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Originally posted on my Live Journal blog on July 26, 2014
I was able to get all the way from my home in Muskogee, Oklahoma to the site of the 2014 annual North American gathering in the Uinta National Forest, approximately 20 miles southeast of Heber City, Utah, in only two days of driving over 600 miles each day, so I arrove at about 7 in the evening on the 20th of June. Someone had said on Facebook that the altitude of the site was at over 9,000 feet, but after I passed thru Evanston, Wyoming, whose altitude my atlas said was 6748 feet, the interstate started to descend thru Echo Canyon and when I got to Heber City the altitude was only 5593. This seemed strange to me as I was driving, but I found out that all the difference would be made up on the road out of the city that eventually ended its asphalt covering and turned into the dirt Forest Service Road that led toward the site.
There was at least 15 miles of constant upgrade, sometimes more than 30 degrees, winding in sharp curves often obscured by tall trees. I also had to drive thru groups of sheep wandering on the road. I did pass two men on horses who seemed to be supervising them, but rather than herding, they seemed to be just letting them do their thing. All of the sheep got out of my way when I got near them as I drove very slowly.
Shortly after the turning at the T intersection of the Forest Service road with the road that led into the site, I was greeted by a man who was standing there alone, Red, a brother I have known for years. He told me to continue down the road until I saw an obvious Bus Village, which I did. It was a large meadow, still mostly empty, and I found a place near some trees at its edge and parked my Dodge Grand Caravan to spend the night on the bed that I have installed behind the driver and right front passenger seats, replacing the rear seats that I have removed completely.
There was a camp with a fire going and some kitchen implements nearby, and there I encountered the second person that I already knew, Sibling, and she and a few of the brothers standing nearby answered some of the questions I had about the site. I was shown the continuation of the road that descended to a stream and climbed to a small mesa above it with a few vehicles parked on it, and told that was the way into the site and the vehicles were Handi-Camp, a place the appears at every gathering devoted to the needs of handicapped people. Someone said that it was about three miles into the center of the gathering.
After the topographic maps stated to appear on the Info counter in the middle of the week that followed, I was able to lay down a piece of string and use the scale to determine that the distance to Handi-Camp was eight tenths of a mile, and the walk all the way to the main meadow was about two miles and a third. The altitude of the main meadow was 9,250 feet, and many of the kitchens were as high as 9,500 or more.
The next morning I was up before sunrise and able to find a shitter that had been dug nearby, and at about seven I started walking down the road. I looked at the land around, and most of it seemed the reverse of the way most sites are. Instead of mostly forest interrupted by small meadows, here the meadowland seemed to predominate with the trees in smaller patches. There were three kinds of trees that predominated: tall spruces with dark green Fuller brush-like leaves, another tall tree that looked like the ones in Wyoming that had been killed by the pine bark beetles, totally brown and dry with shriveled branches, and a few small patches of yellow green aspens. Later I learned from the resource rangers that these dead trees were also spruces, but of a different species from the healthy green ones, and a different kind of beetle burrowed under its bark and destroyed its vascular system.
I saw some deep ruts in the road as I walked, and someone had dragged some dead tree trunks and branches into them in an attempt to macadamize them. I saw some stubs of branches sticking out of the trunks that looked like they could be sharp enough to eat my tires, so I decided then and there that I would not try to move my van any further than Bus Village. A man I passed while walking asked me if I had just arrived, and I answered last night. He gave me a welcome home and then asked me, “Have you been up Heart Attack Hill yet?”
About 15 minutes later I was finding out all about it. There was a stretch of about 250 yards where the road, now just a trail, climbed up a grade that was always more than 20 degrees and sometimes as much as 45, over large boulders. It had not rained for several days, and the trail was covered with dust as much as an inch deep, sometimes making for poor traction. When I reached the top I saw a cardboard sign saying “Heart Attack Mesa”, with an anarchist A symbol that was surrounded by a heart instead of the usual circle. There was another sign by it that said “defibulator”, which I later corrected to “defibrillator”. There was a square of fallen tree trunks surrounding a fire with a grill and some pots for coffee, and beyond it the trail led over a short stretch of level ground.
Over the course of the walk in from the parking area there were four climbs that I thought were worthy of that medical name: one as you climbed up to Handi-Camp from the place where the stream ran in a pipe under the road, another from Handi-Camp to another level clearing in the woods where the dropoff points for supplies were located, the namesake hill itself, and a fourth one after you came to the end of Heart Attack Mesa.
After that last hill there was another stretch of relatively level ground, and there I passed several kitchens setting up: Procrastination Station, Hobo Alley, and a place called Kannibal Kanyon Camp. Then the trail descended down another hill that was as strenuous as all the others when walking in the opposite direction out of the gathering. At the end of this was a place that was alternately called Welcome Home and Rainbow Crystal Kitchen where Gary Stubbs set up, and beyond that the trail curved gradually to the right and brought you to the main meadow.
The meadow was covered partly with grass, and partly with false hellebore, a short plant with large leaves that grow out in a spiral pattern, the plant that caused so much trouble for CALM and Shanti Sena in Oregon in 1997 when the rumor got out that eating them would make you high. It is in fact a highly toxic plant that can induce destructive behavior and outright psychosis. Fortunately at this gathering everyone became informed and there were no problems. The meadow was in sort of a bowl shape, surrounded by long and narrow stands of trees that interrupted more meadows leading up to the tops of the surrounding mountains. People called these narrow meadows in between the stands of trees “fingers”, and there were several leading up from the palm which was the main meadow.
As the gathering progressed, most of the old established kitchens set up close to the upper ends of these fingers, probably because the slope of the ground was more level near the tops, and possibly because they could achieve splendid isolation. After a few days, a sort of beltway trail emerged that could take you among them without as much climbing, but from the main meadow and the place where Info was located, a trip to any one of them could equal Heart Attack Hill and then more. The climb to Kid Village was just as steep and at least one and a half times as long. Going anywhere in this gathering involved some sort of strenuous climb, either going or returning, and that was the ever present feature of this gathering.
It was only along the trail immediately after the original Heart Attack Hill that there was much completed construction on this first full day, the 21st. I had arrived on one of the earliest dates that I ever had done to what turned out to be one of the latest starting gatherings I have been to. According to my friend Finch, who was there for the Spring Council decision, the site was consensed on June 15th, and there was also a consensus not to release the directions to the internet until the 16th, to allow enough time for vehicles to go to the site and claim the front gate area, the springs, and some of other strategic places. Then a snowstorm coated the site on the 18th, and it didn’t melt until the next day. So Seed Camp didn’t really start until the 19th of June, and I had arrived on the day immediately after.
One of the first things I do at a new gathering is look for a walking stick among the dead branches I see on the ground. (I have a collection of them from previous gatherings at my house.) I found a strong and straight one on Heart Attack Mesa, but it was about three feet too long. I started seeking a bow saw in the kitchens I was passing thru, and when I got to Hobo Alley, I encountered a young sister who told me her name was Change. She told me yes, they had one, but then she couldn’t find it because it had been lent out, and I followed her as she went to several nearby places in an unsuccessful attempt to find it. I could tell that she had a strong personality and could be called one of the focalizers or kitchen ogres of Hobo Alley. I finally found a saw in Welcome Home.
A few things I noticed early on when I was still in Hobo Alley. One was the youth of all the people there; almost nobody looked like they were out of their 20s. Another was that they unabashedly ate meat; there was a cooled off cast iron skillet on a campfire grill filled with bits of fried ham in it. Another was some empty bottles among their trash that looked like liquor containers. Another was a generally laid back and sometimes giggly mood among the people, and another was a friendliness to me in spite of my aged appearance. One brother said to me, “Would you like to make a sandwich, old man?” as he pointed to a loaf of bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly on the ground, and lent me his knife. All this was quite different from the aggressive atmosphere of the A-Camps I had known in the past.
Welcome Home, or Rainbow Crystal Kitchen, looked fairly advanced this day. The trail passed between two trees, and stretched between them was a large banner that said “WELCOME HOME” in colored letters that you passed under as you entered the kitchen area. To one side of the trail there was a large square of logs around a bliss fire beneath a large tarp, and on the other side there was a table and Gary’s traditional soup kettle and fire ring, made from a 55 gallon oil barrel. (There was, as usual, no bliss rail that separated the kitchen patrons from the workers.) More trees formed an exit to the trail beyond, and leaned against them were several large sign boards made out of 4’ x 8’ panels of plywood. They displayed Rap 107, Rap 121, and “Participation is the Key” in colorful calligraphic letters, hand painted by a Rainbow sister. After you passed thru the exit trees and passed the supply tent and food chopping area to the right, you saw a cloth banner that said, “BURY YOUR SHIT”.
They also brought in a plywood box with a toilet seat at each end that they put over their latrine. My tent wound up being located only about 150 yards away, so that was the one I was able to use every morning. Whatever other difficulties I had at this gathering, I was at least able to shit on a royal throne. For a day it was out in the open and you were visible from the main trail while sitting on it. The next day it was hidden by a blue tarp hung from some posts set in front of it. There was no sign saying “shitter” or ribbons or such pointing it out, and on the other side of the kitchen there was another latrine, slit trench, that had a sign on the main trail pointing it out. I wondered if this was deliberate, to prevent it from filling up too fast and save it for the kitchen crew. The pit under it must have been huge, because it didn’t fill up by the time I left the gathering.
It became evident to me that this was not going to be a gathering where I could commute every evening to my van, so I would have to set up a tent inside and sleep there nightly. It also meant that I would want to be bringing in a minimum of equipment, because it would all have to be carried out again. I had brought my usual suitcase full of fashion statements, but I wound up using only about a quarter of the clothes that I brought. The only musical instruments I brought in were my six pennywhistles.
The previous December I had undergone an operation to repair an inguinal hernia, and I had been advised by the doctors not to lift anything heavier than 20 pounds for the first six weeks, and not to do any extremely heavy lifting for at least a year. This meant no heavy backpack, as I had been used to using. After looking at various conveyances such a bicycle trailers, I finally decided that the best way to transport would be my one wheeled construction wheelbarrow. I cleaned it up and removed all the nuts and bolts to disassemble it to make it easier to carry in my van, and I put it all back together in the Bus Village lot.
It worked according to all my hoped for expectations. Using the Law of Levers that it is based on, lifting a 50 pound load required less effort than a 20 pound one lifted directly, and I was able to wheel in my tent and tarp as well as the two creature comforts I always take in that make my life so much easier after I get them there, my folding cot that gets me up off the rocks and crawling life as I lie on it, and my high holy’s folding canvas chair, that I use at Info and I can’t endure Vision Council without.
As I walked the trails I saw other people displaying many inefficient ways of carrying stuff. There were people dragging airport suitcases with small wheels that did a lot more bouncing than rolling. There were people pushing high sided wheelbarrows loaded to where they were top heavy. Many of these had two wheels on an axle at the front, which made them bounce and rock much more than only one wheel. (I had rejected this type long ago when working construction.) I saw exhausted people walking bicycles with trailers up the steeper parts of the hills. I saw a wire spoke wheel by the side of the trail that had buckled and bent under the weight of the load that had been placed on it. I saw people with backpacks, rolled up blankets draped over their shoulders, and bags with handles in both hands, all at the same time looking along the sides of the trail for a place to sit down.
I seemed to me that the most efficient way was to be able to get it all on your back and walk if you were strong enough. Two people walking with a stick on their shoulder with the cargo hung beneath it on a rope could also work well. But the best vehicles had only one wheel and it was at least a foot in diameter so it could roll over large rocks.
It eventually took three trips before I got what I thought was all the stuff that I wanted to in. There was a fourth trip with my backpack after I discovered I would need both of my sleeping bags and my long quilted greatcoat. There were a few days that I had this garment on all day; the weather was mostly cold. Most of the days the air temperature didn’t get out of the 60s Fahrenheit and it got down into the 30s some of the nights. You could be out in the middle of a meadow in bright sunlight and think you could even take all of your clothes off, but then the slightest breeze picking up could start to produce uncomfortable wind chill. Walking out from the shade of trees into an open meadow was like a change of seasons. There were some people walking around skyclad at this gathering, but I was never one of them.
to be continued
We first rejected the place that Greg had picked out, thinking that a place that you encounter shortly after Welcome Home, as you enter the main meadow and the trails start to fan out into the rest of the gathering, would be better. Before the trail reached the main meadow it crossed a small stream on a Rainbow-built bridge. Then it curved uphill for a short distance around the base of a small hill that somehow got the name of Bitch Mountain. At the base of this hill there were two clumps of trees framing a small clearing in between with a clear view of all of the main meadow where Dinner Circle and the Magic Hat collecting activities would be occurring. Gypsy and I decided to present this to the rest of the Info crew when they arrived. I found some twine at Rainbow Crystal and an old pizza box for sign cardboard, roped it off, and hung a sign that said, “Future site of info’. I found a small clearing near it that was just large enough for my dome tent, shaded at all hours of the day, with a view of the main meadow out the front door flap.
I returned to Bus Village that evening and lay down to sleep in my van. At about midnight I started hearing a car horn honking. The person in that vehicle started tooting it intermittently for long periods of time, as if that person was deliberately trying to be annoying. After about an hour it stopped. Then at about four in the morning I saw a flashlight being directed thru the windows into my van, and I saw some men in police uniforms. One of them said, “sheriff’s department”, and then asked me, “Is there anyone else in there with you?”, to which I answered no. He then said, “Did you hear anything?”, to which I also answered no. They left and went away.
When the morning of the 23rd came, I found out that somebody had responded to the honking by trying to open the hood of the bus that was doing it and remove the fuse. The honker was a woman whose nickname was Hitler and was on a pissed off at the world drunk, and she came out of the bus and stabbed the man who was trying to do it and then disappeared into the darkness. The cops at my van were Wasatch County deputies looking for her.
At about seven I saw Marken and J’ai while wheeling my barrow past their trucks that had just appeared along with a new large Info trailer. Marken told me that he lost traction on one of the hills on the road up, and had to get another truck with a chain to assist him. I told them I had a site for them to look at when they got inside.
On the way down to the stream I encountered Tigger, who told me that Fat Kids was going to set up in between Kid Village and Lovin’ Ovens. The two kitchens that were at opposite ends of the Tennessee gathering that was so clearly segregated into “hippy” and “dirty kids” sides were now going to be physically right next to each other. As Raye, a principal sister in Fat Kids expressed it later, “The two ‘lastest’ kitchens are now going to be together. One kitchen was always the last you passed going out one side of the gathering, and the other one was the last you passed going out the other side.” Tigger said that Fat Kids wanted to be in a better position along the water supply lines.
And in other less striking ways I saw the segregation start to break down as the rest of the gathering emerged. The Hobo Alley mesa was definitely dirty kid territory, but the main area inside didn’t split into the young people’s and older folk’s sides as it had in the last few years. Around the corner from Welcome home and on the same side of the stream was a small grassy mesa where a tipi circle emerged next to Dreaming Lizard’s Café, a kitchen with a definite old-timer’s feel. My long term friend Robbie Gordon erected his lodge there. That meadow was at the bottom of the littlest finger of grass, and shortly up the trail leading up into it was Iris kitchen, whose feel was predominant blacky khaki.
At about the middle of the day Marken and J’ai caught up to me at Welcome Home, and I took them to my prospective site. They said it wasn’t bad, but Marken wanted to explore more. They looked at Greg’s site, and J’ai came back saying, “Unfortunately, we may have found a better one”. I didn’t like the other site because it was mostly covered with hellebore and the ground looked muddy and swampy in places. At that point Karen and Mike Cecilio were arriving with their kids, and we all agreed to give the decision to them. We looked covetously at a space in front of some trees at a major fork in the trail by main meadow, but it had already been taken over by a few tents and a sign that said, “Rusty Nails”.
Prominent in their reasoning was the idea that some of our locations at previous gatherings were “too lonely”. “People pass by us once on their way in, and then never come back.” Greg’s site was further up into the palm of the hand and nearer to a grand intersection of many trails leading up into the various fingers, so they decided that Info would be better there. But I told them I was going to keep the campsite I had already made, mostly because I wanted to be near Gary and Robbie. (And it was also near that shitter.)
Several of the people who had been the most involved with the physical construction of the Info booth in the past did not come to this gathering, so it came together in its final form later than usual. The first construction was the bulletin boards on the 26th. A large tarp was not hung until the 27th, and it was not until the 28th that it was rehung in its final position and the construction of the counter and bench was started.
On the evening of the 23rd, back in Bus Village, I got a front row seat view of the end of the horn honker stabbing drama out of the rear windows of my van. At about ten minutes before seven, three Forest Service SUVs came onto the meadow and two parked near my rear bumper. The treeline beyond went around in an arc, and soon three crew cab pickups with Wasatch County insignia on their doors came in and stopped further into the meadow nearer the trees. Several county deputies got out and a few walked back into the woods. About fifteen minutes later I saw one coming back out guiding a handcuffed woman in black pants and an olive green shirt. She was put thru the right rear door of one of the crew cabs, and another cop stood at the still open door and appeared to be interrogating her for about 20 minutes. While this was going on another policeman came out carrying a large plastic trash bag, opened a lid that covered the short pickup bed, and threw it in.
They all lingered for about 45 minutes, and shortly before they left, they all got out of their vehicles and stood together with their arms around each other as first one of them took a picture with a camera, then handed it to a man in a red shirt who looked Rainbow who was walking by and joined the others for some more shots. Shortly after they had all left I got out of my van and walked over to Marken’s truck and saw two county officers who were now standing by the road out in front and asked them, and one of them verified that the person captured was indeed the stabbing suspect. This was one police intervention that most Rainbows were glad to see.
[In August she pleaded no contest to a charge of aggravated assault and attempted murder and in September the murder charge was dismissed and she was sentenced for the assault to 300 days in the Wasatch County jail and ordered to complete a mental health evaluation.]
The next morning, the 24th, I climbed for the first time up to Kid Village and Fat Kids. Both of them were barely past the point of having tarps up and some simple fire rings of rocks big enough to support a few grills. Felipe greeted me with, “Hello, Bill; would you like some coffee?”, to which I accepted and then sat for a while in one of the several canvas chairs that were scattered about.
It was going to be an hour and a half before they would be serving their usual breakfast smorgasbord of potatoes, eggs, pancakes, syrup made from fresh fruit, oatmeal, and herbal teas along with the coffee, so I went over to Fat Kids, which didn’t have any sign identifying it, but I was assured that was what it was after asking some of the people there. Underneath a large tarp they had folded over a rope to make a peaked roof between two trees, they had erected two tripods out of thick logs, maybe eight inches in diameter, and the ten foot space in between them that they filled by the next day with a table made of logs as big laid next to each other and lashed with twine. It sloped as steeply as the mountainside beneath it.
A fireplace was built by the uphill tripod, but it was only about a third of the size of the immense stove that was built in Kid Village. There was a side with a grate to put pots on, and another side with a flat griddle that you could fry eggs or cook pancakes on, and this was not what I would have imagined they would have needed to turn out the quantities of Dinner Circle food they have in the past. There were no chairs of any kind in Fat Kids; everyone sat on rocks, logs, or the ground. I surmised this was the reason Tigger always wore a sheet of leather hanging from the back of his belt, long enough to reach the back of his knees He always pulled on it to make sure it covered his butt as he sat down.
At every gathering I had been to before this, this kitchen had always been at some extreme end of the gathering, making it difficult to visit them on a regular basis. Now I was going to be able to be there every morning if I wanted. And over the course of the next six days, every morning was different. That first day they only had one fireplace toward the back and uphill from the rest of the kitchen, and a brother and a sister were making what they called “pupusas”, corn meal pancakes according to an Argentine recipe that had green chili, cheese, and red peppers. One morning there was a tub of a mixture of eggs, rice, potatoes, with a pile of bacon to the side, and the kitchen workers served themselves. One morning Tigger was there and he said, “Oh, Hi, BB, want to make your own breakfast?”, and pointed out to me some piles on the table of cut up yellow peppers, tomatoes, spinach, onions, and cheese on the table, then the flat griddle with eggs in cartons next to it. And another morning a brother wanted to make what he called “calzones”, which were pancakes folded over a mixture of potatoes and eggs, made in a process that took several steps before they all wound up in a serving tub. At the same time, someone else was taking cinnamon rolls that had been baked the previous evening and dipping them in scrambled eggs the try to make a new version of French toast.
On the 24th construction of Lovin’ Ovens had not been started yet, but a little ways over Shining Light had hung a large tarp among some trees next to a grass covered mesa that provided an expansive view the main meadow below and the mountains beyond. There were several bundles of tipi poles laying on the ground.
