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Originally posted on my Live Journal blog on July 15, 2012


The Fat Kids Gathering – Tennessee 2012

At the 2012 annual national Rainbow Gathering in the Cherokee National Forest in the extreme northeastern corner of Tennessee, a great deal of the infrastructure of the gathering was built by what some gatherers like to call “dirty kids”. Young people clad in black and shades of khaki and brown, especially from Fat Kids Kitchen, took part in laying the water lines, put up the tarps for Info and provided a map, started the banking council and the Magic Hat, set up Main Supply and did most of the supply runs, and had a Dinner Circle going with pots from four kitchens on the 21st of June – all with few of the older people present who have usually been the initiators in the past. Not only did Fat Kids contribute a lot to this effort, but also Montana Mud and even Nick at Night. A lot of the olders arrived at the gathering later than they usually do, and the vacuum was filled by enthusiastic and competent youngers.

I arrove at about two in the afternoon on the 21st of June. I followed the directions that Barbara Babz McGovern had provided to Karin Zirk. If I had tried to follow any of the Google Maps-generated instructions to the latitude and longitude coordinates that had also been posted, I’m sure I would have been lost. The only difficulty with the directions I followed was that there was no sign identifying “Camp Howard Road” as such. Instead there was just a little sign with a tent symbol and an arrow at the fork in the road.

As I was still on Highway 44 approaching Flatwoods Road, I saw first one, then another country grocery store with big signs in their windows saying “Welcome, Rainbow Family”. I stopped and went inside the second one, Hickory Tree Grocery, and found it had a lunch counter, tables, and a grill, so I had a last hamburger before entering the vegetarian realm.

Camp Howard Road did indeed turn into Forest Service Road 87A, and as I approached the gathering area I found cars parked bumper to bumper on one side of the road . I said to myself, “At least they have decided on which side before the start of the gathering and gotten it clear at the outset.” At some previous gatherings I have had to frantically move my van after the rangers decided to restrict parking to one side well after the start of the gathering. The reason has always been obvious: there would otherwise soon be narrow places in the road where two vehicles would not be able to pass each other.

I descended into a valley and at the bottom I drove past a small clearing that looked like a Bus Village, but it didn’t have room for more than about a half dozen large busses. About halfway up the hill on the other side I passed what looked like a trail entrance, and I slowed down to talk with a brother who said welcome home and told me that this was indeed a trailhead, and that all the parking was along the road. “Good luck finding a place.”

I drove on looking for a place that was not too far from that trailhead, and found a place about a hundred yards further at the top of the hill that had yellow caution tape across it and a sign that said “Supply Parking” This space had enough room on the side away from the road that it looked like I could partially double park behind a van parked at one end and still leave enough space for any supply vehicles that arrived. I took down the tape, drove my van in, and rehung it. It was a tight fit, but I was able to do it.

I changed into a gathering dress, put on my eating utensils bag, and set out on a first exploratory journey. On the way down the hill I met Rich in Spirit walking the other way, and he told me, “This is a hard site.” I asked if it was physically or socially, and he answered, “Physically”.

At the trailhead opening there was a yellow and blue beach umbrella beside the tailgate of a pickup truck, and another pickup was parked on the other side. There were several people sitting by them, some of them holding cans of beer. They were reasonably cordial to me as I asked some questions. I asked if this was the supposedly easiest trail among the ones I had seen described on Facebook, and he said yes.

There eventually emerged four trails up to populated areas, two of which had numbers and names given by the Forest Service which had blazed them long before the gathering. One was the Josiah Hiking Trail, and the other was the Josiah Horse Trail. The trail I was on was the one in between and it didn’t have a name. The other one led to the extreme western end of the gathering. The Josiah Hiking Trail ended nearer to the bottom of the valley, making for an additional hundred yards up the hill to my van, and the one furthest to the east I was told was shorter but steeper. I decided to leave my van where it was and use the nameless trail all the time.

