This will be the last blog dedicated to Burning Man although I am sure that references will enter others. I have written two previous posts (Creative Soul Explosion In The Desert,9.15 and Burning Man -The Art of Gratitude,9.21) but it was my mother who asked, ‘What did you do all day?’ Good question. So this will be a more factual recalling (albeit in images and thoughts rather than journal form) and by the very nature of Burning Man the other aspects will weave through the narrative.

It is also very long… I have given it headings, the easier for you sort through. At the end is a link to photos taken by one of our camp group.

Every deeply experienced event has an image that encapsulates it. For me at Burning Man this year it was the 40foot steel mesh sculpture of the dancing woman, one foot firmly anchored into the playa and the rest of her in celebration in the sky. Her head is turned toward us on the ground, all her energy sweeps upward. She is different from every angle, and at night she glows with changing colors. 24/7 she was a towering beacon of joy from anywhere on the playa, right on through the morning we drove away, out of the playa.

The name of this always visible art piece is Bliss Dance, created by Marco Cochrane. Look at the images on his website, by Googling and on the Burning Man site. Hold that in your minds’ eye as you read the rest of this blog post. She is both your anchor and your liftoff for imagination.

Arrival/Camp

We arrived on Monday under cloudy skies that, five cars from the final greeter’s entrance, gave us rain. Everything stops on the playa in the wet because, well, movement soon becomes impossible. No matter – we are here, the dust is tamped down, it isn’t horribly hot and people are happy.

Then, through the rain and the sun, emerged the most extra-ordinarily bright, almost neon rainbow! In triplicate. A welcome if ever there was one. A reminder, it could be taken, to slow down, things will unfold, look all around you, smell the air, hear the people, breathe!!

Cruising the half circle to our destination, Detroit and 8.10, tents, buses, cars, bikes and structures were going up all over the place. Our particular place in the Black Rock City consisted of an old Dodge Van (set up for sleeping) with an awning both over it and set out to form a shaded open room with table, chairs, kitchen and cooler; 2 small tents for ‘the youth’, a tent for costumes and the camp shower (on a plastic water-catching device.)

We shared this site with two other vehicles, 2 more tents, another shaded open room with table and chairs and cooking gear, and a large mobile home. (To which we anchored the Costume tent!) The next day another mobile home with friends backed in next to us and set up their open front room. Various satellite tents and other vans filled in the spaces directly around us. This was the family we were for the week.

Monday night, after the initial set up (to be fully accomplished the next day) we set off on the bikes to get our bearings. More precisely, for my long time burner friend to delight in showing me what my mind had never imagined. A city of 50,000 growing up with music, colored lights and bursts of flame beneath ancient hills on an endless playa!

A Word About Bikes.

They are essential out there. First of all no-one drives unless they have gone to the creative and practical trouble of creating an art car/bus/golf cart. (And that means with a theme/look, music and lights. Some incorporated flame and some were simply about flame… ) So to see this city and make it regularly to the Esplanade you need a bike.

[The Esplanade: the inner curve from which the city grows in ordered curved rows bisected by straight streets, leads onto the central playa – on which art pieces proliferated all week. It is in itself one event after another, from pounding music and dance venues, to hookah tents and art structures to climb, medical and information tents, and the grand Center Camp itself, with performance spaces, sofas and cushions, walls on which to add your words. (wdydwyd),  and more.]

Bikes were for me a terrifying Must. Last time I had been on one was about 8 years ago (after about 20 years) and I had fallen off it within the first 10 minutes snapping my collarbone. I was nervous to say the least. While there was good medical support and tiny airport, (growing up annually on the edge of Black Rock City this few weeks of the year for Burning Man) I did not want to avail myself of that service!

However, I soon realized that wobbling along on a bike and narrowly missing happy, amazingly attired people is a great way to meet them. I didn’t hurt anyone and I did get much better. (Especially once we corrected the axle wriggle and the steering issue!) I also found that dressed in whatever I felt like, (animal-print coats, garter belt, knickers or not), had the effect of completely relaxing me into whatever the bike riding moments brought.

I do have to own that I never really relaxed at night. Surrounded by the myriad of colored lights stationary and moving about me, bikes without headlamps careening out of the dark (although most lit in some way), and riders who were blithely confident that somehow a collision would be avoided no matter who was on the left (or not) almost paralyzed me. I simply forced myself to keep breathing, and with my eyes on the colored fluttering high-tail of my friends’ bike ahead of me, to go!

