They tell you that Burning Man begins when you leave home, that the drive in is part of the experience. At the time that seemed a bit bullshitty to me, but there’s some truth to it, as I came to realize on my drive back home. I will say that the border area between Utah and Nevada doesn’t seem real. There is a long section that simply doesn’t change for miles and miles. It is a great salt-waste stretching to the horizon on all sides, bisected by the highway you’re on.
You drive and drive, and nothing outside your window changes. After five minutes you make some jokes with your carmates that you feel like you’re in a cheap cartoon that reuses stock background on a loop. Five minutes after that you comment how long this is. At 15 minutes you joke about a conveyor belt on the road under your wheels keeping you stationary. At 20 minutes with nothing changing you begin to silently worry that you’ve wandered into a section of the world that’s like those old video game areas that would simply repeat over and over if you kept walking in one direction, and the puzzle was to discover what series of movements would allow you to pass to the next area (I’m looking at you, NES Legend of Zelda forest maze!). At 25 minutes you begin to seriously worry that this is some sort of joke. This is absurd. This can’t be real, right? Nothing goes on forever.
Fortunately reality eventually reasserts itself and you can enter into Nevada.
Burning Man is what you make of it. I was told by someone a few days before leaving that it’s basically a giant sex and drugs party that lasts a full week. And if you want that, sure, that’s available. But there are so many things to see and do at Burning Man that you can have an amazing time no matter what you’re into. I spent much of my time visiting the many art installation.
To start with, there is a LOT of art at Burning Man. I suppose if you spent all your time just going to see all of it, you could probably see everything over the full week. But there are many things to do, so even if you spent most of your time visiting art, you are still almost assuredly NOT going to see all of it, so it’s a fool’s errand to try.
This is exacerbated by the fact that the art changes. An art piece seen the first day, while the area is relatively empty of people, looks very different from the same art piece seen a few days later when you bring a friend or date back there, because the presence of more people changes the art itself. This piece was waaaaaaaay out at the edge of Deep Playa. When I came to it the first day, it was basically abandoned. It felt like finding a random encounter in the middle of a Fallout game. The isolation was part of the experience. When I returned several days later and a dozen+ people were also there, it changed the feel of the piece.
The weather also shapes the art. A fresh piece looks different from a piece blasted after a dust storm. Many of the works are interactive, and will change based on what people are doing, or have done. The Temple of Gravity (left) looks one way as you’re walking up to these 7-ton slabs of granite, and seeing them swaying slightly in the breeze. As Edward said, there is something awe-inspiring about seeing so much potential energy suspended before you. It’s still powerful while it supports all the little humans crawling over it. yet it changes subtly when people are leaping from stone to stone, or lying directly beneath them, looking up.
Almost every piece changes at night. Fire or light is a major component of many of them. The Tree of Tenere is a vibrant, green point of life in the day, but at night it comes alive. The leaves shine, cycling through colors. Even more variation comes from the fact that the leaves’ colors change in glorious sweeps that matches nearby music. If you come when a performer is playing The Rite of Spring it looks very different from when a nearby Sound Car is blasting The Wubs.
All of this is very much part of the temporal, fleeting philosophy of Burning Man. Don’t try to do everything and experience everything, because many of the experiences depend on serendipity. On being at the right place at the right time, and they won’t repeat. You’ll miss great things, and hear about them from others. But you’ll also get lucky sometimes, and come by at just the right time. I came across The Messenger (no pic), an iron-cast statue of a burning angel. There’s a gash through it’s chest, and when I came to it someone was working a pyrotechnics shift. The gash was filled with flame, and I was told this was an interactive piece. Slips of paper and pencils are provided, as well as tongs. One can write a message and lift it into the flame, to be consumed by The Messenger.
It was my alone night, and I had been thinking a lot about my exwife that night. The whole trip, to be honest. I realized during my trip that I wasn’t over my ex, or my divorce, at all. I’d been burying a lot, but it was still there. I realized this because at every turn I kept thinking “Melissa should be here.” She would love this. This is exactly her scene.
And she could have been there. If only she’d valued our continued friendship more then a few tens of thousands of dollars. Maybe she didn’t want my friendship anymore. Maybe that was an easy choice for her. I hope she’s OK with her choice. I still have a hard time with it.
I wrote her a message and consigned it to the flames.