Burning Man 2017 • Reflections of a first time burner

A gift from Phillip: a man who made portraits of folks for an hour at his camp "Feed the Artists"

A gift from Phillip: a man who made portraits of folks for an hour at his camp "Feed the Artists"

I attended my first "burn" this year.  I've wanted to go since learning about it from doc filmmaker Roko Belic in 2009. He told me, "Orion. You must go. There is nothing like it. I've gone sober all 10 years; the magic there is the freedom. You must go; it may not last forever." 

What is it? Hard to say. You'll hear people call it a drug-filled week in desert... others a "music festival". Those are the two main simplifications I've heard; both only scratch the surface IMO. There is nothing else like it. The city that springs up in the desert is created by the participants.  And not for monetary profit or gain. It's art and expression as gifts. Burning Man coordinates building  "The Man" and "The Temple", lays out the streets/grid for camping, provides porto-potties, has a lost and found, medical tents, post office, a place to buy ice and coffee (the only commerce at Burning Man)... they create a strong skeleton: but the heart and blood and flesh of the festival is participant created. 

There is nothing else like it.

Getting There: I had a "guide": my friend Geoff who has been 7 times. I blocked this time off more than a year ago; but he's the person that made it actually happen. I flew into L.A. with a backpack: he coordinated the ride up and schedule. He also equipped me with goggles (one set for daylight, the other for night), a copper cup with a carabiner (even when people are giving free coffee/alcohol you have to have your own cup), all the little details you need to know but don't know, some leather festive attire, and HE GIFTED ME MY TICKET. He told me his brother Dave did the same his first year; and now I have to pass that on.

It's important to note here that Burning Man has endless opportunities as an individual; but who you go with/camp with will have a huge impact on your experience. There's events, lectures, readings, games, lounges, dance floors, hundreds of art sculptures etc. You can fill your time and make new friends - but the friends you wander with are clutch. Roko told me that. So I'd say go with dear friends and good souls. Geoff and his girlfriend Barbara and my friend Jedidiah and the Camp Boring crew were my anchors. Moving on. 

Here are the 10 principles of Burning Man (officially stated for the first time in 2004):

  1. Radical Inclusion
  2. Gifting
  3. Decommodification
  4. Radical Self-Reliance
  5. Radical Self-Expression
  6. Communal Effort
  7. Civic Responsibility 
  8. Leaving No Trace
  9. Participation 
  10. Immediacy

Burning Man is not for everyone, but it's definitely for me. 

The desert is hot (then cold), dusty, and storm-ridden. A 5 minute bike-ride (you bike everywhere) leaves your legs plastered with "The Playa": the smooth powdered chalk-like sand that dries out your skin. The dust-storms are little reminders that we're specks on the pale blue dot. I also kind of enjoy being dirty and fully immersed in the elements. The sun rising and setting over the ridge lines with the purple/pink blanketed skies are pure majesty. I watched the last 5 sunrises of Burning Man (got hooked after seeing the first one). The desert has always been a wilderness space to cleanse and renew.

I've always loved fire. From burning holes in carpet at age 8 to juggling coals around a campfire (present day): I love fire. Fire is in the DNA (and name) of Burning Man. Some of my favorite memories are tied to fire: in all it's glory and fury and light and pain. And on Saturday night (Burning the Man) and Sunday night (Temple Burn) I saw the biggest man-made fires of my life. Awe. Sadly this year someone ran into the fire and ended their life. Because of the magnitude of the fire-circle, I didn't actually know about it until the next day, but you could feel the weight of it as we watched the Temple burn (with a chain-link fence around it) the night after. 

Decommodification: I'm still understanding the layers of this one, but Burning Man frees itself from any corporate sponsors or advertising. It's done to preserve the gifting economy. I used my phone 2-3 minutes a day (to set alarms); so I was truly ad free for the week. One of my favorite things of Burning Man.  I enjoyed covering up my bike logo and not being inundated with brands. This value seems to be fading a bit as it grow (people not covering up RV logos, etc), but if you go - try to decommodify your person and your camp as much as possible. It's one of the things that makes the multi-thousand person event unique. 

