Give Unto Others: Your Playa Gifting Stories and Artifacts

“The playa provides” is an axiom that is proven true again and again. You need something, and it miraculously appears, often from a stranger who seems to have an uncanny ability of knowing exactly what you need when you need it. We’ve all been there.

At other times, you don’t need anything, but the playa provides anyway. Thoughtful gifts, mementos of Burning Man culture, gestures of kindness, even homemade sourdough bread baked right at camp — there is so much bounty in the desert.

Here are some stories of gifts you gave or got on the playa.

A Ticket

Every year, Jonnie King (second from left) gifts a ticket to a stranger at Will Call. Here he is with this year’s lucky recipient.

Photo by Jonnie King
Photo by Jonnie King
Photo by Jena Vasseur
Photo by Jena Vasseur

A Vehicle Pass

Virgin Burner Beverly Drottar was standing in line at Will Call when a woman left the windows in front to pass back through the line, asking if anyone had not purchased their car pass yet. I said I needed to buy mine, so she handed me her extra vehicle pass and called out, “YAY! My first gift on the playa!”

One Ring to Rule Them All

Jena wears this ring as a reminder of how fate brought a beautiful human being into her life at Burning Man, if only for a moment. Here’s the story:

“This ring was given to me the year of my first Burn. I had just gotten back to my camp from the Temple of Promise, where I had sent my blessings and said my goodbyes to some very dear spirits in my life. I went to walk to the bathroom, crossing paths with a beautiful stranger. I had locked eyes with her and smiled at her. She then stopped me, gave me a big hug. She then looked down at her hands, which were full of beautiful rings, and took this one off, telling me, ‘This is my most favorite ring in the whole world. And I would like for you to have it.’ I was completely blown away. She gave me a kiss, told me she loved me, and before I knew it, she was gone.”

“The Edge of This Earth” Patch

Khoi le and four friends were on an art adventure night when they came upon a big circular object spewing patches — but just four came out. “But then we noticed that there was one lodged on the bottom of the frame and the wiring. We got the last five patches! Shortly after another group of people showed up. Had we came five minutes later we wouldn’t have gotten anything. It was PERFECT.”

Photo by Kieran Mclaury
Photo by Kieran Mclaury

Fresh Bread — A Fast Way to Make Friends

Once during a power outage at home, Valkyrie and Kieran Mclaury discovered that they could bake bread on a gas grill. So, 2016 was their year of homemade playa sourdough. “We brought our starter, lots of flour, and our grill,” Kieran writes. “Loaves of fresh bread were baked daily to the wonder and excitement of our campmates and strangers alike (many of whom became friends).” As you do when there’s freshly baked bread in the desert!

A Feeling of Belonging

“I am 58 years old, and sometimes feel like I don’t belong in the young person’s crowd,” admits Hug Slut. “At the Burns, many people have made me feel like I belong, and I am important, regardless of my age.”

Photo by Robin Donoghue
Photo by Robin Donoghue

A Pair of Handmade Earrings (That Later Became Charms)

Late one night, exiting Samskara by Android Jones, Robin Donoghue and a friend noticed a woman dropped one of her earrings. As they went to hand it back to her, she gave the pair to them. “We never got her name or saw her again,” recalls Donoghue. “Back at camp, my friend insisted that I keep the earrings, as it would be silly to break up the pair. I decided at home, however, to turn them into necklace charms so that she and I can each keep one.”

A Veritable Haul, Plus Polaroids

Erin McAleer shows off her loot and explains its origins:

“We spent a few days at Camp Thump Thump at the Man making drums (those are the big circles pictured in the picture that I put all our gifts on). The elephant bracelet was gifted to me by our camp neighbor, and the other trinkets on the drums were tiny gifts we picked up along the way. I also incorporated a bit of Chris’ and my costumes in the photo with the flowers and the goggles. For my gift to anyone I came across, I took a Polaroid photo of them and gifted them an instant photo.”

Photo by Erin McAleer
Photo by Erin McAleer

The Gift of Music

Courtney Kivowitz brought music — in the form of old school hip-hop DJ Michelle Pesce — to Burning Man. “She had the balls to bring her turntables and vinyl into the dust!” Kivowitz enthuses. “She set up in a dust storm, and then, in that magical way that only happens at the Burn, the weather cleared to perfection and she slayed in front of the One Eyed Monster for hours.”

