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Subject: The Sabbath Gathering - New Mexico, 2009
From: Butterfly Bill <>
Newsgroups: alt.gathering.rainbow
Date: Tue, 21 Jul 2009 23:49:28 +0000

After an eight day week of years spent in labor and combat the Family got a year of relative rest in the Santa Fe National Forest, about 20 miles east of the town of Cuba, New Mexico.

It didn't look like this was going to be like this the first week or so after the Spring Council decision on the 10th of June. The Forest Service Law Enforcement Officers (LEOs) were doing what they had done in years past, stopping vehicles coming into the gathering after they had observed some petty traffic or equipment violation, and sometimes searching them with dogs.

A brother who is a main worker at Info told me that he was stopped by some LEOs because he had not signaled for a left turn when he came to an intersection of two roads that was a Y shaped fork. He was asked, "Do you have any drugs?", and his girlfriend answered truthfully that she had an Oregon medical marijuana card and a small stash. They told her that they were federal police and did not have to honor her card, and they confiscated all of her stash and her pipe and ticketed her for possession and paraphernalia.

Then they spent three hours searching his van, throwing things out on the road and turning over all his belongings inside. When he started objecting to this, one of them countered with, "Do you want to be put in handcuffs. When they were done, he asked, "Are you going to help me but it back?" One of them stayed behind and helped him for a while, while the rest just walked off without saying anything. His girlfriend had to go to court in Albuquerque on July 6th, and there she had both tickets dismissed, but they didn't return any of what had been taken from her.

Seventy five citations were issued to 56 people during the first week of Seed Camp, when this incident occurred, and they continued to issue them at about the same rate thruout their stay at the gathering. They were either for marijuana, a dog not on a leash, or some of the most absurdly minor vehicle violations that you could imagine, like mud covering a license plate, or not putting on a turn signal when changing lanes to drive around one of their trucks parked by the side of the road. With as few people as there were driving the roads at that time, your chances of being stopped were close to certain. But as more and more people arrived, the chances diminished because the number of officers was not increased. By the time I came, it was much more likely that you would be able to escape being stopped by them.

Compared to recent years their presence at this gathering was subdued. There were no LEOs shooting pepper spray pellets in Kid Village. There were no blockades at the front gate. There was no need to catch rides up and down a mountainside from a remote parking lot because they were not allowing entry into Bus Village. There were none of their ATVs rumbling thru the trees at the edges of the 4th of July silent meditation meadow. There were no caravans of seven or more of their vehicles driving thru the middle of the gathering every 45 minutes. There were no orders for unnecessary fire evacuations barked over bullhorns. There was no special order prohibiting nudity by the forest Supervisor.

The land was like an Eden compared to the sites of recent years. There were no beetles eating under the bark of the trees making their leaves dry and brown and covering the ground with their fallen trunks; the forest of mixed conifers and scattered aspens was green and lush. There was no poison ivy, no mosquitoes except for a brief half hour period at sunset, and no chiggers. At Vision Council I heard more than one person associated with CALM say that there had been relatively few cases of illness at this gathering.

There were frequent and unexpected rain showers thruout the three weeks. A big cloud bank could build up in a sky that had been clear in less than a half an hour, and it rained for at least a portion of every day until the final two. Sometimes there could be water coming out of the sky when the sun was still shining, and there were several vivid rainbow appearances over the three weeks I was there. Late in the afternoon of the 24th there was a triple rainbow, one brilliant one with the red on the top, the usual pattern, and immediately under it and touching it another one almost as bright, with the colors reversed, purple on top. Above these two was another arc, fainter and also with inverted colors. All three arcs touched the treetops at both ends.

But the rains seldom lasted more than an hour or two; only one evening did it go on all night. The ground was porous and absorbed water rapidly, and the grass on the meadows was thin and wiry and curled around the dandelions and other broadleaf plants among it. When it did get muddy it dried out and got packed down hard again by peoples feet before a morning had passed.

The temperatures in the afternoon usually felt like the high 60s, but the sun shone thru thinner air at 9100 feet, and it could feel like walking from winter to summer coming out of the shade of trees into a sunny meadow. Ultraviolet rays were stronger and skin tanned and burned faster. Sweating heat could turn rapidly to wind chill if a big rain cloud appeared. Sometimes I would be walking back naked from a place I had just spent a few hours, carrying over my arm the two layers of clothes and long overcoat I had on when I first went over there. It was not as cold at night as in Wyoming last year, or at the last New Mexico gathering in 1995. It typically got down to the low 40s in the hours just before sunrise.

This gathering was also like the Sabbath for me because I spent a lot of mornings at Bread of Life, one of the oldest Christian camps at the gatherings. And it was also a gathering where I didn't once hear a group of people chanting "Hare Krishna". There were no cookies and no Krishna kitchens except Simply Wonderful, whose food I saw at Dinner Circle only one evening before they vanished again. The only devotee that showed up and stayed was Soaring Turkey (a.k.a. Garuda dasa), who erected his tepee at the edge of the main meadow and gave lectures inside it in the evenings all by himself. There was a harmonium player clad in pants and shirt and not saffron robes who played and led sankirtana beneath a pine tree in front of Kid Village for a few days, and he was very good, but he sang "Om Shivaya" and never mentioned Krishna.

