It was a gorgeous evening to be leaving the playa.
There hadn’t been much wind all day, and the dust was barely noticeable. The moon was a day away from full, and there was real excitement and anticipation in the evening air.
A smallish group of very well-turned-out people gathered near the Bone Tree in First Camp on Thursday to be taken by bus to Fly Hot Springs, an oasis maybe 10 miles down the road from the hot and dusty Black Rock City. We drove away from the camps and the lights and the art, back out the way we had come in, and traveled a little further out Route 447, beyond the boundaries of present day Burning Man.
The bus we were on was taking us where Burning Man would like to go.
There’s a plot of land not far from the Black Rock Desert that the organization wants to buy. It’s owned by a family that would be willing to sell. The family has always been pretty sympathetic to the Burners, and now the economy has helped bring all parties closer to a deal.
So off we went to get a look at the land, leaving the present to get a glimpse of the future. All six founding directors of Burning Man were part of the expedition — Larry and Marian and Crimson Rose and Harley and Will Rogers and Michael Michael — and also the people who keep the engine running so that the event takes place smoothly every year, the tech people and the legal people and the legislative people (it takes a lot to assure nervous politicians that yes, there is actually more going on at Burning Man than a bunch of naked people dancing around fires, although of course that DOES happen, but so does a whole lot more).
All of them, but especially Jackrabbit, had tugged on coatsleeves and cashed in chips to bring together some people who might be able to help make Burning Man’s dream come true. To be blunt: Burning Man was putting the arm on them, letting them know that they needed their help in getting this thing done. So they were treating them to dinner at the place where they’d like to go.
What if there were a place that people could come together, people who believed in the values and principles of Burning Man, and who wanted to find ways of applying those principles in the default world … of bringing them home from the playa.
What if there were a place where the energy and creativity and approach to living that flowers in Black Rock City for a week every year could be sustained and nurtured?
What if there were a conference center where thinkers and do-ers could get together to plot and scheme and think?
Burning Man, as an organization, thinks that place is Fly Hot Springs.
So they took some people out there to show them around, and it was impressive.
We got off the bus and there were drinks and fortune cookies held on trays by lovely people from Nome Camp, the support/service group that used to make sure that the Red Nose District kept it together every year. The fortune cookies were fun, and of course we added the words “in bed” to all of them.
But this was serious business. It’s completely incongruous, of course, to think of Burning Man being serious about anything. It’s about radical self expression, right? It’s about exploring your energy and identity and your generosity, right? And it’s about fun. But it takes a degree of seriousness to make your dreams come true, so here we were.
After we got our drinks and our fortune cookies, we walked out through the grasses and reeds (yes, green things in the desert!) to one of the geysers on the property. ONE of the geysers. There are a bunch of them, in fact.
So we took some pictures and Quinn hoisted us up in the air on a scissor lift so we could get a better look around. The moon was rising, the air was calm, and the views were spectacular. And the hot springs were calling.
So we went out and slipped into the water. The glorious, smooth, mineral-rich, silky warm water that bubbles up through the ground out here.
There is actually a fair amount of water under the desert here, and not that many years ago, 60 maybe, ranchers stuck pipes down through the crust of the earth, trying to get the water to come up where they wanted it. Well, it came up all right, it came bursting through in heated torrents. And the water built up channels to the surface that now look like mini volcanos, like some weird Las Vegas interpretation of Yellowstone Park, only this is all real, all natural.
Then we put our clothes back on and went to the tents for appetizers and more drinks and social chit chat, which was not as nerve-wracking as it normally is because this is Burning Man after all, and you find yourself with like-minded souls, even if you don’t know very many people in the room. The people are nice. The people are progressive. The people are interesting.
And then there was dinner, and we got to the point: Burning Man is thinking about the future, and this could be it. So what could we do here, and how could we do it? Pens and papers were handed out, and note-takers were appointed, and brainstorming happened. And there were inspirational words from the founding Burners, hopes and dreams and entreaties and jokes and stories.
And, as always, there was inspiration from Larry Harvey.
“Going to extremes,” he said, “means doing radical things. … Your point of view has to be wide enough to accommodate large objects.”
And in this case, the large object is a place where the creative thinking and community building can be tended year round. “We want to create a place where people come together as they do at Burning Man. … We want to have the immediate experience foster meditative thought.
“A place where we can all witness each other’s inner life.”
“If Burning Man has taught is nothing, it’s that we can be the agents of change.”
Everything seems integrated this year. The organization is looking for a new home in San Francisco, and a new home in Nevada, and the theme for next year’s event reflects those real-world goals: “Metropolis, the Life of Cities.”
And so it went through dinner, and then dessert, and then back on the buses and into the cars and in some cases into the back of the pickups for the ride back to the playa.
We pulled back onto desolate Route 447 under the now-bright moon, and there wasn’t a thing in sight but the orange glow in the distance where the geyser had been bathed in light. Then, maybe 10 minutes later, we were pulling back out into Black Rock City, with all the music throbbing and lights flashing and fires whooshing into the night.
So how does any of this affect me, you might be asking. Fine, you had your fancy party and your big thinking. What do I care? … Well, I’d say it increases the chances that all this will keep happening. It’s a fragile thing that’s been created here and there’s no guarantee it will keep happening. And if this kind of thing helps, I say good.