Burning Man is a lot of things, and every time we try to say what it is or isn’t, we fail. But we do know that there are some things that are undeniably true. One of them is that Burning Man is a family affair.
The latest example we present is Audrey Pickney, one of only two second-generation DPW workers. (Welboy’s son, Corey, is the other, but he’s not able to be here this year.)
Audrey is in her second year of working DPW, after three years working with Gate, Perimeter and Exodus. Her mom, Ridge, is a longtime DPW worker who’s also taking a year off this year, so Audrey is holding down the family presence.
She goes to the School of the Art Institute of the Chicago, where she is studying fashion and fibers, the art of sewing. It’s wildly expensive, but a variety of fellowships and grants have her about a semester and a half from graduation.
You’d think it would be a stretch to come out here after the urban art world in Chicago, but she’s been doing it for so long, it seems perfectly normal. Her first year was 2002, when she was nine years old. That’s right, nine, so she’s kind of a poster child for young Burners, too.
Her mom started coming to Burning Man in 2001, and she loved it, and she thought that Audrey would like it, too. So she brought her, and she’s been coming ever since. She’s missed a Burn here and there for school reasons, but still. That’s a lot of her youth spent in the desert.
“I love it here,” she says down at the Depot as the day winds to a close and the heat is finally letting up. “All my people are here. … I love doing work with my hands, I love the desert … like, why would I not?”
She has an infectious laugh, and her manner is easy and open. She seems so natural at an age, 22, when so many others are still trying to figure out who they are, trying on different personas. But she seems as free of artifice as the desert hills. Did coming out to the Burn help her learn how to deal with stressful conditions with grace and humor? Hard to say, but it seems pretty clear that it didn’t hurt.
Does she think that Burning Man, or coming out to work on the build, is the kind of thing that could last for generations? Could it be handed down, complete with legends and stories and oral histories?
“Well, I don’t know,” she says indulgently. “But my grandpa comes here, too.”
That would be Donovan, whom we met last year at one of the most raucous events of Burning Man, the DPW parade. We made sure to take a picture of all three generations who were attending. And we’d seen that before, the multi-generational experience. But we hadn’t heard of many second-generation DPW workers.
The event has a wild reputation, and deservedly so. You can find a lot of what you’re looking for out here, be it personal growth, sexual exploration, spiritual connection. We can say that Burning Man has earned its reputation, so one could arrive expecting to have a completely wild and racy time.
But it’s not always like that. “It’s like a family and a community of people,” Audrey says. “You know, in the real world, we’re all a bunch of fucking weirdos, and we’re all probably kind of a little bit antisocial. But out here, we’re all like that, like, let it all hang out.” She laughs easily again. “You know?” Yes, we know.
“It’s like the perfect little niche. It’s not for everybody, but if it is for you, you definitely know it.”
In other news:
You may have seen the bug rumors on the internet. We are here to tell you that they are all true. Well maybe not all of the rumors, but the bugs are real. They’re everywhere. They bite. They crawl all over you. They get up and in you.
Twin Peaks, who’s leading the construction of the Center Café, was talking about how bad they are when she jumped a little and pulled her t-shirt away from her body. A good-sized green bug fell to the ground. It had crawled into her bra.
Metal Shop Heather wears a welding mask most of the day. Bugs have crawled up inside her visor and nestled around her eyes. Cammy and Stinger needed some help from the medical team to deal with the infestation; Stinger’s back was covered with nasty red welts from the bites.
What’s going on? We don’t know. We don’t know how the little critters survive in the heat and the sun. All we know is that if you pick up some wood, you’re likely to uncover hundreds or thousands of the things. They’ve blown up inches deep against the sides of the Commissary tent. They’ve covered the carpets at the Depot. They’re all over the Man Base. So it’s not a localized occurrence, it’s everywhere.
We don’t know where they came from, but there are two main theories: One is that all the spring and summer rain has hatched critters that lie dormant, or usually come to life at a different time of year. Or maybe they hitchhiked in on a load of wood from somewhere. Or maybe, as Shade postulated out at Man Base, there’s a Johnny Bugseed making the rounds at night, sprinkling them anywhere and everywhere.
We’ve been blessed by fair skies so far during the build. For the first time in the past several years, there’s been no rain or lightning or hail or high winds to bring things to a crawl. But maybe we are making our way around the various plagues, and this year it’s time for pestilence.
Marcia said that one had flown into her mouth gotten lodged between her teeth. She reports that they are quite bitter to the taste.
We don’t know how long it will last. Cobra Commander said at the morning meeting that high temperatures will be with us again today, and the hope is that the heat and the dryness will knock down the bug population. “Because otherwise we’re gonna have to nuke the city” to get rid of them.