The MAN Burns… Burning Man 2017: Part 15


The crowd on Burn Night, Burning Man 2017

70,000 people encircle the Man on burn night. Mutant vehicles can be seen lighting up the sky in the distance.


Call it a huge party, if you want. Or a solemn ceremony. It’s a bit of both— the one event at Burning Man that almost everyone attends. People begin wandering out to the Man early on Saturday evening while the best seats on the Playa are still available. These are prime, sit in the dirt seats, where you get to watch the whole show up close and personal, where you can feel the heat. Burners travel by foot, bike and mutant vehicles. They arrive as individuals and in large groups, often walking behind a leader who holds up a long, lit wand that everyone can see. A circle has been laid out around the Man to establish the boundary of how close people can sit. Only Black Rock Rangers, performers, firemen, and the specialists that oversee the burn are allowed inside. A sizable promenade lies just outside the seating zone. Beyond that, mutant vehicles rule, hundreds of them ranging in size from huge to small and ringing the man. Thousands of bikes are parked farther out. It’s important to remember where— and easy to forget.

The burn is carefully orchestrated with BMORG more or less doing the same things in the same order every year. It starts with an official parade out from Center Camp carrying the fire that will be used to light the Man. The fire has been burning all week in front of the Center Camp Café, lit by an Earth Mother (or is that earthy) who utilizes the sun and a mirror. There is always a band with the parade, people on stilts, and a cart that carries the fire. Next fire dancers perform within the circle, hundreds of them twirling and dancing in a dozen different ways. There were even fire-breathers this year, spitting out flame and then taking another gulp of fuel. Finally, it’s time for the Man to raise his arms and signal the beginning of the burn. Fireworks cascade down and then shoot out in all directions, working inward until the Man is bathed in flame. After that, Burners watch and wait until the Man and the structure that holds him fall into the fire. A moment of silence, followed by a huge roar greets the fall. Then it is back to Black Rock City to party the night away, or join the long line of Burners heading home, often taking 4-6 hours to make it the five miles to the road.

I parked my bike at the Center Camp Café this year and walked out to the Man, following the Dixie Land band, stilt walkers and fire cart. Monitors made sure I kept my distance. I arrived well before the fire dancers started, so I strolled the promenade, walking in a full circle around the Man, and taking photos. Noise ruled. Dozens of mutant vehicles blasted music and fire into the night. Hundreds, if not thousands of people danced. Others scrambled for seats or simply walked the circle like me, checking out the elaborate costumes that Burners wore and the brightly lit mutant vehicles. I stopped to watch people dance and moved a bit myself, before moving on. A young man hit on me, emphasizing how he liked the company of older men. I made a not so graceful exit. By the time I had completed my walk, the fire dancers were strutting their stuff. It was too late to sit, but I found a good location to stand and watch the show. The dancers finished, the fireworks filled the night sky, and the fired burned. I left before the last of the structure came tumbling down.

Stilt walkers on way to lighting of the Man, Burning Man 2017

People on stilts are part of the parade that takes the fire out to the Man. It’s a long walk.

Fire cart on way to light Man at Burning Man 2017

The fire to light the Man is carried in a cart. The Man looks on from inside the Temple of the Golden Spike.

Distant shot of fire dancers, Burning Man 2017

I was too far out to get a good shot of the fire dancers, but there were hundreds of them performing all around the circle.

Golden Spike shoots out fireworks, Burning Man 2017

When the Man raises his arms, the fireworks display starts with a bang. Here they were shooting out from the golden spike.

Man shoots out fireworks at Burning Man 2017

Even the Man gets into the act, shooting out flames.

Fireworks on Burn night 4, Burning Man 2017

Soon, fireworks fill the sky.

Fireworks on burn night, Burning Man 2017

Fireworks on Burn night 3, Burning Man 2017

Burn night 2, Burning Man 2017

A large boom created this effect.

Temple of Golden Spike shoots flames into the air, Burning Man 2017

Before long, everything is engulfed in flame.

Burning of Temple of Golden Spike at Burning Man 2017

And then, only the structure remained with a vacant space where the Man once stood. It was time for me to leave.

I was back at camp being fed a feast by my new friends from Nevada City when someone came by and told us that a man had jumped into the fire, eluding officials who had tried to stop him. He died the next day at the UC Med Center in Sacramento. It saddened me; for the person, of course, but also for the people who had tried so hard to stop him, for his friends and family, for the thousands who were still at the burn, and for the event itself. I was ever so thankful I had left early.

I stayed through Sunday, attended the Temple burn, and was up by 3:30 on Monday morning making my way over the dusty, bumpy road out of Burning Man. It only took an hour. Another year was behind me. The sun lit the horizon over the desert as I drove the 60 miles between Gerlach and Interstate 80. Its beauty reminded me of how precious life is— and how privileged we are to be here and enjoy it.

View leaving Burning Man 2017

NEXT POST: In search of fall colors, I head to New England but find them at home. After that: A Halloween Extravaganza!





The MAN… Burning Man 2017: Part 14

Full view of Man at Burning Man 2017

The Man, as far as I know, has always stood on his own at Burning Man. This year he was located in a structure called the Temple of the Golden Spike.


I’ve never seen the Man enclosed in a building before. This year was a first; it changed his look. The reason made sense. The theme was Radical Ritual and one of Burning Man’s longest rituals has been to choose the Man’s location first each year and then build everything else on the Playa and in Black Rock City around him. The organization starts with pounding a ‘golden spike’ into the ground where the Man will be located, thus the name of the structure: the Temple of the Golden Spike.  It came with a long golden spike on top. I found the setting rather attractive.

I stopped by to pay my respects to the Man several times this year: in the evening, the morning, the day, and the night. And, of course, I was there on Saturday evening, the night the Man traditionally burns in a ceremony that serves as a climax for the week-long festival. I’ll divide this post into two parts. The first will feature the Man during the week; the second, which I will put up on Saturday, will focus on burn night.

Evening view of Temple of Golden Spike, Burning Man 2017

I made my first trip out to the Man when I arrived on Wednesday evening. The sun had just set. The tower on top represents the ‘golden spike’ that Burning Man pounds into the ground to serve as the central point from which Black Rock City is planned each year.

