Now I see the secret of the making of the best persons. It is to grow in the open
     air, and to eat and sleep with the earth.
                                   - Walt Whitman

     The clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.
                                   - John Muir

     In Heaven all business is conducted this way.
                                  - Tom Robbins
                                 Even Cowgirls Get the Blues

June 27

Harlan follows the blacktar lines of highway 191 north across Wyoming as Tracy dozes in the seat beside him. A jetliner crosses the empty sky, blinding him briefly with reflected sunlight.... In seat 23F of that same plane, 12-year-old Lion stares out the window, bored, barely noticing a brief reflected windshield-flash from a car on the ant-trail far below. In the next seat over his mother dozes in her tie-die t. Lion is only half-hippie: he spends two weeks of his summers with Mom at the Rainbow Gathering before returning to Dad's tech-heavy urban fortress in California.... At the Colorado faire, Chris gets a farewell kiss from Joy and swings into the driver's seat of his VW van, starting the engine with a Teutonic roar.... 440 miles south, Lucinda is still steaming from that last argument with Roger and taking it out on her gas pedal, leaving Albuquerque, and her marriage, in the rearview mirror.... Ace, in the parking lot of the Nevada Dead show three days before, hails a beat blue schoolbus: "Got room for one more?" "Always room for one more, want a dose?" He grins and climbs aboard. (In a nearby crowd, unnoticed, Goddog turns away)... Near Rock Springs, Maria teases Maya, "Think we’ll see anybody we know?" The rattly gypsy wagon crosses a flat grassy plain - the only scenery they have seen for the last 200 miles - slowing as they approach a pretty blond hitchhiker who dances under the name "Dolly Lama"... And everywhere across the American Plain, thumbs are stuck out on the sides of roads and highways, and V-dubs, vans, trucks and buses are packed full of happy hippies: all those we have met and more. They come, by wheel or wing or one shuffling sandaled step at a time, heading for a single destination: a remote spot in the woodsy wilderness: all our rootless wanderers, gathering at a place they call Home.

God is going to Wyoming.


Here the energy begins to converge like lightning leaping through a thunderhead: brief, soundless flashes that light up the night for miles around. Here, in Wyoming wilderness, the strings of connection intertwine, forming a net of combined human histories. It’s like this whenever people gather in great numbers, but for some reason, it's particularly strong during these unique hippie happenings every July.

My spirit self is drawn through the ether by this fabulous gravity. I no longer need to propel myself along the paths of our hippie heroes; instead I am irresistably drawn toward their shared fates. And I do not fight it, I ride it: surfing soul waves, leaping from Lucinda to Ace to Tracy to Harlan to Maria to Dolly as they wind their way up those last lonely Wyoming highways. The wind blows long grasses that flow like an ocean across fifty thousand miles of American prairie, and the air is alive with strange energy.

Near a little town named Big Piney, a whirlpool of confusion swirls around me. In the rough mountains above - in time to come - I sense flashes of emotion and action: fear; people running; a conch shell sounding four times, alarm increasing with each eerie note; chaos; outrage; cops on horses; and a word, shouted with terror and authority:


Soul surfing has its dangers, like any surfing. I am pulled down by the undertow of history. Seeking sounder footing, I find a familiar spirit, like an old friend spotted in a crowd: it's Harlan. Focusing on him, I lose the thread of the future crisis.

At three in the morning, he's behind the wheel again, while Tracy takes her turn at sleep beside him. He drives through a night as black as any he's ever seen; overhead, the stars seem impossibly distant, and cold. Signs warn that deer may bolt unexpectedly across the two-lane road - but at 3 AM on a Wyoming night, apparently, even the deer have better things to do.

The town is little more than a strip of flourescent lights. Harlan sees signs of life and turns in; as the car stops moving, Tracy stirs, disoriented and unrested. "Where are we - ?"

"Big Piney. Last stop before the woods. Do ya need to pee?"

