Rainbow Dayz '94

A Memoir
by Alan Rankin

Rap 107 Please protect the land. Pack it in, pack it out. Drop no litter of any kind. Leave no trash or property on the land when you leave. Someone has to carry it away, so let it be you! If you can't deposit it in a remote refuse container, far from the Gathering, separate it into the appropriate recycling bins. Don’t mix refuse with paper or organic matter. Use compost bins. Drink only filtered or boiled water. Do not camp above water sources. Use no soap in or within 50 feet of any water area. Take water away from streams to wash or rinse your body. Do not dig shitters near water or into water table. Do not camp in the meadows. Try to disappear, as far as possible, your personal camp. Meadows are for group use. The pristine environment is for all. Bring your bowl cup and spoon and wash them thoroughly. Dry plates harbor no germs. For defecation use only latrines. If unforeseen circumstances happen, bury and cover your pile completely. Use lime, ash, etc. in latrines and wash your hands with bleach when finished. Break the fly connection (Feces – fly – food – you!). Visit CALM for health care. When you hear the conch shell, it usually means either council or meals are going on at The Main Circle. Keep your camp secure. Camp in neighborhoods. Coordinate your area security. Tempt not, lest ye be lifted from. Attend council and communicate the news to your friends and area. Leave pets home. If you must bring them to the Gathering, don't bring dogs to kitchens, circles, or meals. If you have an animal, clean up any droppings you might see, whether from your dog or another's. Be responsible for your animals. Keep them leashed – people have the right to be free from your dog's effect. No private camp fires. Build community fires. Dig a hole carefully, keep turf intact and replace during cleanup. Lay large stones inside and have 5 gallons of water available at all times. Discourage drug abuse. Attend and participate in the SILENCE on July Fourth from dawn until high noon. Participate… the more you put in, the more you receive out. Weapons, alcohol and violence are contrary to the spirit. Donate early to the Magic Hat. Take no pictures Unless you have permission from the persons in it. Respect each others' silence.

From the journals of Alan Rankin
26 June – 13 July 1994

26 June 1994

Colorado Renaissance Festival
Larkspur, Colorado

Starry-eyedealists often have empty stomachs. Dreams don't have a very high protein content. (They don't get good gas mileage, either.)

How I got here:

I spent most of last week looking for a ride to Wyoming. I called several friends from last year's Rainbow Gathering, without success. Then Sharon Runft called Thursday and said that Jace Lyons, an old friend from high school, was headed to the Renaissance faire in Colorado.

Jace was willing to carry me along, particularly if I could contribute gas money. It was worth the gamble: if I could make it as far as Colorado, I could probably find someone in the faire's hippie community who's going to the Gathering. Having finally quit that godawful answering service Mcjob the week before, I had only $60 to my name - but Jerry Smith offered to loan me another $50 if I could go by his house to pick it up.

Jace arrives at midnight-thirty, Friday. I load my gear into his truck, and we arrive at Jerry's at 2 AM. Knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock knock. No Jerry. No $50.

Back into the truck, and back onto the highway. We drive all night and make Amarillo at ten in the glaring morning, each of us having slept only a little. After another eight hours on the road, with no food and no money, running out of gas once, we finally make our way to the gates of the faire. Surprise! We can't get in.

I think of my chaotic journey to the Alabama Gathering last year. Are these things always like this?

A semi-legit scam gets us past the gate, and eventually into Brent's tent home, in which place I have to hide whenever security rides by ("Rainbows coming through. People without passes getting kicked out." This is Brent's home, may I remind you again.) I elude the pass-Nazi enough times to feel like a French resistance fighter.

Brent's not going to the Gathering, but he spreads the word among the fascinating sub-subculture of "Rennies" that someone's looking for a ride. Along the way, he introduces me to his faire friends, including Carrie, Tawasi and Sevylla (who I've met before).

Two nights later, as the faire winds down for the weekend, Tawasi finds Joy: a drummer from Kansas (by way of Costa Rica) who's Rainbow-bound with room in her car. Bidding fare-thee-well to my new friends, I quantum-jump again….

