Burning Man & Community

(Photos by A. Chandler Moisen, except where indicated.  Click the pics to enlarge)

Impressions of the Burning Man

The Burning Man was eighty feet high
Atop a temple of Moorish lace
Confections of stars and midnight suns
All on a lake bed flat and sere, already
Old when primates first appeared.
Fire dancers whirled as the stars chirped
Hosannas to the primal rite.
Nothing is lost, but all is gained,
Extravagance is the law of the land.
Open now, as the clouds pass by,
Fire is water, and water itself
Soars into the stratosphere.
High art falls into the dust,
No one complains, and all rejoice.
Surreal it is, and yet romantic,
Bacchus himself rides on the wind,
And here it is that once a year
Artists bring about the birth
Of Shiva’s endless pillar of fire.

~ Gawaine Caldwater Ross


flickr creative commons 

I recently returned from Burning Man.  This is a week-long gathering of artsy, hippie, raver, universally conscious souls. 48,000 attended this year – the most ever. It takes place on the remote Black Rock Desert playa in Nevada. A veritable city arises from the dust.  It is a survival situation – there is no water, no food, no phone, no services. Everything must be brought in and packed out (it is the largest Leave No Trace event in the world).  Commercialism is taboo – money can’t buy you a thing, except ice and a cup of coffee.  It is a gift economy.  Everyone shares what they have and if you need something just ask around and someone will invariably meet your need.

This year’s theme was Green Man: ‘By embracing alternative energy and earth-friendly technologies, we will create a Black Rock City that leaves less of an impact on its environment–while also taking these principles out of the desert and back with us to our local communities.’ Artists were encouraged to express the role of nature in our lives and participants were encouraged to offset their carbon footprint. According to the Cooling Man project, in 2006, Burning Man generated an estimated 27,000 tons of greenhouse gas emissions or 0.7 tons per participant. Cooling Man offers tips to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and the opportunity to purchase carbon offsets.


From the Burning Man Mission Statement:

Our intention is to generate society that connects each individual to his or her creative powers, to participation in community, to the larger realm of civic life, and to the even greater world of nature that exists beyond society. We believe that the experience of Burning Man can produce positive spiritual change in the world.

10 Prinicples of Burning Man

  1. Radical Inclusion

  2. Gifting

  3. Decommodification

  4. Radical Self-reliance

  5. Radical Self-expression

  6. Communal Effort

  7. Civic Responsibility

  8. Leaving No Trace

  9. Participation

  10. Immediacy


While there is no shortage of alcohol drinking and herb smoking going on, by far the Burner’s ‘drug of choice’ tends toward the psychedelics: LSD, magic mushrooms and Ecstasy.  The vibe is like a Dead Show – happy, silly, loving, peaceful, dancing fools. Everyone is participating and trying to outdo each other in making life as surreal as possible.  Art is everywhere.  The scene resembles a great tribal ceremony with a constant drum beat, trance dancing, lots of fire, extravagant costumes, and all forms of goddess and planetary worship.

Theme camps cater to every whim and vice. You can get massages, take yoga classes, have your hair washed, drink cocktails, eat pancakes, play miniature golf, have group sex, rollerskate, see a circus, etc.  In exchange, you are expected to give something back. Some people bring trinkets they have made, or you can volunteer to participate with the camp, sing a song, or just give someone a hug.  At night the DJ camps crank up the volume on huge sound systems, some on art cars roam the desert, and people dance well past sunrise.  Remember, this is a desert, miles from nowhere, no electricity.  The lengths people go to to set all this stuff up is unbelievable! 

Dragon Dance party  (photo by OTB)


The second to last night there is the ceremonial burning of the Man.  This has been going on for more than 20 years, originally taking place in San Francisco.  This year, for the first time, there was premature burnage.  A man was charged with felony arson for burning the burning man too early. lol! But they rebuilt and burned him again on schedule. 

Much more impressive this year was the burning of another art installation called Crude Awakening

This is a 100-foot tall oil derrick. Next to it are sculptures of people worshipping the holy oil.  After the Man burned Saturday night, the oil rig was torched in a ginormous mushroom cloud …fueled by 900 gallons of jet fuel (donated by NASA) and 2,000 gallons of liquid propane. 

There are a bunch of versions of this on YouTube. Although video can’t do it justice, I picked this one for the SloMo effect and at the end it gets played in reverse.  It was so cool!  I was probably a quarter mile away and I could still feel the heat off that. 


The desert environment is starkly beautiful and also plays a huge role in the experience.  Temps in the day were over 100F.  There were occasional dust storms that whipped up out of nowhere.  Everything goes dark and you can barely see 5 ft in front of you.  Goggles, dust masks, sunscreen and water are essential to carry with you at all times. 

