And then I started crying. Not sobbing but just a slow and steady leak. I’m sure the preceding eight days of heat and dust and dehydration in a city full of friends and strangers and art and challenges had something to do with it. My partner in crime Aric looked at me quizzically and asked, “Are you really crying about Fly Ranch right now?”
Two days before this conversation I had the opportunity to visit Fly Ranch, the newest aspect of the Burning Man non-profit. A piece of land not too far from Black Rock City that feels worlds away from the dust and the desolation of the playa; Fly Ranch is an oasis. It is a naturally occurring wetland and has been described by some as Nevada’s strangest native wonder. Fly Geyser itself is other worldly, a drilling accident gone right, it spews 200 degree water into the air creating a mound of multi-colored mystique. The rest of the land is full of hot springs (over 20 ponds) and teeming with wildlife. It has been privately owned since the early 1900s and remains remarkably untouched, earning it a place as one of America’s great wildlands. That feeling of the wild is palpable but it is unlike the Black Rock Desert with it’s “I’m going to eat you alive” vibe. It’s the opposite of that. It’s a place that is bountiful and fertile. It feels protected and sacred like a different kind of home. It feels like Valhalla or Summerland, completely divine.
My experience there was some strange magic. I got my invite weeks before the event and immediately felt both excited and trepidatious. The geeky, bookworm 12 year old with glasses and headgear still occupies an alarmingly large part of my inner psyche and this opportunity inflamed all of my old anxieties. The invitation explicitly stated ‘no plus ones’ which meant me alone with the an elite group in a place I’d never been, and without my own transportation. Red flags went up quickly and a torrent of old insecurities flooded my head. “What if no one likes me? What if I’m the odd one out? What if….” Upon reflection this all seems ridiculous but at the moment it was the only thought pattern. I tried my best at self sabotage. I raged all night on our art car and passed out in the common area on futons amidst a fluff of dusty pillows. I awakened to our Dark N Stormy hip hop party and beelined for the bar. I drank and danced and hoped no one would remember the decree I had proclaimed earlier in the week that I would go to Fly Ranch as an ambassador of our community and come back with knowledge. As time grew closer to my departure my crew began to rally. They took the rum from my hand and gave me electrolytes, they pep talked and prodded. They attempted to help me locate my missing backpack. And eventually Aric biked me to First Camp and physically put me onto the van despite my pleading that he should accompany me. The door slid closed and suddenly I was in a cool air conditioned, closed, quiet space surrounded by people I didn’t know going to a somewhere not in Black Rock City wearing a loin cloth without my lost backpack or my phone. Adventure!
I was surrounded by artists, makers, movers and shakers (my people!). I only fell once and just skinned my knee, not terribly embarrassing. I stood in front of the majesty of Fly Geyser. I watched wild mustang, burros, rabbits, birds and all sorts of animals in the flow of unadulterated nature (well except for those man made geysers). I watched Larry Harvey eat some dried mango. I talked to a lovely woman who has built too many temples to count. We ate snacks, we drank water, we all got naked and swam in the hot springs. Then we went home and my bike was no longer at First Camp (did not see that one coming). I walked back to camp quickly in the dying light of the Playa sun before I turned into a darktard and then I expounded on everyone in my path about the legend that is Fly Ranch.
On Friday, we went to an open talk at Red Lighting about Fly and listened to seasoned inner circle vets describe the place. They spoke about a feeling of total peace and their boundless gratitude for the land. Then they asked the audience what we should do with this very special gem because Fly Ranch is for everyone but here’s the thing, it’s fragile. It’s ecosystem cannot handle 70,000 people and it might not even be able to withstand 100 individuals. It is teeming with life and water and vegetation and too many people could easily destroy the balance. The question that Burning Man wants all of us to mull over for the next year is what should we do with this very sensitive, glorious place.
The recurring theme of the talks was education and art. These are things that BRC thrives on and needs, but how do we preserve this ethereal wonderland and share it with our community without destroying it? When we got back to camp after the talk we sat down to discuss it and I couldn’t stop myself from getting emotional. It was one of those things where you don’t know what’s happening until it happens. One minute I’m fine, the next I’m a teary eyed mess. I’ve spent the last few weeks attempting to puzzle out why I would have this kind of response from visiting a place. My conclusion is that there are many terrible things happening consistently in our world on a daily basis. As a society we are riddled with faults, partially why all of us come to BRC; to build something new and forget for a moment. We need to remember that Burning Man has it’s issues. The power of Fly Ranch is the purity you feel there, the all encompassing connection to nature. It’s like you’ve stepped back in time to a place where humans never existed and the natural order still reigns and you are able to dip into that flow and feel completely immersed in something incredibly pure. It’s like no other and it’s not ours. We have a responsibility as a people to do the right thing here and maybe that’s what I felt when I started to cry. This overwhelming sense that no matter what we decide as a community there is one thing that we must do. Protect it. In the words of Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The happiest man is he who learns from nature the lesson of worship.”
[If you’d like to participate in Fly Ranch please fill out this form on the Fly Ranch website.]