28 June 1994

The Rainbow Gathering

Bridger National Forest, Wyoming

Twelve hours together in a tiny Nissan Sentra is bonding, as ever, and I find new friends in Joy, her young daughter Asja, and the other rider, Everett. (Everett is a "peace skinhead" of a breed I had thought dead: hallelujah!) We trade off driving and play word games to pass the time across the featureless plain.

At 2 in the Wyoming AM, with misty mountains rising high around us, down a dusty road we finally find a "Welcome Home."

The night is freezing, but after a long hike we find warmth by the drum circle, there to jam all night. (Joy is a dedicated drummer, playing and dancing in the chill night, naked to the waist; the rest of us huddle in our blankets.)

Dawn comes as a July frost coats the ground, sunrise revealing at last the awesome beauty of this remote site. A few hours and a few hikes later, I'm finally falling asleep in my hammock as drums beat in the distance. It's blissful.

I still have no idea how I'm going to get back to Texas.

Nor do I care. Rainbow food fills the stomach. Gas money almost gone, but not totally. Responsibilities await back in the real world; but for now…

The mountains are beautiful.


30 June 1994


Dear Mom and Dad,

Well, here I am at the 1994 Rainbow Gathering, or Gathering of the Tribes, as it is sometimes called. The names are a little hard to explain. In fact, a lot of what goes on here is difficult to explain (as I discovered last year), and I don't have enough paper to really do it justice. But I thought you'd like some idea of what your son is doing when he runs off to the woods every July.

Basically, the Gathering is a gigantic campout on public forest lands, and everyone is invited. Everyone. There is no cost, or any other requirement, except to find a way to whichever national forest hosts the Gathering (in a different state every year). Donations are accepted for food and supplies, but there is no obligation, and if you're broke (like me), you're encouraged to help out in one of the many kitchens or make yourself useful in some other way. (I work in the information booth every year.) Everything is done on a volunteer basis, and that sounds like it shouldn't work, but it does. Every year.

I know when you think "hippies," you think of the news reports you saw in the '60s: long-haired, bearded weirdos who wore peace signs and spaced-out smiles. (Come to think of it, that could describe me.) However, the actual diversity of people is amazing. Here you will find members of every racial, economic and religious group imaginable, from all 50 states and many foreign countries, of any age. There are "original" hippies, now in their 40s and 50s (some even older); many, many members of my own generation (a "second wave" of environment-minded peaceniks that proves the '60s generation was no fluke); teens and twentysomethings of every conceivable stripe (from punk-rockers and metalheads to computer hackers and skate-punks); and children. Lots of people bring their children, even babies. Kids are everywhere, and they seem to love it.

So what is it that brings us all together? There are many different reasons people come to the Rainbow Gatherings. I would say everyone here, including me, feels let down in some way by normal American society. We come here to get what the "real world" cannot, or will not, provide us – something we feel we are entitled to. You could say we come here to be ourselves.

But more than that – we come here to be nice to each other. It's common practice, when meeting strangers on the trail, to make eye contact, smile, and greet them warmly. This is a deliberate contravention of the usual avert-the-eyes-and-keep-walking reaction of the average city street. Most people here attempt to treat you with kindness and respect, regardless of your race, religion, sex – or the fact that you're wearing a green mohawk. That's hard to find in the city.

People here regularly call each other "brother" or "sister." The reason is to remind us that we're all family – that is, to affirm the ways we are alike, instead of how we are different. By thinking of ourselves as "family," we know we have to look out for each other. (And after all, we are all related on some level.) If you have something someone needs – extra food, a spare blanket, an empty seat in your car – you are encouraged (but, again, not required) to share with them, knowing they would probably do the same for you.

This works because Rainbows make a conscious effort to remove themselves from the world of mistrust, greed and selfishness that waits outside – knowing all the while we'll have to return to it eventually. It's common to hear people you've never met tell you they love you. The cumulative effect of a few days of this is overwhelmingly positive, both in terms of self-esteem, and respect for the human race in general.

This is not to say there aren't problems. As with any large gathering of people, you have troublemakers, thieves and worse. They take advantage of the trust and openness encouraged here, and make it harder on everybody. For this reason, sadly, you have to exercise the same caution you would in any town of 15,000. (July 4 weekend, we were the fifth largest "city" in Wyoming.) And I am careful, so stop worrying, Mom.

