The drone wolf
Howling at the animatronic moon
A little housekeeping.
First of all, sorry it’s been so long. Planning, packing for, then unpacking from first the FreeFlow writing/canoeing trip and then Burning Man was — whew. That turned out to be a lot. Also at one early point I thought, “well, since my entire life is a complete mess anyway, why not use this opportunity to reorganize *all my closets*,” which was an insane idea, seriously the worst, I waded through piles of camp showers and waterproof bags and fairy wings for months.
I think it might all be coming together now though? Maybe? I got a whole bunch of those white plastic shelf organizers at Target even though I’m 99% sure I’m going to forget which stuff goes in which organizer in about a week and a half and the whole system is going to fall apart. Even so, it’ll probably look marginally better than it did. I’m proud to say that even the fairy wings are in an organizer.
Since I’ve been back, I’ve been writing a very long post about Burning Man, and particularly about whether going to Burning Man “counts” as a nature trip.
It doesn’t need to count as a nature trip, of course. It doesn’t make any claim to be a nature organization, and the people who attend aren’t necessarily driven by their love of nature.
Still, Burning Man is made up of 70-80k people camping out in the desert, and I got to thinking about what Burning Man’s relationship might be to the environment in which it takes place. I reflected on what I had learned during Chris La Tray’s class about being a good ancestor. When you go to Burning Man, do you get to know the Black Rock Desert the way we had started to get to know the Upper Missouri in Montana? Does the desert feel like a sister or a brother when you leave?
So I started writing, and I reached a point where I realized I’ve about written a damn novel and not posted a word. I kept thinking I’d get to the end I guess, but it turns out I have a lot to say.
So, I’ll start posting these in installments. This is part one of … many, it looks like.
If you’re enjoying this, please do send it along to a friend.
Another housekeeping note: I have turned on paying subscriptions.
*Please note that all posts are free and I plan to keep all posts free into the foreseeable future.*
I’m very grateful for those readers who have asked me to open up this option, and I deeply appreciate any financial support that might feel comfortable for you.
I also appreciate anyone who reads, writes about, skims while in the grocery store line, comments on, or otherwise interacts with WanderFinder in any way. Thanks for wandering with us.
All that said … on to the show.
To travel is to unspool the tidy wrap of thread within you into the world’s maze. You meet the Minotaur and then you gather back in your thread, winding back the way you came, until you’re back home.
The thread never fits back on the spool smoothly through. It’s rough now, takes up three times as much space as it did, it has knots.
And what did the Minotaur tell you? It’s hard to remember, from home. It made so much sense, standing there in the beautiful morning mist — it was almost lavender, a shade you’ve never seen in mist before — and the sun was playing with its edges, lighting it up and fraying it, and the Minotaur told you something very important but now you can only remember his voice and the cloven hoof marks in the dust.
It irritates you, this. You went all that way and you were sure you’d remember this moment forever and now, just a few weeks later, it’s gone. But a few years later, you know: the light, the mist, the voice, the hooves in the dust, the thread home that you held between your fingers and twisted back and forth — that’s enough to bring home. Plenty. You couldn’t carry more.
Is Burning Man a nature trip?
This should be a no-brainer.
Burning Man takes place in an unforgiving desert environment. Many people camp in tents — as I did — but even those who bring RVs and the like park them for the duration of their time there.
A German family in my camp said that the proliferation of bikes was their favorite thing about Burning Man.
The few vehicles that have to get through — the port-o-potty cleaners, the lifts building the art installations — move at the speed of bikes.
When the moon rises, everyone howls. It’s a little indistinct, when so many people howl, and of course they don’t see the moon all at once, so at first I didn’t realize what was happening — and I didn’t think about it much either.
So what if people were randomly letting out a howl or shout or some kind of barbaric yawlp? I don’t have a great barometer for normal behavior in the best of circumstances.
Here, where everyone seemed to share the same hookup for assless chaps and furry leg warmers, I had taken my behavior barometer to a back room, shot it, and then drowned it for good measure. I howled a few nights myself before someone mentioned the moon and I put it together, why we were doing this.
I didn’t catch it myself, but saw later on Instagram that there had been drone show of a wolf one night while the moon rose out on the playa. (The playa is the empty space, out beyond the camps of Burning Man, where the temple, the big art, the biggest parties, and the Man himself all live.) People who saw it must’ve gone nuts with howling and partying. I wish I had seen it.
When I told a long-time burner that I wanted to catch a drone show — something that Burning Man is famous for — he shook his head at me, said not to bother, or maybe to bother once. “It’s not real art,” he said. “It’s just algorithms. They do it one time and then they can do it again another time just the same, it’s just the algorithm.”
So there it was, I guess, my answer. Or the start of one anyway.
Burning Man is a nature trip if a drone show of a wolf that once called the area home but has since been extirpated from almost all of North America but which is imitated by all the people who come out there to camp and live as best they can in an ancient lakebed counts as a nature trip.
It’s a very human nature trip.
Have you been to Burning Man? Is it a nature trip? Let me know your thoughts about this or any other wanderful moment from your life in the comments.