In the year 2003, our annual pilgrimage to the playa affected over thirty thousand souls. The Man greeted the weary travelers perched awesome and proud on an elaborate ziggurat-like pyramid as if saying, “I stand on this place of power as it has been from time immemorial. Welcome home. I will burn for You.”
As intended in this year’s theme, the way in which we experienced life that week was way Beyond Belief. Amid a kaleidoscope of colors, participants became living icons that breathed life to the pyramid from within rooms with windows framed on each side of the pyramid. The icons prayed, loved, played, and reached out from the pyramid niches to interact with other participants. In all their beauty, they mesmerized us, entertained us, touched us, and often took our breath away.
The playa sun blessed us each day and the night embraced us like a dark benevolent mother during some of the best weather we have experienced on our fleeting Black Rock home. Burners wasted no time to embrace this gift that represented two years in a row of exceptionally favorable conditions for cavorting during all hours. The days provided intense but pleasant heat in the nineties. The nights offered perfect relief for the thousands of moving and dancing bodies with temperatures around the fifties.
Calm winds during the first couple of days gave way to a welcome and cooling afternoon breeze by mid-week. People biked, walked and communed with each other in millions of unpredictable and spontaneous ways. Some would have sold their soul for a snow cone. Our beautiful city took shape faster than ever fueled by the boundless energy of the record number of participants arriving during the first days eager to build and live in a collective vision.
The first moonless nights showcased the colorful lights that dotted our busy city and adorned many burners. Peeking from the unusual darkness like an astral guardian, Mars moved to its closest point to Earth in sixty thousand years, seeming to point a curious red eye at our city as it traveled through the sky each night. Many shared the sights with telescopes and gathered with their neighbors to share in the gifts of the night and the beauty of that unique moment in time.
Interactive art installations flourished throughout the community. Our city playground brimmed with activity at every turn as burners gave of each other and created an unbelievable new world that showcased the diverse backgrounds, interests, and philosophies of the burner community. Rites and processions characterized many of the gatherings and theme camps. Belly dancers, drummers, and fire performers joined in ecstatic rhythm and inspired masses of people in spontaneous celebration.
The playa surface crackled under our feet, hard and perfect for walking and biking, though by Saturday night those walking on The Esplanade road noticed that the surface on that well-traveled road became somewhat powdery from the repeated steps of the unprecedented number of eager visitors. The amazing art and vibrant energy of the participants once again ignited the spirit of giving that characterizes our community. The creativity of the burner family was apparent everywhere in small and gargantuan display.
The Temple of Honor rose in surreal splendor like a mirage in the distance beyond the Man, reborn from past incarnations into a tall intricate collection of ornate connected black and white middle-eastern-style minarets that peaked in a huge middle tower. When the Temple burned on Sunday, it gave opportunity to burners who had lost loved ones to honor them by placing notes, hair lockets, and other mementos in the structure to be burned in symbolic gesture setting the spirits free with the rising smoke.
With their unique energy, burners transformed the already grand Center Camp Café into a mecca for music, art, rest, refreshment, and the opportunity to connect with others. The Café provided a vibrant center of activity and human interaction. Musicians, poets, dancers, and performers of all types shared their talents with the frequent and plentiful visitors.
As expected, the playa had opportunity to display its unpredictable and fierce nature. A heavy dust storm on Sunday afternoon lasted for several hours and covered every tent, vehicle, and structure with the pervasive alkali dust that forced most to take cover and don bandanas and face masks. The constant winds and blowing dust gave us pause and reminded us to respect the elements and never take a day for granted. The storm slowed down the exodus as many who planned to leave that day postponed their plans and decided to enjoy the Temple burn instead.
During 2003, participants reaffirmed their commitment to reinvent Burning Man and take their experience to new levels. The fire keeps burning in all of us through the year but we crave to come together for the wildest ritual yet.
And once again, the seventh largest city in Nevada for a week left no trace. Unbelievable!