Riding Inside A Dust Devil At Burning Man

Burning Man Project Director Chip Conley’s Fest300 has released another Burning Man promo video. This one is 3:05 long, the 0:05 is for Fest300 advertising. So is this now the Commodification Threshold? Anyone can shoot promo videos at Burning Man, as long as they just show their logos at the start and end for a few seconds? Just wondering, because I can think of all sorts of brands that could do epic Burning Man videos, ending in 3 seconds of their logo.

Commenter Reb has pointed out that once again, Fest300 is ignoring safety guidelines:

Although some may say a Dust Devil differs from a White Out, the official Survival Guide advises the following regarding White Outs: “Be on alert for moving vehicles. ❧ If you are driving a vehicle, STOP and wait for the air to clear. You will not be able to see where you are going and could hurt yourself or others.” The video shows just how poor the visibility is inside a Dust Devil- riding a bike inside one looks like a good way to get impaled, smash into people, artwork, a bus, guy wires, etc. Now there’s another reason not to ride into one- it can be full of idiots

 

Immediacy in a Dust Storm

A guest post here by reader Jillian Corey:


 

Immediacy In A Dust Storm At Burning Man

Just like the postal service (neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night), we play through snow and sleet and fog and rain… well, actually we are playing in the midst of a dust storm.

But as the super fine dust particles whirl through the air, lodging themselves in our hair, eyes, the corners of our pursed mouths, coating our bows and strings, the Playa Pops orchestra plays on.

We are far from the concert halls some of the more seasoned musicians may be accustomed to and even farther away from the dust-free homes of those of us who only occasionally pull our instruments out to pick out a Bach sonata or a Beethoven symphony. The dust we usually wipe from our instruments comes from disuse — not desert.

But now we raise our bows and dive into the Brandenberg Concerto #3 with vim and vigor, both in spite of the elements and perhaps even to spite them.

photo: John Goodman

photo: John Goodman

“Is that the best you’ve got?” our bold fortes and clipped staccatos seem to ask, “bring it on!” The wind whips around our modest shelter, the Temple of Grace, an elegant structure made from wood laser cut to the point that it resembles lace — simultaneously strikingly beautiful and seemingly immeasurably fragile.

Many of the musicians are missing, lost in the dust storm, accurately called “whiteouts” for their sudden appearance and vision-destroying opacity. A cellist staggers in, midway through the performance, having gotten lost in the storm, only to have a string snap several songs later.

But what is a performance like this without the adversity, the struggle?

From the perspective of the random passerby, out of the dust floats the music of Beethoven. This does not seem possible, both because of its unlikely presence in the middle of a dust storm and its status as the first classical music presence at Burning Man, an event previously known for the thumping bass of electronic dance music.

Drawn in by our music, passersby shelter (somewhat) from the storm.

One of the 10 principles of Burning Man is “immediacy,” a rarely practiced skill in the real world, but perhaps one of the most intrinsic to the event. The festival’s website describes the principle of “immediacy” as follows:

“Immediate experience is, in many ways, the most important touchstone of value in our culture. We seek to overcome barriers that stand between us and a recognition of our inner selves, the reality of those around us, participation in society, and contact with a natural world exceeding human powers. No idea can substitute for this experience.”

This statement does not completely capture the concept of immediacy, but getting caught in a dust storm does, in its most visceral form. When you can’t see the hand in front of your face, there is nothing beyond the now, the immediate.

While not lethally dangerous, a dust storm causes almost all activity and future planning to grind to a halt, forcibly driving us into the moment.

So many times in the default world, we longingly moon over other people’s travel photos, saying “gee, I’d love to go there someday.” An idle run-in with an old friend elicits a hopeful “we should hang out sometime.” Despite the best of intentions, neither these desires may come to pass.

The audience huddles around us, either there by choice or by happenstance, breaking the circle only after the last bar is played — then swept away by the wind.

As the wind finally begins to die down and the dust settles, audience members and musicians take the opportunity to clamber onto art cars or pedal away on bicycles, scattering back to their respective camps.

