Sadly, I could not make it this year. My life was too busy to take 11 days off, with the hard decision having to be made at last that that my career came first. Interestingly, several people including the ones who were my guides to my first years either didn't make it at all or had to leave before the burn. My old friend Michael did go, and the digital pictures accompanying this page are his. One outreach by Burning man that I and others were grateful for was a continuous web cast to which I referred to continuously during that week. Some of the images here come from that lossy little window to the Playa. Having a real time electronic window into the event was a blessing and watching nightfall and the blossoming of the multicolored lights of Black Rock City brought first sadness then a sense of connection regarding the event, for what Burning Man really means is within us, and by the time the week ended I regarded myself as an extension of the experience rather than one being left out.
As I saw on the web cast the smoke ring mortar was back, and the mass gathering of public art was as rich as ever. The weather was fairly benign for the Black Rock Desert. This year the Man was mounted atop a large 'fun house' with a fairly convoluted maze having to be negotiated in a dense crowd in order to reach the stairs which allowed access to the next level leading to a small balcony below the base of the Man itself. The Neon Colossus was mounted on a vertical swivel mount so that people could gather and turn the Man to face any direction, the first year the Man was built with some movement in the design. This brought a minor difference in appearance from the prototypical design as the central post extended above the inverted conical head, a trio of bracing wires extending from the top forming a pyramidal line drawing enclosing the man.
The colors of the Neon are different every year, this time using the fluorescent pink and green color contrast reminiscent of those used in rock posters of the psychedelic era. Extra plant like decorations were incorporated into the Man, both in wood and in neon.
The event apparently proceeded much as the previous ones had done, a little bigger and a little more sense of the artistic jewels of the playa being a little more lost in the crowd. Many if not most of the population of Black Rock City were first timers, with declining numbers of 'seasoned veterans' managing to make it, particularly this year.
I was in touch with Mistress Barbie, with which I share prominence in the Digital Planetarium field. Early that year he invited me to an astronomy visualization conference in the Rose center/new Hayden Planetarium where he works. We are 'Space Brothers' and the night of the Burn we shared the experience by a phone hookup with both of us watching the web cast. I dressed in the Playa gear I always wear as a matter of ritual that night. The Man raised its arms as before, erupted into a magnificent fireworks display, and caught fire in a manner which allowed the Man to keep standing longer than usual. For a time through the web window we both noticed the Burning effigy resembled a space suit such as was used on the Lunar surface during the days of the Apollo landings.We whooped it up on both ends of the continent as the Man fell, and the massive central bonfire dominated the web cast for some time. The web cast view wandered among the dynamic multicolored wonderland, and my heart went out to the person who chose to be at the camera for the benefit of those like us who could not be there but wanted to.
Since I have nothing to say from direct experience this year I will conclude this years entry with observations and opinions regarding Burning Man in general. It is obvious from the images returned from the event that it is going strong, with a turnaround of people from year to year. The Burning Man organization have steadfastedly 'rolled with the punches' delivered by circumstances and government agencies. two people died in 2005, one a man about my age from a heart attack, another a young woman who miscalculated when to begin the shift to horizontal flight while plunging in a paraglider. I imagine the next year will bring new rules restricting sky diving!
The BLM were there spying on people and writing citations to people for smoking cannabis, however numbers on such incidents, rumored to be quite low, are elusive. As usual the police tended to be more professional and sensible to prioritising intervening in violent crime than the BLM, who have traditionally acted as if their mission, perhaps under specific directive by local officials, was to harass people and treat someone smoking a joint as a dangerous criminal.
People tended to notice the police presence more than previous years according to reports I gathered, yet most people who were detained or arrested tended to be those publicly flaunting illegal behavior, like fish leaping into the net. The number of undercover stings involving entrapment situations now results in not being able to trust strangers one meets who ask for or offer to share illegal intoxicants, which are common among the Bay Area counter cultural population of Burning Man.
A more insidious threat to the event has emerged from the fallout of the death of Katharine Lampman in 2003. A subsequent lawsuit by Lampmans family has resulted in the organizer of the camp from which the art car that killed Katharine, along with dozens of people who were part of the camp, being named in the County of Santa Clara Superior Court case # 1-05-CV-037026. Not only are practically everyone who had a substantial role in the camp named defendants in the lawsuit, so are the Black Rock Arts foundation, Black Rock LLC, An equipment rental business and a design firm associated in some way with one of the camp members and even the medical service which swiftly responded to the emergency. This was perhaps inevitable in time, however it is especially sad that the new reality of predatory legal bloodsucking has at last reached the Playa.
What can one do? Never be an integral part of a large camp, or do so at the risk of being fleeced for everything you have if someone slips or falls from a scaffolding, a fake palm tree or a giant kite falls and kills someone, or if lightning happens to strike and is guided to some poor soul along the camp structure. If one chooses to be part of a camp with any potential danger and especially one with an art car, do not be one of those helping to pay for equipment or otherwise leave any form of money trail a lawyer could ferret out and use against you. I will always camp away from a major installation if I can help it, as much as I grieve on feeling compelled to pass on the generous invitations I have received. The event has to change in order to survive, and so must we.
I await next years Burning Man with greater appreciation for having missed 2005, and with greater respect for the hazards brought by society.