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Slogging Through The Muck At Burning Man 2023

All things considered this annual Burn wasn’t that bad. If Burners in Black Rock City stayed put in camp during the rain and didn’t try to bike or drive they did not become clay mud encrusted. But—there are always those yahoos who ignore sensible advice with a “it can’t be that bad—” attitude that resulted in their vehicles so deeply sunk in mud it was obvious they were not going anyplace for a long, long time.

Of the 11 days I was at Burning Man it rained only two and the other eight days were bright and sunny, but that was not newsworthy. Veteran Burners used the rainy day down time to get to know their neighbors better and investigate near by art. The yahoos complained, got drunk, and spouted off to reporters.

Yes, the restoration crews the Burning Man organization uses to help rehabilitate the playa have their work cut out for them this year but my 50 member camp left our campsite immaculate. Mobility Camp makes the playa and its art accessible to disabled people. We offer rides in an adapted trailer five times a day to see the wondrous examples of human creativity scattered over hundreds of acres. I’ve been a Burner 10 years and love it.

Each year I find some aspect of what makes Black Rock City hang together and look more deeply into it. This year it was a real simple concept—the history of the Trash Fence. Now you might ask yourself “How can anyone get excited over a fence?” While it’s not a snazzy piece of art like some stuff on the playa it fills a variety of needs serious and silly.

First, imagine Black Rock City—70,000 people camping in a semi-circle over two miles wide. Encircling it is a nine mile fence enclosing 3,935 acres or over six square miles. Then imagine a wind storm and what could blow away. The Black Rock Playa is a thing of stark beauty. It does not need a potato chip bag, a hat, or your dome tent you forgot to weigh down littering the landscape. The idea is to stop the trash before it blows miles away. The fence is orange plastic netting held in place with T-stake metal posts and it’s not pretty but it does the job.

There’s a man with the playa name of Coyote in charge of it. I asked him how far trash blew before there was a fence—he said Winnemucca, about 90 miles away. The first trash fence was built in 1995. Nowadays it takes 200 well coordinated people a day to get it installed. One of Burning Man’s principles is Leave No Trace and the Trash Fence was the brainstorm of Lawrence Breed and a tribute to that idea. Burners call trash MOOP—matter-out-of-place—and the fence stops trash.

The lore and legends of things that happen along the Trash Fence are epic. Start with the rumor the music group Daft Punk played in the dark of night years ago by the fence. WRONG. Never happened. Yes, a marathon runs along the fence every Burn. Yes, one year drone barns along the fence held hundreds of drones before they took to the skies and enchanted the crowd. Yes, a drunk stole a porta-potty sanitation truck, a pooper-scooper, and crashed it through the fence one year—but NO Daft Punk ever—

With 70,000 people behind me and wilderness in front of me I stood at the Trash Fence one year and watched a fully operational full-size Viking sailing vessel on wheels skimming across the playa. Another year I was serving coffee and croissants at dawn at the Trash Fence to folks who had been up all night and up walked a member of the Comptche Volunteer Fire Department. We lived a few miles apart in Comptche and found each other in that madhouse. Go figure.

The man called Coyote told me he was in a bar in Gerlach when he was confronted by several local cowboys after a Bur. Expecting there might be hard feelings he waited as the cowboys spoke—”You might be a bunch of damn hippies and nerds but you folks sure as hell know how to build a good fence—” Coyote smiled gratefully. So enough about the Trash Fence—I’m glad it’s there and I appreciate what energy goes into making it work. Now about my discoveries this year—

I didn’t get out into the playa to see as much art this year due to rain and muck but I had fun within Black Rock City. Food offerings abounded and everything is gifted freely. Want a breakfast taco? A camp was offering them with meat, or vegan, or gluten free. How about a chocolate covered frozen banana on a hot afternoon, or Avocado Toast and a Mimosa for brunch? One day 1,500 slices of Lobster Pizza was available, or a Fried Bologna sandwich with Bourbon. Cereal Thrillers gave out breakfast cereal and milk. There were five camps offering bacon in some way, shape or form and another five offering pickles or pickle juice, If I’d wanted a spaghetti burrito or taco I could find it. A CBX was a cold beer exchange, bring in one of your unopened warm ones and exchange it for a cold brew and there were numerous home brew camps.

I laughed at a camp with Irish Yoga. You did yoga for a half hour, got a shot of Irish Whiskey, then meditated (or fell asleep) for 15 min. There were “Meet Up’s” for Chinese speakers, Ukrainians, Native Americans, Asian and Pacific Islanders, Europeans and people from around Yellowstone. If you walked through the muck you could find workshops on lock-picking, flight instruction ground school, knot tying, and hints on building your own bagpipe. I could have been introduced to fire spinning or learned how to flavor infuse vodka and saw redheads gathering for a “Ginger Appreciation” party.

As a sensible senior I avoided the Naked Pub Crawl and I could care less about Sensual Floggassage. In Black Rock City a camp offering Hot Holes could have many different interpretations but this one was serving hot donut holes with your choice of frosting. I wished I’d found the Black Rock Observatory with its telescopes and the Balloonists camp with 10’ wide weather balloons lifting Burners 80’ over the playa to enjoy the view.

A Fairy Shrimp Museum introduced Burners to the tiny playa life forms that hatch and breed after rainstorms like the one we had. Knitting with the Boys introduced men to the craft of knitting in one camp and you could sing with the Playa Choir and enjoy the Playa Pops and Black Rock Philharmonic. Special thanks goes out to Rootpile, the Bluegrass Music camp. They took their music into the city since the city couldn’t get to their camp’s performance area. Mobility Camp had a first time camper in a motorized wheelchair with tiny front wheels. He couldn’t leave his tent in the wet so Rootpile’s musicians came to the doorway to his tent and played foot-stomping music for 20 min. It brightened everyone’s day and we thank them.

Rain Man, Muddy Man, mud wrestling capital of the world, whatever you wish to call it—it was still fun. As long as body, mind, spirit and finances hold up this senior citizen will be going back again. Every visit reaffirms my belief that it’s the best party on earth—even when mucky.

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