Driving through the back streets of Black Rock City, you'd never know that we were arriving on the early side of the day. Thousands of people were already there, having arrived precisely at midnight and ever since to make sure they got their coveted camping ground. Lexie had a spot picked out for us somewhere near 4:00 and something. (Streets went by clock placement and alphabetically to L). We got pretty close, setting up camp at approx. 3:20 and I (named Initiation for this year's Burning theme--Rites of Passage), right next to the Godzilla art car, which never ceased to amuse me. We spent the afternoon setting up camp, building our daytime dome, pitching our tents, and unpacking our gear. Now arrives the first time I struggle to describe my experience. I know how I felt as I built my tent--my home--for the week. I know how I felt swinging the sledgehammer and pounding the rebar hooks into the ground (I mean, aside from out of shape and exhausted). There was something about it that was so satisfying, so...like I was earning my time out there. This was how people were meant to live. They were meant to build, to create, their shelter (really, all their stuff). And do it while getting COVERED in dust. I'm not sure why, but that definitely made it better. Setting up camp made me feel better than I had felt in some time, and being surrounded by other people doing and experiencing the same thing made it all the more profound. There was an immediate, inherent, shared understanding with these people, and before even meeting our neighbors, we were a community in a way I had never before experienced. I mean, we were already anyway because we were Burners. But it was another affirmation that more so than I had been in a long time, I was exactly where I belonged.
After we had finished setting up camp and had a little dinner, we decorated our bikes and ourselves, and headed out to explore the deep playa. The sun was just setting as we readied ourselves, and the city was beginning to light up. Everywhere I looked, where moments ago had been dust covered tents of olive green and navy blue, washed out palettes and random sticks pointing into the air, there were now glowing, twinkling, sparkling lights of every design and color. 14 different songs from 12 different safariing art cars floated on the air and swirled around us as we wove glowsticks through our hair and bike wheels and wrapped them around our arms and ankles. Godzilla lit up. Twinkle lights exploded into life all around us. Lexie and I oohed and aahed over each others' wardrobe creations. And then, we were ready.
As we rode down the dusty, bumpy 3:15 street, I tried to take in everything I possibly could while trying not to kill myself on unseen dips and bumps, while also trying not to kill anyone else wandering the street. It was a feat, I must say. I examined, with awe and a dopey smile on my face, the camps we passed, the outfits on people walking by, the art cars. (More on art cars later). Being completely dark, all I could really see well was anything lit up, but it was enough. And it was fuckin' cool.
As we continued up 3:15, the light grew. Like the Sun peeking over the horizon, or Vegas, in the middle of the desert. Out of vast darkness was a glowing orb, out of place but perfectly placed, guiding burners to its center like moths to a flame. We approached Esplanade (the main drag of the playa) and the city opened up. Camps stopped and the unbridled dust floor of the playa began. And. We saw the man. In the center off everything, taller than any other structure, lit up red and blue and yellow, standing tall and proud on his wooden mountain, taking a step into...whatever his Rite of Passage was.
I'm pretty sure I was grinning like a jack-o-lantern.
Lexie and I rode around the playa checking out different effigies and art installations. Some were still being built, and while I was already impressed with what was out there, Lexie confided that it wasn't half of what would be there by the end of the week. There was a wall of TVs--operational--showing different programs (or whatevers) on each one. There was a fire tree. (I don't know if it was a tree. It could have been a cactus. It could have just been a big metal tube with metal tube arms that shot flames every 30 seconds. It doesn't matter, it was there). There were art cars and people in tutus EVERYWHERE. And there was me, still grinning like an idiot.
We went to the Temple. The Temple, I found out later, wasn't as old as the rest of Burning Man (25 years), The Temple was started about 13 years ago, and originally was a tent. It had since evolved. The Temple I saw was a massive, two-story, three-towered structure of intricate design. It was absolutely beautiful. While nearly everything else on the playa was multicolored, the Temple was bathed in white flood and spot lights, and glowed like a happy moon. There were beautiful planks of wood hung as decorations all the around the temple--carved with swirls and celtic knots and geometrical patterns. The closer you stood to the Temple, the calmer, more at peace you felt, instantly. It was, in the truest sense of the word, an awesome sight.
After we rode away from the Temple, we rode up to the Man to say hello. It was crowded with people basking in his light, admiring his structure, and just enjoying being near him. After the man, Lexie headed back to camp and I continued on, visiting the Great Lakes Core effigy--a lighthouse, and a few others. I happened upon my favorite installation that night--a huge, glowing willow tree. It was made out of intertwined metal rod curved into a tree trunk and supporting branches, and the hanging branches were tubes looked to be filled with fiber optic cables, changing colors every few minutes. It was powered by big solar powered orbs that hung strategically throughout the tree. Please sat perched happily between branches while others climbed, took a look around, and came back down to give someone else a turn. I climbed up and enjoyed looking at the tree branches so much I don't think I remember to look around elsewhere. Oh well.
I rode around a bit more to see the giant pirate ship built from an accordion bus, and on my way back towards 3:15, met a fellow named Wolverine who had been to the Burn many times and was there this year on his own to experience it in a new way, which I found to be very cool. We chatted a bit and then parted ways, and I headed back to camp. By some not-so-small miracle I found my way back quickly and without wrong turns (although, what would I have found if I had veered off course, I wonder?) I climbed into my tent and as I lay there, replaying my day, the music from the arts swirled around me, the memories and images wrapped my up like a burrito, and as I shut my eyes Lexie's words danced around in my head.
"Mac, you were born to be here."
As I drifted happily into sleep, smile plastered on my dusty face, I figured she was right.