third time’s the charm

It’s been a bit more than a week since I got back home from my third Burning Man. I was able to take my beautiful wife for her first time, and it was my best burn yet.

We left shortly after 5:00 am on Sunday, August 26, and about 24 hours later we were finally making it through the greeters station on Gate Road. The plan was for each of us to trade off driving duties and alternate taking naps along the way. Much like the anticipation before Christmas morning, neither of us could get good sleep on the way there. The wait in line started shortly after we passed Gerlach, and it was excruciating through the dark hours of Monday morning. Our lesson learned from this experience is to either arrive later in the day on Monday or secure early arrival passes for next year because that shit is bananas.

Heather rings the bell at the greeters station

Being the first in our camp to reach the playa, it was our responsibility to claim a spot for our group and hold it until more folks arrived later in the day. We found plenty of open space at 4:50 and Jasmine, and that’s where we set our roots. We arrived shortly before dawn and shivered in our shorts waiting for the sun to rise so we could get a better handle on where the edge of the street actually was. While we waited we cooked up some bacon.

Pretty Pickle Camp at 4:50 & Jasmine

The next three days were a blur. I jumped into the deep end volunteering for the Temple Guardians. I had two 12-hour (11 pm – 11 am) on call support shifts in that first 72 hours. The shifts were relatively uneventful and the daily meet and greets for all the new guardians were an awesome reminder of why I was there. The Hug Nation gathering at Pink Heart Camp on Tuesday afternoon was one of the best talks I’ve ever heard Halcyon give on or off the playa. He was in the zone that day. Heather also got her baptism by dust on Tuesday afternoon returning home in the first big blow of the week after her RHPS rehearsal at Videogasm.

Wednesday evening we ventured out to the Otic Oasis to watch the sunset. Afterward we found a Facebook friend that I knew would be camping in walk-in camping near 2:00 and L. Paul Dominic and his friend Terri had set up a decadent camp in the roughest part of the playa complete with side walls, a floor, and chandeliers. A beautiful, grand gesture of a personal camp if ever there was one.

a polaroid shot of the sun going down from the Otic Oasis

The first picture I took since Heather rang the bell at the gate on Monday morning was sunrise Thursday morning on the way to the Temple to see the crowd gathered in white. It was a beautiful morning, and the start to the most joy-filled day I’ve ever experienced on the playa.

Abraxas Dragon near the Temple of Juno on Thursday morning

It was Carousel’s “day off”, so he asked Kahuna and me to lead the beginning of the Temple Guardian training. We got through the nuts and bolts of the basics and ended with a really touching round-robin session of all the experienced guardians in attendance sharing their personal experiences with the Temple and what keeps us coming back. I read them my favorite quote that I found written on the Temple of Flux in 2010.

There is only one heart laid bare. It is yours. It is mine. And it shimmers darkly and drinks of the cool breeze as life is dancing all around.

I then scooted down the Esplanade to Pink Heart Camp to join up with Heather for The Pink Ride. Halcyon had another great talk before we all mounted up for the ride to Center Camp. The numbers seemed like at least 50% more than last year, so it took us quite awhile to get staged and wound into the center circle. All the hugs were fantastic, and I was able to introduce Heather to Endless Fun who I befriended at the Pink Ride last year.

The Pink Ride (photo by Kevin Ells)

After some lunch and rest, Heather and I went out to the inner playa to check out the CORE projects before they all disappeared that night in flame. We ended up dodging the crews’ preparations for the burn that night from removing the electrical cabling underground to piling the bases with more and more wood. Heather had a fondness for the The Twisted Upright House (SF North Bay) and I loved the humor of Secret of the Bees (Utah).

The Twisted Upright House (SF North Bay CORE)
Secret of the Bees (Utah CORE)

We took pics of everything that we liked, and as we were about to make our way back to camp, we were rounded up by Eric Schwabel’s wranglers. They liked that Heather and I were both dressed in pink, and we had our picture taken by the awesome Eric Schwabel! We’re eagerly awaiting the email with the images he took.

Friday evening, the Temple Guardians gathered at the Temple at 7 pm for a group photo. I was able to meet Termeh Yeghiazarian who, with David Best, started the Temple Guardians back in 2002. I shared with her how grateful I was for all she’s done, and we shared a warm embrace. I was honored to receive a red heart from her that she pinned on my guardian bandanna.

