My Brother Larry: A Photo Essay

Baby Larry, 1947

Some of the language below comes from Stewart Harvey’s recent book, “Playa Fire: Spirit and Soul at Burning Man,” published in 2017 by HarperOne.

Larry and I were adopted at the same time. This picture was probably taken the day they brought him home from the hospital. I’d been living with our adoptive parents “Shorty” and Katherine Harvey in a semi-rural area outside of Portland, Oregon from age two, but there were issues in finding my mother. My official adoption procedure was delayed and finally took place at the same time as my infant brother’s.

Adoption wasn’t an issue for either of us, and even though we didn’t share DNA, we two brothers couldn’t have been more close. From the beginning, we had been told that we were adopted, but periodically one of the neighborhood kids would delight in revealing “our secret.” It didn’t bother us because we already knew, and more importantly we’d been told that it made us special.

“Other people have to take what God gives them,” our mother would say, “We picked you out!”

I always imagined a large room filled floor to ceiling with shelves. Each shelf would be packed with row after row of available babies. The prospective adoptive parents would walk along the rows and finally call out, “We’ll take that little one up there!”

Larry and snowman, 1953

We lived at the end of Holman Street in an unincorporated area called Parkrose. Most of the families had two or five acre parcels of land and grew vegetables, berries, or had a cow or two. We grew tomatoes and berries that we sold at the local market. We also had chickens. At the end of Holman was a large pasture the abutted Mays Lake. We played ball and swam in that lake nearly every day in the summertime.

The entire area was part of the Columbia River flood plain, and even though a dike kept the river at bay most years, the soil was rich from centuries of annual flooding. You could grow anything in that sandy soil so, naturally, Portland decided it was the perfect place for its international airport. These days the farms are long gone, and our childhood home is the site of a Candlewood Inn. Snow is somewhat rare in Portland, but I remember it snowed more when we were kids. I can’t look at this picture without seeing it as a foreshadowing of Larry’s desire to build and burn a human figure. Of course that’s just hindsight and a nostalgic notion at best, though he does seem inordinately proud of his creation.

Larry and Jan, 1969

By 1968 Larry had transformed into a hipster dandy. He and his new girlfriend, Janet Lohr, had met at Portland State University, and true to the wanderlust of the era spent summers traveling around the country looking for new places to stay. “Preferably for free,” she confided to me years later. At some point they moved to San Francisco, and though they parted in the early 80s, they remained steadfast friends.

There was a high-principled core to my brother, much of it instilled by our parents. Dad governed his life by a set of simple “cowboy” principles. “A man’s word is his bond,” and “Deeds speak louder than words,” “Shorty” Harvey would say. Larry was strongly influenced by our father, and he tried to craft the “Ten Principles” with the same straightforward and practical eloquence. It’s a tribute to my brother that most of his close friends have been longtime friends.

Bryan and Larry, 1969

Larry loved his nephew, Bryan, from the moment he was born. A proto-hippie, Larry visited San Francisco for the first time during the “Summer of Love” in 1967, and though he returned to Portland for school and Bryan’s birth in 1968, he’d been smitten by the San Francisco lifestyle, and it was only a matter of time before he moved there permanently.

Larry, Columbia River Gorge, 1974

Very few people have “greatness thrust upon them.” Most people who achieve great things are born with the desire to do so burning deep within. My brother was no exception. He had found the confines of our rural neighborhood stifling, and by the time he and Jan began their summer ramblings, he began a serious search for something to give his life purpose. I remember they spent most of one year in a small cabin near the town of Corbett, high above the vast Columbia River Gorge. I would visit them, and Larry and I would take vigorous hikes along the gorge trails. I had begun to work seriously in photography, and these hikes were an opportunity improve my skills, but Larry hiked those trails with an unresolved purpose. He was looking diligently for something elusive and hidden towards which to apply himself.

