Walking in Circles, But Not Just Walking in Circles

The COVID pandemic has led many of us to adopt new habits and rituals, trying as best we can to bring some small semblance of order to a world gone crazy and strange and inaccessible.

For Burning Man co-founders Will Roger and Crimson Rose, who spent a lot of time during the most locked-down periods in Gerlach, the pandemic helped deepen their connection to the earth, and it strengthened habits and meditations that they’d been developing for years.

Both Will and Crimson are fans of labyrinths. Crimson remembers walking the one in Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in the early ‘90s, even before she met Will or embarked on her Burning Man journey.

“I knew at some point I was going to have a piece of land,” Crimson says, “and in 2015 we built the one at our place (in Gerlach). And then in May (of 2020) we started this one.”

“It was kind of a cool project to do, right after the pandemic started,” Will said.

“I don’t think I’ve missed a day (walking the labyrinth) in five years,” Will says. “And if I’m not around a labyrinth, I go for a walk. That’s part of the day.”

We visited with Will and Crimson on a very hot afternoon out on the Hualapai playa, part of the Fly Ranch property, where they invite any and all to join them on Sunday afternoon walks in the labyrinth they built there.

“The idea of a ritual walk goes way back in humanity,” Will says to the small but hardy band of walkers who have joined him on this 113-degree day. “The idea of walking upright, homo erectus, we’ve been around for a million years. So when I walk the labyrinth, I sort of bring that acknowledgement with me. Walking like every other human that’s ever walked on the planet.

“You know, we’ve lost that connection (to the earth), especially people in the cities,” Will says. “People don’t know when the sun rises or sets, don’t see the stars, they don’t get their hands dirty. It’s easy to feel superior to the earth. But when you’re stubbing your toes on rocks, or falling down in the mud, it’s easy to understand who’s boss.”

Will and Crimson built the labyrinth by hand, working four hours a day, three days a week, over the course of months. It all started with a pile of rocks that Willy dumped on the site. (Willy is the grandson of the late town patriarch Bruno Selmi.)

The rocks were in two piles, each six feet high and 10 feet high. “It looked kind of daunting,” Will says. But he and Crimson moved them, a wheelbarrow full at a time, to where they needed them.

“You put in a stake, and then some string, and every four feet there’s a knot, and then you simply draw the labyrinth out with small rocks, spaced kind of far apart at first, and then it starts to look like a circle, and then you keep making circles.

“You make circles and circles and more circles. The finished labyrinth has a radius of 52 feet, and by the time you’ve finished walking the winding path, you’ve traveled nearly a mile and a quarter.”

Will and Crimson waited until the morning of the autumnal equinox to put the center line in, so that it would line up perfectly with the rising sun. They did the same for the main points of the circle, aligning them with vernal equinox and the winter and summer solstices.

The center piece of the labyrinth is a large chunk of selenite, the crystalized form of gypsum that is harvested at the Empire Mine.

“Developing our own sense of spirituality around the earth is so important right now,” Will says. “Humanity has lost the connection. As long as we feel superior to the earth, we’re going to continue to kill our habitat. We need to change that, and labyrinths help you do that.”

Images of the Labyrinth on Fly Ranch, 2021 (All photos by John Curley)

About the author: 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. I've also taught a little bit, including two years at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism and a year at San Francisco State University. I live on the San Mateo coast, just south of San Francisco in California.

5 Comments on “Walking in Circles, But Not Just Walking in Circles

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  • Just Joe- Fly Ranch Land Steward says:

    I work at the ranch and seeing those two big hearted humans transform those piles of rocks into art is something I’ll always remember. Bravo, Crimson and Will Roger.

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  • Tom ( the Bishop ) Andrejko says:

    Let’s get this Burning Man thing back on the Road. 2022 is sneaking up on us ! Its time to plan a Huge comeback. Let’s get the good news out. We will Return. And 2022 is the year ! Let’s start thinking Positive and Make it Happen. God bless AMERICA and every Burner !!! Reclaim the Playa !

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  • Juno says:

    I look forward to walking the labyrinth at Fly, hopefully with Will and Crimson. Thank you for this lovely piece, Curley.

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  • Alex Wilson says:

    I was there this day. Along with my wife. It was a great experience listening to the history of the labyrinth and then walking it. Very relaxing. Looking forward to many more times.

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