It was a gathering where there were lots of circles for various purposes in the meadow and lots of chance encounters with good musicians on the trails and in the meadow. In addition to the banjos, mandolins, fiddles, and guitars, there was an accordionist who sang in Finnish and a sister who could play a musical saw more in tune than any other that I have heard. Lots of times the drumming was organized and together (and many mornings mercifully silent). One morning Jiva taught about 60 of us in a circle the traditional Rainbow chants. Art of all kinds was flourishing again.

But I didn't know any of this was going to be when I was making my final approach. It was about noon on the 21st of June when I left I-25 twenty miles north of downtown Albuquerque and drove north and west on a four lane highway that took me thru 60 miles of sandstone cliffs in Painted Desert colors: reddish brown, grayish green, and yellowish tan. Light gray sagebrush and dark green mesquite bushes dotted the flatlands leading up to their bases. Cuba was a town of about 1500 people, with curbless streets and lots of houses in adobe imitating styles.

Before leaving Muskogee I had been seeing reports on alt.gathering.rainbow of LEOs stopping people on the way in, so it was with trepidation that I left Cuba and drove the last few miles east on the dirt Forest Service roads. The mixed emotion of fear and foreboding versus anticipation of great pleasure has always accompanied me in the final few miles approaching any gathering. In the early years of my involvement with Rainbow, it was not knowing if it would be hard to get thru a gauntlet of A-Camp drunks. In recent years it has been the LEOs.

When I had stopped at a Mexican restaurant in town for a last meal before possibly many hours of fasting at the gathering where all the kitchens were still in the early phases of setting up, I found on the counter by their cash register a stack of Xeroxed flyers labeled "TRAFFIC FLOW Rainbow Family Gathering 2009". It had a map of the Forest Service roads around the site, informing me that some of them were designated as one way. Following their instructions I had to go around to the east and then go north and back west toward the Welcome Home and the first parking areas.

Only a few miles after leaving Cuba the road became lined with tall trees, and it was narrow and twisty with few guardrails and seemed for a while like it would never end. At the Y fork there was a resource ranger in a parked truck passing out copies of the flyer. Then I passed a few LEO trucks that were parked together with nobody around them. Then I approached another truck with red and blue lights on the top, and saw two officers with a Rainbowly dressed man who looked like he was being handcuffed. I slowed down and passed while looking to see if they were beckoning me to stop, but they didn't even look at me. Once more, like at the Colorado gathering, I had been able to get by and in because they happened to be occupied with someone else.

A brother greeted me at the Welcome Home, then I drove on until I started seeing vehicles parked by the side of the road, then past an area that looked like it might be a bus village. It looked like the trailhead for the main trail might be somewhere around here, so I drove on until I first started finding some available places by the side of the road where I could get all four of my wheels off the roadway, and be level enough that I could comfortably lie on the bed in the back of my van. This was in the one way portion, and all the vehicles were parked on the left and downhill side of the road. A downslope of as much as 45 degrees was precariously near the road on that side, and as the week progressed there were a few cars who wound up with tires hanging over the side that had to be towed back up.

I passed what looked like a camp of several vehicles parked next to a house trailer, with a firepit, then I drove on about 50 more feet so I would not be too near their noise at night. I saw a place that was shaded by a tall pine tree and parked there after making two minor moves to adjust my position. I said to myself that this might just be temporary until I learned more about the gathering site.

(to be continued)

The Sabbath Gathering - part 2

I had to walk back maybe two hundred yards over a slight hillcrest, down into a dip, then over another hump and halfway into the next dip to get to one of the trailheads. First the trail from there went down a steep slope for about fifty yards, leveled out for a short stretch, went down another slope like the first, then down a more gradual one. After what seemed like a short distance compared to the walks I have had to make at previous gatherings the trees by the trail parted and the trail led into a meadow. It was in the shape of a long oval, a little less than 400 yards long and a little more than 100 yards wide, and it sloped gently downward to the south. The trail back up to the road was only about a quarter of a mile.

I looked to the right and saw the white Info tent all set up, and I encountered a few of the main Infomaniacs, as we call ourselves. A short walk away at the other side of the top of the meadow I found Kid Village, which had already erected three frames of large tree trunks leaning inward in A frame patterns with large tarps stretched over them. A set of three oil barrel ovens inside an enclosure of rocks mortared with mud had been built and three fires were already burning beneath them. It looked like the kitchen had been in operation for a week, and they were serving food that evening. This gathering was the furthest advanced in its setup that I have ever encountered on the 21st of June. Marken told me that there had already been three Dinner Circles with Magic Hat collections, and there were 300 people at the one later that evening.

