Fort Worth, Texas
THE TEN BEST AND WORST THINGS ABOUT THE WYOMING GATHERING (EXCLUDING THE EVENTS OF JULY 3)
THE TEN BEST THINGS:
10. A 76-YEAR-OLD RAINBOW. One of the Rainbows brought his father along -- at 76, he might have been the oldest person ever to attend a Rainbow Gathering. Alas, he wasn't exactly in the spirit of things. One of the first people he encountered was Gabriel, a somewhat, shall we say, overzealous Rainbow who wanders around with a trumpet. After that he spent most of his time in his son's trailer reading Clan of the Cave Bear. But at least he went.
9. THE ANT PILE. In the woods, only a few feet from where the forest fire was contained, stood the largest anthill I have ever seen. Composed entirely of of dried pine needles and twigs, it was nearly three feet high and at least that big around. A triumph of collective consciousness.
8. THE RIDE HOME. My previous Rainbow adventure ended with a Greyhound bus ride that can only be described as hellish. This time, however, I managed to connect with Billy, who was piloting his Winnebago back to Garland and agreed to drop me off in Fuh Wuh. There were 12 ½ of us most of the way, including a baby (the ½) and High Times, a hitchhiker we picked up at a rest stop in Colorado. ("Always room for one more.") Sure, it was a little cramped and uncomfortable, as any 29-hour auto journey must be. Compared to last year, though, it was heavenly.
7. "WE LOVE YOU." "Weeee....loooooooove...yooou!" is a chant you'll hear regularly at any Gathering, usually from a large group of people. But I heard this phrase in more intimate settings than I did last year. When someone was leaving a campfire, for instance, people would say "we love you" in farewell. Not shouted, just stated. Simple, sincere, without obligation. "We love you." So rare to hear in our big busy world. So sad.
6. THE FAILURE OF CAPITALISM. The free food of the kitchens is a deliberate refutation of the capitalist system, which states that if you have no money you do not eat -- even if you are starving. There is no danger of starving at a Gathering. If you have a bowl and spoon, you will eat (and if you don't, someone will find them for you). Money is an irrelevancy in the face of hunger, as it should be. The operative philosophy is: "Food is meant to be eaten." It's common for people who have dished a larger portion than they can eat to offer the remainder to a neighbor, rather than tossing it in the trash. It's all part of making sure there's enough to go around.
I find it amusing and ironic that so many Rainbows bought their groceries with food stamps: a little federally funded socialism. You'd almost think it was a good idea or something.
5. "4:20" AND OTHER FUN. I picked up some bitchen new slang while hanging around the campfire with the Deadheads every night. Most fun of all was "420," and here's the 411:
"420" is police-scanner code for possession of marijuana. So saying "four-twenty" to someone is a a polite inquiry as to the state of their ganja supplies (much like asking "Can you fix my broken pipe?" or "Can you feed my hungry pipe?"). At 4:20 every morning, you could hear shouts of "420!" from numerous campfires, even my own -- open appeals for marijuana -- and once it even worked.
Supposedly (although this story has the era of a folk legend) at 4:20 every day in Ocean Beach, California, the local heads gather at a certain knoll on the beach to create huge clouds of sweet-smelling smoke. If it's not a true story, it oughtta be.
Other new slang:
schwag -- bad, as in "That was some schwag weed, man. It couldn't get a fly high."
kind -- good, as in "Those were some kind buds." (Do you notice most of these terms are drug-related? Pay attention, they won't teach you this in English 101.) In fact, "kind" has been used in that context so often it has become a noun, synonymous with really ace pot -- as in "Who's got the kind?!?"
fat (or "fatty") -- by far the most common phrase I heard other than "420," it means "good" or "of satisfying quantity." Think of the phrase "a fat doobie" and you will instantly understand the context. A "fatty" is a joint.
the shit. -- really good. "Shit" is a term for marijuana ("the good shit") and this term derives from that usage rather than the usual negative ones ("shitty," etc.). The shit means, roughly, "the genuine article." ("Everybody's Kitchen made fudge brownies last night, man -- it was the shit.")
miracle -- a free ticket to a Dead show, donated by someone with better funds or connections than you have -- apparently, a somewhat common phenomenon.
sweet -- good. "I got a ride to the Dead show, hotel room for the night, miracle ticket -- man, it was a sweet deal." According to one Deadhead I spoke to, this is an old phrase that is already passč.
zu-zu's -- sweets, especially chocolate.
ground scores -- any item of value you find lost or discarded on the ground -- concert tickets, money, clothing, loose joints, etc. Some Deadheads go around after Dead shows specifically looking for ground scores, as an adjunct to "dumpster diving" (see below).
cuddle puddle -- sleeping in clusters to conserve body heat. There were a lot of cuddle puddles at this Gathering.
nug -- a joint, which is what I'll be needing by the time I finish this listing. ("420!")
jazzed -- excited, enthusiastic.
dumpster diving -- exploring trash receptacles for items of value, including food (Dunkin Donuts discards any uneaten product after about six hours as a matter of policy). An activity that once represented the lowest depths of human degradation has become a hip and sometimes necessary thing to do in a society that wastes tons of uneaten food every day while babies die of malnutrition.
