A Virgin Burn

By John Phillip Olsen (September 2006)

It’s a place where you burn, Mark said. In Black Rock City, you step outside of your box, and you burn.

That was months earlier. I’d never heard of this festival of art and radical expression before. And then, out of the blue, both Mark and Captain talk to me about it. Mark, while here in France on a visit, and Captain, through a post-Burning Man 2005 missive. Would I be interested in going next year? As it happens the dates are just right, and it would be the chance to re-connect with these friends of long ago. And it would be the chance for me, thirty-year ex-pat that I am, to re-connect with my native country, with my people.

The seed is planted, the preparations begin.

And now I’m here at the gate, on this dry lake bed of flat and cracked mud. Brown lunar mountains hover in the distance. The late morning is bright and hot, and alkaline dust is everywhere. But I’ve been warned.

The greeters are here. Oh, so you’re a virgin, says the lady. A Burning Man virgin I mean, she quickly adds. Yes, I think, a virgin burning man. A burning virgin. A virgin burner. I could have lots of fun entertaining thoughts along these lines. But they’ll have to wait. Now I must ring the bell and get my big bear hugs, first from this sprightly lady, and then from this bearded man in a dress. That done, Sprightly Lady observes that I’m too clean. My black cargo shorts and black tee-shirt show no signs of dust. Well, she’ll fix that. Down on her knees, her hands in the fines, she jumps up to give me another hug, this time fondling my butt, and then rubbing her hands up and down my back. I could get used to this.

We’re ready now, the four of us—Mark (alias Fuzz), the Captain (or Richard, though he’s nearly always been Captain to me), John Morehead (occasionally known as Sebastopol John, though here in Black Rock City he’s soon to become Mas Cabeza), and myself, French John (or Frenchie, though, as a playa name, this never sticks). And off we go.

Into this place where, for the coming week, we’ll move between hope and fear. Into this place where, perhaps, I’ll burn.

* * *

We find a camp site near some friends of Mark’s from last year. We’re on Fate, between Three O’clock and Three-Thirty. An inside site, with no street frontage, difficult to find, but private, and surrounded by other camps with many new friends to meet.

I put on the first of many layers of sun screen and we get to work. Setting up camp in the heat of the day quickly sends me an alarming message: this was not a good idea. Our first canopy up, it blows over in a gush of wind, and we rush to stake it down better. In a somber mood we then stop to rest. We are all suffering. My eyes become so irritated that for several hours I could hardly see—an affliction that would plague me most afternoons. The previous days have been hard work, with shopping and packing, and we’re not in top form, I fear, for this beginning of the burn.

But we overcome our dark mood and soon the three canopies are up and secure. Our individual tents are also up, under the largest canopy, and our kitchen/dining space (no joke: barbecue, six ice chests, toaster oven, micro-wave, coffee maker and—yes, yes, yes—a blender) is ready. The couches and stereo equipment are set up under the front canopy, and it’s cocktail hour (an institution in our camp). Margaritas all around and our spirits rise again. The shower and evaporation pool will have to wait until tomorrow, but we can live with that. (Of course, if I want a shower that badly I can publicly strip and follow the water trucks that periodically pass through the streets to dampen down the dust. Many citizens of Black Rock City shower this way. But this doesn’t appeal to me.) Soon Mas Cabeza is busy barbecuing chicken, and I pull out a bottle of cabernet from the case of wine that Larry and Cathy have given me for the occasion.

After dinner we get ready to go out for our first visit to the playa, the central open area around which the camp sites are spread, where the many art exhibits are found. Original clothing is called for, but I’ve brought nothing special. Only bright colors, to go with the colorful language charts I’ve brought to use as a part of my contribution to the gift-giving economy of the real world of Black Rock City. Soon, decked out with glow sticks, and our bikes with glow wire, we set off across the playa.

The kindling is set, the spark takes, and the flames rise. For the first time, as we race across these mud flats in the dark, I feel what it is to burn.

First we pay our respects to The Man. He stands in the middle of the playa, in the very center of Black Rock City. He’ll preside over the festivities until this coming Saturday when our collective flames finally lap at his feet and he, too, goes up in a burst of flames and fire works. We climb up stairs, wander through the labyrinth of the plywood platforms on which The Man stands, and observe the lights of Black Rock City glittering around us. Black Rock City is no Las Vegas, not even a banal downtown strip back in the default world, but for a week it is la ville des lumières—the city of lights. And it’s home.

