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If you have been to the Playa before you know what to do (the ten principles) and not to do. In other words, you know what to expect. You think. I was baptized in the dust bath of camp Animalia, the motto of last year. My first time to Burning Man. You know that 2023 was one of a kind. Right? First lesson I learned: Expect the unexpected. Better yet, don’t expect anything. 

All the planning that goes into the biggest art fair in the world happens before you arrive. As soon as you touch the ground and commit to the dust, there is only one thing to remember: keep an open mind.

We spent the first night in Reno at a motel surrounded by other Burners. With all the preparation and planning we had done we did not expect Covid to delay our arrival. We did the best we could do in our situation and isolated ourselves at beautiful Lake Tahoe. Another first. A short one-hour drive away from Reno, it was the perfect place to recuperate. Thanks to our doc in New York City, we had medication available in Tahoe City on day one. While Burners experienced the hottest days on record we relaxed in the fresh water of the lake.

We finally arrived at the Playa and had our first adventure that night. A Shaman Death experience with our group awaited us. We drove our bicycles past the Man and past the Temple into the Deep Playa. Whizzing past us were sparkling bicycles in all colors of the universe. They reminded me of Tiananmen, the huge city square in the center of Beijing, China. Without any regulation, bicyclists crisscrossed the open space without colliding.

Art vehicles and colorful unicorns on wheels illuminated the desert night. We had no eyes for the stars above. We were in danger to get run over. Our bicycles weren’t bright enough. We had brought lights with us but hadn’t had the time to rig our camp bikes. Taking it slow we returned to our tent shortly after midnight.

While at a soul retrieval the next day, the first rain drops fell on my nose. My husband was prepping our bicycles for the night when the rain stopped everything. Everything we planned for. We all gathered in our big kitchen tent. Rain was not a new experience for the Burners that year. It had rained much of built week before Burning Man even opened its gates.

If you followed the news you heard of the mud show. But let me tell you, from my perspective, Burning Man 2023 – Animalia – wasn’t dead in the water. To the contrary.

Burning Man showed its true colors.

Imagine a town of 73,000 people. What could go wrong? As Katie Bain reported on billboard the real emergency is the climate crisis. Animalia was a human experiment. How do humans deal with adverse circumstances? Transfer people from their cushioned life into a survival camp and close the gates. Watch what happens in a city built for a fun time, a time out from the comforts and demands of modern technology.

Granted there was no shortage of food. We all came prepared. There was power generated to heat and illuminate our kitchen tent and cook our food. Sure, you had individuals who didn’t heed the warning not to drive in the mud. The dust consists of clay particles which become slick when wet. But underneath that thin layer of desert crust a biosphere persists. It’s been there since the time water covered the earth. To break open the protective layer of dust destroys this biosphere now exposed to the sun. Those who wanted to have it their way ploughed through the earth’s crust. They didn’t get far. Stuck in the mud their vehicles were a shameful reminder of our egotistical thinking. 

Animalia was a unique experience. A community coming closer together because we all had to walk. Nobody rode their bicycle. Everybody had to slow down. For the first time in years strangers didn’t wiz past each other on their way to the next happening. They stopped to talk. They gathered and discussed. Their situation. Our climate crisis. We comforted each other. We lifted each other up. We shared our experiences live and in person. A human activity that doesn’t depend on anything else than on being human.

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