Return to the Burn

I see the Burn,

And the Burn sees me.

What do I want?

What can I be?

The Man being prepared for the Burn,  Burning Man 2017

The Man being prepared for the Burn,  Burning Man 2017

Warning: You may be disappointed by this blog.

In 2011, When I first attended Burning Man I didn’t tell anyone I was going. I didn’t tell co-workers, friends, family, or especially my children. I was afraid of their preconceived notions of what happenes at Burning Man.  I really didn’t want to talk about my personal feelings about drugs, sex, alcohol, and public nudity. I wanted to take a trip to the “edge”, whatever that was, and return to tell the tale.

Someone, but not me,, at the Burning Man event boundary, A.K.A the "Trash Fence" 

Someone, but not me,, at the Burning Man event boundary, A.K.A the "Trash Fence" 

Earth Guardian's playa geology lesson

Earth Guardian's playa geology lesson

At Burning Man there are millions of choices and see the possibilities are as overwhelming as the dust. Most experiences are unique to the Burn and can be a big personal challenge involving physical and/or emotional risk. There are free bars, personal development classes, silly games, strange events, unusual activities,  interesting people to meet,  the beautiful desert, and inspired art galore.

Bloggers must make lists, so for the record, here are my Burning Man 2017 lists.

 A Dozen Things I DID NOT do at Burning Man:

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1.     I did not drop psychedelic drugs and wander aimlessly “discovering” myself.

2.     I did not walk naked, exposed, and/or intoxicated in the 90-degree heat "finding" myself.

3.     I did not have sex with a stranger (man or woman) in the Orgy Dome "exploring" myself. 

4.     I did not drink until I threw up on someone else, or myself. 

5.     I did not jump on an art car and fall off an art car in the open desert, not knowing how I got there.

6.     I did not stay up all night dancing to house music. 

7.      I did not get sick, dehydrated, angry, nauseous, sad, snarky,  grumpy, or disappointed.

8.     I did not act rude, insulting, and/or disrespectful to anyone.

9.     I did not burn any bridges, get sunburned, crash and burn, or burn anything. 

Phoenix Rising crashed into the ashes after it burned. Poor thing. 

Phoenix Rising crashed into the ashes after it burned. Poor thing. 

10.  I did not partake in unusual or fetish activities, like spanking, karaoke porn, or “orgasmic dolphin morning yoga.”

11.  I did not pretend I was someone else or ever wish I were someone else. 

12.  And I did not see the tragic casualty on the night the Man burned.

Phoenix Rising by Nicholas Palmer, and me before it burned and crashed. 

Phoenix Rising by Nicholas Palmer, and me before it burned and crashed. 

In the spirit of "self exploration" I could have done any of those things. But I just didn't. They didn't sound like fun. So just in case you were hoping for a nasty naughty Burning Man story, you won’t get it from me – not this year. Maybe next year. 

There were so many things I could do at Burning Man! How to decide? So, I gave each day and each activity careful consideration. “Why am I here?”  “What do I want to do?” “Where do I want to go?” “What makes me happy?” “What sounds like fun?” “What sounds like ME?”

I wanted my Burn to be a continuation of my new “Whelan on Walkabout” attitude.  “What’s that over the next hill? I’m going to go see.” 

My Baker’s Dozen of Things I DID DO at Burning Man:

1.     I did pick up other people’s trash while drinking champagne with new friends on the MOOP Train art car. MOOP = Matter Out Of Place a.k.a trash. 

The MOOP Train. MOOP = Matter Out Of Place. 

The MOOP Train. MOOP = Matter Out Of Place. 

2.     I did drive a golf cart around the city looking for black water and gray water dripping from rented RV’s.  When we found one, and we found several, I and another Earth Guardian talked to the campers about "Leave-No-Trace" and keeping the desert free of leaked poop. 

3.     I took a quiet personal moment to commune with inspiring art.

Detail from "The Bridge and the Cage" by Valerie Elizabeth Mallory

Detail from "The Bridge and the Cage" by Valerie Elizabeth Mallory

4.     I danced to live Latin music with new friends.

5.     I got stuck in a white-out dust storm while taking photographs with my good friends from Pinhole Project.

"The Shrine of La Santisima Muerte" by El Vaquero Muerto & his Comrades of Questionable Morals. Photo of Pinhole Alumni Cynthia Whelan captured by Larry Michael Robertson and my good friends from Pinhole Project. www.pinholeproject.org Thank you James, Karyn and Larry Michael. 

