You walk out of the forest together with the girl in the bear onesie. It's sunrise, at any rate, it's the time you think sunrise ought to be at. This is Swedish summer, so there's no such thing as night and day per se. But it's dark enough that you still see the glow from thousands of tiny lights demarcating paths through the woods. The giant plastic heart is beating, and the toy-doll altar screams an ancient insult at you as you pass by.
To your right blue reflectors illuminate a nest made entirely of rope, hundreds of ropes, it sits a few meters up in the trees and could cozily fit six or seven people. There are no elves and forest creatures yet, but it's a matter of time until they'll come out to ogle and offer people potions, they just need time to sleep off the hangover. At any rate, it's Swedish summer, so everything is freezing until mid-day when it’ll either start to rain or burn.
You and the bear onesie girl are the only ones to be out and doing stuff this early, and the guy preparing a gigantic pot of chai, but he's weird. You've never seen the bear onesie girl outside of her bear onesie. She told you her name, but it doesn’t feel right to call her by that name. Names were created by men once we didn't have marks of uniqueness or acts of heroism to call people by. The bear onesie girl has been wearing that same onesie every day, and presumably every night, for five days straight, that counts as both.
Morning meditations in the forest are too good an opportunity to pass on. It gives you a sense of spiritual superiority, a rare commodity here. It's also an opportunity for you to connect, normally words could be used to do this, but these are hippies, say a phrase too long, or a word too academic, and they will fight or flee or freeze. "Vibes" are the only tool you have, and building the correct vibe is a tricky process, the whole thing falls apart the moment you make your goal explicit. It's just like a fucking jhana, not like you'd know what a jhana is or try to attain it here, this whole place is permeated by tanha.
Anyway, you walk past the rope nest, and the hook skin suspension platform. The what? The that. You've just reached a giant wooden box in the woods, you enter, and there's a round hole inside, hips height, leading into darkness. You put your hand inside with a twig, somebody takes it and hands you a piece of candy. You move on towards the mass of tents at the forest's edge, they might be doing pizza soon.
Suddenly, you stop, horrified by a sound. The magic slowly dissipates and you enter a state of negative psychedelia one might encounter on salvia or ibogaine. It's not the good 5htr agonism fueled psychedelia, it's the bad KOR-mediated one. Is someone... cutting a tree! Here, in the nature preserve, in the enchanted forest, among elves !?
You walk closer to the source of the noise, your brain is racing, what are you going to do? Tell them to stop? Ask them if they have a permit? Call the clown police!? This is such a "real world" style quandary that your mind isn't equipped to deal with it just now. And then, suddenly: a burst of relief. Nobody is cutting any trees, it's just someone leaning against a tree and getting violently flogged with a heavy leather whip... you've confused the noises and thought the branch was a snake. You make gentle eye contact, give a friendly smile, receive two friendly smiles in return, and move on.
Anyway, there was no pizza, so you stopped, steel cup in hand, and grabbed a smoothie; Then dipped into the chilly morning waters of the pool. Isn't it weird that this pool has clear water, brought from the outside by a cistern, when all that's available to drink is somewhat yellow-ish looking well water? Priorities are sometimes odd, but they are correct. You reach your tent and take a few dozen minutes to recharge, not in the wellness-culture sense, you're literally recharging, the cold seeped into your bones and now you're abusing the poor build quality of your tent and the morning sun to fix this with a bit of impromptu sauna.
Why not go to the sauna you ask? Because it's too early, and at any rate, I'd feel weird, you really got along with a guy there last time but you forgot his name. Not that forgetting names in itself is an issue, it just feels weird in this one instance because his name was so unique. You forget names all the time, and faces, for that matter. There was this really cute Danish girl hitting on you the first morning... round heart-shaped pink sunglasses, blonde-auburn hair, lacy clothing, melty attitude, happy-go-lucky wannabe spiritual vibes. It's your turn to reciprocate, ask her out for a dance or a boat trip on one of the lakes.
But how would you find her? What would you look for? Cute & melty Danish girl, lacy clothing, blonde-auburn hair wearing heart-shaped pink sunglasses with happy-go-lucky wannabe spiritual vibes? That's not a person's description, that's a category, 1/4 of the people on the playa are a cute & melty Danish girl, lacy clothing, blonde-auburn hair wearing heart-shaped pink sunglasses with happy-go-lucky wannabe spiritual vibes. So you warm up, and you ask a friend for their Hawaiian dress, and you fill a giant wooden platter with fruits. A quick "aloha" and an inviting wiggle are enough to get hundreds of stoned or hung-over hippies to bite into the healthy goodness. There are few things as good to have on the playa as fresh fruits, fresh fruits always run out.
You could have spirits, of course, those also always run out. But you feel a bit guilty whenever you gift somebody alcohol; Like you ought to be doing something more appropriate, giving them some psychedelics, or, if you’re boring, some ketamine. But who needs those? They are all around, cheap booze and fruits, now those, those are a rarity. Anyway, the fruits are gone, just in time to dip in the lake, then go sit in the sauna (the lakeside sauna, no awkwardness involved here), and dry yourself while sipping some matcha in the hillside tea house.
The other odd thing about this place is kinky clothing, which really does come through more so than in any standard gathering of dirty hippies, even more than in a standard gathering of kinksters, really. Two days ago you caved under indirect peer pressure and got a pantyhose to wear when you go clubbing at night. You don't normally go clubbing; Especially kink clubs, you couldn't see the appeal... But you couldn't imagine the appeal of a cathedral until you entered Sagrada Familia. This is not to say that the kinky dance floors were the Sagrada Familia of kinky dance floors, more like a Cathedral of Seville. But it’s the Cathedral of Seville built in the middle of the woods, only to be torn down after 7 days. That is reason enough to dance there.