Participation: Art everywhere. I love art, but especially "everyday art" or "art-of-the-people". Things that aren't often in a museum but are honest-poetry. Burning Man is full of art. Sculptures set up in the desert. Some that burn. Things to climb and touch and interact with. Some of it takes weeks to construct and possibly years to design/create. And it's all more powerful because it's participants (anyone attending) that make it. Jed and I talked our first night dancing in the desert about how people having an honest dialogue with God are assuredly making art. I Imagine everyone that attends the event is overwhelmed with all the participant art at some point. Maybe during the day while exploring the playa or at night watching all the fire and lights circle and swarm around you.  

The photos below are of my time volunteering for 3 hours at a "Burn Garden" on the final day of Burning Man. The Department of Public Works (DPW) lets folks drop off scrap wood from camps and/or creations and saves the usable stuff for building materials for next year. This is one of the many places where I experienced the Communal Effort first hand; the magic of many hands and bodies making Black Rock City work. It was hot. Approaching the large burns to toss in wood was extra hot.  But I loved it.  People brought us beer, Will took photos of couples by the giant horse fire-bin, and some kitchen somewhere made food for the volunteers. I'd recommend volunteering alongside the DPW a few hours if/when you make it to Burning Man.

The other place I experienced the communal effort is tied to the intense Leave No Trace value. It's one of the requirements the BLM set on the event from the get-go; but it's incredible how it still happens. Picking up MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) is a full-on effort at every single camp when packing out. Combing the ground for ANY matter out of place. Little pieces of straw, fingernail clippings, wood shavings... anything. Any other human gathering of 50K+ leaves an immense amount of trash. Immense. But because the participants all pitch-in, the culture expects it, and it's a reasonable request: it gets done. The contrast between the satellite images of Burning Man during the event and of the desert weeks after are truly remarkable. I confess that I messed up royally on this one. Heading in to Burning Man I heard that you could leave your bike on the playa and it would be donated via "Burners Without Borders". I intuited that this was not the case by around Thursday, but sadly I was indeed one of the thousands of people who left their bike. I made a mistake on that one that I have to own up to - and will change for future trips onto La Playa. But thought it would be worth it to be up front that I made some mistakes on my first burn: that one being the worst. 

I talked a lot to long-time burners as much as I could. "How do you feel about it as it has grown?".  I was talking with folks who continue to come, but I was still surprised by their optimism. I've read things about how "plug-and-play" camps that cost thousands to camp at are changing the culture. How silicon valley and/or sparkle pony ravers have changed things. Two interactions most influenced my current outlook. The first was the perspective of a new friend named Christian at Camp Boring (he just celebrated his 20th consecutive burn). He said that yes, maybe there's a small haze of bullshit that exists at Burning Man now, but the core that is "Burning Man" is is alive and well. He said that even 20 years ago people were complaining about how it had changed/sold out/etc. That has always been there. The second interaction I will never forget. Ranger Danger came to the Burn Garden to burn a chair he'd used for 16 years at BM. I asked him how long he'd been coming, "30 years... and you know what", as he leaned a little closer, "things are just getting started!".  

I could say more, but it truly is something meant to be experienced. The "experiencing" and immediacy are where the transformative and impact-magic reside. If you are interested in going, I'd try to make it in your lifetime (sooner than later). 


Posted on September 15, 2017 and filed under personal, travel.

Support me running the Comrades Marathon

On my birthday (Lord willing) I'll be running 54 miles in South Africa in the Comrades Marathon. The reason I'm putting my body through the pain/struggle is to help children around the world get access to basic essentials like clean water, education, and hygiene. I'm asking friends and family members to sponsor a child through World Vision. It's $39 a month.  It's a big commitment, but it has an even bigger impact in a child's life and their community.

Shoot me a text or give me a ring at (630)400-3524 if you are interested in sponsoring a child and/or want to know more. I'm happy to answer any questions and share more about why I'm doing what I'm doing. You can also help by sharing/re-tweeting stuff I post on Twitter/Facebook/Instagram at @orionpahl.

Here is a link with more info about Child Sponsorship through World Vision.

Much love. Much much love. Your support means the world.


A pixelated picture of me running Comrades last year. This year (2017) is an UPHILL YEAR. We start on the coast and work our way up to the mountains.

A pixelated picture of me running Comrades last year. This year (2017) is an UPHILL YEAR. We start on the coast and work our way up to the mountains.