Man looks over edge at Temple of Gplden Spike, Burning Man 2017

Here, the Man peers out from the second story of the structure.

Looking up at Man in Temple of the Golden Spike, Burning Man 2017

Burners could either enter the building on the ground floor and look up at the man…

Man in Temple of Golden Spike at night, Burning Man 2 2017

Seen here at night…

Man in Temple of Golden Spike in evening, Burning Man 2017

Or admire him from the second floor, which also provided views of the Playa, Black Rock City and the desert.

Man in Temple of Golden Spike at night 3, Burning Man 2017

Another shot of the Man from outside the Temple. He’s come a long way from when he was first burned in San Francisco on Baker Beach in 1986.

Gongs in Temple of Golden Spike, Burning Man 2017

Gongs inside the temple provided a meditative sound.

Temple of Golden Spike is prepared for burning, Burning Man 2017

Visiting hours are closed as of Saturday when crews load the Man and structure up with fireworks in preparation for the Saturday night burn.


NEXT POST: The Man burns.




The Trees of Black Rock City… Burning Man 2017: Part 12

Nighttime view of Tree of Ténéré , Burning Man 2017

The Tree of Ténéré with its 15,000 leaves lit up at night by LED lights that changed color.


It seems strange to talk about the trees in the Black Rock Desert. The Playa stretches out to the distant mountains, flat and featureless, immense in its nothingness. But this year’s theme, Radical Ritual, encouraged a number of artists to imagine trees in the desert. And they imagined some very interesting ones. They ranged from Methuselah, a 4,848-year old Bristle Cone Pine that lives in the White Mountains of California, 325 miles south of Black Rock City, to the Tree of Ténéré, a solitary acacia that was once described as the most isolated tree on earth and lived some 7000 miles from Burning Man in the vast Sahara Desert of northern Niger.

Looking out from Burning Man across the treeless Black Rock Desert playa.

Tree of Ténéré at night, Burning Man 2017

This close up of Ténéré provides a view that shows some of the 175,000 LED lights that decorated the tree. Artists and technologists from around the world were invited to help develop the software that controlled the lighting and provided ever-changing light shows. The tree was also designed for climbing, capable of accommodating up to 60 climbers at one time.

Tree of Ténéré at Burning Man 2017

The Tree of Ténéré on the Playa provided shade from the burning sun for Burners in much the same way its namesake did in the Sahara Desert for Tuareg wanderers where the tree stood for decades by itself in hundreds of square miles.

Methuselah at Burning Man 2017

Methuselah of Biblical fame, was said to have lived to the ripe old age of 969, passing away just a few weeks before the Great Flood that his grandson built the Ark for. Reputedly, the oldest man ever, he was a mere youngster in comparison to Methuselah the Bristle Cone Pine, which, up until recently, was considered the oldest tree in existence. (A 5,000 year old Bristle Cone Pine has been found.)

Methuselah in balack and white, Burning Man 2017

A different view rendered in black and white. The twisted metal of the tree reflects the twisted wood of the actual tree. Peggy and I have visited Methuselah in its natural setting in the White Mountains and wandered among the ancient trees in a radical ritual of our own.

Sysimetsä was a poignant reminder of the forest fires that have been plaguing the West for the past several years. Put together by artists from Lake County in Northern California, it was a memorial to a fire that had destroyed their county and the Raven’s Landing Art Space in 2015. As I walked through the display at Burning Man, fires were threatening my home in Southern Oregon. As I write today, the terrible conflagration that has destroyed so much of California’s beautiful wine country and taken numerous lives, still rages.

Crows in trees, Sysimetsä at Burning Man 2017

Trees left naked by the Lake County fire were brought to Burning Man to create this sculpture. Ravens, representing the Raven’s Landing Art Space that was burned down by the fire, roost in the trees.

Sysimetsä crow at Burning Man 2017

A close-up.

Crow in Black and White, Sysimetsä at Burning Man 2017

Rendered in black and white by me, I wanted to capture the bleakness of areas that have been burned.

Sysimetsä at Burning Man 2017

The center piece of the Sysimetsä sculpture represented a different message, life rising out of the flames and the ashes, being regenerated by both nature and humans.

Malcolm Tibbett’s’, Wood Carver’s Dream, reminded me of the beauty of wood. This gracefully curving art piece is made up of wood from a number of different tree species reflecting their different colors, textures and grains. As Tibbetts notes on his Web site, “Segmented woodturning is an art form with few limitations. By combining components, I can create just about any shape or size and by arranging different wood species, I can create just about any type of surface design. There are few art forms with this much freedom.”

A Wood Turner's Dream at Burning Man 2017

Tibbetts’ creation seen from a distance. Wind is whipping up a dust storm on the Playa, reminding me that it is time to head back to camp.

A Wood Turner_s Dream close up at Burning Man 2017

A closer look.

Machina Naturale by Dave Boyer from Reno, Nevada brings us forward in time to a kinetic wind sculpture that resembles a tree and captures the wind, mimicking, or bringing together our natural and mechanical worlds.

Macchina Naturale at Burning Man 2017

Machina Naturale with its tree-like look and kinetic wind sculpture.

Looking up at Macchina Naturale, Burning Man 2017

Looking up.

It isn’t hard for me to imagine trees as being sacred, to understand how they have been involved in humankind’s rituals down through the ages. The heat from their fires provided warmth, a means of cooking, and a way to keep wild animals at bay on dark nights for ancient peoples. Spreading limbs and leaves provided shelter from rain, snow and hail— and the wood itself was used for making shelters. Many trees provided food necessary for survival. And finally, there is the awe that the size and beauty of trees can bring.

Giant redwood tree at Redwoods National Park. Photo by Curtis Mekemson.

How could one not feel awe when confronted by giant redwoods in their cathedral-like setting. This beauty is a couple of hours away from our home.

Peggy stands next to one of the giants.

Closer to home, we found our own sacred cove of virgin timber while out backpacking this summer, about eight miles from where we live.







The Sacred Temple of Black Rock City… Burning Man 2017: Part 11

Temple at Burning Man 2017

The 2017 Temple at Burning Man with its Black Rock Desert playa and mountain setting.


