And Unto Dust …

One last night of Burning Man 2018, the night of the Temple burn. All the mementos, inscriptions, pictures and ashes of the people who are no longer with us were carried aloft and sent drifting into the starry night.

The transformative nature of fire never seems more powerful than on the night the Temple burns, the holiest day of the week. It’s our secular, nondenominational day to mourn and memorialize.

The silence is overpowering, the mood somber and reflective. Even the blinkiest of participants, still lit for gaiety, seem to understand that silence is appropriate for the occasion. The big art cars encircle the perimeter, but their sound systems are muted. The effect is sobering. Time has come to an end for those being remembered, and time seems to stand still for those of us still here.

The sounds of Burning Man can often be unique; the din of throbbing and booming that dominate during the week, and the plaintive howls that rise up from a thousand throats when the Temple is fully engulfed.

Pretty much everyone who was still here made it out to watch the Temple burn

We put the over-under on the first person to yell “Thanks Larry!” at 90 seconds, and we weren’t far off the mark. There were other names shouted in the darkness as well, and, like too many moments during this burn, the sadness was palpable. We lost so many wonderful people this year.

Anyone could guess that the swirling open-peaked structure would burn hot and fast, and it did. Flames spread quickly, sending smoke and intentions upward and outward. When the blaze died down, we wandered off into the night, searching for a fitting way to mark the end of the event, and dreaming of ways to keep it meaningful and important the next time.

We’ve been especially grateful all week for the participants who give so much of themselves, their time, talent and resources, to make Burning Man what it is. It’s many different things to many different people, but it’s undeniable that community is at the heart of it all. We lost friends this year, but we met new ones, too, people we wouldn’t have any other way of coming in contact with.

So we’ll say it again, not for the first time, and not for the last:

Thanks Larry.

 

Here are a few more pics:

About the author: John Curley

John Curley

John Curley (that's me) has been Burning since the relatively late date of 2004, and in 2008 I spent the better part of a month on the playa, documenting the building and burning of Black Rock City in words and pictures. I loved it, and I've been doing it ever since. I was a newspaper person In a previous life, and I spent many years at the San Francisco Chronicle. At the time I left, in 2007, I was the deputy managing editor in charge of Page One and the news sections of the paper. Since then, I've turned a passion for photography into a second career. I shoot for editorial, commercial and private clients, and I'm especially fond of shooting weddings. I'm also the editor at large of the Tasting Panel magazine, which is devoted to the beverage industry. I've also taught a bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on a (house)boat in Alameda, California.

13 Comments on “And Unto Dust …

  • Stow says:

    Beautiful, thank you.

    Report comment

  • Jose says:

    Does all that burt carbon go to Heaven? Jesus and the angels rebuild it so they can sing in the clouds?

    Report comment

  • Jay Smith says:

    Just awesome! Thanks for sharing John! It was a pleasure catching up with you and Erica. Hope to cross paths again in the near future!

    Report comment

  • SIMBA ^,^= says:

