Photos Courtesy of Kaley Soud.
While Burning Man is well known as being a festival for radical self expression, what goes unnoticed are the many burns in between and the Burner culture that underlies it all. Due to some fortunate random circumstance I found one such Burn ticket in my hand for Preheat, a Burn that took place on April 29-May 1 and timed to celebrate Burning Man tickets going on sale. I got to observe people from various cultures, backgrounds, and ideologies gather to participate in this temporary community formed to celebrate art, music, and self expression.
When walking through the relatively small gathering of 600, entering and exiting campsites was comparable to exploring new worlds as people constructed their camps to be their own little wonderlands. The “Gypsy Wagon” featured a trampoline transformed into a covered caravan, the neighboring “Zen Den” offered couches and low lighting to hide from the sun; there was a tent fitted with coffee for all, a place to make crazy stuffed animal “frankenbabies”–and in short, the entertainment was limitless.
The New College camp featured the “Monkey Sphere” and it’s very own set of monkey bars to match, many times did I find myself sitting with New College students, alums, and friends, many of which found each other at these burns. No matter where I traveled, to what world I visited, there was always something to do and something shared because, as I came to learn, that is what Burn’s are all about–being yourself so much that you have something left over to give to somebody else.
As a virgin to burns I wasn’t sure why the customary greeting was “Welcome Home,” but as I left the reason for that was abundantly clear. I walked away from that weekend covered in dirt, mango juice, temporary tattoos, jewelry, knowing how to juggle and with an unconquerable grin. I had heard stories from the wise people of Naked City, I had danced in front of/inside of/on top of the Nauti bus, made a “Frankenbaby,” and experienced all of the ten principles of burns–radical inclusion, gifting, decommodification, radical self-reliance, radical self-expression (for I went as Peter Pan), communal effort, civic responsibility, leaving no trace, participation and immediacy. I learned a lot about the people around me and myself as we watched the dragon effigy burn together, running around it screaming in pure ecstasy. I understand what that “Welcome Home” means now as I witnessed everyone, for a weekend, be completely comfortable with themselves and each other, the best kind of home anyone could ever desire.