I walked with Marken up another trail out of the meadow that he showed me, one he said was shorter and easier, but I decided that this wasn't really so after getting up to the road. It led up thru a sort-of bus village with a lot of busses and large vans parked among the trees. This area was called Handi-Camp after an actual camp for handicapped people next to the road. The walk back to my van on the road was about a half mile around a hairpin curve, and when I got there I put my tent, tarp, and fold up cot in my Army duffel bag and carried it all down the first trail. I decided to leave my van where it was for the duration of the gathering.

Inside the Info camp area that had been marked by string stretched between trees, I quickly found two trees about ten feet apart that I could tie a rope between and use to drape a tarp over my dome tent. I had my campsite set up less than three hours after my arrival. (Some years it has been a few days of carrying around a backpack all day while the others arrive and we all search for and finally agree on a place to put Info.).

The following morning at Info there was a conference with the resource rangers. Rebecca Roof and Marcia Ritchie, two young and rather attractive women who had been assigned to us at three previous gatherings, were there as well as the white haired Tom Florich, the "Director of Public Services and Infrastructure" for the National Forest we were in last year in Wyoming. He had worked with us there last year.

A permit for this gathering was signed by two women, Lisa Law and Lindsey Dearborn , who worked as secretaries for a Rainbow man named Jeff Kline who is an attorney. Only one of these two women attended this gathering in person, and she was here for only a few hours on the 4th of July. This move was very controversial among many gatherers, and especially not accepted by those who had been working for the last two years to get an operating plan worked out between the gatherers and the resource rangers accepted in lieu of a signed permit. In spite of there being a permit the rangers still brought an operating plan to this meeting and we spent a couple of hours on three successive days discussing it and suggesting modifications.

The immense firepit of last year was mentioned by Mr. Florich, and we Rainbows tried to assure him that such a thing wouldn't happen again. The originally specified maximum diameter of 10 feet was negotiated to 12. A boogie fire that was mostly on top of flat rocks surrounded by boulders with no pit was eventually built near the east side of the meadow. There was a discussion of what precisely was meant by "community fire". The definition that finally emerged was "used by 20 or more people".

A specification that there be bleach in the final dish rinse water was changed to "disinfectant" to accommodate those who preferred vinegar and other methods. The distance that kitchens and latrines have to be from a river was haggled over, 300 feet being the longest suggested. 100 feet was finally agreed on. The specification that dogs be on a leash was expanded to include "or under verbal command by their owners." It was stated specifically that nudity was allowed out of sight of the public roads (and none of them ran thru the heart of this gathering.). A brother who provided a lot of the Shanti Sena radios had expressed a desire not to have anything pertaining to them specified in the permit or operating plan, and we were able to accomplish this.

At the south end of the meadow there was a circle of little yellow flags about a hundred feet in diameter marking out an area where 5000 year old Indian artifacts had been found, and the rangers asked us not to camp there or do any digging. There was a discussion about whether the area should be marked better. But many people agreed that putting up signs saying "archeological area, do not dig" would more likely lead to people doing just that. Ultimately nothing more was done, and the area remained unmolested.

During the meeting I learned that the camp up on the road not far from my van had a name: Pirate Cove. There have been in recent years people at gatherings who dress in punk rock blacky-khaki and act like in-your-face anarchists, sometimes make a game out of stealing flags from other camps, and even go so far as to say "ar-r-r-r" like Renaissance faire pirates. The people sitting around the campfire dressed and acted fully this part, and they were also drinking some beer. This was sort of like an A-Camp for youths who were rebelling against their alcoholic parents, but not rejecting the alcohol.

My own experiences confirmed all this late that evening when I went up to the campfire and asked one of them if there were any shitters nearby, and he said, "No. It's kind of like everybody makes their own." Mr. Florich had said, "We call that the black eye camp, because one of the persons you talk with there always has a black eye." I saw such a person myself that evening.

At about 3:30 in the morning of the 23rd, I was going to get outside my van and take a leak, but I saw flashing lights thru my curtains and discovered four LEO vehicles parked in a line in the middle of the road next to the pirate camp. I stayed inside my van and used a plastic bottle, then I lay awake for over an hour before falling back asleep while they remained out there. They had left when I got up at sunrise, and when I was walking toward the trailhead about an hour later, I overheard a sister talking about "the stabbing". I stopped and asked about this, and she told me that there had been a drunken argument where someone pulled a knife and shoved it in near a kidney, and the victim was in hospital "in critical condition".

The following afternoon I saw a lot of the people I had seen seated at that campfire coming down the hill together, and when I got up there that evening I found that the campfire had been abandoned. The house trailer stayed while some different vehicles moved in beside, and I didn't hear any more rowdy noises coming from that direction. For a few days rumors coming thru Info alternately said that the victim had died and had not, and finally late in the week we got some confirmation from the rangers that he had survived.

