Adapting, Overcoming and Moving On

So I showed up in 1997, working as an outdoor recreation planner for BLM-Winnemucca Field Office, having come from New Mexico where special recreation permits were mostly small things – hunter outfitting and guiding – the biggest thing I had done was a horse endurance race with about 200 riders.  Very quickly, as no one else in that BLM office wanted anything to do with it, I was handed the mission of processing the Burning Man and Land Speed Record permits and writing comprehensive environmental assessments for both.  There was a huge amount of research to do and do quick and meet the principles involved.  So I contacted Larry Harvey for a meeting in Lovelock, that also included the Pershing County Sheriff and the Nevada Department of Health, the latter for the issue of just how many porta potties were needed.  There were also substantial permit fees to be paid.  Larry arrived with Michael Mikel and we started in.  All of a sudden Larry and Michael are hearing of all kinds of increased bureaucratic functions and, oh, 2 weeks to pay the fees.  They were pretty chagrined to say the least.  And a little later came the environmental assessment with many more stipulations than they had ever seen.  It was because the research showed the event to be growing at a phenomenal rate, mushrooming, as it were.  BLM had never experienced an event of this size; the closest things were off-road vehicle events in other areas of California and Nevada.  I, for sure, felt overwhelmed, but very interesting how Larry took it in stride – basically he did a thing that I had seen in my Army career amongst very competent Infantry officers and NCOs (part of the Marine motto) – Larry and his staff adapted, overcame and moved on.  But you know what was cool? Larry basically invited me along for the ride – something which I certainly did not expect – he knew I needed to learn about the event and the Black Rock Desert.  Then came the end-of-event storm of 1998, and a considerable mess as neither BLM or Burning Man had a contingency plan for something like that.  My supervisors were interested in shutting the event down.  I did not want to see that happen because I had come to see what Larry was all about, the significant leader he was.  Now, being in on the ride, the golden moment came when I sat down in Reno for what might have been a hands-wringing, what-to-do meeting with Marian Goodell and Harley Biermann (Dubois).  Having a background as a Leave No Trace educator, we started talking about that, kind of informally, but in a golden moment, the light bulb came on amongst the three of us and we knew what to do.  Larry then said that’s what we’ll do, where we’ll go, from that point onward it would be a leave no trace effort (amongst so many other aspects of that amazing event).  Yes, so amazing, the myriad of things Larry had to deal with, including all we bureaucrats and all kinds of new stipulations, but that guy was so phenomenal – he would just adapt, overcome and move on.  He and his very interesting comrades had so learned how to do that.  I kid you not, I absolutely saw Larry as a general of an American army – he, in his own way, teaching a lot of people about leadership, like a good general would do with his officers, NCOs and troops.  He for sure taught me how to not be overwhelmed and just work with the situation.  You know, Larry also liked history and when we did the 49er Black Rock Emigrant living history camp with Earth Guardians in 2005, he came over several times to enjoy it – I kept wondering when we might have an event living history theme (although I think we actually have, several times over).  It was an honor to know Larry and get to participate with him.  Of course, with everyone else, I am very saddened by his passing – when you think about America overall and the Burning Man legacy with it’s global Leave No Trace mantra and influence, I feel we have actually lost one of America’s great thinkers and leaders.

2 thoughts on “Adapting, Overcoming and Moving On

  • Thank you so much for this very unique perspective on Larry and Burning Man. Thanks for imbuing us all with Leave No Trace.

  • This was a wonderful read, Mike, and a great example of how Larry and the Burning Man organization do just what you mention: Adapt, overcome, and move on. Always moving on to another big idea, but never ignoring the needs on the ground. Thanks for your years of support and your continuing relationship with Burning Man.

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