I produced this video in 2014 for Team World Vision. The time spent talking to Michael Chitwood, seeing the dedication/sacrifice of World Vision Kenya employees, and seeing the impact in Maureen's life changed me forever. The work World Vision is up to around the world is truly transformational. I'm humbled to be a small part of that work. I encourage you to be a part of it too. 

Posted on May 17, 2017 and filed under travel, personal.

"Wine in the Cellar" by Rebekah Pahl

Posted on October 21, 2016 and filed under personal, nashville, music, art, shout out.

Vote our Planet

"Sincerely, Mr. Buffalo #2" • Part of a Creative Action Network / Patagonia campaign

Vote everyday in your home, in your relationships, your neighborhood-city-state and country. Think of the water your great grandchildren will drink. Vote/choose on behalf of them: not corporate-greed and economic-ease.

Meet your neighbors. Talk to strangers. Spend time with people outside of your economic/age bracket. Entertain an idea that differs from the little-itty-bitty part of the universe you've grown-up-in and experienced. Embrace complexity. Find principles to live by. Be humble. Listen. If you're privileged and not lobbying/advocating for the underdog; rethink everything.  

The Creative Action Network is community sourced activism-art. If you are an artist and/or an activist or someone who empowers artists/movements, you'll enjoy the site. 

They get artists to contribute work for causes that need to be amplified. Creative Action Network gives 40% of the sales to the artists, keeps some for overhead and producing the poster/t-shirt/etc, and then donates the majority to the cause. I'm a fan. You should be too. 

Posted on September 26, 2016 and filed under art, design, nature.

Celebrating 100 Years of the National Park Service

A few things National Parks have taught me about life.

Grand Canyon National Park: Break the rules? Break the rules! - I remember my mom's anxiety as my brother and I ran around the rim. I don't recall the year. Maybe 1997? Ironically, preserved parks and spaces have always been a place where I've pushed the boundaries of human behavior w/ the-land.  The tension of letting things be and climbing to-the-top of an "off-limits" canyon rock. I learned yesterday that Title I schools (at-risk, low income schools) have a program where 4th graders and their families get a free annual pass to the National Parks. I hope those kids get out, off the trail. Steal a pine-cone and take it home. Climb the fence and touch the General Grant tree... if they don't connect with the wild inside themselves, I don't know if they'll get to a place where they care deeply about preserving that same-wild-thing in our world. Not sure where this photo was taken in the park.


Zion National Park: Relationships 101 - This is where Rebekah and I honey-mooned in Spring, 2013.  I remember seeing the red canyons and the huge chasm the Virgin River had carved through the heart of Zion... I could see how building a life with another human mirrored our relationship w/ the earth. Time makes it's mark.  It's dynamic. It's what makes us beautiful. We get life from the earth, but we also must give it our life-blood. Our role with Mamma Earth is not dominion; it's relationship. Photo taken on the hike up to Observation Point.


Joshua Tree National Park: The desert is our sanctuary - It's Rebekah's soul landscape. It's the space we sought to be still and make plans for the future. It's where we went to give movement to dreams. This photo has three light sources. Stars, fire, and headlights. It was taken at the Hidden Valley campground.


Alcatraz Island: Storytelling preserves life. You walk around with a headset and listen to incredible podcast-storytelling: sounds brining up new flavor for the other senses. I also went with friends, which made it a whole lot more fun. And there's a boat ride. And it's eery. But this place is an example of how storytelling can keep a thing (culture, story, belief) alive for a long time... This photo was taken inside the main prison cells. 


Mount Rushmore: Most people are scared of engaging the out-of-the-norm. My brother Caleb recited the Gettysburg address at one of the lookouts. Everyone kept walking by; no one stopped to listen, engage, or inquire. People are so bound to social norms and afraid to interact... fearing you might ask for money or be weird or ______.  I had a small small sentiment of what it's like to be homeless and not acknowledged by other living-breathing humans. Also, my bro has an impeccable memory.


Yosemite National Park: Life Ethic - The first time I saw Yosemite I was doing full-time activism for Invisible Children: living out of a van. I've since seen a few documentaries on Alex Honnold and other rock climbing dirt-bags. Our purposes were so far apart, but married together at the same time. We have one life and it's beautiful when people pursue it with zeal and intensity and purity. That was me. 19. Wild and passion-filled. Zealous and determined. You grow. You learn other peoples point-of-views... but there's still that whisper and call to be black-and-white again. It's not good or bad. It just is. Photo taken near the entrance when you first set eyes on Half-dome. 