Besides, there are compensating factors: if you call for help, your neighbors will come to your aid immediately, whether they know you or not. Name the city where that happens? There are also self-appointed security guards, a medical camp set up for first aid and emergencies – and 10,000 people who, for the week at least, consider themselves my "family." So I'm actually in one of the safest spots in Wyoming.

"But are you staying warm, and getting enough to eat?" Yes to both. Last night I had burritos. This morning it was fruit pancakes (lots of vegetarian food here, it keeps better than meat) and corn chowder for lunch – all free, healthy and incredibly tasty. The nights are cold up here in the mountains (elev. 8500 feet), but I have warm clothes. Since I'm a night person anyway, I like to wander around the different campfires at night, keeping warm and communing with all sorts of people. Last night I met: a middle-aged hippie named Running Bear, who told some fascinating stories; Eagle, an 11-year-old prodigy with a genius for psychological analyses; and a group of "kids" (late teens, early 20s) who spend their time following the Grateful Dead rock band wherever they go. A lot of people stay up all night, just talking. And like anything else, you are always welcome to share a campfire.

What else? The location, here in the Rocky Mountains, is so beautiful I can hardly describe it. Green mountains surround the little valley where most of the camps are set up; the sky is blue and cloudless; and huge pine groves stretch on to the horizon. It's easy to feel close to God up here – so much easier than in the city. You get the sense this is what he really intended: an Eden of coexistence with nature, instead of a layer of concrete over it.

Across the valley is a stand of authetic-looking Native American tipis. Looking at them there, just as they might have stood 100 years ago in this spot, is like gazing into the past. It's chilling and magical. There's so much we've lost that we never even take the time to think about. But this is a place for that, too.

There's a lot I've left out of this letter, but I wanted you to know I was thinking about you here in this place. I know a lot about my life is a complete mystery to you. But I also know you trust me, and I love you for that. However strange it may seem, this is the life that makes me happy – and keeps me spiritually strong. I don't go to church anymore, but when I see places like this, I know I'm on the right path. That path goes all the way back to the principles of Christianity you taught me as a child. My interpretation of them has changed, but those principles stay with me always, and they led me here. In other words, I couldn't have made it without y'all. So I wanted to give something back.

Now I'm getting all mushy – the Gathering has that effect on me – so I'll sign off. Show this letter to Lisa, she'll be interested too. Just to stay in the spirit of things, here's a happy hippiePeace Sign sign.


P.S. Here's an article that appeared in a local paper during this year's Gathering.

Visiting The Rainbow Family

Daily Rocket-Miner
Staff Reporter
Teepee photo
Daily Rocket-Miner/Donna Pierce

WORLD PEACE TEEPEE – A Rainbow family member leaves the construction site of the World Peace Teepee which is considered to be "the heart of the gathering." Rainbow family members are gathering in Snider Basin for their annual tribal council meeting and the July 4th prayer for peace and the healing of Mother Earth.

ROCK SPRINGS – To arrive at the gathering site of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, one must travel through a long narrow canyon dotted with the graves of pioneers.

The road, formerly known as the Lander Cutoff to the Oregon Trail, is once again enveloped with a cloud of dust from the migrating masses. This time the lure is the annual gathering of the tribes of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, which will take place in the seclusion of Snider Basin July 1–7.

The first sign of human presence was the sight of several young women grooming the grave of a young girl who drowned in a nearby stream more than 150 years ago. After an offering of wild flowers and prayers, the women continued on the last several miles to the Rainbow encampment on foot, the same method of transportation they had used to bring them to the Wyoming gathering from Cape Cod.

The parking lot for the gathering belies the estimate of how many members are actually there. Most arrived on foot, carrying backpacks. Most headed for Wyoming with no idea of where the gathering would be held, other than in a national park during the week of July 1-7.

The instant you arrive, you are greeted by the Rainbow family security force, complete with walkie-talkies. You are welcomed and advised of the camp rules. Rule one is "no cameras1." It required a considerable amount of begging to be allowed to take the camera into camp, and I was only allowed to do so after promising not to take any photographs without permission. Word that a reporter with a camera was in camp spread to the farthest reaches of camp before I reached the edge of the parking lot.

