This is a thought exercise.
It’s about the endings of beginnings, the beginnings of endings, and beginnings from endings. It’s about contradiction. But mostly it’s about me and you and us and everything that has ever made up what we now think of as not just the physical manifestation of Black Rock City, but the material and immaterial culture of Black Rock City as well.
Which, as it turns out, is really the story of a cop. And not even the whole story of this cop. Just a couple minutes’ worth. One single police officer doing what he though was fairly routine, otherwise forgettable cop stuff.
For this exercise, we will need to begin with imagining the vast, sprawling emptiness of the Black Rock Desert. Before time. Before Burning Man — a vacant, yawning expanse pouring off into every direction, framed only by the distant mountains and a limitless dome of sky.
We are going to now fill this space in 3 separate phases. The first thing we are going to fill it with is EFFORT.
Try to imagine every individual man-hour and woman-hour of effort ever spent by someone on Burning Man since 1990.
Every hour spent by staff and participant alike. Every T stake pounded, every little plastic flag ever stuck in the ground. Every meeting. Every email. Every spreadsheet ever made. Every art car ever constructed. Every camp surveyed. Every piece of art from the smallest to the greatest built over 27 years. Every nail driven. Every screw drilled. Every crude or complex map drawn and redrawn. Every hour spent driving from great distance to and from Black Rock City. Every hour spent by every person who has ever walked line sweeps during Resto. Every call and every response to every single bit of staff radio traffic for almost three decades. Every minute spent pedaling a bicycle by every person who ever rode one across the playa. Every Decompression event around the world and all that went into producing and attending them. Every minute spent on every repair made to something torn asunder by the desert winds.
Take these, along with every single other individual moment of effort spent by every single individual human as it directly relates to Burning Man both on and off playa for the last 27 years, and imagine it collectively (in whatever way you can) as a vast pile of hours and effort.
Now, on top of that pile, add up every dollar ever spent on Burning Man for this same time period. To the pile of effort, we’re going to add MONEY. Quite a bit of it, in fact.
Try to imagine the aggregated price tag of every sheet of lumber bought. Every costume purchased. Every dollar spent on fuel. Every RV rented. Every piece of heavy machinery bought or leased. Every rental car. Every rental truck. Every ticket sold. Every permit purchased. Every square foot of property bought or rented in the administration of this event. Every staff paycheck. Every reimbursement. Every art grant. Every dollar spent in casinos and hotels throughout Reno and beyond. Every flight purchased. Every dime spent on making stickers and swag. Every staff hoodie or shirt ever bought. Every meal bought. Every gallon of water purchased. Every dime spent on outside vendors. Every shipping container, tent, yurt or carport bought. Every dollar spent on cigarettes and drugs and alcohol. The paychecks of every law enforcement and emergency services worker brought in, along with all their infrastructure. Every fine leveed and paid. Essentially every dollar, euro, pound, yen, shekel and ruble spent somewhere out in the world to buy a temporary society where money doesn’t change hands.
Every penny of it. Each one spent by every one of the millions of people who have touched this event in some way since 1990. Take that giant pile of cash and add it to our giant pile of effort.
Finally, to these, add SOCIAL CAPITAL.
Imagine every friendship forged over the last 27 years directly traceable to this event. Every marriage. Every child born of those marriages. Every moment of sexual congress. Every conversation. Every shared hardship and joy. Circles of friends formed. Communities built around Theme Camps, villages and staff departments. Millions of strangers well met. Blog posts and think pieces written. Arguments, disagreements and endless kvetching about what Burning Man is or isn’t. How it was so much better next year or 10 years ago or before these people came or that person left. Every moment of human interaction, both good and bad, virtual and real world — both lasting and ephemeral — spawned from this event beginning with its first moments in the Black Rock Desert, culminating in this very moment right now.
Add each of those moments of human contact on top of everything else.
Imagine all of this in a colossal towering pile. Heaving off into the infinite horizons. A practical universe within itself of almost incalculable human value.
all of this…
is reducible to a single “NO.”
Just two tiny letters with a period at the end. One syllable uttered in a mere fraction of a second on Baker Beach on June 21st, 1990 by some police officer now lost to history.
For four years prior to that “no”, a wooden man burned for whatever reason on or about the June solstice on Baker Beach until that day in 1990. But on that particular day, a single cop under the color of authority of the state decided that man wasn’t going to burn on that beach any longer. And it never did.
Instead, it was taken down, packed in a truck, and driven out to the Black Rock Desert, where the Cacophony Society’s Zone Trip #4 became something much, much more than just a Bad Day in Black Rock.
Were it not for that single “no” from that one cop, it’s reasonable to posit that maybe, at best, Larry’s crude, anonymous stick figure would have burned a few more years on Baker Beach, and then he and his wooden man would become a footnote in the trivia of the history of the San Francisco underground art scene. Cacophony Society’s Zone Trip #4 wouldn’t stand out in anyone’s mind any greater than the three that preceded it. Maybe the Cacophony Society would have returned to the Black Rock Desert again at some other date, but maybe not either. Who knows?
What we do know for certain, however, is that one single “no” from one single cop started a chain reaction that went on to create every bit of quanta in our imagined yet profoundly real pile.
That pile is the story of us. It changed all of us, some more than others. Some for the worse, but mostly for the better. Think of the doors that were opened to a realm of possibility and impossibility from a single exercise of random, petty authority.
From a single “no”, an expansive ocean of “yes” was born. From a single “no”, a whole lot of “why not?” peppered with the harsh lessons of “that’s why” doled out by the stern mistress of a desert that’s been trying to kill us all for almost three straight decades.