For the Deadheads, on the outskirts of that society, it's more like a thrift store without the price tags. But it speaks volumes to me about the state of this country. I see a place where you are encouraged to throw away anything old or worn or aesthetically displeasing ("Those drapes just don't go with that couch") and buy a new one. And I see a place where people are denied the food they need to live on the basis of money -- or are considered "bums" if they ask for a handout. These two worlds meet in the Dumpster.
I spoke to people who had salvaged moldy bread from dumpsters and eaten it. They felt no shame. Nor should they have. The food they ate had fallen through the cracks from another world: a fairy-tale land where no one ever goes hungry and everyone always has enough money, so excess food can be thrown away without a second thought.
But these people lived in the real world, where every mouth must be fed. Free food is free food, whether it comes from a Rainbow kitchen or a dumpster in the alley behind Pizza Hut.
Some of the Deadheads I met were simply devoted fans caught up in a culture all their own. They live on the road by choice. But others just didn't have anyplace else to go. For them, the dumpster is an essential part of the food chain.
They call it dumpster diving. I call it an obituary for the American Dream.
4. THE FOOD. Standing in Everybody's Kitchen at three in the morning, eating a colossal oatmeal-raisin-chocolate-chip cookie that someone just handed to me, thinking This is the best cookie in the world. This cookie should be winning the Pilsbury Bake-Off. But it never will, because it's part of the Rainbow. I'll eat it and it'll be gone and no one else will ever know. And that's a shame, because this is the best cookie in the world.
At many of the kitchens, particularly Everybody's, there are delirious fiends who live for nothing else but to cook. All day long and all through the night, they cook. And cook. And oh, the things they cook!
3. THE WATER LINE. Everything that happens at the Gatherings does so because someone volunteers for it. No one ever demands, only requests. And all group decisions are reached by consensus -- that is, rather than a "democracy" in which the majority rules, everyone present must agree on something before it can happen. One person's objection can stop the whole process.
That given, it's simply amazing the water line was organized as quickly as it was after the first fire alarm sounded on July 2. Even though there were no recognized authority figures, no public-address system and no prior drills or planning, it was only moments after I heard the first shouts of "Fire!" that I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with hundreds of other hippies, handing hastily filled plastic buckets down the line. Soon another line formed alongside to pass the empties back to the water source. As the lines spread out, I moved a little further up the hill. And then I could see them all -- a thousand or more people, stretching in two lines up the hill to the spring at the tree line, over three hundred yards. An unplanned, cooperative, spur-of-the-moment action to save all our stoned asses.
And it worked.
Several times, we were told the fire was out -- only to be alerted again before we'd even had a chance to pat ourselves on the back. Finally, though, the tree was fully extinguished. That's right -- one tree. If it had been more, we could have been in some serious shit. As it was, a crew would be watching through the night for root fires - underground embers that can flare up 24 hours or more after a tree burns.
Everyone hugged each other. We had done it -- saved the Gathering without help from the Forest Service, the nearest fire department (25 miles away) or anyone else, except a certain kind Diety. It was a good feeling.
Over the next 36 hours, it got old pretty fast.
2. THE SITE/THE CIRCLE. Except for the fire hazard, whoever found the site for the '94 Gathering could not have done a better job. It was an uphill hike of a mile or so from the nearest dirt road (where Bus Village, A-camp and the parking lot were situated) to the spot called Snider Basin, a low-lying meadow surrounded on all sides by wooded mountains and rolling hills in every direction. And when you came up on the ridge, you could see the Main Meadow below, stretching on and on, with a tipi village tucked behind a stand of trees, and camps and kitchens all throughout the surrounding woods. Hippies on the far side of the meadow were just specks.
And when the 4th arrived, 10,000 hippies linked hands, in a single line stretching all the way around that vast meadow -- completely silent. It's hard to convey the peculiar feeling of observing 10,000 silent people. Your eyes see them, and you know you should be hearing a low buzz of 1000 conversations, shuffling feet, coughs, sneezes, belches. But as far as your ears are concerned, you could be standing in a very large and empty room, with birds singing somewhere outside.
