Off the grid

Location: Black Rock City, Nevada


Burning Man for me, as always, is when I do my annual week long electronic fast. No news, no social media, no e-mails. It was a bit hard this year. When I was leaving for Burning Man, my place in Maui was under evacuation for uncontrolled wildfires. It was also due to get hit by the strong wind and rains of a hurricane. It is not often you get the possibility of fire and flood at the same time. I was good, but frankly there was little I could do back on the mainland for either event. An exercise in letting go.

And let go, I did. A time for exploration, for viewing art, for reflection, and for dancing my ass off.

The main event at Burning Man is of course, the burning of the man. Here I sat in a large circle with over 40,000 people to experience one of the world’s largest pyrotechnical events. They burn the man every year, and in the past few years they have been setting off fire works after the fire dancers had finished. This year they incorporated the fireworks into the entire burn experience.
I am usually good with words, but here they fail me. The only thing I can compare it to is to a backwoods revival meeting. And perhaps that it what it was, we are just reviving different things.

At the Gate

Location: Black Rock City, Nevada

Walker Lake Coyote Camp

Setting up a small independent camp at Burning Man, is a lot like the old Oklahoma land rushes. The goal to get there as soon as you can after the gate opens, then head out to an unclaimed patch of playa.  This is not as easy as it sounds as over 95% of the territory has already been claimed by the theme camps, marked out with blue survey markers. Then there is the land staked out by theme camp members for their buddies who are not actually camping with them.  The goal is to discover a place big enough for your RV’s, campers and/or tents with enough space to just hang out. 

When you find it, you stake your claim by visibly marking it with something like survey flags, colored string, or buckets.  We use orange highway cones. You take what space you need and respect the boundaries of those who have come before you. 

Then after the long trip and the wait at the gate, you set up camp in the dark. Organized burners will have designated a “camp master,” one person who has the final say as to how the camp is laid out. You can change it in the morning, but the last thing you want is committee meeting from exhausted travelers. Once camp is set up and have a quiet celebration for having arrived. Then off to sleep, preferably before sunrise.

Coyote III

Location: San Jose California, USA

Each day I find new revelations about the Guadalupe River Walk. I have found a second statue of the old Coyote god, this time making the classic coyote howl. So if anyone asks me what do I think of San Jose, I can say that the Coyote still has a presence here, and if you are attentive, you can find pointers on walking the Coyote Way.

So was the convention successful? Yes by working the art show, I did not have to make a deep search to find my old friends and comrades, I met them through chance encounters when they came to view the art. As a program participant, I got to be behind the podium and pretend to be an expert. I also got to have a bio online, so I did not have to explain to everyone that I was now living in the Yucatan. And as an art show participant, I not only had the pleasure of having  people view my art, but also experienced the deeper pleasure of having my artwork purchased and finding a place in an appreciative home.

More Coyote

Location: San Jose California, USA

Further explorations of the Guadalupe River Walk. I revisit the Coyote statue and discover that it was erected in honor of the old Coyote god of the Muwekma Ohlone Tribe, the indigenous people who lived here before the Spanish arrived. The Muwekma are still among us and it is comforting to know that the Coyote is still revered in the area.

As I walked further along the river bed I discovered the the Guadalupe River emerges as a wild river before becoming a concrete channel. Here are un-manicured trees, rocks, and a free flowing stream. It is a wild area, but on the banks there are “No Trespassing” signs.

At the convention, I am working the art show. And today is the last day of art show bidding and a process known as the sweeps. Most of the art is for sale and has a bid sheet with a minimum bid listed, and room for up to six bidders to place their bids. If there are six bids, the piece goes to auction, otherwise the last bidder gets the piece.

Most of the bidders are hoping to get the piece they want for the lowest price, but there is always the danger that someone will outbid you. Here the bidding closes at noon, so just before noon, we have the spectacle of the bidders hovering around to artwork to protect their bids. When we do the sweeps, we shoo away the bidders and mark the final bids. Up until the final moment, there is high tension and sometimes high drama around the contested art.

Later in the day I do a panel on “Travel as Transformation” I am the only USA born person on this panel, and it is an interesting mix of cultural perspectives.

The Coyote Way

Location: San Jose California, USA

Each morning we make choices. Yesterday I wore a fancy steampunk hat, today I decided to wear my “Walker Lake Coyotes” T shirt.

My hotel is about a half mile from the Convention Center and I decided to take the scenic route along the Guadalupe River hiking trail. This sounds more bucolic than it actually is.  On the right, there is the river itself. I can see that they have engineered for a substantial amount of water flow, but now it is only six feet wide and runs in a concrete channel. On the left there is a modest homeless camp. For someone used to walking forest trails to get to breakfast, this is an interesting urban perspective.

But the highlight of my journey was when I got off the trail to get back to the city streets, there was a pillar with bronze coyote on top.  Perhaps this is indeed going to be a coyote day.

Indeed a few minutes later I stopped by a hotel for breakfast, and was invited to join an old acquaintance, Larry Niven, the science fiction author of “Ringworld” fame. I ordered a side of bacon and some coffee. The coffee arrived quickly, but the bacon, not at all. No problem, I simply went to the buffet, grabbed a plate and helped myself to the bacon. This is called doing it the Coyote Way

The artist’s life for me

Location: San Jose California, USA

I am at the artist’s reception for the art show. It is always fun hovering around one’s art, seeing people admiring one’s art, and announcing to them, “I’m the artist who made these.” It is not until much later I remember one of my photography instructors, who during one of his less than flattering critiques, recalled a time when his three year daughter, pointed to a pile of poo in the toilet and proudly announced, “I made that.” Nonetheless, if people like it, who am I to complain.

Is life science fiction or fantasy?

Location: San Jose California, USA

Science Fiction is about the future. But for me science fiction is about re-connecting with the past, where I spent a quite a bit of my time and energy organizing, running and participating in science fiction conventions. Indeed, there are quite a few people who know me in no other context. My goals for the World Science Fiction Convention isn San Jose, CA were to be a program participant, show in the art show, and help run the convention.

More on Mérida

Location: Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico

I seep late and get up to have breakfast at the Cafeteria Pop. Edible, but unimpressive, but then again, I have our own hotel as my basis for comparison. I walk a block from the hotel and discover an art and jewelry store and find some pieces that I have to take home. Already my tourist adventures are a success. Then I head out to explore the Merida English Library. I check out their for sale books and get two for twenty pesos. I later take a taxi two miles to find an artist collective, only to find that Apple maps has little basis in reality. I taxi back to two blocks from where I started, find the location for the collective, only to find that it has been abandoned. Such are the adventures of travel. I find a couple of museums, and am learning more about the city.

James the Tourist

Location: Mérida, Yucatán, Mexico

On most days in the Yucatan, I cater to tourists, but tonight I got to be a tourist myself. I stayed at the Hotel Luz de Yucatan. I got the last room available, and it seems to be the premium accommodation as it has its own roof garden. The hotel key ring has a beer opener and they offer two complementary bottles of beer (Montejo) with the room. This kinda sets the tone for the stay. I checked in at 8:20 and then headed down to the square to find the Noche de Leyendas (Night of Legends)  which commenced at 9 PM.

The Night of Legends is an event where tourists can watch costumed performers present some of the history of the Maya, Merida, the burning of the codices, and to walk in candle lit old passageways. There were about 75 in the group, almost all non-Maya Mexicans.  I had no idea that Merida was such a tourist spot for Mexican nationals. The tour was interesting with people in costumes keeping them informed and amused. I have admit that I did not get the full experience, as I only understood a fraction of the Spanish spoken. Still not bad for my first night of being a tourist.