Burning Man 2015. Part 7 – Temple and Departure

Out of all the art-installations on the playa, the Temple is the most captivating. You see, it’s not only a work of art, but also a sacred place.


2. The story of the playa’s temples begins in the year 2000, when three friends, David Best, Jack Haye and Michael Hefflin, decided to bring their very own piece of art to the playa – theirs was one in the form of a temple, which they called the Temple of Mind. Everything was ready and the temple was prepared for its journey, and right before leaving for the festival, Michael tragically died in a motorcycle accident. In his memory, David and Jack set up a memorial for him in the temple. As a result, they began to notice other people writing things on the walls of the temple and bringing in different objects in memory of Michael and people they had lost.

3. The following year, David and Jack were building the Temple of Tears with the help of friends and volunteers, which was to burn with the thousands of notes, pictures, bracelets, ribbons, and countless other little remembrances, reminding of those who are no longer here. After that came the Temples of Joy, Honor, Stars, Forgiveness, and many others, brought in not only by the originators, Best and Haye, but also other teams of artists. In 2015 we came to the Temple of Promise, build in the California city of Alameda by a team of temple builders from San Fransisco, the “Dreamers Guild”.

4. Once again: immense financial resources, hundreds of hours of planning and coordinating, mountains of building material, weeks of hard work and dozens of volunteers.

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10. The temple is distanced from the noises and festivities of the city. Here it’s fairly quiet and calm. There is no music, and only sometimes you will hear the distant ring of a bell, the sweet melody of a flute, or a melancholy note stretching from an accordion.

11. The walls hold thousands of photos and tens of thousands of notes. Most often those notes are words of love, tenderness, forgiveness and gratitude to those who passed away. Less often to those who are still alive, with whom paths were separated, or who need to be forgiven.

12. A very touching shot. A grandpa, clearly having nothing to do with the festival, came to the temple with his burner-son to write a final message to his late wife and let go of her memory. Or maybe her soul.

13. Bridal veil, kid’s drawings and clothes. A sketch of a dog saying, “I miss you”. A note, “Eli, it is time to let go and be free. I am sending you my love for you to walk your own path”. “I am not defined by the virus. I forgive myself. I am healthy whole + full. I am worth and willing giving and receiving love”. “R.I.P. iDesign 2005-2015”.

14. David Best says that people needed a place where they could meditate and grieve.

15. Also touching is seeing photos of burners who had passed away. They too, at one point, would come to the temple, look at the photos and read the notes. Now they are on its walls.

16. Like Ecclesiastes once said, “It’s better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting”. From simply observing the people who are here to let go of their pain, everything in your head becomes clearer and brighter. And things make more sense.

17. Someone brought somebody’s personal things in suitcases.

18. For somebody, the temple on the playa might be the only place where they were able to fully cry their eyes out.

19. An incredible place, one that intertwines sadness and joy, pain and relief, calm and movement. Experiencing just one day in the temple makes a trip to Nevada worthwhile.

20. It is an astonishing museum of human fates, for a short time encompassing into itself a multitude of precious names and belongings.

21. Here to take everything away with it, on the very last day, into eternity.

22. Like tha Man, the Temple needs to be prepared for burning. Trucks start hauling over the necessary materials since the early morning.

23. The temple itself is now closed off. Those who didn’t make it over in time to leave their notes are still able to do so – along the perimeter of the barrier are volunteers who can take the keepsakes to the temple.

24. Near the border is a mini-temple, set-up here for those who arrived on Saturday.

25. In the evening, the remaining denizens of Black Rock City start going in the same direction with an unusual quiet – to the Temple.

26. With the same tranquility they arrange themselves in a circle. The mutants are here too, but they are mute. In this complete silence, without any fireworks, somewhere in the back of the Temple sparks a flame, slowly spreading in every direction.

27. In two minutes the whole construction is lit up.

28. For the first time during the whole weak, the playa is submerged in stillness. Burners, many with tears on their eyes, send off the Temple onto its final journey, and with it everything that they left inside.

29. The Temple burns for quite a while, but nobody is in a hurry. For a moment I imagine that I also just buried someone close to me, and left his best photo and something symbolic to both of us in the burning temple… But it’s better not to imagine.

30. In a little while, the tallest arch topples over, evoking a short cry from the crowd, reminiscent of the howl of a wolf or a ritualistic wail of mourners from the old times. And once again, silence.

31. A few minutes later, the firemen allow the flames to be approached. The people, silently and unhurriedly, head towards the center of the circle. It’s an incredible thing to watch, and reminded me of the beach scene from the film “City of Angels”.

32. This is as close as it’s possible to approach the flame. Otherwise the hairs on your head will start to smoke.

33. Just like at the site of the Man, the people will stay here for a long time. At the fire where the Man stood, artists are still burning their creations. And making s’mores.

34. Nearby, some theologians grouped up and are digging through their sacred texts, trying to figure something out.

35. With the morning came time for the remaining Burner’s to pack up. Cleaning up after yourself is a sacred duty.

36. Any advertisements are frowned upon while on the playa. Including the logos on Budget trucks.

37. And to think that we brought one tool box and were wondering if it’s too much. Someone brought their whole shop along!

38. The streets lose their cozy atmosphere with the odd sight of constantly leaving vehicles.

39. My preference for transporting our things next time.

40. And this here is a long-time dream!

41. We are packing up as well. Setting up the camp was definitely a whole lot more interesting than collecting all this dusty stuff and shoving it into our cars.

42. Finally, everything is packed up, tucked in, and tied down.

43. A photo with our Foshik, for memories.

44. Time for farewells. Michael and Tanya are returning to Montana, Vlad and Tanya to Seattle. Our road lies towards California: San Fransisco, Yosemite park, Death Valley, and then back east, all the way to Boston.

45. Near the exits of the city, the cars are approached by volunteers who arrived here a month earlier and will leave a month later. They go around asking if anyone has leftover food or drinks which aren’t necessary to take home. We didn’t have anything extra, as our car is our home. The guys with the truck found something.

46. The cops aren’t resting either. Someone noted something fishy and here they’re already searching the car of a poor burner.

47. It took us three hours to drive in. Now we’re wondering how long it will take to drive out. The traffic came to a standstill.

48. Nearby is a cool bus. Should I climb on top of it and look around?

49. Reconnaissance shows that there are whole 15 lanes.

50. This will be taking forever.

51. We’re moving forward in very short sprints about once every 30 minutes.

52. A bus – the true dream of a hippie. An old school bus. In good condition.

53. Now this is what I understand as a “roomy car”.

54. The proud owner of the “Sparrow” – Boom-Boom, I think. He says that the bus is always serviced very well, and, despite the mileage being at half a million, runs like clockwork. This year Boom-Boom is getting together a team to go to Costa Rica. Good luck to those guys!

55. In front of us is another notable contraption. How it’s even possible to take a dinosaur like this on a big journey (it’s a 13 hour drive to Seattle) is beyond me.

56. Last chance to hang out on the playa.

57. While we’re standing, it’s just the right time to run to the bathroom. The bathroom comes with a surprise: three honey buckets are set up on a fairly loose buggy, and each time someone gets on it or jumps off, the person standing (or especially sitting) in the bathroom feels quite a strong relay of vibration. Basically, entertainment everywhere.

58. A young guy entertaining the photographers.

59. Some “seniors” aren’t able to take the traffic. For this problem there are tow-trucks nearby.

60. After four hours of traffic we are nearing the road. Right before driving off the playa we see this bumper sticker. It is true. And we love it.

61. Until next time, Burning Man!

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