There was kitchen of similarly dressed people set up about 50 feet north of Info. They called it "The Spot", but there was no sign identifying it as such. Instead there were two banners nearby with the names of what I was told were the two camps jointly running the kitchen: Toxic Waste and Niggaz R Us. (They were all white people in this kitchen). They hollered "free food in the woods" the morning of the 22nd and pointed out that the potatoes and eggs also had some strips of bacon (violating the meat taboo of most Rainbow kitchens). I listened to all kinds of defiant anarchist talk among them as I consumed my serving.

About an hour later I heard calls of "Shanti Sena" and stood by while some people listened to the complaint of a sister who had been accused of stealing because she had not yet given back a guitar that someone had loaned her. I started hearing complaints in conversations in Kid Village about their noise, and some people thought they were drinking alcohol there at night. Apparently some attempts at mediation were successful, I didn't hear much noise coming from their direction at Info after a few days.

But one expression of rebellion against the rebels that had been here in precious years did not return. This year there was no Death Camp, the family with a mother who not only condoned her children doing violent pranks on people passing thru but actively encouraged it, and attracted other mischievous kids to join in.

The Incident Commander Gene Smithson came down to the meadow several times in these early days and I saw him chatting and even joking around with assorted Rainbows (including Gary Stubbs once, a scene I wouldn't have believed possible as recently as two years ago), while the officers under him continued with their petty harassments on the peripheries.

During my first week we occasionally saw two squads of usually four LEOs, with one member bearing a pellet gun, walking by Info, usually seeking out individuals who had outstanding arrest warrants. It seemed like only a few times each day, not near the frequency with which they came thru in Wyoming. The warrants were usually for failure to appear in court on the date specified in a FS ticket they had received in the earlier days. The people arrested were usually back at the gathering the next day after a trip to the courthouse in Albuquerque. (They did not set up a rump court in a nearby small town.) They were able to make these arrests without any mass disturbances even when the targets were surrounded by gatherers. I also heard stories about them pursuing anyone they saw smoking marijuana trying to run away from them, but those apprehended were given tickets and not arrested.

Near the end of that week the squads started being accompanied by two more men in tan cargo pants and black shirts saying on their backs in white letters, "U.S. MARSHAL" I heard some stories that they had been sent to keep an eye on the ICT LEOs and tone down their aggressiveness. There was a troop of four six up giddyups who roamed the site on horseback, and they mostly just cruised around without my seeing them dismounting and doing any arresting or ticketing. No LEOs of any kind entered the gathering at all until after 2 pm on the Fourth. The Sandoval county sheriff and one of his deputies came down to Dinner Circle one evening and casually chatted with gatherers for more than an hour.

(to be continued)

The Sabbath Gathering - part 3

Bread of Life kitchen and camp appeared off to the right of the trail about a third of the way down to the meadow. In past gatherings this kitchen has also been on the morning walk in, and lots the people there have been the kind who get up before eight in the morning, and they have been reliable for at least having coffee by the time I walked by. This was true this gathering.

There are several camps at every gathering that have a Christian emphasis, with names like Jesus Camp, Deep Faith, and Christ Café. Bread of Life is perhaps the oldest one, and whenever I have gone into their kitchen they have never laid any heavy Jesus trip on me or tried getting me to join anything. They have some free Bibles on the counter and maybe a few pamphlets available, and you can step over to their bliss fire and hear people singing songs with religious lyrics, but if all you want is their food, that's something they will say is a joy to provide. You don't say "God damn" or any other thing you wouldn't in a regular church, and that's not hard for any sensible person to do.

On the morning of the 27th I had some of their coffee and oatmeal and decided to stay for the meeting they had every morning at 10:00 that lasted for about an hour and a half. They had built again a structure they have had at several gatherings. They have a top frame made of iron that has 8 tubes radiating from a center, which they fill with the whittled off ends of eight logs. The other ends of the logs they set on eight upright posts, then they cover these rafters with a fitted canvas canopy. Outside railings are then lashed to the uprights and big logs are set inside for seating, giving the structure the look of a bandstand in a park. In the center is a firepit dug in the shape of a Swiss cross, and they start four small fires at each of the tips.

There seemed to be more young people than old sitting in that kiosk, many of them parents of preschool kids. There was a large playground area, with a seesaw made out of a dead tree trunk carefully balanced on some upright pivots. Much was said about this camp being a "safe haven". This was a place where the only drug done was caffeine; I never saw any joints or pipes of weed being passed, and the few people I saw with cigarettes had the look of outsiders. At the meetings the brothers were advised to look out for the sisters, and the women were told they should not go out into the rest of the gathering alone. If they were not with men, the sisters should always travel at least in pairs.

