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Day of the Burn

September 3/Day 48. Tonight The Man burns. This morning some traffic is already beginning to exit the playa, probably to avoid the inevitable crushing exodus post-burn, but also because people are just plain worn out and tired of the dust, or they’ve witnessed the burn before.

I’m ready to evacuate too; to get up in the pine trees at Lake Tahoe and out of the dust. The playa has a severe beauty all its own and I would like someday to revisit it in its natural state, which would be minus approximately 49,924 people, the official census as of 12:00 p.m. Thursday. The BLM has set a limit of 50,000 participants, but there is talk that limit may be raised to 70,000.

Burning Man is many things, from whimsical to concrete, from stunning to mundane. As I think I’ve mentioned, sometimes groups of people who may have only met online form a “theme camp.” There seem to be hundreds of them, some quite elaborate and some barely noticeable. The names often reflect their creativity. I saw one camp with canvas covering shading an area as large as a basketball court. The interior was furnished with old broken-down couches, chairs and pillows. The name was “The Shack of Sit.” Another, a bar, was named more profanely “The Immaculate Consumption.” There are weddings taking place and there are parties to help plan a wedding during next year’s Burning Man.

Since the BLM doesn’t permit the dumping of water on the playa and because there are thousands of people who would give practically anything to rinse the playa dust off their bodies, open shower camps are a popular theme. These consist of a large square made of 2×6 boards, about 10 feet on a side, lined with black plastic sheeting so the runoff water is captured and evaporated by the sun. In the center is a slightly raised platform on which to stand, and there’s a normal fresh water showerhead with solar heated water. Right out in the open in front of anyone who happens by, men and women strip and shower.

Nude biker

Nudity is a big deal in Black Rock City, probably because it’s not a BIG DEAL. Just as an estimate, I’d guess 5% walk around or ride their bikes completely nude. Perhaps as many as 10% of women go topless. The numbers are large enough that they’re noticeable in the crowd—but also large enough that soon nobody pays much attention. In any case, the nudists seem totally unselfconscious about it.

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