Tag Archives: Burning Man

Packing for Constellation Burn

15 Oct

As I am wont to do, I track my packing notes after camping or large trips. Basically, I’m looking to uplevel my preparedness and reduce my prep time for future trips. After three times at Constellation Burn, it’s time I do this for myself and others, if interested.

The weather at Constellation Burn

It’s different. It’s a mountain. It has its own ecosystem, and the weather for Elkins, WV, doesn’t exactly match the weather posted online.

Here’s the main thing you need to know:

Cold, wet, misty weather that penetrates into your very being and won’t let go

You absolutely must prepare for cold, wet, misty nights (and days, though mostly nights). While the mist and cold actually finds an interesting point of calm many nights, it still gets really cold and the dampness penetrates everything.

Shockingly sunny, bright, cloudless days that’ll fry if you’re not prepared

Pack your sundresses, your shorts, your light breezy clothes too. Someone else can explain it better than me, but essentially — so, I’ve been told — we’re above the cloud line during the day. What that means is that the sun is BRIGHT. It also gets hotter than down in the valley where Elkins (where the weather forecasts are given).

Just like at “the big burn:” once the sun starts to set, it’s time to head back to camp. The temps drop quickly and the cold and mist come in fast.

It’s often a bit warmer later in the night than earlier in the evening

Not sure how all this works, but if you can get yourself nice and warmed up as the sun sets, you’ll most likely be fine for the rest of the night.

Pack Wool

I am an advocate, a proselytizer, a preacher, a broken record when it comes to wool, warmth, protection from rain/damp/wet conditions and camping.

Pack wool

Pack lots of wool.

Pack wool for ALL parts of your body — feet, legs, hands, wrists, arms, torso, head and neck.

Pack various weights of wool (you can wear light wool during the day, especially in the morning and with the wind and wet conditions) for layers, for options, for warmth.

Pack wool to share and gift. (Older sweaters, holy gloves, pieces that shrunk and no longer fit… bring it all.)

Pack wool blankets — BRING SEVERAL. I always like to put down a layer of wool blankets (I work with afghans mostly) on the floor of my tent for comfort, warmth, style and cushioning. (If you always bring a wool afghan with you when camping, you always have an emergency layer of warmth with you.)

Wool protects you from the wet

The level of mist/wet/dampness at Constellation is something you absolutely must prepare for. You can’t not experience the mist and wetness, so you need to be prepared.

Hands down: wool is one of your best bets! It holds up to 40% of its weight in water and still keeps you warm even when wet.

Your feet

Do not bring just one pair of shoes, regardless of how durable they are. They’re going to get wet. Some shoes swell when they’re wet. Almost all shoes are uncomfortable when wet. I encourage you to pack

  • Flipflops for the shower
  • At least one pair of wool-lined shoes/boots, such as *real* Uggs/sheepskin lining
  • Another pair of comfortable shoes to handle the cold and wet
  • Sun/day shoes — preferably with closed toes as the grass can still be wet and prickly in places

A word about your fancy night-time outfits

Do not show up at Constellation with visions of your fabulous fancy outfits for night unless you have calculated in and figured out how you’re going to keep warm. The weather is not a joke. You’re on a mountain top. It’s very, very likely to be wet and misty, possibly raining, though the mist is rain-like enough!

You absolutely need to ensure that you’re going to be warm in your cute outfit. Maybe you need to wear some base layers of wool underneath. Maybe you need to add a hat to keep some body heat in you. Maybe you need to figure out how to get nice thick wool gloves built into your outfit. You definitely need to be wearing shoes that will allow you to also wear wool socks. (Cold, wet feet make for no fun.)

Camping under trees?

There’s little shade at Constellation. If you do camp under trees, you’re essentially camp in a night time ecosystem of rain. The trees will rain on your tent and camp area if it’s one of the mistier nights … and it’s quite often misty. It’s not a bad thing. Just be aware.

A quick note about Constellation

I love this burn! I find it super sweet, very well organized and well-produced. A nice mix of folks from all over attend — nice mix of people, geographic home bases, etc. I love the weather extremes with the misty cold mountain nights and bright sunny days. It’s starting to get some better music. (Yay!) And we even have an art car or two.

Surving (thriving in) Frostburn 2015

17 Feb

I have always considered myself someone who doesn’t like the cold. And so it was with trepidation, fear and excitement, that I decided to accompany a handful of friends to the mountains of West Virginia for an outdoor, cold-weather camping trip to a regional Burning Man event called Frostburn. My friends, all experienced burners, were all Frostburn virgins as well.

I’d been hoping for unseasonably warm weather for the weekend trip, but that quickly became a fantasy as the weather predictions called for increasingly cold (record-breaking from 1905 type of cold) weather and severe winds. Yet I continued to pack and prepare. I was even going in early to volunteer at the gate and greet people as they arrived. (This I did for four hours, outside, in the winds and cold … and I loved it.)

My experience at Frostburn was so unexepectedly satisfying, soulful, expansive, wonderful and fun … or just EPIC! as I’ve been saying to those who asked, but this post isn’t about my experience. It’s about my packing and prep, and my notes to myself (and others) for when I return again next year and beyond.

Listed below is what I *wore*! I had many extras of every category of clothing. And I’ve included some notes about other items I packed. I definitely lean toward overpacking, and I didn’t disappoint here, though I have to say, in terms of warmth and layers, it’s almost impossible to overpack. Once I put something on, though, it stayed on and I didn’t switch out my layers.

From the bottom up, on my feet I wore —

  • Smartwool tights
  • Smartwool thin socks
  • Smartwool thick socks
  • Alpaca thick socks
  • An alpaca foot pad/warmer
  • Bogs boots
  • Crocs, for inside the tent when my boots were off

On my legs, I wore, in order —

  • Smartwool tights (as noted above)
  • Merino wool stretch leggings (thick)
  • A merino wool (thick) full-length skirt
  • A vintage 1970s very thick wool, full-length skirt

On my torso, I wore —

  • A light bra; no underwire, shape or metal (something I could sleep in and move in)
  • An athletic Tee for wicking any moisture away
  • A medium-weight merino sweater
  • A thick cashmere turtleneck
  • A thick lambwool + acrylic sweater
  • A full-length comfy soft material jacket (more light a bathrobe)
  • An oversized vintage thick wool calf-length coat with a full collar and more of fur

On my hands, I had —

  • Upcycled merino wool wrist warmers / fingerless gloves
  • Mittens with pop-off tops for finger access (not very useful without an available thumb)
  • Two Zippo handwarmers in my coat pockets (more on this later)


I did not win when it came to my hands, keeping them warm or being dexterous in the cold (and one does need to be dexterous quite often). Finding a miracle glove that provides a layer of some wind protection and warmth while being an underlayer for an even warmer pair of gloves or mittens over top would be fantastic!

On my neck and head, I wore —

  • The turtleneck (as referenced above)
  • Two gators/duff masks that I could pull up or down on my face.
  • A scarf (which I lost … anyone have word on a lovely light mint green wool scarf?)
  • A loose-knit wool cowl (great for hanging things on, such as my mug on a retractable string)
  • A small wool afghan blanket worn as a shawl and safety-pinned closed
  • Two hats at most times, layered

Personal Care

  • Tea tree oil toothpicks (in lieu of brushing my teeth as much as I might do so regularly)
  • Toothbrush, floss, toothpaste (my toothpaste didn’t freeze, thank goodness)
  • Lip balm
  • Eye drops (Similisan)
  • Nose spray
  • TP (Always bring and carry on oneself extra TP)


I didn’t wash my face and my skin oils naturally protected my skin; the area where I could have used some TLC was my chin: the moisture from my breath and the gators/neck warmth rubbing against my chin caused some chafing. I used a disposable cup when brushing my teeth (anything to avoid dishes to wash). Should have trimmed my toenails — wearing four pairs of socks plus a thick padding inside my boots made for a tight fit and the ends of my toes were a bit sore by the final day. I pre-treated my whole body several times in the week prior to the burn with Nerium Night Treatment.