FullSizeRender_Bryz Canton.jpg

Bryce Canyon National Park: Human Friendship - We asked someone to take our picture after running around Bryce playing tag. They remarked, "you can't really see the background". We sarcastically said, "It's about us". We had been road tripping from Nashville, TN to L.A. and had been sleeping on abandon newspaper roof-tops, drive-in grass and swanky Telluride condos. Maybe we meant it a little (insert your sarcastic + critical millennial comment here), but I think we also meant, "These cave-like spires bring us life and we've brought our youthful blood-filled bodies to this place; certainly giving it life too". I don't know. It just seems human connection is supreme, and preserving the natural world is embedded into that desire. Photo taken of another photo (sorry). It's an awesome photo-book Cameron compiled that chronicled the trip. 

I have other memories from Arches, Sequoia and Kings Canyon, Point Reyes Nat'l Seashore, Redwood Nat'l Park, the Indiana Dunes, and Mammoth Caves (to name the ones at the top of my head). So many. I hope you get to experience a new National Park for the first time this year. Let me know what you learn. Really. I'd love that.

p.s. If you're into Nat'l Parks, follow the writings/travels of my friend Tyler Dunning. For real. You won't regret it!  

Desert Inspired Album Kickstarter

Rebekah Pahl (mi esposa) is in the midst of a Kickstarter campaign to record her first studio EP. She directed the feels for the Kickstarter video and I helped bring her vision to life. If you have 3 minutes to spare, give it a view and consider pitching in a few bucks to help her make some art!

The Tucson Airport

A few photos from Rebekah and I's travels from the Tucson Airport back home to Nashville, TN on 02/08/16. 

I took a few a few family portraits for our friends right before we drove to the airport... normally I would have my camera tucked away for travel, but kept it out. Glad I did. My eyes are always on super-people-watching mode when traveling. 'Twas nice to have the camera out to capture/share some of the moments.  I hope airports never cease to engage all my senses the way they do now. 

Here's to living with eyes wide open and getting in trouble w/ flight attendants.  

Posted on February 12, 2016 and filed under photography, travel.

Fall Walk

I took a walk around Rebekah and I’s home in the morning hours. The rain fresh and autumn burning and turning the world into something familiar and new. 

Here’s some of the moments and colors I captured along the way.

Enjoy. And walk in the out-doors. And breathe-in-deep. And be alive-to-it-all. And breathe-out. And change. And shed. Know and un-know. 

Posted on October 27, 2015 and filed under nashville, nature, photography, personal.

Wolf Pack

I made this design in collaboration with Earthjustice and The Creative Action Network to help reimagine our collective view of wolves. Earth justice has been fighting for decades to defend grey wolves (along with many other animals, places, and people). 

You can buy the design as a print, t-shirt, or tank top




Posted on September 23, 2015 and filed under art, nature, design.

Everyday life / Nostalgia / Looking back

I am editing a few videos for Team World Vision right now and have had to review footage from my trip w/ them to Kenya in April, 2014.

In some ways, I am a raw-video hoarder. For the past 8 years or so I've filmed many-many moments with no end product in mind. I could spend hours going through old photos, videos, and mementos. It all means something. It all happened. It's all connected. 

Just thought I'd share one of those moments with you.

Hope you're finding meaning in those everyday mundane moments - knowing that they're worth something; worth everything. 

Posted on September 3, 2015 and filed under documentary, video, travel.

Find the Gold

This is a poster I made for the Creative Action Network (CAN) campaign: Transcend.  CAN calls upon a global community of artists and designers to use their collective talents for good. 

You can support the movements and artists by sharing campaigns (word-of-mouth/email/social media), buying art, and contributing your own artwork

Click on the image (or this hyper-linked text) to see the description of this poster and to buy it for display in your home/classroom/office/etc. 


Posted on August 3, 2015 and filed under art, design.

"Tell My Daughters"

This summer I had the privilege of partnering with Abby Goodrich and Kaio Productions to make the launch video for Tell My Daughters. The weekend we filmed in Atlanta I was often the only guy on set - it was a humbling, inspiring, and rewarding experience. I tried to get out of the way as much as possible and let the powerful lives these women lead do the talking.