She gets out without answering, moving like a moth toward the store at the heart of the light: unsteady, but irresistably drawn. He ambles in after her.

A fellow with a head full of dreads leans his elbows on the counter between the beef jerky and lighters, chatting amiably with the store clerk. Both men turn in appreciation as Tracy pads barefoot by, then greet Harlan. The hippie says, "Hey bro. Headed for the Gathering?"

"Had a feeling you were a 'Rainbow,'" Harlan replies.

The dreadhead offers a hand. "The Dread Baron."

He accepts it. "Harlan Davidson."

"Ha ha, that's a good one." Instead of releasing his hand, the Dread Baron draws him closer. Oh shit he wants to HUG me is all Harlan has time to think – then he's kissing the shoulder of an unwashed Army jacket. Feeling some response is required, he taps out a feeble hug-pat against the Baron's kidney.

After an endless moment under the clerk's amused stare, Harlan is released from the hug. "Welcome, brother," the Baron says. "You made it. This is the last outpost of Babylon; next stop, the Rainbow Gathering."

"You're, uh, the welcome wagon?"

"Something like that. Normally there'd be more of us, but it's early yet. Actually, I'm in need of a ride back to the site. Got room for one more?"

With an explosive flush, Tracy exits the store's single bathroom. "I leave you five minutes and you're already seeing strange men."

Harlan makes appropriate introductions; Tracy seems to have been expecting the Baron's bear hug, and simply returns it. When he repeats the request for a ride, Tracy says, "Of course. You know the way?"

"I should by now, this is the third trip I've made."

"Then you ride in the front seat."


Harlan and Tracy have a hand-drawn map from a friend at the faire, but Dread is better, pointing them down darkened roads and turnoffs they might otherwise have missed. He brings along several bags of groceries and two giant packs of toilet paper; it turns out he's a volunteer for supply runs, even though he has no car of his own. He simply hitches down to the store, gets the goods, and waits; sooner or later someone comes through Big Piney on their way up to the remote site.

"You're lucky we stopped," Harlan says. "You might've been there til morning."

But the Baron shakes his head. "Couple hours, at most. Right now Rainbows are showing up about every hour."


"How are the cops?" Tracy asks.

"Not bad. Not yet. Reinforcements'll show up later, as it gets closer to the fourth."

"Yeah, the holiday weekend," Harlan says.

Tracy leans forward from the back seat. "There may be 20,000 people here by next weekend, Harlan. July fourth is when the Gathering really happens."

"Twenty thousand?"

"Now do you see why the Gathering is such a big deal?"

"20,000 people, 25 miles from civilization? Is that such a good idea?"

The Dread Baron grins. "The Gathering is civilization, dude. That shit back there, that ain't civilized."

"You will be amazed at what it becomes, Harlan, and how quickly it becomes it."

D.B. nods. "Shit, the basic camps have already been up there for weeks. Now it's just setting up a few more kitchens and campsites as the people come in. Pretty soon the thing will be running itself."

"People get there that early?"

"Just a few. Once the site is decided, folks start setting up seed camps, finding water, preparing the land for the burden of humanity.... Oh hey, turn in here."


A dirt road is their introduction to the brown Wyoming dust they will come to know so well in the next week. Dark shapes rise up against the edges of the lightening sky: after miles of plain, they have finally found the mountains. The road devolves into a pair of jagged ruts winding around the feet of low hills. The air turns cold, and their ears pop as the hills get higher and steeper.

They follow the winding grooves through coniferous woods liberally decorated with cow flop. The sky slowly fades from black to navy blue, still sprinkled with stars. Just as Harlan is about to ask D.B. if he is sure of the way, the next bend reveals a line of taillights. He sees a campfire a little distance from the road, and shadowy figures moving through the dark with flashlights.

"They'll tell you where you can park," the Baron says.