Food & Cooking — This is what I ate & drank

  • Beef bone broth (home-made … YES!)
  • Ham stew (home-made; brought a lot)
  • A bag of potato chips
  • A handful of almonds
  • Bratwurst (cooked over the fire)
  • Sour chewy candies
  • Water – it all froze
  • Alcohol – little bits here and there; not much

I ate very, very little, and I ate infrequently. I drank very little quantity of liquids,  though I had some nice servings of warm bone broth. I had visions of always having hot tea in a thermos: totally didn’t happen. Definitely put the kitchen area inside a shelter/tent. Only bring teflon/nonstick pans for easy cleaning. Clean immediately after use with a paper towel. Tea (never made any … and I drink tea daily; the hassle of heating up water and exposing my fingers … not worth it) Bring nothing that requires prep or creates extra dishes. There is little not-frozen water and who wants to do dishes! (No one!) Paper plates, disposable insulated cups and silverware. Put everything you hope won’t freeze in a good-quality cooler. (It will probably still freeze … just not solidly.) Propane and fuel gets cold. Lighters (even high-powered propane lighters) won’t work well in the cold. Keep JetBoil inside yurt to keep fuel from freezing / getting too cold. Keep water inside yurt.

Shelter & Sleeping

  • Wolf brought his amazing velcro-binding yurt which was sturdy, beautiful and easy to set up.
  • Propane heater for inside.
  • Cot to elevate off the cold (and wet) ground.
  • Sleeping pad, plus two sleeping bags.
  • Many wool blankets.
  • My memory foam pillow froze(!) though it warmed where I laid my head.

My campmates brought the structures, heat, lights, generator, fire pit and many, many other items I didn’t have. I brought my REI Kingdom 6 tent, which was used as the kitchen tent. I’ve been to the playa and Burning Man five times with this tent, but I don’t think it was ever buffeted around as much as it was at this event. I slept in all my clothes minus my coat, the overskirt and my boots. I added another layer of socks while sleeping and wore soft mittens, too … and always a hat.

Zippo Handwarmers: My thoughts

They’re great when they work. They’re seemingly temperamental and certainly inconsistent. Definitely “season” your warmers ahead of time and use them prior to an event where you need them. Light/start them an hour or two before you think you’ll need them. Share them with friends, for a few moments. Keep them in your coat pocket and help dry out/keep warm wet mittens or gloves. Do not put them directly against your skin.

Notes for next year

Get a small propane lighter I can wear around my neck and keep warm with my body heat. “Season” my Zippo hand warmers before going to the event. Get more fuel for the handwarmers; always keep them going, even while sleeping so that they are warm when I wake up. Definitely make more bone broth and stew. Figure something out with my fingers and keeping them warm. Bring plenty of windproof matches. Lots of ultra large safety pins are good for keeping on my clothing to use when needed, e.g. when going into a dance space and/or bar and wanting to take off some layers; it’s super helpful to be able to be able to clip my items together.


Culture and acculturation

3 Oct

Culture and acculturation

Burning Man MOOP map, 2006 – 2013

Burning Man is the world’s largest Leave No Trace (LNT) event. Each year, after the attendees depart and go back home, a crew of people scan the entire 5-/6-square mile space, a person’s-length apart from the next, and they pick up all leftover trash … including sequins, feathers and plywood “shards.” It’s amazing. At the end of this process, a MOOP (Matter out of Place) map is created, providing feedback to all who attended. The color coding is pretty obvious given our cultural references for what these colors mean: green, yellow, red; go, caution, stop; good, meh, no way!

It’s not just trash that’s noted and marked (and cleaned up!). Any gray water dumps are a big no-no. Divots from rebar stakes count as negative marks in a Leave No Trace environment. And small dunes and places where the surface is uneven also count against the Cherished Green Star. This year, much of what I did at the close of the event was to walk around a large area where my home village had camped, and, metal rake in hand, I smoothed out uneven playa dust. For hours. And I did so lovingly and out of choice to do my best to restore the land to how I/we had found it.

I find this collection of maps and progression fascinating and uplifting, as the increased mass of green areas shows that the values and culture around LNT is spreading, being adopted and being cherished by the community promulgating the values and principles. Seems it’s possible, indeed, for great change to occur when people care about a place.


On dust

16 Sep

There is much talk of dust at, about and around Burning Man. As there should be. Burning Man and dust go hand in hand. But note the word; it’s “dust,” not “dirt.” Dust, not sand.

When I was still a virgin and people would speak to me of this dust, I could only think of airborne dirt, fine particles. I had no idea what they meant. I couldn’t. I hadn’t been there. Yet on my first day on the playa, exhausted beyond measure from preparations that taxed me, a night-long drive that stretched me and a full-day of camp build — in a dust storm — that had me pushing beyond limits I didn’t know I had, I sat in my tent for a few minutes, breathed in the air and said to myself and the place, “I get it.”