For all its hippy, kinky, alternative, and spiritual vibes, it’s a gathering for engineers. Once you get past the outer shell of peacock-themed codpieces and estatic peanut butter mantra chanting, almost everyone here works in STEM, usually the extra geeky kind -- but, more importantly, because the burn is something impossibly impressive built for the whole purpose of being torn down. A prototype never meant to be complete, a test, a demo that won't, that can't be preserved or maintained, you've got a week to set things up, and you've got 2 days to burn them all to the ground, the 6 days in-between are where you get to show it off. Your cathedral in the middle of the woods, worshiping whatever deity of worldly desire that you chose, pinned up high among a hundred other such cathedrals, painfully aware of its impermanence, blissfully aware of its impermanence.
If there's one thing about this place that is unique, that gets my blood running, it's that. It's “move fast and break things” applied to building cultures and societies. It fucking works is the thing, 3600 people organizing in an almost fully decentralized way and there's... no trash thrown about, not even early in the morning on the outdoor dancefloors, no violence, no theft, no aggressive behavior. That's not quite true, late night on Acid Friday a single guy gets a bad trip and starts going psychotic in a slightly aggressive way; Until his friends come over to restrain him via group hug. That's it? That's it. Honestly, my baseline for % of people that go psychotic on acid is set way higher… maybe having a designated trip sitter tent helps.
Anyway, it's Friday, not quite time to tear things down yet, so you get dressed and have some Tahini at the eponymous temple, maybe go into "My Dick" to grab some non-alcoholic wine. The name is a bit of a lie, since the disco ball inside, while initially seeming dick shaped, soon turns out to be a hermaphroditic organ. As an aside, My Dick is such an underrated name for a place, a name that'd be overused were it not for silly taboos. Having My Dick placed in a central intersection makes it all the nicer, since most directions “I” now give can be relative to My Dick.
You do the rounds. Psychedelic Renaissance fair-themed dance stage in the forest? Too cold. Aluminum megastructure flashing lights in all colors of the rainbow and playing disco? Too much smoke. An old guy doing a 1-man electronic orchestra in a giant tepee? Too secluded. Pegan 3-story tall church with a bar, dancefloor, and orgy room? Too afraid of falling in love with a certain someone hanging out there. Hardtek burlesque strip show? Too many Germans. Moroccan-style shisha lounge, oriental techno open-air dancefloor, and booths of tarot and crystal ball reading? Fucking perfect.
So you sit there waiting to meet this dude that supposedly hangs around there too. His job in real-life is to give drugs to animals and see how they react. One of the ideas behind this gathering is not to try and be a different person, just apply what you're good at in a way that's fun and helps others. He's probably got it figured out. But he doesn't show up, and your legs hurt from the dancing, so you sit down to smoke a Shisha and this old dude that refers to himself as a "burner" joins you. He has a burner name and has been to 100 different burns in 10 different countries and all things considered, is in surprisingly good shape for what you assume his age is.
It's quite interesting that this sort of impermanence can be turned by some into a permanent lifestyle. Seeking and re-seeking communities, communities bound by what? 10 or 11 or whatever principles... sure, but not really. Communities bound by not being, by knowing that it's all a flash in the temporal pan, a week for us to forget that we are human and instead be default-nice to each other, stop having enemies, stop having friends, stop using money, stop wanting things to last. This can only be because it lasts for 7 days, because we know it's fiction we are composing, that it’s not and will never be real. If you thought I'd last forever, you'd be miserable, stuck in an alien land, you'd build camps and art installations aiming to re-invent guns and slavery, just to make it feel more human.
Anyway, it’s now getting very cold, and you can’t dance this one out; A guy in a leather outfit is riding an improvised motorbike, he's carrying princess Leia and some tooling to fix electrical wiring. You ask for a ride, and ride you do, past the gigantic concrete hall blurting out DNB, past the cuddle dome and the chillout dome and the dome where people fight with foam sticks and into the cold comfort of your tent, at 3 AM, in a Swedish forest, it's cold, and it's damp, and you'd like to take a shit, but you know that the outside is only colder and damper. Better wait until tomorrow.
As you're about to leave you take one last walk through the playa holding a pineapple, a naked man with flowing hair appears, you offer it to him, but only then notice his eyes are bound with a cloth. You recognize this man, on the first day when you arrived torrential rain was pouring, you did the only reasonable thing: together with your friends, stripped naked and ran towards the lake. As you engaged in a ritual scream-dance, this man joined you, circling like a wild ape, bearing his fangs, beating his chest, looking straight into your eyes - it was a moment of primal connection, and then you headed your separate ways. It's quite nice to see him once again, here at the end. He can't eat the pineapple but asks if he can hold it to better get the smell. He clutches it like a child and brings it within a few millimeters of his nose, 3 deep breaths, he smiles, and hands you back the pineapple.
The Borderlands was my first burn and it really sold me on the concept, I went in unprepared as fuck and still had a blast, which is quite the thing given that burns never really seemed like "my thing". One of my childhood friends helps organize a local burn, and I was soo convinced it wasn't "my thing" that I never went. Now I rather regret this attitude of mine, and I certainly "get" why people enjoy these arcane rituals. I'll be trying more of them.