Even at Burning Man, an event almost wholly divorced from a conventional concept of time or schedules, people have found routines, places to be, things to do, and will soon be returning to them.

But for a moment, everyone stood still, and just listened to the music.

Rich White Trash

by Whatsblem the Pro

"Great burn. . . see you back at the sty, Larry!"

“Great burn. . . see you back at the sty, Larry!”


MOOP is “matter out of place,” the burner slang for litter. It’s very highly frowned-upon to litter at Burning Man; you will likely have a nasty confrontation with someone if you MOOP deliberately, or even if you wear things that are MOOP-prone, like feathered headdresses. The event takes place on federal land that belongs to all Americans, and not littering the place up is a condition of the permit issued by the Bureau of Land Management, originators of the slogan “leave no trace.”

Each year after the burn, the mighty Playa Restoration Team spends a month or more on the playa, gridding out the abandoned skeleton of the city and doing an astonishing job of picking up and properly disposing of even the smallest bits of MOOP, like carpet fibers and cigarette butts (and they even seem to manage to make a good time out of it). Using GPS, they mark problem areas on a map; the camps that get marked yellow or red on the annual MOOP map may have serious problems getting placement from the corporation that runs Burning Man the next year.

Check out this detail of the Restoration Team’s final MOOP map for 2013, and note the two circled camps:

DetailMap

See the yellow and red marking “Ego, Ergo Frum Camp” and “Camp Whatever” as main MOOP offenders? It’s not the first year these camps have left behind significant amounts of litter and detritus — their MOOP footprint was similar in 2010, for instance — but the name of the main camp has been listed differently on the MOOP map each year.

Why? Because “Ego, Ergo Frum Camp” and “Whatever Camp” are actually the public and private sides of First Camp, where the Board of Directors spend their burn. These are the people who adapted “leave no trace” from a Bureau of Land Management slogan to one of the Ten Principles that many burners consider sacred, holy writ. It’s kind of like the way the Board of Directors tells you not to commodify Burning Man. . . while they commodify Burning Man.

These aren’t people who lack the resources to have someone else pick up after them, if they just can’t do it themselves; some of them have social secretaries camping with them, for god’s sake. . . but if First Camp was your camp, you wouldn’t be allowed back after leaving behind that kind of mess multiple times in recent years.

Burner, these people aren’t like you. They don’t represent you, and they have no problem with double standards that treat you as lesser beings and hold you to a higher standard than them. They don’t deserve all the loyalty and support you give them. . . but if you have the will, they can be replaced.

We need new leadership! Out with the corporatists! Burning Man for burners!

“Near Apocalyptic” Dust Storm Shuts Down I-80 at Winnemucca

nevada 2013 pileupIf you’ve been to a few Burning Mans you’ve probably encountered a few dust storms. Some say that it’s getting worse, either due to Climate Change, weather modification, or the environmental impact of TTITD.

Whatever the cause, if things are getting worse then this recent killer storm should cause some concern to Burners – we could be in for a dusty summer. 1 person was killed and 36 were injured, 2 seriously, after the severe dust storm caused a 27-car pile up near Winnemucca – home of the Bureau of Land Management Field Office that is responsible for Burning Man’s permit. Interstate-80, which runs from San Francisco to Reno then all the way across the country, was shut down for more than 19 hours.

Blinded by dust as the storm tore across Interstate 80, vehicles began ploughing into each other at around 5pm on Monday, dramatically stretching limited emergency resources in sparsely populated Humboldt County.

Officials at Humboldt General Hospital said drivers reported “near apocalyptic” conditions during the pile-up, which shut down a major trucking route in both directions for over 19 hours.

Humboldt County sheriff’s dispatchers called in virtually every medical, law enforcement and fire worker in the area, with a mine rescue crew pitching in to help, and a charter bus company, Coach America, sending a vehicle to transport victims to hospital in an effort to lighten the load on limited ambulance services in nearby Winnemucca.

