I am sitting bundled up and “goggled up” in the middle of a dust storm in the middle of the night (Query: Do I call a dust storm in the black of night a white out?). The sensory deprivation is so severe that it begins to toy with my mind. I start to doubt what is up or down or right or left. Am I stationary on the ground or is the wind moving me along? I just can’t tell. Literally, the only grounding I have in all this natural chaos (and the only thing keeping me really warm for that matter) is a glowing, smoldering art piece.

Its large flames died down some time ago. Now that the storm has kicked into full throttle, it keeps the embers hot, and I am deeply grateful for the warmth and the light. No art car is going to run me over while I sit close to this 10’x20’ pile of orange glow. Like most storms on the playa, it soon blows over and I am on my feet (What dust storm?), looking for the next brightest flame on the horizon that marks another burning art piece. Spotting one, I set out in its direction, like I’m walking through the vastness of space in pursuit of the closest fleeting star. Truly, at times, I cannot tell where the horizon is drawn: the firmament and sky are one. Sometimes I move with groups of people, like wandering nomads through the black of the universe from fire to fire, finding community, drumming, singing, dancing, food cooked on open coals—just to name a few Burning experiences.

I could do this night after night, and honestly, the farther I reflect back in my memory of Burns over the past 20 years, the more I can recall doing just that. A lot of my Burns blur together over the two decades I’ve been a citizen of Black Rock City. I don’t actually remember which year the above story took place. I’m sure it was the early 2000s. My point is, many of the early Burns were literally about BURNS. Not every night was spent next to burning art, but most nights were. I’m not one to pine away about “how Burning Man used to be better.” That’s a bullshit excuse to not be in the present and fully enjoy what the Burn brings for me in the moment. Still, there has been a shift.

The technology of lights and LEDs has changed the nighttime landscape of our city. I think this is inevitable and more so, stunningly beautiful. Yet, only a few years ago the brightest light across our land was fire which displayed another kind of beauty. Sure, fire is still present in art projects and a couple of weekend nights for burning, but no doubt, it’s significantly upstaged if not reduced in some ways.

You might have guessed by now, I’m one of those queer magic faeries who’s at a fire, dancing naked and getting as close as possible to energize my body—like a battery—by the flames and heat of artistic ventures. All that effort and sweat and time and money and creativity that was put into an art project is now irrevocably transforming into history before our eyes and I want to soak up the magic as much as possible. I cannot get enough. No, I don’t want to die from fire, I don’t even want to be burned—but I want to dance with the flames. I have experienced insights, healing, and revelations in the circular swirl of humanity around the ashes of the Man and the Temple that I have found nowhere else on the planet. I want to plug into that primal wonder and worship possibly the most powerful element of all (as if there’s a hierarchy).

Fire was probably the element that cracked our ancestors’ brains wide open to imagine power and creativity far beyond their comprehension, but now we either utterly control it, extinguish it, or on occasion, as we have witnessed this past year, we get our lives burned to a cinder by it. Rarely do we get to be in relationship with it. Rarely do we get to stand in a circle around its power, shoulder to shoulder with our family or community or a stranger and tell stories of our purpose, our experiences, our passion, our humor—something that has been done around a fire for millennia, and yet it’s almost unheard of anymore…even at Black Rock City.

I’ve done some serious thinking about having an art piece on the playa that is simply a bonfire—not just a barrel or metal pan with a log or two in it, but a nightly fire on the playa that can possibly stand next to all the LED where people can gather for community, primal drumming, storytelling, connection and warmth in the wee hours. To think of it as a reality has me oddly misty-eyed. Perhaps this is already taking place in some form or another and I’m not aware of it (it’s a big city after all) but is not fire a form of ever-changing art and expression all by itself?

I think that’s why the tragedy and the immediate reaction of 2017 was such a blow to the gut both on Saturday night and then Sunday at the Temple as well. It felt like the very thing that could have been healing to our wounds was kept at a distance from us. I walked away from Sunday night unsatisfied. There are some Burners I only see once a year around the temple fire, and I did not see them last year. For the first time, I realized that besides the other things that make my Burn experience great—the art/creativity, the beautiful relentless exposure to nature, making strangers my loved ones—FIRE and my intimacy with it could very well be a deal breaker for me. Not that I hold the leadership and fire department in any contempt. They have shown exemplary bravery and tact in a horrible situation. I’m not sure I would have behaved any differently if I was put in the same high stress position.

