It’s hard for me to write about Burning Man. I tried it last time I went in 2007, and I was never quite happy with what I wrote down. It’s hard to describe something so big, so encompassing, and so different for each person who experiences it. It’s hard to write about the fears that it is changing into something commercial and mainstream, while only being a newcomer myself. It’s hard to describe how it can inspire the most spiritual and religious feelings that you’ve had all year, without being preachy, exclusive or hypocritical. And it’s hard to explain how your best friends can be people you’ve only met once.
I think this is what those who had high hopes for Woodstock were trying to create, and I’m guessing it’s the kind of atmosphere that was present at Haigh-Ashbury before the utopian ideas collapsed. It’s a community of like-minded people, here to celebrate life, love, art and peace. Or for those who love anarchy. It somehow has space for everyone. It’s a society where you don’t need money, you can let out your inner drag queen, and no one minds if you walk around naked on acid. They might even love you a little more for being yourself. There’s a job for everyone to do, if you want to, and you can give just about anyone a hug just because you feel like it without anyone looking at you strangely. You’ll come across people playing, everywhere you go- old people, young people, married people. There’s laughter, merry-go-rounds, roller-skating, and an unbelievable amount of talented people that are dying to show you their talent and help you learn how to hula hoop, do acrobatics, walk on stilts, or cross-stitch. Someone might randomly walk in front of your camp, singing a beautiful song they made up right that moment just because they’re happy. And everyone who hears it will clap, because they appreciate it. You might meet a woman who’s just learned she’s getting a divorce, and you will give her a kiss and take her hand and not mind if she starts to cry in public. There’s a lot of crying here too- tears of release, regret, and joy.
This year was very different for me. My first year was more about walking around with my mouth open, amazed that such a place really existed, and that so many people’s imaginings and fantasies came to life here in the middle of the desert, in the heat and the dust. This year, there were things I was supposed to be doing, places I was supposed to be, and people I was supposed to meet. In some ways it only made me dig in my heels and refuse to do much at all. I did volunteer at the Black Rock City Post Office, which I highly recommend to anyone that has the inclination. Yes, you can really send mail, yes, the employees are disgruntled, and it’s rather shocking to see the amount of mail and packages that are delivered to and from this little hub of activity. Postal employees will go out and find your camp to deliver your mail, in dust or rain, asking your neighbors where you’re located- and they’re not even union! Some people send mail to friends they can’t find but are trying to meet up with, then follow the postal employee to the camp. Pretty amazing!
Meeting the Roads Scholars was a great experience. They turned out to be such a diverse group of people full of light, inspiration, and grand ideas. Pat the Digital Vagabond was also fun to get to know. He’s an interesting fellow who I advise you get to know through his blog , which showcases his stories and photos from his life as a real vagabond. Ed Buryn, author of 1973 cult classic Vagabonding in America, was our dean of ceremonies at the Roads Scholar graduation event- there are some great pics on Pat’s blog. I believe I gave an acceptance speech, but I have no idea what I said or why. Days of no sleep will do that to a person…
I also enjoyed meeting the Technomads, a very nice couple who travel the country as well, roaming free and wirelessly. We camped with a group of nomads in Camp Nomadia, where I met so many people who reminded me that it’s possible and wonderful to be free without being tied to a certain geographic space. I was heartened to see them living in exactly the way they wished to live, and loving every minute.
The weather this year was rough, and the dust was out of control. The more use the playa sees, the dustier it gets, so it’s only going to get worse as numbers grow and people insist on driving giant RVs into campsites. As a tent dweller, I was jealous of the RVs and resentful of the amount of dust they subjected the rest of us to. Our first two days seemed to be dominated by dust storms, and that can wear you out quickly. Dust permeates your bed, your dishes, your food. My campmate Khristina was awed by her first Burning Man, but understandably tired and exhausted from the heat, so we mutually decided to leave before the burn and headed home, our heads and hearts filled with new experiences and new family. Maybe one of these days I’ll actually get to see the Man burn.
More photos here: