This year I attended my first Pagan Bunny Burn, an event which is not a Burning Man regional, but might look like one if you squinted.
Leaving town was hard. I got up early and had coffee and morning time with Michelle, like normal. I tried really hard not to spring into action until she had left for work. Once she was out the door, I started packing my bag of “normal” clothes, filling bins with burner clothes and gear, pulling a cooler and various bins from the attic, and fretting endlessly about what I might be forgetting. One last run to Fred Meyers for food and ice, filling the cooler and loading the Element. Somewhere in there, I decide it would be okay to let Bonkers outdoors, which wouldn’t have been bad except that an hour later I was ready to leave and she still hadn’t come back home. After a lot of deliberation, I finally said something to Michelle about it and she gave me her blessing to leave and let Bonkers “endure” being outdoors until Michelle came home.
I drove to the RV, got it loaded, moved it out, parked my Element in its place and finally got on the road. Since my route went through Bend, I took a gamble on seeing if Anita was available for happy hour, and she was! We got to talk a little, I saw her house, we walked Jambi, she saw the RV and then I was on the road again (less than a 2 hour stop).
As I left Bend, dark fell pretty quickly, and some light snow flurries started swirling. I paused on the side of the road to look at state parks, only to find even the earliest one didn’t allow camping until after April 1. I ended up parked in an rest stop north of Crater Lake and camped there for the night, in 3 inches of snow. It got to 28 degrees that night. I ran the heat at a very low setting, but I was super happy to find the new duvet was comfortably warm.
Since I had a bit of internet on the phone, I spent some time chatting with Michelle and Melody online, and then watched the last episode of American Horror Story on the laptop. Weak ending, hardly worth it.
And in the middle of the night I recalled I had left the gold, lighted hoodie at home. D’ohh. I have to have some kind of jacket at this event.
I slept okay, but still woke at 5:30. A very brief whore’s bath at the sink and I was driving again by 6. I stopped in Klamath Falls to visit a coffee shop, use a flush toilet and mooch some wifi for a quick check in with Michelle and Melody and to send my email to Anita. Back on the road. My heart sang to see Lake Shasta (because of the houseboat trip I did with Dan, Melody, and Owen, back in the day) and Castle Crags state park (because of camping and hiking I’ve done there solo and with Michelle). I’d love to do new versions of both of those trips soon.
In Redding (the nearest thing to a “big city” on the remaining route) I visited a shopping mall (!) to look for a jacket or hoodie or something. Moving in cliched “hunter gatherer” mode, I visited every likely store in the mall in 30 minutes and finally identified the best option. Nothing Burner flashy, but it would do. Whoosh, back on the road.
I finally got to the event site by about 2 pm. I breezed through Gate, and found a place to park, high on a cliff right next to a stream below. One advantage of the RV is that it takes very little time to “set up camp”. I put on my green sparkly kilt, blue sleeveless t-shirt, and sandals and headed out to do a quick lap through the still-half-empty site.
I found a couple of guys struggling to assemble a large peaked circus tent structure, and stopped to help them for a bit. Ian was tall and improbably thin, Key was a smaller asian fellow, both very nice and grateful for the assistance. We got the tent assembled and positioned and I took my leave of them. I also stopped by a camp that had an enormous smoker going with epic pounds of chicken, ribs, beef, pork shoulder. I met the pit master, a fellow named Freddie who hailed from Texas.
