The playa is cold but there is no wind. The black shadow of ground level is illuminated by LED lights, glow sticks, and an occasional burst of flame.
Up above, the sky is all the colours of a rainbow dawn. Black, dark and royal blue, fading effortlessly to white, yellow and orange.
The sounds of distant raves travel thru the dawn in the form of an electronic bass drum.
I am already covered in dust from head to toe, thanks to the welcome committee at the main entrance.
With my eyes and mind wide open, I hopped on my bike and rode off towards signs of life in the distance, with three amigos by my side.
Upon our arrival at the front gate, us Burning Man virgins
were instructed by a slovenly yet jolly beardless Santa to
roll around in the dust as a welcoming gesture.
I was instantly overwhelmed and overjoyed at the monstrosity
of creation silhouetted in front of me. And this was merely a
tenth, if not less of what other eye candy the playa held for me.
I watched in silence as people danced to the sunrise, and as the
sun finally broke the horizon, everybody around me started
howling to the east.
That first Friday morning on the playa was a whirlwind
of exploration for me, Mat, Whitney and Keri. We rode
our bikes to our hearts content, viewing from a distance
and up close the plethora of sculptures, art cars, costumes
and nakedness that was splayed out before us like a dream of dreams.
And then there was the woman.
And oh my what a woman she was.
The other sculptures were equally jaw dropping.
It was like I was on another planet.
There was the Critical Tits bike parade…
There were endless moments of happiness, dancing, acrobatics and togetherness…
Beautiful white out dust storms and sunrise portraits…
I met a wonderful couple at Center Camp while I was writing
in my journal. Mark, from New Zealand and his girlfriend
Clodagh, from Ireland. They live in Auckland, NZ. I was told
that they met at a music festival 6 months prior over a lollipop.
Clodagh offered it to Mark because of his big smile. He accepted
it immediately and returned it with a kiss.
They were a beautiful couple that I felt a deep connection to.
Grounded, real, mellow, open, and in love.
I wrote a lot of notes to myself in my journal over the
course of the 3 days I was in the desert. Some thoughts
Bringing things to gift to other people is a great way
to meet others. Glow necessities and lights for the
nite time are a must. Dust and wind storms are
beautiful and slightly unnerving when you are lost
in white out conditions for more than a minute at a time.
Dust storms at nite are even more unnerving, especially
when you feel disoriented already from the constant parade
of light up characters and bursts of fire happening all around
you in the dark. It’s somewhat like a bad dream except that
you don’t really want to wake up from it.
You want to stay super hydrated during the day because
you’re out in the desert. The problem with staying so well
hydrated is that you always have to pee.
Boys, if you’re thinking about going topless, I would
recommend a cape.
Girls, if you’re thinking about going topless, I would
“Thank you cape for protecting me from the sun.
And for making me look heroic in times of wind.”
This was a place to suspend reality and never go to sleep.
I asked myself the same question constantly during my
time on the Playa:
How many times can I fall in love in one day?
I was mesmerized and hypnotized again and again by
people from all over. And a few beautiful souls stopped me
dead in my tracks.
So it was with the girl in white lace.
I was walking thru Center Camp during a thunderstorm
of drums. As I moved forward, the crowd in front of me parted
slowly to reveal a dark featured woman free of all earthly bounds.
She moved her body like Athena – both in and out of rhythm -
and time stopped around her.
She moved with life and love. She danced as if nobody was
watching, even though everybody was watching. She smiled
like she was in constantly in love.
She was freedom.
And then she was gone.
That’s how it was with most of the supremely exotic and
mystical women I encountered over those few days.
I was observing a man who was lost in himself. He was
either playing an instrument or reciting poetry or something
of the sort. Down by his feet in the audience was a girl with
the most absorbed look on her face. I couldn’t look away from
her. The look on her face as she watched and listened to this
man wasn’t a look of wanting or desire.
She was saying with her expression, “I will have you, and I
will be at your mercy.” It gave me chills and made my heart
pound silly against my rib cage.
There was the girl the nite the temple burned… Dancing
topless amongst the smoldering ashes. I saw her thru
the blurry heat lines like a mirage in the desert. Only I’m
quite sure she was real.
Her straight brown hair fell
to the middle of her back. She had an impeccable shape
with the most beautiful breasts I’d ever laid eyes on…
and this being Burning Man, I’d laid my eyes on a lot
of breasts those few days. She danced with the spirit of a
Native American princess and the movement of a well versed
Moroccan belly dancer.