On we go, out to the far side of the playa, to one of the most impressive pieces of art at Black Rock City this year—Uchronia, better known as The Belgian Waffle—built by a team of ninety Belgians who brought their idea here to this distant desert. The Waffle, an apt name indeed, as it’s made of crisscrossed wooden planks—thousands of them—and rises many stories high. Inside it’s a cavernous cathedral sheltering a dance space, with resounding techno music that pounds into the night. We join the crowd and our flames rise higher. How long do we dance? I don’t remember, but we’re soon off again across the playa, stopping here and there to see the sites. But it’s been a long day, so we make it an early night.

Home again at Fate and Three-Thirty, I get lost as I try to find my way to the toilets. I get lost again amid the tents, trailers, domes and RVs as I try to make my way back to our camp. This will not do, I tell myself as a hint of anguish takes hold. I’ll have to be more attentive to my surroundings. But I manage to find my camp, my little tent, and my bed.

The fire settles down, but soft embers glow. I’m happy here in this real world.

* * *

I’m up early, as usual. Whether back in the default world, or here in the real world, I’m an early riser. Mas Cabeza is up shortly after me.

I ride my bike to Center Camp. I’m on a mission on this early morning ride, seeking Janice, an online friend of Lois’s. Janice and I have been in touch by e-mail and have agreed to meet. But the info center isn’t open yet, and I don’t know enough to consult one of the computers they have at our disposal. I wander about Center Camp though, taking in the scene of groggy early risers, and realize I should have brought a little money to buy some hot coffee (the real world here is not totally moneyless; coffee, and ice too—at a place called Arctica—can be bought). Cello music flows through the air. The cello player on the stage turns out to be our neighbor, John, playa name Celloboy, whom I meet later in the day. I’d like to ride out on the playa now, but I must get back to camp to help the guys finish setting up. There’s the shower and evaporation pool to set up yet, and probably a number of other things to do too.

Breakfast and morning coffee out of the way, we get to work. A little later I take a break and ride back to the info center to leave a message for Janice. I wander through the streets and through Center Camp, getting a better idea of my fellow citizens. The good people of Black Rock City go about in various states of dress and undress, a few even totally naked. I have no problem with nudity. On the contrary, I wish that I, too, could shed some clothing. Alas recurring spots on my skin—the legacy of my youthful years in the California sun—have long since convinced me to keep covered.

The shower is up now. It’s a sturdy gallows-like affair, amidst a group of camps and open to the neighbors’ view. I first try it out early that evening (once the sun has gone down behind the western mountains to the shouts and screams of the people), thinking it wise to stay out of the sun, and that I’ll be fresh and clean for the evening’s outing. These solar showers have a weak flow, but the water is warm and the day’s dust and sweat and layers of sunscreen go their way. How good it feels to be clean again. But under the shower the light evening breeze is chilling, and so I don’t linger. I have time, though, to notice (with a silly twinge of manly pleasure) two of our neighbor ladies slyly eyeing my pale frame.

Ah, our shower. Celloboy comes over from Flow Camp some time during that second day, to introduce himself and ask if they can use our shower. They’ll bring their own solar shower sacks, of course. No problem we say. Black Rock City functions on favors people do for each other. Numerous neighbors will use our shower during the week. In fact, one hot afternoon, while Fuzz, Mas Cabeza and I are napping, Captain observes some neighborly hanky panky (if that’s the term for it) under our shower. I later tell him that he really should have woken us up to come see for ourselves, or at least taken a picture. We, the foursome, have been free in our expression of lusty thoughts, contemplating with gusto all the “young, firm, nubile…” (need I go one with the adjectives?) female visitors we expect at our camp (at some point we add “willing” and “provocative” to the list). More on this later.

Our camp is all up and running now, our Grateful Dead flag flying high. Another day—our second at Black Rock City—draws to a close, but these days will soon dissolve into a continuous burning blur. It’s margarita time again, and then dinner. But I won’t go out tonight. Even here in the real world default life catches up with me. The trip over from France, the jet lag, the whirl of visiting family and friends, the preparation for coming to Black Rock City, the excitement and hard work, they all take their toll. So tonight I’m in bed by a quarter to ten.