Peggy and I watched with dismay as several of the stately Ponderosa Pine trees on our property in Southern Oregon teetered on the edge of death, victims of pine beetles and the drought brought on by global warming. It is a story told over and over in the Sierra Nevada Mountains of California and Nevada where the US Forest Service reports that over a hundred million trees have suffered a similar fate.

This year’s Temple at Burning Man was a reflection on the devastation caused by global warming. The Temple was made from trees that had died. The write up on the Burning Man site described the structure of the temple:

Interlocking timber pieces in formation become a Temple that is both cloud and spire; inverted pyramidal columns suggest the negative-space of a forest canopy, simultaneously supporting a vast pagoda-like ‘cloud’ framework which in turn supports a central spire. In this way disorder gives way to harmony, and a group of dying trees is re-ordered into a cathedral of timbers stretching toward the sky.

Temple view at Burning Man 2017

The forest holding up a canopy of clouds and the spire

Side view of Temple at Burning Man 2017

Another perspective.

Temple view, Burning Man 2017

Looking up at the Temple’s central spire.

The Temple is not a religious edifice, like a church,  but it is a spiritual refuge. Burners come to mourn those who have passed on and seek peace. Thousands of messages are left for loved ones. I always make a point of working my way through the temple while enjoying the sense of peace, reading the messages, and quietly supporting those who mourn.

People inside Temple at Burning Man 2017

Burners gather for a period of quiet meditation.

Messages in Burning Man Temple, 2017

Thousands of messages are left for loved ones. The majority of these messages are written but photos and items of importance to those who have died are often included.

Mermaid Cello in Temple at Burning Man 2017

I would have liked to have known the story behind this cello, angel, mermaid.

It is never too late, Burning Man Temple 2017

More generic messages are included as well.

Change sign at Burning Man Temple 2017

Trans Lives Matter, Burning Man Temple 2017People also leave messages for their four legged friends that have died. The memorials almost always include photos and often include favorite toys, like a well-loved tennis ball. I am always moved by these memorials but I was particularly touched by the written memorial to Kozmo this year, as I am sure you will be.

Kozo memorial at Burning Man Temple, 2017

Meet Kozmo and then read his story below.

Memorial to Kozmo the cat at Temple, Burning Man 2017

Rama with tennis ball memorial at Burning Man Temple 2017

Rama and his well-loved tennis ball.

Toe Licker the Cat memorial at Burning Man Temple, 2017

Toe-Licker. I can almost feel that raspy tongue.

Memorial to cat at Burning Man Temple, 2017

And how can you not love this decorated cat. I remember putting reindeer antlers on our cat at Christmas and receiving a similar look of, “Really, do we have to do this?”

The Temple is always burned on Sunday in a solemn ritual that sends the messages skyward and provides an element of peace for those left behind. For once, the always boisterous, always noisy Burning Man is silent. The music has stopped, the dancing has stopped, the drinking has stopped; there is only silence and respect broken occasionally by the sound of someone crying or calling out the name of a loved one who has passed on.

People watch silently as Temple burns at Burning Man 2017

Flames shoot high at 2017 Temple burn at Burning Man

Final stages of Temple burn, Burning Man 2017

Sparks fly skyward from Temple at Burning Man 2017

I always feel like the sparks represent messages sent on their way.


NEXT POST: More sculptures from Burning Man 2017 with a special focus on trees in honor of the world’s remaining forests.




The Radical Ritual Theme… Burning Man 2017: Part 10

The 2017 Burning Man Theme of Radical Ritual led to some interesting art including this fellow. If you are wondering what it is, so was I. I decided it was an anteater with a cowbell. Minus the cowbell, I was reminded of the small stick figures found in the cave on the Little Colorado River where the Hopi Indians entered this world according to their mythology.


Each year, Larry Harvey, the founder of Burning Man, determines what the theme for the annual event will be. While it isn’t required, artists are then encouraged to reflect the theme in their work. Most major tribes and many of the smaller ones as well, also emphasize the theme in the design and decoration of their camps. Themes from past years have ranged from the environment, to evolution, to rites of passage. This year’s art theme was Radical Ritual. I pulled the following out of Burning Man’s description:

Beyond the dogmas, creeds, and metaphysical ideas of religion, there is immediate experience. It is from this primal world that living faith arises. In 2017, we will invite participants to create interactive rites, ritual processions, elaborate images, shrines, icons, temples, and visions. Our theme will occupy the ambiguous ground that lies between reverence and ridicule, faith and belief, the absurd and the stunningly sublime.

Sacred things appear to come from some profoundly other place that is beyond the bounds of space and time. It is as if a window is thrown open on another world that is more real than real. This absolute uniqueness of all sacred things releases powerful emotions: joy, awe, wonder, dread, and, in its most transcendent form, pure exaltation. The sacred speaks to us of vastness and of union with a power larger than our conscious selves. The sacred gives us access, it is felt, to greater being.

I always look forward to seeing how artists interpret the theme. For example, the Big Rig Jig, which I have included in several posts, was featured as part of Burning Man’s 2007 environmental theme, The Green Man.

Art projects are encouraged to reflect the year’s theme. These oil tankers welded together reflected environmental concern about our dependence on oil.

As I read this year’s description, I was amused by the sentence: “Our theme will occupy the ambiguous ground that lies between reverence and ridicule, faith and belief, the absurd and the stunningly sublime.” That, I thought, provides a heck of a lot of latitude. And I was right. I’ve already provided an example of art that bordered on the sublime this year: The Flower Tower. But where does a giant toilet fit in?

The Flower Tower was reaching for the sublime at Burning Man this year..

While this five-foot tall toilet was approaching the absurd.

The artists named their large toilet Morning Ritual and declared it was “a dedication to the most unsung hero in our homes.” Okay, I decided, it doesn’t get much more absurd than this. The artists pointed out, however, that the toilet is often used as a place of refuge. Think of the parent wanting to escape from rambunctious kids for a few moments, or a date wanting a break from a boring partner. Or how about when the toilet becomes an absolute necessity, like when you are suffering from a severe case of Montezuma’s Revenge. Is there anything more important in your life at that particular moment than finding or hanging out with a privy? I am pretty sure that Burners who have overindulged— like drank all night— regard the long lines of port-a-potties found throughout Black Rock City in a similar vein.

Porta potties lined up in Black Rock City.

