Burning Man Part 3 (The Sun)

September 29, 2009

My introduction to Burning Man came through a long night of slowly creeping through what is called ‘Waiting Man’. Waiting Man is the term for the line(s) that you sit in on your way into Burning Man. The original plan was that we would arrive at the site as close to the opening time of midnight as possible without being so early as to encounter the ire of the fine BM staff. This would give us the greatest chance at getting a decent camp site in ensuing land rush (if it can be called a rush at 5mph.) The best laid plans of mice and burners however… and my sister and I found ourselves arriving at Waiting Man sometime about 3am.

And boy did we wait the hell out of Waiting Man, in fact dawn had already developed well into morning and the sun was starting to peak over the surrounding mountains when I met my Burning Man virgin babtism at the bell.

By way of explanation, if it’s your first time at Burning Man, you can expect a bit of um… friendly hazing at the entry gate. Just for the record, by all accounts from the elder burners, including my sister’s, I got off very very light with only having to make out with the dust a bit and make a playa angel (one friend detailed his first burning man being spent mostly unable to sit down.) After you have been liberally anointed with the playa itself you are handed a stout piece of rebar with which to ring one of the bells which hang nearby, waiting to announce to all within earshot that another burner has been brought into the world.

Sadly, this delay also meant we were rather um… boned for someplace close to the center of the event. However, it was not at all an unfortunate placement as I detailed in an earlier post. Also on a certain level, I was relieved as I was thinking that we were going to have to put up our tent in the dark, going by our car’s headlights and our own lighting gear.

Oh no, lucky us, we got to put up our tent during the day… Actually, it was still early in the morning when we did get it put up and so I’m exaggerating. However, by the time it was up it was just starting to get warm.

And it kept getting warm, only stopping to pass warm entirely and move at a furious pace to hot, and then further to really damned hot and dry, did I mention the dry? Throughout this descent into Dante’s EZ-bake oven and dehydrator this poor Minnesota-raised and London-transplanted fellow began to realize that between the cold of the former and the damp of the latter, he could not have come from a worse background, weather wise, for a week on the Playa.

Thus was I introduced to the Sun, and indeed, reintroduced every morning when I would wake from the lovely cool night to realize that despite the shade above me (my sister and I later moved the tent to be underneath the fantastic shade structure our campmate Straightman had brought) I was about to start to be slow basted if I did not get up and find someplace both shady and open to whatever breezes might come along.

Slowly, through my time there I worked out some peace with my constant daytime companion and realized that it sure as hell wasn’t going to bend, and so I would have to. Every morning there would be a grace period of a few hours when it was both light and not yet so hot as to be unbearable. During this time I would try to find someplace to hang out and spend the 4-6 afternoon hours when things were at their worst. Sometimes this was in the shade of my fellow campers the DoomBus people (who had a lovely shade structure of their own. Sadly, the very best strategy came to me by way of my sister, but only late in the week; volunteering at Ice Camp.

Burning man is a gifting economy, commerce is verboten, there is nothing to buy, and selling anything is considered Quite Bad Form. There are two exceptions to the rule, one major, one minor. The minor one is the cafe at centre camp where you can buy yourself coffee or tea or whatever. The major one is ice. At three camps placed at 3, 6, and 9 O’clock (did I mention that the camp was circular and that locations are based on time positions?) burners can buy ice, in both blocks and cubes throughout the event. And unless you’ve basically brought your own ice truck, you’re going to need to buy ice.

On the plus side, there is no better place on the Playa to escape from the middle-of-the-day-bake-off than in the arctic confines of a large refrigerated truck, moving ice from the back to the front. Also, some of the best company of fellows is to be had there, and that’s a strong statement for someplace like Burning Man. After three hours of moving frozen water around I felt like an entirely new man. I had my appetite back (it had fled on the first day) and for all that I was completely exhausted on one level, I was completely energized on many others.

So it was, only at the end of my time that I think I had found some kind of balance, and speaking of balance, I don’t want to leave anyone with the impression of the sun out there being nothing but pure heat and horribleness. Every morning and every evening I saw came with some of the most incredible sunrises and sunsets I’d ever seen in my life. Like many other things out there you have to find peace with it as a thing of intense power.

There was, after returning home, still strong reminders of that power. No, I didn’t get sunburned, but I got wholly re-aligned to day and night. It was weeks before I was truly back on London time, the UK sun just didn’t have the oomph to push me back into it’s own rhythm with any kind of speed. Also, the timing is difficult. Burning Man being held so close to the equinox means that I came back not only to a weaker sun in intensity, but one declining in presence at it’s fastest rate as well. It seems like only yesterday I was being flung out of my tent by the brutish playa sun and now I’m waking in darkness. When they set the clocks back this weekend (I believe it’s this weekend) it’ll be end of evening daylight in London. I can feel the SAD creeping up already.

I think I’m going to need to get a serious sunlamp.

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