As the car ahead pulls away, Harlan's headlights flash dazzlingly off of the man approching on foot. At first, he seemed to be wearing a reflectorized jogging suit, but as he gets nearer, he gets brighter, until he shines blindingly in the gleam of Harlan's halogens.

He approaches the driver-side window, and Harlan sees that his whole outfit is made of metallic "space blanket" material; he seems to have cut a blanket into patches and sewn it into a suit. It probably keeps him warm, but the visual effect is rather weird - like Iron Man's underwear - and made more so by the only part of him that is not reflective: a geniuine Davy Crockett coonskin hat.

He leans in the window with a big gap-toothed grin and says, "Welcome Home."


Davy Rockett points them to the parking lot: a vast, level field already lined with dozens and dozens of cars. They spend the next half-hour unloading their gear. After three months on the road, Harlan and Tracy are part hermit crab: their backpacks weigh 40 pounds each, but a second trip will not be necessary. Carrying his own burden of groceries, the Dread Baron offers to lead them to the Main Meadow at the heart of the site; from there, they can decide where to camp.

A path has already been worn into the hillside by sandaled feet. As they follow it up, the sky continues to lighten; huge, beautiful stands of pine emerge from the darkness. The sun remains hidden behind the mountain, but soon they can make out banners at the tree line that read WELCOME HOME and WE Heart Symbol YOU, demarking the first campsites. A few early risers, already involved in the work of the next day, greet them warmly as they pass on the trail.

"Hey, brother."

"Welcome Home, sister."

They finally top the hill just as the sun appears over the trees across the valley. Below them the path leads down, becoming one strand in a web of walkways that crosses the wide, circular hollow called Snider Basin. A low drumbeat sounds from a cleared circle near the heart of the meadow; further on, tipis stand proudly beside the tall pines they so resemble. Other tents are visible at the tree line, still others woven all throughout the woods. Already the valley is alive with activity, although the hippies on the far side of the Basin can barely be seen at all.

Here the hikers stop at last, taking it all in. "I think you can find your way from here," the Dread Baron says quietly.

Tracy gives him a hug; Harlan does the same, a little less reluctantly. "Thanks for your help."

"No problem man...that's what we're all here for."

"We will see you again," Tracy waves.

He gives her a grin as he wanders down the trail and away. "Here or hereafter, beautiful."

June 28

After a few hours' exhausted sleep, they leave the tent in time for lunch, wandering a short distance down the hill to the nearest kitchen. Under a tarp shelter, huge mud ovens bulge up from the earth. They look strangely natural, as if grown rather than built one handful of dirt at a time. A hippie with a scraggly beard, naked to the waist, stands over the flat metal sheet that serves as a stovetop, tending enormous mounds of French fries with a spatula. Behind him, a woman uses an oven mitt to pull fresh loaves of bread out of another oven as they get in line.

"Did you bring our bowls?" Tracy asks.

He nods and reaches into the backpack he carries everywhere; it also holds the creased, thumbed copy of Desolation Angels and his own weathered notebook.

The line is long, but there is plenty of food for everyone. A smiling, 40ish woman in long hair and a muumuu spoons bread and fries into their bowls – an odd meatless meal that nonetheless smells delicious. As Harlan carries the bowls to a nearby toppled log where other people are already perched, Tracy tosses a couple dollars into a plastic jug on the counter.

"Thank you, sister," the woman smiles.

Tracy notes that the next person in line offers no money, which is her right; the food is there to be eaten, not bought. Besides, the jug is filling up with volunteered dollars anyway. On the far side of the "kitchen," others are helping by hand-washing the pots and pans from the massive meal.

Tracy straddles the log across from Harlan. "How is it?"

"Superb. Fries could use a little salt, though."

She wrinkles her face. "You put salt on everything... ."

"Sue me. We weren't all raised on tofu and rice milk, ya know."

"They could use salt. We will get some for the kitchen next time we go into town."

