BURNING MAN 2017 – The dust, oh the dust. I can still smell it if I think hard enough. The Playa sticks to everything that’s ever been there. Like a tattoo, it never comes off. Whenever Burners are feeling sad or nostalgic, they can open up their dusty costumes bin and give their dinosaur print tights a shake, Playa poofing out. The memories we make out at Black Rock City stick to us the same way. They change who we are, and who we were at the same time. The person you are when you are waiting to get into the city will never return to the default world. Accepting this fact and letting it happen is one of the most important things you can accomplish at Burning Man. The ego must die for us to truly be alive.
This is not a guide like “How to go to Burning Man” or “My Favorite Photos of Burning Man 2017″and this is not a memoir, but merely a reflection. Not everything is rainbows and unicorns in Black Rock City. Things get hard and there are hourly challenges. However, it’s these moments of struggle that make it all worth it. If easy is your thing then go to Coachella, because I don’t want to hear you whining when I’m having a good time.
“Welcome Home,” oh how nice it was to see those words! Burning Man 2017 started with a bang and took off at the speed of light. We somehow missed the gate line, getting in in under two hours. We set up in the night, a windless night perfect for assembling our shade structure. Before dawn we were all up and running, so we went for a bike ride to give our virgin Burners a sense of direction. The stars were clear and you could see the Milky Way, letting us know things were good, beacons of normality in a city of the unimaginable.
The first few days we had perfect weather, then a huge windstorm came out of nowhere. The normal dust blows in a shade of grey, but this was a deep orange tan. Our shade structure was strong, but I yelled for everyone to grab a corner. For what seemed like eternity we held onto that tent as I couldn’t see my hands that were holding the poles in front of my face. I crouched down, fearful of less stable shade tents flying through the air like deadly weapons. The storm left as soon as it came, leaving us to make some quick repairs. My hand was bleeding but I didn’t feel it, the adrenaline pumping hard and WE WERE ALIVE!
We sure had some crazy nights. A particularly memorable night went something like this: rode our bikes to the center, left them near Pink Heart then wandered by foot. Found a black light camp with a fish theme, they gave you 3D glasses than made you walk though a sort of 3D maze. Upon exiting, we noticed the Charlie The Unicorn art car not far away. We walked out towards the light and had a really good dance party; Charlie was a great host. From there were heard the “crack clack tak tak tak ztaaa cap” of the giant Tesla coils. I stared at them for what seemed like hours, unable to convince myself that they weren’t shooting electricity to the sounds of Charlie’s beats. Eventually we went back to camp for a water refill or something, then stayed up all night laughing with our campmates. Around 4am we went searching for the Dusty Rhino art car. After about an hour we found it and followed it off into the desert where Tycho played his annual sunrise set. The music was chill and when the sun peaked over the horizon, shining though the dusty haze, it was one of the most spectacular things I’ve ever seen.
By the time the man burned things had already gotten out of hand. Everyone was strung out (Carrie interjection — not everyone! Sober burners do exist!) and the weekend warriors had arrived the night before with their RVs, and drugs, and moopyness. MOOP, (Mater Out Of Place) is one of the most important words on the Playa. Not one piece of anything should ever hit the ground and one must always be watching for moop. Some people are born moopers, leaving an ugly trail of trash through their entire lives. Once you are mindful of mooping, it’s easy to avoid. The Playa is generally spotless until the weekend warriors arrive. Not really Burners, they just come for the party and fail to notice the details, the point of the whole thing.
Saturday night, everyone is sitting around the Man for the big burn. Firemen made a circle at a safe distance to keep back the crazies. The whole ritual is very pagan feeling, with masked fire baring dragons who light the fuse. There were fireworks and, as always, a huge explosion that you can feel from the edges of the city. Fortunately for us we watched from the 6 o’clock side as viewers on the 12 o’clock end had to witness a man break through the perimeter and end his life in the flames.
We didn’t hear about this until the morning. The man didn’t make it to the fire, but collapsed from the heat far away from the flames. When the structure had fallen, a team of volunteer firemen risked their own lives to drag the man out of the heat. He was still clinging to life but died soon after rescue. Many people had seen it, and it had affected them greatly. Sunday is always a day for tears, but this time was different. There was pity and grief, but lots of anger as well. Suicide can be viewed as selfish, but it touches too closely to home for us. Carrie and I have both had loved ones take their own lives and we have helped friends though times that they felt were the end. There is always hope, never give up, never give up.
In the United States our health care is terrible. Our mental health care is worse. There are no cheap ways to get help and most sufferers of depression keep the feeling locked up inside for years, embarrassed or their weaknesses. It’s our society as a whole that creates this feeling, this lack of spirituality, empty living without purpose. We are always striving for the next material thing, next vacation, next promotion, because then we will be happy! But the truth is, these rat races are fueling the sadness, perpetuating the emptiness that our lives have become. Only through turning off, tuning out, and releasing ourselves from the chains of modern desires can we truly be free to be free from pain and suffering.
The Temple burn on Sunday is always a somber event. The art cars mute their beats and its the first silence you’ve heard it weeks. The fire burns slowly, the structure strong. One soul in the middle of the crowd let out a howl of the wolf. This howling spread organically through the masses until we were all howling at the moon, upset at ourselves and our inability to control the world around us. Tears flowed from many of our fellow Burners that night; it was one of the hardest days I can remember in Black Rock City.
The experience ended in a rough way. There were always mixed feelings when leaving, but this was not the way it was suppose to go. We were supposed to be happy, high on life and our experiences, excited for next year and sharing our ideas for it. But we were left far more questions than answers, the uncertainty of the whole things growing deeper. What were we even doing out here, where life shouldn’t exist? The idea of a shower and the comforts of home kept us going as we used our last bits of mental fuel to navigate the dusty exit road and reenter the hard pavement of the default realm.
We arrived at Burning Man 2017 as seven friends, and left as one. The experiences you share create a bond that can’t be broken. Once you truly see and you look into someone else’s eyes and you just know that they see it too, there is no turning back.