Wednesday, November 18, 2009

The Tree House

The Dome Project and Recollections of Youth

If you have followed this blog for any length of time, you know about my adventures at the Burning Man Festival. Recollections of past burns can be found here and here and here. Attending Burning man is a hardship. You have to really want to go there to attend and you have to use your wits and persevere to reach the final goal of really 'burning'.

I realized this in 2009 when I attended for the second time. It wasn't a matter of just showing up and going, wow...geee-whiz, what a cool place. After my first journey there in 2007, I knew I had to DO something if I went back a second time. I had to push myself.

The Dome Factory In My Garage

The project I gave myself was pretty straight forward and logical. My first stay at Burning Man was in a tent, which proved to be a bit inadequate against the 40mph winds and dust storms. So the second time around I resolved to build myself a geodesic dome. This has been a dream of mine that I have had on the back burner for a number of years. I have hopes of building one someday to live in, and this was the first logical baby step. Build a small one and take it to Burning Man.

I researched the project and found plans on the Internet. It would be made out of cardboard and wood, constructed in my backyard, dissembled, hauled to Burning Man, erected, and when it was all over, we would tear it down and burn it. It took a lot more planning than I thought and was complex in ways unforeseen and easier in ways that I had not imagined.

Half Dome - The Dream Takes Shape

The hardest part was finding the sheets of cardboard. Cardboard boxes are easy to find, sheets of unfolded cardboard are not so easy. After doing a lot of research and collecting all the needed material, I started to work on the project a month before the Burn. A bit late per my schedule, but I was determined to make a go of it. After about 2 weeks, I had assembled the various panels that would make up the structure. Making them was easy and I figured out an assembly-line process to do it. Erecting the dome was another project entirely. Domes are extremely rigid when complete, but putting them together isn't that easy.

By the time my wife had helped me assemble the structure in our back yard, a few things became pretty clear. It was a lot bigger than I thought it would be. I mean, you can live in this thing rather comfortably. You could easily stand up in the center of it. It was 12 feet in diamter and 6 feet tall at the middle. I also realized that cardboard and wood, when assembled correctly, make a pretty darn solid structure. Properly secured to the ground you could ride out a Class 2 hurricane in this little building.

Full Dome - The Neighbors Were Starting To Wonder

After the initial erection, to make sure it would fit together, I disassembled it and started on some of the other detail work, like making a door for it, cutting up some discarded carpeting to create a soft floor for it and purchasing a portable generator. The generator took me way over budget, but was worth it. The generator was used to power the portable air conditioning unit for the dome and run some electric lights inside of it. It also was used to power up various devices like cameras, cell phones and iPods.

So when the big day finally came, we packed up everything and hauled it 2,000 miles to Burning Man where we managed to erect it without a hitch. By the end of the first day, I had a rigid structure that was carpeted and air conditioned, in the frickin middle of nowhere. I was the envy of most Burners within a mile radius. The dome had no windows, because I wanted to use it as a dark room to load film and sleep in.

"The Bio-Hazard Wine Dome Erected At Burning Man 2009

The first night I stayed in the dome a feeling came over me. A feeling that I had not had in years. Not since I was a small child, before all the cynicism and realty of adulthood sank in. This was my little house. I built it. This was the extension of the cave I made under the bed sheets on a cold winters night, the tree house I had when I was in grade school, the secret cave down by the river that only me and my friends knew about. It was my little space. I had made it. Outside in the night, the winds whirled around the dome but inside there was silence and solitude. It was a warm feeling. A feeling of success and security. It was something good. Something I had lost somewhere between paying taxes and the endless commutes to a cubicle in a glass tower. I was a child again, at the age of 52.

The 52 Year Old Child

Many of my friends can't understand why I would want to make the trek to Burning Man and endure all the hardships to get there. I suppose this is the answer. We have to push ourselves sometime, to rediscover the wonderment we have lost.