What I got was the ancient memory associated with a “dust” formed from a dry  seabed. I got the memory of a place and time in which floating in the sea, in some form or another, was my existence … “my,” of course, being a rather difficult word to use as Jessie Newburn, born August 28, 1963, wasn’t there, per se. Yet I was. Some part of some part of me was. And I — along with everyone else who goes to Burning Man — feels it at some level. We give it different words and ascribe it different meanings. We try to wrap our minds around it and explain it someone who hasn’t been there; and our paths and means are as individual as the people who attend. Yet, we all come to a conclusion and greet each other by saying, “Welcome home.” 


In the most alien of places. A place with not a life form on it. Where the alkalinity of the “soil” can burn you. Where the days are hotter than hot; and the nights, colder than cold. Where dust storms transform the landscape and space into an even more alien and inhospitable environment, this place we call home feels more human, more humane, more civil, more natural, more right, balanced, fluid, loving, expansive, accepting, receiving and able than any other place or space I’ve known.

The dust: once sea water; turned to “soil’ (earth), whipped into the air, met by Burners who bring the most exquisite fire art with both metal and wood at its base; we experience the elements in an exotic and alien, yet somehow utterly natural and right way: water, earth, air and fire. Smell triggers memories, and the ancient sea bed, made of countless now-dead sea beings and life, enters our airways through our nose and reminds us of what we already know.

Today, I picked up the boxes I’d shipped out on the DC container to Burning Man. As I approached the container and items being unloaded, I took a deep breath and let my hands lovingly brush across dusty boxes and equipment. The touch, the sensation, the smell! The dust. The dust. The dust. The dust.

Clean-cut Burners, fuzzy normals and blinkies everywhere

15 Feb

This post will mean little to one who is not a Burner (or raver, per Mona). I’m going to make a claim about something I’ve been seeing trending and how it aligns with generations. I’d guess that in three to five  years, my claims today will seem then like, “duh, yeah, of course … like, everyone could see that coming,” but I’ll say them anyway.

Here goes:

The edge-y, Mad-Max, raver-hippie, sparkle-pony, dust-loving extremeness of the Burning Man community’s dress will chill. And not just chill, but it will become chic to wear in the desert a suit, a cocktail dress, a classic, elegant, even preppy bit of attire. The sparkle ponies will always be cute and sexy. There will always be hippies who appear not to have showered in ages. And Burning Man will always attract artistic, awesome people who live big, create the most awesome costumes, and do what needs to be done to survive and thrive for a week in the moon dessert storms that so define and make Burning Man at Black Rock City, Nev., the place that it is.

But the stuff of which Burning Man fashion has been so quirkily specific — the furry boots, the neon pink furry animal-like hats, the faux fur endlessly covering ones body — this has started to move mainstream, and thus Burners will need to redefine Burner fashion, lest they look like the vacuous 11-year-old I saw the other weekend sporting major Burnerific faux fur fashions. How not hip to be like everyone else.

Oh, (she catches herself as she writes.) Wait, I’m thinking like a GenXer preferring the edge vs the center. Never mind, if Millennials in their same-sameness (which they don’t see  about themselves but which all other generations do) bring the fur en masse, it will be, indeed, en masse, and worn without meaning except to be like their generational brethren. Again, to my point: the fur will lose its meaning at Burning Man. And being preppy and clean cut in the desert will ride on the wings of the younger GenXers wishing to be different (not like the older grungier GenXers) and leaning toward  and meeting the style leaders of the Millennials with their fresh clean-cut, upbeat and redefined metro preppy attire.

And while Burning Man will get a cleaner, sharper look, the suburbs will be filled with pink-faux-fur wearing teens and moms.

Black Rock City, where the Burning Man festival is held, will find its streets lined increasingly each year with more and more clean cut, urban-leaning young folk. Not hipsters: for Millennials are not hipsters; they don’t need to try to BE anything. By virtue of their peer focus, they choose, and choose en masse, making all of them the same at once; distinction by difference is not their game; distinction by earned rank is.

