How was your burn?

Brian dances in the street during the DPW parade
Brian dances in the street during the DPW parade

The wind blew most of the day and night on Saturday, and the Burn was put on hold for hours. But in an eerie replay to last year, the dust storms stopped just in time for Burning Man 2009 to reach its appropriately fire-y conclusion.

The day of the Burn was packed with people and activities. The city’s population reached its peak somewhere north of 42,000, and you have to be impressed that the number stayed so strong in such an economically challenging year.

Center Camp was mobbed all day, with folks seeking shelter from the blowing dust. … But it wasn’t the kind of dust storm that blanketed the city last year and turned daytime into evening. The sun was still shining, and it was a really really pretty day on the playa.
We had a fairly representative Burn day. It started with maybe the most perfect iced mocha ever served in Center Camp. No, really. It was spectacular. Just perfect. … When you’ve come to kind of depend on the camp coffee situation to take care of itself, and then it doesn’t, well, you get a little desperate. But in this case our desperation was happily resolved at the cafe.

Then we were off for a last look around before things began to burn up.

We headed out to the Depot and the start of the DPW parade. Even though the wind and dust was howling, we could hear them coming from blocks away. “F– your day!” they’d shout. “F– what you know!” we’d shout back.  “No pictures!” they’d yell. “F– your day!” we’d shout back.

It sounds nasty and hard core, but you know what? I’ll tell you a secret. It’s an act. Oh, they won’t admit it, of course. And yeah, they’ll act like they would bite your head off most of the time. And they actually might, at least some of the time. But nobody comes out and volunteers to build a city in the dirt and heat who doesn’t have a lot of heart. And that’s your average DPW crew member right there. Dirty and crusty and loud on the outside, kinda squishy and real on the inside. But don’t tell them I told you. burn-night-6

Then we  headed out to an ice cream party at the Transformation Beyond Zion camp, but on the way there we got distracted by a cocktail party. Imagine that. … The concept was pretty simple: Bring in a piece of moop (matter out of place) (or trash if you’d new to the area), and we got a cold, fruity and delicious cocktail on return. We very much liked that concept and did a bit of playa cleanup.

While we were getting the delicious cooling cocktails, something happened to me that’s never happened before. (Which really isn’t so unusual at Burning Man, but I’ll tell you about it anyway.) I was offered a nipple clamp. Something about the fishnet shirt I was wearing made it seem appropriate I guess. Sadly, my nipples were TOO SMALL for the rubber-band style device. But it worked spectacularly well on my companion.

By the time we reached the place for the ice cream party,  there wasn’t a sign that it was going on or, actually, that it had even taken place. Yes, of course we had gotten there late, but so what? It’s playa time. Oh well.

May West and C got hitched
May West and C got hitched

A small digression about Yellow Bikes. The Yellow Bikes (which are green of course) really saved our butts on Saturday. We were lacking a bike, and when we started out from camp we made the enormous faux pas of “borrowing” a camp mate’s bike without telling her. Bad move. We were radioed back to camp pronto. And chewed out mightily by Nurse. Yes, nurse. You’re right. We suck. We’re sorry.

Anyway, so we left again, this time with just my bike. We tried to make a passenger seat out of the middle bar, and that really didn’t work out so well in the long run. For awhile, yes. For a longer while, no. So we thought, ok, let’s look for one of them Yellow Bikes, the communal bikes that everyone shares here. And soon enough we found one. … We felt a little guilty picking it up, because how do you really know the person who had been using it is finished using it? No matter. We reallllly needed it, so we took it, and off we went.

Later in the afternoon, the circle came around. As we were visiting briefly with friends,  a girl came up and picked up the Yellow Bike that my friend had laid down in the dust. My friend pleaded, “Oh, please don’t take my bike!” and the girl responded, “But I reallly need it!”  And so, because karma comes around, she took the bike and off she went. “The little whore took my bike,” my friend said, karmically speaking.

Oh well.

Then we were off to see a couple of friends get married over at Mohammed’s martini camp in the 9 o’clock portal. The dust and wind was pretty bad by this time, and we missed the camp on our first pass, and I’ll tell you, we were damn hot and tired by the time we stopped to rest for a second in the middle of the 9:00 plaza. But then one of those miracles happened. You know the kind, where you get exactly what you need at exactly the time that you need it? In this case, it took the shape of icy and refreshing snow cones that were being given away by Stan from Sacramento. Thank you, dude. Thank you.

