3 Old Men: Euphoria… ready… set…

I spent today packing for the burn, which means I went to my database and printed out a five-page list of over 160 items that I have to pull from here and yon and get them ready for transport.

Since I’m using Craig’s trailer, everything has to fit onto a 6×8 rectangle. Behold!

If you look carefully, you can see the blue rectangle I chalked down to plan ahead.  Up at the top of the driveway you’ll notice the trailer backed into the carport—a feat so impressive that I had to put out a call on Facebook to beg someone to come do it for me.  Even after practicing for 30 minutes in a large parking lot on Bullsboro, once I got to College Street I could not get the thing even to approach the driveway.  So much for Radical Self-Reliance!

Let’s look at it from the other end:

All the stuff in front is going in the car.  The tools and bamboo will go between the tubs, cushioned by multiple tarps.

Tent, kitchen, tables, canopy, fire pit, fuel, tools, labyrinth (three tubs), tiki torches, lighting, ritual items, musical instruments, food, clothing.  All there.

Turn, turn, kick, turn—yes, it will WORK!


3 Old Men: Labyrinth walls—the Pleatening

“Dale,” I hear you asking1, “I understand that you’ve hemmed six football fields worth of muslin strips…

A football field and a half of handkerchief hemming

“…but how on earth do you do the pleats and create the pockets that the tent stakes slip into?”

I’m glad you asked.

First of all, cardboard templates are your friend. I make mine out of Ram Board, a miracle substance carried by Home Depot.  Every home should have at least one roll.

Here’s what happens.  For every tent stake in the labyrinth I make a pocket, reinforced on each side with a pleat.  When I finish a pocket, I use my handy chart to measure from its center to the center of the next one.  Then I position the template:

Here you can see the center mark:

On either side of the 4-inch pocket, there is a 2-inch pleat.

On the left hand side, things are a little different.  Usually I just mark the 2-inch pleat, but sometimes I have to insert a salvaged piece from an earlier mistake, or I run out of fabric.  Since a bolt of muslin is 25 yards, i.e., 75 feet, and these long walls are 108 feet, this adaptation is inevitable.  We’ll deal with that process in a moment.

Mark the pleats on the bottom and the top, draw lines on either side of the template, then connect the other lines using the template as a straightedge.

As it says on the template, pleat the outside line to the inside line.

Topstitch the pleat on both sides.  I’ve found that it’s easiest/best to topstitch the edge on top, then flip and do the backside.

Here are both pleats topstitched.

To create the pockets, fold the fabric in half and pin both pleats.  Use the other cardboard template to mark two inches down from the top of the pocket.

Topstitch again, this time backstitching both ends of the seam.   This is to keep the stitches from unraveling, of course.  The two inches at the top are for an eventual channel for LD lighting.  That’s right, the 3 Old Men labyrinth will glow in the dark.  It will be beautiful beyond measure.  (I will actually go back and stitch that 2-inch channel across the entire wall, but that may not happen before Alchemy.)

So what about those times when you run out of fabric and have to tack on the next strip? Or where you have planned to insert sections of fabric salvaged from an earlier screw-up of epic proportions?  Here we see my chart of measurements which shows how long each segment of the wall needs to be, plus the ID of each tent stake.  That’s to help me keep track of where I am in the 108 feet.  See the green capital letters?

Those are the salvaged sections, which I measured and labeled:

So when I measure the section before the insert, I mark the left-hand side of the pocket like so:

There’s a 1-inch piece—the bottom of the pleat—then a half-inch section for the seam.  That’s where I cut.

I take the salvaged section and pin it to the wall, wrong sides together:

Stitch it, iron it flat, put the template back into position, and mark the left hand side of the template, i.e., complete the left hand pleat.

The seam allowances are thus concealed within the pleat, and the wall looks as if it’s made from one continuous strip of muslin.

And there you have it.  A long and boring post, you say?  Try doing this process 144 times. Thank you.


1  Unless those are the voices in my head. Hard to tell.

3 Old Men: Labyrinth progress

Take a deep breath.

I just finished the SOUTH — OUTER wall.  That’s all the “short walls” done.

Which means…

But never mind that now.  Here’s a photo of it in semi-action:

My poor labyrinth needs rain, reseeding, and cooler weather.  In the meantime, notice the majestic way the wall marches along, especially in the furthest panels there where the stakes are the actual stakes, i..e, tall enough.