Larry, Baker Street, 1978

From childhood, my brother had sought some form of unique expression. He was talented and enormously well read, but he lacked the facility for most of the traditional forms. He couldn’t really sing or play an instrument, and drawing and painting were only limited skills. He could write of course, but his was a slow and painstaking process, not given to great volumes. Mostly, he could talk! As all of his friends can attest, once on a roll, Larry could hold forth for hours on a broad and often-times obscure series of topics. There wasn’t much he wasn’t interested in or knowledgeable about. It’s so easy to look back and see that Burning Man was his ideal match, for it relied on a dramatic plunge into unknown territory, and then to visualize the long term possibilities of that great unknown. Seeing possibilities was his great gift, and then possessing the eloquence to persuade others to come join in and make it all happen.

Tristan and Larry, 1984

Tristan was my brother’s first great commitment. Fatherhood may not have come naturally to him, but the desire to succeed as a father figure ran deep within Larry. The first time I saw the Burning Man on the Black Rock Desert in 1990, Dan Miller and Tristan were high atop his shoulders getting a bird’s eye view over the playa. I think my brother idealized fatherhood. He didn’t really get along well with our father, but in many ways he saw Dad as standing up for principle in a world that increasingly rationalized the rejection of principle as outmoded and unhip. Dad didn’t understand the rebellion that was happening everywhere in the late ’60s, and he worried that Larry would be lost to drugs and the politics of turmoil. “Don’t trust anyone over 30,” the youth of that era shouted, but of course there was a clock ticking on that notion. “Shorty” Harvey, who was a carpenter, died in 1974 and would never see any of my brother’s accomplishments.

“What do you think Dad would have thought about Burning Man?” Larry once asked me. “He probably wouldn’t have understood most of it,” I replied, “but he would have been proud that you created something so grand out of wood.”

Larry and Jerry James, 1989

By the time Bryan and I arrived for our first Baker Beach Solstice Burn, it was 1989. It was to be the fourth, and as it turned out final burning that occurred in San Francisco. This version of the Man was their biggest and heaviest. So heavy that it needed to be built in pieces in Jan Lohr’s garage and trucked to the beach on seven different pickups. This heavy hulk snapped the rope during the rising, and the whole thing came crashing down. On the second attempt one of the legs snapped, and the “gimpy man” had to be propped up for the burn. After their broken wooden figure was set afire by Flamo Le Grande, the most amazing thing happened. What should have been a fiery fiasco transformed before our eye into a moving spectacle, and we returned to Portland feeling like we had witnessed a hippy miracle.

Larry, AfterBurn, 1990

The following year on Labor Day Weekend, we joined Larry and a group of mostly Cacophony Society members on the Black Rock Desert. It was a homespun and utterly wonderful experience. Dan Miller, who had headed up the build crew, guided the raising of the Man, and drummer Dean Gustafson called us all to assemble under a beautiful full moon for the first Black Rock Burn.

There were only about 100 hardy souls that first year, and I think Larry wasn’t quite sure what exactly he’d gotten a hold of, but by the following year it was clear something special was happening on the playa.

Dean Gustafson’s Call to Assembly, Black Rock Burn, 1990

When my brother first laid eyes on the playa in 1990, it fired up his imagination. There is something about this ancient and vast landscape that tempts us to dream large, and my brother understood that from the first year he was out there. Here at last was a canvas large enough and blank enough to accommodate his most outrageous imaginings, and by the following year, my brother could relax and allow himself to enjoy the magic.

Larry and the Black Rock, 1991

Larry was notoriously camera shy. New teeth in recent years helped that a bit, but in 1991 as he was about to snip the cable that let the Man fall, he let his pleasure show.

Larry and Crimson Rose, 1998

By 1999, the spectacle of Burning Man was already becoming known world wide. The next ten years would solidify virtually all of the parts to the pageant. More importantly the nucleus of the organization was beginning to define itself. All of the founders who would create the modern event were now securely in place: Larry and Michael Mikel, who had been there from 1990, were joined by Will Roger Peterson, Crimson Rose, Harley Dubois, and Marian Goodell.

