The Coastal Post - August 1999

The Rainbow Gathering '99: Freaks In Nature

By Stephen Simac

I flew back east for the 28th annual Rainbow Gathering, a coming together of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a tribe of free spirits and young and old hippies. It's a peace and love and funky granola family, but everyone peaceable is welcome to exercise their First Amendment right to peaceably assemble.

Because it is a Free Assembly, there is no monetary charge. No one badgers you, but people are encouraged to donate to the Magic Hat, which provides for some of the expenses. Monetary exchanges are discouraged except for kitchen and Magic Hat donations.

The gatherings are held on public lands, mainly National Forest areas which are designated for mixed use, including clear cutting, military use and open pit mining. Naturally, the Forest Service opposes our constitutional use of land held in common for the people. The rangers have been fighting a long running battle with the Rainbow Family, which has been fought on the ground with heavy law enforcement, the air with helicopter surveillance and in the courts where only one out of seven judges have upheld the Bill of Rights for the people of the United States.

The Forest Service has fought to regulate the people, demanding "leaders" to sign permits. The family is governed by consensus and refuses to appoint leaders to sign permits implying we have given up our rights. The FS has been quoted as arresting any "biscuit bakers" as "leaders," although they leave the donut makers alone. There was less heavy law enforcement in Pennsylvania than in other more southerly states in previous years from the stories I heard.

Most info was hearsay, always entertaining, hard to source, but the Forest Service allegedly allocated $50,000 to increased law enforcement. They've tried to shut down the Gatherings for three decades to no avail. Seems like some ranger looking outside the box, might think of putting that money to use in serving and protecting the people by setting up an official welcoming and orientation center. Still we came and gathered on our land, disoriented or not.

According to the free paper All Ways Free, May You Always Be, which I picked up on the trail, the Rainbow Gathering is pure democracy. "Being free spirited, liberty loving, equality minded individuals, about the only things that all Rainbows agree on is that [there are] no leaders and the purpose of the Gathering is to pray for peace on earth." One Forest Service Report is quoted as saying "the Rainbow Family is anyone with a belly button," thus confirming my suspicions that there are aliens in the government.

The gathering was in Pennsylvania in the Allegheny National Forest this year from June 28-July 10. I hadn't been since the last one in Pennsylvania in '86. My friend George picked me up at the airport and we drove up to Don's place near Woodstock, NY. We've known each other for two decades, since working together at Omega Institute in the 80's, a holistic summer camp across the Hudson river from Woodstock. Don's an archetypal old hippie with long, white hair, while George looks like he's in insurance, and I grew a little facial scruff so I wouldn't look like a narc.

We planned on setting up the JuJu Love camp, hand out jujubees to the honeybees. The Gathering promised to provide most of our favorite things, kinda like a Muslim heaven. Even though old hippies are an endangered species, there is always a fresh crop of young ones, as if the '60s had never ended. It must be genetic. I know I was born a hippie, naked and howling at the moon. Three headed dog Cerberus enroute to Pluto

We drove most of the next day to the Rainbow Gathering in western Pennsylvania. We had a few arguments over how many supplies we needed to bring in, including water. Don had gotten dysentery twice at gatherings, and I'd gotten a mild case of the Rainbow Runs last time. We were adamant that we didn't want to eat the rainbow gruel, or even drink the spring water, which gets contaminated pretty quickly.

George laughed at us, all he brought was cereal. Four different kinds, at least, most of it sugary, plus a bowl and some nutritional supplements. Believe it or not, out of the three of us, I was the most responsible one, and even to me that sounds like trouble.

The closest town was Ridgeway, a friendly enough place, seeing as thousands of freaks were descending on it from all over. One cop looked in shock, or dosed, but the locals were happy to take our money. We bought some last minute supplies and headed out to parking lot hell at the Gathering site. The first few hours were like going through the trials and tribulations of the gates of Hades, and crossing the river Styx before entering Paradise.

Alcohol is disapproved of inside the gathering itself, so the alcoholic camp, or the A camp, sprawls around a forest service road outside the Gathering. Don't ask me why they would want to travel far away from their usual drunk tanks to camp beside a dirt road and yell at people, but they do.

Somehow the A camp has evolved into the Rainbow welcoming area, if having some gravely voiced drunk lean into your car and ask if you've got any beer, then yell you can't drive through here, you can't unload here, turn around, is your idea of a welcome home, brother and sister. Kind of reminds me of the foggy coastal village I live in, where people come hoping to find pot smoking hippies, and a bunch of drunks are yelling at 'em, Tourists go home.

George dropped us off, and said he would park and bicycle in to explore the Gathering before setting up camp. This was late in the day already. There was no point in talking sense into him, never has been. He just looks like a banker, the resemblance ends there.

Don and I ended up walking with heavy packs for about an hour past a sign that said Trailhead 20 minutes away, down a dusty road to the trailhead camp where we could have unloaded if we hadn't been stopped by A camp. Their main service is keeping too many cars from clogging up the roads in, which is hard work. I just think the Forest Service could do a better job.