In the woods next to the parking lot, "A" camp is set up, which is the only camp to allow alcohol. Alcohol is strictly forbidden outside the boundaries of "A" camp and "Bus Village," which is located just west of "A" camp. Bus Village is host to everything from old psychedelic buses to new, fully-equipped motorhomes, and, as in every camp, features community camp kitchens and recycling centers.

Across the road from the parking lot is a trailhead marked by a Rainbow family bulletin board. The trail into the main camp is approximately two miles long and is distinguished by a steady stream of foot traffic going to and from the main camp. Family members are diligent about not straying from the path and have placed homemade bridges over the meandering creek that crisscrosses their trail.

All along the heavily traveled trail, you are greeted with smiling faces and "Welcome home, sister"2 or "Welcome home, brother," often followed by "I love you." You don't have to travel very far on the path before you begin to believe they mean it.

A flag pole flying an upside down flag marks the spot where you reenter the forest to the outer fringe of the main camp. Another bulletin board is set up complete with an ever-changing map of the camp. The main camp covers an area of approximately five square miles, and encircles a common area where Rainbow family members gather for meals, meetings and prayer.

Just inside the forest, I was greeted by "Gringo," a family member and "eco-peacemaker" from Boulder, Colo. Gringo appeared to be waiting for me, although he didn't miss a beat on his drum until the song was over. He agreed to have his picture taken but warned that most Rainbow family members are very much opposed to having their picture taken, citing the religious belief3 that photographs are "graven images." Gringo happily gave me a tour of a number of the camps in that section of the forest, pointing out the meticulously kept campsites. Everywhere we went we were offered food, drink, respite and engaging conversation. Gringo's tour ended at a new feature of the gathering, the nine hole "Whole In Oneness" golf course.

We wandered through a number of camps and viewed another new addition to the encampment, hot showers, before finally reaching the center of camp where the World Peace Teepee is being assembled in the common area. Near the common area, we were befriended by "Butterfly," a gentle woman in her mid-50s from the East Coast, who is one of the core group responsible for the set-up and later restoration of the campsite. She quickly directed us to an area where volunteers were cordoning off the willows and were setting a handmade bridge in place over a small creek.

Butterfly is a self-described "eco-warrior" and has been a member of the Rainbow family since its inception. Although stories vary on how the Rainbow family got started, they held their first gathering in 1972 near Craig, Colo. Butterfly described this gathering as "the best yet" and gushed with love for the people of Big Piney, who have formed an unlikely alliance with the Rainbow family. "Locals have gone out of their way to make us feel welcome," said Butterfly, adding that area residents have contributed a great deal of game meat to the gathering.

"Free," a fellow "scribe" from Berkeley, Calif., arrived to make sure we didn't miss the impressive medical camp, known as Calm Camp4. Rainbow family members practice holistic medicine and believe that body, mind and spirit require simultaneous treatment. Row after row of medicinal herbs and plants line the shelves along with traditional first-aid items. Although treatment has been limited to minor scrapes, the 1992 Colorado Rainbow Gathering produced three births5.

Free described a recent Rainbow trip to Europe and gatherings held for the first time in Ireland and Israel. The group traveled throughout Europe, stopping long enough in Germany to work and raise money to finance the rest of the trip and first time gatherings. He found Europeans to be very receptive to the cry of "Peace" and "Freedom" and noted European branches of the Rainbow family will also be observing the July 1-7 gathering to pray for world peace and the healing of Mother Earth. South American Rainbow family members will also take time out from their efforts to preserve and restore the rain forests, to gather and pray.

As Free went on to detail recent court victories on behalf of the Rainbow family, I suddenly found myself staring into the piercing blue eyes of "Stoney6," my next "guru." Stoney originally hails from the mountains of North Carolina, and has been setting up free food kitchens for the Rainbow family for 22 years. Stoney can be found at the Sunrise Sun Dog Kitchen on the edge of the common area.

Stoney was eager to show off Sunrise Sun Dog Kitchen, pointing out the sophisticated Katadyn water filtering system which is said to remove 98 precent of all water-borne bacteria. Although proper Rainbow etiquette dictates that you come to the gathering with your own cup, bowl and spoon, Stoney generously offered his cup of Tang as refreshment while several members from Calm Camp arrived (uninvited) to treat my sunburn.

