There are no words.
This seems to be a common answer people give when asked what it’s like at Burning Man, the annual desert event that takes place in middle-of-nowhere Nevada. Yet the people who go every year don’t see it that way. For them, it’s the center of the world, a community of like-minded individuals all seeking something. What that something is can be different for each person: Self-expression, escape, rebirth, exhilaration, love.
For one week, Black Rock City is their home, where they live by the principles of Burning Man in an experimental community filled with large-scale art installations, dance parties and themed camps. And then it’s all burned, the desert left without a trace that anyone was ever there.
Burning Man started as a small beach party in San Francisco back in 1986, when founder Larry Harvey constructed an eight-foot wooden figure and burned it. There were less than 30 people participating, but just as the flames grew, so has Burning Man. Every year, attendance has increased along with the size of the wooden figure, which has reached as high as 50 feet (and is usually situated atop a 50-foot base).
Today, Burning Man is not just a desert festival; it’s a way of life. It’s become so famous, that even top-name celebrities and millionaires from Silicon Valley are trekking to the desert to witness this carefree, upbeat, illuminating event. You could argue it’s become a bit commercialized due to all the hype, another branded trend. Especially, since, from the outside, it looks like a big party with thousands of hippies in strange costumes spouting the ideas of free love.
The purists know better. The majority of people at Burning Man know what it really stands for, and it’s real purpose. They know what’s at the core of this movement of self-reliance, giving and letting go. It’s hard to explain to those who have never been.
I’ve never gone; so don’t take my word for it. Sari Blum, a good friend of mine, talented photographer and Burning Man-attendee for five years, has captured the magic in many of her pictures. But when I asked her to describe the experience, I think the words escaped her. She pointed me to her blog instead to read her thoughts on the experience.
“Like most people who have been to burning man, I too will tell you, that [it] changed my life,” she begins. “There are so many people compacted into that city that are bubbling with ideas, dreams and struggles wanting to relate with someone, to share with someone.”
And people journey from every corner of the globe to be there and take so much time and energy to build beautiful structures and spaces that will be gone a few days later. “Burning Man is a testament to celebrating life. To allow the human spirit to be anything, to create anything. It is moving,” Sari writes. “The sheer spectacle of it all will move you. Especially when you know it is only for one week.”
Even after getting a better perspective, I know I’ll never fully comprehend what this event means to so many people all over the world unless I actually go there myself and live it. I’ve missed the boat this year, as it begins on Monday and runs through Labor Day. I don’t know if a trip to Burning Man is in my future, but Sari wrote something that makes me think I might just have to add this to my bucket list:
“We are reminded that everything is fleeting. Nothing lasts forever and that we must learn to enjoy things that are good before they are gone.”