The first thing I had to do after going between the trucks at the trailhead was descend a steep hill with a slope of 45 degrees. Then it crossed a muddy place that looked like it became part of a stream bed during a heavy rain, and somebody had spread some sticks in it in an attempt at macadamizing it a muddy spot. Then the trail gradually climbed the side of a hill. There was a stretch where the slope was about 30 degrees, then a longer stretch at a slightly easier grade of maybe 15 degrees. Shortly after the slope eased I encountered a kitchen all set up, with a sign saying “Born Ugly Kamp”. Then there was another 30 degree portion before it turned to the right and leveled out. In this level stretch I found Shanty Cakes Kitchen. The trail continued into a short dip, then turned left again to another 30 degree stretch that ended at an intersection to a Forest Service road that had been graded and graveled for a motor vehicles. It was wide enough for a pickup truck, but not enough for two to pass each other. This intersection I heard being called “the T”.

It was a strenuous climb of about three quarters of a mile, but I judged it no worse than the Colorado gathering of 2006. It certainly was no Wyoming of 2008 or Utah of 2003. I decided that I would be able to commute to my van every morning and evening, but it would be no more than one trip per day.

I asked somebody where Main Meadow was, and I finally found a sign with an arrow identifying it. At first I didn’t believe it, because what I found looked rather small and it looked like there might be a larger one thru some trees further up the hill with a trail leading up to it, but that trail ended at a group of personal tents. The meadow was shaped sort of like a disc-brake pad, curving around a dome-like hill. It was maybe a hundred yards long and maybe forty wide, and on this evening still had lots of bushes with edible wild blueberries on them. These bushes were eventually trampled or cut down as the gathering progressed.

I returned to the T and walked to the right, went around two short horseshoe bends where the land had steep slopes on both sides, then climbed a gradual slope to a place with land more hospitable to large kitchen structures on both sides. I found a fully built Kid Village to the right, and shortly thereafter the entrance to the Katuah camp on the left. That entrance was covered with flags, banners, and signs, and a path led into a small oval shaped meadow that sloped upward to the kitchen structure at the high end, a large peaked roof skeleton made of fallen tree trunks covered with tarps. There was a heart shaped firepit near the center of the meadow. The Katuah council had consensed to having their usual regional gathering centered on the Solstice at the site chosen for the national, so this area had been populated for over a week. There were many people in and around the kitchen, but I looked in vain for any familiar faces.

At Kid Village I was instantly recognized and welcomed by Joe and Felipe, and invited to come back the next day for breakfast. As I was leaving there for the main road I finally found another Info person, J’ai Love. He took me down to another kitchen that was a building a little below KV. called Iris, and he introduced me to a young man who called himself Overboard, or Obie for short. J’ai told me he was the Main Supply focalizer. I told him about my parking experience, and he told me where I parked would probably be okay. (It turned out later that they didn’t use that space after all. I backed my van up a little to get more room, and a succession of what seemed like locals parked their cars in the remaining space.) J’ai also said that there would be the first Dinner Circle of the gathering taking place at 6 o’clock that evening.

I went there at that time, and found Daniel there as usual getting the circle going and giving serving instructions to the people brining in pots. He had set up a system of pagan poles marking the four compass directions, and poured some rings of flour on the ground to mark out concentric circles for people to sit on opposite sides of. At one point he asked out loud, “How many kitchens are there right now?”, and soon answered himself after looking around and counting, “Four”.

I talked a little again with J’ai, and one of the things he said was, “I’ve been working a lot with the guys in Fat Kids Kitchen. They’ve really taken a lot of initiatives as far as setting up the gathering is concerned, and I’ve been able to work with them really well. You’ll be impressed.”

“And even some of the Nick at Night people; they’ve been traveling all over the gathering and have been able to help with Shanti Sena and getting messages around the gathering.”

After the Om and cheer I started sitting down, wondering if I should try to make a Magic Hat run, but I rejected the idea because I was not wearing a hat or having any other kind of container that would be believable. But then I heard an accordion and a tambourine, and I turned round to look and saw a young man leading the musicians with a black fedora hat in his hand, saying, “Magic Hat”. I walked up to them and said, “I’m Butterfly Bill, and I usually am on the Bank Council”, but I didn’t pursue it any further because I was starting to have flashbacks to that evening at the Montana gathering where some people started doing a Magic Hat pass without informing Info and stated doing wingnut Shanti Sena on me when I tried to join and they didn’t recognize me. I finally asked J’ai if he would introduce me, and he took me over to them when they were done and did that.

