Sunday is the last day to Be There,
to wander about in an already dissolving city and to start gathering
your last Looks. I made it a point to do two things today, First
to atone for my leaving litter behind in my wanderings I combined
a three hour walk out to the Perimeter Fence with a 'MOOP' (Matter
out Of place) patrol. Every scrap of litter I found went into
a plastic bag. Despite patrols by creeps with guns, a lot of people
had used the Playa as a toilet. Across wide stretches of the flatness
every 30 feet or so bore stained damp spots. Some solid waste
seemed on it way to becoming cropolites (fossilized dinosaur droppings)
in the hot sun. No, I didn't pick such things up, sorry! I expected
to see a lot of stuff piled up against the red-orange plastic
partition when I got there but any such debris had either already
been cleaned off or had been scooped up by the wind to parts unknown.
The other thing I made it a point to do was to observe dust devils in the afternoon. They are fascinating things to watch, and vary greatly in shapes and sizes. They sprouted from the tan plains, dancing and stretching as they float along. Some appeared as thin translucent tubes and grew into dense whirling columns stretching far into the windy sky. One would crazily tilt and stretch sideways then fade, leaving only a tiny spinning remnant hugging the ground. Another example would hang nearly vertically like a ghostly demonstration of the fabled 'Indian Rope trick' , slowly drifting sideways.
At times several dust devils were visible at once. One large whirlwind sprang to life nearby as a series of automobile sized dust clouds chasing each other in a 40 foot (23 meter) ring. They merged into a ragged circular enclosure of whirling dust which steadily fed more of the powdery dust into itself, the walls rising to form the sides of a vertical hollow tube. This grew like a ghostly fairy tale 'beanstalk' reaching high into the rich blue sky as it receded into the distance. One large and particularly dense 'mini tornado' came straight toward me but I was easily able to dodge it, shooting video which happily survived. I watched as this spectacular dark gray dense whirlwind moved on to scour first the Bok Globule dome then the playa beyond, engulfing groups of people along the way. It moved like a turbulent miniature storm with shredded edges, stirring up a tremendous amount of dust which hid the Man and then the Tent City beyond.
Of course the last day of the last Dave Best temple was not to be missed, and I journeyed to this spiritual gathering place to see its final afternoon. Already fork lifts were piling the wooden pieces of the extended walkways into hollows along the sides of the structure, and the places available to people were declining. It was relatively cramped inside, and although my wanderings within were brief the intensity of the emotional tributes left there was obvious. As in past years, photos of the deceased and little scraps of momentoes were hung and attached to every available niche. layers of shrines had sprouted like the hopes of those who created them, with tributes to the dead and what they meant to the living calling out to you in messages forming a kind of mosaic of appeals from one world to the next.
The evening revealed a reduced but still
brightly lit Tent City, filled with people partying for all they
were worth this last night. In recent years this has become the
night most akin in feeling to the events of days gone by, after
many people attracted mainly to the Man burning had left. Green
lasers were aimed at the sky, one operator telling me the beams
were visible to a height of about 15,000 feet.
There were many things I never made it to this year and I know hundreds of wonderful things were there I have no right to exclude in anything pretending to be a complete account, but such a story would require the dedicated efforts of at least 100 people pooling their experiences and even then would result in only a broad brushed portrayal of what really happened.
The Porta-Potties were well maintained as in the last few years, with minimal waiting time. Rarely did I decline to use one because of its interior condition. Volunteers kept hand sanitizer dispensers on neighboring poles constantly refilled. There was concern voiced about at least one pathological individual deliberately trying to sabotage the event by placing broken glass in the toilets. Without such toilets an event of this size would be impossible, and the organization works hard to maintain good relations with the company despite having to deal with many defaced toilets. Many had messages attached to them with easily removable tape, others were glued to the interior doors. Markers were even used to apply graffiti on the insides, ranging from humorous phrases and caricatures to lowly gang scribblings.
