A bunch of longtime DPW folks have gotten a new opportunity to kick ass at Burning Man, and without even trying, they’re at the center of where the organization wants to go.
A group of North Coast burners have been getting together in the woods for years to do their thing and keep the playa spirit alive. Officially, they’re part of the Northern California regional, but that region stretches from the Bay Area to the Oregon border, and that’s an awful lot of territory.
Up until now, these North Coast burners haven’t played much of a role in the official regional group. Instead of driving to Santa Rosa to attend meetings and plan their participation, for the past six years they’ve been going to the beaches and beautiful North Coast forests around Eureka to burn stuff in creatively significant ways. They’ve held 21 burns so far, but this is the biggest one yet.
Goatt and Jeremy are DPW members who have worked on the Center Cafe for years; they’ve dug the holes and strung the wires and been at the center of the building of Black Rock City. They’re valued crew members because they’re skilled and they work insanely hard. When one task is finished, they start looking for the next one. You don’t have to tell them, that’s just the way they’re wired. Goatt will keep up a stream-of-consciousness conversation that is often as hilarious as it is thoughtful and insightful. Maybe being a philosophy major in college will do that to you. More often than not, he’s wearing a red clown nose, making him that much more difficult to categorize. Jeremy makes and sells finely crafted furniture in and around Eureka, and there seems to be a quiet confidence underneath his enthusiasm for the lighthouse project.
On this last weekday morning before the gates are opened and the Burning Man party gets started for real, both of them were decorating the base of the lighthouse with artfully placed driftwood that they hauled out to the desert from Crab Beach, another place where they like to burn stuff. Crab Beach is also the place where a Northern California regional contact “discovered” them.
Once they got the go-ahead to be the Northern California regional builders this year, the crew cut large pieces of wood into octagonal shapes, planed each of them three times each to achieve the tolerances they needed, and then stacked them in a twisting path 125 levels high to form the main column of the lighthouse. The interior is hollow, but they’ve filled it with leftover pieces from the cutting, which will help keep the flames going when the fire is lit Thursday night. Plus, the crew discovered during a similar previous burn that gasses will collect inside, and they think that the top of the lighthouse might burn like a torch, and for awhile, too. If all goes right, the lighthouse might be beacon for other CORE folks to navigate to when their burns are finished. “We’ve also got a few other tricks up our sleeve,” Jeremy said.
Right now the top of the lighthouse is decorated with panels of stained glass installed by another North Coast burner. They used the panels to help raise funds in a Kickstarter campaign, and the big donors get to take a panel home.
“This is like the Olympics for us,” Jeremy said. “It’s our time to shine.”
And that’s exactly the kind of engagement and creative energy that the Burning Man organization is trying to foster among its regional groups. Not everyone can make it to the Nevada desert for the Big Burn, but more and more regional burns are taking place, giving burners and would-be burners a chance to taste the fiery life.
And along the way, that effort has also given some people who’ve helped build Black Rock City a chance to show their artistic side, as well. “It’s not like a competition (between the regional projects)” Jeremy said. “We’re just in competition with ourselves.”
So as you make your way around the city this year, you might stumble upon the lighthouse in the middle of a dust storm. It will magically appear in the dust, just as coastal lighthouses pop out of the thick soupy fog that hugs the North Coast. And when you see it, you might be getting a look at the future of Burning Man, too.