This is Burning Man

Trip Start Jun 01, 2011
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Trip End Ongoing


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Flag of United States  , Nevada
Tuesday, September 6, 2011

This is Burning Man.

I might as well stop there.  Indescribable.  Inconceivable.  My words and descriptions here will be about as effective as taking a picture of a pile of floor dust and showing it to someone and saying, "This is Mount Everest."

This is Burning Man.

Picking up two hitch-hikers south of Eugene at 12am on the way.  Josh, in the back, slept the whole 2-hour drive to Grant's Pass.  The other, Vivian, up front with me.  Talked and talked and talked and talked.... literally there was not a single moment of silence and I got about 2 minutes of talking in during the whole drive.  She's Native American, and apparently they call her "Talks a Lot."  I can't imagine why.  Her stories like never-ending cul-de-sacs, around and around and around and around, saying the same three points over and over and over.  She lit a cigarette that she never once took a drag from she was so busy talking.  'I hope this is not a precursor to what the week will look like,' I thought to myself.

This is Burning Man.

Driving into the pitch darkness of the Black Rock Desert, feeling the energy build as the distance to Black Rock City shrinks.  Showing up at 11:30 at night, three nights in to the festival, and still having to wait an hour and a half at the gate.  Honking and loud music, party in the line.  All "virgins" get out of their vehicle, roll on the the ground, hit a large bell with a stick and scream, "I am a virgin no longer!!!"

This is Burning Man.

Hopping on a bike at 1 in the morning and riding, riding, riding for 3 consecutive hours looking for your friends in a sea of 50,000 people, 20,000 bikes, dozens of Art Cars, every sense vastly overstimulated by the noises and sights and colors and fire and things that the mind cannot quite comprehend.  And all while sober.

This is Burning Man.

Coming across the Temple at 2 in the morning.  The sacred space.  A spiritual mecca within Black Rock City itself.  Walking close, I could feel thick in the air, thick in my being, dozens of beautiful souls brought there to pray, to meditate, to mourn, to rest, to cry.  Souls and hearts and energies filling the night like a swarm of insects.  It was tangible.  Palatable.  I could feel every single person, individuals, united in this place of peace, this place of love.  No church or temple I have ever stepped inside has ever felt so close to the Heart of God, the Heart of Love.

This is Burning Man.

Still at the temple, on the upper level.  Music coming from below.  Gongs and bells and something that sounds like a tambourine.  I wanted to see the people, so I went to the ground level to look in.  Dozens of people sitting, laying, but not instruments.  I saw, on the walls, bells and gong-like shields, being struck and played by ghosts, moving and shaking on their own, each resounding note also emitting a faint red light.  My skin melted away and I stood there bare, stripped of any knowledge I had of the world, simple amazed and in awe of how something like this could be thought up, created, and executed so perfectly.

This is Burning Man.

Hugs.  Lots and lots of hugs.  At just about any given time at any given place within the Burning Man boundaries, it was quite probable to see people hugging.  Partially due to the fact that, at any given time, a quarter of the Black Rock City population was rolling Ecstasy.  Quite often in a crowd I would see two people (sometimes more) fully embraced, like lovers, arms wrapped fully around the other, eyes closed, smiles of supreme elation from ear to ear.  10, 20, 30 seconds… slowly they would separate, peeling apart like stickers, look in the others' eyes, and lovingly smile in gratitude and contentment.  And, quite often, moments later at least one of the parties, drunk of happiness, would turn to the next nearest person, and the whole process would repeat.  Free Hugs.  Everywhere.  Practically expected.  The best thing about giving a lot of hugs: you get a lot of hugs.

This is Burning Man.