Side view:

Again, the panels on the left are being help up by the actual size tent stakes; further along the wall  is being held up by shorter stakes.

I calculated yesterday that for every bolt of muslin that I split in two, I have sewn the length an entire football field in handkerchief/rolled hems.  So far, that’s three football fields, with three more to go.  That’s just to prep the panels so I can then pleat in the pockets for the stakes.

Likewise, I have used over 20 football fields of thread so far; that will probably end up being closer to 50 than not.



Here’s an article that struck me.

I had seen the Londonerry project a couple of weeks ago and was trying to keep track of it, because the Temple at Burning Man has always had an especial pull for me.  From its very first incarnation, the notion that this enormous structure would serve as a place for meditation and redemption in the midst of the glorious circus of Burning Man was very appealing.

That seems to be the overall opinion as well: as the Temple grew in stature, Burners seemed to expect it to be there and treated it differently than the burning of The Man.  Whereas The Man was a bacchanalian release of energy/tension/ecstasy, with drumming, music, and dancing, the Temple was usually observed in silence or in tears.

Not only that, but The Man used to be burned on Sunday night, the last night of the festival—now it’s burned on Saturday night and the Temple has taken its place on Sunday.  The whole focus of Burning Man has shifted to accommodate the spirit of Dave Best’s structure.

For me, the trip to Burning Man has always been largely about being there for the Temple burn.  I’m not sure why, but it exerts a spiritual call on my soul.  I want to see if by experiencing it I can explain that call.

So when I read about the Londonderry project, I thought, “Well, that makes sense,” especially given the troubled past of the area.  And today when I saw the article about the burn, the first sentence that jumped out at me was the one about the Presbyterian minister’s concerns that the burn would “leave people open to Satan.”

Really?  That’s what you get out of this?  People from different—if not opposite—backgrounds come together to build this beautiful structure; and then people from everywhere leave their grief there to honor their loved ones; and then all that pain and beauty is released through an awe-inspiring ritual—and all you’ve got as an emotional response is a fear that all of this leaves people open to Satan, whatever the hell that means?

No, you sanctimonious prick, what this leaves people open to is forgiveness and pure-T caritas, which apparently you know only as a word from your Greek class.  It’s pitiable, it truly is, how badly some people misunderstand God and cannot see it even if it’s transpiring right in front of them.

3 Old Men: Tentage

Camping with the Hippies™ is great fun, but there are challenges.  At Alchemy last October, I had borrowed my son’s tent, a perfectly cromulent “3-person” dome tent.  (N.B.: the number of persons a tent can hold is calculated by wrapping campers in sleeping bags and stacking them like cordwood.)

Since I had covered it with a huge tarp, first for rain protection and then for added insulation against the cold, getting in and out of it involved crawling through the entrance like Eskimos into an igloo.

And then inside, all our stuff was just strewn on the floor between the air mattress and the walls, and all the other stuff was stuffed into the plastic tubs outside, also covered with the tarp.

Worst of all, you crawled in, you flopped around, you crawled out.  There was no standing.

I had borrowed the tent because I (meaning one of us in the relationship) wanted to make sure that Camping with the Hippies™ was something we were going to want to do more than the one time.  As we all know, it is definitely something we (meaning me) want to do on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve been researching and browsing and shopping for a permanent tent solution, and this weekend I made my move.  If you do your due diligence, you know that January is a great time to buy tents, because who in their right mind is going to go camping in the dead of winter (Frostburn notwithstanding)?  And lo! Academy Sports+Outdoors had some of their tents on clearance.

Here were my criteria: it had to be a cabin-style tent, i.e., tall enough for humans to walk through the entrance and stand up in.  It had to be large enough to sleep the two of us plus store all the tubs of stuff plus give us room to organize the stuff, change clothes, etc.

And so, behold the Coleman Instant Tent 10!

Instant Tent 10

Yes, I bought a tent big enough to sleep ten people for the two of us.  Notice the trimly rectangular carrying case.  Hold that thought.

Out of its trimly rectangular carrying case:

Instant Tent 10

The deal with Coleman’s Instant Tent series is that the tentpoles are permanently attached and hinged, reminiscent of an umbrella in their construction.  The trimly rectangular carrying case promises a 60-second setup, although it cautions that the “first time” may take longer.  Indeed, I can imagine some kind of Tent Olympics where a smoothly rehearsed team could get this thing erect in 60 seconds, but even if you accomplish that feat you still have to adjust the legs and the floor, and stake the thing out.

