Burn, Baby, Burn

infamous Burning Man is what you make of it

by JoAnna Haugen

A hippie fest. A drug-induced, artsy orgy. A psychedelic gathering of like-minded liberals. A celebration of self-reliance. A statement against oppression, conformity, and “the man.”

Chances are you’ve heard something about Burning Man before, but here are the facts: Burning Man is a week-long event that takes place in Black Rock City, a city built in the Nevada desert for a single week to hold approximately 50,000 people, which is then deconstructed after the week is over. Everyone is responsible for providing their own food, water, and shelter, and nobody can leave anything behind, including garbage and gray water.

Beyond this, the definition of Burning Man is created by each person who experiences it. It has been described by so many people as so many things, which is why it is impossible to describe it at all. I was a Burning Man virgin this year, which seems appropriate since the theme was Evolution. Everyone is intensely curious about my experience in Black Rock City since I don’t fit into any of the pre-conceived Burning Man stereotypes, and it’s fair to say I’ve done a crummy job answering the question, “How was Burning Man?”

Returning to the “default” world after a week in Black Rock City, I’ve found the only people who truly understand my difficulty in answering the question are other burners. Though we all shared the same living space for a week, every experience is personal – and for many of us, it is life-changing as well. So while I can’t accurately articulate what happens in that Nevada desert, and I can’t speak for any other burners, I can share five life lessons I learned at Burning Man:

    1. Community is real. Burning Man is probably not sustainable in the long run, but for a single week the true definition of community comes to life. People give and receive with graciousness. They take the time to get to know each other. They help each other. They share bikes, clothing, and food. And many times, these exchanges happen between complete strangers.