Burning Man 2007
Burning Man again seemed to gallop upon me
at the last minute, due to my usual immersion in current projects.
In earlier years the completion of an animation project coincided
with Burning Man, providing a sense of release and celebration,
however in recent years it is more of a vacation just when the
end is in sight.
Among those I would be camping with this year were the members of the Seagraves family, who I often visited after the event. I have known Gordon since High School, and he went with his wife Karen and their 20-something daughters Emily and Leah. I tried to make him appreciate the logistical tasks as well as I could, particularly in the water supply he would have to haul, and it was clear in a series of telephone discussions he had things reasonably together.
I rented a mini-van so a small telescope could be brought to watch the Lunar Eclipse the first night of the event, along with a carrying bag for the components of my portable laser show and a red wagon to haul them or the telescope about. Of course this was in adition to my camping stuff with food and especially water.
This year there was to be a large video projection setup that Carter Emmart AKA Mistress Barbie was participating in, and he invited me to bring stuff to show. I prepared some of my animated texture sequences made with laser light refraction, or more technically 'caustics', looking forward to sharing them with what I knew would be an appreciative crowd. My usual camera gear, including two tape based video cameras and one solid state video device which I would use in conditions too hostile for the others, covered whatever photographic needs I would have. Paradoxically, I also decided to spend less time with a camera in my hand than in previous years.
The drive to Mammoth Lakes was beautiful, with bushy deserts giving way to towering rocky spires overlooking widespread lava flows. These pass as the ramparts of the mighty Sierras emerge ahead from the blue of the sky itself. The towering cliff of the eastern Sierras was crowned by jagged granite spires which towered among the clouds. Palm Springs has in recent years become oppressively humid in its legendary hot summers, due to tropical storms carrying moisture from the south, so it was such a joy to be in a different climate. I slept peacefully in a small motel room in a volcanic region with molten lava only a mile below.
The logistics of coordinating four vehicles had worried me, but I only had to be a part of that process once I met the others. Monday morning I first made contact by phone with others in our camp. I had actually considered trying to arrive at the gate near midnight as the event officially opened, but the dangers seemed great and the logistics involving several people in such hours were impossible. We arranged a meeting at about noon at the parking lot outside the main casino in Fernley, where we would also gas up and buy last minute items.
Karen and the daughters were in a brown Geo 'prism', Gordon had early that morning driven a battered but robust 1959 Chevy 'Apache' truck, whose primary load was a 100 gallon plastic water tank which he filled with the delicious water of neighboring Bitney Springs. The truck's limitations were a prime factor in Gordons' travel plans. He had to travel at night over the Sierras to avoid overheating, and along the way as things turned out he had to drain some 20 gallons from the water tank in order to safely make it over the mountain crest. During my trip up the remaining length of Highway 395 the roads were at times narrow and clogged with slow trucks and road work, so I apologetically arrived in Fernley over an hour late. I had stocked up on water at Mammoth lakes, but I topped off my tank there and got ice and a large energy drink thinking ahead to the trip back. Having noted that I had about a 400 mile range on a tank of gas I knew I wouldn't need any more until we met here again in a week.
The drive along the 447 was beautiful as always, with the narrow road rising and dipping over great ridges and vast valleys. The hillsides here show the 'bathtub ring' marks of the lowering coastlines of the vast ice age Lake Lahontan. The drive is a dramatic preamble to the event itself, a kind of transition between the 'default world' behind and the attempt an an alternate reality being created ahead.
Gordons truck gas gauge was broken so he decided at the last minute to fill up again at Gerlach, the last tiny town along the way. This was a 'good news and bad news' proposition. The bad news was we all had to park, get out, and periodically lose each other in the frenetic activity of burners and vehicles. The good news was that although (or perhaps because) there was a long line for gas that was backed up enough to begin blocking the highway traffic, nobody thought about using the other empty lane to the right of the pumps, and Gordon simply glided into this empty space refilling his tank in an astonishingly short time!
The event entrance this year was a nice flat turnoff road, on which the traffic crept along at an agonizingly slow pace as lanes emerged, split, and reformed. The traditional signs to the right at least gave one snippets of philosophy to ponder along the way. The cars were searched as before primarily for hidden passengers, with an eye also out for obvious large fireworks and rifles. I was warned to be careful when driving in, as people were being stopped for 'open container' violations and for speeding. Further along my ticket was torn, then we reached the Greeters who enthusiastically welcomed you 'Home' and rang a ceremonial large bell as we passed. My Greeter was a young lady who shared a hug when I told her this was my tenth year. Once inside the event I assumed the lead for the group and turned left to our usual camping region. It was apparent that huge plots of land were again roped off above and beyond those formally reserved for theme camps. One apparently had to be working on a large camp or otherwise gain authorized early access, or at the latest arrive at midnight to have any chance at a wide choice of camping sites. I found an empty spot of sufficient size for our group just past 7:30 and the second to the last block out from the center. We were between the alphabetically named 'Inter tidal' and 'Jungle', streets bordering the tenth of 12 concentric 'blocks' from the inner 'empty' zone.
Since we all had bicycles, the physical distance from the central 'Main Attractions' was not an issue. In general the 'quality of life' in the outer zone is better due to less density and noise. As always, I set up camp near the center of the block with the idea that others would build up around us and block direct view of our camp from the street. My big green plastic tarp was laid out at what would be the 'central courtyard' of the group camp, my tent as usual at the north of the tarp. Gordon parked his truck next to my tent, which seemed fine at the time. We busied ourselves setting up tents and unpacking the first essentials like sleeping bags and whatever else one wanted that night.
That first evening on the playa commenced with old friends sitting at a table and drinking ceremonial cold beers and mutually marveling that we were all actually there. Any indulgences we didn't want unfriendly parties to see we shared within the privacy of our tents. The last coppery sunlight faded from the Playa and soon after the mountains beyond were being covered by the shadows of the mountains behind us. As the last sunlight faded from their crests a vaguely bordered orange red band of light rose behind them, stretching across half the eastern sky. As it climbed it unveiled along its bottom edge a darker turquoise 'slice' of sky marking the border of the approaching night. This is literally the shadow of the Earth itself projected against the surrounding atmosphere.
At the border of this 'Earth shadow' the golden dome of the full Moon peeked above the mountains, appearing briefly as a mysterious glowing observatory perched among the peaks. Soon it's dark patches brought the 'Man In The Moon' effect, looking like a clown face dabbed on a luminous balloon. In several hours the lineup of the Earth, its shadow, and the Moon would be perfect, causing a rare spectacle of the Moon passing through our planets' shadow.
Michael and I took a bike ride to the Man that first night. On the way, pausing while guarding his bicycle as he visited a bathroom, I looked down the row of dimly lit plastic booths and had an emotive moment, a profound 'Here I Am!' sensation. It was as if the intervening 51 weeks were but a dream I was shaking myself awake from.
The Man was lit with green neon, in keeping with this years ecological 'Green Man' theme, lined with a dimmer red dotted outline. He was mounted atop a tall conical log pile covered by a huge ultraviolet lit pavilion style tent, tapering like segmented reptile tails into wide ground hugging extensions from the sides. It looked like something you might see in a trade show, (and indeed housed the focus of some controversy which I will mention later), but I would reserve judgment until I could see the interior later. I didn't bring a camera then, assuming I could photograph the sight at my leisure during the week.