Martin Luther, the fellow who created the Protestant Reformation, took the analogy a step further. He considered the toilet an important ally in his fight against the devil. He’d sit on the pot, let go, and declare, “Take that Satan.” He was also reputed to use pamphlets that were written in opposition to his campaign as toilet paper.

For whatever the reason, Harvey and Company decided that the toilet deserved a special place among the shrines that were surrounding the Man. Here are some of the other shrines I found placed around the Man and throughout the Playa.

La Santisima Muerte- the Lady of Shadows, the Sacred Death, the Skinny Lady.

I found this Shrine of La Santisima Muerte rather interesting. La Santisima is not a saint according to the Catholic Church, but she is gaining in popularity among the poor of Mexico and Latin America because she rejects no one who comes to her— including drug dealers. The horse like creature on the right represents one of the six aspects Quetzalcoatl.

Shrine of La Santisima Muerte at Burning Man 2017

A closer look…

La Santisima Muerte close up at Burning Man 2017

And a close up. Today Latin America, tomorrow the world?

This two-tailed water nymph with Burning Man hair nestles in giant hands as part of the Aquarian Shrine to water by artist Jade Fusco from Austin, Texas,

Artists Andrew Sczesnak and Chris Swimmer from Berkeley claimed that their Shrine of Dough was dedicated to the world’s dependence on bread, but all I could think of was Ghost Busters.

Shrine of the Golden Bunny at Burning Man 2017

And if you have a doughboy, you might as well have a Golden Rabbit. Makes sense doesn’t it? My grandsons, however, said it looks like a dead bunny.

The Gilded Brine Shrimp swims around on the Playa when it is covered with water so it is appropriate that it had its own shrine. Vaughn Perkins of Elk Creek, California created this art piece with its large egg.

A larger sculpture also featured the shrimp of the Playa. Thousands of these little fellows would have been swimming around a couple of months earlier when BMORG was still worrying about whether the Playa was going to dry up in time for Burning Man.

Naturally, a shaman would be included when thinking of radical rituals.

Temple of Awareness at Burning Man 2017

The Utah Builders’ Community out of Salt Lake City, Utah built this rather simple but elegant structure and called it The Temple of Awareness. The 13-sided structure was 35 feet in diameter and 35 feet tall. It was one of several structures at Burning Man that was designed to be burned.

Temple of Awareness Burns at Burning Man 2017 5

I was there, along with 20,000 or so other Burners, when the Temple started to Burn.

Temple of Awareness burns at Burniing Man 2017 2

Soon, flames were licking away at the top…

Temple of Awareness burns 1 at Burning Man 2017

And a few minutes later, it was almost over, which is an appropriate place to end today’s post.


NEXT BLOG: Since we have been focusing on ritual and shrines, I will feature this year’s Burning Man Temple.








Phoenicopterus Rex and Several Other Fun but Weird Sculptures… Burning Man 2017: Part 9

Giant Flamingo wearing boa at Burning Man 2017

Burning Man does whimsical well, as illustrated by this giant flamingo with its large purple boa.


Surrounded by a white picket fence and standing on fake grass, the 40-foot-tall Phoenicopterus Rex brought to Burning Man by Josh Zubcoff from San Francisco could be seen from almost anywhere on the Playa. Phoenicopterus, BTW, is the scientific name for flamingo, and in this case, a heck of a big bird. Peggy and I have met many of its smaller cousins in the South, both the beautiful wild kind you find standing around on one leg in swamps, and the more domesticated plastic kind you find adorning patches of grass on many a home. Our daughter, Natasha, loved these birds and decorated her room with them briefly as a teenager. I don’t remember whether that was before or after her Goth stage when she painted her walls black. I gave the room wide berth then, realizing that I might be painted as well.

Photo of Flamingos by Curtis Mekemson.

A pair of the real birds in Florida.

Part of the popularity of theses amazing birds is their ability to perform contortionists acts. Number 48 was a master. How’s that for taking a nap?

A pair of small plastic flamingos came by to visit Phoenicopterus Rex, who was back-lit by the sun but still very pink. I thought the top hats were a nice addition.

Nighttime giant flamingo at Burning Man 2017

Phoenicopterus Rex lit up at night.

The Flamingo was just one of several appropriately weird sculptures with a sense of humor found at Burning Man in 2017. I’ve included several for your entertainment, today.

Tyrannosaurus Rex at Burning Man 2017

It seems appropriate that we should go from a giant flamingo to a tiny dinosaur. This not too scary Tyrannosaurus Rex, was part of the Free Range Animal Automata Menagerie created by Edward Crell from Sonoma, California.

Dusty hippo at Burning Man 2017

The menagerie also included a blue hippo, which reminded me of a mailbox…

Fish catching cat at Burning Man 2017

And a cat that was busy fishing. The automata part in the menagerie’s title came from the fact that each of the sculptures had a rope attached that you could pull to make the animals do things. In this case, kitty’s paw went down to catch the fish.

Keyed up shark at Burning Man 2017

Here’s a fish that kitty best leave alone. Sharks are bad enough when they are calm. This guy was keyed up.

Eye of Keyed Up Shark at Burning Man 2017

Wes Waltenspeil of Reno, Nevada created the shark. Here’s a close up of its eye.

Gummy Bear pyramid at Burning Man 2017

You might wonder why this colorful pyramid created by Dicapria ( a one-name person) out of Long Beach California made my list of weird art…

Panels from Gummy Bear pyramid at Burning Man 2017

It was certainly colorful…

Gummy Bear pyramid close up at Burning Man 2017

But take a closer look. The 12-foot tall pyramid was made up of a hundred thousand Gummy Bears. I might say ‘chew on that thought’ except the Gummy Bears were made out of acrylic and metal.

Giant crane named Coco at Burning Man 2017

In returning to the Big Bird theme, this 150 foot wide 45 foot tall giant crane named Coco was built by the Crimson Collective out of Los Angeles and done in origami style. In addition to its visual impact, it provided welcome shade on the Playa.

Flying unicorn at Burning Man 2017

I’d call this fellow Pegasus except for its fairy-wand, unicorn-type horn. It was an impressive beast. I don’t know who the artist is.

Nighttime flying horse at Burning Man 2017

Here’s the Pegasus Unicorn at night. Check out the totally out of control curly-haired tail.

