This year our homecoming was marked by perfect weather, at least for most of us. The days blazed and the nights shone. On Friday the playa celebrated with us, leading off with a brief but blinding dust storm in the late afternoon that segued into cooling showers and climaxed with a rainbow and an intensely hued sunset. The playa was not, however, as benevolent to the cleanup crew. On Tuesday, after most of us had gone, the worst dust storm in BM history swept in and stayed for three days, making cleanup operations extremely difficult. Despite the difficulties, though, we still earned high grades from the BLM in their annual post BM inspection tour.
The playa was our sea and proudly we sailed forth into its uncharted dimensions, to discover ourselves and our Floating World, this year’s theme. There were wooden ships on the water—very free and a few, very large—complete with singers, dancers, musicians and other performers. There was an art installation of silvery swimmers, whose strokes matched the rhythm of the playa wind. There were schools of fish and myriad arrays of aquatic creatures that came out at night to dazzle us with their brilliant lights.
At the center of it all, the Man stood upon a 40-foot-tall lighthouse, beaming at us, for us, and with us. This year a treasure hunt was offered. In exchange for undergoing mysterious rites of passage at a variety of theme camps, adventurers received colored tokens, which they could parlay into gold doubloons. The doubloons entitled their bearers to enter the Lighthouse and climb to the top. More Black Rock City inhabitants made the ascent at a “free the Man” demonstration.
This year, the community stretched far onto the playa. The Temple of Tears, reborn as the Temple of Joy, was again an awesome presence. Participants, many making the long trek at dawn, found spiritual solace in its soaring and majestic walls. For some, a visit to the Temple proved cathartic; for all, it was moving. Sunday night’s Temple burn was a major factor in many decisions to stay on the playa another night. Also found in the Unknown World were a nineteen foot high Aeolian harp, an el-wire covered beehive, an interactive picket fence of fluorescent tubes, a ring of American flags with corporate logos in place of white stars, a steam-powered whistle, and many other fascinating works.
The burn itself was spectacular. Once again the “ancestors” appeared in the form of towering fire whirls spinning off the flaming base. Hundreds of fire dancers from groups all over the world performed around the base of the man before the conflagration, dancing and spinning on and around special elevated platforms, enabling more viewers than ever to witness the spectacle.
Burning Man 2002, like others before it, was a synthesis of survivalism and radical self-expression, a ballet of dust and dreams. We brought fire; we brought water, and we brought gifts to share. We shed our off-playa clothes and customs and came together to share our unique vision for the one glorious week each year that is Burning Man. At the end of the week, it was hard to leave. Once back in the “real” world, it was as hard to shake those post playa blues as it was to clean playa dust off our gear. Hardest of all, though, is to forget the magic that drew us out to the playa, which is why we’ll soon be starting to plan next year’s journey home.