Burning Man 2018 : Homecoming

Posted by Ted on Sep 10, 2018 in Burning Man

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.Legos

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.


Playa napTrailer NapOne 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.

Billion Bunny MarchOther 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.Beyond the trash fence

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.

WilWil 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.Mom

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.

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Photo Friday: A New Beginning

Posted by Ted on Jan 6, 2012 in Burning Man, Photography

2012 is all about new beginnings and our craziest adventure yet; parenthood.

If you follow my work, you know that I love sunsets. Who doesn’t? But what I find even more special are sunrises. Not being a morning person, I see a lot fewer of the sun emerging out of night than I do of night overtaking the day.

The photo below was taken at 5:30 on a June morning in 2006, on the Atlantic shore of Rockport, Maine, boats gently pitching with light waves.

Maine Morning

I had been in Rockport taking an intensive week-long photography course at the Maine Workshops. That inspiring week was a turning point in my photography career. It was that week that I went from a default of ‘auto’ to ‘manual’, and I started to see shapes and colors and macro photography in new ways. One of many transformative experiences in my life.

Quite a few of those experiences have happened at or because of Burning Man. It is a place of strange and wonderful beauty, and which gives one innumerable chances to explore their personal boundaries. Many years, the only sunrises I see are at Burning Man. Below is a photo of my playa-covered Doc Martens, taken a few months later than the Maine picture, as my Lily and I are lounging in a cupcake out by the trash fence.

Playa Sunrise

(Related photos of Rockport, Maine can be found here.)

(Related photos of Burning Man 2006 can be found here.)

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Losing a Bet with Gravity at Burning Man

Posted by Ted on Nov 28, 2011 in Burning Man, Events

Looking at the back of one’s Burning Man ticket, the opening disclaimer reads;


After 7 years, I failed my saving throw against common sense by trying my untrained feet at the Black Rock Roller Disco on the very first night. At this theme camp, the only shoes that would fit were inline skates, which I had never worn before. Needless to say, my cavalier personality prevailed. I strapped them on and started off.

Lulled into confidence by a few successful revolutions of the dance floor, I came around a corner and whanged my own left knee with my right skate. I stopped, crawled to the racks, and hobbled with friends to the Shipwreck Tiki Lounge where I lessened the pain with a Mai Tai. Back at camp, I made some grilled cheese sandwiches in the back of a box truck, and upon plating my late-night sustenance, I turned around, at the knee mind you, and fell to the floor screaming.

That moment, now 13 weeks ago,
has been a defining moment in every moment since.

I stumbled through the rest of Burning Man using a cut-off piece of PVC as a walking stick, taking care of my knee as best as I could – visiting both the med tent and the Hee Bee Gee Bee healers, icing it when possible, taking tons of IBU, and vaguely trying to keep my weight off of it. At the same time, it was my burn, and wasn’t about to let it impact my enjoyment of experiencing the playa. One of the most painful consequences – emotionally and physically – was my inability to dance to Discofish or go on walkabout wearing bouncy stilts. Even with Acupuncture, it’s now three months later and I continue to take stairs slowly and my knee clicks in a rather disconcerting way.

You might think that counts as a failure, but it was still a great burn. That’s just the way the playa is – harsh, but worthwhile. After walking up to the Temple of Transition for the first time, I wrote the following in my journal;

“It is stunning this year. Beautiful. Moving. A perfect blend of several architectural styles. It brought tears to my eyes. Hobbled with a staff, I felt like a monk as my friends followed me. Suddenly, I asked for a marker and made for a section of wall lit from below. With emotion and conviction, I scrawled “MISS YOU MOM“.

Temple of Transition

Temple of Transition

Needless to say, the Temple was powerful. Every time I set foot near it, emotions welled up within me. The music of the Gamelatron would weave through my thoughts.