Then we went to the wedding of Chris and Meredith, and it was beautiful and wonderful and heartfelt, and Flash did a hell of a job giving the bride away. Or was that Plex? No matter. It all was lovely and not even very dusty. The wedding cake was a tower of Twinkies, and they were brilliant.

burn-night-8Then the day was getting late and the shadows were getting long and it was time to find some food before heading out for the Burn. The wind was up and a hold was on for hours, and by the time we were walking up the 6 o’clock spires, you couldn’t see five feet in front of you.

It all becomes kind of a blur after that. We saw a lot of the people who we’ve come to know over the past month or so. It had the feeling of family. Then the fireworks went off, and then the Man caught fire, and then the base of the Man, the beautiful base, it went up in flames so fierce they pushed us back out toward the perimeter.

Then, when it was all done, when the fire died down and the revelers made tighter and tighter circles around the embers, the randomness of the night took over, and the center of it all, the Man, the anchor, the beacon … he was gone for another year. You couldn’t get your bearings any longer, because the thing you came here to do had been done.

The Man base crew during the DPW parade
The Man base crew during the DPW parade
The DPW parade stretched for blocks
The DPW parade stretched for blocks
Jackrabbit and Larry at the Man before the burn
Jackrabbit and Larry at the Man before the burn










About the author: John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person in a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

46 Comments on “How was your burn?

  • terry says:

    Thanks for sharing the Great photos…Nice to be able to enjoy the gang along the way….

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  • Mars says:

    Heard about the DPW parade but I had to leave early this year. I think I see my friend on Gunner’s flame-shooter truck!

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  • Barb says:

    Great post, incredible pix. Thanks for prolonging my 1st experience at BM even as I sit on my couch in my living room Sunday evening. See you all next year!

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  • Roy Nielsen says:

    Great photos! I’m already homesick and have the post playa blues. Thanks always to the DPW and all the BRC Volunteers. Is there a central e-mail address for the DPW, I’m trying to make contact with one of your members that I didn’t get to say goodbye to. Any assistance will so appreciated.

    Till next year take care and take love.

    All my best,

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  • Gary says:

    Big big thanks to John Curley for all these posts. The man not only writes beautifully, but damned if his pix aren’t superior to the ones I’ve been taking the past 16 years.
    I’ll deal with my inferiority complex in exchange for luring me out to the playa yet one more time. This was a year I thought I’d be living it vicariously.
    thank you John.

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  • Dot Ball says:

    I already miss the Hooker Cooker military truck. Thank you for posting such a great photo of it. Recycle Camp rocks!!

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  • Don says:

    Great pictures, uneven writing. You lost me with your “then” this and “then” that. And “fire-y” is not a word, but “fiery” is. Good god.

    Anyway. BMan is a challenge on all levels. Social, more than any other. I never thought so much physically except this year I caught a fever and it has not subsided yet. As wonderful as it is, though, one thing really bothers me: Selling tea and coffee at Center Camp. I’ve never patronized, I don’t get why others do. You need your precious mocha? Stay home, or bring the stuff yourself. That long counter selling the yuppie nectar is always so jarring. What is the thinking behind that?

    There was a dance club out around 3:40 and G more or less serving hot chai tea, now THAT was a treat. Not Starbucky at all.

    Nice move stealing a bike. Hopefully it was the last time, what.

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  • Mike Hedge says:

    just got home. love these shots!

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  • CuriousJosh says:

    Great shots John!
    thanks for sharing the moments

    Josh ‘CuriousJosh’ Reiss

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  • Milana (Recycle Bitch) says:

    OMG the Hooker Cooker!!! Love it!

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  • Jeffz says:

    Not sure what happened this year but DPW was incredible this year. Maybe I got lucky but they really seemed to go out of there way to be nice this year and part of the community. Had multiple interactions with them all over. I’ve always loved DPW for making our city and all the work I could never do but they do superbly but this year they just seemed to take it up a notch!

    John – thanks for all the blogs and love your pix!

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  • The Berlin Flatline says:

    Already back in Germany, but I had a fabulous time – as every year. These pics help me explain to everyone where I was… but I think we all know the frustration of sharing a unique experience with someone who has never been to BRC.

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  • Jamie says:

    This was my virgin burn and was a truly memorable event and so happy to share it with my soulmate who was attending her 5th burn. Though a fabulous experience it was tainted by the selfishness of two photographers who refused to sit down and had tripods and ladders set up directly in my line of sight. Though they were asked politely many times and then later serenaded (and special thanks to the choir as that too was memorable) they maintained their steadfast position. I look forward to many burns to come and the communal joy which envelopes it.
    Jamie – aka Gyro

    P.S. fabulous pics people.

