man fire. She asked me every year why I never went after watching it on the news. I never knew why, I just didn’t. No shower? The heat? She was convinced I was missing out on something incredible.

She had terrible asthma, and the dust would have been too much. A Bohemian in her younger years, she put all that aside to raise me in a more conventional setting. Now and then, her quirky side would peek out, but it wasn’t until the past few years that she started being “her” again. She was an gifted artist and a damn good art teacher.

1236848_10153254728030615_503744495_nSo I did it. I went to Burning Man and put her and her pup Sidney’s ashes directly under The Man’s right foot. The Black Rock City Rangers saw me, and let me keep it there, which doesn’t usually happen. The Rangers are deeply compassionate people that quickly made understand what my Mom intuitively knew about the spirit of Burning Man. Apparently, The Temple of Whollyness is where those things usually go. I went in there, and the energy was painful and sad, which was not what she wanted.

Besides, the celebration preceding the “burn” happen at the Temple. No fireworks. No diamond sky.

One of her favorite lines from Bob Dylan’s, “Mr. Tamborine Man,” was “Yes, to dance beneath the diamond sky with one hand waving free.”

Now you are, you truly are.

September 23rd, 2013  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

The Letter ‘E’

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.

by Jon Robson

After a day of traveling and waiting I had arrived. I swam around the playa on my bike with the dust goggles as my mask and a keffiyeh to help me breath. It was a blurry colourful chaotic world that I was a stranger to and not yet part of. As if scuba diving in the ocean, I admired all the colourful fishes and swam with respect and without touching. What a weird and wonderful world I had entered and I was only beginning to explore…

I was cycling towards the man with no plan, only ideas. I was toying with the idea of exploring the outer reaches of the city but in my head it seems too much effort with little reward. A girl cycling ahead of me slows her bike down alongside me.

“Where are you going?” she asks inquisitively with a thick dutch accent.

“I don’t know”, I respond.

She says she doesn’t know either and asks if we should go nowhere together. I say I would very much like that and the two of us cycle parallel to one another. She asks if we should go to the “Believe” sign and we chase the horizon until “Believe” towers over us.


We sit on the letter “E” sharing dates, nuts, water and stories until the dates are all gone. Gina and I hug and then part ways to other adventures. As she rides away, I’m instantly hit by childhood memories of riding around my neighbourhood on my bike alongside newly acquired friends from parks.

I miss those childhood adventures long lost. At what time do we lose that curiosity of adventure in the company of new friends? I vow that day to regain my curiosity and explore places I’ve never found before and meet people I’ve never seen…

September 12th, 2013  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

Holy War in Black Rock City

Tales From The Playa are dreams and memories of events that took place at Burning Man, as told by its participants.

One hot Thursday afternoon in Black Rock City, Root and I stopped at Center Camp to catch some shade. We lucked out; the first Jamaican reggae band to ever play Burning Man was on stage, and people were getting down. I danced by the stage while she hung out in the front row. There’s nothing better than the ecstasy on dusty faces when a live band breaks through the week-long fog of indistinguishable DJ sets.

The band finished playing, and we all rejoiced. Wiped out, I sat down next to Root to watch the next act, a couple of lawyers dressed like ancient Egyptians who were there to tell us how to deal with law enforcement on the playa. That sounded useful.

After all, it had been a big year for run-ins with law enforcement on the playa. We had read plenty of stories about severe and surprising busts in the run-up to Burning Man, and we heard more tales of woe from friends after we arrived. The Bureau of Land Management had insisted on tighter control at the gate. It seemed like a good year to brush up on our rights.

For a while, this talk felt righteous. We were becoming better citizens. But the conversation gradually turned toward philosophical pronouncements, indignant rants, and wild warnings about undercover narcs. “This is a little too us-versus-them for my taste,” Root said to me. “Plus, I’m getting kind of paranoid about there being cops everywhere. Aren’t you?”

I sure was. So we hopped up off our floor cushion, hoisted our packs, and stepped out of Center Camp into the afternoon heat, only to be greeted by an enormous convoy of federal agents in SUVs with their lights flashing, rolling right through the middle of Black Rock City.


Read more »

September 10th, 2013  |  Filed under Tales From The Playa

Rembert Explains Burning Man


I was honored to have my friend Rem join us at camp this year. It was his first burn, although he’d been threatening to visit for a while. I expected him to have a good time, but, to be honest, I wasn’t sure how good. The second I saw him on the playa, it was clear he was a natural.

Now that we’re back in Reality Camp, Rem’s had a chance to file his two-part Burning Man chronicle over at Grantland, and I’m getting all verklempt about how clearly he Got It. I’m going to be pointing first-time Burners to these stories for a long time.

Rembert Explains America: Enter Burning Man


Rembert Explains America: Burning Man Forever


September 9th, 2013  |  Filed under Participate!, Tales From The Playa, The Ten Principles

Get Radical: Self-Reliance, Inclusion And The Shared Experience

photo by Candace Locklear

Would you lie down next to a clown in the White Forest? photo credit: Candace Locklear

Holy wow, what a week! Let it be known: 2013 was one of the greats. I am in awe of the energy and ideas that swirl and pollinate to create Burning Man. I hopped on art cars, I danced at sunrise, I did an afternoon bike tour — all in full clown-face. I was surrounded by friends and new hires for epic days and nights. I even managed to get some sleep. The weather was belissimo and the dust was mild. What. A. Playa.