I was cemented to where I stood. I was simultaneously
praying that she would disappear and cease teasing
my heart, as well as hoping she would never leave my sight.
When she finally put on her shirt, my beautiful misery
ended and I could feel the heat of the burning coals
once more on my face.
One late evening I walked into Center Camp, looking
for a friend. Whatever my mission was when I was
outside the tent was immediately forgotten about
when I heard the harmonies of two a cappella female
The song was “Over the Blue Ridge Mountains”.
The girls were called Rising Appalachia.
I had tears in my eyes as the girls’ voices soared
thru the mostly empty tent, out into the nite. The
voice I heard was the voice I had always dreamed of
True. Basic. Grounded. Emotional.
Breathy. Smooth. Raspy.
I was transported to a sonic paradise for 3 short songs.
And I was grateful.
At dawn on the last day, I walked to the middle of the
playa to photograph whatever caught my eye. The cold
desert morning cut thru my thin layers of jackets and
when I started shivering, I turned west and headed back
to the closest semblance of life I could find.
I found a full on rave party still going strong in front
of a giant geodesic dome. There were acrobats from Zen
Arts flying from chains, trapeze, pole dancing and more.
After a few minutes, there was a huge gathering on a
central platform where a crowd of about 300 strangers
decked out in costumes of every niche and variety you
could think of witnessed the wedding of an ecstatic couple.
I turned to leave the wedding and my eye was caught
once more by a woman side lit by the sunrise.
She was wearing the most magnificent flowing gown
and was hooping like the rivers flow down canyons.
Fluid, effortless, sensual and beautiful were here movements.
I instinctively dropped to one knee and started
photographing her. I thought it a crime to be able to
capture only a millisecond of this beautiful routine she
was performing for herself in the light of the dawn.
As I snapped away, I caught her glancing at me once
or twice with a sly smile on her face.
My heart, naturally, fluttered.
This quick glance happened a few times, and when I
finally stood up, we walked toward each other.
Her name, she said, was Spiral.
She had been hoping that someone might come by
and photograph her performing in the gown she had
spent so long making herself.
She had the most genuine and contagious smile.
We exchanged emails and I sent her some of the
best photos I took of her. She still uses them today.
Finally, it came time to leave.
It was an Exodus to remember.
The traffic controllers would let a certain number
of cars thru and then stop everyone for 45 minutes.
This was to allow traffic to clear the small towns and
to give the gas stations a small rest so there wouldn’t
be total gridlock in the middle of nowhere, Nevada.
It took us over 4 hours to leave. But that was ok.
Mat and Whitney stayed with the car while I went exploring
down the endless line of stopped cars.
Some people could understandably think that this
would be a horrible, painful, seemingly never ending
process. But in reality, it was just one big continuation
of the week’s festivities. As I walked down the line of
cars, I was offered free watermelon, granola, beer
(though a bit warm, still tasty), shade, conversation
and one wasted girl in a top hat even offered to make
out with me, but I declined because I watched her make
out with every other guy she came across on her
stroll. I decided that train wasn’t worth boarding.
The most pleasant surprise came my way as I started
walking back to our car. The massive line of cars
began moving forward for the second pulse, and
I heard my name being yelled out from a car window.
I spun around and saw Mark and Clodagh leaning
out the window of their rent-a-car waving and smiling
my way. I ran along side their car until the traffic
stopped again and then gave them huge hugs.
They offered me a Heineken which I gladly accepted.
They told me that on Friday, while exploring the
beautiful canyon that was the 2010 temple, they
had gotten engaged.
To each other!
I was so thrilled to hear this news. I reached into my
pocket and pulled out a heart rock that I found on the
ground after the temple burned. I thought it a fitting
symbol of love and perseverance to offer them as a gift.
They were extremely thankful. And I was extremely
grateful to have known them. We’d known each other
for a total of maybe 2 hours at most, but our connection
felt like it was ocean deep. So thru happily watered eyes
we said our goodbyes to each other. Not knowing when
our paths may cross again.
I walked back to the car, savouring the feeling
of the soft playa sand between my toes.
And so we drove away from this
Beautiful Circus of Imaginary Proportions.
This Oasis of Desire in the middle of the desert.
And everything was beautiful.
P.S. – Click here for some extra miscellaneous Burning Man photos…