Chicago resident Ravi Dyer was killed when his lorry rear-ended another commercial vehicle in zero-visibility conditions, according to Nevada’s Highway Patrol. Two other lorries then ploughed into the 51-year-old from behind, seriously injuring his passenger.

Humboldt General Hospital spokeswoman Nicole Maher said 26 people were treated at the hospital, including three in critical condition who were later transferred to a hospital in much-larger Reno, about 160 miles away.

High winds whipped up dust — possibly loose from recently cleared fields — and created whiteout-like conditions, authorities said. Vehicles, including semitrailers, passenger cars and a tow truck piled up in both directions.

 

Reader Gene Garate provided these photos to the Reno Gazette Journal:

pileup nevada 2013

pileup3pileup 2pileup4

Are you prepared for the Big One?

Dust-Devil-on-the-Playa

photo by Peter Ruprecht

photo by Peter Ruprecht

Crude-Awakening-during-Burning-Man-dust-storm

9 Ways to Die at Burning Man

by Whatsblem the Pro

The Craig Nielson Memorial Intersection at Burning Man - Photo: Danger Ranger
The Craig Nielson Memorial Intersection at Burning Man – Photo: Danger Ranger

The motto “keep Burning Man potentially fatal” is more than just humor; it’s a reflection of the fact that Black Rock City, for all its rules and regulations, began as an Autonomous Zone. Likewise, the warning on the back of each and every ticket: YOU MIGHT DIE, and that’s your responsibility.

It’s kind of an odd responsibility to have, given that the corporation that runs Burning Man ostensibly began as a response to a string of grisly deaths on and near the playa. You’d think that if co-opting an Autonomous Zone was a proper and necessary response to those deaths, the Org would want to explicitly take responsibility for people dying at Burning Man. . . but the road to Hell is paved with good intentions, so the Org gets to put a fence around everything and sell tickets and make rules, but the potentially lethal nature of the event is still your problem and yours alone.

Keeping Burning Man fatal means hanging on to as much personal autonomy as we can in the face of the continuing Disneyfication of the event; paradoxically, it is also what prompts control freaks and opportunists to come up with new and unwelcome rules for us to burn by. The heart of the paradox is that in order to keep Burning Man potentially fatal, we need to look after ourselves well enough that our deaths remain unusual or even rare occurrences. Failure means being swaddled in overprotective regulations that smother our culture.

The trick is to keep people who are likely to die away from the event. We don’t publish stories about how dangerous and uncomfortable Burning Man is because we hate Burning Man; on the contrary, we love the party and are committed to the culture, but we recognize that it’s not for everyone, and that encouraging just anyone to come is a Very Bad Idea. Radical inclusion shouldn’t ever be a matter of luring or dragging someone woefully unprepared into a howling wilderness where they will be unable to cope with the prevailing conditions.

Technically, you can be almost certain that you won’t die at Burning Man. . . because even if your heart stops or your head comes off or you otherwise cease to function metabolically at Burning Man, you probably won’t be declared dead until you get to Reno. The Org’s propaganda machine takes full advantage of this technicality, and conveniently does not include deaths declared off-playa in their tally of deaths at the event, no matter how or where the mayhem happened.

This is not meant – by a long shot – to be a complete list of the many, many deaths that have occurred in and around Burning Man. This is an overview, intended to give you an idea of what might be in store for the unwary, the feckless, and the star-crossed among us.

1. GETTING THERE/LEAVING

If ghosts really do haunt the places where they died, then the highway to and from the playa must be an ectoplasmic fiesta of epic proportions. Insane, horrible traffic accidents; battered, overturned, burnt vehicles; blood and body parts strewn across the asphalt.

The examples of typical, ordinary – but horrific – highway accidents are too numerous to pick a single example, but here’s an extraordinary one: Craig Nielson, a young man who joined DPW for his very first burn in 2001, never quite made it to Burning Man. Nielson died on the road, reportedly crushed in a vehicular accident that led to him bleeding to death on the way to do his very first load-out. Details are sketchy, but he may have been riding on top of an RV.