I decided to watch the Temple Burn this time,
since this would be the last such structure and I had seen the
end of the first such one in 1999. I made no effort to be in front
as I do at the Burning of the Man, one major submission to discomfort
for the sake of a view was enough. I simply walked out into that
part of the Playa in the later stages of the exodus in the darkness.
From reports I read later I'm glad I didn't take the trouble to
be near the front, as it became more of a disappointment than
I would have liked to experience for many who did. Clusters of
people still walking there were converging on a wide ill defined
village with art cars parked among vast stretches of abandoned
bicycles lined by slowly circulating flows of people working around
islands of groups standing firm.
Many art cars provided elevated
viewpoints for small numbers of people and further in I saw an
endless wall of standing people. I decided to see the event from
outside most of this crowd of probably over 10,000 people and
avoid the hassles I imagine people further in were experiencing.
A decent view of most of the Temple was provided through a gap
in the mounds of people and mutant vehicles.
From second hand accounts I gathered there was less reverence and more revelry in the air then was to the liking of 'traditionalist' Burners. There was less of an effort to manage the inner crowd than at the Burning of the Man, and what there was reportedly sporadic. People near the front of the inner circle of sitting people continued standing and ignored repeated rounds of pleading from people behind them. Apparently temple creator David Best was annoyed by the swarms of wiggling green laser beam dots dancing across the temple spire from dozens of people with green laser pointers. Appeals to the crowd were made with a loudspeaker to cease targeting the spire with lasers, and for a short while most nearby who wielded lasers complied. There were some brighter ones positioned far beyond audio range which shone on, wider than the rest and shuddering with minor vibrations greatly magnified.
People were yelling 'BURN IT!!' from all directions. Finally an orange flickering light appeared from behind the crowd lighting up more of the temple as I watched, flames leaping into view as the crowd roared. The original atmosphere of this occasion, when people solemnly watched this or that part of the structure on which their written message to a departed one was burned, was largely drowned out in the yells of a mob just wanting to be raucous at a big bonfire.
The spire then caught fire, leading a twisting column of flame up its open structure to leap well into the sky above. Even from my location perhaps a quarter mile away I felt the heat of this pillar of fire, which in volume and brightness briefly easily outshone the Man as it burned. Across the wide surrounding darkness the mountain ridges facing the Black Rock Desert were lit by that fire.
At last the great spire leaned, toppled and crashed into a dense nearly solid swarm of furiously churning sparks. They spiraled into the night in billowing swarms like a disturbed nest of angry mutant golden fireflies surging skywards, hanging briefly in a seething canopy above us, then settling to the ground like a fiery parody of a snowfall. One saw great swirling eddies of air currents recoiling from the inferno made visible by the imbedded floating sparks. It didn't take long to be weary of constantly looking up to avoid settling embers and I decided to watch the show from somewhere besides immediately downwind of the fire! After hurrying past about 100 feet of densely packed masses of abandoned bikes I continued to watch both the bonfire and the settling cloud of sparks from a comfortable distance. Occasionally a spark perhaps the size of the lit end of a cigarette arcing down from the plume above would land near me in the dust with a small fiery 'splat'. The main mass of the Temple continued to stand and burn, and after what seemed like a half hour I called it quits and paid a last visit to 'Bok Globule' which was empty except for random visitors coming and going.
The rest of the event
was the preparation for our retreat the next morning. Following
the routine of the last few years all that was left unpacked by
the time I went to bed perhaps midnight was what I needed then,
my sleeping bag in an otherwise empty tent next to my packed car.
At 6 AM I awoke, staggered into the chilly morning air and as the sky lightened we tore down out tents and were ready with our engines running at 7 A.M. sharp. The surface beneath the tarps and cars were pristine, with varying degrees of trails and wider disturbed regions wherever feet or tires had been. We got out of there with no more than a few minutes wait, and soon the routine of previous years was repeated, complete with an omelet breakfast at a casino in Fernley. After a drive past Reno and over the Sierras, again we stopped by the home of the Seagraves in Grass Valley. My traditional hot bath in their huge old tub marked the first opportunity to think over the experience, while the water around me steadily turned an ivory color. A lot of the experience has settled into a kind of routine, for better or for worse.