The first Rainbow Gathering I went to was in Oregon. I went with M. I hitched from Santa Cruz. And Met M in Eugene. From there it was east to the gathering. Near the town of Prineville.
We knew little about life at a gathering. We camped near the entrance. At this gathering parking was close. We camped alone. And had a hard time finding food.
At this gathering I didn’t explore much. I did talk to the Van Girl. It was a bit awkward. But it went well. We just chatted about what happened before. She asked about some shorts she loaned me. I had dumped them in the river. But I told her I lost them.
There was a big rainbow parachute at the gathering. People got underneath it. And if you pumped it right it would fill with air. Turning it into a giant cloth bubble. It would shrink back down. But pumping it again raised it back.
During the gathering M and I went to town. We weren’t eating much at the gathering. She sent for money from home. It took all day, and we were feeling down. At last the cash came in, and we bought food. We got food to share too.
One of the last nights we were at the gathering I ate some crackers. It was late near a campfire. The crackers were soft. Then I noticed they weren’t crackers. It was meat. I got sick for a couple days. On the way back to Santa Cruz I threw up. Alone with M in a strange town. Bent over throwing up in the gutter. Knowing anyone passing would think I was a junkie. But then I felt better.
The next gathering I went with Sean. I probably should have gone alone. I ditched him the first day. And didn’t see him until the last day. This time I camped with the Krishnas. There was two groups of Krishnas. Those who have no idea who they are, might be surprised to know there are factions.
The gathering was muddy. It rained a great deal. And there were huge flies. There were two access points for the gathering. Both were a good walk from parking.
I remember one area was particularly muddy. The trail became a muddy mess. I am sure people lost shoes. Maybe other things. And it grew and grew. People tried to walk on the edge, or around. But where ever people walked they killed the plants. Then with the water and no plants it turned to mud.
I ran into China at this gathering. I had met her years before in San Francisco. Another one of the many women in my life on whom I had a crush. But for whom I had no chance. I met her in San Francisco A friend and I were playing a joke on people. We walked up and down Haight Street. Have you seen our friends we asked. They have dreadlocks, were wearing hoodies, had a dog, wearing corduroy pants. They may have been getting into a VW van. Also they might not smell so great. Yeah, it could have been almost anyone on part of the street. Which was the joke.
At the gathering we spent time together with a guy who had some special drugs. He also had kava kava, which isn’t a drug. I took the kava kava and a pill. I felt so liquid an d tired and open. But most of all relaxed.
At this gathering I learned how to dig a spring. And before I left I dug one for the Krishna kitchen. Maybe I should write a chapter about Krishna as well.
There was a stream through the middle of the gathering. Some people were floating down the river. A friend of mine talked me into using her raft. But it was also her bed. I wasn’t sure, but she insisted. I’m not sure if I popped it. But it was a fun trip down the stream. I had to take all my clothes off not to get them soaked. Gathering don’t have laundry mats.
Later while digging a spring for the Krishnas I took off my pants. I was in the hole. They would have gotten wet and muddy. One of the Krishnas came over. He told me I should never be naked, because even when we are alone we could offend the sky.
There was another Krishna group at the gathering. A bigger one. I spend time at their tent too. Their guru was at the gathering. Christians also go to gatherings sometimes. They set up kitchens and talk to people about Jesus. Which is cool enough, as long as people don’t feel pressured. Gatherings really are places open to all ideas.
Towards the end of this gathering rumors started. The National Guard were coming. But they never did. The gatherings attract all sorts of people. The common bond is the desire to escape mainstream society. If only for a while. But some have paranoid ideas.
At the end of this gathering I met Pam. I had met Sean the same day, and he wanted to leave. Later I told him. I wasn’t ready. The time passed. I dug the spring. Then it was time to eat. I talked about our plans with a few people. It was getting dark. And I assumed we would leave the next day. When someone told me they found us a ride. It all happened for a reason.
The next gathering was Montana. This was a dry gathering. Having gone with a bus full of people. I camped near most of them. I ate at their kitchen, but also many others. At a gathering there are few rules.