A conch shell was blown, and the meeting started with all of the camp under the canopy, pretty close to actual Babylon time; they didn't start many of their scheduled activities on Rainbow time. There were maybe 30 people there. There was one brother named Chuck who was, if I am not supposed to call him a leader, at least the main instigator, who was usually the one to get everyone's focus and say some words to start off the service. He talked like he was an experienced pastor in Babylon, but he definitely did not stay in the pulpit. We all stood in a circle, and anybody who felt moved to speak was given the freedom to. People shouted out some prayers of petition, or words of praise for prayers answered. There were testimonials of blessings received and difficulties conquered. There were a few people with five minute sermonettes, sometimes quoting Bible verses. It was not unlike a regular heartsong circle in a main meadow.

In between the talking were intervals of music. One guitarist or more would sing songs in moderato four-four with lyrics like "God is so good to me", with choruses that everybody joined in on with phrases that ended in long drawn out notes with undulating harmonies beneath. Accompanying them were some drummers with djembes and ashikos. I was impressed that first morning with how the drummers subdued their volume so that they played in balance with and did not drown out the guitars. The guitarist singers also varied their volume, doing many crescendos followed by sudden diminuendos, and all the drummers and other singers followed along with these changes.

The songs expressed a very affirming kind of Christianity, with no hellfire and damnation because you are a sinner. They conveyed sentiments like those that were stated in a line of hand drawn signs taped to the bottom of a serving counter, all starting with "I am": "your strength", "the liberty you seek thru my spirit", "the dispeller of all fear and doubt", "man's friend who sticks closer than a brother", "the healing you seek". This was a warm fuzzy expression of Rainbowly love.

I decided to take my Celtic lap harp to the meeting on the 28th, and found that it blended in with their guitars perfectly. I was also enthusiastically invited to return. I continued to do so every morning thereafter (save the Fourth) until their last meeting on the 5th before breaking down on the 6th. There was another trail leading up to there parallel to the first trail, that took me about two thirds of the way back up the hill to their camp, and I started calling that trip up from Info in the morning "climbing Mount Zion". Over the course of those seven days there were inevitably some days that were better than others. Some mornings the drummers were not quite so tastefully restrained, and some of the songs repeated two chords (usually the I and the IV) over and over again and started to get boring -- but the general level of enjoyment remained high.

I also passed thru their camp a few times after dark on the way back to my van, but the atmosphere in the bandstand was smoky from the fires and it was much harder to find a seat. I also couldn't see the color coded strings on my harp. Those nights when I lingered for a while I went up the hill behind the kiosk and just sat and listened. Everything was clearer and cleaner in the mornings. (That's a general attitude I have about lots of Rainbow events. I don't roam kitchens late at night, and I get up at around sunrise.)

I can't say I went thru any kind of religious conversion. I would describe myself as a pantheist and syncretist, who finds both truth and bullshit in all religions and thinks God is too big to be stuffed into any one of them, and who currently finds spiritual community in an Episcopal church when back home in Muskogee -- and this description didn't undergo any change. But it was all an engaging and interesting trip.

Now (that's a brother's name) showed up on the 25th, and he got a young brother and sister that he had inspired to come to their first gathering to climb two trees and string ropes for a large tarp between them after we had moved the white tent a few feet over. Some long poles were lashed between the trees to support the plywood panels that formed the counter, and sitting behind it we had a sports announcer's view of the Dinner Circle area. I settled into a routine of manning the Info counter when I wasn't at Bread of Life or attending one of the many circles in the meadow or going over to the tepees to visit Robbie Gordon and whoever was hanging out with him.

For the first eight days I was there I ate more opulently than I had at any previous gathering in recent memory. Kid Village was serving breakfast and two more meals in the afternoon before Dinner Circle time, and they have always been the kitchen with the most supplies and people to cook them. In the early days the lines were still short. Usually breakfast at a Rainbow kitchen is one of three things: oatmeal, pancakes, or fried potatoes. Kid Village would usually have all three along with lots fo fruit, and sometimes eggs. When I started going to Bread of Life, I gave this up for their usual oatmeal, but I could still return to KV for more in the afternoon.

Then there was a surge of new arrivals on the weekend of the 27th and 28th, and all possible places for cars to park along the roads were filled, some not with all four off, and some of those were towed when the driver did not heed a piece of paper under a windshield wiper that started out, "Please move your vehicle.". The nearest large parking lot was a mile and a quarter down the road from the trailhead I used. A brother named Jack Spratt was the initial focalizer of it, and he brought 15 dogs. Thereafter it was called "the barking lot". The other parking lot was 6 miles in the other direction from Handi-Camp.

And something that always happens every year during the population surge happened on the 29th. Rather than encountering people like Felipe, Saxophone Joe, or Flower, friends I have known for years and always get warmth from, I find a person serving in Kid Village who has never seen me before that I get into an argument with. In this case it was my objecting to him telling us that a bowl of tuna salad was for the kids only after we had all been standing in line for ten minutes watching them search for and finally find some serving spoons and then go thru the hand washing for all of the servers. This man started asking me, "What's the matter, don't you like our food?" as he pointed to the bowl of potato and cabbage soup that was the alternative allowed to us adults. I said no and left.