Chicken and egg sculpture at Burning Man 2017

‘It’s a chicken and egg situation’ according to Andrea Greenlees of Surbiton, UK, who created this sculpture. I’m not sure it answered the age old question of which came first. Burners were invited to climb up the ladder and enter the old girl through her tail-end and frolic among the eggs, however. Maybe the experience provided them with inspiration to answer the question.

Blow up alien at Burning Man 2017

It wouldn’t be Burning Man without a few aliens wandering around, even blow-up aliens.

Back of blow up alien at Burning Man 2017

The back of the alien at night.

Roswell alien at Burning Man 2017

And finally, proof positive of the dead aliens that were found after the UFO crash in Roswell! It’s likely that this fellow was on loan from Area 51.


NEXT BLOG: I intend to look at some of the art pieces that were built with the 2017 theme, Radical Ritual, in mind. Peggy and I are traveling again, this time to Connecticut to visit with our son and his family, however, so blog work will depend on available time.

Camp Mystic— From Mysticism to Community Building… Burning Man 2017: Part 8

Camp Mystic mutant vehicle, Burning Man 2017

Most large camps at Burning Man provide a mutant vehicle for their participants and others to use on forays out into the Playa and around Black Rock City. I found this toothy dragon at Camp Mystic. At night, LED lights on the panels provide a light show.


Camps at Burning Man range from miniscule (mine this year) to well over a hundred participants. Camp Mystic fits the latter category. Its founders made their first journey out to the Black Rock Desert in 1998, six years before I did, and have been returning ever since. I always make a point of visiting the camp to check out its other-worldly art. I am never disappointed.

Mystic Camp, Burning Man 2017

I included a photo of this Camp Mystic art earlier. Here, a small person checks it out. Dad was nearby.

Mystic Camp 5, Burning Man 2017

The other side featuring a four-armed Hindu God.

This year, I also went on the camp’s website. If you would like to gain an insight into how the larger camps function at Burning Man, you might want to visit Take some time and peruse through the different categories.

Camps in Black Rock City perform a dual function. The most important is to serve as a home for their members. They provide a supportive community with common values and friends to share the Burning Man experience with. Part of the support is help with logistics.  A camping location (usually with structures to provide shelter), food, power supplies, and bathing facilities are fairly common. Participants are expected to help cover common costs, and, even more importantly, to share in the chores. Burning Man is a participatory experience. Some, like Camp Mystic, even hope to give their members a transformative experience. Here’s what the theme camp has to say about itself.

We are a medley of creative talent and energy. Inspired by a sense of mystery and wonder, we perceive the consciousness of “We Are All One.” Mystics encourage the enigmatic spirit to explore a deeper connection, not only on this planet and all that exists within, but the realm of the entire Universe. Camp Mystic is an ongoing experiment in the power of friendship, love, artistic expression, commitment, and exploration into the farthest reaches of human development and beyond.

Reminds me of my youth in the 60s and 70s— “It is the dawning of the age of Aquarius.” Remember that song by the 5th Dimension? “Let the sunshine in.” Parts of my soul still exist in that time warp, back when magic was real, back before the wars and politics and greed and fanaticism of the last 50 years created the malaise and cynicism that exists today. I suspect that the magic still exists for members of Camp Mystic, and hopefully it is being reborn into today’s younger generations. That’s a good thing. We need all we can get.

The second major function of large camps, and most small camps, is to give back to the community.  This is done by contributing and supporting art, offering workshops, providing drinks and food, and hosting events— a dance venue with large speakers and top DJs, for example , or a bunny parade. The number of things that people contribute is limited only by their imaginations. When I was there three years ago, I came across a peanut butter and jelly bar. It was filled with several types of bread, jelly and peanut butter. You were free to make your own sandwiches. The KFC Camp from Kentucky close by was offering fried baloney sandwiches and a shot of bourbon for breakfast. Woohoo!

Camp Mystic program directory, Burning Man 2017

This sign listed all of the events and workshops associated with Camp Mystic. They ranged from Yoga and meditation sessions to lectures on the future of humankind.

Mystic Camp program, Burning Man 2017

A closeup of the sign with examples.

I stopped in front of a large sign at Camp Mystic that listed the events and workshops taking place at the camp. As you can see from the photo, there were a bunch. I also took a close up to provide a perspective on the variety. For example, you could participate in an immersive light and sound experience that was reportedly similar in nature to taking DMT, a drug found in many plants that leads to a short, but intense, psychedelic experience where you might encounter anything from geometric forms, to aliens, to elves, to God.

Much of the art of Mystic Camp seemed to reflect what a DMT experience might be like. Other paintings featured our close association with nature, a vision of the future connection between humans and machines, and mystical contacts between men and women. There was also some fine ceramic work.

Mystic Camp art 10, Burning Man 2017

I can see where a little DMT might be helpful in this perception of an alternative reality.

Mystic Camp art 17, Burning Man 2017

Another example.

Mystic Camp art 14, Burning Man 2017

And another…

Mystic Camp art 6 at Burning Man 2017

A mechanized, robotic rendition of The Man. Is this our future?

Mystic Camp art 12, Burning Man 2017

I felt that this exotic woman, like the robot above, reflects on the future connection between humans and machines.

Mystic Camp art 16, Burning Man 2017

I really liked this dancer with her swirling presence.

Mystic art 1 from Burning Man 2017

The incorporation of birds and animals, and our relationship with nature is often included in mystic art, as this painting and those below illustrate.

Mystic Camp art 11, Burning Man 2017

Heart's colors set the Mind Free

Mystic Camp art 15, Burning Man 2017

Mystic Camp art 8, Burning Man 2017

A couple of paintings focused on human contact through the eyes

Camp Mystic art 5, Burning Man 2017

Celestial Venus by Damien Jones at Burning Man 2017

Three ceramic sculptures also caught my attention.

Mystic Camp ceramic at Burning Man 2017

Mystic Camp art 3, Burning Man 2017

If you would like to learn more about the art and artists of Camp Mystic, go to the Camp Mystic site listed above and click on Art and Performance.

