Yesterday morning at ten a.m., the gates to Black Rock City officially opened for the 2014 Burning Man event. (That link will take you to the “What is Burning Man” page, for those who do not know. I am not in a place to describe it, as I have never been. But that site will give you a good overview.)
The gates then closed unexpectedly again this morning, as a giant thunderstorm swept through the Nevada desert turning the entire Playa to mud, making it impassable for the 70,000 some-odd attendees to drive in and set up camp.
The only reason I am not there now – sitting in a giant immovable car line with like-minded festival goers – is that my dad decided we shouldn’t go right after his chemo treatments were over. He finished August 7th, and is slowly recovering. While I look at the chaos, I am inclined to think it was a blessing we didn’t go this year. I am also a little sad to be missing the experience that is drawing me to the event in the first place.
Although everyone who knows about it has an opinion (it’s full of dirty hippies, it’s a giant orgy, it’s no longer relevant now that the rich people are going, there are too many drugs, it’s just another music festival but more work, you have to get naked, …), I have talked to enough people who have actually gone to realize that it is all of these and none of them. What I know is that it is an adventure. And I want to go.
What I will miss this year mostly is The Embrace – a sculpture of two people emerging out of the desert floor. Inside are spiral stairs that allow people to climb to the top of this 72-foot structure and look out over the mountains. I saw the drawings a few months ago, and have spent a good part of the day watching the live feed from the Playa hoping to catch a glimpse of this impressive undertaking. It will not be there next year. Here is a description from their site: “The interior will consist of two cavernous, cathedral-like spaces, one inside each body, with ornate, Gaudi-esque elements including chandeliers in the shape of human-hearts, the size of Mini Coopers.”
Can you imagine?
When I hear the stories of people who have braved the sand-storms, the searing desert heat, the hours upon hours of waiting in line to get in (even on a normal year), the inability to shower, or sleep, or cool off…I admit I get a bit wary. And the crowds. I’m not a crowd person. I need space and alone time and quiet. I also like to be clean and well-rested. Even watching the live webfeed last night, I got a little overwhelmed. And I was sitting in my living room in my pjs.
There are many decisions to make between now and next year, because there are so many ways to do Burning Man. (Apparently for the elite, you can spend $25,000 for a fully functioning camp, catered meals, and showers. I’m not going that route. )
It’s a week-long event, but you don’t have to go for the entire time. You can easily show up Wednesday or Thursday and go home Monday morning. You can sleep in a tent or you can bring an RV. You do have to bring all your own food and water (lots and lots of water). And somehow secure tickets. And you have to choose your companions.
My dad is the clear driver behind going, so I’m pretty certain he’s in. My mom and Joe are still firmly rooted on the “Why would you want to do that?” side of the fence, and from what I have learned in the past few months, it is not advisable to go to Burning Man unless you really really really want to go. It’s a bit like hiking the Grand Canyon. Pain, discomfort, crazy expense, and inconvenience are all part of the experience. Julie, who has been dragged to the Grand Canyon hikes by my dad in the past, is another likely attendee.
Why do people do this then?
Because on top of all the difficulty, they also experience Beauty. Community. Love. Transcendence. This is what I am hoping to find next year when I go.
I went to church yesterday and Reverend Susan talked about how our faith calls us to constantly search for Truth by pushing past the stagnant pools of conformity and tradition (I think this is paraphrased from Milton). And in the end the Truth is manifested when we live it. My hope next year is to dwell in a community of people who understand this idea and practice it out in the middle of nowhere for one short week at the end of the summer.
Until then, I’ll just keep watching the live feed and saving up for my Airstream trailer.