Thereafter the lines for their food could have as many as a hundred people in front of me. And kids, who were allowed to go to the front of the line accompanied by their parents, were always cutting in. (The practice of parents lending one of their children to a friend to go thru the line with is not unknown.) Whether or not any of the other kitchens nearby would have food, especially in the afternoon in the hours leading up to Dinner Circle is always hit or miss and unpredictable at this time in any gathering.

But by then the Info kitchen with its propane stove had been set up, and I could cook food brought from Babylon or benefit from another Infomaniac doing the same. Info is also a place where various and sundry food items are often brought in by assorted unpredicted people and passed around. Those who choose to work in a place other than a kitchen learn to be opportunists. And in the evenings I again carried the Magic Hat at Dinner Circle, which also allowed me to get some of the best of the food as I passed the servers as I went around the circle.

During these days I started to see a gradual return of the casual nudity of olden days. On the 27th there was a young man and woman couple who sunbathed out in the meadow and then did some acrobatic poses while some people gathered to watch them, and they did some libertinely embracing. There were four concentric circles a dinnertime, and they ran thru the pathways between them for a while shouting "We need more nudity." Two evenings later eight naked people paraded around the circle in a small mob, and for a while they followed me and made it a Magic Hat parade. (And one spaced out brother pulled down the waist of his pants to take a piss on the ground not far from some people with a serving pot, causing a small ruckus.) As the week progressed the weather grew a slight bit warmer and I saw more and more people out in the meadow skyclad. I got for myself a glorious sunburn on the first day of Vision Council.

(to be continued)

The Sabbath Gathering - part 4

On the afternoon of the 29th I set out to explore all of the site. When giving directions from Info, I often said, "See the dead tree over there?" About halfway down to the end of the meadow near the left (east) side there was a tall conifer with totally withered brown branches still standing. About a quarter of the crown had been broken off. In front of that tree you could see a dirt road wide enough for a jeep that curved into the woods. This was one of the main thoroughfares of the gathering. It led to several kitchens, and the traders laid out their blankets on opposite sides of it for a few hundred yards. I had already made a few excursions down this road, but this day I tried to follow it out to the end. I found it after about six tenths of a mile in a small circular meadow about 50 yards wide where Montana Mud and Tea Time were to be found. There was only one camp beyond, Fat Kid's Kitchen (they changed the spelling from "phat"), which was the most remote settlement on the site.

I walked back toward the main meadow, but stopped at a sign saying "Milliways, 42 steps". It was more like 420 of them climbing up a hillside to where they were at the crest. Then I walked down the hill on another trail on the other side, thinking that it led back to the Handi-Camp trail, but instead it went down a steep slope to Instant Soup. I went past it up another long and steep slope to a crossroad high on the top of another hill. I could see that the trail I was on continued back down another long and steep slope then curved around to NYC Kitchen, Granola Funk, and Lovin' Oven. I decided that I would probably not be finding the energy to make the climbs and visit those camps this gathering, and I ultimately didn't. The crossing trail went off to the right into a distance that didn't look inhabited, and back down towards Handi-camp to the left. Then I took the trail back down to the main meadow that Marken had showed me, and I found no kitchens or camps along it until almost at the meadow, where I passed Magic Bowl.

At the south end of the meadow Greg Sherrill had erected his huge yurt-like tent, and just to the north was the archeological area Around the west side was an arc of a tepee circle. Fairy Camp was not too far into the woods to the west of there, and a walk past that took you to a stream. The water was very cold and there was not much swimming, but a sweat lodge was built near the bank. By the 1st of July the entire perimeter of the meadow was lined with dome tents. With plenty of activities going on in the main meadow, and most of my closest friends camped near there, I didn't venture too far from the meadow the rest of my stay at the gathering.

After several people had come to Info on the 1st of July asking about "the main council" and we had to tell them that we didn't know of any, the traditional Council on the Land got off to a serious start at noon on the 2nd with about 40 people in attendance in the middle of the main meadow, and it continued every day save the 4th with similar attendance until the 6th. It was mostly a heartsong circle, and there were no pressing issues to discuss and no formal consensi reached.

At the south end of the meadow there was another circle on the 2nd, a Sister's Circle (which men were allowed to sit outside of and listen if they wanted). There was talk of an increasing number of incidents of alcohol being brought inside the gathering, and the conflicts sometimes brought by the very young people with gutter punk backgrounds. There was much talk about the special responsibility of the women to teach the newcomers in the ways of peace, nonviolence, mutual respect, and love. Several said that the women needed to become "warriors", ready to defend what is right and good at our gatherings by speaking up whenever they observe any abuse or disrespect.

For three days before the Fourth a blob (not arranged in a circle) of up to a hundred people sat as a young woman clad in priestessly robes gave them E.F.T. (Emotional Freedom Training). They all tapped repeatedly with their fingertips on various other parts of their body to stimulate the right nerve endings while they repeated affirmations that the teacher had recited like "I accept that I have problems" and "I release myself from all the limitations I have placed upon myself".