At about noon that day I was at Welcome Home, and there was a brother hard at work with a gasoline powered chainsaw. He told me that he was a professional arborist, and that the rangers had given him permission to cut down any standing dead trees that were 12 inches in diameter or less. Chainsaws were in frequent use elsewhere during the Seed Camp period up to the first of July, and there were lots of large timbers available for construction.
In the evening of that day there was the gathering’s first Dinner Circle, and seven kitchens brought food. Daniel was back to focalize it, and he again put up his pagan poles showing the four compass directions and laid out circles on the grass with white flour. There was a large enough circular area covered by grass and not hellebore. There was some kind of burrowing animal that left crooked snake-like mounds all over the ground surface, with many entry and exit holes. The mounds dried out hard in the sun, and walking was sometimes difficult.
Back on the 23rd, after all the gear that the Cecilio family had set down in my spot had been picked up and taken over to the real site of Info, a brother came up and asked if this spot was going to become available, and after we answered yes he set up a tent in it, while a friend of his slept in a sleeping bag outside. They stayed until the last day in June and the area became a residential zone. Sometimes I heard loud snoring coming, from the tent and I was wondering if he was having apnea problems. Then they moved out and his tent was replaced by two more that contained people in new and clean clothes who seemed like gathering newbies. One of them lit a personal fire that wasn’t more than about ten feet away thru the trees from my tent. I could hear all their conversations clearly, and they stayed up until well after midnight. Then on the 1st several other tents appeared on the meadow in front of the trees, all in close quarters, sometimes less than five feet from each other.
The first night I slept inside the gathering on the 25th, a drum circle arose at Dreaming Lizards, about a hundred yards away across the stream’s riparian area with nothing to dampen the sound in between. The next night I heard two drum jams going in different places, both more distant. Afterwards there was a single large boogie circle several hundred yards away at a far end of the main meadow. The drumming would continue until at least three in the morning, and some nights it lasted until the first light of sunrise. Then very little drumming would be heard during the daytime until after Dinner Circle.
All night long in the main meadow area there would be at least a background din of party sounds with whoops and hollers, seemingly just to get pleasure at breaking any nighttime stillness. There would be occasional loud conversations by people passing by on the main trail. It got to its worst on the night of July 2nd. On the main trail there was a tarp laid on the ground and a man sat next to it saying over and over again, “This is the karma carpet. There is no trade here. Take what you want, and leave what you want. You don’t have to take anything; you don’t have to leave anything.” He kept this up until at least three in the morning, sounding more and more like he was under the increasing influence of some kind of mind altering substance.
There was another man with him who kept yelling in a growling gruff voice, “We need a cuddle puddle here. We need some body heat.” There were no sounds that indicated that one had actually started. Apparently Crucial Kitchen, which had set up nearby, had brought over some soup and chai tea for them to serve out. This man for a while kept yelling “Hey, we got some shit over here. Come get our shit.”
One thing I had learned that time I was in the Austin city jail was that no matter how loud the place you were in was, sooner or later you would get so exhausted that you would fall asleep, and I waited for that principle to apply at this gathering.
to be continued
It was on this day that I started to especially notice the LEO presence. At the gathering last year in Montana the Incident Commander – the head of the law enforcement officer Incident Command Team that comes every year, sent by officials in Washington and mostly supplanting the rangers of the local National Forest – made somewhat of a show of coming onto the site in civilian clothes with no gun holster, and sitting along with his Operations Officer with us Rainbows in several councils where the operating plan was discussed. He had said things like, “We might as well work together”, and “I think we can accomplish a lot more thru cooperation and not confrontation”, and he never mentioned any permit. I started waiting until this year to see if this was a trend that was going to continue.
Unfortunately I have to say that it did not. The operating plan still sufficed for a permit, but I was told by Gary and some people at Info that there was a new Incident Commander this year, and he never set foot inside the site for the duration of this gathering. And he sent teams of uniformed cops into the gathering with dogs to sniff for drugs, and they went all over the gathering and went into camps and tents for periods of several hours each day. There was also a troop of four policemen on horseback that roamed the site, and calls of “six up, K-9” and “six-up giddyup” were always popping up in the background. The dogs did not get a reputation for accuracy. There were also some occasions that Wasatch County officers came on site, in large groups of fifteen or more. I was told that some of them were especially offended by all of the six up calling.
The many people who got tickets for marijuana possession, not keeping their dogs on leashes, missing or inoperative lights on their vehicles, and other such things were able to appear in a court that was held in a recreational vehicle that was parked in the supply lot at the base of Heart Attack Hill. It was usually referred to in conversations as “The Kangaroo Court”.
At about 4 o’clock in the afternoon a cold front I could feel with a burst of wind from the north blew thru, and the temperature dropped from 69 to 58 in about an hour. A brief shower threatened Dinner Circle, but it let up before the serving began. Then a steady light drizzle started to fall as darkness came and it continued until about 3 am. This was the only rain of any appreciable length during this gathering. (There were some brief sprinkles on July 3rd.) It congealed the deep dust on the trails for a while, and produced no mud.
On the 28th my health started to deteriorate.
I was asked many times during the first days of the gathering if I was having any trouble with the altitude, and I always answered no, because I really didn’t think I was having any. I was huffing and puffing a lot, but that was because of all the climbing. But I found out that it can be something that sneaks up on you after a few days. At Dinner Circle on the 28th I was about a third of the way thru the pan of food that I had collected when my stomach started feeling upset and I couldn’t bring myself to eat any more bites. I first thought that there might have been some kind of food poisoning or a flu bug, but the feelings never got to the full scale vomiting stage. This feeling continued thruout the following days, and I found myself having to force myself to eat.
Then I read some of the papers that were now sitting on the Info counter and found out what the symptoms of altitude sickness were: fatigue or weakness, shortness of breath upon exertion, lack of appetite, nausea, and also excessive flatulation – and they all fit what I was feeling perfectly, right down to long gas pains in my intestines. Again, this all did not start to hit me until the 28th, eight days after I had arrived onsite. Marken and a few others around Info told me that they were also feeling some of the same things, and that the onset for them was also delayed.
Shortly after sunrise on June 29th I was walking along the main trail between my ten and Info and I saw a friend, a brother named Gabriel, sitting on the ground by the side of the trail, and he called me over and told me that he was sorry to have to be the one to pass on to me some bad news. “A brother died last night.” I replied by saying, “I’m not trying to make a joke out of this, but did somebody literally have a heart attack on Heart Attack Hill?”, and he replied, “No, he died in his sleeping bag”.
His name was Tim Bear, he had been a long term worker at Musical Veggie kitchen, and he died in the middle of the night in his sleep. It had been one of the coldest nights of the gathering, and he lived in Texas and was not used to the high altitude. I got some more medical details later from Tigger later: he was 68, had had congestive heart failure and was on medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, as well as being obese. Some of his friends were wondering if he hadn’t deliberately exposed himself because he wanted to die at a gathering.
(This was the second death that could be associated with this gathering. A woman named Suzy Sunshine had a heart attack in the night of the 14th of June at the site where Spring Council was being held.)
