Sunday, October 4, 2009

Thoughts that take me back to the playa

At some point you realize that your all grown up and in the midst of life. I had that realization as I made my way through former classmates at our 20 year class reunion. Despite my perceived unpopularity, many more people remembered me than I anticipated. And recounting life since high school wasn't quite as traumatic as I thought it would be. Some actually knew what I'd been up to. They read the bio I sent in. And the curious asked, "What's Burning Man like?"

"Amazing." Was my typical response. Explaining what it's like on the playa to those who have only vaguely heard of it was invigorating. "It's a festival of self expression," I would say. "We have a gift economy, there's no selling or buying of anything, our ethos is radical self reliance, radical self expression, and leave no trace." My favorite part is when I tell people I take my kids. The disbelief is palpable, and I can see the inner struggle people have in deciding whether or not this ia a good thing. I do my best to assure them it is.

But this year was my kid-free burn. Despite that, I still maintained many of my mit-kinder behaviors. On the day of the Burn I went to visit the Temple. If there is any place on the playa that's sacred, the temple is that place...and we burn that too. The temple is always beautiful, always emotional and always a safe place to cry. People bring their remembrances of lost love ones, of lost ideals, and lost causes. Many write messages on the temple itself to the dearly departed, or sometimes to the not so dearly departed. Sometimes people take things there that they want to let go. I heard one woman nailed her wedding dress to the temple this year to symbolize the freedom gained in a rather messy divorce.

I stayed at the temple a while, but needed someplace else to hang so I could eat lunch. It didn't feel right to lay out my spread there. So, I got on my bike and headed aimlessly onto the playa following a recently made road that obviously led somewhere. What it lead to was this art installation made up of cardboard mailing tubes that stuck out at all angles. Within the piece was an area with carpets and cushions...the perfect chill spot.

As I sat eating my lunch of nuts, dried fruit, wasa bread and carrots, others came in and joined me. We talked about our day, our lives, the temple and the playa. The overall consensus was that it was a very mellow year and that this was preferable. I got more playa hugs and after a while headed out to see more art.

When I got back to camp I decided to take a nap. I knew from experience that to make it to the burn I would need some rest. It was a heavy sleep in my warm van and the only cover I had was the sound of houling wind creating scattered white outs all over the playa.

When I finally forced myself to get up the wind was at full strength and the playa was in white out. I dressed and supplied myself appropriately, and headed out on foot this time, having had enough of trying to ride my bike on what was now very loose powdery playa. Walking through the white out, I sensed a shared expectation that this was the night we burn the man. People were bustling all over the city, putting on their finest regalia, make up, and glow lights. This was it. This was the night we came here for.

The dust was thick from the relentless wind. I decided to head to Earth Guardians to sit it out. Besides they always had good intellegence on when the man would burn. Earth Guardians are on the playa to educate the city about their impact as we celebrate. They encourage people to pick up MOOP, and make as little of a foot print as possible. And most importantly to Leave No Trace when we leave.

I found my friend Lokie in their bar and sat down to wait with the others. Every year it seems, the same thing happens. There is a horrendous dust storm on Saturday before the burn, and rumors circulate on whether or not the man will burn. He always does. Those of us who know this sit among friends in a sheltered place and imbibe.

As soon as the wind stops everyone heads towards the man. I hesitate. Waiting for the man to Burn can seem eternal, and tiring. I tend to stay back from the crowd so I have a better view. Once I do head out toward the man I avoid the throngs of revelers and instead find a spot where I can sit leaned up against an art piece. My view is great, and I am left to my thoughts as I wait.

My thoughts recount the week, the month, and the year since the last time I sat waiting for this symbol of what I haven't decided to make it's fantastic demise. So much has happened since then, I think. Deep in thought I only scarcely acknowledge others who come by and nod in acknowledgment.

Finally my thoughts are interrupted as the fireworks begin shooting off around the man. The crowd roars and I sit back to watch the show. Fireworks shoot off from behind the man, from his arms and into the dark sky above. Everyone is cheering, but I just sit back and observe and try to take well timed pictures. Then, seemingly out of know where there's a giant explosion. When the ball of fire clears, the man stands before us on fire. Now we wait has his demise is fueled by a light breeze. Every time another piece of the man falls to what I imagine is a growing pile of charred wood below him, the crowd cheers. This man, is exceptionally resilient. It's a good 45 minutes before his torso falls and all that's left of him are a strange triangle that were once his legs.

As the crowd begins to disperse to celebrate, I move closer in. I want to get close enough to feel the warmth of the fire. I manage to get all the way up to the barrier and look pensively at the fire that slowly eats away at the reason we all came. When I've had my fill of thought I turn and head directly to Jazz Cafe, where I stay with great comfort listening to musicians covered in dust play to their heart's content.

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