Marian and Larry, 1998

Larry seems to have had a knack for choosing girlfriends that contribute to the success of Burning Man—none more so than Marian Goodell.

Harveywood, 2010

Burning Man is built on an individual’s creative whimsey inspiring community cooperation and support. Nothing works without both ingredients. This parody “Harveywood” sign was totally unsanctioned and disappeared after a day, but it said everything about why Burning Man “art” is capturing the world’s attention.

Larry, Haggis, and Flash, 2016

These three amigos represent the yin and yang of my brother’s friendships. Andrew “Haggis” Johnstone (center) is one of the relentless builders of the Man, which seems to get more ambitious and complex each year, and Flash Hopkins (right) has the distinction of being Larry’s oldest San Francisco friend, and these two have shared dozens of told and (mercifully) untold escapades together.

Harvey men, 2013

A few years ago Larry stopped wearing his iconic Stetson hat. I think it was a signal that he was finally finished with building a public image. Despite his personal fame as the creator of Burning Man, my brother was essentially a private person, he always had a certain level of reluctance to being in the public eye. It had been necessary to building the event into a worldwide attraction, but in recent years at the event, he became less and less visible.

As we’ve grown older, family has been at the core of most of our discussions. Larry loved Tristan and my son Bryan to distraction, as well as Zan and Dante, Larry’s step children. I’ve always felt that to Larry, Burning Man was at heart a huge extended family, with its worldwide community a reflection of the core values we were given by our adopted parents, “Shorty” and Katherine Harvey.

Jan and Larry, 2016

In the last few years, things seem to be coming full circle. Jan, who had stopped coming to Burning Man several years ago, has made a return, and it was wonderful to see that these two oldest of friends were still a part of one another’s lives.

Fire Light, 2012

So what has my brother wrought? These days when we go out to witness the Burning of the Man, I often wonder how he felt in recent years about this noisy and grandiose spectacle. He was proud of course, especially of the progression of international, Regional Burns that reflect his famous Ten Principles, but I rarely saw an expression of what appears to be satisfaction. In many ways it was the same expression that was on his face when I photographed him as he was staring at the vast Columbia River back in the ’70s. It seems to me to be mixture of curiosity and expectation, as if there’s something more just beyond the flames for him to discover and to bring home to show us all.

Harvey Brothers, 2012 (Photo by Geoffrey Squire Silver)

When I look back at the seventy year span of Larry photographs, I’m stunned by the circular journey it charts. When he was small, my brother possessed the warmest and most confident of smiles. It’s as if he was blessed by the utter conviction deep inside that he could do anything. But along the way to adulthood that confidence was tested, and the ordeal of trying to excel in life ate at his joy. I wanted to include this casual portrait by my friend and fellow photographer, Geoff Silver, because it’s such a clearly unguarded and glowing moment for both of us. After years of struggling to fashion Burning Man into something that spoke eloquently of both art and community, Larry, it seems, finally began to relax and trust the excellent team that had been drawn to him and the promise of the event’s future. For me there is no greater testament to my brother’s accomplishments than that in his later years he was able to draw family and friendships closer, and allow a joyful and unselfconscious warmth to once again define his smile.


(Top photo: Harvey Brothers, 2012, photo by Geoffrey Squire Silver)

About the author: Stewart Harvey

Stewart Harvey

Stewart Harvey is an award-winning photographer whose work has been featured in both museum and gallery exhibitions. He is the brother of Burning Man founder Larry Harvey and the author of the 2017 book, Playa Fire. Stewart’s Burning Man photography has appeared in numerous publications, including Wired and Life magazines, as well as the books Burning Man, Playa Dust, and the cover of Geoff Dyer’s Yoga for People Who Can’t Be Bothered to Do It. He attended the last Ansel Adams Yosemite Workshop in 1981 and received an Oregon Arts Commission Individual Artist Fellowship in 2007. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

47 Comments on “My Brother Larry: A Photo Essay

  • Tor Burkhard says:

    Glad I am a BURNER, Larry, you have done a great things…changed my life

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    • Teresa Lowery aka Ms Kitty says:

      My first year at Burning Man was 1999 and it has always felt like home to me. I can’t thank you enough for creating this community for like-minded people to live and love in harmony and acceptance. This is a wonderful article thank you for writing it. We are all very saddened by this event and I’m truly sorry for your loss.
      I’m head Chief witch for gypsy witch l Camp who’s been around for I believe 17 years. We are all very grateful for it and all very saddened

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    • Miss Bunny says:

      Thank you ❤️ For someone who met Larry once, I wasn’t able to get to know him in a deeper, more interesting way. This beautiful essay with photographs—they initially drew me to it—had many parallels with my own life. I’m grateful Larry pursued his dream, despite the rocky road—we are the richer for it and for him

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  • Argyre Patras says:

    My second set of heart-felt thanks to a Stewart today.
    Wonderful to get his brother’s perspective on my friend Larry, and to see these wonderful images.

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  • So many thanks for this … for Larry … for those he loved. Thank you. You will be forever missed.

    Thank you, Stewart, for sharing such tender insight during this time of sorrow and loss. Big hugs to you and all who mourn.

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  • D.A. of Black Rock says:

    Stewart, thank you so much for all of your beautiful photos over the years and especially for sharing this beautiful gift of witnessing the wonder years of Larry’s life.

    I am honored that my last memories of Larry are with the both of you in the Smithsonian’s Renwick Exhibit in Washington D.C.

    All my love to you and to your family and to the entire Burning Man community at this time of Larry’s passing.

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  • Cicely Keirnan says:

    A beautiful tribute.

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  • Tipi Dan says:

    He has Lived!

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  • Rusty Blazenhoff says:

    Thank you, Stewart. The community is fortunate to have your images, and now, your words. So sorry for your loss.

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  • Robin Parsons says:

    Trying to hold back tears as I read this beautiful account of an inspirational man and builder of dreams. Larry Harvey certainly helped build mine. Thank you Stewart for the amazing story and stunning photographs. May we all carry on with his legacy, follow the 10 principles on and off the playa, and continue to BURN brightly.

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  • Diogenes says:

    Thanks bro ! ……gives us a brotherly connection and perspective………love you both !!!

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  • Rob Sidon says:

    Wonderful wonderful wonderful. Thanks Stewart..Your brother was one of a kind.

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  • Joseph Perl says:

    Thank you for sharing this, and for the extraordinary photography documenting this journey. Love to you both.

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  • Maria Partridge says:

    Thank you Stewart for this eloquent tribute – I will print it out and add it to your book. I am sorry for your loss.

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  • Ian says:

    What a great legacy he left behind…a whole community!

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  • Arlene Hopkins says:

    Thank you for the moving photo essay. Larry and Jan deeply touched my life in 1975. He was loved, but his legacy will carry on.

    Arlene Hopkins

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  • MG says:

    What a beautiful heartfelt tribute to your brother–an amazing visionary soul. So very sorry for your loss.

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  • Absinthia says:

    Thank you for this beautiful tribute, Stewart. My love and condolences to you and your family.

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  • Thank you! For the tribute. And most certainly to the man. God speed, Larry!

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  • John McCaffrey says:

    Larry, you made the impossible, possible. You will never be forgotten, my friend.

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  • Magpie says:

    Larry was a waysayer and visionary. He’s now my spirit guide. ~)'(~

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  • Kat Steinmetz says:

    Beautiful tribute. Thank you. <3 )'(

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  • Chilli says:

    Thank you for sharing, Stewart. I am sorry for your loss. My condolences to you and loved ones. He will always be remembered<3

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  • 13. says:

    fantastic tribute. thanks for sharing.