Body Painting

Dewayne Flowers and his wife Lana Chromium are body painters — like, professionally — so if you were bestowed one of their gifts you might come away looking like this (the story behind this photo is over on Reddit):

Photo by Dewayne Flowers
Photo by Dewayne Flowers

The Best Granola Bar *Ever*

Celine Gerakin was having a long day: first a four-hour shift doing coffee at Center Camp, then a two-hour line to get washed up at Sweaty Betty, then a busted bike tube while she was waaaaay out in deep playa… and then she realized she hadn’t had anything to eat in a very long time. Pushing her bike in the throes of much hunger, she was grateful to have water but visions of food in her cooler — cold, juicy apples and pickles — danced in her head.

“I almost gave up even though this thought didn’t make any sense. What would I do? Sit down and wait for the gods of the playa to magically transport me and drop me at my camp? So I just kept on pushing,” she remembers. “This is when a guy who came out of a dust storm stopped to hand me a granola bar. The most generic granola bar, and he said, ‘I don’t know where you are going, but it looks like you need this’ and then he vanished just like he appeared, in a dust storm. I didn’t even see his face or had time to say thank you.”

About the author: Mia Quagliarello

Mia Quagliarello

Mia Quagliarello is a San Francisco-based 'Burning mom.' By day, she does curation, community and social media work at a startup; by night she's either working on her blog, Disco Nap, going out to see live music, or snuggling up with her two kids.

9 Comments on “Give Unto Others: Your Playa Gifting Stories and Artifacts

  • Atheen says:

    Best gift ever?
    I was on my to the way to BRC, on a Burner Express Bus. It was late, traffic was stopped, and I got off to stretch my legs. A guy I just met had a stargazing app so we started looking at the stars.
    I saw the Big Dipper and looking up, I stepped forward… and suddenly I felt pain in my arm. As I was pulled back and around, I saw a silver flash, and the guy I had been talking to diving into the road. We had stepped into the oncoming lane and nearly been hit by a speeding bus. he had grabbed my arm and literally dove into pavement to pull me to safety.
    He was pretty scrapped up and shaken. People from the cars behind us were upset too, it had looked like we’d be hit for sure. He had barely gotten us out of the way in time. The bus never slowed.
    I had fingertip shaped bruises on my upper arm that lasted my entire burn, a constant reminder of how lucky I was to be alive.
    I was so rattled I didn’t think to get enough info to find him again. But I owe that guy my life.

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    • Logistic says:

      At the 2016 Burn, I received an extraordinary gift … but I didn’t know it until a few weeks after I was back at my default home. It was then that I learned that my Beloved (who I met at the previous Burn) and I had gotten pregnant on playa. It is a girl and she will be three months old when the Man burns next year. I can only begin to imagine what her life will be like as she is raised in this community, growing with the knowledge that she can create what she dreams.

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  • birdman says:

    Driving in to Burning Man I passed a guy on a heavily laden bicycle. I realized he MUST be going to BM. This was a hot burning sun day in the middle of sagebrush cattle range. I pulled off up ahead and waited for him with ice cold water and snacks. He was so surprised!! We talked for about an hour. He was a Frenchman that flew into Vancouver and cycled around the NorthWest to many places I am familiar with. Even UP the long slog to Crater Lake with a loaded bike!!
    I offered him a ride. He declined. He was on his own so I invited him to camp with our Contra Dance group when he got to the Playa. Never saw him again! It was a brief joyful experience for both of us. It was the essence of the Burner experience and a GREAT introduction to Burning Man for a foreign visitor that had made a great trek to get to the Playa. It was just the Burner thing for me to do!!

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    • Justin Markin says:

      Driving into the playa I was pulled over for having a tail light out on the rental rv. After chatting with the cop he asked if he could go get his partner to which I obliviously said yes to. He returned with his dog who then proceeded to jump up on to the rv signaling to cop that there were drugs on board. After about an hour of them searching and finding nothing the cop said just make this easy on yourself and show us where he drugs are to which I replied I’m not telling you anything. Consequently they did end up finding my mother load of a phat quarter of some of the stinky in the fridge in one of those false bottom Arizona ice teas and then I was cuffed and brought to playa jail. after about another hour in cuffs I was released and allowed to go back on my merry way sans marijuana with a 500$ fine. Immediately upon arrival to my camp and telling my sad story about losing all my weed to an asshole of a cop this dude reaches into his pocket and pulls out a nice size bag of some decent buds and says I found this bud and I don’t smoke so I guess it must be for you. The playa provides.

