Leaving home is a chore for me. I know I'm going to be away for a while but I know I'm going to be coming back and so, I make an effort to clean up before I leave so that my return is that little bit easier. Even so, it's still a sucky job, something which I resent a little and definitely something which isn't the most fun. Instead of picking up crap off my floor, I could be on the road with that long drive that's ahead of us.
2002 was my first burn. Like a good virgin, I read and re-read my Survival Guide, made contact with experienced burners and researched burningman.com thoroughly. I hit Black Rock City able to recite all the mantras - "no spectators" "if it wasn't in your body...", "leave no trace", etc. I was quite content to abide by these 'rules' too, they make decent sense.
Now I'm not really that much of an environmentalist, but I could see the rationale behind the "leave no trace". There's also the simple fact that if Black Rock City fails to disappear off the playa, the Bureau of Land Management won't give the go-ahead for another year at that location. Black Rock City is still physically located within the state of Nevada, USA, and the laws of that land still fly ... more or less.
Since that burn however, the 'leave no trace' mentality propagated in my mind/body/life. I got to thinking about humanity's right to leave our footprint on our planet. We are the animal who's lifestyle by-products most impact upon all other life we share this home with. And what right do we have to do this? Well, not much that I can see.
My housemate, in a former life as a checkout chick, used to remind her customers that their plastic bags are going to last a lot longer than they ever will. Are we such an important species that we need to litter the world with evidence of our existence for near on eternity?
Black Rock City is a 'Temporary Autonomous Zone', a place where incredible things happen and then disappear with no evidence of them ever having been, only to reappear some when/who/where -else. I think that we should be this too. We should have no need to insist that these wondrous things that we create continue to exist longer than their lives do.
Leaving Black Rock City is hard for everybody. Who wants to leave that place where we really believe we've finally found home? Not me, for one. But, it is the third largest city in Nevada only for a week. It is a physically temporary city. The rest of the year, it is the Black Rock Desert, home to the few hundred people that live in the Gerlach area and the myriad of animals and plants - large to microscopic. Willingly or otherwise, they allow us to create our home on top of theirs - we are firstly, their guests.
The tiny scorpions that live in the cracks of playa have no use for a lost bolt. The eagles that circle in the thermals above aren't hunting pistachio shells. The bacteria in the dust can't synthesize detergent molecules.
The task of returning their home back to them as we found it is not an easy one, and I strongly suspect not one that we fully achieve. No matter what, 30,000 people make a long-lasting impact. But we _can_ minimise it.
Spending a number of hours walking back and forth across our campsite on Monday was frustrating. My friends who make up such a beautiful city have taken the long road off the playa, and yet I find flakes of tinsel or cigarette butts or full garbage bags or bicycles. Arrgh, my friends, you're still here, but where are you? Yeah, that tinsel probably _is_ going to blow so far away that the BLM won't find it when they check the state of the playa in six months time. But it's also probably not going to find it's way into the garbage (to be promptly put into landfill, but that's a different story). That piss you took on the playa because the potties were so far away may well be absorbed into the surface quickly, but those minerals are going to stick around for longer.
When the old boy burns, the exodus begins. Burning Man doesn't end then, it just dissipates to the four corners of the globe. The Burning Man has left the building. Our city's people go away for a while and we return what we've borrowed to those that cannot leave.
Leaving home _is_ a chore, one of those things that just has to get done, just like the dishes. Not only are we asked to clean up our own camp, but we're all also requested to spend at least two hours cleaning elsewhere too. We are still citizens of Black Rock City even when the city is leaving. We still have responsibility to the rest of her citizens - our neighbours, our friends, and we certainly have responsibility to our hosts.
Please, I ask you to try to leave no trace. I'll love you forever even without some _thing_ to remember you by. The playa is a figment of your imagination and you can live at home for the rest of your life.