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  • jason dave says:

    missed this year, but became a member of camp envy while watching the live feed. cant wait to see more pictures from home.

    only 359 days….

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  • Rich says:

    Those pics truly are astounding.

    Well, I am no longer a Burner virgin…having been violated in the best possible way by the heat, the dust, the art and the overall good vibes from attendees. The whole experience was about 100 times better than I could have imagined. I am definitely going to attend next year…no question. With that in mind, here is a list of things I intend to do at the next burn:

    Take a bike (and a lock) – I foolishly thought I could walk everywhere. I ended up with a blister on my foot because I made a friend way across the other side of the city, and it took well over 20 minutes to walk to her camp. Occasionally I would try and find a ‘Community Bike’ but I could easily waste 30 or 40 minutes wandering around until one showed up.

    Buy a Camelbak (or equivalent) – Having to walk around carrying bottles of water was a pain in the butt. And I saw people putting ice into their Camelbaks that would keep the water chilled for hours.

    Pitch my tent with the door facing AWAY from the prevailing wind – Sure, it got dusty inside, but it would have been better to not be slapped in the face by a sandstorm every time I unzipped my door.

    Wear more funky/showy/glowy clothes – When all you have is shorts, a t-shirt and one puny glow-stick dangling around your neck, you WILL feel out of place.

    Prepare more gifts to give to people – Having been on the receiving end, it will be all the more enjoyable if I also have some neat nick-nacks to hand out unconditionally, especially to those with whom I make a connection. Not just cheap, store-bought stuff…but individual, hand-made somethings.

    Erect my shade structure so that it goes to ground level on the East side – The only time I felt a personal shade structure would be useful was between 6 and 8 in the morning, after the sun first hit my tent. Of course, the sun comes in at a low angle first, with the shadow of my shade only hitting my tent around 9 or 10 am, which is pretty pointless because I was up and about by then.

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  • Andia says:

    Awesome pics, I’m tearing up….I miss BRC already. I had a great burn, it was more intense and spiritual this year. I needed a good ass-kicking and I got one.

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  • jennifercrimson says:

    This burn was magical, it just felt amazing from the time we hit the playa. I feel so positive about my life and what I am capable of, it really hit me this time more than any other I have attended. Truly remarkable what can happen in a week and if we can do that in a week what can we do in our lives? For our planet, and for each other? Truly I am still electric from it all and can not believe what this has grown into. For those who think this thing has become too commerical or lost its edge, well yeah if you think back to the days of bringing guns and speeding out of control cars but when 45,000 people congregate any city needs to have structure and rules – frig man Socrates was not wrong on that front! Hats off to the business end of it because it takes work to create this love! Thank you to all of you again. I can not seem to get off the facebook site given I am still so entranced by it all.

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  • ZapWestin says:

    my burn was beautiful and special
    what a magical night

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  • StephenJr says:

    My burn this year had its ups and downs but mainly its ups. I spent most of my time people watching at Deathguild *which im a medic at* and telling people to *take our ramp of death* and strangely enough…. they did

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  • Lee says:

    Second burn this year. We left Sunday morning. I was homesick for BRC Sunday afternoon…knowing so many of you were still out there on the playa!

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  • Witchy says:

    I’m so glad to hear that you had the perfect Mocha! That’s what we’re here to do!

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  • Nick says:

    This was my first burn and it was amazing!!!! I travelled from the other side of the world to be there and cant wait to be get back there again.

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  • sdbrown says:

    Dear Rachel-low-on-totem-pole from the DPW who had to drive a lift very very slowly across the playa while I was helping Bill Watson break down Luminosa/light trees: you are very cute and I really would have given you a book if I’d had one. Maybe I’ll see you next year.


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  • Stephen says:

    This was my second burn.

    The first visit to Black Rock City was to experience the spectacle of Burning Man. The second visit became oriented towards understanding the nature of the Burning Man community. I spent a lot of time thinking about how it relates to outside society and in what ways it’s ideal and in what ways it’s not.

    Black Rock City is an anarchist utopia. Notice the contradiction in terms. Someday I hope to visit again.

    I feel like I put a crack in the wall that I always surround myself with. I was violently snapped out of a five month long depressive slump. Survivalist conditions will do that to you. Hopefully I can carry this newfound sense of openness, freedom or whatever it is – optimism?- for some months into the future.

    Remember that appearances are deceptive and not all people are as cold as they might seem.

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  • Glow says:

    Fantastic photos — I especially love the photo of the fire-fan dancers on stilts. Impressive!

