By Lynsey Paulo
MI-WUK VILLAGE — Every year, as summer draws to a close, tens of thousands of people make a pilgrimage to Nevada’s Black Rock Desert to create Black Rock City, a temporary town filled with art, built on the creativity of its citizens. At the heart of the temporary metropolis, volunteers construct The Temple at Burning Man. And this year, PG&E is making an unusual donation to the effort.
Like a phoenix, once majestic Ponderosa pine trees, destroyed by drought and bark beetles, will obtain new life in The Temple at Burning Man.
PG&E is donating dead trees it has felled along Highway 108 in Tuolumne County, to protect power lines and public safety, to the temple project.
“The temple has been a space where people can grapple with facing death, and it’s incredibly appropriate this year that we’re using the material that we are because it represents the death in the forest from drought and bark beetle,” said Steve Brummond, one of the leaders of the crew that won the bid to build the temple.
“It’s definitely a one-of-a-kind opportunity for us,” said Corey Peters, PG&E vegetation management supervisor. “They’re building this really cool temple out of trees that have died in the forests that would have had to come down and be removed, anyway. In essence, we’re helping recycle the forest in a unique way. ”
From the Forest to the Desert
PG&E prunes or removes about 1.2 million trees each year to prevent them from contacting power lines. Since California’s tree mortality crisis began in 2014, PG&E has added extraordinary measures to its tree maintenance program. In 2016, for instance, PG&E removed an additional 236,000 dead or dying trees from near its power lines.
After removing hazard trees, and with customers’ permission, PG&E hauls away the wood as part of its dead tree clean-up program. PG&E created the program last year to help residents and communities dispose of dead trees that have become safety hazards in counties with high tree mortality.
PG&E is donating all the wood for the temple project — more than 100 logs, each more than 16 feet long. PG&E’s contractor, Phillips and Jordan, hauled the logs for the temple from Tuolumne County to a Richmond sawmill. After the wood is milled into lumber, it will be transported to a warehouse in Oakland where the design team and more than 100 volunteers will cut the lumber and complete a test assembly of the temple.
Finally, the lumber will be trucked to Black Rock City in August where the team will construct the temple.
The Temple at Burning Man is rich with tradition. It is not just a large-scale art project, but also a solemn and sacred space in Black Rock City.
It is the spiritual heart of burning man.
“It is extremely emotional for people. It is a place where people write on the wood itself, they leave pictures of loved ones they’ve lost, messages about struggles they’ve faced. All sorts of things they need to leave in the temple,” explained Brummond.
Then, the temple is closed. And burned.
“Thousands of people stand around the temple and watch, and it’s completely silent, the only thing you can hear is the crackling of the fire,” said Brummond.
This year, the theme of renewal also applies to the forests, ravaged by five years of consecutive drought, bark beetle and other pests.
“Our forests are going through a major change. We hope this [temple] will serve as a wake-up call to issues threatening the environment that many people aren’t even aware of today,” said Brummond.
The wood PG&E donated to the project otherwise would have been processed into chips for use in biomass facilities to generate clean, renewable electricity. Instead, it’s generating a different kind of power.
“One of the reasons we’re so excited about this material is the collective energy that’s going to be created by bringing awareness to this issue of tree mortality and forest health,” said Brummond.
You can learn more about the ecology of the Temple and support the Temple building project by clicking here.
Email Currents at Currents@pge.com.