Dr Bronner's All in One Ark.  Getting in to a large glass box with about a dozen other naked people.  Half of the people hold hoses which, after a goggles warning and countdown, spray down the entire container and all of its temporary inhabitants with Peppermint Soap suds for 15 or 15 seconds.  After the assault is complete, participants are given a minute or two to scrub themselves (or others) down, removing days' worth of sweat and Playa dust.  Next up: rinse.  One shower head for about every three people, so sharing is encouraged and inevitable.  Holding the shower head for your companions to rinse their head, buttocks, and other tough to reach places.  The favor is returned.  Surrounded by females, random hands wiping bits of soap off of my body were not offensive in the least.  Like cattle, happy, laughing cattle, no longer nervous from the initial herding, we shuffle out of the box to redress or, for the brave, meander to the dance floor for some air drying.

This is Burning Man.

Art Cars.  Every size and shape.  Anything from a golf cart with simple wings and a tail attached to a stretched bus converted into a giant ship.  No rhyme.  No reason.  Occasional stops for people to dismount or hop on for a ride to the next undisclosed and random stop.  Carts, jeeps, trucks, buses, flatbeds... Elephant, scorpion, praying mantis, dragon, Japanimation beetle, pile of sticks, Robot Heart, all sorts of bugs and unrecognizable critters, shopping cart, numerous boats, the playground with a mini merry go round and a slide to get out, fire-breathing octopus thing...  Lights and sounds.  The sound systems on some of these blow away pretty much any venue I have ever been to.  Some of the larger ones occasionally stop and set up camp in the middle of the Playa for a few hours - huge crowds congregating for a temporary dance club.  When the car moves, the crowd follows, often partying and dancing on the move.

This is Burning Man.

Kissing a man to discover (more like reaffirm) that I am completely, undeniably, absolutely, incredibly, exclusively, incomprehensibly, fully, wholly, utterly, entirely and thoroughly heterosexual.  I'm sure there are those who are reading this who will think differently and perhaps even think less of me, but I have no shame, no regret, but rather I feel more comfortable with who I am.

This is Burning Man.

Wanting, at 4 in the morning, to just ride into the darkness, away from Black Rock City, just because.  Coming across a 2-story structure built with no nails, no screws, no metal - just an enormous, three-dimensional jigsaw puzzle, with stairs and platforms for people to climb and rest on.  In fact, three people were asleep on different platforms when I arrived at 4:30.  Bee larvae asleep in a giant, three-dimensional honeycomb.  Top level - a single pad, large enough for just a few people.  I sat admiring the darkness, the utter, utter blackness of the desert.  A night so dark that every prior night in history writhes in jealousy.  Looking up at the stars.  Cold.  Slight shiver.  But happy.  Praying, meditating, letting myself be open, love and be loved, see and be seen.  A piano was on the ground below.  Out of the dark, out of the cold, out of the faint sound of the lively city far away - Für Elise begins to play on the piano by the hands of a Black Rock citizen.  Beautiful.  Eerie.  Frightening.  Soothing.  I could not help but smile, almost laugh, much as I am even now just thinking about how incredibly touching and perfect the moment was.  'I am the only person on earth having this experience right now,' I thought, strong feelings of thanks and gratitude flowing through my entire body.  Then again, there are 50,000 other people in this valley having their own experiences, millions more in this country, billions more beyond, every moment, every life, a new, unique, valuable memory.

This is Burning Man.

Suddenly, as Dave Brubeck's Take Five was being played on the Piano of the Night, I saw in the eastern sky a far-off glow.  Just 10 minutes prior the sky was completely black, as if light would never prevail again, and now here was this glow?!  I had often heard the saying 'The night is darkest before dawn,' but now truly experienced it to be true.

This is Burning Man.

