It's been barely three days since I returned from one of the most amazing adventures of my life.
For four and a half days, I slept in a tent in the desert three hours north of Reno, lived in a makeshift city of 45,000 other daring souls, was completely cut off from the grid, traded for gifts and supplies with neighbors and strangers, wore saris and silly hats and glow sticks, endured heat and sand storms by day, roamed the vast open playa at night among ships, dragons, rubber ducks, space shuttles and other strangely crafted mutant vehicles.
For those five days, I was a boy again, full of wonder, fearlessness and unlimited awe, and free of the burdens of social conformity, money, ambition, politics and religion.
And while it was an unmistakeably artificial experience - the temporary metropolis of Black Rock City exists only four weeks a year, the time it takes to set it up and tear it down - the experience was powerfully liberating and renewing and expanding.Here's an areal view of Black Rock City courtesy of Tristan Savatier, who operates an amazing Burning man photo Web site here. Click on any pic to view it larger.
This was my Burning Man posse. From left to right Dean, Al, Tim, Pete, Scott, Steve, Kent, Penni and me. Dean and Steve traveled from Chicago. The rest of us drove up from San Diego.Burning Man happens the week before and the weekend of Labor Day each year on a wind-swept gypsum desert flat owned by the federal Bureau of Land Management. Our round-trip drive from San Diego covered about 1,500 miles and took about 28 hours.
The event challenges description. It's part art festival, vehicle engineering fair, hippie encampment, spiritual quest, counter-culture retreat, survival adventure, non-stop psychedelic rave and hyper-sensory overload.
Let me get one thing out of the way: Burning Man is not all about sex, drugs and nudity. Sure, some of that stuff occurs, but it's in no way central to the experience the same way that drunkenness and flesh flashing isn't ubiquitous to Mardi Gras.
Burning Man IS about art. Giant fire-spewing metal sculptures that seem to sprout from the desert floor and stretch toward the sun. Smaller pieces that decorate individual encampments. Costumes that reveal the creative light burning in each individual.
There are the more than 600 so-called mutant vehicles that drift through city streets and across the playa day and night. Their whimsical and fantasy-inspired shells hide golf carts, cars, trucks and city buses. Many serve as roving bars and dance clubs open to anyone willing to jump on for a ride. And at night they all become glowing balls of spot lights, LED strings and propane torches.
There are the people: open, friendly, generous, creative, smart, beautiful and fearless.
This was our street at sunset. Most people live inside tents and under pop-up canopies, but a growing number of Burners are traveling in RVs.
Dust storms, like this one, are as much an essential part of the Burning Man experience as they are a filthy annoyance. Some last a just a few minutes, like a thunderstorm burst in the middle of the summer. Others go on for hours with howling 40 mph winds and white-out conditions with only a few feet of visibility. The longest we experienced this year lasted 11 hours.The temple is one of two central structures that are burned down at the end of the festival. This year's temple was made in the shape of a lotus blossom. Thousands of people wrote personal notes on its walls, mostly in remembrance of people who had died.
The week climaxes on Saturday night with a ridiculous fireworks display and the burning of the Man.
Over the next several days, I'll put up more posts with photos and accounts of my Burning Man 2009 experience.