It's a lot of work to change how we talk about things... to reshape, re-frame, and restructure a societies perception. Whether or not you or someone you love has been a victim of sexual assault, I hope you'll take a few minutes to read about the work Tell My Daughters is doing and dare to be a part of it.


Posted on July 22, 2015 and filed under shout out, video.

Employment is Important

A few friends launched a Kickstarter today for a new clothing company called Victor Athletics that is going to create work in a rural Tennessee town. You should check it out. 

I got to help film for their Kickstarter video at the factory where Victor Athletics clothing will be made. There were over 100 work stations, but only a few of them were filled. It felt both hollow and hopeful.  So much had once been --- but thanks to Victor Athletics, so much was yet come.

All this to say, employment and work is important. At 25 years old, I'm still forming and figuring my ethic and approach to work, but what I've learned recently is that having work is a gift.

I recently polished up a documentary on a clock factory in Chicago that employs people who are legally blind.  I learned some profound things while there and I hope you can too. Regardless, I hope you are working and know that having work is a meaningful thing. If you're unemployed or in-between jobs, whatever you're doing, I hope you are pouring your whole being into it. 

You can learn more about all the programs at the Chicago Lighthouse at chicagolighthouse.org

Posted on March 17, 2015 and filed under personal, documentary, shout out.

A Poem on Wonder

Wonder is like a jar of air

That we fill with pebbles

One at a time


There is no wonder

If we don't look for small stones 

On the muddy, paved, and golden ground


There is no wonder

If we do not open our hands to cold hard things

And warm them up


I wrote this on January 25, 2015 in an email response to my father. He is a true-poet.

Posted on March 10, 2015 and filed under poetry, personal.

Caleb Pahl | Brother

I made this video 5 years ago to celebrate my brother & brotherhood.

Caleb carries a lot of titles: Man | Son | Brother | Husband | Father | Leader 

This video was made when he was transitioning from "brother" to "husband". An ode to the bond we had growing up and a celebration of his coming union with Claudia. I shot it on $25 point-and-shoot digital camera & I've never shared it before. Hope you enjoy!

Posted on February 20, 2015 and filed under personal, video, poetry.

Nashville Frozen in Ice-Storm - Feb 17, 2015

Nashville got a lil' winter ice storm last night. In the world of a child, it's awesome, beautiful, and beckons a bit of adventuring... but for most adults it just means no work, or difficulty in getting to work. Which side did you find yourself on? 

Also. All the icicles on the grill (pictured in the slideshow below) of my car kind of look like boogers. #JustSayin  ;)

If you want some more, I posted another photo on instagram that I took with-my-iPhone

Posted on February 17, 2015 and filed under nashville, nature, photography.

Nashville MLKJr Day / Jan 19, 2014

God never intended for one group of people to live in superfluous inordinate wealth, while others live in abject deadening poverty. God intends for all of his children to have the basic necessities of life, and he has left in this universe “enough and to spare” for that purpose. So I call upon you to bridge the gulf between abject poverty and superfluous wealth.
— MLK Jr.

My brother Caleb bought me "A Testament of Hope: The Essential Writings of Martin Luther King Jr." when I was in high school. MLK is one of Caleb's heroes because of his commanding rhetoric of hope, his actions against injustice, and his involvement in change. My brother Caleb shares a lot in common with MLK Jr., namely his speech delivery, his servant-like approach to everything, and his close relationship with Jesus-Lord-God-Creator. I'm thankful Caleb has encouraged me to read the deeply inspiring, convicting, and motivating words of MLK Jr.  His speech "The Drum Major Instinct" has informed how I approach my competitive nature: daring use it to serve others rather than challenge them. 

If you have not seen SELMA, you should.  If you have not listened to the voice on the other side of things, you should. If you have not made an effort to become friends with people that are different than you, you should. When I look at the disparities that still exist between whites and blacks in our country, I do not sense hope, but he has taught us to declare hope.  May we be bold enough to engage the things that need changing. 

These photos are from the Nashville MLK Jr.  march and convocation at Tennessee State University

Posted on January 22, 2015 and filed under nashville, photography.