    This was my first burn, and it has been one of the best experiences of my life. So far ;)

    I hope to be a writer someday, and my adventures in Black Rock City have given me plenty of ammunition for a good story-telling:
    If you’re curious, please enjoy!

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  • seamonkey says:

    ditto all the acolades to the city, its people, its art, its ideals, the DPW…i could easily and predictably repeat every positive comment. i return home inspired. only one thing stands out as worth review by Burning Man who now and then reluctantly controls the anarchy and self-expression. i heard so many people commenting that the incessant techno beat was dominating everyone else’s soundspaces and music. there were very loud sound systems along the center of the esplanade, not just at 10′ and 2′. i am not sure if they were over the max decibles rule. it ws the musical equivalent of spray painting on other people’s sculptures. we called it MOOP – music out of place. come on DJ’s let other people play too!

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  • Laetor says:

    My best burn ever. Walking in a little mini-parade with the DSC trikes, looking like a fucking bad-ass infantry officer while these mobile fire cannon platforms wheeled on each side…well, my ego was not hurting at that moment. Department of Spontaneous Combustion, you are absolutely the best, and I look forward to camping with you again next year. DSC FTW!!

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  • Deva says:

    Fabulous experience, evolution for sure, as the City is a shining gem, greater than any emerald, reflecting Self back to u at each moment, a *NOW * moment.

    Thanks for the great pics. SHIFT haooens – there u are.

    Really big kudos to the HeeBeeGeeBee Healers – sharing, being, doing healing. wow – big, really large. So many hearts joined & drawn to that great intention, that our planet be healed, one person at a time….

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  • One of my fondest memories of my virgin burn was seeing Grey Anne perform at 4:30 in the AM in the wee hours of Thursday on Center Stage. I wrote about it on my blog (I’m posting a link, since I worked hard on all kinds of italics and bolding, if that’s ok)

    Buring Man 2009 was astonishing, amazing, indescribable.

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  • Kasey says:

    To the tune of… ah, whatever you want…

    Rough around the edges,
    Squishy in the middle,
    Plump when you cook ’em
    And they’re full of love.

    DPW, DPW, DPW Loooove…

    Rough around the edges,
    Squishy in the middle,
    Push their little buttons
    And they’ll punch yer face!

    DPW, DPW, DPW Looooove…


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  • Kasey says:

    Crap, I forgot the last verse…

    Crusty on the outside,
    Delicious on the inside,
    Dirty all over
    And they’re full of looooove.

    DPW, DPW, DPW looooove.

    That, my friends, is a little ditty Juli and I wrote and sang for days out there.


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  • Michael Perry says:

    I just wanted to say that I love and miss every single one of you. Thank you for making my heart carry the endless smile that you all made possible.

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  • Epiphany Starlight says:

    Kudos to Wayne of the BRC Dept of Mobility for helping the most challenged with mobility move about with ease on the playa. You stepped up and many were able to expand their experience of the art and the city. Mr. Fix-it left BIG shoes to fill. Good job.

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  • Oso says:

    or… How I Lived The Dream Within A Dream While Wide Awake

    I’d been fascinated by The Burning Man Festival since I discovered it about 5 years ago, and had been actively planning to go there for the past 3 years. I finally made it – and upon arrival, what I discovered was far more intense, meaningful, transforming and exciting than what I had imagined it would be. It’s a dream within a dream, but so real that it’s clearly not an illusion.

    Burning Man is a one week experience… and this experience of new-found freedom included radical self expression and radical self-reliance. But the beauty is that I was sharing the experience with over 40,000 others. It takes most people a few minutes (I’m slow – it took me a few hours) to realize that everyone there is equal – there is unconditional acceptance and respect for each person no matter what age or appearance. We all knew how much effort it took, how hard it was for each of us to make it to this event.

    Burning Man is an ideal place for self-reflection and self-transformation, and the experience expanded my horizons, revealed new possibilities, and made me question the assumptions that most of us make about how we’re supposed to live our lives.

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  • Sunshine says:

    How was my burn? you ask . . . it was OUR burn, a collective effort presented by and touched by all in attendance, enshrouded in love, and transformed by the Source to new and magical illuninatory heights of perception, understanding, and love. It was . . . simply undescribable by mere words. Epic. Magical. Amazing. Magnificant. Awe-inspiring. Mind blowing. Transforming. These words barely scratch the surface of how to describe this burn for me.