* * *

The good night’s sleep is well worth it. I’m up and about early today. I ride out across the playa and take in all the art, especially the Belgian Waffle. It’s as impressive by daylight as in its nightly green glow. And music is playing, something I recognize in fact (thus it’s not the techno so prevalent in Black Rock City). It’s Cream, and the tune is, I believe, In the Sunshine of Your Love, a fitting song for this early morning ride in the desert sunshine. Then the music changes slightly, but this variation is still familiar. Some time during the week I’ll learn a new word, mashup, which apparently designates a lengthy techno-revised version of an already existing recording. How quickly we can generate new words and expressions. And when I speak, I hear that my accent is much like that of most of the citizens here. I am indeed re-connecting with my people.

A brief return to the info center, and I locate Janice. She’s camped on Guess, somewhere between two and two-thirty. On the mountain side, the note on the computer screen says. Well, her camp isn’t on the mountain side, I soon realize, but on The Man side. No problem, I know to look for her Winnebago. And I take my time exploring her neighborhood, studying the different camps and my different fellow citizens. No one is out or about at her camp, but it’s still early, I’ll come back later. I do meet her neighbor Amnon, though, a burner from Israel. Later that morning I’m back and finally meet Janice. She knows who I am right away. Wonderful, kind, down-to-earth Janice. She’s a long time burner, and has a wealth of knowledge and experience to share. We talk about Burning Man, about Seth too, and our mutual friend Lois. I tell Janice that she’ll have to come by our camp at cocktail hour. I’ll be back tomorrow to get her. Gladly, she says.

It’s afternoon now, and the first time that my eyes don’t feel so irritated during the heat of the day. Sunscreen, long sleeves and sun hat aiding—my daytime uniform—off I go on my bicycle to explore the reaches of Black Rock City. The Euroburners gathering at the Quixote Cabaret is this afternoon. It’s not quite under way when I get there, but as I wait someone hands me three books to choose from. I’m to write something in one of them, a little piece that will later appear online, they tell me. I choose the dream book and quickly scribble a few lines of a recent dream I had, one that has been pursuing me. I don’t often remember my dreams, but occasionally one stays with me. One such dream even appeared as a story I wrote, The Gathering, now renamed Birthday. I’ll have to look into this dream book of theirs once I get home.

I meet several burners from Europe here, mainly from Britain, but also from Ireland, Spain, Italy, Sweden, Germany… One English woman apparently lives in Lyon, says itinerant, but I don’t manage to meet her. Itinerant is a lovely Irish woman who lives in London. She tells me about the Euroburners, their online discussion group, and about Nowhere, the Euro-burn that now takes place in Spain every year. I ask her what she thinks, as a European, of Burning Man—I’m hopelessly into the intellect on this, I admit—and she says that she and her friends have been talking about this very subject. Only America, she says, could come up with something like Burning Man. I don’t ask her what they mean by this, but I think it might be the extremes and the enthusiasm that we, as a people, exhibit. Our lack of reserve, even to the point of the ridiculous (though in many cases we are not ridiculous at all, I think. If only we were.) Anyway, I’m happy to see that so many Europeans have come here, and that they know that we have a better side to us than the image that our government and our companies project. I am so used to hearing Europeans express such scathing opinions of us that I rarely discuss such matters. Ah, the reconnection…

Several times during the week I stop by the Barbie Death Camp and Wine Bistro. I never do get to the wine part of it, nor do I ever talk with any of the camp hosts. I’m too taken with the image of hundreds of these busty blond babes lined up and, escorted by little GI Joes, marching into the oven of a banal kitchen range oven. Later, online, I’ll see many photos of burners torturing and killing these dolls that have been the dream of little girls for decades—my daughter had a Barbie, I believe. Killing an icon of Americana, is how they might see it. They may feel scorn for the Barbie persona, I admit, but don’t these people realize the power of holocaust images? Don’t they realize that the very name, Barbie, conjures up Klaus Barbie, a German SS commander during the war, first in Gex, not far from Besançon, and then in Lyon, and who organized the round up of the Jewish children of Izieu in the Lyon suburbs? Children! And it was off to Auschwitz with them. Don’t these people realize this? I’ve lived in Europe too long to be unaffected by this scene. Holocaust references are not to be used lightly. But I keep coming back to this bizarre camp.