    Temple is why I came to burning man in the first place and temple is perhaps the only reason I may continue to come. Burning man has ebbed and flowed and the culture is different each year. Skip a year or two and you find it feels .. very different. I’m sad to say I was uncomfortable this year.. so many sacrificial virgins with little idea of who Larry Harvey is/was, at least half of the infinitesimally small cross slice of folks I happened to interact with – and even fewer of those could even speak about even one of the ten principles let alone express why any of them make sense or have some personal significance in their lives. Honestly – I heard more than once “What are the ten principles? Was that something I was supposed to read first ? I didn’t know there would be a test later .. HAHAHAHA!…”. . And another .. actually a dear friend of mine said to me “ yeah I tried to learn that before I came but I guess I was drinking and so … well … you can tell me if I f*#$ up, okay? “
    Okay. But seriously … it’s not what it used to be. I mean.. for ME. NO, it’s not all burners who don’t even care to know why two ply is bad and macaroni on the ground should be picked up … no it’s not even many burners who moop check their camp only to lose ( accidentally or otherwise ..) bags full of trash somewhere between the gate and Reno .. and LEAVE IT THERE… and NO it’s not any of our faults that law enforcement tried to tell us our bad behavior AFTER the burn is why they selectively targeted us for checkpoints BEFORE THE GATE EVEN OPENED FOR GENERAL POPULATION … ( my assumption – among the many in this sad tale – is that there is probably much more revenue to be collected by stopping the early access folks for having a mote of dust on their license plate or dashboard and tossing their entire vehicle looking for contraband than there is in patrolling and stopping and enforcing the laws of both the community surrounding burning man and the community that IS burning man by slamming the book at the minuscule percentage of douche bags who let their entire week worth of garbage fly onto the side of the road in BLM and Paiute territory. Yes, the claims were that the law enforcement show of force were a sort of extension of the displeasure of the residents at large, but I have to wonder, if that is so, why not go after the individuals who perpetrate the insults and injuries upon the locals and upon the reputation of we burners as well by a show of force against violators of the regulations that the locals are fed up with ? Like the trash and the disrespect for the land and the inhabitants?
    I guess what I’m saying is that for me personally – and yes I’m making broad assumptions here and have only my small sliver of experience to draw upon – which should by no means be confused with actual facts – nonetheless… my experience of this years burn was exactly what I’ve always joked that the burn ISNT .. just a huge effing party in the desert. It’s like even if only 5% of US are to be excused or let to get by with being shit heads that litter and don’t get it and give their last hug during exodus only to cut people off and shit on the side of the road and be disrespectful and careless just the other side of the line into the default – thats 5,000 burners being a**holes from gerlach to wherever Home may be.
    That is unacceptable. That is NOT what being a burner is about. When temple is the ONLY place a sense of reverence and introspection lives, we have lost our way.
    Burning man was sad for me this year. I waved at the people leaving for Home and they looked at me for signs that they knew me instead of waving back and saying goodbye. Not one stranger offered a hug without taking several moments to exchange names and see that we had something in common … people loudly spoke of what store in the mall they found their swag at … and a large number of those I encountered were admittedly seeking a week of in encumbered intoxication mingled with the best entertainment their vacay dollar could buy .. while there’s nothing at all wrong with any of those things, it’s important that we who have been instilled with the old knowledge, who understand why burning man is NOT just a big ass rave in the desert, who truly can remember why de commodification and radical inclusion and leaving no trace and self reliance and no spectators and each and every one of the ten principles is and remains a core and fundamental part of the burn experience MUST SPEAK UP AND COME TOGETHER AND TEACH THESE CONCEPTS TO THE VIRGINS. If these things we have embraced are no longer important , do we loose the sense of community that has been the defining factor in the culture peculiar only to black rock city ? I feel like we are beginning to experience that loss. This year I felt as though the only sacred and respected tradition WAS the temple burn.
    I am so deeply grateful for the temple. And I thank each of you for your part in making that sacred space what it is.. I am not fully who I am without temple as a part of my identity. But I was sad and uncomfortable and honestly angry this year … I hope my experience was isolated and that I’m totally off base and I welcome you to tell me so … but I personally felt like the core of community is falling away. That we have let our culture take a back seat to the party. That we have not held up our end of the bargain and become the better people and taken that with us and given that to the new members of our family. I think we have begun to accept members of our tribe who shit where they eat. And I personally do not want to be a part of that de evolution. Not at burning man.
    It’s bad enough that we don’t care as much for other human beings in the default world as we do at the burn. And I understand that it is probably just the nature of being a stinking primate in a bag of meat adapting to what we must. But if we cannot be what we claim to be AT the burn and as we come and go through the communities we pass as we burn.. all we have left is temple.
    Yeah yeah I know, I’m soooo negative. I’m ruining burningman for you. But .. is that true? Did I pick up some other careless burners trash off the side of the road this year ? Did you?
    Are we really who we say we are or are we ok with being hypocrites and liars even at burning man?
    I’m not ok with it. And I’m pretty sure I saw it this year. I haven’t really got the answers. I’m not even sure I have the facts or the perceptions right.
    I just know what I felt. And I don’t like it. Anyone else think we could and should do better? Anyone want to call me a crazy ass negative judgemental so and so? It’s all good !! I’m down to hear it. I’m so grateful for the times and people and experiences I’ve had and I don’t want to harsh on burning man. But even if it’s only a tiny percentage of burners who don’t get it and don’t give a crap … that’s thousands of people, folks. And I personally find it unacceptable. I don’t think I’ll be back until and unless I have dead to bring Home to temple. Sorry. And thanks for listening.
    I can’t wait to hear what the community I love has to say to about my dreadful feelings of sadness and disappointment at this years burn.
    Thank you!