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  • Playa Fairy says:

    Stewart – not only did Larry draw family and friendships closer, he brought a myriad of people from around the world together as a cohesive, like minded, loving and supportive community. No where on earth do I feel as happy as I do in Black Rock City. Larry’s creation and vision changed my life and thousands and thousands of Burners will tell you the same. Larry made me a better person. Larry made me a better artist. Larry made me a better community member. Larry made me a better steward of the only planet we can call home. This is Larry’s legacy. He will forever burn in our hearts, minds and actions.

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  • Stiffkrill says:

    Larry never did recognize me the times we met, in a backyard in South SF building the man in ’98, gutting Fly Ranch and collecting bones with the crew that would become DPW, two more builds and then spinning fire with Rose in the first Conclaves, panel discussions in SF, random hellos along esplanade and on art cars, increasingly sheltered by his close entourage.

    But always he was giving gifts: a word of encouragement, a splendid thought to noodle on, a laughter. He inspired, challenged, and led the way for places I could go, and discover with this huge tribe, and with my own family.

    Thank you Stewart for bringing the story full circle with this piece, your love for this man at the vortex of it all. And my deepest condolences to you and the rest of the family I got to meet here today.

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  • Playa Dave says:

    Because of Larry, From the desert, I have made soon many new life long friends. With Larry, that would not have happened. As I return year after year my life and mind expand in ways i couldn’t imagine. He has inspired me and changed my life…..Thank you Larry. My deepest condolences to all of his family and friends.

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  • Kahill says:

    Larry and his cocreation shaped who I am. Besides my blood familly I don’t know another person that has inspired me more. I strive to create something as inspirationill as you one day. I know he is off to the next great world. To birth the next great thing for us to step into. I am forever gratefill to you Larry! Sending you and your family so much ILLuminated Love Light. ✨❤️

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  • Margaret says:

    Thanks for publishing this, Stewart! So much fun to hear your memories and see your great photos. My condolences.

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  • I have a twin brother and we were both adopted together, I’m also a Portland State student and former bike messenger and had a brief job as a landscaper in Newtown, CT.

    I’m the photo editor of the Portland State student newspaper (in addition to a member of Media Mecca). I’m in the processes of writing a short memorial for Larry for next week’s issue.

    As with many others, it’s difficult to really explain the breadth and depth of your brother’s contribution to our lives. Through Burning Man I have met all sorts of good and/or interesting people (you included, but here in Portland) and have found solace in from mental burdens I have been carrying since childhood.

    Larry will be missed, but I think we need to make sure we celebrate his 70 years instead of mourning (or as part of mourning?).

    And, how big and crazy is the dirt rave going to be this summer?

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  • Stewart, my friend (aka “not-that-stuart”), this is a beautiful testament to (y)our brother. Let’s lift a glass of ansinthe in his memory. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

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  • Mark aka Fry says:

    Thank you Larry. My life was changed for the better when I was introduced to the awesome phenomenon that you created. I met my wife and soulmate at burning man and we live our lives by your 10 principles. You will be missed but your legacy is truly inspiring and will live on forever.

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  • Gabrielle Raz-Liebman says:

    Such a beautiful piece. Reading from Melbourne, Australia. It’s so special to get an insight into the people that birthed such an epic community and life changing experience. Thank you for making this world a better place. My first Burn last year completely rocked my world.

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  • Yoms says:

    Thank you, Stewart.

    Love as always.

    Yoms

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  • Lion Tamer says:

    I am tearing-up now…

    Thank you, all.

    LT

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  • Jeff Corah says:

    Larry and his vision has created so much. It is up to “us”, or “you” as a community to keep that fire burning. The “man” continues to try to stomp us down in this default world. Regional burns help to a point, yet the actual time in late August to early September gives my heart it’s true meaning to “help others”

    Thank you Larry for your vision, your love and your insight. You da man

    Scooter

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  • Tess says:

    Stewart, thank you for sharing your personal story, the very human side of your brother.