I checked in at the “Hind Quarters” to ask about volunteer opportunities, meeting Admiral Dot who was staffing the station. There wasn’t much, but I decided to hike back out to Gate and see if they needed extra hands. I took a “short cut” through some small hills that paralleled the dirt path, and happened to find the skull and mandible for a boar. I carried them with me and mounted them atop traffic cones at Gate. It turns out that two people had failed to appear for shifts, so yes they did indeed need help. I stepped in and did a vollie gig from 3-6, getting people to sign policy waivers (no dogs, no firearms, no fireworks, no dogs shooting fireworks, no shooting firearms at dogs, yadda, yadda.) and orienting people to the map. If the folks were with a theme camp, I radioed ahead to Placement (a fellow named Chuckles) to let them know the theme camp people were coming. I quickly developed a spiel “Please to be observing our lovely site map, oooh, ahh” and a routine with my other Gate folks. A woman with a sea green wig and the most lovely dress, Judith, was checking tickets and IDs and a guy in a kilt and enormous black platform boots, Bounce, had people sign waivers and gave them wrist bands. A couple of times the line backed up to the road, but mostly we kept things running. Oh yes, and the head of the whole event, Sunshine, dropped by occasionally to review assorted ticketing snafus. I handed out a few of my new “browse” stickers and generally enjoyed having the context for socializing that didn’t feel forced or awkward.
It was interesting working a shift at Gate. My local regional seems (to my external eye) to embrace a certain curmudgeonly attitude towards the role. “I love working Gate; it lets me indulge my inner asshole” is a direct quote, and the whole “Gate doesn’t hug you hippies / Gate only hugs Gate” seems to be a very consciously held pose and embraced pretty enthusiastically. I just can’t get myself into that space. I tried to be happy, bouncy, helpful, charming, and offered hugs to anyone who was receptive to them. I later posted to Facebook about it and how I was #doingitwrong.
At six I handed off my duties and walked back to camp with Judith. When I got to the RV I did a little more set up; I got out the fire tray and prepared it for burning, opened the canopy, and strung EL wire on the canopy stays. I was sad to see the canopy was stained with black mold and reeked of mildew. I’m gonna have to attend to that once I’m back home.
I got out camp chairs and sat outside eating a bowl of tabouleh salad. A couple of neighbors came by, Special and Ron, two graybeard RVers, and we fired up the fire tray and chatted. People passing by paused to look at the fire tray and make complimentary noises. One group passing by were Rangers, one of whom had tons of fire experience. She looked over the pit and said it looked very well done, though she said a 10’ hose would really have been better. After the conversation started to wane, I decided it was time to check out the theme camp space. I turned off the fire tray, disconnected the bottle and stored it in one of the RV compartments and headed deeper into the event. I took lots of pictures and chatted with a few folks. I met a woman who camped at Poly Camp on the playa and we talked about the Human Carcass Wash and how incredibly moving I found that entire experience. I bumped into a couple of people I knew from Gate, Bounce and Bobbers, and said Hi and exchanged hugs. I stopped at one camp that had a replica of Brion Gison’s (check name) Dream Machine and stared at it for many minutes, but failed to have any transcendental experiences. I invited myself into a bunch of camps specifically to look at interesting lighting, thinking about things I might do for the RV. I definitely need some strip lighting in the RV, and would like to have a laser shining on the underside of the canopy. Which probably means I need to get serious about a solar panel on the roof to power all of it.
Around 11 I headed back to camp and the fire expert Ranger, Tahoe, stopped by and chatted for a bit. Her boyfriend is a major pyro and she talked about the Spire of Fire he hopes to bring to playa this year. It turns out she knows Dex (a Portland Burner and metal worker and another pyro) and we talked about him a bit, even touching on the massively rough year he had in 2014/2015. It finally got too cold and I didn’t feel like suiting up even more, so I shut off the fire tray and stashed the bottle and headed into the RV for the night. Got undressed, filled my water bottle, and fell into bed. Achingly felt the absence of enough internet access to touch base with my loves. Felt insanely aroused and wished I had a willing partner to take out my enthusiasm on. I fell asleep in reasonably fast order, not even listing to any music, audio books or watching any video.
I barely ran the heat at all, and eventually turned it off altogether. The duvet was too warm (low of 40°F) and I shed it for the chenille blanket instead. Dang it, that may mean moving the duvet out of the RV altogether. That’s kind of a shame.