One of two Bonanzas wrecked at the '03 burn - Photo by Rigged

One of two Bonanzas wrecked at the ’03 burn – Photo by Rigged

Let’s not forget that Black Rock City has an airport, too, and that it handles something like a hundred takeoffs and landings a day during the event. In 2003 there were two incidents involving aircraft; in one, a Beechcraft BE-35 reportedly lost engine power on takeoff, severely injuring the four people onboard. One of the passengers had to undergo several surgeries to remove pieces of the plane’s control panel from his sinus cavity, and the pilot, Barry Jacobs, later died of his injuries.

Please drive (or fly your small plane) carefully, avoid engaging in highway hijinks no matter how boisterous your spirits get in anticipation of the burn, and keep emergency supplies – like water and a first-aid kit – in the vehicle. The road to the burn takes you into a remote area; if you have an accident there, help is liable to be quite far away. One of the reasons that Barry Jacobs died is that it took well over an hour for first responders to get to the plane and get him out of it.

2. ART CARNAGE

The ban on driving anything but art cars and the five-mile-per-hour speed limit are not preventative measures; they are direct products of vehicular manslaughter on and near the playa. As Danial Glass reported in the Boston Phoenix, the 1996 burn brought some serious change:

Michael Fury, a friend of Larry Harvey and a creative influence at Burning Man, was killed in a collision while riding his motorcycle at night, playing chicken with a blacked-out van. Others died near a rave camp when a truck ran over their tent while they were sleeping inside.

In 1997, driving was banned on the playa, and fire art was prohibited in areas where people were camped. The admission ticket, which used to admonish participants to “Please keep weapons unloaded in camp,” now warned that firearms were banned within its borders. The county imposed its own restrictions as well. As Burning Man staff toned down the potentially destructive elements of the event, the rough-edged freedom waned considerably.

Those weren’t art car deaths, but the backlash made it a lot less likely for anyone to be killed by any vehicle at Burning Man that isn’t an art car.

In 2003, a burner named Katherine Lampman jumped off a moving art car because she wanted to get a closer look at the Temple of Honor. Somehow, she lost her balance and fell backward after landing, which placed her directly in the path of the car’s wheels. “I will never forget the feeling that surged into my hands through the steering wheel,” remarked Randy Emata, who was driving the art car that ended Lampman’s life. “My worst fears were followed by a myriad of terrified voices, screaming for me to stop the car. I ran back and discovered that the trailer ran her over. Her life was slowly coming to an end as she breathed less and less. Revival was attempted, but failure was inevitable. Someone grabbed a spectator’s bicycle and sped off to a nearby Ranger. Soon after, the Sheriffs showed up with an ambulance, taking her to the medical center. A helicopter was on its way. As I was writing out my statement, a deputy told me that the helicopter left without her and that she didn’t make it.”

3. DIY

There have been a number of suicides at Burning Man over the years, most notably that of Jermaine “Jerm” Barley, who hung himself in a Moroccan-style tent full of gym equipment at Comfort & Joy camp. The suicide went undetected for some time; as witness Don Davis remarked, “It looked like someone was playing a joke with a dummy.”

Rumor has it that a number of people saw Barley’s corpse hanging on a rope, and thought it was art.

Barley wasn’t the first, and won’t be the last. . . and there are also post-burn suicides to tally up. Some people can’t handle the coming-down phase of Burning Man; they return to the world outside Black Rock and everything seems so muted and washed-out by comparison. It can be a real downer. . . and it can and has led to suicides. If you count that as “dying at Burning Man,” then post-burn suicide accounts for more deaths than any other cause on this list. In at least one case, the suicide came several years after the actual event, but was very clearly related. Rest in peace, Paul Addis.