Added to which, at night there is no way of telling until you are in it, if this is a hard bit of the playa or one of the dunes you ride into and then out of which you struggle, ideally without having to climb off and drag then bike through it! (Because that meant getting back on and started again, a most difficult maneuver for me!)

We did the playa night-bike-ride most nights. I loved heading out to center of the playa away from the frenetic riders and noise, where there were fewer people and I could feel the wind on my face, going fast enough to keep the darned bike upright! Of course, nights are also Very Cold and another advantage of being out there was pushing through the sand, proudly using only my legs to force the wheels around and staying warm.

Each night went something like this: seeing or remembering hearing about, or wanting to re-visit something way off. Often accidentally arriving at some other faraway, incredible, lit work of art, such as wandering into a beautiful rounded piece of art to acoustic music playing unexpectedly in the night. Transfixed again by the Man, or the Dancing Lady. And then, suddenly COLD, pedaling madly back, orienting the way by a certain flaming work of art as the pointer to our main street back toward home.

Mind-Altering Substance – or not

In spite of the literally nonstop techno-music, which sometimes came nearer when an art car/bus would drive up the street, going to sleep was peaceful, complete and restful. And it wasn’t alcohol or drugs. Not as a statement for or against the use of mind-altering substances for or by others, but for my own choice of experience, I did not indulge in anything other than the late afternoon beer watching the parade, and a G&T or a couple of Johnny Walker shots at night.

[Well, except one afternoon during the nearest we had to a whiteout, masses of white dust whipped up and about by winds across the playa. We found ourselves on a sofa under a brightly colored tent imbibing a couple of the most startling rum and cokes. (Memories of my late teen years in Australia!) But not so much I could not ride that bike back, in a costume through the now weakening dust and find my home. (My guide had wobbled off ahead too fast for me in his endeavor to get back before he crashed!) After a short nap (!), I was tossing dinner together for various assorted, and we were out on the playa again that night.]

I chose not to take anything because I wanted to connect with this experience as Me and with it as It – no filters, nothing between me and the Burning Man experience, no enhancement necessary!  (Also, I did not want to risk passing out and missing ANYTHING!)

Sound

That sound is constant. Some people call it the Heart Beat of the Black Rock City. For me it was more a lid that contained us all within the designated place on the playa. Much like the thin orange plastic perimeter fence defined the physical space, this seemed to define and contain the energetic field created in this unique world this one week.

The lid of sound reminded me of those big silver covers that sit over the turkey until we carve it at the table. The constant beat kept us warm and safe and prevented us from all flying away somehow. Certainly it meant the rest of the desert, maybe even the planet, could enjoy our ritual celebratory replenishing dance with our creative spirits without being invaded by it.

The perimeter (nine miles I was told) that marked the playground, also served as a reminder to others not to sneak in.  More so, I thought, it assisted in anchoring us to the specific Burning Man environment, and as such it was a welcome parameter in which to be free.

I rode out to the perimeter three times during the week. The first was the day after I arrived, taking a break from the detailed and, ultimately, most welcome camp setting up. (Bless the covered outdoor living room and kitchen!) I rode out to 12o’clock, and looked back in wonder at the swirling, dusty circle way across the flat expanse sprouting art structures. And it was silent. The sound was sitting under that invisible lid. I could see it all and not hear anything.

Looking the other way, over the ‘fence’ to the hills and flat white expanse beyond, I truly felt that the playground we had been loaned on which to play was exactly that, and a gift.

Later in the week, I went out there for two hours and rode most of the perimeter. After days of nonstop people, noise, stimulation and given that my usual way of living includes much alone time, I was getting a bit tight. I took the bike and went. Saw ten people, spoke with one (all of us had that ‘need to be alone’ look!) and came back ready to engage the dance again. I had to re-earth myself in order to keep flying.

The last full day we were there, Monday a week later, I rode with my burner friend out to 12 o’clock again. In eight years he had never been out there. I felt like an old timer. ‘Here is the quiet place.’ We rode back along two of the five? eight? sided fence lines, a much patrolled path along the perimeter (people do try and sneak in and vehicles do cruise that outside rim). The ground was hard and firm, the wind created by our flying along the silent ground was bliss. Blissdance. Two wheels on the ground, legs going madly, flying in the face of the wind.

What did we do all day? A list.

• Bike Riding:

Every day we rode some of the streets. We had decided to ride every inch. Get up, most days by 7am. Coffee, some food for those who like to eat in the morning, clean the teeth (might as well start the day without playa dust on them) and then DRESS UP!! Finally sally forth on the bikes.