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  • SpaceMonkey says:

    I’ve had a few great moment of being provided what was needed, but this one takes the cake. I was at a burn with a bunch of friends and it was our morning shift to make breakfast for the camp. So we did our jobs and then headed back to bed. I decided I needed to use the rest room so I went and as I crossed 3oclock I saw that the playa was pretty much in a huge dust storm. There wasn’t really many that year and they are my favorite. So I ran back and got ready to head out. it was also one of the few times I had been on my own this trip. I headed to the temple because I always love the way the dust and sun shine through them. After a while I decided the inside was too cramped by people seeking shelter from the dust so I went outside and sat where there wasn’t anyone to be found. I sat against the temple thinking about the past year. I had no souls to say goodbye to, or any forgiveness to ask for or send out. So I decided to just focus on what I was happy for. I went though my memories and I came across my boyfriend to whom I just fell in love with. He loved me for me and I was so happy. I dwelled on our memories and his face smiling. As I did this a woman wrapped in baggy clothing and a mask came up to my and whispered “you need this” and dropped a small wooden circle, no larger than a dime in my hand. I turned it over and in the wood was carved “Love” the “O” in the shape of a heart. I was shocked that I had revived this gift right as I was thinking about my true love. I looked up to say thank you but she had been enveloped by the dust. When I returned home I gifted it to my boyfriend. Fast forward a few years and here we are married and in our own home.

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  • Liz says:

    On the giving side, just last year, we turned a superfluous monkey hut into Sunglass Monkey Hut. Just a last minute idea, a monkey hut filled with cheap, wholesale sunglasses.

    One day a girl runs up to us in our bar next door, gripping a pair, and bubbling over with glee. Her friend follows with a very satisfied look.

    “Did you do the sunglass? Can I really keep them?”

    We assured her that she could keep them, yes they are free, take as many as you need.

    Turns out that she was (of course) a virgin, left her sunglasses at home, and was really upset. Her friend had assured her that someone would have a pair for her, but she didn’t believe it. They camped a block from us and found us on their first journey from camp.

    So virgin got her sunglasses, veteran got to be right, and SMH was a roaring success for a last minute project.

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  • Suvillia Young says:

    A hug.
    The first night after the camp was all set up at my first burn in 2013 Iwondered out to the temple. The temple was still under construction but I suddenly collapsed in tears. Seeing the partially completed temple hit me that I was here to put my Dad in the temple so he could burn one last time. There was no one around me when I had wondered out but in that sudden moment of tears there was an ever so kind woman who just came up and held me after asking if I wanted a hug. She just apeared and it really was a magical thing to recieve not only from the playa but also from my Dad.
    I don’t know her name but I thank her daily.

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  • Kim Brown says:

    To Robin Donaghue…regarding “A pair of handmade earrings (that later became charms)” at the Samsara Dome. Yes, that was from me and I do remember that moment. How fun to know my bling was and is appreciated. I have camp Lady Blah Blah on the outer ring and “they” call me Pelar.

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  • Zoe Grubbs says:

    It was my first year at Burning Man, and I came in on an Early Arrival Pass so I could work for 4 days at Greeters. I had just arrived on the playa in the late morning and after all the hoopla, here I was at my site, looking out at the huge expanse of empty ground that within the next week would be wall to wall campers, yurts, tents, huts, art cars and people.
    I was in awe of the expanse of desert and that here I was a Burning Man, it was real.
    All of a sudden I heard someone shouting at me and I turned and here was a guy in a plaid skirt and a green top carrying something on a wood paddle. “Do you want a piece of pizza?” he said. “There was no one here to share this with and then you drove up”.
    I told him how much I appreciated this, and that I was so impressed by his offer “..but I’m vegan and I don’t eat cheese and meat. I truly am grateful for the offer though”
    “You are vegan?” he gasped “Really? That’s awesome because I have a vegan pizza just coming out of the oven!!!” So I went with him back to his camp and shared a nice vegan pizza with him. I gave him a big hug and went back and set up my camp.
    Vegan pizza in the middle of the desert and I had just been gifted. Welcome to Burning Man.

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