4. MOLECULAR MISADVENTURE

Drugs are like guns, kids. They’re just tools, and the important thing isn’t so much what they do to you; it’s what you do with them that makes the entire difference between use and abuse. Responsible adults use drugs responsibly, or not at all. Sometimes using responsibly means refraining from mixing your pharmaceutical experience with an overly-perilous environment. You don’t want to be wandering around in the middle of the desert alone with your head full of a drug like ‘cup,’ with its well-known side effect of dehydrating and disorienting the user. Even the effects of a drug as ordinary and seemingly harmless as Tibetan poon oil can lead to a serious health crisis on the playa, with your body in a constant state of overstimulated exhaustion and your environment sucking the moisture out of you like you’re inside a giant dessicant sachet.

Do we even need to talk about garden-variety overdoses? Your body is going to be taxed quite a bit out there, and you need to be sensitive to that fact if you’re going to chemically alter yourself in any way that might present a risk.

On the sunny side (along with sunstroke) there’s something positive to mention: although there have been drug-related deaths at Burning Man, burners seem to be quite a bit more responsible about their recreational substances than the average festival-goer. The 2011 AfterBurn report’s Medical section includes this comment from the emergency medical personnel that attended: “The numbers for alcohol- and drug-related patients continue to be remarkably low for an event of this size.”

5. REDRUM

There are two words you don’t say around Org people, or around your supervisors if you’re DPW: one is ‘rape,’ and the other is ‘murder.’ The Org doesn’t like these things – or any of the things in this article, for that matter – bandied about too freely. They actively instruct workers, both paid and volunteer, to stay mum regarding anything that might make them or the event look bad.

Johnson arrived at the DPW ranch wounded... and talkative

Johnson arrived at the DPW ranch wounded… and talkative

Happily, we don’t get a lot of murders at Burning Man (rape is another matter; they are depressingly frequent out there). That doesn’t, however, mean that nobody gets murdered. In 2003, Christopher Scott Johnson (aka “One-Armed Bandit”) showed up at the DPW ranch looking for work. His erratic behavior and his bragging about having killed a man prompted Will Roger and Ranch manager Matthew ‘Metric’ Ebert to call the police, who discovered that Johnson had indeed stabbed a man to death in a van on the road to the playa.

6. AUTO-DA-FÉ

It hasn’t happened so far, but give it time; someone without a posse is going to crank up FREE BIRD at the perfect moment, and an angry mob of zealous whatever-worshippers – enraged at this insult to the highly-evolved and enlightened wisdom that allows them to live superior lives of peaceful Buddha-like tranquility – is going to nail the offender to a cross and toss it into the flames of the Temple. . . and then we’ll have two religions to contend with on the playa.

7. WHOOPSIE-DAISY

Plenty of garden-variety accidents happen every year at Burning Man; people climb things and fall off; people ingest spoiled consumables; people trip over tent stakes; people have bicycle mishaps. Once in a while, especially in a city of 60,000 souls, these things are bound to be fatal.

In 1999, Jim Keith fell from a stage at Burning Man and broke his knee. The week after the burn, he entered the Washoe Medical hospital for knee surgery and died in the Intensive Care Unit shortly after surgery was completed, when a blood clot released from his broken knee entered his lung. The coroner’s report listed cause of death as “blunt force trauma.”

The accidents can usually be avoided, if you’ll just keep your eyes open, keep your stress level manageable, and use common sense. You know how it works: one minute you’re stressing yourself out arguing with your campmates while building some large structure as the Sun beats down on you, and the next minute you’re taking it out on the work, pounding nails a little too hard, until you end up applying your claw hammer directly to your forehead on the bounce-back. Or maybe you’re just walking around, not paying much attention, when a truck full of ice swerves to avoid a pothole and tips over and falls on you. Maybe you’re tired and want to get home as soon as possible, so you stay at the wheel for Exodus and end up falling asleep on it.

Most fatal accidents happen in the home; most in the bathroom. Leave the bathroom at home and you’ll be safer. The dust is your friend.

