Day and Night

It’s not so much Radical Self-Reliance as “survival” that is on a lot of people’s minds.

The days are brutal. 105 degrees in the shade. We struggle. We wilt. Even experienced hands realize they’ve been taking hydration for granted. We boil. We burn.

The nights are sublime. We walk without coats, we sleep without blankets, we look up at the half-moon and then back down at all the wonders around us. Surreal and creepy sculptures dressed in fabrics. Towering sculptures. Opening night fireworks.  Phantasmal costumes.

“I can’t stop grinning,” a first-time Burner said, walking with me past the line of mutant vehicles sitting outside the DMV. “This is crazy!”

“I think this is the best design for the Man I’ve ever seen,” a friend told me, staring at our iconic image enclosed, for the first time in his history, by temple walls. “To combine the characteristics of the Man with the characteristics of a Temple … that seems to me to really demonstrate everything that needs to be said about ritual. It’s genius.”

I still haven’t visited it yet. Or the Temple, where for the first time I have artifacts of my own to leave. My friend and colleague Stephen Whitney will be remembered by many. He died so young. I said at a memorial for him, months ago, that I never got to know him as well as I wanted to because I always thought we had more time. I often think that part of Burning Man’s power is the fact that we know when it ends.  If I had known when Stephen’s exodus was to come, I would not have been so trivial.

The ashes of another lost friend, Tom LaPorte, have been distributed in containers of various sizes and given to some of his closest friends to take around Burning Man one more time. He will be in good company all week: he will never be alone. He will be involved in all the adventures, in every crevice of Black Rock City.

I’m certain it’s what he would have wanted. He loved this place so much. Me – I want my remains turned into an art project.

Gigsville, which like Tom LaPorte did so much to make this city what it is, is celebrating its 20th anniversary year. At the annual Gigsville Car-beque, where they take a car, stuff it with wood, and light it on fire with magnesium flares, I sat on an art car a little outside of the safety perimeter with some of my closest friends in the world. We could feel the heat  pushing against our skin – it was still nothing compared to what we’d endured in the day. One friend had worked a 6-hour Gate shift in the sun. Another, a 12-hour Ranger shift.

We were exhausted, and punished from the day’s labors, and as happy as we’d ever been in our lives. Sitting together, drinking after that brutal day, in the light of a flaming car, as Gigsville’s past mayors ran together to get a valedictory group picture, we told each other stories, on that perfect night, about other brutal days that we had overcome, and the things that we are proudest of in our lives, that somehow brought us here.

The next day, there would be dust storms.

Cover Photo by Keidy Moreno.  That picture is the sun in 2011, not this year, because I’m no John Curley.




About the author: Caveat Magister

Caveat is Burning Man's Philosopher Laureate. A founding member of its Philosophical Center, he is the author of The Scene That Became Cities: what Burning Man philosophy can teach us about building better communities, and Turn Your Life Into Art: lessons in Psychologic from the San Francisco Underground. He has also written several books which have nothing to do with Burning Man. He has finally got his email address caveat (at) burningman (dot) org working again. He tweets, occasionally, as @BenjaminWachs

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