Face in the clouds

Double rainbow – after a wicked dust storm and a light rain, these beauties appeared.  You could hear people shouting “RAINBOW!” all over town. 


Artwork is the essential part of Burning Man.  Small pieces and large installations are scattered about in the City and on the playa.  You can ride your bike or, if you are lucky, hop on one of the art cars.  You will find all kinds of weird stuff.  It gets even better at night when things are lit up or flaming.



Green Woman


I don’t even know what to call this.  Spinning tubes filled with light?


We are all brothers and sisters living in unity for one week and forming bonds that last lifetimes.

ACM photographed a wedding.  This is a very common event.  Many people meet and marry at Burning Man.  The weddings of course live up to Burning Man standards – an abundance of neon, blinky lights, and costumed revelry. 

The bride in her ‘light’ gown with flashy bouquet.  Her father putting up graciously with it all.

Camp mates  Beautiful fun-loving spirits all of them.


and so….coming back to this world with the war, poverty, materialism, inequality, etc… I wonder what life would be like if we could all dose in peace and dance under the stars.  How do we live as a tribe, the Burning Man way?


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  1. Awesome!!

  2. All things psychedelic – visionary art, music, pharmacology, religion, culture, literature, war on drugs, cognitive liberty, neuroscience, sociology and personal journeys. 

    And one more pic: OTB ♥ ACM

  3. I finally get to hear about your trip(s)!

    Off to read…..thanks!

    Oh! And I am installing a rec button so I can rec it!

  4. The Environment


    Art Cars

    Burning Man 2006


  5. subjective altered experiences aside, Burners have no clue how deeply embedded the govt has been.

    • on September 19, 2007 at 04:19

    this is great; thanks, onnie!

  6. so now youve gone and posted on the fp, and i really AM the only virgin 🙁  tee hee

    thank you for taking me with you through this beautiful essay.  im over 2,000 miles away, and i can feel the heat, too.  😉

  7. thanks for sharing, it looks like
    and awesome event.

    • snud on September 19, 2007 at 04:24

    I’ve always wanted to go just to take pictures! Well, that and have someone explain what “decommodification” is.

    Where I used to live in the hills of Tennessee, I believe they called that an “outhouse”. 😉

    That truck sculpture is incredible! And obviously The Gods were pleased giving you the double rainbows!

    Thanks for sharing!

  8. The truck art would look great on my front lawn, and since we are rural, nobody would think it was odd or notable. Thanks, looks like a blast was had by all.

    • pfiore8 on September 19, 2007 at 04:24

    Trippin Tuesdays

    the burning man arsonist… LOL

    the tubes with lights looks like a hugh bubble

    the penguins in the desert!!!!!

    the goggles, masks, and water

    the fun, the exchange of goods… how people got all that stuff there…

    loved your adventure and the story you tell of it OTB…

    and what a cute pic of you and ACM!

    • pfiore8 on September 19, 2007 at 04:25

    loved the clouds especially

  9. terrific photo essay, and thoughtful commentary.

    i’ve never made the trek to brc, and, honestly, i remain on the fence as to how up for it i may ever be…but–being a resident of the bay area for the past 7 years–oh, hell, yes, i know several who have.

    a very good friend made it to her first burn this year–she was most effusive in her praise for, in particular, the double rainbow, and crude awakening.

  10. Well after the last few days I can tell you this. There is deep anger, cynicism and hopelessness, deeper now than I have ever seen it,

    This leads people to want to destroy apparently. So anything that wants to be built will have to take that into account.

    But there is also a HUGE willingness to build. And not a shallow willingness either….real commitment. Springing from a real desire to create change.

    Not surprisingly in these times, the Yin and Yang of it all are in sharp relief and fiercely opposing each other…..when th the twain eventually meet, who KNOWS what will happen.

    I am starting to recover post launch, though the drama and crises are still coming, lol. But this piece has helped bring me back to where we were headed. I should be ready to get to work soon!

    Thanks OTB and ACM and to your CAT’s too!

  11. I haven’t been in so many years. Thanks for the memories. Your pictures are beautiful. I can remember one year a dust storm that blew so hard, people were even having to lash their RVs down.

    Every time you go is a unique and unforgettable experience.

    • fatdave on September 19, 2007 at 04:56

    is some kind of Hooley!

    And no trace left. Brilliant!

    Top photos too ACM.

  12. I wanna be a real DFH when I grow up.

    Until then, I’m stuck in middle class suburbia in so-called regular America.

    Very impressive.

    • nocatz on September 19, 2007 at 06:36

    Kurdistan’s Fatal Flames
    Why are a growing number of young women in this relatively safe corner of Iraq showing up in local hospitals, dying of suspicious burns?


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