Later that morning I saw a quad runner with a basket stretcher on the back going up to CALM, and someone told me at Info that the county coroner had come in to take the body out. That evening there was a candlelight vigil at Instant Soup.
That morning I also found the construction of Lovin’ Ovens almost complete and words about another death. One of their beloved kitchen ogres named Abraham Oliphant had passed away on Halloween night of the previous year, and a memorial display had been set up for him. I learned he was the author of the Hopi prophesy parody scroll that I put a picture of on the preface page of my first book:
“When the beans and rice are burning, and the high holies are sniveling, there will come a tribe of pirates who care ... sometimes. They will be known as the Ogres of the Ovens.”
There were two renderings of this prophesy on display this day at the kitchen.
Later that morning I had an encounter at Kid Village.
Two years ago in the early days of the Tennessee gathering, I had been standing in the Kid Village by the table that had the coffee condiments with my cup in my hand when Felipe said to some other people who were sitting in a circle of chairs, “Let me tell you of the customs among our people.” (Felipe is a Yaqui Indian.) “When an elder comes in, one of you younger people gets up and offers your seat to him. That’s the way it is done among us. Bill is an elder, so one of you get up so he can sit down.” Felipe also told me that as an elder, I could also go to the head of the line like the kids are allowed to do. (I decided to return the courtesy by waiting until most of the children were thru.)
I had not been expecting this, and I wondered if this privilege was going to last thru the next year, but I was allowed this by the regular servers in the line thruout the next gathering in Montana. In the early days of this 2014 gathering, the kitchen workers were more likely to be presented a big tub of potatoes mixed with eggs and another tub with pancakes, and allowed to serve themselves without going by the serving line for outsiders at all. (Everybody, of course, washed their hands.) And on a few mornings there was another tub that had some strips of bacon mixed in with the eggs.
But I still was wondering if all this was going to end, and this day I found out it was. Felipe had been absent all morning, and a man came up to me and said, “You’re going to have to stand in line with all the others. This food is for the workers, and you haven’t been doing any.” There was another one standing behind him giving him support. I asked if he had talked with Felipe, and he said something like “Yeah, I know Felipe has his things...” in a kind of dismissive and contemptuous tone of voice that indicated that Felipe’s leadership role in that kitchen was not as unquestioned by all of the others there as it seemed to be.
So here Kid Village had reverted to the pattern of so many years ago: for the first few days of the gathering, it would sitting in circles of chairs in conversations amid passing joints with Felipe and Lynn and Joe Braun and other old friends that I had known for years, and all warmth and friendship and love. Then starting on the 28th or 29th there would be a mass influx of people who had never seen me before and to whom I was no different from some random person who had just come in from off the trail. I would inevitably get into some kind of argument with one of them.
And here was also new installment of something I had seen so many times in so many other kitchens in years before. If they don’t see you working in their own kitchen, they assume you’re a bliss ninny who never works anywhere else. And this man in front of me had probably never been to Dinner Circle where he could see me running the Magic Hat, if he even know there was such a thing since Kid Village never brought food to Dinner Circle had their own collection can that went around their own morning circle.
I didn’t argue any further and went over to Fat Kids, where they didn’t happen to have any food being served at the time, and I went down the hill to the man meadow area. I might could have gone back some time Felipe was there and told him about this, but the accumulated feelings of years predominated and I decided not to go back there for the remainder of the gathering. It was only on the afternoon of July 4th, when their annual spaghetti trip was the only food anywhere, that I went back. I arrived a while after they had started serving, and the wait in line was only about five minutes. The rest of the gathering I stayed away from there.
(And all of my music making was in front of Robbie’s tipi, where I also got to play with Henry the Fiddler a few times. I was still able to blow into a wind instrument at 9,000 feet, but there were times when I had to drop out completely for a verse.)
I spent a tired afternoon in my tent letting my mind go to contemplate all this: Even tho a lot of the words at Rainbow councils celebrate how there are no hierarchies and leaders and no person is any better than others, the fact was, as I had written in the last chapter of my first book:
... there are groups of people who share privileges with each other that they don’t grant to everybody they encounter at a gathering. A regular worker in a kitchen gets access to food and smoking opportunities that are not available to any bliss ninny who just walked in off the trail. The way to attaining these privileges is clear and easy for anyone who does not have insufferable social problems.
Find a kitchen that you feel good in. If you are a strong young man, haul lots of water, fetch and chop up lots of firewood, assist in the digging of lots of latrines. If you are a young woman you can do all of these same things, or you can gain admittance by chopping up lots of vegetables, standing with spoons behind lots of serving counters, washing lots of pots and pans, babysitting lots of other parent’s kids. Many of these activities can be done by not-so-young people as well. (My own Rainbow career began when I was 40.) Whatever the exact nature, be ready to take on sometimes strenuous physical tasks in your early years.
25 years ago when I was making my living doing construction I was able to run right into the middle of all this, and it made me feel strong and healthy and it got me lots of insider privileges with lots of kitchens and their people we weren’t supposed to call leaders. Some of these privilege gaining relationships endured to this day, and some of them went back as much as 25 years.
But some of these people were older than I am, and they have been having some problems that might indicate that they aren’t going to be around much longer. One of them had had several cardiac events, one of them leading to a helicopter evacuation from a gathering. Another had to carry an oxygen bottle at this gathering. (And the only medical condition that I did not share with the brother who had died of exposure was the obesity. I had all of the other afflictions myself.) Now it wasn’t entirely old fogey kitchen ogres that I had managed to gain the affections of, I had gotten enthusiastic accommodations from younger people like Tigger and some of the people at Fat Kids, and from Useless and the offspring kitchens of Montana Mud, but these had still come about as a result of older folks initially introducing me to them.
I thought back to the feeling I had at the Katuah camp at the Tennessee gathering, where there was an efficient kitchen operation and there were many people who acted together like they had grown to trust and love each other, but where I couldn’t say I really knew any of the people there (except one whom I had met years ago at east coast regionals). Would I be able to do the carry water and chop wood apprenticeship all over again with these people, starting 25 years later in my life? Like it or not, participation was the key, and that participation was something a young person was far more able to provide than an old one, especially in extreme environments like this gathering.
I was able to come up with a few tasks that a person with lesser physical strength could do, jobs that are more frequently done by women in spite of the gender equality ideals of the council speakers. One could chop up vegetables or stand behind the serving line. One could make herbal teas if a stronger person could be found to fill and bring over the brewing pot. One could be continuously microtrashing around the kitchen. One could be babysitting the children of the other more heavily involved workers
But none of these would get you the prestige of being able to do the heavy manual labor that being a full fledged kitchen cook requires, of having the strength to pickup large pots full of water and shove large pieces of wood around in a fire and push spoons and spatulas around in large quantities of thick foodstuff . This strength and stamina would be necessary to get into a position where, if you aren’t a leader, you can least get other people to do things you ask them to do.
