The sun heats up my tent like an oven, awakening me from my deep sleep. I am comfortable and content, but my feelings of comfort do not come from my old worn down cot or my dust covered blankets. As I sit up and inhale, I feel the hot, dusty air dry up my mouth and throat. I look to my right and see my best friend, an unshowered “burner girl” with a bandana covering her mouth and nose, sitting up on her cot. She hands me my water bottle and tells me to drink some water, I tell her to do the same. I feel my insides soak up my first sips of water like a sponge. I surrender myself to water, knowing that without it, I wouldn’t survive half a day marinating in the desert’s hot sun and inhaling its dry and dusty air.
I roll out of my cot and prepare myself for the day. The luxury of a shower is a distant memory, but I do not miss it as I wash my sticky skin with baby wipes. I put on my clothes for the day, a floral corset paired with lace underwear, and step outside of my tent. The sun is already high and the blue sky is bright and endless. I share a quick breakfast with my friend, who is new to the city and intoxicated with its indescribable perfection. We get on our fur-covered bikes and begin our journey through the streets of Black Rock City.
The streets are wide and busy. There are no lanes and people on bikes and on foot move freely without direction. I smile and wave to everyone I pass, as if seeing an old friend for the first time. I am connected to each person in the city. It is the city that connects us; we are all children of the desert. I smell hot coffee and breakfast cooking, and a bare-chested woman in a tutu and a sunhat offers my friend and I a meal. We want to stop and chat, but this morning, we are on a mission, so we continue to pedal down the road.
The roads finally end and we stop to look at the open playa. I squint my eyes as I look at the miles of desert, scattered with mountainous art installations and flowing with the childlike people of Black Rock City. My friend and I are speechless as we watch the heart of our city. I hear its heartbeat, an indescribable combination of sounds that make up one flowing beat. In the distance, I see our destination, the temple of Burning Man. Even from far away, the temple is beautiful and serene. It is large and isolated from the hustle and bustle of the city. I see a dust storm ahead and my legs are sore and weak from pedaling, but the sight of the temple encourages me to continue on.
We finally arrive at the temple and park our bikes among the hundreds of others. My friend and I smile at one another and walk separate ways. I walk around in silence, feeling in sync with each person around me. I look at the walls, which are covered with pictures and words expressing the sorrows and joys of the city. I pick up a pen to write a small message to my pain from the past year and my fears of the future. My message seems small and insignificant to others. I look around and see men and women mourning deaths, divorces, and loss. I also see uplifting celebrations of growth, new love, and various rites of passage.
As I enter the largest and most central room of the temple, I am greeted with a beautiful fusion of bells and drums creating a harmonious love song. The people sprawled out on the ground create a labyrinth of still bodies. Beneath the bells and drums I hear prayers and chants. I lie down among my brothers and sisters of Black Rock City and close my eyes. The ground is hard and rough, but I only notice for a moment before sinking into the earth. As I surrender my frantic mind to the temple, I feel a peaceful stillness radiate through me. I feel safe and secure within the walls of the temple, and experience a connection to my surroundings and myself that I have never felt before. I know this is where I belong.
A few days later, I celebrate my last day in the city by watching the temple burn to the ground. I stand in perfect silence with the 60,000 residents of Black Rock City as we watch our fears and sorrows burn. We release them together as we watch the smoke rise and the temple fall. A structure that once looked so delicate and simple now appears strong and sturdy, as it fights to stand tall against the flames.
I close my eyes and remember my first day in Black Rock City, just one week prior. As I entered the gates of the city, citizens of Black Rock enthusiastically greeted me. “Welcome home!” they exclaimed, before embracing me in an excited hug. I open my eyes as I hear a section of the temple crash to the ground. My face is hot from the massive flames and I momentarily turn away, allowing the cool air of the desert night to calm my burning cheeks. I play back the words I heard my first day in the city. Welcome home. I am sad knowing that tomorrow I will have to return to my life of normalcy, but my weeklong stay has left something powerful and magical inside of me.
While I am only able to experience Black Rock City for one week out of each year, it is where I feel most at home. In times of frustration and confusion, I close my eyes and recall my home. I remember inhaling the dusty air and the soft breeze cooling my sun soaked skin. I remember the tranquil feelings of peace and harmony I felt at temple, and the heat I felt as I watched it burn. Most importantly, I remember the people, my brothers and sisters of Black Rock City. While we only assemble for one week of the year, it is comforting to know that I have 60,000 soul mates spread all over the world who share the same home.
by madison boscole