Burning Man is about the many things I have described in this series of posts over the past few weeks… and much more. But ultimately, as the name suggests, it is about the burning of the Man. It is the single event that pulls the whole community together and provides closure for the Burning Man experience.
Black Rock City becomes a ghost town on Saturday evening as 50,000 Burners walk, climb on bikes and cram onto mutant vehicles (standing room only) in a mass exodus to the Playa. Best costumes are donned. Lights are applied. Two-way streets become clogged one-way thoroughfares.
The sun has set by the time members of the Horse-Bone Tribe have wrapped up dinner and used up several containers of light sticks decorating our steeds and selves. It is critically important to be seen as we wend our way though thousands of people over dark, dusty roads on our way out to the Man. We also need to see each other. Getting lost from the group is ever so easy.
Scout and Adios, two tribe members, have determined the best place to be. It isn’t about seeing; there isn’t a bad location. It’s about which way the wind blows. Downwind means dust and smoke, lots of it.
Preparations go on at the Man all day Saturday. Early in the morning the area is blocked off. If you haven’t already made your obligatory visit, it’s too late. All week people have been gathering at the Man during the day and using him as a beacon at night. Now he is being stuffed with fireworks and prepared to burn.
When we finally break out onto the Playa and approach the Man, we enter a surreal world of large concentric circles dominated by gloriously lit mutant vehicles, pounding music, fire, and swirling masses of dancing, gyrating, strolling costumed Burners.
Burning Man staff members have set up a rope barrier at a safe distance from the Man. Sitting next to it is considered a prime location and people show up hours early to get seats, i.e. to sit in the dirt. Behind the rope are several rows of seated people and then even more rows of standing people. Next is a broad walkway, a boulevard if you will, where Burners dance, show off costumes and make their way around the huge circle. Hundreds of mutant vehicles form the outer rim.
We arrive at our hopefully dust free site, secure our bikes, and split. While most of our group heads for the inner circle, Peggy and I stick to the boulevard. My rear has little tolerance for sitting in the dirt for two hours and I prefer the action of the boulevard. What we miss in watching fire dancers we will make up for in admiring the colorful mutant vehicles.
We can still see the fire dancers. Hundreds form groups inside of the rope barrier and each group has a drum-dominated band. Shortly after we arrive, the show begins as dozens of choreographed companies twirl poi balls, staffs and fans of flame. Participants have practiced all week, some all year and some for years. Peggy and I move in closer to watch the show and then return to the boulevard.
A brief silence descends as the fire dances end and the lighting ceremony commences. Flames leap upward in the structure surrounding the Man and fireworks shoot toward the sky. Suddenly the man bursts into flame accompanied by a great shout from the crowd. Huge tornado like dust storms go whirling off.
Sitting and standing Burners watch with rapt attention, waiting for the Man to fall, willing him to fall. Other Burners dance ecstatically in the boulevard and on top of mutant vehicles to music blasted out by the vehicles over ear shattering speakers.
And then suddenly quiet… an arm falls off. The end approaches. Dancers cease to gyrate. The ever-present music stops. The final moments are filled with respectful silence as the Man gives up his lofty perch and tumbles into the fire below bringing to a climatic end his annual trek to the Black Rock Desert.
Thus ends the 2012 Man and my coverage of the 2012 Burning Man. The Man will be back in 2013. As will I.
Next I honor a homeless man with a Chevy van and a bank account, visit the Oregon Coast, drop by Organ Pipe Cactus National Park, and take an 18 day raft trip through the beautiful Grand Canyon.I will finish off 2012 with a month-long exploration of the Mediterranean Sea with stop offs in Turkey, Greece, Croatia, Italy, France, Spain and Portugal.