Fortunately, Camping with the Hippies™ is not a race, so who cares how long the thing takes to set up if a) it’s easy; and b) the results are good.

Instant Tent 10

We begin the setup process.

Instant Tent 10

Lots of pulling and tugging and figuring out the realities of the minimal instructions.  Trying to figure out which side is the long side so that we can fit it onto the far side of the labyrinth.


Instant Tent 10

A little lopsided, but it’s up, it’s staked, and all parts are accounted for.  Notice the dangling flap thing inside.  This is an actual room divider, for which some of our party had devoutly wished because of privacy who even knows.  It’s not mentioned on the trimly rectangular carrying case, and so it was a pleasant surprise.

Of course, “privacy” has little meaning in a setting where the showers are neither private nor segregated, and half the hippies you see are unclothed to some extent.  But hey, we can put up a wall if we want to.

Another view.

Instant Tent 10

And here we have the happy tent owner, standing in his new domicile.

Instant Tent 10

What goes up must come down, and this is where we need to return to our trimly rectangular carrying case.  Of course nothing ever folds up as neatly as it was originally packaged—how those third-world workers do it, I’ll never know—and the Instant Tent 10 is no exception.

We collapsed it, rolled it up, rolled it over the ground as suggested in the instructions to smoosh air out of it and get it back down to a reasonably sized bundle.  But it would not go back into the trimly rectangular carrying case.  We took it out and tried again, but it was impossible.

We tried standing the carrying case up and pushing the tent down into it, thinking that might give us a good start on stuffing it in there.  And that’s when I noticed that the label on the bottom of the case had a large arrow on it.

Aha, I thought, instructions on which end should be up!  I leaned closer to read: “Tear the label off between the seams to expand.”


I ripped the label off, the bottom of the trimly rectangular carrying case breathed a sigh of relief, and it accordioned out into a nice middle-aged carrying case into which the Instant Tent 10 slid with no problem whatsoever.

So now we’re ready to go Camping with the Hippies™ in style.  We’re already looking at oriental carpets to lay down on the floor for that extra fillip of éclat and comfort.  I’ll keep you posted.


3 Old Men

Last week, all the philosophizing, planning, designing, building came to fruition as I packed my car to the max and headed to LaFayette for my first ever Regional Burn, known as Alchemy.

I’m not going to give you a lot of details, because above all Alchemy is a safe space for those who go there and I am not going to breach that implicit agreement we all have that, for a lack of a better phrase, what happens at Alchemy stays at Alchemy.

But what an experience!  As you produce your ticket at the gate, the hippies greeting you welcome you “home”—and while I can’t go that far, I will say that I felt an enormous sense of belonging as soon as I pulled onto the farm.  Our assigned campsite was the first one inside the farm on the left, and as I pulled up and started to unload I knew that it was going to be an amazing event.

I put my tent up quickly just so I wouldn’t be doing that in the dark, then set about working with the others to get the labyrinth set up.  As in our dress rehearsal, the method for laying it out worked flawlessly, although one of the long ropes was inexplicably six feet short.  We never did figure out why.

Here’s a shot of our camp:

And here’s a shot of our canopy with the banners I whipped up last week and didn’t even share with you:

By 6:30, we were ready for our first ritual—we had decided to do sunrise, sunset, an hour later, and midnight, but that almost immediately got changed.  Dawn was going to be too cold or too wet, and as for sunset, well, I misread the sunrise/sunset charts, not factoring in daylight savings time.  Not a problem.  We moved the sunrise session to noon, and just went for sunset and an hour before instead.  (By the time temperatures had dropped into the 30s on Saturday night, we also ditched the final midnight session, instituting the policy that the Old Men don’t perform their ritual when the ambient temperature is lower than 55°.)

Here’s a lovely panorama shot of the labyrinth, looking across the road to our neighbors, Incendia:

Click for larger version.

In the center, we placed a small altar for people to leave and to take whatever they wished, and the bell from my labyrinth.  I will share one experience that made me happy: a group of young people entered the labyrinth while the Old Men were in session.  They were happy and giggled their way to the center, mock-racing each other to enlightenment.  Once in the center, they found the mallet and one of them rang the bell, which uttered its usual nondescript clang.

