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All The News That's Fit To Burn : 2005 Summer Newsletter

Participant Reflections

Though I'd read quite a bit on Burning Man and had friends who participated, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. I understood there'd be roving discos and nude hippies on bikes, but it was the ART that took me by surprise: amazing towering sculptures made of books that can be borrowed, self-reflective video installations, a human car-wash with bubble-bath scrubbers, a faux pond with solar lilies and sparkling fireflies, the most beautiful temple you've ever seen made of the spare parts from a wooden puzzle factory... I'll admit it - I was as excited as a four year old at the circus, but I was 35.

I grabbed the bike I'd bought for $15 and headed down Dogma Avenue. My first stop was about fifty feet from my campsite. "Advice Taken or Given," read the sign, and a young man in a robe waited to be joined. I stepped off the bike and sat next to him. "Hello. I'm Superprecious. Giving or taking?" I accepted some surprisingly good advice about my relationship with my brother, shared lemonade and a hug, and hit the road to my next adventure. Along the way I had a splendid glass of tea from the roving Chai Rickshaw, received a temporary tattoo, hit the Kissing Booth (and volunteered on the other side for a spell), ate from the Mobile Taco stand, [and] got a Savings account at Karmic Savings and Loan (I have good credit).

A group called the Animal Control Gang [ran by] in bright red jumpsuits, corralling stray "animals" - people dressed in animal costumes of any kind - and put them in a huge holding pen where they were alternately fed doggie biscuits (yummy scones) or beaten. One huge white rabbit ran in circles as a persistent Control officer chased him (her?) with a carrot dangling from a stick. Walking past the dozens of sad-faced furry beasts whimpering behind bars or trying to make a run for it was, for lack of a better word, zaniness.

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Another favorite encounter came after a long bike ride out to the middle of nowhere, when I saw what looked like golfers far in the distance. I rode farther to find, lo and behold, the Move Your Turf Zone: a nine-hole course where caddies give players a small piece of green sod to hit off, then take with them to their ball - as the entire terrain is a sand trap. Something country clubs in Vegas and Palm Springs should clearly consider. For those who desire structure, there's a schedule of events, [but the] best thing is to strap a water bottle to your hula skirt and head out in any direction. Let the festival come to you. Be ready to give and receive. And make sure to take the Man back with you: Our civilization - or lack thereof - needs you.

Michael A. Stusser

I had already decided to go to Burning Man when my mother died in January 2004 of Alzheimer's. I longed to go. I wanted something to remember in my 60th year. I dreamed of floating on the playa in swirling robes of white cotton, each day becoming covered with more stars; I would have giant pockets with magic markers and would hang out at the mythical Temple of Stars and invite all burners to draw a star on my robe. I would be silent. I would meditate. I would eat dried fruits and nuts and drink tea and draw stars, all week. I would take my camera and Remember, Remember. I would embrace the Desert. I would remember my mom, a Texas girl of the chaparral and the arroyos. It would be very spiritual.

It didn't turn out that way.

A Bee crept in, flew in to these plans, and started buzzing. By June, there were six of us, devoted bees, building an art car and her hive. She was a VW neo-bug, bright yellow. She sprouted wings. She grew plush fur in wavy stripes of black. Antennae appeared. Blue lights mysteriously emitted from below. She was beautiful. And her hive: 150 feet of yellow light rope, outlining a hive parachuted in stretchy yellow nylon atop a trailer painted in blackboard paint (for the spelling bees) and playing music of the BeeGees, the B52's, Bee-thoven, and the Flight of the Bumblebee, among many. All eight tires of the vehicles sported yellow and black spirals that amazed the eye as we moved. And of course we had costumes, several each. It took all summer.

Then, August 7, my father drowned. I rushed back to Texas and joined my siblings in a new round of grief and efficiency. I couldn't think or feel for a week. When I returned to San Francisco, my Bees surrounded me. There was still a lot of work to do before Playa time. We sewed, we glued, we stenciled bees on everything. We tested the lights. I put everything in ziplock bags. And then, at 3 AM on the appointed night, we set out. My first look at the playa was in a huge dust storm. We set up camp in high wind. The poor little Beemobile was already dusty. Things improved after that initial travail, and that night was a magic sunset.

After that, everything was magic. I woke up each morning before dawn, applied my Dr. Bronner's to my feet, put on my turban and my goggles, put my camera and my bottle of green tea in my fanny pack, and set out on the playa, taking pictures all the way. Each day I reached the fence in early sunlight, and did a round of Tai Chi way out on the playa. Each day I watched people build the Temple of Stars, and photographed the Man in slanting light, and walked until my tea was gone before returning to camp, at 444 Uranus. By then my fellow Bees were awake, and we made breakfast. My idea of eating fruits and nuts sparingly just didn't happen. The first breakfast was bacon and eggs with toast fried in the bacon grease (O My Gawd!) along with lattes avec steamed milk. The second day we had cherry chocolate pancakes. Every meal was a feast. Friday night we had a Tequila Tasting.

The night of the burn we donned our best Bee costumes and set out with our entire camp aboard. People hopped on as we crossed the playa to get a good spot. The music got us all dancing. I was moved to gasps and giggles and screams. The hive was jumping! In my perch atop the VW Bee bug, I was The Queen! The Man burned. I shed tears of awe and delight. I wept openly for the first time since my parents died: no holding back, screaming and crying all the way. The next morning before dawn, I set out for the Temple of Stars. I got there when the shadows were still long, and listened to Tibetan Bowl Bells. I walked up on the platform, and read many memorials. I stayed there quite a while. Then I fixed my mom and dad's images to the Temple, and walked away. I stood on the spot where the Man had burned the night before, and watched two children pick up still warm remnants of twisted metal. We couldn't stay for the Temple burn. People had to get back to work. We arrived in San Francisco at 2 AM. I can still smell the playa dust at odd times. I will be back. Thanks to my Bee team: Lucky, Luzita, Ralph, Cork, and Meaux.

Phoebe McAfee (Phoebeeeeee)