I woke with the sun (7-ish?), lazed in bed a bit and finally rolled out of the covers. I tidied up some of the mess I left out from the previous night, washed the dinner dishes and made coffee. Flossed, brushed and whore’s bath, made coffee and put on my heavy black cloth kilt and my green tuxedo shirt and poked my head outside. I said Hi to a couple of passerbys, answered a few questions about the fire tray and not for the first time appreciated how wonderful it was to have something that invited people to initiate conversation. Must have more of that! I got out the tape measure and measured out all of the curtains in the RV with an eye towards beginning to make replacements. I need to give some thought to how opaque they should be. Dark is great for blocking the light, keeping it cool in hotter environs, and letting you sleep in. But thinner curtains let in a nice filtered light during the day.And of course the space is too small for a double rod with sheers and heavier blackouts. On that note, man the RV is … compact. Two people will take some effort and three will really require some coordination. I’m not sure what that means for SOAK. Maybe the three of us can do a weekend trip to hike Castle Crags and see how the experience feels. I really have to get the cab-over space converted to bin storage. If nothing else, the cushions up there are slippery and can allow bins to slide in a precarious fashion.
I ran the generator for a bit to charge phone, laptop, and camping battery, and to update this blog. I walked through camp a bit and said Hi to a couple of people I recognized. I decided to climb a high hill, in part for the sights, to take some photos of the site, but also in hopes of finding a smidge of phone signal. I succeeded and had a bit of talk with Michelle and Melody, which was very welcome. I also cleared out my inbox and even made a quick post to Facebook. I sat under a tree and watched a tree about ten feet away with several lemon-sized holes in it, with birds flittering in and out of it. I described them to Melody and she suggested they might be flickers, but they looked fairly wee to me, and a slight blue hue. I thought I would be the only person crazy enough to climb the huge hill, but several others came through over the course of an hour, taking in the view and sitting quietly. A fellow came up and somehow struck up a conversation with me. His name was Steve and we talked about his experiences on the playa, the direction the Borg is moving, the size constraints inevitable in the event. We compared notes on various regionals, I told him about the World Naked Bike Ride in Portland, and described the overwhelming experience of the Fourth of July fireworks in Long Beach, WA. I finally decided it was time to leave, and just before I departed I ran into a family and asked if they were birders and showed them the tree hole nests I had found, to their apparent delight.
I came back down the hill and strolled back to the RV. The day was warming so I shifted to my green spandex shorts and silver vest and sandals. I sat outside and ate a serving of meatballs and rice, and read my book a bit. Several times people paused to admire the fire tray; even turned off, people stopped to ask what it was. At one point, I heard a faint sound of children singing, and soon saw two little blond girls, maybe five years old, clad in panties and colorful rubber galoshes, holding hands and singing in unison, “Two beautiful ladies, walking to the bathroom, two beautiful ladies, walking to the bathroom”. Down the road they went, swinging clasped hands and singing their song. Ten minutes later, here they came the other direction, “Two beautiful ladies, walking back to camp, two beautiful ladies, walking back to camp.” So cute I nearly threw up. And how wonderful to be in a space where something like that can happen in such a unguarded fashion.
Ian and Key wandered by as I sat outside the RV and they recognized me and gave me big hugs. They introduced me to their pal Glen and I offered them cocktails and we sat and chatted briefly. Tahoe strolled by and had a scale model (non-working sadly) of the Spire of Fire project, which apparently has a propane budget of $15000 for one week on the playa! I believe she said the burn rate was something obscene like 30 gallons per minute. Feck!
The afternoon rolled around and I made the long walk back up to Gate to do another unscheduled shift, 3-6. I worked with Weasel and Friday, doing the same role I had the previous day, using almost the same practiced spiel. Oddly enough, the anticipated rush never came and it was a very easy (almost too much so) shift. Still it’s nice to occasionally be spotted by someone who says, “I recognize you from Gate!”, especially if it’s a cute girl. After my shift ended I caught a ride on an art cart that rolled me all the way back to the RV.