And what of blinkies? These array of lights-lights-lights everywhere on bodies, bikes, art cars and more that are not just found but required at Burning Man lest one be called a “dark tard” and put oneself and others in danger of injury.

Blinkies will be everywhere. The cultural mood will shift, and more swiftly than you can imagine. It is winter, my dears: society’s winter, and a 20-year phase of an 80-(or so)-year cycle. We need lights in winter, as the days are short, the nights are long and our part of the earth is further from the warming sun.

In less than five years, we will see LED lights all over. Nary a bike will be ridden at night without the rider (the person) and the bike (the vehicle) bedecked in LED lights. And each unique. Backpacks for children (and adults) will have built-in LEDs. Clothing will have lights. City-scaping (and even the faux pastural suburban environments) will have streets, parks and public areas lit with colorful LEDs. And it will all seem natural and right, and it will be, for cycles are cycles and they can be ignored, but they cannot be stopped.

It’s already happening in shoes for little ones, these blinkies. Of course, these litte ones are our Homeland gen children, suffocated by the encroaching fear their parents carry to raise their children in Winter. GenX parents were themselves the children of Summer, neglected in an era of adult self-indulgence, so they swing in the other direction as parents, as do all genarations. Our Homelanders will have no choice, for they are the generation that silently receives this suffocating parenting of their stealth-fighter GenX parents. But again, this will be right and timely. As we protect our Homelander children with lights so that they can be watched with fierce diligence by their parents, these same lights will make young Millennials in cities safer, and the street-scaping will make us all want to be out more, close to home and our kin and country people. The lights will call us out, making it safe to leave the McMansions and lonelier days of Bowling Alone.

And so, I believe, it will be: Metro preppy Burners (trust me: the Burners will cry out and call me wrong); Burner-ific faux-fur-covered suburbanites and blinkie LED lights everywhere. I could always be wrong. Wouldn’t be the first time. Then again, I could be more right than you could possible even foresee now.

Time will tell.

GenX and Boom : Burning Man and Woodstock

13 Oct

I’ve just come from a mild version of Burning Man, the east coast event called Playa del Fuego. It was my first such event, and I generally find Burners my kind of people. It was pretty easy for me to conclude that Burning Man is mostly organized and attended by Gen Xers — duh — though it was initiated by Boomers who, in good Boomer fashion, pointed to something important and believed in it.

Here’s an overly simplified version of Burning Man: It’s a city accommodating 40,000+ people; it’s  built, occupied and then completely dismantled in the desert. Everyone who attends is self-responsible for their health, safety and behavior. Everyone contributes. Some of the underlying principles include: Do-ocracy (Do what needs to be done … don’t talk about it), manage your Moop (you’re responsible for all your trash … no public trash cans or dumpsters … and that includes no dumping of gray water), Bring everything you need (nothing is sold or allowed to be sold at the event other than ice and coffee), and basically, “You can die here in the desert, so, plan well, pack well and be really, really smart about your choices.” In short, Burner events are astoundingly well-organized, and the people who attend are astoundingly well-prepared.

Let’s go back almost 40 years to Woodstock: Absolutely filthy living conditions. Poor planning. Bad onsite management. And very little self-responsibility of the attendees for food, water, hygiene or behavior. Oh, and it was a one-time event, never to be repeated with any degree of seriousness. Now, Woodstock was a high point for the Boomer generation, and, of course, there was a ton of good from the experience. Both for those who were there and for the generation that called the event theirs.

But, man-oh-man, when I look at these two events through a generational diversity lens, it’s just so clear. Woodstock represented all the good and the bad of the Boomers: Let’s come together for vision and values and religion. Let’s not tend to those nasty details (like food, water and sanitation). The Prophet generations (today’s Boomers) are marked by a belief that moral leadership will solve nasty problems. Who could argue with a love-in? Right?

Fast forward to the Gen Xers getting together around art, music, love and such, and you get Burning Man, an extreme venture to an extreme environment where the logistics are profound, the systems for learning and bettering the event each year are tight and where each participant has to actually be self-responsible in order to survive and walk out of the desert alive. It also has the downside of GenX: extreme everything. *Extreme* is too much for many people.

The subject and comparison deserves a much more thorough analysis, and if anyone knows of any writing on the subject, I’d love to read it. Pass it along in the comments section with a link to the site. I’d appreciate it.

Love in. Rock on.

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