We were too tired and hot to walk very far down the trail before we looked for a camping spot. We found an ideal meadow a few hundred yards off the trail just before Popcorn Palace. I only stirred up one rattlesnake when I put up my tent. Tapioca pudding and cherry lifesavers

The next week was like coming home, if your idea of home is hiking around in woods and meadows, getting dirty and sweaty, going in the water, surrounded by naked hippies. People smiling at each other, saying welcome home, or we love you, or free doses, or can I help you, or feed you, or make you happier with music, or art, a joke or a poem. Talking story with old and new friends, helping out other people and being helped by others, greeting people with brother or sister if you couldn't remember their names, Like "Hey brother, can I get a hit off that pipe?" Being fed and feeding others.

All the supplies we'd carried in and no propane stove. There was a consensus of only wanting fires in the designated kitchens, to keep down the smoke and fire danger, so most of our food we donated or gave out on the trails. I did eat some cereal and I had my Rainbow cup and bowl. We drank all the water and then some.

The younger kids were hitting up passersby for "zu-zus". I asked them what are zu-zus? One little pirate told me it was "candy from strangers." I did accept a zu-zu from a cherry lifesaver goddess. The focus was on family and brother and sister energy, and long hugs, and try not to stare too obviously. Men and women felt safe to dress or undress as they pleased and it was pleasing.

My resolve against eating food from the many kitchens dissolved the first night while George was lost with his bicycle, when Don and I saw a brother making a large pot of tapioca pudding with real vanilla extract. Doc, as he called himself, ran the One Pot kitchen and hailed from Fort Bragg. Another night, I ducked in under his kitchen tarp out of the rain and was lodged there for hours while the rain came down like a cow pissing on a flat rock, as Doc described it.

A sister came by that night with the most contented frog which had hopped on her wrist and wouldn't leave. I couldn't blame the little guy, but she refused to kiss him, just scratched his back. There was plenty of food and herb and friendly and fascinating family, but not much room, so I ducked out after midnight during a brief lull. I scrambled up the dark and muddy trail to my tent, just making it before the deluge resumed 'til morning. There had been a drought in the are 'til then. It usually rains heavily on a rainbow gathering at least once, old timers said, often breaking a drought. It takes rain to bring Rainbows or vice versa. Water, Water Everywhere

The trails were treacherous for a few days, everyone was slipping and falling, some hurting themselves and being tended to in the CALM tent or other first aid tents, myself just getting muddy. I had boots, better than the sandals, bare feet, Birkenstocks and Tevas many people were wearing, but when the mud wanted you, it just took you.

There were too many dogs barking and running everywhere and the mud began stinking. Pets were discouraged but not emphatically enough, no consensus yet. The number of dogs had increased exponentially since the last Gathering I was at, and it seemed like one out of three people brought a pooch. Supposedly the A camp was cooking up any strays in Rainbow stew, more validation for their camp.

After the deluge the springs had all been contaminated with dog, horse and human poop, plus whatever wild animals had evacuated. There were handwritten signs and daily instructions at the main circle to use the dug out trench "shitters," and cover it with dirt and lime, but not everyone got the messages.

Every spring had a purification water filter system set up, some were quite a bit more advanced than others with the Katuah camp having the best tasting water. They used two filters rated for .02 microns with 20 gph capacity and two 50 gallon drums to build up overnight storage. Good drinking water was essential because of the heat during the days, and usually there were lines for water and the kitchens when they were serving food. I also used drops of grapefruit seed extract, a powerful antibiotic with low toxicity, and diluted apple cider vinegar helped my indigestion after eating Hare Krishna food. I managed to avoid the Rainbow Runs but not everyone does. It's a drag hobbling around with your legs squeezed together, but there were no reports of widespread dysentery as at several gatherings.

People say they love their dogs, but they don't care enough about kids of all ages running around barefoot, playing in the dirt and swimming in the water. Most dog owners kept them on leashes and some even scooped their poop, but they were a minority.

I heard from one brother that an outbreak of shigella a few years ago was traced by the Center of Disease Control to a strain from India, possibly from the baby elephant the Hare Krishnas had brought into the country and Gathering without quarantine. Probably smuggled it through the same channels they used for guns and drugs. They had some cute young sisters drumming and singing the night I ate there, but they must have been sequestered for flirting too much. I always liked that tune, but the food gave me gas.

I was chilling out in the creek when a Pomeranian pooped in the creek right beside me. I couldn't catch it to strangle it and deliver it to A camp, so I got up and only went swimming far upstream from then on. I found a great spot where a friendly group of young brothers and sisters had set up a beautiful little welcoming rest area with a deeper swimming hole and a sandy beach. Ingenious hippies in the wilderness

Most people, not just dirty hippies, know very little about group hygiene and keeping a large crowd of campers healthy. The most effective way to avoid spreading infection is for everyone to wash their hands before touching food or faces and after evacuating or falling in the mud. The most ingenious hand and dish washing setup was shared by two kitchens, the Musical Veggie Cafe and Brew Ha Ha, a sober kitchen serving only tea with all drugs, tobacco, caffeine or stimulants discouraged.