A few clouds had emerged and a wardrobe change was called for. I spent some time with baby wipes, cleaning my feet and the footbeds of my sandals, both of which were dirty and ripe. I swapped into the swirly colored tights, a tuxedo shift and my multi-colored shoes for the first stage of the evening. I finished my left over lunch meatballs while I sat outside and read my book. A few people wandered by and asked about the fire tray, and I gave them my usual patter about it. In the process, I bumped the nozzle on the bottom, which lifted the copper gas line up just enough to rest it atop all the glass beads. And pushing it back down through the beads wasn’t really working, grr. I had to dump my shoes out of one of the plastic bins, so I could dump the beads into the bin (spilling many on the ground in the process), then I could resettle the copper gas line, pour the beads back in (finding several broken ones in the process), and wash the soot of my now filthy hands. Whine, gripe. I’m just thankful that nothing was really broken and the pit was soon restored to working order. By that time, it had gotten dark and I hooked up the gas and fired it up.
I sat outside with the fire tray and spent some time updating my journal. By about 8 o’clock, I decided it was time to shut things down and wander the theme camps again. I extinguished the fire tray and decided to try the last remaining mushroom capsule that had flopped so thoroughly for Melody in Mexico. I went on walk about, and as usual I stepped into several camps to ask about fun lighting features. I sat on an art car and chatted with a pair of women about the exploding cost of living in the bay area; one of them was spending 80% of her salary on housing, and still only paying for an in-law quarters with no kitchen. I watched a bit of fire performance, but couldn’t seem to break out of my introverted space. By about ten o’clock I came back to the RV and sat with the fire tray for an hour. And yes, the mushrooms were a complete dud. Womp, womp. A fellow stopped to chat who I had watch perform with a flaming bull whip; his name was Major Blaze. I told him about Michelle practicing with the group in Portland and he was enthusiastic and encouraging. Another fellow, Tim, stopped by and we chatted about the regional burn in Sacto. At 11 I started getting too cold for comfort and shut down the fire tray and went to bed for the night.
I slept in a little late, not really getting up until about 8:30 or so. I made coffee, tended to my morning toilet, finished reading The Plover (++, would read again) and even noodled with my harmonica just a bit. I did a lap through camp, but things were still subdued. I hiked up the hill and found my spot from yesterday, where I could watch the birds and listen to the bees hum. It turns out that having bees buzzing -right- next to you is a good mindfulness exercise. “The won’t bother you if you don’t bother them.” Easy to say, harder to practice, but I managed. I checked in with Michelle and Melody, which is always a great joy. I am missing them both something fierce, but I’m still glad I came.
As I passed through the theme camps, I saw that Freddie had the pig off the smoker, as well as six individual pork butts that were made into pulled pork. I stepped in line and got a big plate of the pulled pork and a generous amount of sauce. Heavens to Betsy, Freddie knows his pig! I gave him a big hug and wandered back to my RV the slow route, stopped several times to offer different groups of people a PSA about the available food.
Sitting at the RV, finishing my plate, a fellow walked by with some kind of stringed instrument hanging off one hip and two play/practice swords off the other. I asked him about them and he hung around and chatted for a bit. Nick showed me the instrument, and told me the name which I promptly forgot. It had a small, cylindrical, wooden tambor at the base, a long slender neck and only two strings. It was played with a horsehair bow and the hair of the bow was threaded between the two strings. So with a subtle shift of angle, he could bow against one string, the other, or both at once. Within seconds, he made it sound like some folk Asian music, a gypsy violin, or a cello. I happened to mention Andrew Bird, and it turns out Nick was a huge fan so we geeked out about his music and technique. Nick had the most colorful accent and when I asked about his heritage he said his mother was American Indian and his father was Irish. Nick resumed his stroll and I decided to break out my chainmail juggling balls for a bit of practice. The very first jug I did I got 28 in a row. Then 14. Then 8. This is improvement? But I stuck with it, tried to be attentive to what was working and what wasn’t. I had a couple of moments where I got into enough of a groove that I could watch and critique -while- I was juggling, which was a new experience. I got three or four jugs of 30+ tosses, which felt really good. The really delightful thing was the reaction of people passing by. Several times someone would ask me to juggle for them and I quickly told them I was really weak and inconsistent, still teaching myself. Each time, they insisted, I would manage an awkward 10-toss jug or some such weak sauce and each time people were really sweet and encouraging and enthusiastic about it. A couple of times people asked to see the balls (chainmail balls are apparently a bit of a novelty) and then dove into a very smooth and polished juggling routine, but still they were very nice and encouraging about my efforts. To paraphrase Jake the Dog, “Sucking at something is the first step at being kinda not bad at something.” I’d really like to find the time and discipline to do that 20 minutes a day. Sheesh, I want to find time in each day to run, juggle, practice guitar, practice harmonica, and… I’m sure there’s more I’m not thinking of. The browse self-improvement routine. I’d be talented at something, if only I could narrow my focus and stick to it.