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  • Radia says:

    Amazing man, filled with brotherly love, so glad you captured his spirit. One night in the 90’s Larry and I stood outside the chaos, drinks in hand, under a flapping tarp, ruminating on what had morphed into a phenomena of possibility. As we stared off toward the dustbowl jellyfish disco of another neon city building, Larry pointed out a scene in the distance worthy of an Hieronymus Bosch painting, and slowly shook his head in wonder and said, ” Imagine, I remember when bigtime playa entertainment used to be riding a sheet of plywood tied behind a pickup truck and now behold this.” A serious look came over his face moments before we both laughed and toasted to his pride in birthing the unknown forests of the future.

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  • Dan Miller says:

    Love you Stewart, beautifully spoken and shown!

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  • SeaBass says:

    A few years ago, at the periphery of the hot embers of burning man (just burned), I saw a blind man. At least I thought he was blind as he was carrying a blind person’s walking stick. Anyway, I was so impressed that this fellow was there that I walked up to him and gave him a hug. Then a funny thing happened. The “blind” man slowly opened his eyes and smiled. I can’t say for sure, but I think this man was Larry Harvey.

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  • Thank you so much Stewart, for this wonderful tribute to your brother. I have been rereading you beautiful book, Playa Fire, in the past few days. Larry was an extraordinary philosopher and visionary artist who inspired the world. He is profoundly missed. ❤️❤️❤️❤️

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  • Kaylynn says:

    Thank you Stewart for sharing your personal childhood photos, your own beautiful B & W lens view and your touching evolution of Larry. I am so sorry for the loss and so grateful for Larry’s immense contribution/vision.

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  • Rusty says:

    Thank you for sharing this. RIP Larry and thanks for the drink! (BRC 2002 Amazing Larry’s Jazz Casino/Yellow Rubber Duck Bar).

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  • Pedro says:

    Stewart, there is little reason for you to remember me. My name is Pedro I am a campmate of the other Stuart, at Campo Misterioso.
    Each year the burn, as for many I suppose, is for me more the tired culmination of an arduous journey than cathartic release or even joyous celebration. Not that there isn’t joy, or pride of accomplishment, but also the battle weary sense of having done some thing.
    I share this with you to create a sense of my state of mind as I walk out to join the throngs at the man burn. This year I was walking out with a “burningman” friend, campmate, and his girlfriend. We were enjoying one of our usual somewhat existential burningman conversations. The dust clung in the air like a mist and it had become that twilight time when there was still plenty of light but no longer any shadows. We were walking down the Avenue from centercamp, the bustle of excitement and color swirling around us. All heading in one direction, towards the man.
    Ahead in the “mist” I saw a man standing under a lamplighters spire. Facing away from the burningman and watching the scene coming down the avenue. He was alone and I briefly admired what he might be enjoying as the procession passed. We got close enough for me to recognize him and to my surprise, here standing alone, shortly before the man burn, was one Larry Harvey. I did not know that this would be the last time I would see him.
    I stopped my friends, pointed who we were looking at and walked over to say hello. It seemed, to me, almost absurd that Larry could be standing here at this moment and at this time. I said something to effect of, “Larry, what are you doing here?” He gave me, what I would call his iconic dead pan look over and said, “I’m waiting for my brother.”

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  • Davis Jones says:

    Dear Larry, you are now pure energy that cannot be destroyed, readied to enter another mass in your new time-space. Glad to have touched spaces with you. You wielded an awesome yet gentle power here, made a difference that most leaders can’t comprehend, let alone have the steady faith and courage to materialize. I regret not taking the time to be closer when you called, so very long ago. I am sad not to have seen you again. You left so soon. I wonder why? I would say the usual “rest in peace”, but I think you are likely more interested in planning your next iteration, than resting. How lucky, your next set of enthusiasts! Perhaps in the next life we’ll get to do more! Perhaps I will be less in awe, and more available in friendship. Thank you for all that you do: in the beginning, now, and forever after.

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  • Surflower says:

    BEAUTIFUL AND TOUCHING ♡
    Now Larry’s Spirit /Soul / Energy roams free anywhere at any time unbound
    So no need to “miss him” because now he is Everywhere ♡♡♡

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