Burning Man: White outs, downpours, sunshine, and wind

Driving on to the Black Rock Desert, plumes of dust greeted us from a distance. Little did we know that we would soon be in a full-fledged dust-storm; visibility zero, fine dust everywhere, and all movement stopped. The Department of Tethered Aviation (DOTA) camp was centrally located, so finding our campsite was relatively easy (especially for Blake Pelton and I, we just followed the car in front of us), but many of our camp-mates were stopped at the gate because of the white-out conditions. Assembling that evening, our group of about 15 began the task of unpacking and organizing the camp layout. As one of the "new guys", this was easy - just carry stuff to where people say it's supposed to be - no decisions, just grunt-work. As the sun set, priorities changed to shelter and comfort for the night. Tents were pitched and the first of our desert meals was served up; no need to worry about food with Snapper and Rolando in camp, in this department, DOTA rules!


The DOTA camp before one of the rains

Day two, a little less dusty, and the real camp setup begins. Very cleverly, the DOTA camp covers the majority of its footprint with camo-netting. This keeps the wind down and offers shade in the harshest of desert conditions. Tim Elverston was the tarp- and camo-honcho while Ruth Whiting organized the work group that constructed the camp's geodesic dome. With a thirty foot diameter, this is by no means the biggest dome on the playa, but it was meticulously constructed by Dave Kennedy and its erection was like a well-choreographed ballet (except for the pipe that almost clocked Jose - sorry compa, my fault). A wonderful addition to the DOTA Dome was the sunshade, tied to the dome with an ingenious "string and marble" method. Full sound, video, and light systems would be installed as the week continued.

So now, with work on the camp progressing, and the official opening day approaching, here came the rain. Rain on the playa stops almost all activity. Shoes pick up a couple of inches of mud on their bottoms, making walking a chore. But bike riding is worse - wheels pick up so much mud they won't clear the forks - riders become pushers, then carriers. A spectacular double rainbow was the highlight for our work crew and any early arrivals. At this point, most of us had taken bike trips to explore Black Rock City and its art. The Man was nearing completion, but the Temple was a spectacular sight! Lighted by worklamps, it glowed at night, but I thought it was more spectacular by day. Reflecting the desert environment, it was part sand dune, part shelter, part expressionistic art. Two major works of art leaped to our attention. The first was the steel-mesh-clad lady, "Bliss Dance", by Marco Cochrane. This unbelievable sculpture, conceived and made over eleven months, featured an elaborate internal structure of thousands of tetrahedral units, welded to form the perfect body's shape. Then the structure was covered with a seemingly seamless stainless steel mesh - amazing! The second, a globe assembled with 4 steel spheres, displayed perfect balance as it could be spun easily by hand, even though it weighed well over two tons.

Through all this prelude, very little kite flying happened. As the DOTA camp has evolved, many of its important members are not kitefliers. All offer important "corporate knowledge" of how things should be done and what the camp offers to Black Rock City. But what would happen when (and if) the wind would blow? We found the answer on two consecutive afternoons as the wind locked in at about 7 to 10 mph. As soon as wind-pioneers Blake and I proved to the camp that the wind was there to stay, out came the kites. A train by Tim and Ruth, Deltas from Jose, Blake's large Foil and Hammerhead, and my Dean Jordan red ghost delta, made a great show that transformed our part of the playa. There was an outpouring of appreciation from nearby campers as well as BRC citizens from all over the city. Three guys biked up to Blake to show him their new hammerhead tattoos (fake) that they had just had applied because of his kite. I met three friends of George Peters, drawn to the kites, and even Margaret Gregor's Son-in-law walked up and introduced himself to the group. The kites were like a magnet. All DOTA camp activity stopped to accommodate the kite flying. Dinner could wait.

The two days kite flying showed me that this is, indeed a great audience for kites. It's an audience of very creative people who may well come to kites at some point in their careers. Like any population, it is a small minority of Black Rock City who is drawn to kites, but they come with enthusiasm and skills. Who knows what the long-term result might be.

I write this remembrance on Labor Day. In the desert, the DOTA campers are breaking down camp after last night's burn. As I sit comfortably and write about my abbreviated Burning Man memories, I know they are tired and sweaty as they break camp, pack the storage container for the first time, and escape the desert for a night in Reno. If they'll have me, I'll be back, to witness a burn for myself and to keep kites alive at Burning Man.