Now that the immediate anxiety is past, surely for future burns, the fencing and extra distance will not become commonplace. Some people end their lives by drowning in the ocean, yet we don’t put fences around the sea. Despite all the state-of-the-art prevention, people still manage to throw themselves off the Golden Gate Bridge, but never is the bridge’s purpose shut down as a result. Burning Man already does an amazing and thorough job of doing everything we can to create safety—and still there can be people determined to self-destruct. No fence and no distance will ever be enough. Besides, whether a person throws their body in the flames, or a person throws their body against a red-hot chain-link fence, there will be damage. Is it really living if it’s 100% risk-free?

If we are not allowed at Burning Man—of all places—to experience fire as both a destructive and a nurturing power, then it might as well be called Fireworks Man, where we as spectators watch the pretty lights from a safe distance, but never really risk the intimacy involved with real power and real interaction. That doesn’t feel much like Burning Man to me. Like many times before, I trust the leadership and the fire professionals to find a way to rise beyond last year’s tragedy like the burst of a Phoenix beyond fences and make Burning Man 2018 better than ever!

Jallen “Whee-zel” Rix celebrated his 20th year at Burning Man in 2017 by designing and sharing the art piece, Action Figure Family. He’s a founding member of (camp) Yes Please. Spending the majority of his life in the Bay Area, he now lives in Palm Springs, CA.


  1. Profound and eloquent. So well put and spoken for so many of us! Thanks so much Whee-zel!!!

    • I sure hope we get some long and luxurious time around the Temple this year…

  2. hi Whee-zel,
    I’ve been going since ’96, this year 2018 will be my 19th. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your art. I hope we see each other out there soon.

    • Thanks fellow burner bro! Yes, let’s find each other ’round the ashes of the man! – fingers crossed!

  3. Thanks for channeling the writing. You’ve captured the feeling of myself and many. I’ve witnessed so much magic in my 20 years of attending. I’ve always disliked seeing any fences at BRC. Can’t imagine seeing them around great art.

    • Rebar King!!! We are the same burner age! Thank you! I’m humbled and honored to voice my yernings and others as well. Hopefully, let’s see each other ’round the man’s ashes this year! Fingers crossed!

  4. Your connection to the spirit and flesh of art transforms us as we join you in memory: past, future, and especially present. Your insights glow like the burning embers and brush past us like the wind and sand that sting and sing. All at once, we join you and multitudes in understanding the soul of Burning Man. The sacrifice, artifice, humor, and spirit are embodied in your words and take us with you on your journey. You are a Master Translater: You take the Spirit’s Truth and translate it into your Drawing, Music, and Living Words.

    • Aw…precious words from one artist to another. This means so much to me coming from my spiritual and artistic mentor. So glad you had a chance to read this. So glad you reached out…

  5. Powerful words Jallen. As a relative BM newbie, last year being my Virgin Burn, your writing (which I’ve read and re-read several times) is helping me understand the wild mix of feelings and thoughts I came away with from last years incredibly potent, deeply moving, healing, sad, magnificent burn. Thank you!

    • Thank you Seaman. I felt sad for you, SOS, Wolf, and others who came away from the temple burn (although powerful, no doubt) without what I might call “the full picture” – not to reduce your experience in any way. Let’s hope a wider degree of freedom is available this year, and I’ll see you around the fire!

  6. Thank you for expressing in words what many of us share, with impressions and observations that seem so very similar. 2018 is my 20th Burn since 1999 (every year in a row attended ). As an Ambient Drummer for the burn, we witnessed the jumper, the fence, the consequences and barring of the site. Not the first suicide I have witnessed over the years, but one I won’t soon forget. The fence of both the Man and Temple kept me removed from important connections made at both sites. “Free the Burn”
    Thank you for making it clear and essential to the experience.

    • LBB – Wow! Such an honor to hear from fellow long-time Burners! It has been odd to hear so little from the “high-ups” but I’m so glad the published my thoughts on the experience. Yes, not the first time it’s happened, but certainly the most publicized – hmmmm…. Thank you for the sharing of our deep longings. I plan to see you around the ashes… Free the Burn!!!!


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