Continuing to read down the list of events and lectures offered by the camp, I found that I could participate in workshops on “What the Heck is Leadership,” and “Humankind, Where Do We Go from Here.” The leadership course was offered by Jason Gore who works as a coach for CEO’s who have start-up businesses. It was a practical, hands-on lecture where people could learn communication and organizational skills critical to leadership and included some of the same skills used by Burners in developing their camps. I’ve mentioned before that Google is one of the companies that considers Burning Man a valuable experience for its employees.

Henk Rogers’ course on Humankind was a bit more ambitious. He was discussing topics like how to eliminate our dependence on carbon based fuels and how to end war. He was also interested in how the Universe might end and what we could do about it. (Burning Man has never been shy about its desire to change the world.)

I was amused to find that there would be “Critical Tit Adornment” for the Mystic Camp women who would be riding in the Critical Tit Parade. Neither I nor the public was invited. The parade is an annual event where several hundred women go on a topless bike ride through Black Rock City. I’ve watched a few; the participants obviously have a lot of fun and part of the experience is to have their breasts painted and/or adorned with pasties and even tassels.

I’ll conclude with a couple more shots I took around the camp.

Camp Mystic mutant vehicle side, Burning Man 2017

This was the front half of the mutant vehicle I featured at the top of the post. A large platform on top provides room for Burners.

Camp Mystic

And finally, the outside of the camp.


NEXT BLOG: I will continue my exploration of Playa where we visit a pyramid made out of 100,000 Gummy Bears and a 40-foot tall flamingo, along with aliens and several other art works. It’s possible that we will even be able to answer whether the chicken or the egg came first.

Human Form and Sculpture at Black Rock City… Burning Man 2017: Part 7

Distant view of Tonglen sculpture at Burning Man 2017

A lone cyclist crosses the Playa at Burning Man while the sculpture named Tonglen by artist Ryan Mathern, looks on.  Tonglen, it appears, is all head and heart.


For today’s post on Burning Man 2017, I have picked out a series of sculptures that reflect a variety of approaches by Black Rock City artists to the human form ranging from the abstract to the realistic while using materials including metal, wood, plastic and cement. Many of the pieces have a spiritual component and most of the artists have had work at Burning Man in previous years.

TONGLEN by Ryan Mathern from Atlanta, Georgia

Face of Tonglen at Burning Man 2017

A close look at the face of Tonglen shows his copper-colored eyes and the Tibetan scrip that appears on his forehead and encircles his face.

My wife, Peggy, picked this sculpture out from my photos as one of her favorites at Burning Man this year. Tonglen is a Buddhist meditation practice of receiving negative energy when breathing in and releasing positive energy when breathing out. You breathe in suffering; you breathe out compassion. It is a form of meditation practiced by the Dalai Lama.

Side view of Tonglen Sculpture at Burning Man 2017

The heart is actually a billows like a blacksmith might use. It forces air into the diamond-shaped fire chamber and then out the mouth. Most of Mathern’s works incorporate fire or some other form of light.

Mathern’s work incorporated this idea by including a diamond-shaped burning chamber with a heart-shaped bellows underneath. Fire would come out of the sculpture’s mouth and light up the Tibetan script that encircled the face. I didn’t see this piece lit up but found it quite striking in the day.

THE BRIDGE AND THE CAGE by Valerie Elizabeth Mallory from Oakland, California

Front view of the Bridge and the Cage sculpture at Burning Man 2017

An early morning view of the sculpture by Mallory shows figures on various locations on the bridge. All of the figures are live cast from volunteers by the artist.

Back of the Bridge and the Cage Sculpture at Burning Man 2017

A back view of the sculpture was lit up by the sun.

This diorama by Elizabeth Mallory represents people crossing a bridge from one stage in life to another— responding to the human condition of wanting to improve their lives, to cross over to a better existence. The cage reflects a metaphor that people occasionally get stuck, are imprisoned on their odyssey toward a different life by ignorance and a tendency to see the world in black and white.

Cage from Bridge and Cage Sculpture, Burning Man 2017

A bird in a gilded cage came to mind when I saw this part of Mallory’s sculpture.

The casts for this sculpture were made from volunteers by using cold cast resin and alginate. Each cast took 12-36 hours to complete. Art doesn’t get any more real.

MAYA’S MIND by Mischell Riley from Carson City, Nevada

Maya's Mind sculpture at Burning Man 2017

The bust of Maya Angelo by Mischell Riley was placed on three books which served as steps up to the bust.  The back of the sculpture provided a ‘look’ into Maya’s mind.

Closeup of Maya's Mind sculpture at Burning Man 2017

A close up of Maya’s head. The sculpture is made from cement. The birds are a reference to Maya’s autobiography, “I know why the Caged Bird Sings.”

I didn’t recognize the sculpture for what it was, a bust of Maya Angelo. I saw a tall, powerful figure done in classical style. Once I read about Riley’s work, I became even more impressed. Her intention is to capture a number of women who are making or have made a difference in the world. Her next piece will be Jane Goodall. She works out of the Generator, a large warehouse space in Reno where a number of art pieces for Burning Man have been created.

THUNDERBIRDS by James Tyler from Haverstraw, New York

Two Thunderbird sculptures at Burning Man 2017

I liked the simplicity of these Thunderbird sculptures by James Tyler. These are two of the three that he created for Burning Man.

Thunderbird at Burning Man 2017

Each of the sculptures had words written on them. This one was “love.”

Thunderbirds at night, Burning Man 2017

Basic lighting at night added to the impact of the sculptures.

Peggy and I found this First Nation totem pole Thunderbird on Vancouver Island, British Colombia. (Photo by Peggy Mekemson.)

And this petroglyph Native American Thunderbird in New Mexico.

The Thunderbird is a common theme in both Native American and First Nation mythology. Peggy and I have found them represented in the Totem Poles of the Northwest and the petroglyphs of the Southwest. Tyler’s unique work provides another, more human perspective, but I felt that it was true to the spirit of the early natives who saw them as a powerful force in their lives.

SOLACII by Tigre Bailando and Anastazia Louise Aranaga from Oakland, California

The faces of Solacii at Burning Man 2017

The three faces of Solacii and her tattered garment, which is made up of numerous other pieces of clothing.

Inside view of Solacii at Burning Man 2017

An open chamber at the base of Solacii served as a refuge and provided the sound of a heart beating and a person breathing.