    ……May blessings and bounty flow to and from you in every way!!

    SIMBA ^,^=

    Report comment

    • Angie Thompson says:

      I was a virgin this year. However I spent more than a year learning what exactly Burning man was, the principals as well as all about Larry. It helps that I got to help run a large camp Who has been around for years and understands why we were there , but we even had the Virgins who didn’t know a thing about Burning man, we also had rude people who just came to party. It was not what i expected in that aspect…However, the majority of people there where beautiful and amazing. I was changed by burning man. Everything I learned over the year has just made me better inside. I can not wait to go home again.

      Report comment

    • Dex says:

      I was a “Virgin” this year — in quotes, because I’ve been Burning at Regionals since 2011. [Cue up Catholic-schoolboy jokes about “technical virgins”] I’ve been doing my best to practice the Principles since Frostburn 2011, where I served as a Ranger and Medic.

      Being fat, middle-aged, and not having ridden a bike in 45 years, I didn’t get around as much as some, so my Burn was focused quite a bit on my camp, and the Temple. I served as a Guardian, and on the Burn perimeter. The Temple was the largest single part of my Burning Man experience.

      Simba, I hope you found, in the Temple, enough to make up for the crap.

      Report comment

    • Randy Dell says:

      Simba
      I read your article in sadness and agreement. I too was sad this year, as I see the foundations of burning man slip away. I am the camp lead for our camp, and all but a couple of our founders have chosen to stay home. The camp culture is slipping away. The commitment to the ten principals is being replaced by the party. I see it most in Gifting, which in the minds of many means trading, the trading deprives me of much of the joy of gifting.
      This year during the man burn, I walked away in disappointment just after the first arm fell. If it wasn’t for meeting someone I had helped through a problem 2 years ago, on the walk to center camp, the evening would have been a disappointment.
      One of the highlights of my year came when I attended the opening of the Renwick, and had a couple words with Larry Harvey. I can still see him in my minds eye.
      I have been commenting for burns to the org about teaching the 10 principals, about a test to obtain a ticket, something to delay the waterfall into festivaldom. There were feeble attempts this year in our burner profiles.
      Each burn as I approach the temple waves of heartbreak overcome me, thousands of souls and emotions crying out surround the temple. This year there were no overwhelming emotions or feelings for me. The temple though beautiful was lifeless for me, I left as I arrived, not saddened or uplifted, I just left.

      Report comment

  • Angie Thompson says:

    This was my first Burn. It was so much more than could have ever been described. I just got home a few hours ago. I am with on of the very large sound camps. I can not explain the feeling the temple gave me walking in. Or the feeling I got just being on playa. I watched it all built and I saw it un-built. It really was home, and I can not wait to go back.

    Report comment

  • Helen Mastache says:

    John, I was hoping to purhase your high res photo of this year’s temple burning that is making the rounds. Would that be possible?

    Report comment

  • Tanja m.w. says:

    Indigo ☘️️️️

    Report comment

  • Randy Dell says:

    Mr. Curley
    I read your article in sadness and agreement. I too was sad this year, as I see the foundations of burning man slip away. I am the camp lead for our camp, and all but a couple of our founders have chosen to stay home. The camp culture is slipping away. The commitment to the ten principals is being replaced by the party. I see it most in Gifting, which in the minds of many means trading, the trading deprives me of much of the joy of gifting.
    This year during the man burn, I walked away in disappointment just after the first arm fell. If it wasn’t for meeting someone I had helped through a problem 2 years ago, on the walk to center camp, the evening would have been a disappointment.
    One of the highlights of my year came when I attended the opening of the Renwick, and had a couple words with Larry Harvey. I can still see him in my minds eye.
    I have been commenting for burns to the org about teaching the 10 principals, about a test to obtain a ticket, something to delay the waterfall into festivaldom. There were feeble attempts this year in our burner profiles.
    Each burn as I approach the temple waves of heartbreak overcome me, thousands of souls and emotions crying out surround the temple. This year there were no overwhelming emotions or feelings for me. The temple though beautiful was lifeless for me, I left as I arrived, not saddened or uplifted, I just left.

    Report comment

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.