At Chance and 7:30 I discover The Golden Café. Attracted by the live jazz music pouring into the street in the middle of the afternoon (live music is not all that frequent in town, it seems) I go in to have a cocktail. They serve me a rum punch something, and announce the rules of the house: we get a drink, we drink it on site in a glass glass (no styrofoam or coffee-go cups here), we drink all of it, we give the glass back, and, at some point, we offer the café a gift—a bottle of alcohol, some mixer or fruit juice or fruit, ice, etc. A gift will get us a medallion that, in turn, will get us to the head of the line in the café, this year, next year, any year. I like this bar and its music. The band changes while I’m here and now it’s country and western that is playing. I jump on my bike and go quickly to Arctica to get them a few bags of ice. They happily give me my medallion and a gin and tonic this time. I look about me and an idea comes to me. Maybe I should— But no, I’ll tell you later. I bring Captain and Fuzz back a day or two later. They have their medallions now too, Captain a spiffy silver one. He took them a bottle of spiced rum.

I’m burning. Captain, Mas Cabeza, and Fuzz are burning too. At every cocktail hour and over every dinner we share experiences, tell what we’ve seen, where we’ve been.

On one of our nightly outings we first go to the Opulent Temple at the Esplanade and Two O’clock. The rapid techno we dance to quickly subsides though, and out comes a troupe of belly dancers. They’re excellent, and so is their techno mid-eastern music. We watch them for a long time, and as far as I can see in this dark semi-darkness—more dark than semi—they really are from the middle east. I later hear from one of Janice’s neighbors that a lot of belly dancers are here this year. I hear a lot of middle-eastern music playing all through the week. I wonder if there isn’t a subtle attempt here to promote middle-eastern culture. Not a bad idea, given the very bad press that Arab peoples get in the US these days. In any case, I like the middle-eastern music and these dancers.

One morning I get around to giving my fellow tribesmen a French lesson. We invite two neighbors too, Lewis and Bruce. I teach using the Silent Way, a non-conventional method. The plan is to give French courses as part of our camp activity, part of our contribution, the gift of an experience with an alternative educational method that might lend itself well to the burner atmosphere. We work for a good hour or more. In no time at all I have a typical class, with good students and not so good (and one who fell asleep on the couch). We cover simple material that is to be expected in a quick demonstration lesson like this, including a few points that allow the students to grapple with a specific problem. But what I find most interesting is how quickly they go off on a tangent, a subject of their own choosing that makes them use what little they know of the language to grapple with yet a new problem, to go just a little further. It’s not surprising that this all-man group begins to talk about women. I can hardly contain myself. I want to tell them all sorts of things, give them new words and such, but that’s no way for them to learn efficiently. And this is Black Rock City, the attention span is short. I soon put an end to the French, and ask for some feedback. We then talk about the method and its applications.

This will be my only French lesson. I had hoped we’d attract more participants off the street, bring other burners into our camp, and generate enough input to continue the lessons every morning. But we’re an inside camp and can’t be easily seen. No problem. I’ll know better for the future. The solution may be a theme camp and an announcement in What Where When. You see, I’m already thinking about coming back to future burns.

A BookCrossing table is another contribution we make. As soon as I arrive in California I ransack the thrift shops in both Redding and Sonoma County for appropriate books (ones I’ve read before, so I can write a quick blurb online) that I register and label, and lay out on a table at the entrance to our camp. My fellow tribesmen bring books too. A few books do leave during the week, picked up by future readers. A neighbor lady takes The Stone Diaries and Janice takes Imago. Other books probably go too—I can’t keep up with them all—but by Friday there are still quite a few left so I take them to Center Camp and spread them around, hoping they’ll be caught in the BookCrossing style. Days later, two of the books will show up on line. Two newbie BookCrossers are born at Burning Man. Vatina has caught A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, and ashesmonroe has caught The Plague. Welcome, you two new BCers.

Captain remarks at one point that he hopes those books don’t become MOOP. Moop means Material Out Of Place, that is to say anything that shouldn’t be where it is. Moop, in the long run, is everything that must be taken out of Black Rock City when we leave—pack it in, pack it out, the saying goes, and leave no trace. Moop is another new word that I learn here in Black Rock City. Moop is Burningmanese. We, the people, are developing our language.

Janice comes for drinks and dinner one evening. I stop by her camp first and I see Amnon again, along with a fellow-tribesman of his, a US citizen, but originally from Israel. This burner is interested in the fact that I live in France, but soon begins bashing the French, especially for the French government’s attitude in the recent war in Lebanon. I hesitate to say anything. I don’t think it served any purpose at all to allow Israel to destroy that country so brutally, and I find this bashing of the French unjustified, uninformed and unkind. When the French bash the US I often defend, and when people in the US bash France I again defend. But I get so bored in this type of discussion. It’s rare to find well-informed people who can discuss international relations objectively and intelligently. I quickly give up on this burner.