Out this late anyway, might as well stay for the sunrise.  I'm just going to ride east as far as I can.  Gave blessings to the lovely pianist, hopped on bike, gained momentum, hands in pockets (so cold!), ride, ride, ride.  Fence.  Fence?!  Ironic that Burning Man has a fence.  What the hell.  Just a short, mesh boundary, so I stepped over with my bike.  Ride, ride, ride.  Headlights far far off the the left, wandering back and forth.  Curious.  Probably nothing to worry about.  Ride, ride.  Headlights getting closer, in my general direction.  Last entry I mentioned listening to your body.  Well, my gut SCREAMED to turn around.  Recognizing that it was my gut and not just my head, I immediately turned around and beelined back toward the fence.  Every second felt like a minute as the headlights grew closer and closer.  Shit shit shit!  There!  The fence, just a shade darker than the surrounding playa.  Hope over, head 50 feet in, then turn, riding parallel to the fence.  At this point, the headlights were only a hundred yards off, heading right toward me.  The vehicle turned, riding parallel to me, just on the other side of the fence.  Followed for a few seconds, then accelerated along the fenceline into the distance.  Border patrol.  If I had not listened to my gut, I would have been caught outside the boundary, and likely accused as someone trying to sneak in.  Thank you, gut!  Continuing to ride along the fence, the ground finally beginning to take shape.  Light in the distance, right along the fence.  An art display?  Odd.  Ride closer, closer, still too dark to see anything other than the lone light.  Just seconds before overtaking it, the silhouette of a bicycle creeps from the darkness, the light fastened to its frame.  No owner in sight.  Completely abandoned, alone, at the edge of Burning Man.

This is Burning Man.

Another 10 minutes I was at the furthest point.  This will be a good place to watch the sunrise.  Dismount.  Photo shoot.  Cold.  Still so cold.  Just as the night is darkest before dawn, it is also the coldest just before dawn.  I sit at the fence, cross-legged, hands on knees, eyes closed, breathe, and meditate.  Cold feet.  Uncomfortably cold.  With a still mind, on each in-breath I imagined breathing in heat - from the earth, from the atmosphere, from the sun and far-off stars.  On exhale - send it into my feet.  Again.  Breathe in warmth, exhale to the feet.  Again.  What felt like someone injecting warm fluid into my veins, I felt warmth flow into my feet.  My eyes shot open.  I smiled.  I laughed.  Not at all surprised that such a thing could happen, but indeed surprised that I was somehow able to make it happen, nay, to let it happen, to invite it, to welcome it.

This is Burning Man.

The world growing lighter, more and more people trickling from the busy city and coming to the fence to see the start of the new day.  I laid on my back to look up at the sky.  I never noticed before, but the color of the sky at dawn is completely different and completely unique.  Deeper, thicker, more pure, more complex.  If ever I found a woman whose eyes were the color of that dawn sky, surely I would never blink again.  So lovely.  So inviting.  Warm and welcoming and peaceful.  A dear friend gave me a New Year's tarot reading at the start of the year.  It is a certain pattern of cards, each one designating something very particular.  Her interpretation was that this year would be a path and a quest for the Divine, for my idea of the Divine.  I had this on my mind while I lost myself in the purest sky my eyes have ever seen.  I looked, deeper and deeper, not knowing what I was looking at or looking for but feeling like there was something there (no, I was not on any drugs at the time).  I looked and looked and suddenly, though I did not see anything, I felt something.  A presence not visible, but present nonetheless.  As if seeing a face that I knew and recognized, but had not seen in a very long time, I said aloud the first words that came to mind: "Hello, Mother."  Just as I have been learning to listen to my gut and my soul and learning that they indeed have a voice, this phrase, these two simple words, came from that same voice.  This voice that senses and recognizes things much more truly and deeply than my sentient being ever could.  Uncontrollably, warm tears formed in my eyes and formed gentle streams flowing down my head, passed my temples, to my ears and the back of my neck.  Solid streams gushed out of each eye as I lay there on my back, laughing, content and warm, careless, basking in the presence of my Divine Mother, as she blessed another day with the rising of the sun over the Black Rock Desert.

This is Burning Man.

