BLACK ROCK CITY " Blustery winds and constant whiteouts threatened the climax of the Burning Man celebration Saturday afternoon and evening. As late a six o'clock it was unsure if the big burn of the Man would take place. But authorities went ahead with the burning despite the day-long whiteout that had put all preparations on hold.
The 9 p.m. schedule was pushed to 10:48. A shower of fireworks signaled that Man was about to go. And go he did, with the body graced by a light strip and, as usual, the arms being the first to fall. In 15 minutes the Burning Man was all burned up and spectators ran for vehicles to begin leaving the city by Highway 447 for Reno, Carson City and points around the globe.
As usual, thousands of Burners lined up in a wide circle around the Man, this time atop a scaffolding marked by the flags of the world's nations. The Black Rock Desert playa is composed of clay powder and is easily blown into a blinding storm. All day Saturday until early evening whiteout conditions existed in the temporary city. The final head count was unavailable due to the storm but projections called for attendance of 50,000, up from last year's 47,000.
Whiteouts plagued the party starting Aug. 25 when Burner artists were delayed in erecting art works in the playa away from the 5-square -mile temporary city.
Temperatures were 92 degrees at 2 p.m. Saturday but were expected to be in the high 70s Sunday as the Burners began returning to everyday life.
There was one airplane crash on the temporary airport but the pilot was unhurt. Two arrests were reported by Bureau of Land Management rangers: one was for outstanding warrants, the other for failure to pay a 2007 Burning Man citation.
BLM rangers issued 51 citations for possession of drug paraphernalia, nine for possession of a controlled substance. Several victims of heat problems were evacuated. Many verbal citations were issued for drug use, but as BLM Incident Commander Roger Fraschon said, "I just didn't have it in me to give a $500 ticket for just a joint." Pershing and Washoe County police assisted in law enforcement.
The Burning Man celebrations of alternative lifestyles takes place on land controlled by the Bureau of Land Management, which shares some of the proceeds.
In Burner tradition, Burners came from all around the world. One young lady who was having problems carrying two bags of ice was from Russian Siberia. She said she "just had to come to Burning Man." In Burner tradition, she gave a man who asked her for some ice one of her bags.
It's a tradition at Burning Man to give out gifts, and Steven and Toni from Marin County were handing out unique pins made in the shape of Burning Man. It was Toni's first visit to the Burn.
Yo Kelley of Spain wandered the playa in a long robe, admiring the art works. "I'm an art dealer and I'm enjoying the free form art here," she said.
One of the hallmarks of Burning Man is the kindness and courtesy strangers offer strangers. Drop something and someone will pick it up for you. Get lost " easy to do in this semicircle of a city " and anyone will point you in the right direction.
Founder Larry Harvey suggested at a press conference that it may be time for Burning Man to decentralize. Already Burners in Spain and Texas are holding Burning Man events.
Burning Man has become "more cosmopolitan but against the odds has also become more interactive. While more than 25 other Burning Man sites are contemplated, Harvey said this year the focus is in the United States. "America is at a point that could be described as the hinge of history. We face a crisis as a nation after 40 years of comatose behavior, buying off our problems with out wealth.
"Iraq is not Suez, not our Vietnam " Britain learned to listen to the world. Now it is our turn to learn the lesson."
Harvey was referring to the invasion of the Suez Canal by France and England after Egypt nationalized the waterway.
Far afield from the pleasures the Burners were finding amid the whiteouts, the heat and all the dust, Suez was not the word on everyone's lips.
So, wait till next year when Burning Man will undoubtedly rise again and his thousands of admirers will come to Nevada and the Black Rock Desert seeking their "American Dream."