Burners Return Home With Tales From the Desert

As the dust starts to settle in Nevada's Black Rock Desert, artists, revelers, wayfarers and adventurers trickle back into the Bay Area after this year's 25th annual Burning Man festival.

More than 50,000 "burners" made their pilgrimage to the desert to create Black Rock City--an open community focused on self-expression and self-reliance.

The tent city featured poetry, craft-brewed beer, stamped copper necklaces, vegan gumbo, yoga classes, philosophical lectures, dance performances, foot massages and massive walk-in art installations.

In his second year at the festival, San Francisco resident Morgan Fitzgibbons, 27, organized a theme camp with the Wigg Party, a San Francisco organization focused on community resiliency and urban sustainability.

The camp passed out chalkboard necklaces and encouraged participants to use chalk to draw or write whatever they wanted.

As his second Burning Man, Fitzgibbons said he took on more of an active role and it was more challenging than his first. He organized a group bicycle "ride of passage"--playing off this year's Burning Man theme "Rites of Passage"--and gave lectures on community resiliency.

Lysa Morgan, 50, of Livermore, is a seasoned Burning Man veteran, and she is already writing down notes for next year's event, which will be her eighth.

By day, Morgan works as a flight attendant, but come Burning Man, burners know her as "Dazzle!" and she sleeps in a hexayurt--a six-sided pitched roof building constructed from insulation panels.

She is one of the 200 members of the Silicon Village camp that hosted bowling, a bar with happy hours and the fifth annual merkin fashion show, in which participants model custom-designed genitalia coverings.

But despite its free-spirited atmosphere, some participants believe there are public misconceptions about the festival--including San Francisco resident Elan Katra, 41, who had her own doubts.

"Before I moved to San Francisco I always thought that Burning Man was a big drug-fueled rave in the desert. There is that, but it's really so much more. You can go and experience ideas and art, without all that," said Katra, who just returned from her second Burning Man.

Contrary to popular belief, Morgan said, there are rules and law enforcement agencies.
"It's very structured," she said. "It's more about community action and art than the drug and sex culture."

With its first sell-out crowd, Burning Man seems to be attracting more participants and generating more interest.

"I used to talk about it, and people would look at me like they had no idea what I was talking about. Now I mention Burning Man, and they think they know what it is," Morgan said.

The festival is changing because it is more mainstream and there are more "virgins" every year, she said. But it is not a bad thing, Morgan added.

"Burning Man is more than just a one-week event. It's a culture change and it needs to get bigger and bigger, until the mainstream becomes Burning Man," she said.

Newcomer David Cassity, 26, of Oakland, said Burning Man appeals to people "wanting to experience a culture different than the one they're incubated in."

His experience provided direction and changed his life.

"I came back wanting to take better care of my body, meditate more and eat healthier."

While it is impossible to identify exactly what brings them there, Cassity said the faces of burners look the same when they leave Black Rock City.

"The face is dusty and hot and probably hungover, a little bit wild and hedonistic, smiling with his full teeth and has a wild look in his eyes," he said.

"Who shouldn't go to Burning Man? Nobody," Morgan said. "They might hate it and it might hate them, but everybody should try it."

Those who participated in this year's festival hoping to recapture its essence can attend 12th Annual San Francisco Decompression on Oct. 9 at 19th and Minnesota streets.

A $10 donation is suggested for those in costume or with a photo of themselves at this year's Burning Man. Decompression is $20 for attendees in street clothes.

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