This let this kind of thinking let go on for a few hours. It wasn’t until about 4 in the afternoon that I finally found any food. This was after they had spent most of the afternoon at Welcome Home boiling soapy water in the kettle to wash it, and then emptying it and starting a new batch of soup and waiting for things to get soft. It was a struggle getting down a bowl of that, and again I couldn’t eat all of what I got at Dinner Circle.
to be continued
At about ten minutes before six on the morning of July 1st, I heard a lot of noise out on the main meadow. The door of my tent has a secondary flap that you can unzip from the inside and drop to show a screen that you can look out thru. I opened it a bit and saw out on the meadow 30 to 40 people all hollering “triangle” over and over amid whoops and cheers. In between I heard other people saying, “Who wants some donuts?”. My thermometer said 38 degrees, and I was wrapped warmly in my blanket and not too ambitious about getting up, so I laid back down.
But more and more people came onto the meadow and the noise continued. Finally I decided to see if there really were donuts out there, and I got up and walked out towards the crowd. The people out there were almost all young, looking under 30, and all dirty kids in their manner of dress. There was indeed a large cookie sheet with a big pile of bits of dough that had been deep fried in cooking oil. (They weren’t in the ring shape that you get in a commercial bakery, just little blobs.) There was also a big pot of coffee with a ladle.
I asked someone what this was, and he answered, “It’s something that Fat Kids started a few years ago, and they do this every year.” Then I saw Raye, and she explained it to me. “We have this at sunrise on July 1st, to officially open the gathering. Instead of standing in a circle, we stand in a triangle. We serve coffee and donuts, and instead of saying “om” we say “yum”.
People were calling “triangle” in the same way the old folks call “circle”, and going around greeting each other with “happy triangle”. This was all breaking what would have otherwise been the silence that surrounds the camp near dawn after the last of the drummers and partiers have gone to sleep. One older man walked around protesting, saying that he thought it was rude to be making such noise at that hour.
But I knew that the more he protested, the more the younger people would have been motivated to more noise. I saw what this was: an outright spoof of the older Rainbows and their sometimes pretentious circle ceremonies. The whole idea was rebellion against the Rainbow establishment, and the noise when the high holies wanted to sleep was central to it. I was told that this whole activity had actually started about a half an hour earlier with a boisterous parade starting up at Fat Kids and proceeding down the hill to the main meadow. The sun rose and bathed the meadow in its light, the coffee pot was emptied, and the commotion died down about 45 minutes later. I knew that if I came to the gathering next year, I would be sure to be up early on July 1st.
On that day I had planned a trip out to my van in Bus Village to get some more food and clean clothes; even tho I was feeling so weak. I was running out of clean socks and private stash food, and I wanted to reassure myself that my van was still where I had left it now that it was filled with people I didn’t know. I left shortly after the people had dispersed from the main meadow. As I passed the Hobo Alley kitchen, I saw the sheet of donuts that had been been in the main meadow, with about a third of the pile still left. I asked if this was where they had been cooked, and I was answered yes.
They also had a deep iron pan full of fried potatoes, eggs, and bacon that they were serving out to everybody who came up to the counter, and the line was never more than about three people long. I decided to come back the next day to see if this was going to continue. The hill up to it from Welcome Home was also not as bad as the one to Kid Village.
There were no shuttles running at that hour of the morning, and I had to walk both ways on the road between Handi-Camp and Bus Village. The latter place was now almost completely covered with vehicles, and there was evidence that some people had been trying to organize the parking into straight rows. This was the first time I had tried to make the trips back to back, going and returning without interruption. All the previous ones had been just one way at the beginning or end of the day. When I got back to my tent I felt totally exhausted.
I lay down and wound up sleeping for about two hours. I managed to walk to Iris after hearing a “free food in the woods” call, and make it to the shitter and back, but for the rest of the day I barely had the energy to get out of my tent. At about 4 in the afternoon I made a slow and agonizing walk over to Info and tell Marken that I didn’t feel well enough to pass the Magic Hat, and I watched Dinner Circle from my tent. This was the first time since one evening with the stomach flu at the Wyoming gathering in 2008 that I hadn’t been out there. My morale was at it greatest depth that evening.
The next morning, the 2nd, I made my way back up to Hobo Alley at about eight in the morning. There was a pot of coffee made, but no food started yet. I got to talking with the brother at the coffee pot for a while, and he told me that many of the people in the camp were really modern versions of the 1930s hobos who traveled around the country by hopping aboard freight trains.
Not far down the trail was a tripod of sticks with a cardboard sign on top that said Kannibal Kanyon Kamp. Another sign below said, “Drop your booze and kids off here” Another near the bottom said “No brawlz in the woodz, please!” There was also hung from the tripod a rope with an old sun-bleached femur bone and an empty plastic half gallon bottle with a label on it saying, “Admiral Nelson’s Spiced Rum” A few days previous I had also seen hanging from it some sports bras of various colors. Now someone had removed them and integrated them into a long chain of tied together bras that was now over the trail stretched between two trees. A brother was asking for more donations from women who passed by on the trail, saying he wanted to get enough to make a triangle of chains with them.
Back in Hobo Alley, Change announced that she had a bunch of potatoes, and that if someone could help chop them up, they could get breakfast started. I thought back to my thoughts of three days ago about how chopping vegetables was one of the things elderly people could still do, and I asked Change where the hand wash was. It was a plastic bottle with holes drilled into its lid that hung from a string that let you sprinkle bleach water on your hands. And for the first time since the 90s, before I started being involved with Info and the bank council and supply and not wanting to display any favoritism toward any one kitchen, I helped out in a kitchen by chopping the potatoes that I was ultimately going to eat. There was a brother named Zachary who fried up a bunch of bacon in a second skillet as I was giving him potatoes.
After the batch of potatoes, eggs, and bacon were on the serving counter, another sister came into the kitchen and starting straightening things up. She had with her a bottle of Admiral Nelson’s Spiced Rum that still had about an inch of liquid left in it, and she took a few nips as she was hanging out. She seemed to be only at the onset of tipsy, and much more giggly than belligerent. Nobody protested or tried to chastise her for her drinking, and I was again impressed at how little agro energy I experienced at this camp compared to the classical A-Campers. (And at this time it felt like they were treating me better than the Kid Villagers.)
When I arrived at Hobo Alley at about nine in the morning on the 3rd, it was almost devoid of any activity and I eventually wound up at Fat Kids, where they were having their calzone movie that morning. The mornings of the 4th thru the 7th I found or made breakfast at the place where my privilege has been unquestioned for the last 14 years, Info. Eggs, pancake makings, and salsa were available in the Info supply tent, and there was a propane stove on top of a folding kitchen table outside.
The Silence was mostly well maintained on the morning of the 4th. The previous afternoon someone had taken a simple log about six feet long, left the bark on it, and buried one end of it a posthole in the ground, and by the time Dinner Circle had arrived the talismans and trinkets had started to accumulate around it. The people assembling this morning and sitting down grouped themselves into a variety of different patterns that changed and blended into another. First there was a circle of people that didn’t center on the new peace pole, then some others did start to form arcs that centered on it, then new circles formed in new places that then expanded to meet other ones already formed. Finally there were concentric circles around the pole.
