Mom’s First Burn

“No time to explain, Mom. Take my hand and follow me!”

My family has always been a big part of my Burn.

My brother went with me my first year in 1998, and for the next five.

My Grandpa was the first to call Burning Man my “congregation” and sent heirlooms with me (like his childhood bible) to burn each year.  I placed his ashes in the Temple in 2007.

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Hanging a tribute to Grandpa Caleb in ’08
Photo by Julian Cash ( Pants by Grandma Shikles

My grandma sewed my first fur pants. (Including a matching fur bag, “because I had left over fabric,” she said.)

And when my grandma passed on, my mom became my go-to seamstress for my Playa creations.

I treasure the bonding experiences that my mom and I share each summer as we craft together in preparation for the Burn.

She helped me sew cushion covers for the Hugmobile, fur covers for my platform boots, and helped create the epic Octobike. (aka “Snuffleoctobike”).


Every couple years I half-heartedly asked if she would ever want to go to Burning Man.   Truthfully, I didn’t sell it very well – and she showed no interest.

But something happened this summer.

I showed my mom a video called “Charlie goes to Burning Man.” It showed a man 10 years older than her who gushed about his experience. Then I showed her photos including one of a man wearing a “Halcyon’s Dad” t-shirt. (It was NOT my dad. Just a beautiful white-haired man who painted his hair pink and donned a pink tutu..)

She said, “If I went, would I get a t-shirt?”

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Looking good, Pop!

Wait. What?! The door was cracked open and I quickly started on preparations to get my mom to the Burn.   (She had a friend that wanted to go badly -an old PTA mom that I grew up with. I realized that if I could make it easy for both of them, it just might happen. )

I had access to 2 tickets. A campmate had decided they did not need a Sani-hut that was reserved (A mobile bungalow with AC). And I figured that with minimal stress, no mechanical requirements, and zero lines, Mom & a friend could shuttle in from Reno on Monday and fly out of BRC on Thursday.

Mom (Susie) and Dee came to our last camp meeting in late August. They met campmates and asked lots of questions. “If you are serious,” I told them, “you should come to our last work party.” Susie and Dee showed up early wearing work gloves and spent half a day glue-gunning pink fur to the last of our camp couches. They were participating.

They were welcomed into Pink Heart completely.

A magical moment with Mom and Dee. (And, yes, her shirt says, “Halcyon’s Mom.”)

It is hard to explain what sharing Burning Man with my mom was like.

My brother has a beautiful family and has given my mom 2 amazing grandsons.

I, on the other hand,  have given my mom a box of pink hair dye and a pink motorhome. Oh, she loves me dearly and is very proud of me. It’s just that, how can a non-Burner ever fully understand that part of your life?

Photo by Karl Baba. Bliss by BRC.

But I finally got to share my “baby” with her.

Introducing her to my camp and campmates was like inviting her to meet my secret half-brothers and sisters.
I may not be able to give her grandkids, but I can extend her family.

It was a feeling beyond words to be able to invite her “Home” to meet the larger community that I feel so deeply connected to. She quickly felt like they were her family, too.

And she got to see me on the Playa.  My highest self.  The way I help lead the camp. The way I gift and hug and love. She got to see the Playa through my eyes and it helped her see me in a way she never had before.

Mom had a brief stay, but she dove right in. She went on ice runs for our iced cucumber water bar. She served vegan ice cream. She shared wisdom with my campmates. Together we shared tears.

We cried together at the Man. We cried together at the Temple. We cried together quite a bit.

But the most emotional part was when she helped me co-lead my annual Pink Ride.   It is always a highlight for me, but this one was extra special. She rode a pink fur bike by my side as several hundred people dressed in pink rode behind us. All of us saying, “I love you!” to everyone we passed.

The parade begins

We descended upon Center Camp and filled it with a glorious pink spiral of love. My Playa family and my mom mixed together in tear-flowing, heart-soaring bliss.

A week later, when we both had returned to the default world, I told her, “That ride with you…it was one of the highlights of my entire life.”

We were both already crying when she said, “It was for me, too.”

