Day 7: Black Rock City 

I slept really well that night. I woke to another peaceful, utterly silent dawn. First thing Sunday morning, I got dressed and rode out to where the Man had been. There was nothing there, just ash. Some of the Earth Guardians were picking through the ash for whatever nails, wire or rebar that might be left, but otherwise the huge, incredible, colorful structure that had been there all week was completely gone. It made you think about the impermanence of things in life, how they're here one minute, and in a flash they're gone. It makes you appreciate everything in the here and now that much more.  

I rode out to the Temple of Honor for one last look. I found a pen and wrote a message to Dad on one of the pillars. There were even more memorials set up there, and it was all too moving. Someone put up a little tribute to June Carter Cash, who passed away just months before. I went riding around to the other camps. The Hands Across the Playa camp was completely gone. They had packed up and moved out first thing that morning. One camp had set up a big map outside by the street, and invited people to mark where they were from. Almost every town along the west coast was marked. One person had told me on Burning Man weekend, San Francisco pretty much "empties out." There were lots of marks from Canada, and from around Chicago and New England... and one from Oklahoma City. I think I was the only other person from Oklahoma there that week. I circled Broken Arrow on the map and moved on.  

Down the road, another camp had done something unique. They'd set up a big plywood stencil of the Man's symbol, set out some cans of spray paint, and invited people to create their own Burning Man shirt. So, I did. It wasn't perfect, but that was part of the charm as you created your own personal memorabilia. Playa Info said that there were over 30,000 people in camp for the burn. Since it was Worldcon weekend, I wondered how the bid for 2006 went. They would have had the final ballots by then, but I had no way of finding out any news. Black Rock City was pretty much its own little world, cut off from the rest of what some might call civilization.  

A stranger gave me a frozen ice treat called an Otterpop. It was really good. I asked a couple of people to take my picture out on the Esplanade, but I didn't have high hopes for the results. Art displays were scattered all over the vast playa. I rode up to one that seemed very subdued: it was simply a bush, a fake bush with branches and leaves. I didn't get it. But then, I looked closer. The theme for that year's Burning Man was "Beyond Belief." When I took a closer look at the bush, I saw that each one of the leaves had a tiny, postage stamp-sized picture of Aunt Bea from "The Andy Griffith Show." Each one was... a "Bea leaf." Ooooooh, that hurt.  

I ended up back at HOTD. I met a pretty girl named Erica, who was amused to find out her jacket was made of "100% pig split." I offered Ally some of my beef jerky, and she said she didn't eat anything that had four legs. (I saw her take a little nibble, though.) We talked about salmon jerky, and she said she'd seen squid jerky, too. I also met a guy from Columbia named Jonathan, who was going to be starting school at some California university as soon as Burning Man was over. I heard a girl got killed Saturday when she jumped off an art car out on the playa and got accidently pulled under it. I also heard about a plane crash out at the airport, but nobody knew if anyone was hurt.  

An older guy called Judd drove by on his bicycle and stopped to talk for a while. He was one of the pyrotechnicians who helped set up the fireworks for the burn the night before. He and a bunch of other pyros from all over got together to plan the show months before. He said federal laws on fireworks had changed, and consequently all they pyros had stuff in their garages they couldn't sell any more... so, they all decided to donate the stuff to Burning Man. He explained the foomph sounds heard during the burn were actually cherry bombs attached to jugs of kerosene inside the structure, designed to spray the kerosene all over the hay. Judd had rented a huge RV for his trip, and except for the driver's seat and a small space for the fridge, the entire RV was stocked, floor to ceiling, with explosives–every square inch. He figured they set off about $100,000 of fireworks before the burn.  

A very pretty honey-blonde girl (with a t-shirt that said "Burn Ho") came by and dropped off some leftover soy milk, in case there was anyone there lactose intolerant. I later saw her packing up to leave. I got to meet a charming brunette girl named Stephanie when she dropped by. She was wearing a white bra, and had to return when she forgot her bottled water. At one point, I looked around and realized I was the only one in the bar, and that's when I found the camelback canteen. It was one of the fancy ones, with pockets. I didn't find any ID on it, but when I opened up the top pocket I saw two things: cash, and drugs. I figured whomever it belonged to would be back for it.  

Francine came out and lounged on one of the couches. She and some of the others in the camp had left BRC for a couple of hours and went swimming in Pyramid Lake. It was kind of a tradition with them. She couldn't believe I'd never taken Ecstacy, either. I met a guy called Spaceman Spiff and gave him the last of my bandanas. In return, he gave me a little Canadian flag pin. I saw him hug a beautiful brunette girl everyone was calling the Sand Witch. I turned in the camelback to Star, and met her boyfriend, who seemed like a nice guy. I was curious about maybe camping with them the next year, and they said I'd probably have to talk to Spanky, but I didn't see him again.  