I walked around for a bit while this was going on, but then I started to feel sick in the stomach again and went back to my tent, and I wound up watching the Om and the climax thru my screen door flap. People got up, started to hold hands and walk backward to form a large circle around the meadow, and it backed up to where it could go no further than the trees that surrounded my tent. The portion of the circle nearest to me was standing about eight feet in front of my door.
The Om didn’t start until 12:03, and was rather quiet, and after only nine minutes there was the whoop and holler and it was all over. I found it rather disappointing after remembering that 30 minute long Om of last year in Montana, or that especially resonant one when we were all crammed together in the small meadow two years ago in Tennessee.
The meadow afterward had as many naked people as last year, and there were at first no watermelons, because the shipment that had arrived the previous afternoon had still not made it up Heart Attack Hill from the supply depot. But a sudden mass effort first inspired by a local who brought a few of them to Info on his pack horse got them all in in about two hours.
After walking around the meadow for a while (my stomach was feeling better) I returned to my tent, and found three men dressed like locals sitting together in the shade provided by the trees around it, looking out onto the meadow, watching the show and talking to each other about it. They were maybe five feet to the right of the tent. One of them even said, “Sorry to be sitting so near to your tent”, and I said I didn’t mind. Then I noticed that all of them were holding aluminum beer cans, and I said, “But some of the people around here might be giving you some shit about that”, as I pointed to one of them.
One of them answered, “We can’t smoke pot. We wish we could. So we do this and keep it low key. We really wish we could do some pot, but we can’t.” I didn’t ask why they couldn’t; I first thought they might have some kind of medical reason, but later I thought it might have something to do with keeping jobs or church positions. I didn’t talk about it any further with them, and they indeed didn’t start acting drunk and rowdy.
Later that afternoon I determined to visit Granola Funk before they took it down after their last show, so I could describe the elaborate structure they build every year,. This year’s was at the extreme end of a trail that led up the finger that included CALM. It was at the top of a hill that overlooked another upper meadow almost as big as the main meadow, and was quite possibly the highest camp on the site. They built a big black box made to look like a 1950s television set. There was on opening on the front for the stage that was shaped like the picture tube, a volume and channel dial painted on the wall by the right side, and an aluminum foil covered set of rabbit ear antennas on the top. I never made it up that hill for any of their performances after dark.
I had been planning to start taking my stuff back out of the gathering starting on the evening of the 5th, but this evening the thought of spending another night amid all noise was enough to make me start doing it a day early. I took all of my heavy bedding back to the van and spent the night in Bus Village. I had to move my van to get away from some people who had parked a school bus nearby and were using a loud Honda generator to power their TV set inside.
to be continued
On the afternoon of the 5th I heard a call of “six up giddyup in a hurry” while sitting in Info, and I walked out and saw a mounted LEO trotting up to join the two others in the middle of the main meadow. Later I heard an explanation: at the “main council” circle that had been starting every day at noon in the main meadow since the 1st, and to which about two dozen people had been showing up every day to share concerns and heartsongs and such, one man got angry at what another had said and pulled the peace pole out of the ground and hit that person on the side of his body. That person was finally arrested by the policemen.
On the 6th the piles of plastic trash bags awaiting further removal started to appear, and the sisters of Fat Kids again did their annual tradition of handing out garbage bags on the trail while topless. At maybe two in the afternoon I was at the grand intersection when I heard, “Well if it isn’t the number one bliss ninny, four years straight”, and looked around to see who said it, and saw it was the man who had challenged me at Kid Village. He was carrying some large silver metal object that looked heavy, and he looked like he was frustrated with his efforts. I didn’t give him any reply, and he walked on, saying again as he left, “Bliss ninny!”
The morning of 7th I made breakfast at Info and got over to my campsite later than I had wanted to because I was still feeling weak. I took down the tarp and the tent and got everything into bags and into the wheelbarrow and towards the end I was again feeling out of breath and exhausted. I wound up having to stop and rest so much that I saw the Vision Council assemble, make a circle holding hands, and then sit down and start talking while I was still working at my campsite. I had wanted to be there at the beginning, but I had to just sit down one more time.
Then I heard a woman’s voice in a tent that was still in the clearing next door. She was sobbing, and saying things like, “Now I’m out here and I don’t know where she went to and how I’m going to get out of here. Where is my family when I need them?” My Shanti Sena alarm went off in my head, and I got up and went over to the tent and asked, “What is your situation? Are you out here alone?”
After some more questions, she told me that her female friend had left her to take some of their gear out to their vehicle, and she was starting to feel very sick, and she still had a large heavy backpack to carry out, and she didn’t know where her friend was and when she was going to be coming back and didn’t think she was going to be strong enough to get out of there. I asked her if she thought she could make it over to CALM, and she didn’t think so.
So I thought about how to find someone with a radio to summon them, and the nearest place that seemed likely was the Vision Council circle, so I started walking over there. As I was walking, I observed how fast I was doing it and how suddenly my energy had returned. I had just gotten a dose of spiritual adrenaline thru my concern for her.
I first went up to Robbie and asked in a soft voice if he knew anyone who might have a radio, and he said no, so I started around the outside of the circle toward Marken. Then Robbie interrupted the circle and asked if anyone could find me a CALM radio. Nobody there had a radio, but some suggested that the whole circle together holler “Hello, CALM!”, which they did a few times. This brought a few people coming down the hill to the circle asking about our call, and I pointed out the tent to them. I told a tall and muscular young brother that I could lead him there, but he walked faster than I could keep up, and several other people got there before me.
When I got to the tent I found the woman sitting out on the ground in front of the tent and a young sister was asking her some medical questions. There was a brief time during the conversations that we all introduced ourselves, and the tall muscular brother said that he was part Lakota Indian, and his name was Strong Bear. A person casting actors for a western movie would have found his appearance perfect for the part. The CALM sister decided that the problem was the same altitude sickness that had hit me and so many others.. Strong Bear offered to take the backpack out and put the straps over his shoulders.
I finally got out to the Vision Council circle at about a quarter to two. There were about 50 people there, and the circle did not get appreciably bigger for the rest of the afternoon. The feather had apparently already gone around twice, and when I arrived Robbie was beginning to speak. From all of the people that the feather went to afterward I heard near universal agreement that the gathering had to go someplace east; there had already been enough in the Rocky Mountain west. (The discussion remained remarkably focused on the question of location. There were no speeches that started out with “C’mon, family” or laments about us losing our original ideals or calls to join political demonstrations after the gathering or pitches for new communities that were forming.)
The disagreement that remained was where in the east; there was perhaps a majority that wanted New England, but there was a sizeable faction that wanted the Great Lakes area, and one brother enthusiastically pitched for the Talladega National Forest in Alabama, where half of the split gathering in 1993 was and got a few supporters. All of the reasons for not choosing either area were ones I had heard before: not enough sites that were big enough, we’ve scouted that area before and haven’t found anything, heat and humidity, mosquitoes, private land scattered within National Forest boundaries, the cops in that state, do you have any maps that show specific sites in mind?, etc.
