Holy crap, just like that it’s done.
There’s a fair amount of breakdown happening today in Black Rock City. People are pulling up stakes (quite literally), camps are knocking down their shade, and all of a sudden there are playa spaces opening up where crowded campsites used to be.
The playa is reclaiming its primacy. There shouldn’t be anything here, and soon there won’t be anymore.
There may be other kinds of breakdowns going on today too, of a more personal nature, but we’ll leave that for another time. Maybe when we get back to our customary lives, we’ll ask you what it felt like to have to leave this all behind.
But for now, there’s still a lot of story left. The Temple will burn tonight. The big cars and big crowds will gather in eerie, contemplative silence. The torch will be put to the Temple of Flux, and all the work and love and heartache and memories will float up into the desert wind.
It’s breezy and a little cooler today, but there is still lots of dust in the air. It could be coming from all sleeping bags and tents being shaken out before being loaded back into cars and trucks and RVs. Soon enough the bigger structures will come down, too. The Center Cafe will have to go back in it’s box for another year, the carpets put back into their railroad containers, the rigging wires rolled up, the shade tarps folded and stored.
We haven’t been down to the Gate today, but we know the line of vehicles leaving the city started last night, even before the burning of the Man. It’s the end of summer, the end of the Burn, and the other life awaits. At midday Sunday, there was about a 3 hour wait to get out of the City, and the population had already shrunk to 38,275 (from its high of more than 50,000).
Ideally, you think you’ll take home some of the life you discovered here. You certainly think that the people you met here will become a part of your world. And for some people, their lives really did change. They’ll go back home only long enough to wrap things up and head for San Francisco, looking to find a place among the culture and community and free spirits residing there. (I am not making this part up. I know more than a few people who’ve made the move after Burning Man.)
Others will go home to stay, but they might try to keep the spirit alive through a connection with a Regional network.
We haven’t talked much about the Regional doings, and that’s our fault. The very lovely District Everywhere camp was the meeting place this week for the disparate elements of Black Rock Nation. You could read about the Kiwi Burn, for example, which has been going on in New Zealand for 10 years now. Or you could discover that Australia just hosted its first regional burn. And while New York has a very active group of Regional burners, there is also a contingent from … New Jersey! (We have a special place in our hearts for New Jersey. We were raised there, and we kind of think of it as the Hayward of the East. (And we say that in the most loving way possible.)
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Again! It’s too soon to let go, so we won’t! Not yet!
Yesterday’s Burn day was hot and dusty and windy. Is that a surprise? No, but … and this is a big but … it wasn’t the daylong blowing whiteout of the last couple of years. It was mild in contrast. The evening was all beautiful pinks and blues and grays, and MOST of the time you could see the Man still standing tall at the center of the city, all decked out in cuffs and spats.
And then it was your turn to get a little decked out, too. People dress up for the Burn, or at least a lot of them do, especially those who have taken care to stash away that one last clean shirt or dress. Or skirt. Or fishnets. Or jumpsuit. … You get the idea.
Those of us who would work in the inner circle and fire conclave had to get safety training. Crimson Rose was a little scary about it all. She said, basically, to stay the hell out of the way of the hundreds of fire dancers who’d be performing before the Man was set on fire. The performers had been working for months on their routines, dammit, and even though all of us snappers wanted to get the best shot, and she thanked us for that, she said the performers were told that torches were an effective and appropriate tool to clear the path of paparazzi. OK, fair enough. Forewarned is forearmed. I’ll keep my distance and crop a little tighter.
We also got good advice from our friend and great photographer Scott London, who’s been out here a time or two. He said he was going up in a boom this night, but he’d learned that in the ring, it was better to stick with one conclave group, rather than running from one to another. Right, I thought: Let it come to me. So that’s what I did, pretty much. I sampled a couple of groups, then stuck with the one that felt right.
After the fire dancing, the first streaks of fireworks criss-crossed the Man, and another truly spectacular pyrotechnic display from Dave X was under way. Some people can take or leave fireworks. I’m definitely in the camp that can take them. And the fireworks at Burning Man are always excellent. There’s a musicality to them: They develop a theme of color or style, stay with it a little while, build to a mini-crescendo, then go on to another movement.
Then, as the sparkly streaks come faster and faster, building and building, a huge fireball explodes, and the Man is officially aflame. People dance and cheer. Fists are pumped into the air, and the Burn, the thing you’ve come to see, is happening.
It’s both wondrous and poignant. The thing you’ve watched being labored on for so long becomes more and more engulfed in flames. Finally the Man falls, collapsing into a huge roaring bonfire, and the crowd that has been held back around a perimeter line surges forward to the flames.
We’ve moved forward with the crowd before, circling and circling the embers until one brave soul or another makes a dash across the pile, and then others follow. It’s ritualistic and more than a little dangerous, both from the flames as well as the collective psyche of the crowd. There’s a wildness that is unleashed, and tonight we decided to let the dancing crowd have its way and made our way back to the Anastasia the Narwhal, the art car we were so fortunate to ride in on.
The night was booming with sound and flame and hoots and hollers. We were towed back into port in Ring Road, where Mama Grace’s Slow Dance Lounge was waiting for us, cool and chill. Later, we wandered over to the Mansonian Institute for Urban Studies, right there next to the Artery and just shy of First Camp and the Bone Tree. We took a seat around Dodger’s fire pit. Calling it a fire pit is not doing it justice, really. It’s an installation, the Pyrograph. It’s low and flat and round, and the surface is covered with black sand. A metal pendulum moves back and forth across the top, while propane is pumped from beneath. There are other chemical components in the sand, and the resultant flames swirl and dance in shades of blue and green that look more liquid than flame. It provides warmth without smoke, and is endlessly mesmerizing.
So tonight the Temple burns, and we’ll sit and watch again as a beautiful creation is reduced to ashes. We’ll be leaving the city early the next morning, so this will be the last you’ll hear from us for a bit.
We want to thank the countless number of people who helped us during our time in Gerlach and on the playa, from the incredible people of the DPW, without whom the city simply would not exist, to Jess and Rebeca and Katie of the Temple, for their help and patience, to the immensely talented folks working and volunteering with the media team, and to the gracious and generous members of the Mansonian Institute, who were so supportive of our efforts. And to you, kind and generous visitors, who’ve been so steadfastly loyal. I thank you.