    I arrived without expectations and enjoyed nearly each moment on the Playa thouroughly, freely, and joyously. Okay, that first major wind & dust storm reduced me to tears, begging for home. Other than that particular dark dredging moment into the depth regions of my soul . . . where I found new, strong survial skills abounding . . . I felt so at home on the Playa. So free to expess my natural inclinations of joy and happiness to simply be alive living amongst my peers. I have wondered since the 60’s were all of you were!!! The Playa and the community felt like “Home” as no other place on the planet I’ve ever been.

    This year has been one of exploring my understanding of love. Questions I’ve asked myself since April have included: what has love looked like in my past; what has it felt like; what have been my experiences with it; why has it betrayed me at times and pulled the rug out from under me; and more importantly, what are my ideals about it; what are my highest asperations that it could be; what is my personal truth about love. Staying open to all conversations on the Playa was crutial for me this year. One day I was sharing conversation with a man I met named Bob. He was sharing about his life and he said three words that transformed my life. He said, “I need love” and went on to share how he needed it and from whom he wanted it. It immediatly awoke in me the realization that I was again facing one of life’s major crossroads. I was now faced with the choice of remaining hidden and safe behind a protective wall or burn down this wall I had constructed with intention protection. It was at that moment I decided to risk it all and open the carefully hidden part of myself up once again and learn to love on a deeper core level. It suddenly became okay for me to let go. The was no longer any need for that wall to exist. It was completely and utterly time to risk it all and begin loving again on a core level that I have never allowed myself to experience before. I was suddenly free! All from Bob’s three simply words of I Need Love. Thank you, my new Playa friend. Your gift to me at the moment is priceless.

    I love you all from the depths of my soul. Until we meet again, I wish you peace.

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  • Amaya says:

    This was my frist time. I have had the best time of my life. And learned alot about the art work. And all the colores at nite was so cool. I am counting the days tooooooooooooooooo


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  • Pauli/Rivergal says:

    My first burn was one of the best weeks of my life. It’s still winging around in my dreams at night.
    I’d heard about Burning Man but didn’t have the courage to buy a ticket until I was 66. It was time to unlock the 60’s kid still inside after all these years. Packing and planning, setting up my own home-tent, hugging my new camp family, everything felt right, thanks to you. It felt familiar and good because of all your website preptalk and background info, all your ongoing email guidance (thanks Jack Rabbit), all the Tales From the Playa telling it like it was, all the easytofigureout clicks that highlighted all the amazing functions and philosophy needed to build Black Rock City. Actually arriving was like walking into the pages of a favorite book. HOWEVER, you forgot to mention the book has no ending in sight and is illustrated with flames and explosions. and yes, Dorothy, impossible to explain when you get home.
    TTITD was and is a gathering spot for us to create ever more important life adventures – mine and ours.

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  • laurie stevens says:

    I was not there this year but am counting the days until Camp Big Love Defeet can save all of those over-exposed digits next year. My husband and daughter were there, but there is no substitute for the real thing (although I’m totally loving all the pix and stories). I’ll be there next year – even if I’m dead. (It is in my will that my ashes go up with the Temple as it burns). Keep the spirit alive in all you do…peace

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  • Mr Cobra says:

    Thanks for the great pictures.

    This was our 2nd burn. We came to BRC in 2008 as well. Our son is a manager in DPW. He has been encouraging his mother and I to come to Burning Man for several years. 2009 was his 13th Burn. Iwish I had taken his advise.
    I still cannot describe the feelings and emotions I felt last year for the first time and how we became one with the environment, the poeple and the whole idea of being in a place with so much frfeedom and loving people. It is rare to meet someone who is not judgemental let alone live with 40,000+ of them for a week. THis year was 100% better, the art was ggreat and the Temple was beautiful. It burned and carried a lot of heavy stones away forever, mine included.

    We cannot wait for BM 2010 and will be there. I may have to temper that lasr statement as I will be 72 befor the Man burns again.

    Mr Cobra

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  • sundancer says:

    I was a driver with the green tortoise and i want to hear from anybody that met me there. I had a good burn, but i missed saying good by to my neighbor’s lava & katie-you said you were leaving the next day and when i came to say good by-you were allready gone, i hope you didn’t think i would have left without saying good by!

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  • doug porter says:

    here’s an article about burning man that ran in our community blog…

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  • Keep up the great work posting these articles, it is quite an interesting read to say the least

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  • Amanda Love says:

    Hey party people,I am looking for Witchy from Center camp, if this finds anyone who is in touch with her, heres my info.THANKS ! brian maher in Vallejo,Ca. (415)867-1633

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