There were several unsuccessful attempts at calling for consensus, but one brother managed to get thru a temporary consensus restricting the agreed upon area to the Northeast, Lake Michigan, or Alabama. This was not to be considered the final consensus; discussion could continue afterward to narrow the decision down.
The council was interrupted at 6:30 by the last Dinner Circle and the last collection of the Magic Hat. Most of the estimates of attendance that I saw were from 8 to 10 thousand people, about what it has been for the last several years. The total contributions to the Hat were $13,498 in paper bills and probably about $300 in change. This would average from around $1.40 to $1.70 per attendee.
We discovered the value of announcing the total collected in a loud voice to the people still in the circle. This would often bring people coming up to the place we were counting (always inside the innermost circle of seated people) with additional contributions. We would then announce the new total, and this would bring more. This especially worked when we were in the high eights or nines near to an even thousand dollar amount. It got us over 1,000 on the 30th and 5th, and over 2,000 on the 2nd and 3rd.
After the banking council was over I was walking back to my former campsite when I heard the man where the feather had stopped calling the Vision Council back to order, but I wanted to get the last of my gear back to Bus Village before it got dark. I found out on Facebook after getting home that somehow South Dakota had arisen to replace Alabama, and the rest of that temporary consensus had become final. The 2015 annual gathering will be in Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire, Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, or South Dakota.
On my very last walk up the hill to Bus Village I finally was able to do what Gary had told me to do several times during this gathering. A young sister walking up behind me said, “Would you like me to push that for you for a while?” I said yes, and she took the two handles of the wheelbarrow and started walking at a steady pace, never stopping to rest until we got to the intersection at the top. If I had been walking by myself, I might have done it a little slower and taken some rest stops, but I said to myself, “If you keep pace with her, you’ll get there a lot faster and be able to rest a lot sooner.”
Towards the end of the walk, we started to converse, and she said that she had seen me out there with the Magic Hat and doing other things around Info and other places. “It seems that every time I see you, you’re doing something for the Family.” Before and after that there were other thank yous and more stuff like that, but that’s the line I remember. I took the wheelbarrow the rest of the way to the van and set it down by the side door with the load in place and the bungees still stretched, and immediately went inside to sleep. I disassembled the wheelbarrow and transferred it and its contents into the van shortly after sunrise the next morning, and a brother at the front gate who stopped me to tell me I had left a backpack on my roof got a ride down the hill to Heber City.
Thus ended my stay at the Heart Attack Hill Gathering, where I went all the way from “if it isn’t the number one bliss ninny” to “every time I see you, you’re doing something for the Family”. I drove east on highway 40 until it was late enough in the day to check into a motel, and that happened in the town of Roosevelt. Then I took two more days on I-70 and I-35 in Colorado and Kansas getting home to Muskogee on Thursday the 10th.
I continued to be exhausted all day Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, and Monday happened to be the day scheduled for my regular four month checkup at the VA hospital. To my surprise, my oxygen level was at 100%, my hemoglobin level was normal, and the problem turned out to be abnormally low blood pressure. After abstaining for a day from all four of the medications they had put me on for the opposite condition, I gradually started them up again while measuring my pressure with my own machine. It has returned to the way it was before the gathering, but with only half of the daily dose I was previously taking of three of these pills. It has continued this way for two weeks, and I’m wondering if this will be a long lasting change. I’m also wondering if had been taking my BP at the gathering and reducing my dosages there in response to it, instead of continuing what I had been taking before it, my days there would have been better.
How was this gathering for me? It was strenuous, exhausting, and mostly malnourished. The last was partly because of the effects of the altitude sickness, and partly because of the uncertainty of finding food. The only physical labor I was able to perform was walking the Magic Hat around the Dinner Circle. No construction, carting in supplies, no posthole or latrine digging or water transporting. (No need to chop wood in Info except maybe to build benches; we don’t have firepits.) Otherwise I had to summon all of my will and stamina just getting my body around the site – and I never felt so old in my life. This feeling alternated between misery at feeling this way and optimism and pride at seeing myself being able to endure and prevail in spite of it. The latter feeling might be more conducive to my overall survival, but the former might be the one that makes me be more realistic and not overextend myself and do myself in. Whichever I felt, I was not able to do all that I wished I could do., and I was very frustrated. There were a lot of places I only had the energy to visit once, where if they had been nearer to the center I would have been able to partake of more good times there.
How was the gathering for the other people around me? I heard many say that this gathering, in spite of the sometimes constant cries of “six up”, it was one of the most peaceful ones they had been at in a long time. The air was full of lovin’ yous and namastes and that certain kind of laugh I call “the stoned giggle”. I myself did not hear the call of “Shanti Sena” once during my entire stay at this gathering. I asked around about it once at Info, and the only story that came back was from a brother who saw a commotion around a person who was trying to take pictures at a “naked parade” that walked down the trail from Shining Light and proceeded all the way to Welcome Home on the 3rd.
There were no complaints coming thru Info about a rowdy A-Camp, and all reports were that the front gate stayed sober under the ogreship of two strong-willed older men who built a small kitchen and kept it manned all day. Some stories I heard suggested that many of the regular A-Campers had gone instead to a gathering at the same time in West Virginia, one intended to be an alternative to the “national” and called the “rational”. At this gathering in Utah the alcohol was absorbed at the end of the initial climb in by the far less rowdy and more compassionate energy of the young people at Hobo Alley. Those who drank further inside the gathering mostly did it discreetly, and there weren’t any pouring out onto the ground confrontations. The old tradition of absolute prohibition of alcohol continued to break down, but in a way that was compromising to the concerns of those who didn’t want to be around it.
(Marijuana use continued to be open to the point of a man passing out little clumps of leaves from out of a plastic bag one evening at Dinner Circle.)
Many times I have read posts on the Rainbow internet forums desiring an ideal gathering that would be far removed from the influences of Babylon by being at the end of a long and arduous hike into the woods of several miles, one that would filter out all the day trippers and drainbows and leave only the pure in spirit to dance in the gathering utopia within. This gathering certainly qualified as having that hike, and there might be many who point out to what they perceive as the elevated spirit of this gathering as demonstrating the efficacy of this concept. Have all of our gatherings on nine thousand foot mountaintops and they will remain pure.
But if this is the world you want, you’d better hope you can find a way to be forever young. Us old farts and old bats are going to be left out, along with our experience, our stories, our songs, our kitchen orgeship and organizing abilities, our ability to help you not make all the mistakes we did, and any other things you young people might want from us. I know that I will not be coming to another gathering that is held at over 9,000 feet. I’m looking forward next year to large numbers of flying insects, parking on the side of a road in a place that is quiet at night, not having to walk hundreds of yards to get from one kitchen to another, and a long and resonant Om on the 4th because everybody is jammed together into a small meadow.
The story ends here, but the gatherings remain
to be continued...