Burners in flux - Page 7

Why would anyone spend four months and $180,000 building something that will only last a week? The answer says a lot about Burning Man culture

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The 21,000-square-foot Temple of Flux rises in the desert
GUARDIAN PHOTO BY JOHN CURLEY

That sort of hard sell, used several times during the week, hardly seemed necessary most of the time. People really were there to work long hours on the project and seemed to take great pride in it — even if many also took car trips during the hottest part of the day to the nearby reservoir and the on-playa hot springs Frog Pond and Trego. This was a treat for the crew, since they are all closed during Burning Man.

By Wednesday, Aug. 25, word arrived that windy, rainy weather was on the way that weekend, which got the group even more focused on finishing. "We need to ask everybody for a really big push," Rebecca said.

"We are so close, so we need everyone to get out there and kick ass," Jess said that evening. "We're going to finish this tonight, and then we're going to have fun for the rest of the time."

And that's what happened, with a huge crew working until the wee hours of the morning, leaving mostly fine-tuning to go as the winds began to pick up the next day, growing to zero-visibility dust storms by evening. But they finished with time to spare before the event began on Aug. 30, despite a nasty storm rolling in on the final weekend, complicating the breakdown of the camp and touched frayed nerves.

Seeing this massive project through was particularly poignant for PK, who suffered a seizure at Burning Man in 2001, leaving the playa with Rebecca and ending up getting a golf ball-sized brain tumor removed, the first of two craniotomies that left him partially paralyzed on his left side.

"I should have been dead by now if you look at the averages. I should have been dead a long time ago. So you learn to appreciate life in a slightly new way," PK told me as the project was just getting underway. "The minute you give up the lust for life is the minute your life is over.

"Most importantly," he continued, "you learn to appreciate the community, the people around you, and your support system."

Catie, who has her master's in public health and does evaluations and qualitative research, said the project was transformative for many of its participants. "It's the capacity that has been built in people and the skills they've discovered," Catie said of this project's real value. "Even in West Oakland, people were having profound experiences. At the shop, I tell people it's like being in love."

And that love is likely to only grow as a spectacular fire consumes the Temple of Flux.

City Editor Steven T. Jones, who also goes by the playa name Scribe, is the author of the upcoming book The Tribes of Burning Man: How an Experimental City in the Desert Is Shaping the New American Counterculture, which draws from articles he has written for the Guardian on Flaming Lotus Girls, Burners Without Borders, Opulent Temple, Indie Circus, Borg2, and other Burning Man tribes.