While “yes” gets all the credit for the march of human progress, maybe it’s high time we take a moment in praise of the awesome, staggering creative potential
Top image: Baker Beach Descent, 1989 (photo by Stewart Harvey)
Guests will be seeing double when they visit Brookfield Zoo’s Pinniped Point in a few weeks. Two California Sea Lion pups were recently born, and they are the first of this species born at the zoo in nearly 30 years.
The new pups are currently behind the scenes, bonding with their mothers, and learning how to swim, as well as being monitored by animal care staff. It is anticipated the pups will have access to their outdoor habitat in a few weeks.
The first pup, a female, was born on June 4 to seven-year-old Josephine. A week later, on June 11, Arie, who is estimated to be about nine-years-old, gave birth to a male.
California Sea Lion pups are usually born in June and July and will weigh between 13 to 20 pounds. Pups do not swim for their first few weeks of life, but rather stay in tidal pools until they can go to sea with their mothers. They nurse for at least five months and sometimes for more than a year. In the wild, after giving birth, mother Sea Lions will leave their offspring for a short time while they forage at sea. As the pups grow stronger, the mothers leave them alone for longer periods. Mother Sea Lions recognize their pups through smell, sight, and vocalizations.
The new additions at Brookfield Zoo are very important to the genetic diversity of the accredited North American zoo population for the species because of the unique backgrounds of the two moms as well as of Tanner, the pups’ sire. All three adults were wild born and deemed non-releasable by the government for various reasons. All were taken in and given homes at three accredited facilities: Aquarium of Niagara, Brookfield Zoo, and Shedd Aquarium.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled with the birth of these two Sea Lion pups, which is a coordinated effort between us and our partner facilities,” said Rita Stacey, Curator of Marine Mammals for CZS.
Josephine was abandoned by her mom at the popular tourist attraction, Pier 39 in San Francisco, which is a highly unusual place for a California Sea Lion to give birth. As a newborn, Josephine was helpless and would have starved to death without human intervention. The Chicago Zoological Society (CZS) stepped forward and offered to give her a home at Brookfield Zoo, where she was hand-reared and has resided since 2010.
In 2009, at approximately one year of age, Arie was found stranded on a beach, where she was rescued and rehabilitated three times by a California stranding center before being deemed non-releasable and given a forever home at the Aquarium of Niagara in Niagara Falls, New York. She arrived at Brookfield Zoo in 2016, based on a recommendation from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ California Sea Lion Species Survival Plan (SSP). The program manages the breeding of Sea Lions in North American accredited zoos to maintain a healthy and self-sustaining population that is both genetically diverse and demographically stable. Jennifer McGee, Lead Animal Care Specialist for CZS, is the coordinator of this plan and also manages the studbook for the species. In these roles, she is responsible for documenting the pedigree and demographic history of each individual California Sea Lion at each institution and assists in making breeding recommendations.
Tanner, who is estimated to be 14 years old, arrived at Brookfield Zoo from Shedd Aquarium also based on a breeding recommendation. In 2012, Tanner received a second chance at life when Shedd Aquarium staff offered to provide him a new home after he was removed permanently from the wild by NOAA Fisheries for feeding on a federally protected endangered species of salmon in the Bonneville Dam area on the Columbia River. Government officials gave him the distinguishing and permanent ID on his back, “C011,” to be able to accurately identify him should he return to the dam to feed again on the endangered salmon. Despite several attempts to relocate him to another area, Tanner continued to return to the dam.
Although California Sea Lions (Zalophus californianus) are listed as “Least Concern” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the species still face challenges in their natural habitat along the west coast of North America from Vancouver Island in British Columbia, to the southern tip of Baja California in Mexico. These threats include entanglement in fishing gear, toxins they ingest from their prey, intentional dumping of toxic and hazardous waste, and changes in global atmosphere pressure that affects the availability of prey. Today, the 1972 Marine Mammal Protection Act protects all marine mammals, including California sea lions.
Those interested in helping care for the California Sea Lions at Brookfield Zoo can contribute to the Share the Care program. For $35, the recipient will receive the Basic Package, which includes a 5-inch x 7-inch color photograph and fact sheet about the species, a personalized adoption certificate, a Share the Care car decal, and an invitation to the annual Share the Care Evening. For further information, visit: www.CZS.org/SharetheCare .
"They are playing...in Taunton," Ali said, and Tas clapped her hands in anticipatory delight before asking where Taunton is.
"Somerset, I think?"
"Far away, anyway!"
And then, probably not entirely coincidentally, it dropped off the radar for all of us.
Until now! Ali not only reminded us of this but had looked up ticket prices (only £10; it's criminal that tickets sell for so much less if it's women playing sports than if it's men, but it's handy for me because I'm poor, so I'm conflicted...) and best of all she's willing to drive there and back on the day.
In America a hundred years is a long time, and in England a hundred miles is a long way. While I would've grown up thinking nothing of a road trip like this -- it wouldn't happen all the time, but it wouldn't be hugely remarkable either -- here, people don't drive to somewhere 200 miles away and back in the same day. So I feel really lucky that Ali is willing to do this, especially as I of course can be no help with the driving and I don't think Tas drives either. So for the price of admission and chipping in for petrol, we're suddenly having this amazing day out.
I was so excited as we were planning this that I was chair-dancing. Tas is so excited because she's planning to bring her Sri Lankan flag to wave, which my Anyone But England self couldn't be happier with (though I think that applies more to men's cricket; I've never felt such animosity to the women's team...). I think Ali has an English flag to bring, anyway. Also she's bringing a friend she used to play cricket with (she plays cricket!) and when Tas said the one time she's seen cricket she got on TV because she and her Sri Lanka flag were with a British friend of hers with a British flag, Ali said "If any of my friends who are current/former women's team players are going, they can get a bit raucous too! We've been mentioned on the Sky Sports a number of times..."
So yeah, I guess, look out for me on TV on Sunday?