After three years at Burning Man and reading stories of cleanup after the burn, I had a desire to return to see the playa uninhabited. When my wife Stephanie wanted a few days “out of Dodge, but not the coast this time,” I suggested a trip to the site of my wonderful experiences. She has seen the pictures and heard the stories but as many of us know, it’s not like being there. I wanted to at least show her the place. I knew my burning buddy Rick and his wife Beth needed some escape time also so I invited them to come along and they happily joined the journey.
On November 4th, after a two and a half hour drive from Woodland, we arrived in Reno for lunch at the Pneumatic Diner. After their fine vegetarian fare we headed out. Stephanie asks, “We’re going to drive for two hours, look around at nothing, and then drive two hours back to spend the night in Reno, is that right?” That was my plan and I have to say I was just a little nervous hauling all these friends along on my little outing. To what?
Going there, at that time, without the eager anticipation of getting to “the event,” was an entirely different experience than the three previous trips I’d made to the black rock desert. It was a chilly wind that blew without the massive amount of dust, as recent rain had settled every thing down. There were great grey clouds mixed with blue sky, bright light and dark shadows, and very little traffic. The beauty of the area made the trip go by in pleasant delight.
We passed the entrance to the playa not recognizing it without the city to pull us in, turned around and drove back to the rocky entrance and down to the playa floor, all crusted over with a slightly dampish look. Stephanie made me stop about a hundred feet onto the playa so she could get out and look at the tires to make sure we weren’t gathering up playa muck, heading to a stuckness that would require us all to take the long walk back to Gerlach. She was satisfied but still nervous as I sped out onto the playa letting go of the steering wheel at times with nothing to obstruct our progress. I thought that there would surely be some evidence of the road in and the streets of Black Rock City, but there was none. There was absolutely nothing to indicate that anything happened in this wide open space, unrelieved by any artifact. Nothing. What appeared to be chunks of burnt debris, possible evidence of the last burn, turned out to be … black rocks!!!
So I drove out to what seemed like the middle where Rick and I thought we might be “on site,” stopped, and we all got out. There was nothing but the sound of wind in our ears and the uninterrupted flatness of the playa. Then we started to look around. MOOP! Not much but some. Several tiny beads shaped like skulls were “floating” on the crusty surface, spread out over a twenty foot radius. We imagined somebody’s broken necklace lost in the dust, floating apart after the first rain. Then a few nuts, a bolt with wingnut attached. My mind pictured sturdily made structures of fantastic form and texture, these small parts of their fastenings left like molted feathers of birds long since flown away. We found a hair pin with a half dozen sparkly sequins and a large, nail-like stake with only the top exposed. I kicked it loose and pulled it out. I imagined the dusty playa wind ripping the tarp off of the grommet that was still attached. We walked around for a while finding a few tiny bits of wire and a couple of coins and decided it was time to leave. As I opened the door to get in the car, Rick told me to look down, and just outside the door was a two inch tall simple welded wire image of The Man. What a fantastic end to our time on the playa. What seemed like ten minutes had actually been an hour and we were all happy and content with our experience there.
The drive back to Reno was just as spectacular as the drive out and we arrived in Reno as darkness gave the downtown its brightly lit sparkly splendor. It was a sad place. All this brightness lit up to lure in the desperate seekers of a fortune that even if they won it would not satisfy their need for light in their souls. I think of the color and light on the playa during burning man and realize that we bring them as an expression of our inner light. Brought to share, and to join together the lights of our beings to create joy and pleasure and maybe a little inspiration for our lives there and beyond. As we drove home the next day I realized that I wanted to see how it happened and that some year, maybe this next one, I would spend more time after the burn helping to clean up the playa to recreate what we had just seen, the clean fresh playa, waiting for our return.