The man with the hat called himself Sloth, and J’ai told me he was a Nick at Nighter. He looked like he was in his 20s, had long black hair and a full beard, and on that evening was wearing a black denim vest and a knee length skirt, also solid black. I watched them do a count, and he produced a notebook with a very clear balance sheet. They collected 45 dollars that evening, and he entered the amount into his ledger and put the money into a little green wallet box.

(to be continued)

The Fat Kids Gathering – part 2

The popular image of a Rainbow Gatherer has long been of a long-haired hippie dressed in colorful tie-dyes, with lots of Grateful Dead and Bob Marley logos. If a woman, she has on a granny dress and shawls with fringes and lots of jewelry. But for many years the gatherings have also been attended by people dressed in goth and punk rock outfits of black, brown, gray, and olive drab. They prefer death metal to psychedelic rock, and their concert tee shirts are almost always black. Lots of them are fond of body piercings and tattoos, and Mohawk hairdos are popular. Both the men and women like military pants with lots of cargo pockets, with the legs either full length or cut off. The women often wear just a halter top above, if they don’t choose to go topless. The men also can go descamisado, as a large number did during the hottest parts of this gathering’s days. Men as well as women sometimes wear skirts, but they are always in the same shades of brown or khaki – never in the frilly and flowery patterns that the hippies wear. And many of them will wear the same garments for several days in a row, if not the whole gathering.

Some of the older gatherers have called these people “dirty kids”, because they are usually young – in their teens, twenties, or early thirties – and their clothes get pretty dirty living in the woods and this doesn’t seem to bother them. This has been used as a derogatory term by some of the olders, but many of the dirty kids themselves have taken this as an appellation of pride. For the last few years, three of the largest and longest existing of their kitchens, Fat Kids, Montana Mud, and Shut Up And Eat It, have located themselves near to each other in a place that gets called Dirty Kids Meadow or Dirty Kids Corner. Sometimes the phrase gets shortened to just “kids”, with the tacit understanding that it doesn’t mean the people that Kid Village devotes itself to.

The names that the dirty kids use for the gatherers that call them that name are several, with “yuppie”, “hippie”, and “high holy” being popular. Yuppies live in houses, have jobs, and only visit the gathering one week a year. Dirty kids are travelers and casual laborers who often live on the road or the street and are free to spend months at gatherings. Yuppies are weekend warriors; dirty kids live the Rainbow life fully.

Both sides complain of not being treated with respect by the other.

One of the kid kitchens that I and the others at Info started noticing as early as the 2007 Arkansas gathering was Fat Kids, who were usually the first to show up at Dinner Circle during Seed Camp with large pots of beans and rice and vegetables. They came early, and then stayed dependable until the end of the gathering. Their sanitation was as meticulous as Kid Village, unlike some of the other kid kitchens in earlier days. J’ai told me, “The other kid kitchens look up to Fat Kids; they’ve got the reputation of the together kitchen, and I think they’re beginning to have a lot of influence on the others.”

The name Fat Kids is certainly does not describe them physically. There was one brother among them that I saw who even called himself “Fat Man”, but the rest of them that I saw at a council by Info and bringing food to Dinner Circle all had slim and athletic bodies. No flabby person could have regularly gone up and down the steep hill that led to their kitchen.

At this gathering the differences between the tie-dyed and the tatooed were especially emphasized. Only one other kitchen of any size set up on the trail up from the parking road after the two I encountered on the first day, Green and Purple at the beginning of July. The rest of the gathering was all along the road above, and four population centers emerged, separated from each other by stretches of road where the land on each side was too steep for any structures.

At the T there was Info on the right (or west), and to the left (east) there was a long traders area on both sides of the road that caused frequent congestion. On July 3rd it extended all the way to Knowthing Café, a kitchen with a definitely blacky-khaki hue, and beyond it almost to the southern entrance to Main Circle. Beyond it was a curve in the road that was settled by Jesus Camp and some other Christian groups as June ended. (Bread of Life did not appear.) Further to the east was almost a mile of unpopulated road, then Dirty Kid’s Corner, with Montana Mud and Shut Up And Eat It next to each other, and Fat Kids up a hill from them. Faerie Camp emerged down the hill a few hundred yards before reaching the corner.