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See my mom and me on the upper left? Check out the glorious pink swirl at minute 10:00 (click to play)

About the author: John "Halcyon" Styn


Halcyon is a 21-year Burning Man participant and co-founder of Pink Heart camp. He is author of "Love more. Fear less." and producer of the Burning Man short film, "The Pink Path." He's won Webby awards for his over-the-top personal site & his "Love On Demand" video podcast Halcyon co-founded the San Diego based "1st Saturdays" homeless outreach program based on Burning Man Principles and coaches people how to be radically self expressed in the default world. You can find his full Playa Tips & Tricks series at

10 Comments on “Mom’s First Burn

  • Athena Demos’ Mom went for the 1st time this year, too and shared her experience:

    Another mom reflection:

    And there is Bry’s “Taking my parents to Burning Man” film that is touring now, I believe:

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  • Joyous says:

    Brilliant writing and heartfelt words, tears streaming… sharing with my Mom. So blessed to meet your mom this year and share sweet hugs. Love is endless ♥

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  • G says:

    This is so great! Im going with my dad in 2015, so excited that we both get to experience this together AND as virgin burners. Hope to see the Pink Heart Camp :)

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  • Karl Baba says:

    Great to see you and your sweet mom out in the dusty brc bliss

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  • Grey Coyote says:

    Awesome, John! That she had such a genuine connection to the event and her campmates is really neat. Burningman knows no age limits, as she somaptly demonstrates.

    I hope to see her in the dust next year! I’ve got a big hug for her and want to thank her for making…. Well… YOU!

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  • Jenni says:

    I knew it was only a matter of time before 1 or both of your folks went. :)

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  • sosad says:

    First off, I believe no one deserves preferential treatment / access at burning man (aside from obvious physical impairment type things). I also believe, that like stumbling onto an an amazing little restaurant, something that you achieved or find has so much more meaning than something that was handed to you. But if anyone did deserve a BRC “easy button” it would be your mom, or anyone else like her that would help expand what most citizens of BRC feel are the ideals of the event and culture. Not only do the experiences your mother and camp mates had have an obviously positive effect on them and yourself with her attendance, it also helps strengthen the hopes and desires of others such as myself who may have had zero interactions with your/their burn on the playa simply by reading experiences like this. Organic things such as these have the ability to impact the future of burning man and the world far more than anything conspired and manufactured by big money, for big money regardless of whether or not there are profits to be had, because there is no agenda good or bad. What you and many others feel are the most important core aspects of burning man need no agenda to spread, grow and hopefully engulf because of it’s radical uniqueness, profound positiveness and love. Plus it’s just plain fun. Thanks Hal C. and my apologies to all for my run on sentences and seemingly difficulty expressing these particular thoughts.

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  • LP says:

    I would like to thank you for sharing such a beautiful experience, you sincerely touched my heart . I felt a strong connection to this post as my mom passed away suddenly in August, and one of the things I regret most in life is that I didn’t take the time to share more adventures or heartfelt experiences with her. My dad, my sister, my husband and I are hoping to join the BRC community and participate in Burning Man for the first time in 2015. It’s the stories of creativity, sharing, and a loving open community that first sparked my interest in Burning Man several years ago, but the timing never seemed right. Now more than ever I have a need to embark on new adventures, I want to be an active participant in the wonderful things I have heard about this place, and most of all I want to share the experience with those close to me.

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  • chrissyp says:

    nice! I’m so glad that your Mom got to go, and ride with you, and see and feel and be a part of!

    My first year (2012) was also my daughter’s first year, and we loved sharing the adventure…. the next year, we brought an entire family of burgins, 3 generations, plus aunts and cousins…… they brought their Mother/Grandmother/Great-Grandmother’s ashes with them and their time together in the Temple was so healing……

    I did not go last year, but, I plan to go in 2015. I will be bringing my Mother’s ashes with me…….. my plan for this year is to go alone, rather than build a camp for others, and just see/feel/breathe……. I’m grateful for this very new idea. I have always been a caretaker…… this year, I plan to take care of myself…… I’ll work with my Region ahead of time, and will hope to do some docent or other shifts on playa, but, I plan to live alone at Home this year.

    What a blessed gift even that idea is to me in this time.

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  • Jessica Pompei says:

    Enjoyed your piece so much I was inspired to write my own. Do you know if I too can add my voice and upload my story? With warm wishes, Jes

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