Solacii at night, Burning Man 2017

A view of Solacii lit up at night. Lighting moved from face to face.

This 20-foot tall sculpture rising out of the desert pulled me to her. When I climbed off my bike, a woman who was sitting inside the sculpture said, “You have to come in here and listen.” I looked up at the three expressive faces, the four hands, and the tattered, pieced together garment and could only wonder what I would hear. It was like being inside a person’s body listening to her beating heart and breathing, very peaceful, a refuge— a womb with a view (sorry, I couldn’t help myself).

TARA MECHANI by Dana Albany from San Francisco, California

Tara mechani at Burning Man 2017

The sculpture of Tara mechani by Dana Albany was part female Buddha and part robot.

Close up of Tara mechani at Burning Man 2017

A view of Tara’s stomach and chest reflects the robot part.

Tara mechani at night, Burning Man 2017

A similar view at night.

I stopped off to see Tara mechani several times as I made my way out into the Playa. It seemed like there were always women standing there, staring up at the sculpture, and taking photos. The Tara part of the sculptures name comes from the female Buddha, Tara. The mechani came from the fact that her body was also robot like, fusing the past and the future.

ACTION FIGURE FAMILY by Jallen Rix from Palm Springs, California

Action Figure Family member Jacky at Burning Man 2017

The Action Figure Family members by Jallen Rix  turned out to be exactly as predicted. They were clothed in action figures.

“Imagine walking across the Playa and seeing a set of colorful shapes in the distance. As you are drawn closer, you see those shapes to be life-size statues, and the closer you get the more you begin to see that they are all covered in small toys. But not just any toys: hundreds of action-figures of all kinds of styles, backgrounds, comic books, and genres.”

I read this description from Burning Man’s review of 2017 art and knew that I had to go find Rix’s work. I’d missed it on my first ride through the Playa. I was not disappointed. Strange stuff.

Muppets on Action Figure Family at Burning Man 2017

A close look at Jacky’s chest revealed members of the Muppet crew with a covering of Playa dust.

Seven dwarves on Action Figure Family, Burning Man 2017

I wandered around seeing who else I could find. I found the Seven Dwarves hiking up the back of another sculpture.

Member of Action Figure Family at Burning Man 2017

The eye on this woman demanded a photo.

Action Figure Family close up, Burning Man 2017 close up,

A final view of the action figures, topped off by a duck. Is it Daffy or Donald?


PROMETHEAN PASSION (The Fire Inside) by Matthew Welter of Carson City, Nevada

Minute Man side view at Burning Man 2017 _edited-1

Promethean Passion by Matthew Welter included this Minute Man, which reflected Welter’s passion for freedom.

Minute Man at Burning Man 2017

Another view.

The first time I became aware of Welter’s work was a Statue of Liberty he had carved for Burning Man. It was an impressive piece, reaching skyward with her torch proudly displayed. Liberty has been a consistent theme of Welter’s over the years. As has been fire. His sculptures are burned from the inside out, but are not allowed to burn completely. Thus creating a new piece of art. This year’s work, Promethean Passion, is named after the Greek legend Prometheus who stole fire from Zeus and gave it to humanity. Zeus was not happy. He chained Prometheus to a rock and had an eagle eat out his liver. Each night Prometheus would grow a new one and each day it would once again be eaten by an eagle. Not nice.

And, in conclusion for this post, four other sculptures.

Mirage sculpture at Burning Man 2017

Mirage by Michael Benisty of Brooklyn, New York.

Man looking over shoulder sculpture at Burning Man 2017

Man Looking Over Shoulder by Michael Spraker of Capistrano Beach, California.

Pegnant woman sculpture at Burning Man 2017

I think this is “Labor” by Viacheslav Gudenok of Kiev, Ukraine. If not, my apologies. It is a disturbing but powerful piece that reflects our close connection to nature. Our roots, so to speak.

Burning Girl at Burning Man 2017

And finally, and I might add, at last, a Burning Woman. It’s about time. I don’t know the artist.


NEXT BLOG: The mystical art of Mystic Camp.




The Land Where Mutants Roam… Burning Man 2017: Part 6

When a 30-foot-tall dragon comes at you out of the night, you find another place to be. This was one of many impressive mutant vehicles at Burning Man 2017.


I was riding across the Playa when I spotted a giant, multi-colored dragon making its way over the desert. That’s a photo I must have, I thought, and climbed off my bike. It must have spotted me as well, since it changed directions and headed straight for me. I assumed it would stop, that I had the right away, that running over a Burner was a no-no. But those weren’t assumptions I was willing bet my body on. I’d make a small bite, a tidbit, an hors d’oeuvres. I climbed back on Horse with No Name and got out of the way. Fortunately, the dragon didn’t change directions again. That would have been scary.

A close up of the dragon’s head. The man on top  gives you an idea of just how big this mutant vehicle is.

Mutant vehicles come in all shapes and sizes at Burning Man, from humongous to petite. You have to have one if you are going to drive out on the Playa or in Black Rock City. Otherwise, you are required to park at your camp and walk or bike. To qualify as mutant, your vehicle has to be radically altered; the instructions are clear. You can’t just take a red ball, stick it on the hood of your car, and call the new creation Rudolph. Safety rules apply as well. It’s expected that you will be able to stop and not run over a Burner, that your vehicle can be easily seen at night, that passenger accommodations are safe, and that fire-breathing dragons, or other fire producing vehicles, meet stringent fire safety standards.

To assure that all of this will happen, Burning Man requires that you apply for permission to bring a mutant vehicle to Black Rock City. Alterations have to be described in detail. Deadlines have to be met. A committee reviews each proposal. A limited number are allowed and there are no guarantees that yours will be one.  Upon arrival at Burning Man, you are required to stop at the DMV, the Department of Mutant Vehicles, and have your vehicle checked for safety before driving on the Playa or around Black Rock City.

The Department of Mutant Vehicles at Burning Man 2017. The clearance was needed for the multicolored dragon.

I look forward to checking out the new vehicles each year I attend Burning Man. They are an important part of the event’s creativity and art. Following are some of my favorites from this year.

A possible new meaning for ‘helping hand?’ Or ‘hand out?’ I was intrigued by this mutant vehicle. Theres a face lurking behind the outstretched arm.