No alcohol. Not in the gathering itself. I haven’t been in years and don’t know if this is enforced. There is a place called A Camp, next to the gathering where people drink. All the food is free. You are not allowed to trade food. And on the trade issue. There is a trade circle. But the use of money is not allowed. This is in part related to Forest Service regulations. At a gathering the Family Circle makes the decisions. This is a meeting held every day, and anyone can attend. Anyone can speak. And anyone can vote. The model is based on consensus. Which sometimes means the most persistent win. This group votes on where the gathering is held the next year.
This is anarchy in the best way. A girl once shared a story. She was walking along a trail. Some people were trying to trade rice. The girl told them you couldn’t trade food at a gathering. But the wouldn’t listen. We can do whatever we want this is a gathering, the retorted. So she picked up the food and walked away. You can’t do that, they yelled.
“This is a gathering, I can do whatever I want,” she replied.
At gatherings people sleep in tents. Or in cars in some cases. Food comes from free kitchens. These kitchens are supported by a range of people. Some people will have small kitchens. One year there was a ramen kitchen. All you need is water and noodles. It was popular. Religious groups serve food. They use it as outreach. But other groups get involved too. And some Rainbow tribes. I have long felt most of the support comes from a few. People who work all year to be able to go to a gathering. I know some owned businesses. They would close every year and go to the gathering.
Trading was done at the trade circle. Greed was one reason there was no money. But I heard many talk about trading up. How they planned to get an item. Or bragging about their trades. You don’t need money to be greedy.
Law was enforced by Shanti Sena. In theory this was everyone. Say you were being robbed. You would shout, “shanti sena.” Anyone who heard would run to your aid. The reality is a small group did most of this work. They had radios like real cops. They walked around like cops. But there were not bad people. And neither are real cops. And sometimes the shanti sena system worked. I do not know much about process. There was little if any crime.
And then there were the real cops. Most from the Forest Service. They were called LEOs by some. Law Enforcement Officers. The most common term was six-up. When you saw a cop you yelled. It was meant to let others know. Some of these officers had been to more than one gathering.
And where do people shit. Well, trenches are dug in the ground.
One event which stands out from this gathering is a fire. It was a small fire in a tree. But a bunch of people raced to the scene. We formed a line for buckets and passed water. The group of us put the fire out.
Also one kitchen was serving seitan. It sounds like Satan. It was good, but only enough for one serving per person. Let me save you from Satan I teased people.
In some ways Montana was a lonely gathering for me. I didn’t feel close to people. There was a cute girl named Dada from Chicago. Again I had a crush on her. But had no chance. This was also the gathering I stayed at the longest. A small group will come to the gathering early. They set up springs and trails. At the end a small group stays to clean and repair the land. The idea is to leave it like it had never happened.
After Montana I went to Boulder.
The last gathering I went to was in Michigan. I was starting to feel like I didn’t belong. Which is my issue and no one else. At this gathering there was a problem with part of the site. We had been asked to move. Most did. Many did not. There was a stream through the site. We had made a bridge to cross. On one side of the river the Forest Service didn’t want us. They said it was an archaeological site. After people refused to move they sent in cops. They put one person in handcuffs. Then people went a bit crazy. Some were trying to form circles around the cops. Which is a bad idea. No one likes to feel trapped. The cops had ATVs. At one point I recall pulling a guy out of the way of a cop on an ATV. In the end everyone moved.
I find it strange. This was the most recent gathering. But it is the one I recall the least. This was my shortest gathering. I had a job waiting for me at home. It was out in the middle of no where. Land is cheap if you care to live there.
What I do recall is having to truck water into the gathering. The water on site wasn’t drinkable. Though I may have drank some. Of course after the gathering I met my ride and went to Boulder.
Gatherings are always held on Forest Service land. Never in National Park. Or Wildlife Refuges or Wilderness areas. No one can speak for the family. So no one can sign a permit. And no permits are ever signed. The family believes it is freedom to assemble. Forest Service considers in an illegal event. They are always free. Another reason not to sign a permit. The permit would come with a fee.