At dinner Janice notices our Grateful Dead flag and we tell her that we’ve started calling our camp the Grateful Geezers Camp. I don’t remember who first came up with the word geezer, but we start using the term soon after our arrival, if only to comment upon our music—sixties and early seventies style, of course—as opposed to a lot of the music we hear from nearby camps. We even think about what a good idea it would be to have an art car some year with our kind of music on it (plans for future burns abound as the days go by). You know, the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Jefferson Airplane, Cream, and of course the Grateful Dead, just to name a few. So the geezers we become. I might have been the one who first associated “grateful” with “geezer”. Some friends of mine will understand why. Grateful Geezer, though, as a camp name, doesn’t really seem to stick. I guess we’re still searching. We don’t feel like geezers. In fact, I think we’ve misused the word. “Geezer”, says my Webster’s, is only a “queer, odd, eccentric man”. “Old geezer” is what we mean. I notice, however, that, as the days go by, our jokes about the “young, firm nubile, willing, provocative, etc.…” come to a stop. Maybe we are old geezers. Grateful old geezers. Grateful for what? Anything we can get, I suppose.

Center Camp becomes my early-morning haunt. Cup of coffee in hand, or sometimes a latte, I walk about, listen to the music, talk to whomever. One morning I hear that familiar accent I know so well. Yes, it’s a French burner. Bonjour, I say and introduce myself. He’s a Frenchman who lives in San Francisco, and his friend is a Frenchman born and raised in the US. We talk briefly, comparing impressions. You know, one of them says, the burn is a very old tradition. People have always burned symbols. He makes a quick reference to the Feu de la Saint Jean, the summer solstice bonfire in Alsace. And Burning Man, he says, well, you can take it any way you want to.

On these early morning outings I pay particular attention to the art cars. Dozens of these extravagantly decorated vehicles move gracefully (or boisterously) about the playa and through the streets at all hours of the day. Big and small—some huge, with sound systems and dance floors—they are said to offer rides, sometimes in exchange for a six pack of beer. I never get around to riding on one, but I like them. There’s so much to experience here, but I don’t get around to even a fraction of it.

Late one morning, returning from Center Camp along the Esplanade, I come across the Critical Dicks March. Fuzz, I think, has told me about this men’s answer to the women’s famed Critical Tits Bike Ride (critical as in critical mass, as in Critical Mass Bike Ride) “Free Willie” says last year’s What Where When about this men’s march. “Stand tall for manhood”, says this year’s. But there’s not much mass to it. This naked men’s march is sparse, a few hundred at the most. Proud piercings abound, in the most sensitive and intimate parts of the male anatomy. Days later, after Burning Man, Tim and Anne-Marie will ask me what I found the most outrageous. I think of this march, but in fact I’m not outraged at all. On some level I have to admire these guys, but are they really stepping outside the box? That I don’t know. In any case I’m not tempted to join in the march. I’m a spectator, I guess.

One afternoon some guy seated in front of his dome hails me as I pass by on my bike. I circle back and ask him what service they offer at his camp. Come in, come in, he says. We have clothing. We’ll dress you up. In a dress, no less. I have no real desire to wear a dress, I laugh. But you’ll look so much better in a dress, he insists. As you are, and he gestures to me from my wide brim straw hat down to my sandals now white with alkaline dust, you look like a spectator. Hmm, spectator, I think. It shows. The word has a specifically negative meaning in Burningmanese. Step out of your box, man, this guy continues. But if I’ve never wanted to wear a dress, I say, then wearing one isn’t going to be stepping out of my box, is it? (I, too, have mastered a little Burningmanese, virgin burner though I am on arrival). I cheerfully decline the offer of a dress and politely thank him for his concern.

Spectator, I mutter in my mind as I ride away. That rankles, even if I know there’s some truth to it. This is the first time I’ve felt any discontent here in Black Rock City. But I’m not supposed to feel discontented here. Not here in the real world. I can’t.No one can. This is Burning Man. We’re allsupposed to go about our business of having fun and making others happy by gifting them with this and that, and pretend that this is a real city, and that our business is real business, essential to the city, and to the well-being of the people. Step out of your box and make a contribution. And be happy about it. But just how much happiness can I take in a week? I mean, this is like being the kid of scientologist parents. (Grumble, fuss, rant, grumble, fuss, rant.)

