Rain poured through the tent, soaking everything at the edges, including the bottom of my sleeping bag. There was no air mattress for me that night, so I laid on the hard ground. And a nearby camp played their thumping music loud into the wee hours of the night (or early morning). Camping on the National Mall is not allowed, so me sneaking sleep inside the tent meant for storage meant I could be discovered and told to move. Yet. It was a relaxing, freeing and wonderful weekend to be alive. As I lay there, looking at the Washington Monument through the screen window, I knew this was the kind of adventure that feeds my soul.
I had heard about this Burning Man regional called Catharsis when I attended a Global Leader Conference for selected leaders from local “burner” communities all over the world. There was a contingent from the Washington D.C. community, who presented how they were able to get a regional started, including all the work a team of lawyers had to go through to make it happen. This regional is different, as it is free to the general public. The DC burners who presented that day had such enthusiasm, warmth, determination and energy all combined that it inspired many burners want to attend, including me. In past years the event was in November. This is the first year they held it in May.
Catharsis on the Mall in Washington D.C. is a public, First Amendment vigil designed to create an artistic space for healing and transformation. Inspired by the 10 Principles of Burning Man, it is co-created by dozens of core volunteers, artists, and activists; and thousands of participants.
It is one of the only events ever permitted to burn a structure on the National Mall and allow amplified music for 24 hours. The 2019 theme was, “Our Mothership,” and was “in collaboration with various local, national and international creative groups to highlight the interconnectedness of all life and our ability to impact the greater health and healing of both the Earth and each other.”
The vigil is anchored by the intentional burning of artistic sculptures created by local artists for this purpose on Friday night and Saturday night, including A Well Rooted Woman by Quest Skinner and the “Temple Burn” by Michael Verdon. There was a parade around the Mall Sunday morning that passes in front of the White House (due to rain, the route did not include the Capitol).
Over Veteran’s Day weekend, thousands of people explored Burning-Man inspired free live music, art exhibits, workshops, healing modalities, and other interactive programming for all ages, backgrounds, and abilities.
Adventure Taxi will travel!
How did I, and my Burning Man art piece – the Adventure Taxi, end up at Catharsis? I admit, it was all pretty last minute and unplanned on my part. The timing for the closing of the sale on my home meant I couldn’t really plan too much. A friend of mine had posted on social media about her plans for going to Washington D.C. I knew this was an event I really wanted to attend, and this could be a last chance before I start my nomadic travels in a rolling home. I reached out to MegO (check out her guest blog on solo travel here), and it turned out she needed a vehicle to get all her theme camp gear down south. Having hauled so much in the past few years, I knew my minivan could hold quite a bit. As the Universe would have it, the timing worked out and we went down together. I was able to bring along my art, and we filled the rest of the van up with tents, and art, and other necessities for the weekend event. This was exactly the kind of adventure I was hoping to be able to do, once I was free of my house. I took the risk of not planning in advance, wondering if it could happen which included envisioning it did…and ended up doing something from my bucket list! Not only did I attend Catharsis, I brought my art there too. That was a proud adventure moment for me!
No Camping on the National Mall
One of the drawbacks of not planning ahead, and being distracted with major life events, is that I forgot about planning where I would sleep at night. There is no camping on the National Mall. For this event, Washington DC did allow music to play all night, so you could be awake and participating (mostly dancing) through to morning. On Thursday night, after our long drive, I was able to stay in the extra spot in one of the other member’s hotel room. This was wonderful, as it was a great way to meet my new friends.
For Friday and Saturday nights I made plans to park my car at another friend’s house, who lives in DC. She was so gracious and also offered to let me sleep on her couch. After Friday night’s effigy burn, my friend MegO and I felt we needed to do something to watch over our camp stuff. Although I didn’t have my sleeping bag with me that night (it was in the car, still in the hotel parking lot), we did have access to a tent and an air mattress. The intention for the tent was to store members’ gear, and extra supplies for the camp. The rules of the government run park include no camping on the National Mall!
With this in mind, we found odd things to keep us warm and went to sleep with the thump, thump, thump of the nearby sound camp dance music. It wasn’t an easy sleep, for sure! At 5:30 in the morning, after the sound camps stopped playing, we heard a rattling in our camp’s big pop-up tent area. MegO and I were both grateful the other stayed too! Peeking out, it looked like a possible homeless man…but we jokingly called him a bear! Yelling through the closed door to please leave, we heard the noises stop. We saw his shadow stand up, and move on. Shortly after, we heard clunking noises in another camp’s structure (we told them later).
Saturday was slightly rainy and very overcast. It was still a wonderful day interacting with the art, and connecting with friends. That night, MegO had changed Ginger Camp into Club Fish (it was cool – she had made a video of her fish tank and showed it on the pop-up tent ceiling! Very chill!). I had brought my sleeping bag, so I had that for the tent that night. I was not in the mood to stay up all night (as many can and do), so I retired early. As I stared up at the tent windows listening to the dance music, trying to squeeze myself smaller to avoid the wet sides of the tent from all the rain, I was letting that critical inner voice yell at me for not pushing myself and being out there doing “all the things.” And then that other voice chimed in…reminding me I’m on an adventure! How many people could say they slept on the ground of the National Mall with the Washington Monument overhead and the White House not too far away! I pushed myself to actually be there and not on a friend’s couch. I did what I wanted – connected with friends instead of exploring all the things. A restless night brought a rainy morning. And with a big smile, I ventured out to the Catharsis parade!
Despite adverse conditions all weekend, this was the kind of adventure that feeds the soul. The stress of selling my house, and becoming a nomad transformed into the fun of knowing life is an adventure. Or, this weekend was, in other words…A Catharsis– an emotional discharge through which one can achieve a state of moral or spiritual renewal, or achieve a state of liberation from anxiety and stress.