That would be the first of 4 consecutive sunrises I watched, with maybe a total of 15 hours sleep between. 
  - That night I met up with my friends and we danced through the night.  Countless dance floors and clubs and art cars, 30 minutes at a time, wander toward the next source of music, repeat.  That dawn we went to the Temple for the sunrise.  Each day, at sunrise and sunset, someone played the Earth Harp.  A humongous stringed instrument, about a dozen cables ran from a common tower and connected at different points of the temple, each cable tuned to a different note.  A serene crowd gathered.  Brighter, brighter, brighter.... and in an instant the first bright blinding rays pierced through the temple and the harpist began to play.  Channeled through a simple speaker system, the cello-like sound of the Earth Harp welcomed the new day.  My friends left to go to sleep, but I decided to stay for a while.  I saw a woman sitting alone on a bench, looking content and comfortable, inviting, wearing a fuzzy blue jacket.  We made eye contact and smiled.  I sat next to her and bashfully asked if I could give her a hug.  "Sure," she smiled, and I put my arms around her for a quick side hug.  Not planning anything further, we chatted a bit, talking of nothing and everything.  Catherine.  She offered me a dried mango slice.  We walked a little.  "So, this might seem crazy, but then again - everything does out here, but I was hoping to kiss someone at sunrise, so even though I'm a little late, I was wondering if I might kiss you."  She smiled and half chuckled.  'Well, were you thinking like on lips or on the cheek?"  I told her I'd like to kiss her lips.  "Huh... I'll have to think about that," and she ate a mango slice.  I filled the space with a little more conversation, talking more of nothing and everything.  A minute passed, her mango gone, she looked at me gently but confidently and said, "Ok.  You can kiss me."  Simple, just lips and a small embrace, but it perfectly completed the moment.  "Have a wonderful day," she said.  "Have a wonderful life!" in reply.  She then said something else to me, and for the life of me I cannot remember the words, because I was instantly so overtaken by the sense that I knew her, that we had met before.  I could tell that she saw the flash in my eyes as she started to turn away.  "Have we met before?"  I swear I knew her.  "Nope."  The way she said it made it seem like she knew something I didn't.  And she walked away.  I just watched for a few moments, a whirlwind of thoughts and memories in my head, trying to find the one that matched.  I still have not found the match, but I know, at some point, somewhere, whether in this life or in some other, it was not our first crossing.

This is Burning Man.

The next morning was the last morning of Burning Man.  5AM, up all night with friends, wanting to get one more good round of dancing in.  Hopped on my trusty bike and eventually found one of the few remaining DJs.    Tribal and funk and a little house as a few dozen souls performed a sun dance.  With just minutes to go, I rode out into the Playa to one of the art exhibits - 3-dimensional metal letters that spelled L-O-V-E.  A woman had a camera set up to take photos of LOVE with the sun rising in the background.  "Excuse me - but would you mind if I climbed and sat on one of the letters?"  "No, that's ok."  Somehow I reached the top of the left leg of the V unscathed (cowboy boots aren't meaning for scrambling up metal).  As two mornings earlier, I sat cross-legged, upright, and just breathed, enjoying the stillness and just letting myself be completely in the moment.  Nothing overwhelming.  Nothing life-changing.  But a wonderful way to welcome the day, nonetheless.  I went back to the woman and thanked her.  She told me that she actually really likes how the photos turned out with me, sitting on LOVE as the day crept in.

This is Burning Man.