When it came time for HOTD to take down the bar, I helped dismantle the stage dome and the PVC pipe shade structure. Just then, the wind picked up, and we were all caught in a huge white-out dust storm. The sky turned pale white, the wind just howled, and nobody could see anything. Luckily, I had my army surplus Desert Storm dust goggles (which probably never got any closer to Iraq than New Jersey), and combined with my bandana for breathing I was set. While I was standing on a chair unscrewing a connection, some girl came up and stuffed two cans of sardines in my pockets! It was just another odd little surreal moment among many for the week. As we worked, an SUV drove by on its way out of BRC. I recognized the face in the passenger's window: it was the Nuzzle Girl. Her eyes spoke volumes--she was so sorry to leave. The dust storm ended as quickly as it had begun, and the sky suddenly cleared.  

Astron walked by. She seemed a little subdued, and said she was a little embarrassed at her public actions on Friday night. I told her she didn't have anything to be embarrassed about. She was honest and open and uninhibited and spontaneous... and she did have a good time, didn't she? Astron rolled her eyes, blushed a little, then nodded yes, she did. She looked so sweet, so beautiful, standing there in the late afternoon sun. I hoped her loved ones realize how lucky they are to have her in their lives. She gave me a little hug , and then she was gone. A truck drove by with some girls in the back. They stopped to talk to us. The second from the left, a slim, super-cute redhead, even said I was "very impressive" ...but then, their truck drove off, and I never saw them again. They were with the DPW, a wild bunch of guys. Ally was talking about them being "balls on the table" kinda folks, after a bizarre kind of game of chicken she saw them play.  

Dusk was approaching, so I got a glowstick and rode the mile out to the Temple of Honor. I was one of the first ones lined up at the safety barrier. In the fading light, I could see they had piled scrap lumber about ten feet high inside the Temple, to help it burn. I met a very nice lady named Deborah when she rode up to watch. She was a yoga instructor who used to be a lawyer. Her voice was soft and comforting, but carried with it the strength of truth. We were quickly joined by dozens, and then hundreds of other people. People lined up at the safety barrier. Other than an occasional whoop or yell from the crowd, there was none of the circus atmosphere that surrounded the burning of the Man. Most everyone seemed very respectful. Deborah said that it was only in the past few years that the Temple burn was used as a symbol of respect for the dead.  

There was some sort of little ceremony at the base of the Temple, and then someone threw a torch to the pile inside. The dry wood quickly caught fire. Bright flames rose into the Temple. The top tower was the first to go, sinking down into the structure. One by one, the corners folded into the flames. Finally only a ribbed frame remained standing, then it too collapsed. I looked all around me, and off to either side, circling off into the darkness, were thousands of people, their faces illuminated by the flames, quietly watching, praying. As flames engulfed the Temple, I thought of all the messages, notes, pictures and tributes disappearing in the conflagration, passing from existence to fiery nothingness, the smoke and ash of their love rising into the heavens... and I was suddenly overwhelmed with the notion that the collected, concentrated, heartfelt love expressed in the Temple messages had, with their ignition, opened a door to eternity... that those tributes were not just passing from this world to the next, but were being received on the other side by their departed loved ones... the messages were getting through, answering questions, forgiving offenses, establishing hopes, abating fears, confirming eternal love...  I cried like a baby. I couldn't help myself. Deborah stuck with me the whole time, and was supportive and understanding, a pillar of strength. I'll never forget her for that. A blonde girl next to me was crying, too. She borrowed my bandana to wipe her eyes. The crowd moved forward towards the fire, but I stayed behind. I had been totally unprepared for how the event would strike me emotionally. Deborah gave me a warm hug when we parted.  She'll always have a special place in my heart, wherever she is. 

Eventually, I made my way back towards Center Camp, but as I went I felt different. I felt... cleansed, renewed, like a burden had been lifted off my shoulders. The air tasted particularly sweet. I felt free.

 
Gallery 
 
All that remained of the Man and the pyramid Sunday morning
(someone brought a shorter, replacement Man, at left)
 
Spaceman Spiff & the Sand Witch
Stephanie
 
 
The Temple of Honor
 
Memorials at the Temple
More memorials & tributes
 --Under Construction--
 
 
Prologue --Day 1 --- Day 2 --- Day 3 --- Day 4 --- Day 5 --- Day 6 --- Day 7 --- Day 8 --- Day 9 --- Day 10 -- Epilogue
 
Current weather conditions in
Gerlach, Nevada
 
Last Updated: September, 2003
Send Comments to tapestry01@yahoo.com  All original images copyright (c) 2003 by Tim Frayser