We chose to ride the long curved streets (named for cities worldwide, the theme was Metropolis) crossing all the shorter Clock-time named streets as we went.  Watching the endless parade, creating the parade for others, meeting people, smelling food and other sweet aromas, stopping to really look at some startling work of art, event, accept a gift, hand out a gift, have our picture taken or take a photo of a group for a group.

[An Aside: Thank goodness for the many and regular banks of port-a-potties, and Bless those who cleaned them at least 3x a day, cheerful men doing a God-awful job with the goodwill of Angels. And that the blue banks of toilets are regularly spaced all along Detroit which also helped keep locations and bearings even when at the end of the week signs were coming down and visible ‘old friend’ landmarks were being packed up. The bank at Detroit and 8.00., my street, and my home at 8.10.  was Very Helpful to me! As was the Kissing Booth on the corner!]

• Art Exploring:

Setting off to different parts of the playa, center camp, or the various plaza camps, to see something specific from visual or interactive art to performance, accepting open invitations to create art; such as from our neighbors to have the Burning Man symbol stenciled with spray paint on a shirt I had. Even with daily and nightly excursions, I missed so much.

• Workshops/Talks:

Every day a plethora of opportunities to learn, discover, experience… Actually, most mornings with that beautiful first cup of coffee, sun barely up, the noise slightly less perhaps that at night, the parade (although sparser) still a parade, I’d  look through the days’ offerings in the fat Burning Man booklet of Activities/Events. Circling titles and times and locations, I’d plan my day – and then either something else happened or I couldn’t find it. So, I decided that I was not meant to be so organized this time and eventually just flowed along. But I heard from others  – The Telsa Coil workshop, the place where you could go to hangout on cushions, a massage, Chakra Alignment, sustainable eco-culture talk, a bondage demonstration.

• ICE RUNS

More fun than you’d think. Again, the parade, even getting the ice. Pedaling off to the nearest plaza, joining a line, finding out the days’ trick to legitimately line hop (a free beer for the workers, a song on the counter). And so much to SEE and, of course, nonstop MUSIC!

• Parade Watching

Everyday some time to sit in our open living room and watch the parade. Although at Burning Man there is not a lot of just watching. We had two tall flagpoles, one with the Texas flag and one with the Australian flag. People saw them from streets away and dropped by just to chat. (Most Texans seemed to be from Houston and a number of New Zealanders appeared who appreciated a flag at least from their hemisphere.)

People offering jokes, welcoming the water spray-bottle, gift giving. Overhearing snippets of passing conversation, the brightly, endlessly entertaining costumes and other wear. A great little break in the afternoon before showering, feeding whoever was about and then setting out to the playa again that night.

So what did I do all day?
Regular things like cleaning my teeth, feeding people, massaging oil into my skin and feet, and watching the view.

Extra-ordinary things like riding a bike through a city full of color and sound and art, in a bright red teddy and sequined shoes.

Grounding things like finding the silence and the space beyond the special world in which we played.

Flying things like hyperventilating with the sheer, raw, primal power of the burning of the Man, weeping in community with the crowd at the beauty of the burning of the Temple.

All day in many ways I was experiencing that glorious tension between two extremes.

One, being in an environment that demanded you stay earthy to attend to bodily needs (water, sunscreen, real food, warm coats at night) and to leave nothing on the playa. Pick it all up, put it away, constant attention to detail.

The second, urging you, tempting you, releasing you to really play and see, to  uncover and know with no thought of judgment.

Of the day we left there is little to say. (Most was said in my last post, Burning Man – The Art Of Gratitude). Suffice to reiterate that it was both sad and beautiful, a looking back and looking forward. Mostly it was being right in that moment suffused with a deeply felt and known gratitude.

Now it has been over for almost 3 weeks, I can say this. The total experience of living inside that balance of creative freedom with essential common sense of the earthy kind, was not so much new to me, as profoundly restoring and affirming. My work and life has emerged from that kind of background – a rural life with animals and droughts requiring responsibility and common sense; an excellent education encouraging me to explore, think and wonder, with ample opportunity in the arts.

Those basics have allowed me to be grounded while realizing visions. Sharing that is my passion and intention in the world, assisting others to find their way into health and harmony, articulated in a uniquely personal way, our Personal Magic.

The entire Burning Man adventure has fed that fire, and I still find the white playa dust on something to remind me of the earth. I will keep at least one foot on the ground and not be afraid to dance in the sky. I encourage, dare you to do the same.

(Pete Conroy, our photographer in camp, has posted some of his Burning Man 2010 images at: http://picasaweb.google.com/Peteconroy12. We both invite you to take a look and at least see, if not hear, some of the wonders of the week.)

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