I did good

photo by Roger Easley

You may have noticed, in my gargantuan list of activities from yesterday, that a great many of them had to do with Alchemy, our fall regional Burning Man-style gathering.  Here’s what happened.

Last spring, we were on new property over in the Great Eastern Wastelands of Georgia and were thinking we had found a new, permanent home.  (We hadn’t.)  It was my second time helping the Placement Team lay out the burn, i.e., measuring out the campsites for the theme camps and marking them with stakes and construction tape, and even as we did it I figured that the layout was going to be problematic: it was little more than two straight streets, one each on two great legs of land in a V shape, with camps to either side.  (It didn’t help that Euphoria, the spring burn, has fewer participants and many camps set up away from the road, leaving huge tracts of land seemingly unoccupied.)

Sure enough, after the burn the complaints were consistent: it didn’t feel like a burn.  The hippies said it wasn’t explorable; it felt as if you were walking down a midway at a carnival.

Not a problem, I thought.  The Placement Lead and I had discussed the planning a couple of times, and he had readily admitted that this burn was an Abortive Attempt—just get it down and see what happens, and then we’ll make changes for the next burn.  Exactly as it should be, I thought.

And so that’s why I volunteered to be Placement Co-Lead.  I wanted to provide some insight on the “urban design” of the burn.  Toss in a few ideas, jigger with the map, and show up build weekend to drive stakes and stretch tape.  What could go wrong?

Here’s how that went wrong.

First, we moved again.  Rather than the Eastern Wasteland property, we were now on completely new territory.  Not a problem.  I mean, it’s just unfamiliar terrain, right?  (Actually, I was pleased.  I had issues with the previous property; I intended my input to ameliorate its deficiencies.)

Second, Real Life™ overtook my new Placement Lead, and so one morning in August I awoke to find an email from our superior assuring her that Dale could step up and handle it.  Oy.  Of course I could handle it, but that’s not the point, hippies.  I have made it a part of my guiding philosophy not to be in charge any more.

My virgin canvas, Little Big Jam in Bowdon, GA

But I did it.  I redesigned and streamlined the registration form.  I whipped up a FileMaker Pro database to suck up all those registrations and slice and dice the info in ways that made sense.  I drove up to the farm about eight times to tromp all over that property, taking measurements and making notes as to which areas were unsuitable for camping.

(I may or may not have also picked an absolutely perfect spot for 3 Old Men, my own theme camp.  Sue me.)

But before all that, I wrote a manifesto.  I pulled A Pattern Language 1 from my shelf, picked the patterns I felt would contribute to the overall well-being of the hippies, and wrote a 14-page treatise entitled Patterns: the language of burn layout & placement.  You should read it.  (The dry response from one of my trusted mentors in the burn community: “This is brilliant.  No one else needs to see this.”)

Thus secured against surprise, I sat down before the fire to take my gruel.  Wait, no, that’s Christmas Carol, a whole ‘nother set of blog posts.

…to be continued…


1 A Pattern Language: book, website, pdf.  This book has been influential in my life in many, many ways.  Highly recommended.

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