The best night may have been the very last. Sunday is usually one of people leaving early and the stressful anticipation of Exodus for the rest of us. It’s always a choice – watching the temple burn or leaving and hoping to avoid spending 8 hours in traffic. For me, there’s never a question. Tears streaked down my face during the burn;

“It was the most perfect burn ever. Each temple structure created its own vortex of flame that shot up into the heavens. As the temple burned, fire devils spun out and danced around, propelling everyone’s wishes skyward.”

What made this year’s burn even better was what happened afterwards. We and a number of our excellent campmates had biked out to the Temple with warm clothes and extra blankets. After the fire had died down we rode out to a perfect spot in the shadow of some christmas trees, threw down our sleeping bags, and had a sleepover. In deep playa. It was awesome. We got to enjoy our second desert sunrise of the week before packing up and returning to camp in order to head home.

Playa Sunrise

Playa Sunrise

There were many things that made this year a great burn, and most of them involved the exceptional people that we shared the week with.

The people, the art, and the freedom are the reasons we go.

It is that very same freedom that enabled me to walk up to a rack of skates in the middle of the desert and cripple myself. Throughout the burn, and every day since, I have hobbled on a weak knee because I lost bets with gravity and centrifugal force.

Was it worth it? Absolutely.

(Related photos of Burning Man 2011 can be found here.)

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Photo Friday: Temple of Transition

Posted by Ted on Sep 9, 2011 in Burning Man, Photography

Many burners would agree that one of the most important structures at Burning Man is The Temple, often more so than the central effigy himself. A tradition started in 2000 by artist David Best, each year’s temple is a massively collaborative project with dozens of workers spending weeks to build it, giving thousands of participants an opportunity to write notes to loved ones in the spirit world, let go of emotional baggage, or simply express wishes and hopes for the future. Whereas the burning of “The Man” on Saturday night is a big party, the burning of “The Temple” on Sunday night is more solemn and contemplative. In 2003, the first temple I saw was Best’s “Temple of Honor“, a paper mâché structure that burned fast and bright.

I have connected with some temples more than others over the intervening years, but this year’s Temple of Transition was something truly special. I approached it the first time at night, expansive and elegant. As I neared, details revealed themselves in the masterful blending of multiple architecture styles and the intricately cut panels which framed the large open doorways. When close enough that the six towers loomed overhead, I could hear the soothing melody of the Gamelatron emanating from the central structure.

We spent a lot of time at the temple this year, honoring parents and pets passed away. Even more powerfully, we found clarity in what our near-future goals are, which will be a path of hard work and compromise, but one in which we anticipate great rewards. On Sunday night, we biked out to the temple, and watched through tears of awe and hope as it burned. Its very design – tall open cylinders with plenty of air circulation – created columns of fire that rose up into the heavens.

Afterwards, our group of a dozen or so campers biked to an area of the open playa, laid our sleeping bags on the ground, and enjoyed our last night, talking, wandering, and waking up to watch the sunrise together.



Photo Friday: Man in the Mist

Posted by Ted on Aug 26, 2011 in Burning Man, Photography

Here in the Bay Area, the usual pre Burning Man buzz is palpable as fabric stores stock up on and sell out of fake fur, and REI sells out of Camelbaks. Almost 20,000 burners have now registered themselves with a new Facebook app called BurnerMap which (may) allow people to find their friends on playa easier.

As an experiment in being more self-sufficient, my wife and I have been prepping for the last couple of weeks, making delicious worldly foods such as Moroccan tajine, Italian baked beans, and Chinese congee and filling up our freezer. New clothes have been either made or picked up at a thrift store, and LED lights have been acquired and tested in order to decorate our bikes, our RV, and ourselves. Tomorrow we do our shopping for perishables and hit the road, spending the night in Reno before heading up Highway 447 in what will surely be an endless caravan of vehicles. I’m already looking forward to Indian tacos.

This photo from 2005 is one of my favorite images of “The Man”, standing on top of a fun house, a light wind picking up some playa along the way.

(Related pictures of Burning Man 2005 can be found here.)

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