Nobody knows for sure what killed 37-year-old Adam Goldstone. The East Village DJ hit his head on some rebar, suffering at least a mild concussion, and later slipped or fainted in the shower in his RV, injuring himself further and eventually dying. Emergency medical personnel were summoned, but were unable to save him. Goldstone’s father was of the opinion that his son may have been felled by a heart condition.

Even in the absence of an accident, you might just happen to be on the playa when your time comes. Sometimes there’s just no dodging that bullet with your name written on it.

Erika the Red died tragically young with no warning

Erika the Red died tragically young with no warning

Erika “the Red” Kupfersberger died of an aneurysm on the playa in 2011, for no particular reason that had anything to do with being at Burning Man. People have heart attacks and strokes at Burning Man, not infrequently, and not always because of any particular environmental factor.

8. IN THE SOUP

The hot springs in the vicinity of the playa can be really wonderful, but they’re also perilous as hell to the incautious. . . especially Double Hot, with its twin maw of boiling danger. In 1849, a traveler by the name of Bruff wrote this about Double Hot:

Sept.22. In the first part we reached a pretty clear sparkling rill, about six feet broad, and a few inches deep; when to my astonishment the mules halted short at the edge, and refused in spite of the whip and shouting, to put a foot in it! I guessed there might be a vapor from it, but on putting my hand in, found it quite hot – not sufficiently to scald, however. So we had much trouble here, pulling and urging the teams over; and when they did go, it was accomplished by each pair of mules, in succession leaping over like deer, and thus jerking the wagons after them.

Next, on left, observed a cluster of hot Spring mounds, with their circlets of marsh and tall green grass.- In one lay a dead ox, apparently fell there yesterday; one hind leg in the basin of hot water, which had so well cooked it, that nought but white bones and tendons were left, of that limb, as high as the water had influence.

Some 150 years later, a burner gave the following report to Erowid.org regarding the local springs:

Probably the most dangerous hot springs is Double Hot, which is north of Black Rock about 10 miles. Great camping spot and really nice tubs, even a real bathtub at one location. The *usable* tubs are a hundred feet or so away from where the hot water comes up out of the ground and begins flowing downhill in a boiling hot stream. The tubs are holes dug to the side of the stream, and water is redirected according to the users’ comfort requirements.

The place where the hot water comes out of the ground is called the maw. There are actually two of them and they are incredibly beautiful, deep blue water and you can see down into the sweltering bowels of the earth several fathoms. The water is about 200 degrees. IF YOU FALL INTO THE MAW YOU WILL DIE. In 1994 I witnessed a family from Reno out on a little tour fail to exercise care around the maw. Their beautiful golden retriever–the family dog obviously for many years–thought she would go for a swim. I became aware of the disaster when the screaming began. The whole family was crying horribly as the father stuck his hands in the boiling water to pull out their pet. The little boy and the little girl were absolutely devastated and that is where my friend Louis directed his marvelous efforts to calm them down by telling them distracting stories, away from the scene. I helped the father who was cursing himself and crying uncontrollably. The dog went almost immediately into shock, as her skin began to slough off in patches about as big as my hand. Eventually most of the fur was gone. The family bundled their pet into a blanket and slowly made their way back to Reno. I am sure the father had second and perhaps even third-degree burns on his arms.

Note that the maw is not marked or protected by any sort of barrier.

9. DEATH BY EXTREME OBVIOUSNESS

Being burned to death at Burning Man, really? Sadly, yes. According to the 2001 AfterBurn report, “a participant who chose to run into a fire” later died of his burns in a Reno hospital. The incident apparently took place the night of the burn, somewhere on the deep playa.

You’re never going to know just exactly how much mayhem and death takes place at Burning Man, because the Org actively discourages anyone from talking about it, and discounts deaths that happen on the highway to or from the playa, or in places like Reno hospitals as a result of injuries sustained on the playa. . . but the number is probably much higher than you think it is. Please, don’t make a secret statistic of yourself. It’s your job to keep yourself safe and healthy out there, and the fewer who succeed at that, the harder it will become to keep Burning Man potentially fatal. Do a good job!