I went to Burning Man for the first time in 7 years this year. Every year, it flits in and out of the news, with some calling it proof that civilization is doomed and others finding in it proof that there is hope for humanity.
What I have come to realize after two weeks on the Playa is that Burning Man is a giant Rorschach.
Seven years ago, my fiance and I headed out to Black Rock City and staked our claim to a little plot of land in the Alternative Energy Zone. I found people who ran their cars on biodiesel, baked cookies in solar ovens, and lived off the grid. I found people who realized they were in a desert and water was precious. I found people who knew that what they wanted from life wasn’t what the default world considered the “norm” and found ways to get what they wanted on their own terms. In a desert in Nevada, I found respect for the desert in Los Angeles that I lived in, mediated by the religions of a desert in Egypt. I found peace that, even though I’m a child of the mountains—of cold, wind, and rain—I could be at home in a place of heat, sun, and cloudless skies. I found exactly what I needed 7 years ago.
This year, I was talking with my co-blogger, John, about going this year and about what it was. Is it a rave? Yes. Is it a nudist colony? Yes. Is it a pagan festival? Yes. But it’s more than that. It’s whatever you want it to be—and sometimes, whatever you need it to be.
Two weeks ago, my husband and I headed out to Reno, where we met our campmates for the first time. Although we were the same people who made pilgrimage seven years ago, we were absolutely not the same people. We waited in line with playa-siblings for four hours as the sun set and the moon rose. We laughed, we played, we danced. And then we got to the gate and were welcomed home. We claimed a plot of land for our campmates to meet us at and, in the pitch-black night, cobbled together a perimeter of emergency tape and bike lights. And then we slept. In the morning, our campmates joined us and set up a compound (RVs around the perimeter for protection from wind and dust, a geodesic dome in the center for camaraderie and food, hexayurts inside the perimeter for sleeping). And we were home.
This year, I was reminded of the importance of disaster preparedness and came home with resolutions to do better (I’m going to get my ham radio license!). This year, I watched the sun rise over the Temple with thousands of others—some who had woken for this purpose, others who were still up from the night before—dressed in white. I mused about the concepts central concepts of Burning Man as a sacrifice to no god and a Temple with no priests. I participated.
I got exactly what I needed.