Burning moment

Every year when I am at Burning Man, I find an extraordinary moment that almost demands to be chronicled in this space. This year was no different.

It happened at The Burn itself. I had assumed a spot on the old lake bed, far away from the claustrophobia-inducing throng, and waited for the fireworks. One thing about Burning Man—these folks don’t skimp on the fireworks budget. Tons and tons of explosions in the sky for minutes and minutes, with the show ending, as usual, as the Man exploded into flames. And that’s when things got a little weirder than normal. Since we’re talking about Burning Man, that’s saying something.

The weather that night had, up to that point, been fine. A little breezy perhaps, but not a big deal. Then, just after the Man ignited and began to blaze, that all changed. It was as though the gods of the playa, in their infinite affection for pranks, decided to give The Burn of 2010 a serious wedgie. So it began to blow.


It was the kind of wind and dust event that, had it kicked up a half hour earlier, would have likely caused a delay in the proceedings. But this was one well-timed sucker punch on the part of the playa gods, and there was no turning back. The Man was on fire, and that’s all there was to it. He was gonna burn. And the gods were feeling like messing with it.

Where I was, this concurrence of wind, dust and fire created one of the most memorable and eerie sights I’ve ever seen in Black Rock City. The raging sheets of dust, which had to be over a hundred feet high, were thick enough to completely blot out all signs of humans. Art cars and blinky people had become invisible in the now furious dust spasm. With my back to the wind, I could see only two things—churning dust and The Burning Man.

It was righteously elemental and epic. For seconds I watched, transfixed by this unique visual twist. At times, the flaming icon looked like Ancient Man, about to be buried in some archeological mound where it would rest, half-cooked, for millenia. Then, I could fast forward to the vision of Future Man, the final Man at the final hoedown, about to go down in one last flameout, another victim of the grim bleakness that was fast enveloping a collapsed planet.

After a few minutes of this show, I decided to get the hell out of this storm and head back to my trailer for a break. I looked in the bathroom mirror, and saw that my hair was the color of the playa. Completely and totally plastered with dust, a light, sandy brown. Classic. Two hours later, I returned to town. The storm had passed. The wind was gone. It was even kinda warm. Full-tilt oonch oonch party time.