I stood in the Circle, holding hands with ten thousand people. Ten thousand who were all praying silently for peace. Then came the om: ten thousand voices sounding as one. A meditative hum, like a last appeal for unity, reverberated across the meadow. Then our linked arms were lifted all, as if in victory. A shout went up, shattering the Silence. The Circle broke -- and the celebration began.
For days afterward, you could hear the drums.
(Rainbow footnote: Rainbows are actually a common sight at Rainbow Gatherings. This year there were two. I was in Bus Village when I saw the first one, on July 5th, and its arc seemed to end in the middle of Snider Basin -- the Main Meadow, the heart of the Gathering. The second one, on July 6th, actually did end only a few hundred yeards from Jamba kitchen, where I was standing. I could actually see where the arc of color met the earth. It was the closest I have ever been to "the end of the rainbow."
(And yes, I did look around for little men in green lederhosen guarding buckets of gold. No such luck.)
1. FRIENDS OLD AND NEW:
Jace. Brent. Sevylla. Tiffany. Steve. J'ai. Huck. Ashley. Songbird. Mark. Jake. Dallas. Chuck. Jennifer. Latham.
Tawasi. Carrie. Joy. Asja. Everett. Jamie. Ryan. Sara. Me (not as in "...myself and I," but a hippie whose name was: Me). Eagle. Jessica. Chris. Serena. Luke. Running Bear. Sarah. Jermey. Keith. Jonah. Amy. Morgan. Jennisee. Dennis. Annie. Shalimar. Barry Plunker. Sue Plunker. Scout. Amazing Dave. Bear Hug. Free Feather. Don. Linda. Billy. Giana. Brian. Virgil. Lisa. Josh. Hobbit. High Times.
THE TEN WORST THINGS:
(8. -- 10. In an attempt at objectivity, I wanted to list the bad as well as the good things in this memoir. But I couldn't find ten bad things about the Gathering. Call it my failure as an objective reporter, or a measure of how complete I felt while I was there -- or, if you are so inclined, accept it as proof that something really good happened in the Wyoming woods this year.
(It was not, however, without drawbacks.)
7. THE CONCH SHELL. One of the main devices of the non-electronic Gathering is the conch shell, which is used to signal daybreak, mealtimes at the Main Circle, etc. Blown like a horn, the shell can be heard for miles, just like in William Golding's Lord of the Flies (a curious analogy, if you think about it). Primitive, suggestively aboriginal, yet far-reaching, it fits the Gathering mentality perfectly.
It got on my nerves. Two reasons: three conch blasts mean "meal time," but four mean "fire." After three fires in two days, my stress levels skyrocketed whenever the conch sounded. We never knew, until the silence after the third blast, whether or not it was time to play Fire Marshal Bill again.
And by the end of the Gathering, the conch had been blown so often that it became regular background noise, something you heard and ignored, like the subway that roars by your downtown apartment every 37 minutes. The conch made the woods a little more like the city.
6. TRADE CIRCLE GREED. The trade circle was much larger and more involved than at the smaller Gathering I attended last year. It reminded me of certain cities I have visited in the Middle East. (I heard someone else compare it to the money-changers in the temple.) Although no money is ever actually exchanged, I saw evidence that the circle fosters the same materialistic attitudes we come to the Gatherings to get away from. The most telling evidence, for me: standing in the water line on July 2, trying to put out a potential forest fire -- and behind us, the trading circle continues on as if nothing is happening.
5. A-CAMP. I unwittingly spent the first night of my first Gathering in "A-camp," and wondered what the fuck I had gotten myself into. All around me I could hear violent, drunken arguments at full volume and people yelling to "Shut the fuck up!" The "A" stands for alcohol, and A-camp is always the camp closest to the entrance of the site (the most logical place for making beer runs). During the day it's mostly serene, but at night it's positively scary.
A-camp is a source of minor controversy for most Rainbows, who want to love the brothers and sisters there despite how they make things harder on the rest of us. All of the fights, arrests, muggings and other violence I heard rumored this year occurred at A-camp -- the "ghetto" of the Gathering. Its location also gives a bad impression of the Rainbow to the outside world. Reportedly, a Discovery Channel crew documenting this year's Gathering got most of its footage at A-camp.
4. "FRIENDLESS" DAYS. After a couple days, Joy packed up and moved to another site with some friends from Lawrence (Kansas). This left me feeling alone and somewhat depressed. The only people I "knew" were Tiffany and Steve, who were busy keeping Jamba kitchen going. I wandered the trails for a while, desperately seeking a familiar face (G'na, Jennifer, Brent, Jace) without finding one (G'na, Brent and Jace never made the Gathering; I didn't find Jennifer for another few days). I was painfully conscious of my isolation and distance from Texas.