They had created a bamboo pole holder for three 2 1/2 gallon containers holding soapy water, rinse water, and bleach water. These drained out through counterbalanced hoses which only flowed when someone held them down, draining down a tarp sink into a five gallon bucket which was emptied into a grey water pit. This was more hygienic than other systems which used three five gallon buckets where people's dishes and hands were dipped in the same water. I was surprised when the designer told me they had been using their system since 1989, and no other kitchens had adopted it yet. It might use more water, and water was a struggle.

Rumors blowin' in the wind

News does travel slower at the Gathering, although there is a town crier or two, and mostly in the way of rumors and hearsay. Really hard to source it, kind of like my articles. Even the rumors travel slowly. One day at the swimming hole someone reported that Bob Dylan had died of a heart attack until some other hippie said, "I heard that same rumor two years ago at the Oregon gathering." Surely that would have made the media if it was true, unlike the mysterious chemtrails and other phenomena I report on. Of course that article was fluff, it was about clouds.

There were plenty of younger and some older trail trolls, jonesing for drugs of any kind, dangling pipes on strings, fishing for buds, bumming cigarettes or crying out to be dosed. Some sat in one place all day haranguing people. Reminded me of my worst days, when I'm crawling around looking for that lost roach or crumbs of buds. There really wasn't any need because I got generous offers of turn ons at every turn in the trail. Further evidence that there is enough to go around if everyone shares, and if the government gets out of our hair. This sense of abundance instead of scarcity, may be the feeling which the government fears most.

I had to refuse gel tabs, swore off them after the last tour. The trail trolls didn't get it that if they pitched in and helped out somewhere they would have no problems securing their drug of choice. Inner pyrotechnics on July 4th

We had enough of our favorite entheogen, fungus amungus, to share with others and fuel a few trips into the magical, irridescent land of the psylocybe. The three ducks, Huey, Duey and Louey waddled off there the morning of July 4th.

This is the Rainbow Family's high holy day, a day of praying for peace in various ways. In the morning the gathering is encouraged to hold silence from dawn until high noon. Except for dogs barking, a helicopter passover and a lot of coughing, the silence grew thick in the main meadow where we waited and prayed. I liked the growing quiet more than the usual building of noise towards drunken brawls celebration of Independence Day which seems to cheapen it.

The signatures of the Founding Fathers on that day affirmed our Right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. This is what makes America great, and unique to history at that time. By remembering the Declaration of Independence, which is the People's last refuge with our Constitution systematically dismantled, we are celebrating their courage in abolishing the rule of tyrants and despots (against pot).

Perhaps it is futile to pray for Peace, when such large forces are rooting for War, but it was a very peaceful gathering except for pissing off the Forest Service. The rangers I saw walking around the gathering were friendly enough, warning one brother to wear sunscreen. Getting out of our motor vehicles changed relationships and sense of time, or maybe it was the herb and fungus. The valley was more peaceful without engines or generators. The gathering was very relaxing and conducive to peaceful relations.

The Family has an effective way to usher out peacebreakers by surrounding them with people and loving them out to the A camp, where they probably get their ass kicked. They even blanketed a murder suspect fleeing from Florida to the Arizona gathering and delivered him peacefully to law enforcement officials. There is consensus that Gatherings are not a haven for criminals, at least violent, wanted ones.

The Rainbow Gathering is kind of like a traditional Potlatch where people come from all over to give things away, to serve and be served. Some people obviously worked a lot harder than others. Even though I carried some water and firewood, I felt a little guilty, but gave as much service as most. The gatherings work because most people do help out, and because some people do an enormous amount of service. Which is probably why the Forest Service said they target the biscuit bakers as leaders.

Hope for the future, the kids are alright

The Kiddie Parade came dancing and singing painted up like pixies at Rainbow noon, an hour late, but the silence held until they arrived. The official Omming began then, later drumming and wild celebration into the night and 'til dawn. Watermelon, green buds and free doses were circulating. It was so hot, I wandered off to cool down in the creek. There was an even tighter drum circle with a better dance space on the way, and endless distractions, visual and otherwise before I made it back to base camp late that night.

We left the next evening while the Gathering went on, but we were building up a serious sleep deprivation. It's hard work having so much Fun. The cleanup is ongoing and continues for months after. Except when they are all arrested by Forest Service rangers, the clean up crew are known to thoroughly restore the Gathering area so that within a few seasons there is little evidence that thousands of people peaceably assembled there. Rumor was that the Gathering will be in Montana next year. For more info check out www.welcome home. To keep your rights, you must exercise them, but at least vote for those who believe in the first 10 Amendments and not these ten commandment bozos.

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