I feel foul, like some piece of moop that’s mysteriously found its way here. Maybe I should have at least tried the dress on. In the privacy of that dome. (You see, John, you see. You’d feel embarrassed in a dress. That’s what would make it stepping out of your rotten little box.) What harm could it have done? After all, so many guys are wearing dresses around here that nobody even notices them. And Fuzz and Captain are wearing sarongs. Now a toga, that might be more to my liking, or a roman-style tunic—

Burning Man. I’ll take it any way I want. I’m out of my box just by being here. Out—way out—of my conventional life as an English teacher. Once upon a time I was a placid family man, with a wife, a daughter, a son, a cat and a dog. Now the kids are grown and gone. The wife is gone too. The cat and dog have had to go their fatal ways also. And me? Now I race across the playa at night with my friends, going from bar to bar, from dance to dance, dipping in and out of different camps and boutiques. The bright colors I wear on our nightly outings are way out for me too. If you burners only knew how brightly I’m burning.

I do, in fact, have a secret, “burning” desire. I’ll go back to the Golden Café, I think. I’ll zero in on some hot babe. I mean a really hot babe. You know, the kind who never in a million years would even look at a guy like me. I’ll sidle up to her and strike up a conversation, then turn on my, er, uh, charm, and see where things go. It’s not that I’ve never tried this before. On the contrary, it’s precisely because I have tried this many a time that the very idea has me so scared. That’s what makes it stepping outside my box. I’ll try it, I decide. But I never get around to it. Take that any way you want, people.

And on I go, burning my way through the week, across the playa, night and day.

* * *

The week is drawing to a close. Friday afternoon is the Critical Tits Bike Ride. We head out onto the playa at the appointed hour and watch this highlight event. Six thousand or more women ride or walk by, nearly all with bare and beautifully painted breasts. Painted or decorated or dressed up (or down) in some appropriate way, thousands of women go by in smiling good humor, to the waves, applauding and cajoling of thousands of mainly men burners. Wow, says Fuzz, just think of the number of breasts going by. I tell him that in the right circumstances two breasts would be plenty enough for me. Jokes and childish male mind meanderings aside, this bike ride is touching. Whether ill at ease or in their element, it’s clear that for nearly all these women this is truly stepping outside the box. And they are happy to do so.

Saturday night, and the burn. We ride down to the Esplanade and leave our bikes there, in a place we’ll hopefully recognize easily. Finding our bikes has been a problem some evenings. Finding each other has sometimes been difficult too. Along with many other burners, we walk across the playa towards The Man. Fire dancers perform, and then The Man goes up, along with all the fireworks planted at his feet. We wait until he crumbles into the blaze, until the security guards let burners cross the perimeter to approach the fire. The pyre I want to say, for that’s what it is. We burn the gloom and doom of the previous year. We burn who we’ve been and hope to see a new person rise from the ashes.

But something isn’t quite right, I feel.

And then it’s off across the playa again. I go with Fuzz and Mas Cabeza who wants to take pictures of the Serpent Mother, another of the truly impressive art pieces here. But later the others return to camp early, so I ride slowly along the Esplanade between Two O’clock and Center Camp. I feel a fatigue in the air. Are the burners wearing down? Tomorrow night holds yet another event, the burning of the temple (which we’ll miss) and burners have until Monday night to vacate the city. It’s not right, I think, that this burn tonight should give me such an anti-climactic feeling. I look around. The burners seem to be having their nightly fun. One young man has passed out in the dust. I ask him if he’s all right. He opens his eyes and bursts out laughing. I move on. At another lounge they give me a cocktail in my coffee-go cup, Jesus Juice they call it. Maybe I’ll yet see that mythical hot babe. But no, I don’t want to even go there. I’m tired and tomorrow will be a long day.

The next day it takes us from about eight o’clock in the morning until nearly three in the afternoon to break camp and be on our way. Many burners are leaving already, and it takes us more than three hours to get to the highway from our camp site. (Days later I’ll hear from Janice who left on Monday afternoon; it took her eight hours “from campsite to asphalt”.) Down the highway we go, to Fernley on the I-80 where we get gas and dinner, and then over the mountains and all the way to Sebastopol where we arrive after two in the morning.

My burn is down to smoke and ash. But wait. There’ll be another burn next year. I wouldn’t mind going back. After all, I can take it any way I want to.