They sit in the open air, eating and listening to the laughter and conversation around them; the sound of drums from the Basin below never stops. People wander by on the trail: a barefoot man in the robes and shaved head of a Buddhist monk; bikers in black leather who seem to be a couple, though both male; a 60ish grandmother in hiking boots, followed by a young mother leading two toddlers; a Deadhead in a giant Jerry shirt who looks vaguely familiar.

"You think we'll see anybody we know here?"

"Probably. A lot of 'heads will be coming up from the Vegas shows."

The next fellow who comes along the trail isn't wearing anything at all. Harlan takes out his notebook and makes an addition to a running list:

     Common Rainbow attire:

     body piercings
     long hair
     short hair
     no hair
     no makeup
     unshaven everywhere
     baggy jeans
     Cat in the Hat hats

After they finish eating, they wash out their bowls in a series of buckets provided for that purpose: hot soapy water, then cold rinse, then antiseptic bleachwater. Water is plentiful on the site, but they have been warned not to drink the unfiltered stuff from the streams; the land has been used for cattle grazing, and one person's piss can spoil the watering hole for everybody.

June 29

Harlan is in Sunday School.

He's 12 years old - in that last period of calm before the hurricane of puberty starts to churn the hormonal seas. His sixth-grade Sunday School teacher, knowing this, has invited a special speaker today, someone to fill their minds with the right ideas before they're exposed to the wrong ones. Not about sex; oh no (instructing kids in sex only leads to moral depravity and unwed 14-year-old mothers). Today's special guest is Mr. Laurel (who resembles more strongly Mr. Hardy); he is lecturing the class on that ever-so-popular subject, the Dangers of Drugs.

During the discussion, Mr. Laurel takes out a fake joint.

"Take a look at this," he says. "If someone offers you one of these, you Just Say No."

Ignoring the nervous giggles, he passes it around the circle of chairs. The first few kids hold it as they would a particularly poisonous millipede. While Mr. Laurel is talking to the teacher, though, Scott Brady pretends to take a hit; the others laugh. The adults look over, but Scott feigns innocence well. He passes it to the next kid, who also takes a hit – everybody's a comedian. The next kid does the same, exhales gratefully, and passes it on. When it comes to Harlan, he takes a hit and holds in the smoke. He passes it to the hippie next to him, a Hard as They Come survivor in long dreads and little sunglasses.

"Hey mon," the Rasta says, "How you doing?"

Harlan exhales. "I feel like I died and went to Woodstock."

A long-haired woman passes by on the trail. Under her shorts, her lower legs are dark with unshaven hair. The Rasta holds up the joint in unspoken offering; the woman grins and stops, crouching on the spread blanket, accepting the doobie and joining the circle. (It is how Harlan joined the group as well, only a few minutes before.)

As she takes a hit, the people in the joint circle greet her, but don't seem to notice either her legs or the dark hair curling out beneath her arms. Harlan notes this with some amusement: despite taboos they've known all their lives, it's amazing how quickly people adapt to the custom of their surroundings.

He looks off at the floor of Snider Basin in the distance, listening to the drum circle. Then he picks up his pen, writing in the small notebook in his lap:


     The neverending melodious beat beat of distant drum;
     The smell of woodsmoke drifting on a dusty path;
     A stripe of hair in a woman’s armpit, calmly proclaiming I am;
     The rustle of approaching wind across the treetops.

     Beat beat.
     Beat beat.
     Beat beat.

     Woman dancing, sensuous and beautiful, lost to the music, 
     In a blond crewcut, beat overalls and bare feet.
     White van rolling down a dark dusty road,
     Crowded with hitchers + deadheads + beats.

     Sunlight on a bare breast, gleaming with sweat;
     Dust on naked feet keeping time to the beat.
     Sunlight through the trees, glowing golden and green, 
     Rain falling through the spaces between the leaves.

     BOOM beat.
     Beat beat.
     Beat beat.


     There are no drums in the city
     There is no sound of the beat.
     This is my list
     Of things to remember
     When this place has been stolen by miles and sleep.