"The Shrine of La Santisima Muerte" by El Vaquero Muerto & his Comrades of Questionable Morals. Photo of Pinhole Alumni Cynthia Whelan captured by Larry Michael Robertson and my good friends from Pinhole Project. www.pinholeproject.org Thank you James, Karyn and Larry Michael. 

Everyone loved this tree. There was always a crowd gathered around the base. It was mesmerizing at night. 

Everyone loved this tree. There was always a crowd gathered around the base. It was mesmerizing at night. 

6.     I listened to live music; folk banjo  while drinking my morning coffee, traditional Ukrainian instruments electronically enhanced, deep playa piano, and a breathtaking fire filled gender-bender rock opera circus. 

7.    I won first place in the Earth Guardians quesadilla contest with my special Burning Man recipe: bacon, smoked gouda, and chipotle cedar cheese on a whole wheat tortilla. 

8.     I took care of myself. I kept my water bottle with me everywhere, rested, slowed things down in the mid-day heat, and ate regular healthy meals. Camping takes time and effort, but I felt great. 

My camp within the Earth Guardians camp..

My camp within the Earth Guardians camp..

9.     I wore silly fun clothes that I wouldn’t normally wear in public. 

Deep Playa Pop-up Bar. 

Deep Playa Pop-up Bar. 

Gasoline on the playa is programatic. When spilled it makes one heck of a mess. Earth Guardians remind people to keep their gas cans safely contained and away from the generator. 

Gasoline on the playa is programatic. When spilled it makes one heck of a mess. Earth Guardians remind people to keep their gas cans safely contained and away from the generator. 

10.  I was rewarded a cocktail at a pop-up bar deep in the desert. But first I had to  perform, so I recited the Mother Goose poem "I Saw a Ship A-Sailing" for the bartender. 

11.  I had several meals at the commissary sitting with the hard working Black Rock City laborers.

12.  I was a part of a dedicated team of mission-driven, service-minded citizens. No fears, no tears, no drama, and no trauma, just "Leave-No-Trace." 

13.  I had an absolutely fun and personally insightful time working with the Earth Guardians!

The Earth Guardians were the embodiment of the Burning Man 10 principles. They were inclusive, respectful, immediate, genuine, relaxed, and communicate comfortably. I worked four daily shifts including training and Leave No Trace Outreach, and I was patiently taught how to be an Outreach Dispatcher organizing crews and keeping track of who's doing what. They have a daily program and they stuck to it. Work shifts, talks and activities started on time and I was impressed when the annual group photo took only five minutes! They are a civic group with a common cause and a specimen of effortless teamwork.

Maya's Mind by Michell Riley, a tribute to the poet Maya Angelou, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." 

Maya's Mind by Michell Riley, a tribute to the poet Maya Angelou, "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings." 

The famous large-scale pieces of art at Burning Man are beautiful expressions of love, hope, beauty, compassion, and the amazement of being a part of a greater good. I found the Earth Guardians to be an equal expression of those values. Like the large-scale artwork, Earth Guardians have an unselfish purpose and unconditional giving.  A manifestation of hope through a mutual purpose:  protect the playa and take care of what we are so fortunate to have.

Participating with the Earth Guardians was an energizing, life-affirming, experience. I was welcomed into the group as if I had been a part of the team since the beginning. They are a practical crew with a gift and a purpose. “We are Burners and this is how we protect the environment: Leave No Trace.”

Polaroid of Dawn and me on Leave-No-Trace Outreach. 

Polaroid of Dawn and me on Leave-No-Trace Outreach. 

Did I miss all the things I didn’t do at Burning Man? Maybe. Maybe not.  But after working with the Earth Guardians, I am proud to say “I am a Burner.”  I am not afraid of any baggage comes with the label.

I saw the Man
And the Man saw me.
That’s who I am,
And that’s who I’ll be. 
Earth Guardians Group Photo, Burning Man 2017

Earth Guardians Group Photo, Burning Man 2017

Here is a slideshow of my photographs from Burning Man 2017.