Then night fell, and I went looking for a campfire to keep warm. I followed the sound of a beautiful bluesy saxophone to a firepit in the middle of a meadow. There I was greeted by a group of young Deadheads who acted as if they had known me all their lives. The rest of the night was spent staying warm and listening to tales of their fascinating lifestyle. So much for loneliness.
3. DOGS. Hundreds of people brought their pets to the Gathering. Despite admonitions from both the Forest Service and "Rap 107," almost none of them used leashes. Numerous dogs roamed the site from dawn to dusk, unsupervised, fighting and fucking indiscriminately. Some were well-behaved; others were noisy, often hungry, and belligerent. There were a few instances of people bitten by dogs, a few forest animals killed, and a few dogs that caught distemper or parvo (an infection from rotting food) and died themselves. All in all, I could have done quite well without the dogs.
But then, I'm a cat person.
(Deadhead footnote: I heard that someone has taken it upon themselves to gather up all the loose dogs left wandering after a Dead show, and transport them to the next show, where he releases them so they can find their masters. He does this after every show; so if you lose your dog in Las Vegas, there's a good chance it'll come running up to give you a big slobbery kiss in Vermont two weeks later. Another aspect of this fascinating sub-subculture.)
2. THE COLD. 8500 feet up in the Rockies gets cold at night. A nice roaring campfire is just enough to bring the front of you back to a normal temperature, while your ass simultaneously freezes. Dawn sometimes revealed a glittering frost on ground that would be 80 degrees a few hours later.
On 6 July, it snowed.
After a week in Wyoming, I found myself longing for a sweaty, sticky, humid, hot Texas night.
1. THE FIRE. See "The Water Line" above. Anybody with a spark of intellect, you should pardon the expression, knew we were sitting in a tinderbox of deadfall and dried pine needles. The first cry of "Fire!" was terrifying. How a mass panic was avoided is just one of the mysteries about that fire (and its sequels the next day). The only inescapable conclusion is that something was looking out for us, because we narrowly avoided a tragedy, and not just once but several times.
Only days later, a forest fire in Colorado killed 12 people.
Revised hippie riddle:
Q: How many hippies can you fit on a bus?
A: There's always room for one more...and his dog.
Topical hippie riddle:
Q: How many hippies does it take to put out a forest fire?
A: All of them!
Dirty hippie riddle (told by a 10-year-old):
Q: How many hippies does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: None. Hippies screw in the woods.
Token Deadhead riddle:
Q: How many Deadheads does it take to screw in a light bulb?
A: None. They just wait for it to burn out and then follow it around for 20 years.
Best hippie riddle:
Q: Why don't bears eat hippies?
A: Too hard to clean.
Babylon -- the "real world;" the "System;" the "Establishment;" etc. bullshit.
heartsongs -- visions; hopes, desires, neuroses; dreams: shared with others.
Magic Hat -- the financial lifeline of the Gathering: the Rainbow equivalent of an offering plate. (Ouch! But it's true.) The real Magic Hat can be distinguished from impostors (there have been a few) by the silly-looking minstrels that accompany it everywhere, singing silly songs ("How 'bout that? It's the Magic Hat!")
Main Meadow -- a wide, centrally located clearing where the Main Circle gathers for meals, conference and the July 4 Silence.
Shanti Sena -- the phrase "peacekeeping force" is an oxymoron only "Babylon" could dream up. Creating "cops" of any sort carries the inherent risk that the individuals will be corrupted by the power they have over others. Shanti Sena are in charge of keeping the peace at the Gatherings. They are nonviolent, unarmed and nonexclusive. Anyone with a belly button, the saying goes, is a Shanti Sena.
shitter -- a latrine trench.
(+) is a personal expression of connection with the Godhead. Its somatic equivalent would be the Catholic gesture of crossing oneself.
All dated entries are from the journals of Alan Rankin, and are © 1994 Alan Rankin. "Visiting the Rainbow Family" first appeared in the Rock Springs (Wyo.) Daily Rocket-Miner on June 29, 1994. It is © 1994 Rock Springs Daily Rocket-Miner, used without permission. "Rap 107" is
© the Rainbow Family of Living Light, which is to say everybody, and nobody at all.
Permission is granted from the author to copy and distribute this work as desired without charge, as long as a) it is not made part of any commercial endeavor, b) it is reprinted in its entirety, and c) this notice of authorship and copyright is included.
For more information on the July 3 forest fire, see:
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