But then one of the young men, in a cowboy hat that lit up, stopped and said, “Hey, listen you guys… ” and he struck the bell again and said, “No listen… it shouldn’t be doing this… listen…” and he listened—because he had heard the bell continue with its incredibly long reverberation, on and on and  on.  He left in a more contemplative mood than the one he entered with.  (We saw that a lot, actually.)

Incendia.  My oh my.  We watched a team of tawny youths clamber up and up and up building that structure all day on Thursday, and then as night fell, we were stunned and delighted to see:

Incendia was the hit of the entire Burn: the large dome was a lounge, with seating, bar, DJ, projections, and fire.  This is what the ceiling looked like:

That’s spurts of propane billowing out into never-ending clouds of flame, and it’s as fascinating in real time as you might imagine.  Each of the smaller domes housed its own fire sculpture, and those ceilings were the same.  It was amazing, and the place was packed until 3:00 or 4:00 in the morning.  (Earplugs were a must on our side of the road.)

So for three days, we did our ritual, answered questions and discussed the impetus behind the project, and sucked up the positive energy all around us.  I will say that I was just a wee bit proud when people were surprised to find that we were all Burn virgins; apparently 3 Old Men gave off the vibe of being old pros at this.  (It also dawned on me that we were freaking selected as a theme camp by Burning Man itself.  Sometimes ignorance of the odds is a great way to develop a project.)

The camp is large: 3200 Burners, two-thirds of them in registered theme camps like us, and the variety therein was impressive.  Art, food, drink, interactive things, games, just a wild smorgasbord of creativity and openness.  Again, details would be over-sharing, but the energy was palpable.

Everything culminates in the Burn itself on Saturday night, in which a two-story structure known as the Effigy is set on fire in the most spectacular way imaginable. I have never been witness to as much controlled pyromania as that Burn, and I found that watching those enormous pillars of flame erupt from tubes surrounding the Effigy, followed by the Effigy itself vanishing in the largest fireball I have ever seen, produces only one possible response: ecstatic, joyous laughter.

It’s a very powerful feeling to watch a structure burn that you were just inside and on top of, and on which you’ve written your own thoughts about life/loss/change.

The next morning, Sunday at dawn, the Temple, another smaller structure, was burned.  Part of my labyrinth was in there: the artist put out a call for frames; I had some in my kindling pile and although I was out of town at the time I sent her directions on where to find them in my back yard.  I ran into her at the Temple and she excitedly told her boyfriend that I was the one with the amazing back yard.

Click for large version

Afterwards, we went back down the hill to the camp, had one final meal together, then broke camp.  By early morning, before most of the rest of the hippies were up and about, we were all gone.

Here’s what I learned.  The Burn’s 10 Principles are a great way to run an event, and their impact has remained with me. I learned to be more Radically Inclusive of other people, which is sometimes a problem for me.  I learned a lot about Radical Self-Reliance, never having camped before—I like it, at least for Burns!  And Leave No Trace has become a mantra for me; next time I will volunteer as a MOOP* Fairy, part of the onsite volunteer staff.

The guiding philosophy behind 3 Old Men turned out to be exactly correct, and I found—even as I watched beautiful, taut young bodies parade past—that I was proud of me, of where I am and  how I got here.  More amazingly, that was how the taut young bodies responded to me as well.  The ritual was simple and effective, and we had a decent amount of participation in those sessions, although we’re working on ways to make it easier for people to challenge themselves to enter the labyrinth.  (Again, no photos, but the 3 Old Men in full regalia—paint, skirt, staff—were imposing to the point of being totemic.)

And mostly I learned that I am made very happy being in a setting where everyone there is free to let their own little freak flags fly without fear of judgment.  I soaked up all that joy like a vampire, and I am committed to continuing this journey with my fellow Old Men.  We’re making plans to go to other Burns and to recruit more people to our roster as we go.  I’ll keep you posted.


*MOOP = Matter Out Of Place, i.e., whatever was not there when you got there.  I am still worried that our MOOP score will suffer because of the spills of kaolin body paint we left behind.

About half the photos in this post were taken by Roger Easley, photographer extraordinaire and a member of 3 Old Men.

3 Old Men: staff update

Remember how I kind of wanted jewels for the eyes of the lizard on the staff but never really went back to the idea?