Another perspective. An eye has opened in the face.

Shh, don’t tell. There are undocumented aliens driving around at Burning Man.

I’m not sure, but I am going with frog on this one. The palm trees are a nice addition.

Creatures of the night? I couldn’t quite figure out the puppet woman as a mutant vehicle, but she was statuesque.

Here’s a closer look. I was hoping that she would dance.

The blue fellow looked much more mutant. I was trying to figure out whether it was an insect or an extremely irritated rabbit.

Mad rabbit mutant vehicle at Burning Man 2017

Speaking of irritated rabbits…

I loved this. I’m not sure whether it is a mutant vehicle, their home, or an artistic statement. Maybe a bit of all three. But talk about a desert drama.

I decided that it was worth dramatizing further with photoshop.

Face off.

Hot rod. But what’s with the camel? Must be a camp symbol. (One of my blogging friends, GP Cox, pointed out that I shouldn’t be surprised to find camels in the desert! Right.)

This dragon was living in the same camp. Maybe it ate camels.

Dragon’s head.

Playa dragon. There is never a lack of dragons at Burning Man!

This hot air balloon, riding above the clouds, is an example of a smaller mutant vehicle.

Judging from the tail, I’d say cat. But the ears and horns suggest something else.

I though this mutant vehicle had a bit of an aztec look…

And here we’ve traveled to India, where Ganesha, the Hindu Elephant God, lives.

And my favorite, Rabid Transit, brought to Burning Man by the same people who brought El Pulpo Mechanico.

This mutant vehicle could light up the sky…

And everyone around. Be sure to check out the video below to get a true feel for Rabid Transit. I usually don’t do videos, but this one is worth it. Check out his mouth and eyes.



NEXT POST: A return to Burning Man sculptures.

Cannibal Dogs, a Clean Cat, Witches and Other Murals… Burning Man 2017: Part 4

“Double, double, toil and trouble; Fire burn and caldron bubble.” Macbeth immediately came to mind when I saw these three lovelies on a mural in Black Rock City. This seemed to fit Burning Man’s 2017 theme, Radical Rituals. And why do witches come in threes so often?


Murals have been around for a while. Try 30,000 years. Those ancient cavemen and women painting on the dark walls of their caves in Europe had a message they wanted to pass on, as did the prehistoric artists of the Southwest pecking out their messages on rock 3000 years ago. In modern times, graffiti artists have used their spray cans to mark out their territories and declare “I was here,” irritating competing gangs and the public as well, which, I’m pretty sure, was the point.

Street art has become more sophisticated today, and more acceptable. Major cities and small towns alike want a piece of the action. You are as likely to see a mural in a small Midwestern town as you are in Paris, Moscow, Rio or New York. The best of the street artists have found fame, and even a bit of fortune.

Not surprising, street art has made it to Burning Man. Murals may show up anywhere in Black Rock City, but a special place is reserved for them on the back wall of the Center Camp Café. I always try to include a few in my review of Burning Man art because it is representative of the art form, and, more importantly, I am fond of murals. They often show up in my blogs when I travel, and, I might note, they often show up in the blogs of the people I follow.

As you might imagine, Burning Man art can get a little weird. Take the cat below, for example. If you have a cat, you have noted their hygiene practices, and possibly even been a little embarrassed by them when the boss or the in-laws are over. But cats are cats, and, for all I know, they may do it on purpose during awkward moments. You might make your dog feel guilty about the practice, but never your cat. Speaking of dogs, they were featured on a mural as well.

Okay, this is a bit outrageous… But you have to admit, it is a cat ritual.

I may have seen this as a cartoon a long time ago in a New Yorker, but Karen Strauss’s mural on rituals made me laugh.

I can easily get lost on the Net when I try to find a particular Black Rock City mural artist. I never know where the search will take me, if anywhere. For example, Papa Witch caught my attention. I watched him work, found his monkey/ape charming, and was intrigued by how he signed his work.

Papa Witch, Chokae Kalekoa, paints the Monkey King on the wall behind the Center Camp Cafe at Burning Man.

I thought the Monkey King was quite regal.

My Papa Witch search eventually took me to Chokae Kalekoa, who was doing a fundraiser for a 2000-mile bike ride he was going on through the West. He declared, “The Conscious Relaxation that is achieved By Shutting my Monkey Mind, reveals a state of ok-ness that allows me to Mindfully Work, Artistically Create and Frolic to the best of my ability.” He taught meditation and promised, “I hereby pledge that on this 2000-mile odyssey bicycle ride, I will get 2000 people that I meet along the way to frolic and meditate with me.” He was shooting to raise $5,000. Darn, I thought, why didn’t I think of that for the 10,000-mile ride I did around North America. An equivalent amount would have been $25,000! But it wouldn’t have worked. I didn’t have the desire to frolic with 10,000 people, and I certainly didn’t have the stamina. Can you imagine frolicking with 100 people at the end of a 100-mile day on your bike?

Like much art work, most of the murals leave the viewer to make up his own interpretation of what he is seeing. So, I have, liberally. My apologies to the artists in advance. They are certainly free to correct me. Do you have any unique interpretations you would like to add?

This mural was quite clear And meaningful. Not drinking water at Burning Man can get you in a heap of trouble.

This mural, right next to the drink water mural, made me chuckle again. The sign on the bottle says “Not Water.” Note the sleepy-eyed cat up above. I found three among the murals.

These mermaids included the third cat, and a flying saucer.

This is weird. I am sure that the symbols tell a story. One look at the teeth and I promptly named the mural, “Dentist’s Dream,” however.

Another strange one, but I liked it. Note the name, Femmebrandt. I called this one, “The Eyes Have It.”

Does this remind you of anything? I got stuck on GOP. How else are you supposed to interpret an elephant with wild orange hair. I’m pretty sure that isn’t what the artist had in mind, but…

I thought of global warming here, which may say more about how my mind works than the mural. But I saw the water lapping at the city and thought of poor Houston. Frogs aren’t doing very well with global warming either.

Another artist works on her mural. The post says, “It’s for all of us.”

Go with the flow.

Daliesque, I am thinking. This fox had quite a rack.

And finally, bring it on!

NEXT POST: I wander around the outer edges of Burning Man.