My eyes blink open and I look northeast out over the playa. There is something about first light when sleeping out on the open playa; it nudges me awake before my 4:45 alarm has the chance to sound. The air is cool and still, vacuum-like in its silence.
I roll over, pull on my boots, and grab my cup. Coffee is ready and the Survey Crew is beginning to mill around the octagon, the only structure on playa for the moment. Trailer Park Buddy serves up some breakfast, and everyone gathers round to listen to Tony Coyote, BRC Superintendent and Survey Crew lead. This is the 19th year the city has been surveyed, and as I learned from Will Roger, Coyote has done it 21 times, but that’s another story.
The day before, following the Golden Spike, the Survey Crew built the octagon, laid out the fire circle, the jump circle, and some initial flags. Today, Coyote told us, we would be putting in the markers for the Esplanade. As breakfast is finished up, stories are told, jokes exchanged, and everyone gathers their tools for the morning. I walk with my team straight out from the octagon on the 12:00 line. We get out to our designated range, Krankypantz sights the rangefinder and calls Coyote. “Two inches to the right. Mark it.” I hammer in a dowel flag and another two at the diagonal. “There’s the Temple” remarks Krankypantz.
“Wait! There’s the Temple?” I say to myself. I look around, my team already walking on to our next spot to mark. I am caught in a wondrous daydream of how different this spot will look over the coming weeks, and a story is born in me.
I came out to volunteer with the Survey Crew for many reasons, one being that I wanted to see Coyote at work. Coyote is a legend at Burning Man. Burning since ’96, Coyote is a natural-born storyteller and a fountain of Burning Man knowledge and lore. He is also Burning Man’s first Storytelling Fellow.
Few people embody storytelling quite like Coyote. He is masterful in his expression and delivery, he has a voice that draws you in, and there is almost always a lesson to be had from his stories. Working on his crew, you quickly notice Coyote doesn’t just tell stories for the sake of getting a laugh or endearing himself to those around him — which he certainly does. But in the context of his crew, Coyote tells stories to pass on important knowledge and tradition about why we do something and how that method came about. Working on Coyote’s crew is like getting a crash course in Burning Man history, and in turn it makes you feel like you are part of the larger Burning Man story.
Coyote first came to Burning Man in the mid ’90s, a pivotal point in its evolution. His stories about those days are rich with detail. They’re invaluable records of Burning Man history, and there are relatively few stories out there from that time. Lately, Coyote has decided to write his stories down and share them with the world, and everyone at the Burning Man Project is thrilled. This year, we awarded him a fellowship to support his effort to publish these tales.
We had hoped that Coyote would have four chapters of his book finished by the end of the year, which we would share with the community as a serial release of his book. As it turns out, Coyote is also a tenacious writer. He finished five chapters of his book in only a few months. This enabled us to do something a little different; a five-part podcast of Coyote reading these chapters from his upcoming book, “Coyote Nose: Tales of the Early Desert Carnies of Burning Man,” ready in time for our participants to download for the trip to Black Rock City.
A few weeks back, Coyote sat down at Burning Man Headquarters and gave a reading of chapter 1, “In Through the Out Door.” This was recorded with help from the folks who do the Accuracy Third podcast, and the other four chapters were captured in the following days in a studio. Now they are available to the world over at Coyote’s corner of the Burning Man Journal. Enjoy the stories. You can look forward to more.