I was in Michael’s picking up some white acrylic paint for one last 3 Old Men project—Alchemy is this week, YOU GUYS!—and there was this whole series of new paint substances.  This one looks like glass or clear sugar candy, and I snatched it up.  Ooohhh…

3 Old Men: the skirt (day whatever)

I have not been boring you with all the step-by-steps of getting the other four skirts made—you’re welcome—but I do want to show off.  Here are three of the four waistbands:

I’m missing enough material to have made the fourth one (although this morning it dawned on me that when I cut out two of the skirts, I should be able to find that).

Aren’t they beautiful?  You can’t really see the buttonholes through which the sashes will weave, but they’re beautiful.  The belt loops are beautiful.  The sashes are beautiful.

If I’m assiduous, I could have three of the four skirts entirely finished today and have time to go outside, do some planting, and in general enjoy the lovely fall weather.  I’ll keep you posted.

3 Old Men: the skirt (day 5)

First of all, apologies for not really blogging.  Events have all conspired against me blah blah blah.  I hope the Bad Etchings have entertained you in the meantime.

Recently on Facebook I did one of those challenges where I listed ten books that have impacted me.  Today, as I was working on sashes for the four Old Men skirts, I was reminded of one that truly changed my life, one that didn’t occur to me while making the list because its lessons are so deeply embedded in me that it never surfaces for trivial things like the Facebook list.

That book is Cheaper by the Dozen, by siblings Frank B. Gilbreth and Ernestine Gilbreth Carey.  The movie is irrelevant, and in fact I don’t much remember the charming shenanigans of the Gilbreth family in the book.  What I do remember is what their parents did for a living: both mother and father were famous efficiency experts, and what they discovered through their motion studies in factories changed my life forever.

Put in its simplest form, it’s this: if you have a multistep task that you have to do repeatedly—as most factories have to do to assemble their products—then you perform each subtask of the final task all at the same time before moving to the next subtask.

So with my six sashes, I cut all the monks cloth panels first, then serged all six, then cut all six colored linings, then marked them, etc.

At the turn of the last century, as America geared up to become the industrial powerhouse it became, the Gilbreths played a key role.  We already knew about standardizing parts, but we were still in craftsman mode.  Even in the new automobile industry, we were apt to have crews who assembled the whole car from start to finish.

The Gilbreths changed that.  They showed to the way to Ford’s assembly line; as the great man says in Ragtime,

Even people who ain’t too clever
Can learn to tighten
A nut forever,
Attach one pedal
Or pull one lever
(source: http://www.lyricsondemand.com/)

And so on we moved.

The main way it makes the individual craftsman more efficient is that you’re not always shifting mental gears for the next subtask.  Instead, you can settle into the rhythm of pinning the monks cloth to the lining, for example, and then once that’s done, set up the new rhythm of basting the two pieces together.  And so on I moved.

The other major strategy I got from the Gilbreths—and which I do remember played some part in the hilarity of the book—is arranging your parts and pieces so that they are 1) within easy reach; and 2) in the same order that you’re going to need them.  I can’t tell you how many times I have caught myself in some project or other reaching across myself or the product to pick up something I needed.  I almost always stop myself and rearrange my workspace.  I hope that the Gilbreths would approve.

Last Saturday, members of the 3 Old Men ritual troupe met to assemble the labyrinth for the first time and to run through the ritual.  I am drawing a discreet curtain over our experience—sometimes you, dear reader, need to encounter the sacred directly and not through my reportage—but I would like to show you the labyrinth.

You will recall that I had designed an octagonal labyrinth with four entrances, to be made of 144 tent stakes and about 1000 feet of rope.  You may also recall that I designed the method by which we would lay this out, by using a triangle of rope like the Egyptians.

And you know what?  It worked.

Here’s our Egyptian triangle:

Staked to the center, the ropes form a right triangle when pulled tight, creating a 22.5° arc at the center.  The two long ropes are marked, indicating where the stakes are to be driven (with a few variances).

Here’s that in action:

Give or take a couple of boneheaded mistakes—missing an outer stake, not taking the long ropes all the way to their last stake, that kind of thing—it worked beautifully.


It’s going to be a wonderful thing we’re doing at Alchemy and, next year, at Burning Man.  I’ll talk more later about the actual experience of walking this particular labyrinth.