Burning Man 2009 – Part III – Burning Man Awakening

It was pointed out to me by some of the people reading my blog or journal entries that they didn’t really know who I was referring to when I was saying “the man”. So I thought I’d start by telling all of you that “the man” is why it is called burning man. It is not a real person but rather a very very large wooden construction in the shape of a man. He stands in the center of the deep playa. “Deep playa” is the area in the center of the city that the camp sites sort of wrap around.

Now, with that out of the way I wanted to start to try to impart to all of you what the event itself was like. But as I said before, this is proving to be a difficult task. You see, the week was so full of novel and bizarre experiences so close on the heels of one another that it sort of meshes together in your mind and you have no real reference point to begin a fair recollection for others. Instead of a time line I simply see tidbits. Experiences. I can think back to what it looked like standing at the temple being built. But I have no idea where that really happened in the chronology of the whole thing.

At first I thought perhaps instead of following a chronological outline, I could instead try to talk about the major subjects that surround the event. But that seemed too type A. So you’ll have to forgive me during this entry. I’m simply going to wander. And you know, it seems fitting that it should be a sprawling and wandering entry, since the event itself was such. A jumble of wonders.

Dawn breaks…

It was very cold that morning. I was the first person awake in our camp. And upon rising I found the playa to be relatively quiet. That is to say I could only hear three sources of loud pounding music. The sun hadn’t risen yet and the temperatures had dropped considerably from the night before. I knew Dani had never been out west and wanted her to see this. Sun rises are always beautiful on desert flats. I remember sitting on top of the Tooth of Time in New Mexico and watching the prettiest sun rise of my life. Sometimes, even amidst the raw and awesome creative powers of humanity unleashed, you can find that it is the things that mancannot create that are the most profound. I woke and bundled Dani in the brisk air and we trudged down the mostly silent street into the deep playa, away from the humanity.

There was a cabana built near the Esplanade. I have no idea who built it, but its purpose was clear. Hammmocks were slung all about it and shade strips criss crossed the top of the thing. Dani and I claimed a hammock and watched as the sun broke over the horizon and was diffused through some clouds in the distance. It was so cold, we had no choice but to huddle for warmth.

Eventually the sun did greet us and cast its rays back behind us upon Black Rock City. Look at the uninterrupted shadows. How they stretch!

Good morning.

And so it was day in Black Rock City. Day time for me was a time for rest and watching. The reasons I spent the days quietly were numerous. The biggest reason though was probably the sun. Our great giant explosion in the sky raining down contempt for fair skinned white boys like myself. Despite my best efforts using SPF rated clothing and slathering on SPF 50 (guaranteed to make a black man white), it burned me and pinkened me several times.

The normal spots for me to hide from the Solar were our campsite, where we had a shade structure, and also our theme camp’s bar area which was under a very massive shade structure. So from these places we sat and drank and even played scrabble. This doesn’t seem to be an incredibly interesting thing at all, but given the context, it was quite incredible.

Our theme camp had a very large bar at which we gave away wine and food. On either side of the bar were stages for people to get up on and dance. Now sometimes naked people would dance and sometimes clothed people would dance. Sometimes it was sexy and sometimes it was silly, but either way there was always something to watch while taking time out of the sun.

While hiding at the camp we spent time with our camp mates, Tyler and Master P. Master P got her nick name because she was apparently the zen master of female urination practices. Which I suppose at Burning Man and its crude facilities (read: porta potties) was a great skill to have. She wasn’t the only one with this idea as there was a whole camp called the “Pee Funnel” camp which handed out some sort of gizmo to let females go to the loo while standing. I for one never visited this camp.

Anyway, Tyler and MasterP are from New Orleans and this gave us lots to talk about. It also gave us time to cook. And we did quite a bit of cooking. Tyler started a sub-camp in the major theme camp called SPORK. (Southerners Perpetuating Okra and Roux Knowledge). So we made things like gumbo and grits and other tasty treats. Now I have to say, the first gumbo Tyler made was nasty. But his grits were the best I’ve ever had. And I contributed to the second gumbo and it was better. The man still has a long way to go though. Leave it to yankees and creoles to add tomatoes into a gumbo and god forbid… use a blonde roux.

Tyler, a slave to the gumbo pot.

Master P, Urination Queen

Beside our camp was also a guy named Fergus. I don’t know if that was his real name or not. I insisted on calling him anything but Fergus. So each time I saw him it was something new. Fergie, Fergasaraus, Ferg-a-Lot, Ferganator, Fergs-For-Kids,etc… He was some sort of physicist or something working on semiconductors from California. He brought everything. And I mean everything. Need a propane regulator for a flame thrower? Had it. Need a shovel? Had it. Need pastrami? Had it. How about ice water every day that he was willing to share? Had it. The man was super nice. He shared all he had with us. But he was rather odd. Ah well.


So all in all camp Spork was a happy place to be and all was merry. We chatted, cooked, and even passed out from time to time in the heat.

Passing out in the heat was quite a requirement you see but not as easy as it sounds. Dani fell asleep after much attention was paid to her. She had grown ill one day from drinking too much the night before and sun exposure. I’m not sure if any of you have experienced the encroaching feeling of heat exhaustion? Its as though you’re going to be swallowed by the warmth itself and you begin to panic as though there is no escape. What to do?! I knew she was dehydrated so I MADE her drink lots of water which produced lots of fussiness. And I wet my bananas and draped them over her which within minutes gave her chills. What? What is this you southerners ask? The desert is so dry, evaporation actually happens and it actually cools things down. Novel, I know. So after a few moments of being covered in wet cloths she was actually shivering and then went right to sleep.

Me on the other hand? I put myself out. Unfortunately I decided to nap right when a bunch of hippies next door started a drum circle that went on for three hours! We were all talking one day about what we’d do when we got home. It went like this:

Michele: I’m going to take a hot shower.
Dani: I really want to soak in Tate’s tub and sleep on a nice bed.
Me: I’m going to find the first hippie I can and kick them in the face.

But even so, I did sleep.

And so we hung out in camp, sleeping, nursing our wounds, and whatnot:

During our few daytime outings.. (read: Day one when we were too stupid to know that night time was the right time.) We did enjoy a great many sites. After the morning in the hammock Dani went back to bed and I wandered out into deep playa for some solitary time. Out in deep playa is where the big art is. I wanted to walk out to the temple. Quite a walk. But well worth it. Some of these photos I’ve shamelessly stolen from others. I’ll give credit as I post them, however, I want you all to see what I’m talking about. Behold the temple. (stolen from Pat):

Now this thing was truly beautiful, especially in that solitary quiet morning when I visited it. It is far enough in the deep playa that sound doesn’t really reach and it has a somber feel to it. The intricate wood work was amazing.

As I admired it, I wondered how many hours were spent building it. And for what? To be set ablaze after it is finally born. Much of the artwork at Burning Manreminds me of flowers. They take many moons to come to one beautiful fruition and then they are gone. Having set off a brief flare for those seeking them to see.

I couldn’t admire the temple for very long. A dust storm was brewing and I’d left behind my goggles. So I was trudging back in a general path towards camp and Icame upon an iron heart.

I thought perhaps I could stand beside it for protection when suddenly a group of folks rode up on bikes. One jumped up on the heart and pulled something and it opened! He invited me inside so all together in this heart we weathered the storm. How it howled on the metal! And inside was a flame in the center.

After that I made my way finally back. I found Dani up and awake and ready to explore the playa.

So Dani and I went buzzing around…