Share |

What Should I See?

Island Life

            Well, it is that time of year, and as anyone who has been reading words from this space on a somewhat regular basis should know, we generally pen a report from the hot, dry, high desert environs of northwest Nevada about this time every year. As it so happens, this year will be no exception. What I would like to have said here was that certain aspects of our yearly trek to Burning Man had not been a part of our collective experience this time around. Unfortunately, and in spite of all our pre-burn preparation, our vehicle of transport choice chose to crap out on us once again. I had thought about titling this piece "Four for Four", for the four times in a row we have had varying degrees of vehicular indifference to anticipated travel plans.

            Having driven the RV to Bend a month earlier with no problems, we were sure that this aspect of our previous three journeys desertward would not be a part of our travel agenda this time. And I had decided that I was not going to experience heat collapse as I had in the past, so I changed my diet and swam fifteen thousand yards a week for the month leading up to departure time. Everything seemed to be ready, but there was that smell of burning brakes that came and went as we motored southward, and when it came one more time as we were passing through Bend this time a month later, we deemed it prudent to ask an expert. Two separate mechanics declared we were on the verge of complete braking system failure, so with Wendy's credit card at the ready we rented a cargo van, transferred all essentials, shopped for further necessities that the RV would have provided, and were on our way in four hours.      

            It is because of that transfer of transport modes that the above title emerged. With no room to sleep in the van, we pulled our mattress out once we reached the Summer Lake Hot Spring ( a destination spot for travelers to Burning Man) and slept out under the stars. As it turned out, word had gotten out, and a crowd like no other we've seen there continued to arrive late into the night and early morning. We were awakened many times by headlights and exhaust pipes passing by just feet from our heads, and finally when the night darkness turned to morning glow we gave up thoughts of sleep and turned toward the welcome use of our early entry pass at the festival. On our way to the restroom before leaving, we came upon what turned out to be a first time burner, too excited to sleep with thoughts of the next week racing through his head. After hearing that we had a combined playa experience of 19 years, he asked us what he should see when he got there.

            What we told him was to not burn yourself out by Tuesday and to drink plenty of water. In essence though, at Burning Man as in life, if you have to ask what to see then you are missing the point. I am often reminded of an exchange between student and mentor in the Tales of Power series by Carlos Castaneda. What comes to mind is a vignette in the desert when Don Juan, Castaneda's cosmic guide, pointed to a distant object saying that it was an animal in its death throes flailing about. As they got closer, it became apparent to Castenada that he been intentionally duped by Don Juan, as the dying animal turned out to be a plastic bag, stuck to a bit of sage brush, being blown around in the wind. If you have to be told what to see, then you not only miss what is actually out there, you also lose the experience of discovery for yourself.

            What we were glad to see when we reached the gate at Black Rock City (BRC)- a fiction that becomes fact for eight days on BLM land in northwest Nevada- was that there was no line. In the past we have had to wait two to four hours to get in- this year it was two cars and go. To get this privilege I had signed on as videographer for a project documenting various aspects of the Burning Man experience. It was also my hope that my pre-burn conditioning would allow me to transcend the strength-zapping rigors of high desert altitude and heat and get out there and deliver the mail. Some people call all this working on vacation. I see it as what Burning Man is all about. The video project was a subgroup of the ever growing Burning Man organization, often referred to in varying tones as "the BORG". The Black Rock City Post Office or BRCPO, is run by people like you and me- or at least me- and runs on an altruism that allows a direct connection with the U.S. Postal Service that sees to it that mail passes smoothly back and forth between BRC and what is known from within the gates as the default world we left behind.

            To make a book length story fit in my box, it will just be said that I plan to pledge my allegiance to the post office next year. It turned out that my experience with writing for the BORG-backed playa newspaper my first year out there was pretty much the self-same one I had with the video crew. They were and are the Don Juans of the playa, mostly telling me what we should be seeing, while at the same time speaking of the wonders of capturing the thrills and mysteries of "radical self expression"- one of the basic tenets of life at Burning Man, although often it is wildly misinterpreted. On the other hand, besides renewing bonds from past work with the General and Lady K, playa names for the folks who run BRCPO, it was soon revealed that we had a bit more in common- they had broken down on the way in as well.

            I could speak of the conflicts and contradictions I ran into while trying to do my video job, but I won't. Instead, I will only mention the indescribable elation I felt on the Saturday of the burn after spending two and a half hours in 100 degree desert heat finding all eight of the recipients of the packages I had to deliver. As I said, you can't describe it, so I guess that leaves it all up to your imagination. Go ahead- just imagine.