5 things I took away from Burning Man

By September 19, 2015 No Comments

I am no longer a Burgin, I am now officially a Burner.

I come back from Burning Man, a week camping on the middle of desert with 75 thousand other people, refreshed and blown away. Waste-free living there was easy (armed with bulk dehydrated food and twenty glass bottles filled with water). But I left with more than a “pat on the back” for achieving waste-free living on the Playa… Here are 5 things that I am taking away from my experience at Burning Man:


Leave No Trace One of Burning Man’s principles is to “leave no trace”. Whatever you bring there, you need to take back with you when you leave, including gray water (unless you use a system to evaporate it). “Litter” pick up here (i.e., in the middle of the desert), goes beyond anything that I have experienced before: Removing MOOP (Material Out of Place) goes into microscopic detail. Upon taking your camp down, you are expected to fine comb (literally) your camp to remove any material that does not belong to the local ecosystem. I felt pretty good about my ecological footprint having not generated any gray water during my stay – no dishwashing, shower or teeth brushing for 5 days (I can rough it when the conditions demand it :)… but raking my area was a slap in the face. I realized that I had brought along dog hair and pine needles from previous camping trips (via my tent) and feathers from my down comforter, and I found a couple of my own hairs (the rest became cemented to my scalp overtime as oil and dust combined). I had not even considered these things in previous camp trips. Picking them up made me much more aware of my impact and connected me with nature at a deeper lever. And I love this attention to detail! Playa restoration is one of the volunteer jobs that I was dead set on doing at BM after watching this documentary. But staying away from my family and work engagements is not something I could afford to do for a month. So I consoled myself by picking up MOOP for 2.5 hours along the trash fence that borders Black Rock City (the event’s location) instead. Guess what the most common material was? TP, of all things.

Hugs, a refusal’s best friend

As I was picking up MOOP along the trash fence, people thanked me as they rode past. One man stopped to offer me a snack: a nut mix, packaged in plastic. Even if I had been hungry (maybe it’s the mouthful of dust or a head filled with emotions that curb a burner’s appetite), I would not have accepted it. I replied that I live a Zero Waste lifestyle and do not accept packaged food, “I’d gladly accept a hug though”, I added. He happily accepted and we embraced. There is something therapeutic about hugging a complete stranger, I found. (FYI, the stranger had clothes on). At Burning Man, everything is free and gift giving, common practice. My first refusal was not easy in such a genuinely generous environment (refusing a commercial freebie is much easier). But hugs became my best tool as an alternative. Only at Burning Man?  I understand that hugging in lieu of accepting a freebie might not always be an option in the “real” world (I doubt that the cashier giving out a plastic bag would be thrilled if I offered a hug instead). But it’s something that is completely applicable with extended family members and friends!

Radical Inclusion

Prior to the event, I did not worry about packing (my family’s camping equipment and backpacking food is always ready to go),  I did not worry about finding my way to the remote location (GoogleMaps is my companion on the road), I did not worry about setting up the Taj Mahal (our family tent’s nickname) by myself for the first time, I did not worry about getting covered in dust (I did expect less of it though). What worried me most: The people! I was afraid that I would not fit in, that I would not have anything in common with the people that go to such an event. I bought only a secondhand tutu for the occasion, and worried that my minimalism would be perceived as me being a party-pooper. I had read about radical inclusion, as one of Burning Man’s 10 principles. I guess I never knew what it really meant (and you too will probably be doubtful unless you participate). Yet, I came home blown away by the lack of judgement there. Young, old, gay, straight, clothed, naked – all blend in and are accepted. Never in my life have I experienced this. I came home wishing that the “default” world were this way. I came home changed by this. Radical Inclusion was for me, the most surprising element of Burning Man.

My New Best Friend

Chances are, if you’ve tried to reduce your waste, and therefore your plastic consumption, you’ve run into Beth Terry’s blog: My Plastic Free Life. Beth and I have known each other for years through advocacy work but had never met in person. Last spring, we finally decided to get together for lunch (she lives across the bay from me). Ordering lunch was a rather comic scene as we asked in unison for no straws in our water, no napkins with our lunch, no toothpick in our sandwich… The server just paused and pretty much replied: Who are you guys?;) During lunch, I asked Beth about Burning Man, knowing that she had been there, and I was considering going… Little did I know that within a day or so, I’d receive an invitation to speak at Earth Guardians, Beth’s camp. Beth and I hung out, shared stories and common frustrations, listened to each other’s talks, argued over the definition of the term “hippie”, danced to the beat of Dogon Lights (featuring AshEL Seasunz of the Plastic State of Mind), shared a few drinks … We realized that we think and react the same. I feel as though I have found my soul sister! I am grateful to her for opening her heart and camp to me, and am always in awe at her work. Check out her site if you have not done so before!

A Night of Dancing to Trance Music

The reason Burning Man had peaked my interest in the first place was electronic music. Yes, I am a big fan of it, and I use it every Friday to clean the house in no time. Trance music makes me happy, it energizes me. I did not enjoy it at Burning Man when it shook the ground and kept me from sleeping – but nonetheless, when I was awake, it was a treat to my ears, and with the desert in the background, a whole experience in itself. At home, it’s hard to justify going out to dance. I don’t see myself announcing to Scott and the boys on a Friday night: “See you later, I am going to a rave, I won’t be back until morning and I will be sleeping the rest of the weekend, so you can count me out of any family activities for the next two days”. At Burning Man, nothing stopped me from dancing my butt off for five hours straight, through the night and until sunrise (and what a sunrise!)… and may I add: All by myself, among complete strangers! A first for me.

I came home with ears buzzing, heart beating to the rhythm of the DJ’s base… and my head full of new discoveries, once again amazed at the incredible adventures that waste-free living has granted me. No Waste, More Life!

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