A guy from the adjacent camp stopped by, a long-term Burner and psychoactive traveler. He suggested some hair dye that I might like, that is the same hot pink but fluoresces in black light, and then he shared his thoughts about combinations of various psychoactives.
After he left, I decided it was time to wander about a little. As I left camp, someone told me that a zip line had been strung from the cliff edge over the creek to the far side. I strolled over to check it out. As much as I would like to try a zip line sometime, I decided to wait for conditions more conducive to the beginner. But, walking down to the creek had great appeal. I ambled down the slope and looked for a smooth rock suitable for sitting, removing my shoes and soaking my feet. I found one on the fringe of a small group of people. As I settled in, I realize the tall naked guy in the middle of the laughing group was Ian. He gave me an enthusiastic hello and introduced me, “Hey everybody, this is browse! He helped assemble the circus tent you’re all sleeping in!” Note to self: volunteering pays off in so many ways. I got my shoes off and waded about in the creek in my leather kilt, ideal water wear. Once I was sitting I regretted not having brought a cocktail, and then remembered I had my pipe in the mansack. I fished it out, had a hit (my first of the trip) and passed it to the left. About four people away it was cashed, so I crept over on tender bare feet and showed the girl where the secret stash was on the pipe and reloaded it. The girl next to her had the most amazing blue eyes, and a deep accent. I asked what her accent was and she said “Arabic, I think?” I quizzed her about the “I think”, but didn’t get much of an answer; English and Arabic were the only languages she knew. Ian’s group (Camp 380) invited me to join them on the hills for sunset, and then wandered back to their camp. I enjoyed sitting alone in the creek for a bit and took some photos.
Another couple came wandering down the slope and I recognized Steve, who I had met on the hills on Friday. He was wearing black, latex, assless pants and a fishnet top, and we laughed about how we were both dressed so inappropriately for the creek. As I packed to head up the slope, I found a towel that had been abandoned and so I toted it up to lost and found at Hind Quarters.
I made my way back to camp and as I settled in, a Ranger came down the road with a megaphone, repeating a message to the camp as he walked. Apparently rain was due to start around 11 pm, and the dirt track we drove in on would likely become impassable to heavier vehicles, like RVs and trailers. We were being encouraged to pack up and move to an upper field near Gate, about a half mile away. Being just a bit altered and lazy, I thought about delaying action until after the Bunny Burn. How long could it possibly take me to pack up, right? Admiral Dot showed up to ask if I had a corkscrew (Of course I do; we’re not savages!) and as I opened her wine bottle she oohed and aaahed over the RV. (I gotta name this beast. The Barge? The White Elephant? The Nautilus?) As we chatted, I convinced myself not to dally and to proceed with packing up. I did everything I could think to do off the top of my head, then I reviewed my checklist (of course I have a list!) and did the two things I had forgotten. Packing everything and getting ready to roll took about 45 minutes; I bet it will get faster with practice, but slower with more people.
