I introduced the Man in my last blog. Now it is time to join him for his fiery end, the quintessential event Larry Harvey created in 1986 that gives Burning Man its name. Think show. Think ritual. Think party. Think three-ring circus. It’s the one event at Burning Man that pulls everyone together at the same time. Saturday night is Burn Night.
Preparations for the 2014 burn began hours earlier. The market surrounding the Man was closed down and packed away, the area was roped off, and the Man was prepared to burn. Firewood was stacked around his feet. Fireworks were stuffed everywhere else.
Sometime around six, the residents of Black Rock City begin their preparations. Dinner is eaten; costumes are donned; people and bikes are decked out in lights. (I’d love to have a concession that sells glow sticks to Burners.) The dozens, even hundreds of venues that provide free entertainment are shut down. Large and small camps provide final instructions. Are their members traveling by mutant vehicle, bike or foot? Will the bikers and hikers stay together? How? It is ever so easy to get lost in a rowdy crowd of 65,000 people.
And then the parade (or is pilgrimage a better word?) begins. Large mutant vehicles that hold dozens of dancing, gyrating Burners move out early, eager to find prime locations and begin blasting out ear-splitting, industrial-grade music. Hundreds of performers also head for the Man to find their assigned places inside the huge circle surrounding the Man. Next come the folks who hope to sit close to the circle and have the best views of the fire dancers and burn.
And finally, everyone else. Dark streets become clogged with gaily decorated, lit-up bikes and Burners journeying out into the Playa. Somehow they avoid running into each other. By 8 pm Black Rock City has become vacant, a ghost town.
For the past several years I’ve chosen to walk around the perimeter of the circle. My body has lost its sense of humor for sitting in the dirt for hours. Even now, my tailbone screams at the idea. Plus, there is a lot to see. Burners, dressed up in their finest costumes, stroll and dance around the circle. It’s prime time for people watching. But what really captures my imagination are the mutant vehicles stretching for two miles around the Man. Every vehicle is lit up for the night and many belch fire. Dozens form large viewing and dancing platforms. There are ships and trains and dragons and bugs and almost everything else the human imagination can create. Or at least it seems that way to me.
As for the burning of the Man, it follows a ritualized pattern. The fire dancers twirl fire, drummers drum, the Man raises his arms, fireworks go off, the Man burns, and finally he falls to his fiery grave as 65,000 people first go quiet and then shout in celebration.
Normally we return home sometime in the night after the Man has burned. But this year we stayed around and visited the site the next morning. Much to our amusement, people were cooking meals over the remaining flames and heat.