It [wasn’t] the best of times,
it [wasn’t] the worst of times,
it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,
it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity,
it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness,
it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,
we had everything before us
As the last of the block ice from Camp Arctica was melting, we began the sorting and washing of our playafied clothes. A week later it’s just about done, and the RV is recovering in the shop.
Like all burns, there were highs and lows. There were more of the latter this year, but that was ok because the sense of homecoming was comfort enough most of the time. During and since, I’ve been very glad that this wasn’t one of my first few burns. Had it been, I suspect the setbacks may have sent it towards the “worst” status, but as an eighth burn we rolled with most of the punches such that it was still in the top four.
My wife and I hadn’t been to Burning Man since 2011, during which I had an unfortunate meeting with angular momentum at the Black Rock Roller Disco. I passed by it on my ways in or out of playa at 5pm & Esplanade, but I didn’t stop in this time.
It was also our first non-regional burn since having children, with Sahara now just turned 6 and Ollie almost 3½, and thus, as always, kids change everything. What had first started for me as a couple of solo burns in 2003 and 2004, then sharing them with a partner, and now as parents that sharing morphs into facilitation. It’s more of a work-oriented sharing rather than the random shared discovery of our past burns, and the satisfaction is more delayed and intellectual rather than visceral.
A source of joy throughout the week was seeing our kids engage so deeply with the playa – both figuratively and literally. The parental struggles we feared worse at Burning Man, were merely the same struggles we have at home, just in that different context. We parked ourselves in Kidsville, a loosely organized village of some 200 families tucked behind Center Camp, and we created a lovely communal space with our best family friends. Even staying mostly within a couple of city blocks, there was still plenty to do for the kids including trampolines, a double roundabout, an all-joinery wooden jungle gym, bins of legos, and a zipline.
One recurring theme was keeping Ollie company while he napped, which was mostly in the bike trailer, but one afternoon he just lay face down on the playa underneath a folding chair. Our gracious friends offered to watch the kids so we could have a date night, but alas that was thwarted by a particularly long and poorly timed late afternoon nap.
We all left camp at least once a day, though not always together or at the same time. There were art-car excursions out to see the 747 art vehicle and the big rainbow bridge, and multiple bicycle trips out to mid-playa to see a polar bear and zoom down a big spider/vertebra slide. We participated in the Billion Bunny March, and we watched the Man burn from just inside the Esplanade, far enough from the crowds, yet still with a great view of the fireworks and flames.
Other than trips to the porta-potties, what few moments there were away from parental responsibilities were excursions to the Man in the beginning of the week, and to the Temple at the end, primarily to honor one of my best friends who passed away a couple of years ago.
As I biked closer to Temple Galaxia, I found that I couldn’t head straight there. While there was fear of the coming moment, my trepidation was that I had sad and hard work to perform, and it was already crowded there. I needed somewhere quiet, and so I biked out to the trash fence, hopped it, and raised a somber toast of Jameson to Wil and the playa beyond the borders of BRC. I combined a bit of that playa with the ashes of him that I had been given by his sister.
Finally ready to head to the Temple, I parked my bike on the far side near the generator, a landmark to help guide me back among the hundreds of other uniformly grey bicycles.
As I entered I was struck down to my knees by a passage hanging from the rafters. Wandering the inside, tears streaming down my face, shaking hands clutching my hat, markers, and his ashes, I desperately searched for the right place to leave him. Along one of the spiral arms, between a note to someone’s favorite cat and a motherly woman, I wrote something simple, surrounded by a few of his choice phrases. For the last time I lifted the lanyard from around my neck, secured it around a bolt of the Temple, draped it over the note that I’d written, added another dash of playa to his ashes, and toasted a final farewell to my friend.
Wil would have loved the early evenings on playa this year. Venus blazed above the western horizon, setting soonest after sunset. Jupiter and Saturn overhead, and Mars bright and red traced the ecliptic, a cosmic gift at the end of every day.
Besides being a parent and bearer of ashes, the burn was defined by the challenge of buying and operating a nearly 40 year old RV. Armed with a bit of research, gut feelings, and validation from both a trusted friend and a mechanic afterwards, we felt fairly confident in our purchase. We loaded up our 1979 Coachman Diplomat and drove towards BRC around the northern route through Lassen National Forest, which was fairly relaxed and uneventful until we reached Gerlach, Nevada on the opening Sunday of the event.
A distance that might take an hour or two in minimal traffic took us eleven hours. Four hours into that stop-and-go hell was when the ignition cylinder stopped working. After a fairly impressive freak-out on my part, stuck in the middle of eight lanes surrounded by hundreds of vehicles, a fellow burner came by and got the RV started again. Full of relief and gratitude, I vowed not to shut off the engine until we were parked at camp. Little did I realize that would be another seven hours later.
Dealing with the ignition issue could be delayed until the return home, but it was losing the refrigerator on Tuesday that caused the biggest scramble. We’d plugged into our friend’s generator, which blew a fuse. Upon replacing the fuse, the inside electrics wouldn’t work without running the generator. Of course we didn’t bring a backup cooler, but thankfully our friends brought two.
They say that catastrophes come in threes, and so it was after we’d spent several hot mid-day hours slowly crawling up and over Donner Pass on the way home that we nearly tipped over. We pulled off the highway into a truck pull-out across from a rest area. I didn’t see the big ruts until we were driving into them, and I tried to maintain as much control as I could as the RV jumped. The microwave flew onto the floor with a crash, and thankfully the heavy jar of tomato sauce didn’t. Everyone was scared, and it took a while to calm ourselves down and carry on. I should have gotten out of the RV in order to check the exterior, but I was too desperate to get home before nightfall. If I had, I might have noticed that the bike rack had bent 90° and my oldest and trustiest bike had fallen off.
In the end, while the week was mixed, we got there and back safely, and it felt good to be in Black Rock City again, a modern Brigadoon of art and fire and community.