Some of the best conversations of my life have taken place on the playa. These conversations can be as brief as a call-and-response to honking the horn on my bike (“Dirty clowns make great dust fellows!”) or as long as a sunrise session out at The Office. One topic kept popping up: Have you had many interactions with newbies?

We can all agree that Black Rock City is huge. First-timers are gobsmacked by the scale of it and old-timers are too. The 2013 Burning Man event population was 69,613 (editor’s note: this figure was updated Sept. 14).

It seems like a lot of you were there for the first time. Welcome.

The redux: I first attended Burning Man in 1998 (population: 15,000). I’ve felt like a new-comer and an old broad. I’ve lived on both sides of the curtain –blissed-out in ruby slippers at sunset or setting an alarm clock so I could work the all-day Media Mecca shift. My friends are a mix of old-timers, volunteers, artists, occasional attendees and newer burners. One friend asked, “Are we all in this together?” Another wondered “Who are all these people and why aren’t they talking? Is it because I’m old?” Our greatest concern: Are first-timers having the same random magic playa moments that we are? I’m curious about the answers to these questions. I had a few people run away from my attempts at conversation in the porta-potty line (usually a source of great stranger entertainment).

Join the adventure, don’t just create your own.

The mega-camp is one way Burning Man has evolved with the growing population. This is a different way to attend Burning Man than when many of us started coming. There have always been camps that provide food and shade. But it wasn’t until I started reading blogs and news stories after this year’s event that I understood how prevalent it is to have meals and water and showers and bikes and sleeping arrangements provided. $1000 for a Burning Man experience? It sounds like making a reservation at a resort. I read about someone organizing a camp that almost ran out of water mid-week for 150 people. My first thought was, 150 people came to Burning Man without their own water? The Black Rock Desert is a harsh and sometimes unsafe environment. What about Radical Self-Reliance? The pamphlet that comes with your ticket is called the Survival Guide for a reason. These “turnkey” camps are housing part of the newer population yet they have created a subculture that relies on someone else for survival and fun.

Say Hello

Another Burning Man tenant is Radical Inclusion. Basically: We are all in this together and we respect each others creativity. I may not like your shiny hot pants unicorn costume and you may not be down with my kazoo or beige granny panties, but we can dance side by side and maybe I’ll randomly cruise through your camp with a tray of bacon and we can share a laugh. That is radical inclusion: a laissez faire attitude that is friendly and open and neighborly. If your tent is blowing over, I am going to run over and help. If you’re making margaritas, let me grab my cup. I wonder if the newer burners know the joy of passing out chilled avocado slices to strangers on a hot afternoon. Radical Inclusion is not exclusive dinners or cocktail parties. The artists who build those big, amazing wood-burning bulls or spinning coyotes want you to interact with their art. They didn’t build art for people to gawk; the art is part of a larger community.

I had a weird interaction that made me question how we are acculturating newer burners regarding Radical Inclusion. Is Radical Inclusion being misconstrued as anything-goes behavior? Let me say: If someone doesn’t want to hug you, that is their choice. Being at Burning Man doesn’t mean you get to do what you want. Not everyone wants a hug. You have to take “no” for an answer. What transpired Friday night was a super-bummer and my friends helped me rally, but still: we could have done without that scene. Burning Man is about creating your ideal self and opening up to further possibility and sharing it with the people around you. It isn’t about anarchy or secret clubs or us versus them.

During our eight-hour exodus to the gate, my BFF & I put costumes back on. “We are still at Burning Man!” was our rally cry. People gave us frozen popsicles, food and shade. Candace, also known as Evil Pippi, says she feels like her most authentic self on the playa. If she had her way, we’d still be at Burning Man. As we worked our way through the parking-lot line we asked people about their experience. Most of the people were first- or second- time burners. Some people were friendly, others seemed uncomfortable when we approached. Was that their Burning Man, staying in an RV and not interacting?

In the years I worked for The Man we talked about not hand-holding people through the burn and leading by example. Do it yourself, it’s more fun that way! But 10 years ago we weren’t thinking about a population this large and turnkey camps on this scale. The Jack Rabbit Speaks newsletter, the Survival Guide and the official website are wonderful resources but they aren’t reaching people who don’t even bring their own water. How do we bridge this divide? One friend suggested all turnkey camps register and get a BM101 lesson on arrival. Another suggested we let these burners drive the event into the ground until we’re selling condo plots. Another suggested an acculturation committee. UGH! I love Burning Man and want it to thrive. That’s why I’m reaching out to you, the community.

Dear readers, these are the questions I’m pondering after being off the desert for almost a week. Black Rock City is going through a boom phase. We aren’t a normal city and we need to treat our social experiment with care. I’m hoping to tap into the city’s consciousness for some ideas.

How do we acculturate people who are having such disparate experiences? How do new burners feel about their experience? How do repeat burners feel about this year’s event? Can we get new blood to start volunteering during the event?

Comments are open. Be nice, no spitting.
Mama Golightly