Burning Man 8.28 - 9.5.22
Words & Photos by Andrew Wyatt
The black-painted wood bar top at the Arrrgh Bar located at the Burning Man theme camp Camp Gallavant, I call home in the Black Rock Desert, is slathered with dust-covered stickers from various Burning Man theme camps placed across many years of the event. One sticker sternly boasts, “Burning Man: My vacation is your worst nightmare.” After a two-year hiatus of the official Burning Man, the event’s annual environs of the Black Rock Desert proved to be just as inhospitable as the middle of nowhere Nevada can be. The temperatures, while not reaching the highest levels ever, still hovered near the middle 100s degrees-temps that were higher than it has been in recent years. Covid-related supply chain difficulties led to multiple ice shortages that compounded the heat issue.
Burning Man wasn’t the super-spreader Covid event that some feared it would become, but some onsite departments and some theme camps were hit with difficult outbreaks. Risk of harm is a part of the ticket disclaimer, but I want to acknowledge those who were hit with Covid with a hearty amount of empathy. One camp I know of was decimated enough that they needed to issue a social media plea to pay workers to help them break down their camp before the event deadline ended. And it was the relentless wave of dust storms that raked the desolate alkali valley floor, particularly from the mid-week onward, that tested the endurance of even the heartiest veterans. My wife and I rarely ever try to attend pre-planned Burning Man events. But we turned back due to the raging dust storm from crossing the desert for the one event we wanted to attend, Camp P3’s annual Wedding Dress Parade. By mid-week daily city-wide storms would roll in by 11:00 in the morning, often not breaking till after dark. One storm brought in an impressive wave of lightning. Storms meant more hunkering down. Many of the most impressive art structures placed on playa this year including Michael Benisty’s Broken but Together 2.0, we never saw. That is the way of the desert.
It was tough going for most of us. Historically deserts have often acted a crucible that as Henry David Thoreau put it, fills our “need to witness our limits transgressed.” Such extremes often bring out contradictions of community and individuality, compassion and disillusionment, breathtaking beauty and grotesqueness, and joy and loss. For mystics such an experience of human limits is nothing less than witnessing the holy. Thoreau’s observations about nature and being resonate with me. This, in some of the toughest of circumstances, proved to be one of the most personal years I’ve experienced at Burning Man. And that is quite a realization for me in my 20th year at Black Rock City. The first year I went in 2002, I was a Southern Baptist preacher whose heart, head, and soul were blown apart when I realized the universe was infinitely larger than the narrow framework I had previously held. As I put it back then, “All the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put back together the broken egg shell remains of my soul splattered on the desert floor.” Years later, in 2015, I was legally married in the most fairy tale circumstance of my life. This year’s burn was on par for those years for being as intensely personal. For a number of years, I have considered Burning Man to be as much a family reunion as a festival-style event. Because we were forced to hunker down more, we spent more time with our home Camp Gallavant, a group that I have been with all of my 20 years on playa. I had the honor of officiating two wedding ceremonies of campmates. Further, this year’s temple burn was my most personal ever because I said goodbye to two good Burner friends of mine who unexpectedly died over the summer. So, I consider that one dust-covered sticker on the bar top of Camp Gallavant with a bit more than a chuckle its wink-wink irony wishes to illicit. For many, Burning Man would be more of a nightmare than a vacation. But Burning Man sometimes hasn’t felt like much of a vacation to me as much as a test of endurance. On occasion it has felt a bit nightmarish to me too. Make no mistake, Burning Man is an event full of contradictions and paradox. None of them can or should be explained away. Many times, I’ve looked into the cracked rearview mirror of my heart, I have realized that I “gained “as much by “losing,” earned as much by letting go, all because of experiences in the desert. Even in the worst of moments, I have found revelation. In a year when the theme was dubbed, “Waking Dreams,” Burning Man, in all its terrible beauty, for me, remains a vacation, a dream, a nightmare, a lark, an endurance test, and a grimy fairy tale of extremes that is as profane as it is holy that strips my ego, my strength, and resolve. It’s an event that is ephemeral as it is unforgettable. We saw so little and yet experienced so much. That is the way of life. The desert forces me to live life while still living. And all I can feel is gratitude. Andrew's Photo Gallery www.burningman.org