Friday, May 17, 2013

Burning Man Stories: 2007 Dust storm with parachute

In 2007, we launched the Cartoon Commune theme camp. 

Part of our setup included an art wall made from discarded chalkboards which we erected in a fan-fold formation for stability.  Guests were invited to use chalk on the chalkboards and markers on the backs of the chalkboards.  The art wall was a hit and no less a person than Vincent "Nipples" Waller, a lead animator on Ren and Stimpy, and Spongebob Squarepants, stopped by to visit, giving us an inside look at his animation company, and drawing a quick Stimpy toon.

Over the top of our camp, we slung a parachute that was to act as shade for the communal area.  This proved to be a mistake.

We had been told not to use parachutes for shade structures, but we had successfully used it the prior two years as a second cover for our large dome.  Having the wood and steel to anchor it down was a stable arrangement, but this year (07) we only had rope and two EZ-up's (store-bought shade structure), plus our domes and the art wall to anchor this parachute.  A 12 foot pole held up the parachute in the middle, and it gave us a pretty nice shady central area.

Mid-week, the wind picked up and soon, our parachute was buffeting this way and that.  It was lifting the EZ-ups off the ground and threatening to tear up our whole camp.  Apparently, parachutes are made to catch the wind, and that's just what it did, catching what must have been 50+ mph winds.  We who were in camp did our best to hold the parachute down, at first by holding the edges in place.  Some of our neighbors came over to help us get control of our cover, and we all stood there for quite awhile holding the parachute with our arms above our heads.  Soon this became tiring and I found a way to bundle the parachute under me and lay down on it.  We didn't know how long this windstorm would last, and some others grabbed chairs to wait it out.  Well, that lasted for about two hours.  We finally decided to take down the parachute, since we didn't know if the wind would blow all day or stop.  We untied it and folded it up.  The severe flapping of the parachute had wrecked both EZ-ups, bending the aluminum bars out of shape, but the rest of our camp was still intact. 

We learned that year not to use a parachute as shade cloth, without some seriously stable structure beneath it.  There is clearly a right and a wrong way of building a shelter at Burning Man, and over the years.  We gradually learned to work with the wind, and let it pass through the structure rather than trying to block and overcome it.

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