     Must remember
     Must remember
     Must remember the beat.... 

June 30

The nights are cold, even with their bodies entwined in the sleeping bag, their hot breath condensing to fragile droplets on the stretched skin of the tent. But the days are often warm; on the 30th, the sun makes a brief appearance, dissolving clouds that promise rain but never deliver.

At lunch that day Harlan admires at a topless woman who walks by on the trail, watching her small, pretty breasts bob with each assured step. After a moment he realizes he’s bein’ "Babylon": nudity means many things here, but a peepshow is not one of them. Old habits are hard to break.

Eager to stop ogling the woman, he turns to Tracy, also shirtless beside him. He offers a kiss, and she responds warmly; he doesn't notice she was doing the same thing....


Meanwhile, the object of their stares continues on down the trail, sweating a little in the warm sun. Alison has arrived at the Gathering almost by accident, after a chance encounter with a Mormon family at a rest stop outside Salt Lake City. A precocious 12-year-old girl engaged her in conversation, seemingly at random, asking if she was going to Wyoming. Turned out her whole family was headed for the Rainbow Gathering. Go figure.

Alison of course knew about the Gatherings, had heard them compared favorably to the Full Moon Festival. Without a destination or even really a purpose anymore, the prospect of such a place sounded good to her. It would be good to get a little peace and quiet, a nice change.

If she only knew.

She's headed back to the parking lot to retrieve her bike, but under the colorful "Welcome Home" banner she recognizes an old friend. She alters her course; when the woman recognizes her, her lined face spreads into a smile.

Alison embraces her. "Maria. Good to see you again."

"It’s the woman I couldn’t read!"

But Alison surprises her by saying, "Oh, man, your reading was right on, it all turned out exactly like you said!"


"Yes, I met this woman the same day –"

"I knew it!"

"And she disappeared the very next day – Jesus, Maria, if you knew what I’ve been through!"

"Want another reading?"

"Hell no! I’m still recovering from the last one!"


Maria is preparing to carry her gear up to the site. Alison offers to help, and Maria introduces her to Maya and Dolly, neither of whom blinks to see her breasts.

Without knowing why, Alison offers a hand instead of a hug to "Dolly Lama." The other woman accepts it; greets Alison with an odd look in her green eyes; holds her hand a moment too long, and lets go.

But the moment is forgotten as the women divide tent-poles, tarps and food among themselves. While they work, another woman comes down the trail carrying a guitar. She perches on a stump by the trailhead: a tan, slender woman with dark dreadlocks. She strums the guitar so softly, Alison and the others barely notice her at first. But then she begins to sing, with a strong, confident voice, hoarse yet beautiful. And they find themselves gradually entranced:

     I spent my whole life tryin’ to be
     all the things that others wanted to SEE,
     but I don't know how to be anything but me.
     No I'm not rich and I'm not famous, I never
     got an education. When things got tough
     I a place where no one knows me
     and I am heard...above...
     the sounds of living
                 and complaining
     I am no one and there are others like me 
     I am no one and there are others like me.

     We know each other by the stains on our faces,
     Dirty feet and unwashed places.
     But our hearts are clean, no damage done.
     We are many and we are seen by none...
     Like stars in the sky
     Shining only to make light in the darkness
     I am dizzy from the fall of dreams lost,
     innocence fading...
     My light wavers and I run
     to a place where no one knows me
     And I am heard...above...
     the sounds of screaming...
     children crying
     people playing
     people dying
     I am no one and there are others like me
     I am NO ONE and YOU are like me.

     No I'm never going home
     it's true what they say, 
     it's time to live another day...
     a different way...
     Invisible threads woven together make a fabric
     We are part of

     How can I tell you a story
     you were part of from the beginning
     I am no one and you are like me
     I am no one
      no one
                 no one...

Miracle: Rainbow Dayz '94
.angelheaded hipsters and visionary tics

(c) 1998 Alan Rankin