It’s Not Kansas Anymore, Toto… It’s Burning Man

Of the dozens of candidates for the Wizard I found among my photos, I opted for the Green Man.

What if Dorothy landed at Burning Man instead of Oz? Would she have known the difference?

No doubt she would have found a wizard and the odds are high she would have discovered a number of good and bad witches. There’s even a chance she would have stumbled upon a scantily clad, very, very bad witch wearing black leather and carrying a whip. (I think I have a photo.)

This woman, I decided, would make a great witch.

As for rusting tin men, cowardly lions, and uncoordinated scarecrows, they’ve probably all visited Black Rock City. Think of tens of thousands of people dressed up in costumes.

I can even imagine Larry Harvey, the founder of Burning Man, hiding behind a large psychedelic screen and yelling at Dorothy in a booming voice, “Gift me the witches broom and I’ll gift you a trip to Kansas.

And for some reason, I'm not sure why, I selected this young woman for Dorothy. Maybe it's a sense of innocence.

Gifting is big at Burning Man. So is radical self-reliance. Dorothy and her bosom buddies would have been on their own in searching for the broom without a corporate sponsor to be found. Nor would she have been able to buy food, water or even a new axe for the Tin Man. Consumerism is a no-no.

And how would Dorothy get home? “Follow the yellow brick road, sweetie, and tap your ruby slippers together,” was sound advice for Oz but what about Burning Man?

She’d be better off looking up the Midwest Burners. They are bound to have at least one Fairy Godmother who would happily gift Dorothy and her scruffy dog a ride home to Kansas… after the Man has burned. (BTW… Dogs aren’t allowed at Burning Man. Dorothy might have been sent packing as soon as she arrived.)

It’s serious countdown time here on the Applegate River in Oregon. Burning Man is four days away. The Emails are flying back and forth between the Horse-Bone Tribe.

The Horny Princess is planning on coming in on Tuesday and leaving on Saturday ‘depending on the dust.’ This is absolutely her last Burning Man she announces for the third year in a row.

“Don’t worry about the dust,” Sailor Boy responds. “There’s plenty to go around.”

Luna is picking out her hat; Pumpkin (our second year Burner) is bubbling; Scout is just glad he doesn’t have to cook. So are we. I heard from a spy in the Bigger Sacramento Book Club that Scotty was modeling his latest outrageous Burning Man get-up at the book club meeting.

Details, details, details… like where are we camping, who’s bringing what food, when are folks arriving and what walkie-talkie channel will we be using.

But that’s easy stuff. We are, after all, Burning Man Veterans. Thirty minutes of chit-chat and everything is settled.

My thanks to all the folks who have followed my Burning Man Blogs this year. And special thanks to WordPress for featuring the blogs prominently. This is my last one before the event but I will be back immediately afterwards with photos and stories from 2011. This year shows promise of being one of the best ever.

Sailor Boy toasts Burning man and shows off his colorful outfit.

My Eyes, Ears, Nose and Mouth Are Clogged with Dust and 5000 People Don’t Have a Clue Where Camp Is… Surviving Burning Man

Radical Self-Reliance is the primary catch phrase at Burning Man. This is my "Bring on the dust storm" outfit. A painter's mask works better but when your Burning Man name is Outlaw...

Surprise! The Black Rock Desert is a desert. Temperatures climb to over 100 degrees in the day and massive dust storms create zero visibility. It is all part of the experience of Burning Man. Veteran Burners call it ‘fun.’ They whine when it doesn’t happen.

After six years I still have doubts. But I guarantee it will be more ‘fun’ if you are adequately prepared

Last year I failed to take my advice. It was a beautiful evening for Burning Man. Temperatures were moderate, the sky was clear and a beautiful sunset bathed the surrounding mountains. A major event was scheduled on the far side of the Playa. The umpteen thousand square foot MEGATROPOLIS was to be burned

I joined fellow members of the Horse-Bone Tribe and a long line of Burners as we trekked across the Playa to the site. There were great fireworks, an impressive fire and all of the other hoopla that goes along with a Burning Man event.

My wife Peggy, our friend Beth and I had just started back when the massive dust storm hit. Everything disappeared.

“Which way do we go?” Peggy asked.

Unfortunately, I had left my goggles, my dust mask and my sense of direction back at camp. I didn’t have a clue. All we had going for us were 5000 other people caught in the same storm.

Someone in a large mutant vehicle filled with madly gyrating dancers yelled, “Center Camp is that way!” and we started trudging in the suggested direction, all of us, lemmings marching to the outer edge. What followed was weird, a Hieronymus Bosch scene scripted by Edgar Allen Poe and directed by Salvador Dali.

Sixty mile an hour winds battered us with dust. Visibility climbed from zero to a hundred feet and back to zero. Other Burners and mutant vehicles became ghostly reminders that we weren’t alone. The three of us held on to each other; being lost together was better than being lost alone.

Time slowed down, almost seeming to stop. At one point a cyclist zipped past going in the opposite direction. “Center Camp is that way,” he said, pointing in the direction we had come from. I was prepared to believe him. Up was down, north was south and east was west.

A thick coating of dust covered my glasses and trickled into my eyes. It clogged my nose, coated my mouth and stuffed my ears. Our clothes and skin became a muted Playa Gray. A full day of hiking and biking collaborated with my 67 years and began to sap my energy. Walking became work. I was not having ‘fun.’

Then, for a brief second, the wind shifted. I caught a glimpse of Black Rock City’s most prominent landmark, the Man. He was exactly the opposite of where I expected him to be and we were further from camp than when we started. But I was ecstatic.  Now I could orient myself and get us back to our camp.

Eventually we made it home, two hours after we left the burn. A box of baby wipes, several sneezes, eyewash, ear swabs and a cold beer repaired most of the damage. Exhausted, I fell in to a restless sleep. Giant dust devils pursued me through the night.

Under any circumstances, our trek through the dust storm would have been challenging. I could have done without dust in my eyes, nose and mouth, however. I now carry my goggles and dust mask whenever I leave camp. Lesson learned.

Radical self-reliance is the primary catch phrase of Burning Man. You are expected to take care of yourself. That means we bring our own food, our own water, our own shelter and all of the necessities required to survive for a week in a harsh desert environment.

Niceties matter as well. You can choose to shower by running along naked behind the water truck or you can choose to clean up in a more private manner.

Burning Man provides an excellent list of what to bring. Newbies and veterans alike will benefit from visiting. I return to it each year.

Being seen at night is one of the most important survival tools at Burning Man. We invited our grandkids to decorate us for this blog with glow sticks. Mom, they decided, needed spiky hair.

Here's how Tasha looked when she and the kids finished. Note how easy she is to see in the dark.

Our grandkids somehow thought I would look good as a chained man with cat whiskers.

While it's impossible to persuade six and three year olds to hold still for night time photos, I liked the sense of movement that Peggy caught.