I fired up the RV and crept down the road. The road is barely wide enough for one vehicle, so I had to wait a bit for a car coming the other way to clear the road before I could head out. And wait, and wait. It’s an authentic Exodus experience! Finally I got the go ahead and started to creep. As I was rolling, a little girl suddenly came around the left side of the RV on her tiny bike and pulled right in front of me. I was creeping at 3 mph and stopped in time, but several people nearby cringed visibly and then thanked me for being so aware. Whew. I got to the upper field with no further drama, where Sunshine was directing traffic. She directed me to drive behind the existing row of RVs and start a new row, and then gave me a big grin and shouted “You’re killing it out there, browse!” I’m pretty sure she meant that in a good way. I joined a tight array of another 30 or so RVs. I didn’t particularly unpack, but I changed into warmer clothes, made a cocktail, and wandered back into the event for the evening festivities.
As I came into the tent camping, people started wolf howling at the sunset and I climbed the hill to find the Camp 380 folks. We chatted for a bit, talked about other regionals, and how different the experience must be of visiting an event from overseas. I shared my story about watching an Israeli team assemble an art project on playa and how radically different their process was from ours (Portland’s). The group decided to head down the hill with the last bit of light and write messages on the single-purpose temple/effigy. One of the group had brought a spectrum of permanent markers and I borrowed one and wrote my note. “I came here alone, which is/was really hard for me. Here’s to pushing past your comfort zone!”
They headed back to their camp and I wandered just a bit. I found myself back at Freddie’s camp and he encouraged me to take another plate of pulled pork. Twist my arm. Just to be clear, it’s not like I was eating -only- a massive mound of meat. I took a slice of cantaloupe too; a balanced meal! Well, balanced on my knee. As I approached the incipient burn, Sunshine was moving four painted playatech benches out of the temple and sat them at the red rope lights that marked the perimeter. Grateful for my timing, I took a front row seat and ate my plate of pulled pork as the fire performers were getting ready. This is really roughing it!
There were perhaps ten performers, cycling in and out so that five or so were in action at a time. Poi, torch juggling, staff, pin wheel staff, fans, and bullwhip were all on hand. I’ve grown spoiled with the stellar fire talent in Portland, but these folks put on a really fun spectacle. The crowd was festive and appreciative and I relished the show. The crowd started to chant “bunny’s gonna burn, bunny’s gonna burn”, and Master Blaze (the bullwhip performer) came out and ignited the structure. The temple had been decorated all along the outside with dried eucalyptus branches, and once the benches were moved out it was filled with a stack of wooden pallets, so the structure lit easily and burned fast.
A sizable cheer arose when the bunny atop the temple finally fell. Eventually, all that was left standing were several vertical support posts. Chuckles, (Sunshine’s partner, the property owner, and co-event producer) drove out in some kind of mini earth mover and pushed those remaining posts into the center of the fire. The burn perimeter was released and the crowd closed in on the bonfire. Bon fire, heh. I wonder if that’s the derivation? I circled the fire for a great while, and strolled through the site a few more times. I walked through the now mostly-empty RV field and before I knew it midnight had come, I made the long hike back up to the RV, stripped off, inserted earplugs, and fell fast asleep.
I woke as the sky brightened; it feels really nice to cycle with the sun like that. Two large mugs of coffee, updating this journal and thinking about getting on the road. As I review my writing so far I’m amused to see that, in typical browse fashion, it is almost all straightforward narrative and virtually zero thoughtful reflection. That’s me, all plot and little characterization. I’ll consider that more as I drive, but off-hand, here are some of the lessons that come to mind.
– Volunteering really works for me. Whether it’s in a formal sense like Gate shifts or informally like helping someone who is struggling with erecting a tent, it gives me a context to meet people, chat with them as we work, and establishes goodwill and camaraderie. You never know when and how (and if) it will come back to you later.
– Having the fire tray encouraged people to initiate conversations with me, which was so welcome! I need more things like that, that attract attention and encourages people to linger and chat.
– I talked to a lot of people at this event. I don’t know that I made any pals that will linger beyond this event, and I’m still hopeless at hitting on cute girls. But I did better than usual at introducing myself, starting conversations, and making small talk. It’s a step in the right direction.
– I have some fear around appearing incompetent in front of people with various activities (guitar, harmonica, juggling, you name it). If this event is any indication, I worry about that way more than I should.
- Assuming this becomes a regular event, I should plan on coming back.