"Hey do you want some quesadilla?"  My neighbors, three delightful folks from Vancouver, British Columbia, had a large tent set up and were having a bit of a block party.  It was early afternoon, and ridiculously too hot to do anything other than sit in the shade of a tent, eat, drink, and be merry.  Myself, three Canucks, a lovely Kiwi belle, four girls camped just beyond, as well as a number of passersby that we recruited, including a group of guys that called themselves the "Wolf Pack", a poor sloppy girl who could hardly walk, and a man who had just parachuted into Black Rock City and hadn't even gotten to his camp yet.  The tent was a blast: music, dancing, beer, gin, whiskey, kissing, hickies, topless girls, guys in underwear and skirts, even a little tai chi.  We first discovered that using a small, hand-held fan to project water from a mini spray bottle brought relief from the heat (rocket science, I know).  Soon, I discovered the full size spray bottle, and my engineer mind quickly went to work when I saw the electric fan.  I helplessly (though willingly) fell in to the role of greeting all newcomers to the tent with a good, high-powered water spritzing.  Oblivious to the scorching world outside the tent, from time to time, I would feel compelled to get up - spray bottle in one hand, fan in the other - and move as far as the electric cord would allow, shooting a few bursts of water toward each of the tent's inhabitants and then blow it into them using the fan.  Upon spraying the group of girls gathered in the tent, they all started writhing and screaming my name, making me blush and feel like an embarrassed schoolboy.

This is Burning Man.

Exhausted after the party, I knew that I would need a rest before joining my friends at their camp to go watch the main event - the burning of the man.  I sat in the cab of my truck for a quick nap.  I woke at dusk.  Gotta get moving!  I opened the door, stood up, and immediately almost fell over.  'Wow, I got way more drunk than I thought.  I can't ride my bike like this, I don't even think I can walk...'  I sat back down in my truck and leaned over into the passenger side, unintentionally falling back asleep.  I woke again.  Black.  Oh shit.  I looked at the time.  11:42.  The burn was scheduled for 10 o'clock.  Oops.  Sober now, I ate some food and headed to my friends' camp.  "Brett Harrison!!!  Where were you?!?!"  "Um... sleeping..."  "What??!!  You were sleeping?!?!  Do you know what this event is called??!!  Do you know why we come here?!?!"  I tried to explain to her, "Well, think of it this way: how many people got to see the Man burn tonight?  45,000?  Maybe more?  Ok, now how many people slept through it?  Maybe a couple dozen?  I got to experience something that hardly anyone else here got to."  So, yes, on my first trip to Burning Man, I slept through the burning man.

This is Burning Man.

Thought the event technically ended Monday, I decided to wait to leave and hopefully avoid the lines and caravans out of the desert.  I woke Tuesday at 5AM to start the drive, not alone, but far from busy.  Three miles of horribly washboard roads put me on the asphalt just about the same time the sun rose again over the remains of the city, slowly breaking down and shrinking, returning, in pieces, back to the "real world" for another year.

This is Burning Man.

The reason I wanted to go to Burning Man was because of the community that I had heard so much about.  As with everything, even my best expectations could not prepare me.  There is no "type" of person that Burning Man is for - it is open to everyone.  Young, old, religious, atheist, hippie, businessman, clothed, naked, liberal, conservative (well...), daytime sightseer, nighttime raver, artist, musician, engineer, teacher, unemployed, doctor, real estate agent, fireman, waitress...  A place of no shame, no judgment.  No matter how you dressed, what you looked like, how you danced, if you decided to just lay in the middle of the playa, sing at random, skip, hold hands, piggyback, watch the sunrise with serene tears, watch the sunrise with hoops and hoots, trip your balls off with countless substances, honor a loved one at the Temple... nobody cared.  It felt to unbelievably good to just dance and dance and dance, whether or not I dance "well", to just dance how I wanted, allowing my body to just capture the music, meld with it, and use itself to translate that music into an expression to the physical world.  I learned that dancing is simply full-body sign language, and expression of a deeper idea within the soul.  I left
Burning Man with more water than I arrived with.  I was invited to numerous meals, hardly needed to tap into my own supplies.  The hot Black Rock Desert air, for a week of the year, becomes richly saturated in love, compassion, forgiveness, grace, and the pure, simple beauty of the human soul.

This... is Burning Man.
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Comments

Whiskey lover on

Your words are enticing, yet your experiences sell it. I sense a great deal of truth in your statement regarding how I would enjoy the event. It sounds tantalizing. Like a delicious sundae. A really damn good sundae. Phenomenal commentary. I just hope you took some pictures for the 60-somethings that giggled at the thought.

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