At Burning Man — that annual, weeklong experimental community in the Black Rock Desert of northern Nevada — everyone runs around half naked or dressed like extras in Mad Max, dancing, fire-spinning, trying not to die of dehydration.
It’s not the first place you would imagine an 87-year-old. But during the festival last August, the vast, hot playa was invaded by individuals that have been little seen at Burning Man since it started 30 years ago: elders.
We caught up with some disruptors in the 50-plus set at a spot called — get ready — Camp Aging Insurrection. Juniper Communities, a thriving senior living company, was the organizers of the camp. Juniper believed it was time to break an age barrier and host a group of older Burners, ranging in age from 50 to 87.
More than 10,000 people come to Burning Man every year, and create camps and villages plotted around a huge central area, where the year’s theme is presented (2016’s theme: Da Vinci’s Workshop) and where the large wooden “man” is burned on the final night.
Joining with two adjoining camps (the Love Club and Enchanted Charcuterie, a team of chefs) to create a small village, Camp Aging Insurrection organized events and gatherings, to give Burners, ranging in age from their 20s to their 80s, a chance to interact, connect and eat prepackaged stew together — encounters that rarely happen in our age-divided world.
For one event, the camp created a Wisdom Fence. Burners were invited to write down their thoughts on ribbons and tie them to a fence made of plastic construction mesh, answering the question “When I grow older, I will …” Over 250 people responded.
“All the answers were remarkably similar,” said Cindy Longfellow, VP of Juniper Communities and organizer of the trip. “There is not a lot of difference in what we want, or dream of, or what makes us happy. It’s about social connectedness … family … ability to create and do something meaningful.”
The idea to invade Burning Man came about the year before when Lynne Katzmann, the founder and president of Juniper, was in Colorado visiting facilities and meeting with Longfellow, who lives in Boulder.
Longfellow mentioned how Burning Man just happened, and Katzmann commented she had always wanted to go. A month or so went by. Katzmann, preparing to do a talk at NIC (National Investment Center for Seniors Housing & Care) called Longfellow and told her she wanted to call on peers in the industry to battle ageism and join in a trip to Burning Man.