Every day there was a four-twenty circle at approximately that time in the afternoon where ganja was shared. It was usually called and started off by a brother named Gabriel who also was sometimes seen at Dinner Circle offering a "420 emergency service". He would ask, "Is there anybody here who has not gotten high today?" If he suspected you were lying, he was quick to point out his skepticism. One day I was walking thru the circle and I heard him pleading for more contributions of weed, because there were 120 people in the circle and they had only eight joints. Some people waited for a long time for them to start.

On the morning of the Fourth the silence didn't seem too pure around Info. Since it is impossible to get small children to understand and observe something like a meditative silence, people talk to each other in Kid Village. Lots of the adults will still speak in hushed tones, but not everybody. It wasn't until I was well out into the meadow that I felt any kind of true silence

The array of upright sticks in a pagan circle pattern marking out the four directions that Daniel, one of the main Dinner Circle focalizers, had erected in the main meadow to help with the forming of the circle and the serving of the food, that had caused controversy last year in Wyoming, was made easily removable this year and it was taken in every night after Dinner Circle. Daniel poured out white lines of flour onto the grass in the shape of several concentric circles about 12 paces apart, and continued to refresh them as they became worn. People sat across from each other along these circles for Dinner Circle. After a few days the central stick was left in place over the daytime, and this started to become the peace pole.

It was a plain log with unstripped bark, about 3 inches wide and 8 feet tall, same as all the other poles in the array, and it had some silver reflective tape wrapped around its top. On the morning of the Fourth its base was overlaid with the usual trinkets and talismans. People started to sit along the flour lines, and by the time the Om started the people were in several concentric circles, with arc segments sometimes in between. I wound up at the end of one of these arcs.

The sun had risen to a clear sky, and it started to beat down fiercely. I got naked and draped a sarong over my head, and a few others started to take the 4th of July opportunity to try nudity for perhaps the first time. But around 10 o'clock, a big cloud started to form to the northwest, and soon it expanded to cover the sun. I went back to my tent to fetch an umbrella and leave behind the sarong. A light rain began to fall, but very few people left the meadow.

Thru the raindrops I heard the Om start very faintly on another side of the circle and then advance over to the people around me. It continued as more gentle rain fell upon all of us. It never attained a volume much more than mezzo forte. A woman had been motioning us away from a pathway thru the circles she was maintaining for the arrival of the children's parade, but the people at Kid Village decided not to send them forth in the rain.

The rain was letting up and the clouds were starting to thin as people started to raise their arms and the Om gave way to the whoops and hollers, and it stopped completely about ten minutes later. I looked up to see if there was going to be a rainbow, but it wasn't until about an hour before sunset that we all saw a brilliant double rainbow to the east with two full arcs.

Jeff Ebner, the brother who showed up at the last minute to the Rainbow Guide council last year on the 5th, did not come to this gathering, but he sent a sister friend with 500 copies of a 2009 Guide. At the council on the 5th this year, Michael John said he wanted to take it on with the help of Joanee Freedom and Purple Boy from the NYC kitchen, and we all consensed to this at another council the next afternoon. An All Ways Free did not appear this year, and we were unable to find someone who wanted to revive it for next year.

(to be continued)

The Sabbath Gathering - part 5

Every day up until the 6th had had at least some rain, but on the 7th there were only a few tiny cumulus clouds in the sky and on the 8th it was clear except for a few wispy cirrus. Perfect weather for sitting in a circle out in the middle of the main meadow in the sunshine. Vision Council started at 12:25 with Michael John starting it off. Almost 100 people were in the circle.

The feather had not gone thru very many hands before someone said she would like to go to Tennessee. But when the feather got to Gary Stubbs (who left shortly after speaking this one time) he said something he had said before at other councils: in order to have a healthy gathering without a lot of incidences of sickness we need "altitude and solitude". Remote high mountains in the west were healthier environments than lower hills near cities with higher temperatures and more insects in the east. He was one of the first to recommend the state of Washington. As more people spoke it became apparent that the contest was going to be between Washington and someplace in the east, if not Tennessee then somewhere in the Appalachians.

Those opposed to Washington said there had been several times in the past that the scouts had looked for a site in that state and not found it. (The most recent was in 2001, where the gathering wound up in Idaho.) But some of those in favor said that not all the possibilities had been explored, and since the population of the gatherings had gotten smaller, some of the sites that couldn't have supported an old-time gathering of over 20,000 people could now possibly be used.

As I had heard before at other councils, many people said to come with some maps and some picture of definite sites before recommending a region. This was countered by some other people saying that the site we were on now was not discovered until two weeks before the Spring council that approved it. I retold how Dan D had come to the Arkansas council with pictures of a Washington site and how that was his undoing because his picture of the main meadow had a vehicle trail running thru it, and that I didn't know of any actual vision council making an actual decision based on maps and pictures. Badjer pointed out one that did, the one in Missouri in 1985 that picked Pennsylvania.