Friday night also brought on the biggest dust storm of the week. I served as a Temple Guardian from 8 pm to midnight, and the storm seemed to really ramp up after 9 pm.  Heather rode out to the Temple to see me a few minutes before she rode off in the dust to the Bootie BRC dance party at Automatic Subconscious. She found Paul and Terri there, danced for a bit, and then helped Terri find the medical station to take care of some severe dehydration. Heather was then off to the other side of the playa to work as prop mistress for the midnight production of the Rocky Horror Picture Show  at Videogasm. I arrived not too long after the show began after finding my way through the dust storm from the Temple back to the city. I sank into a camp chair and fell asleep through the last half of the show, but I loved seeing Heather having such a blast. When the show was over, we were both freezing, and headed back to camp to get some well-deserved sleep.

Saturday morning we rode out to the Temple so I could see in full light the messages and offerings that the community had brought all through the week. I took a few moments to write a letter of gratitude that I left in the Temple. We then rode out to check on Terri and thankfully she was doing fine after the great medical staff got her back on an even keel the night before. After enjoying more of Paul’s fantastic hospitality – cold orange wedges and chocolate covered pretzels – we headed off to the BRC3PO to drop our postcards in the mail.

Whiling the afternoon away in camp with conversation and cocktails was the perfect prelude to the night that was to come. We shared our dinner of black beans and rice with our campmate, Rob, and got dressed in our best playa formal. Heather in her modified wedding dress and me in a tux shirt and tails. When everyone was ready, we took a group photo with the nearly full moon rising over the mountains behind us.

the crew of Pretty Pickle Camp 2012 (photo by Alan Chudnow)

We all rode out to the twelve o’clock side of the man, locked our bikes along the promenade, and walked just inside the circle of art cars around the man. This was the closest I’ve ever watched the man burn, and it was phenomenal. At the back of the crowd, the energy was just right. Not too chaotic, but still in the thick of it. The burn was brilliant and beautiful. We all raised our drinks to toast Rod Garrett as his last man base design lifted into the heavens.

the man burns

Heather and I rode around from burn to burn as we wanted to see how Burn Wall Street would go at 1 am. The hype all week around Burn Wall Street was that it would be exceptionally spectacular. We sat down on the playa far away from the crowd gathering for BWS expecting to see some large air-gas bombs and crazy pyrotechnics. As it turns out, we both fell asleep sitting there and woke up to find Burn Wall Street already alight in what appeared to be a standard structure burn. Problems plagued BWS all week and that night was no different.

Sunday morning and early afternoon was spent dismantling our camp and packing as much as possible. I headed out to the Temple at 4 pm to serve as an offering carrier for the last minute items brought by participants. I can’t even count the number of times I walked between the perimeter and  the temple to place items to be burned that night. It was an honor to serve the community in this role, and I hope to repeat it in years to come! Once the structure was closed to the crew, I took a position at six o’clock on the burn perimeter next to Ranger Atlas.

This was my second Temple burn and the first working the burn perimeter. Carousel, project manager for the Temple Guardians, talks of the energy reflected in the faces of the crowd as they watch the fire take all the pain and joy expressed in the Temple up to the stars. I was blessed to experience this first hand that night. The ineffable expressions on the faces in front of me were heart-rending. The whole spectrum of human emotion was laid out in front of me in all its splendor. I am beyond privileged to have experienced this most sacred aspect of our community.

red arrow shows my position on the temple burn perimeter (photo by Brian Erzen)

We finished packing our truck after the Temple burn and napped for a bit before heading out before dawn on Monday. The 30 hours that followed are simply lost time in our brains. We were exhausted yet driven to return home to our family, indoor plumbing, and above-prison-grade toilet paper.

All in all, I consider 2012 my best burn yet. My playa lesson this year was to SLOW DOWN. The bumps in the road (physically and metaphorically) are much easier to handle when you’re not going at ludicrous speed. I got closer to the core of what the gifting economy is all about. Instead of dispensing physical gifts (useful or not), the best gift I gave this year was of myself. The time and experience I gave to the Temple and Temple Guardians was more fulfilling that I could ever have imagined. I have great plans for improving Pretty Pickle Camp in 2013 as well as continuing to increase my involvement with the Temple Guardians. May burners everywhere have a safe and fruitful year until we meet once again in the dust!

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