The peace pole, central to all national Rainbow gatherings, is currently set up near Sunrise Sun Dog Kitchen. The totem, which has been blessed by the chiefs of five Indian tribes, will soon be moved to a position next to the World Peace Teepee, which is "the heart of the gathering," according to Stoney.

On July 4th, the tribes of the Rainbow family will gather in the common area to pray for world peace and the healing of Mother Earth. Estimates run as high as 35,000 for the number of people who will gather there. Silence will be observed in the camps from dawn until noon to provide the proper meditative mood. At noon, the silence will be broken by a procession out of the Children's Camp into the common area. "And a little child shall lead them," quoted Stoney. During the peak of the ceremony, everyone in the basin will join hands and form a circle and begin to "omm."

Official statements from the Rainbow family are often made on the fourth. "No one may speak on behalf of the family," said Stoney, "the tribal council only speaks for itself and only during the week of July 1-7."

As we sat talking, enjoying a quiet Sunday afternoon, the calm was suddenly shattered by a helicopter buzzing the encampment, barely clearing the treetops. Two does that had been grazing nearby suddenly careened wildly through the camp, narrowly missing a small group of children who had been lying in the tall grass quietly watching them. "So much for the guarantee of restricted airspace," grumbled Stoney.

Having seen old hippies, new age followers, krishnas, yuppies, buckskinners, Native Americans, rastafarians and everything in between, I asked Stoney who the actual members of the Rainbow family were. "Anyone with a bellybutton can join," he replied "all you need is love you're willing to share."

"What about sex, drugs and rock and roll? You know that's what most people think you're up to here," I asked. "Sex, drugs and rock and roll were never the issue, sister! Not even in the '60s. The issue was always first amendment rights, the freedoms we are guaranteed by our Constitution. The right to choose! The price of liberty is vigilance," he countered.

I admit, the music I heard was reggae. Although there were a few nude sunbathers punctuating the colorful garb of the Rainbow family, no one paid any attention to them. I did see a small sign advising interested parties that a "poly sexual group" was forming, but I also saw dozens of signs reminding people to practice safe sex. I did see a flag with a marijuana leaf on it, but saw no indication of rampant reefer madness. So much for my walk on the wild side.

Helicopter flies over the trees
:Daily Rocket-Miner/Donna Pierce
BROKEN PROMISES –A low flying helicopter (upper left corner) circles the common area of the Rainbow family encampment, violating an airspace restriction in effect for a five-mile radius around the Snider Basin area. Although the airspace restriction is in effect until July 10, it is frequently violated according to family members.

Like any news article, this is not completely accurate. (Not that my own reports are any more accurate; the Gathering is easy to explain, but hard to describe, and she pointed out several things I didn't.) For your reading enjoyment, a few footnotes and elaborations:

1 no cameras Wrong. The "rule" states "Take no pictures unless you've got permission from the persons in it." I suspect Ms. Pierce was discouraged because she's a journalist. Not all stories on the Rainbow have been as fair-minded as this one.

2Welcome Home is the standard greeting at Rainbow Gatherings. "Home" is: a) nature, b) the Earth, c) America, d) the Gathering proper, e) a place where you are loved unconditionally, f) all of the above. It suggests that this is the way things should always be. It reminds us we are family. And it's indescribably wonderful to hear the words "Welcome Home" after traveling 1,300 miles in a cramped car.

3religious belief. This paragraph, and certain others, makes it sound as if the Gathering is a religious movement. It's not (more a social/political movement - if "movement" is the right word). This year at the Gathering, I encountered Mormons, pagans, Jews, Hare Krishnas, Rastafarians, agnostics and Christians. The one group that seems under-represented is atheists. The Gathering is unapologetically spiritual, and most Rainbows are spiritual people. For once, it makes no diffence, causes no discord, if we can't agree on the nature of that spirituality.

4CALM:Center for Alternative Learning and Medicine.

5 births. There was at least one birth at the Wyoming Gathering, on July 3.

6 Stoney. Many Rainbows employ aliases, for various reasons. I do not. However, because friends sometimes call me "Al," I often introduce myself that way in casual situations, such as the Gathering. It wasn't until long after this Gathering that I realized some Rainbows, used to hearing nicknames like Eagle and Bear Hug, probably thought I was saying "Owl."


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.

.angelheaded hipsters and visionary tics

(c) 1999 Alan Rankin