I know that Burning Man is an established event that has been happening for decades, but I have never been. I basically don’t know anything about the event, except that it is a wickedly insane art festival where they burn a temple at the end, sometimes with a man at the top. A week-long avant-garde art event with 70,000 people all showing up to party and experience being human together in the middle of a hot, dusty desert.
Dave Hollis, my friend in McCarthy, is a retired computer programmer who I would consider to be the social guru for the Kennicott River Valley. This guy knows what is happening, where it is happening, and also plans some amazing events of his own. In McCarthy, around 2009 Dani Evans and B-Mac built a Burning Woman, and she asked Hollis to be a fire tender. Four years ago in 2018, Hollis and Brady, and some other McCarthy locals, decided to make a small version of Burning Man, which they called Burning Dude. It is a fragment of the Nevada festival, and can’t even be compared, but it is still a hoot, and a lot of fun. I missed the Burning Woman, and I also missed the first Dude, who was 12 feet tall, and I heard was awesome. In 2019 fire danger was high, so there was no Dude. The second Burning Dude in 2020 was designed by Seth, a local fire dancer, and I helped erect the dude with 10 other people, while Brady quickly nailed supports to keep it upright. It burned, but never fully caught on fire. The sculpture was 34 feet tall. The oversized head was dropped and ignited later, providing plenty of entertainment. I told the team that I have sculpture training and would like to help build next year’s Dude.
This fall, both Seth and Brady were not available to build the Dude. Hollis was bummed, but he asked me if I thought it could still happen without them. I gathered a small team: my wife Maria, my cousin Cameron, and of course Hollis. I designed the Dude on a sheet of paper, to be built from log mill slabs, which are fairly irregular, and have a lot of bark on them. I took an afternoon the day before to gather twigs from the bottom of spruce trees from my ten-acre lot, and loaded them onto my trailer. The next day, Maria and I drove down to McCarthy, picked up Cameron and we unloaded the brush on the bank of the Kennicott River. Then we drove over to Hollis’ house where we picked up about 200 spruce slabs. We chucked them down to the Kennicott river, and we started to build. I had packed a ton of tools, including my cordless drill, driver, chainsaw, a million screws and nails, as well as wire. First, I built a sturdy box, and then we built the feet and legs. We attached the torso, and put on the arms. Finally we built the head, and put a crown of sparklers on top of it. Hollis and Maria juggled the head up to Cameron, who was standing on the box. Cameron hoisted the head up to me, as I crouched inside the torso. I quick-like attached the head and then had to remove my chainsaw helmet to extract myself from the torso. Next, we stuffed the spruce branches all over the dude and filled the box, torso and head. I bought a gallon of vegetable oil and we stapled oily paper towels all over the Dude. We were building the Dude in a prominent location, right next to the foot bridge, where everyone saw us. Hollis did a great job telling people to show up at 9pm for Burning Dude.
We had three hours to spare before the scheduled ignition, so we went to Mark and Livvi’s new house for ice cream and hot dogs. At 9pm, a fairly large crowd had gathered around the Dude. All four of us ignited him at 9:11pm on 9/11! I knew the spruce boughs would work, and vegetable oil is essentially as combustable as diesel fuel. It ignited in three stages: first the box platform, then the torso, and finally the head. The head had this amazing glowing crown above it from the sparklers, and then it kept burning even after the branches all burned up. The paper towels were amazing. The head fell in after 11 minutes, but the Dude lasted about 44 more before Malcolm decided to kick the box over. I was so pleased with how well everything worked. I thank Maria, Cameron and especially Hollis for making this possible! Not as spectacular as Burning Man festival in Nevada, but Burn Dude was a success in 2021!