Those wanting to go to the east pointed out how in the last ten years there had been seven gatherings in the west and only three elsewhere, and the one in West Virginia was the only one even near to the east coast. We need to keep moving the gathering all over the country so locals can be introduced to Rainbow by having it a short enough distance from their homes to make the travel convenient. (That was the case with me, I said in 1987 when I was in Charlottesville, Virginia and found out it was in North Carolina, "That would be a hop of less than a day down I-81.") "The east coast is dying" is a phrase I heard several people say. We need to have a gathering there to bring back people who haven't come to nationals for a while because they couldn't afford the travel, and to revitalize the regional families.

The possibility that "all the gutter punk energy" in the eastern cities will come to the gathering was used both as a reason for and against. These people will pollute the spirituality of the gathering and even bring alcohol problems, or, these are the people most in need of a loving family. Again I heard several people say, "We should not base our decisions on fear." Trying to escape problems with local police and drunken locals should not be our overriding motivation.

After a few hours one brother said, "This has turned into a contest between the tried and true", what we know is safe, and the new and partially unknown and potentially dangerous". Robbie Gordon summed it up as "the young want the east, the old want the west."

It would have been about 4 o'clock when the feather made it all the way around the circle for the first time if the last person hadn't used the occasion for a speech of over a half an hour about everything from international gatherings to the need for everybody to "let go of their egos". But all in all it had been a smooth running council with very few long winded orators, very little addressing of the feather, and most of the people saying things relevant to site selection rather than reciting unrelated heartsongs. But there were sizeable numbers on each side of the issue and it didn't look like a consensus was going to come soon. The council was displaced amid a few surprised and indignant objections by the gathering's last Dinner Circle at about six o'clock, and it did not reconvene.

The council continued the next day, starting at 3 minutes past 1. 26 people were there when it started, and the circle expanded by a fewteen as the day progressed. The advocates for Washington seemed to be diminishing in number, and almost all of the calls for consensus were for some version of the east. But there were lots of calls for clarification, and arguments over ways of achieving it. Should it be just for Tennessee? Badjer, pessimistic about finding sites in the east in general, wanted for some more states to be included as backups. Some people didn't want the northeast to be excluded, some other people wanted to include all of the Appalachians, others thought this was too broad and vague.

Many calls for consensus were blocked for various finicky objections, and about two hours before sunset I left the circle and went back to start dismantling my own campsite, since I wanted to leave the site the next morning. I made two trips up the hill to get the last of my stuff out, and I went back to visit the circle between them, but as the sun was approaching the treetops no decision had been made. Then I heard calls of "fire", and I saw most of the circle running over to the kitchen nearby where it had started. The fire was extinguished within about five minutes, and I saw that this was being accomplished as I was heading up the trail for the last time.

A post to a.g.r. announced that consensus was achieved at 4:40 pm the next day for New Hampshire, Vermont, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, and Kentucky.

Somebody visiting Info said that he had seen all of the LEO vehicles leaving the site in a big caravan on the 6th. On the morning of the 8th I was able to drive my car the wrong way down what had been the one way road, and only had to drive a half mile to Marken's van which was on a hill overlooking Handi-Camp. I spent the morning counting the change from the Magic Hat, $ 263.48 in small coins out of a total of $13, 927.48 collected. I heard estimates of from 8 to 12 thousand for the total attendance, more than either of the last two years. I slept the night in my van by Marken, and left at 6:30 the following morning.

Thus ended my stay at the Sabbath Gathering. It was a rest and a small renaissance. Whether this Sunday will be followed by a Monday next year I don't feel I can reliably predict. The war with the Incident Command Team looks far from over. But slowly, albeit sometimes agonizingly, some kind of Hegelian synthesis is emerging out of the thesis and antithesis of the Forest Service with its definitions and desires for regulations, and the Rainbow Family with its fuzzy edges and desires for anarchy.

A permit was signed, but all the demands on the signer that the regulations say could have been imposed weren't. It was like a rendering unto Caesar of what was Caesar's in the minds of more and more gatherers, even tho it remained sacrilege to many. The LEOs acted like they definitely didn't want a repeat of last year's Kid Village shootup, and no such incidents occurred. The presence of the US Marshals indicated that some of the higher officials in Washington were beginning to notice the ICT's past excesses. The resource rangers haggled with the gatherers over the operating plan for another year, and more and more of the things agreed upon in previous years were carried over to this year. The resource rangers were more distinctly separated from the LEOs in the minds of more and more gatherers, and they were treated with more trust and respect. Slowly an entropy is coming out of the disparate energies.

"I believe in the right of anyone to do what makes him happy. If Butterfly Bill wants to take off his dress, he can"

– Barry "Plunker" Adams, July 29, 2009

(the story ends here, but the gatherings remain:

  to be continued)

– Butterfly Bill

This post was the basis for the ninth chapter of Rainbow Gatherings, vol. 2.

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