If you get your information from certain types of media outlets you can be forgiven for thinking that 2023 Black Rock City devolved into a dystopian, mud-clogged nightmare of disease, looting and emergency declarations. The rest of us know better. While inconvenient, the rain and mud offered Burners a chance to slow down, take a humid breath, and reevaluate what Burning Man means to us. It was a reset.
As a member of Black Rock City’s Media Mecca team, I normally do most of my work in their shaded community space in Center Camp Plaza; however, this year I followed the wind of do-ocracy and shifted the scope of my role. My usual chatterbox ways came in handy sharing information and interacting with people all over Black Rock City. Sometimes it was groups of 5–10 on a street corner, other times it was one-on-one conversations.
I don’t know how many times someone asked, “Hey, are you a Ranger?” (Including a Ranger named Pinecone) but it happened a lot. I always set them straight that I wasn’t a Ranger, but I was still able to help.
During each of these conversations, I did my best to make sure everyone had the most up-to-date information while I humorously debunked rumors. I may have suggested that the cannibalism was mild and only affected influencers, so no one really cared.
Inevitably someone in the group would ask how everyone’s Burn was going. For the most part, everyone was having a blast and phenomenal Burn. They had real-world concerns about the mud, when things would open, weather forecasts, but overall their spirits were high. In their camps, they were making intricate mud sculptures of animals and dancing to DJ sets or live music while organically developing communities of neighbors and weary travelers.
No one I spoke with needed to be reminded to share what they had with others, no one needed to be reminded they were empowered to ask for help. We didn’t need someone to keep us from fighting or hoarding resources. Burners took care of ourselves and others with humor and grace.
It warmed my heart to be able to interact with my fellow Burners while also seeing how people can come together in the absence of commercialization and commodification, when community was the top priority. One evening, I ran into a first-time Burner in his camp around the corner from mine. He said he was having the best time grilling for his neighbors, joking with people.
Being out on the playa when it wasn’t raining was just magical. I stopped to look around as the sun was close to setting, illuminating the mountains in an alpine glow carved out of the stark, cool blue shadows. The playa was expansive and quiet — no mutant vehicles, no cops, just the art and people. This is where I met Pinecone, who was tired from her Ranger shift but just as stoked with her Burn as I was. Later, the playa rewarded us all with a giant double rainbow amid the golden glow of the late-day sun. It’s as if the sky was telling us to just hang on for a bit and ride out a little more rain, it’s going to be worth it.
Early in the week, as in previous years, the playa at night became brightly illuminated darkness. Lighted art, fire-spewing mutant vehicles and a galaxy of LEDs from people and bikes contrasted against the darkness of the Black Rock Desert. This year, when the clouds parted at night, the sky became the brightly illuminated darkness that was missing from the temporarily quiet playa. The lack of dust and light pollution revealed satellites, stars, planets — and lasers. I love the noise and chaos, but this odd silence and layered darkness was beautiful.
Although some burns were delayed and there was a no-driving order because streets were impassable for anything on wheels, Burning Man continued. The mud was a reset in a way, a reminder of what makes Black Rock City so otherworldly and why we put so much effort into traveling to the worst place on earth: the human interaction.
Black Rock City slowed down to human scale in 2023 and gave us the gift of introspection and humanity.
I have more pictures on my website.