To the west of the T, there was a quarter mile of wilderness before you reached Katuah and Kid Village, around which settled several other camps, including Iris, some Krishna devotees, and whatever the New Englanders want to call themselves (it used to be NERF, but now some say it’s FERN), Then there was another mile of unsettled road that led up a long hill to a crest where you could then look down on the Granola Funk meadow, then go to the left and find the entrances to Instant Soup, Green Path, and Scrumdiddly Umptious. This was the high holy land to the people at the other end.

Turtle Soup and Lovin’ Oven were on the western end, and Fat Kids and Goat Camp were on the eastern, and thru the T you could pretty much draw a demarcation line with the tie-dyed on one side and the blacky-khaki on the other. At Info we made jokes about it being “the tracks” (the ones you can live on the right or wrong side of). Over two miles separated these two ends, and commerce between them could be arduous. It was a long way to downtown from yuppie land, and Lovin’ Oven never brought any baked treats to Info as they have done in the past.

Sometimes there was direct conflict between the anarchist kids and the hippies. At around sunrise one morning some young people were walking up and down the road by Katuah breaking the morning silence by yelling “nigger” over and over again. I found out about this later in the day at Info overhearing a (white) sister from Katuah expressing her indignation to a young man, who was saying that the point of this prank was to help desensitize them to that word, so that it finally doesn’t have any meaning anymore and they don’t have to waste so much time getting worked up about it. “They’re just words. If you confront them, you get used to them, and you don’t have to react.”

Some of the kids use the word to mean anybody who is at the bottom of a society, anyone who has to do dirty work for low pay and is excluded from privileged groups. A white person can be a nigger as much as a black person. And by this definition, the dirty kids are all niggers who share their struggles together.

(At this gathering I saw more racially black people attending than I have seen in previous years.)

On the morning of the 22nd I walked into Kid Village. Felipe was walking around one of the stoves and as soon as he saw me he said, “Good morning, Bill. We’ve got some coffee ready. Come inside and sit down.” There were two large firepit stoves and a stainless steel serving counter, and extending from the ends of the counter were bliss rails enclosing the whole working area. Down the hill from the stove and inside the bliss rails was a circle of folding canvas chairs.

I got some coffee from a spigot on a large plastc urn, and found that they had not only sugar but fresh half and half in a carton. All the chairs had someone sitting in them. I stood by the table that had the sugar and cream with my cup in my hand, but soon Felipe said to the others, “Let me tell you of the customs among our people. 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.” (Felipe is a Yaqui Indian.) “Bill is an elder, so one of you get up so he can sit down.”

About an hour later they had a circle in a clearing behind chair area further down the hill. Felipe gave a brief homily where he talked of family and respect and the importance of sanitation and washing your hands. It can’t have been more than five minutes. Then Foxfire, their principal cook, asked if anyone had any more announcements. A few did, and they all had to do with practical aspects of gathering safety – there were no long outpourings of heartsongs. Then a hollering of “we lo-o-o-ove you and an Om, and everybody went back up to the serving counter which were now fully stocked with food . It was all much shorter than some of the circles had been to there years ago. Felipe told me that as an elder, I could also go to the head of the line. I decided to return the courtesy by waiting until most of the children went thru. I was able to sit down while doing it.

So now I could go to what has always been the most opulent breakfast spread in the gathering: potatoes with or without eggs, oatmeal, pancakes, and if I wanted it, syrup made from fresh fruit. (I didn’t take this because I’m diabetic.) Up until now Kid Village had always been a good place to go up until about the 27th or 28th of June, then the lines would be too long for my patience to endure. But now, even tho it could be as much as two hours after first showing up that I would finally get some food, I would be able to sit down while waiting, often while joints and bowls were going past. So my morning routine every day of this gathering but one included a trip to Kid Village, sitting and talking with some of the people I have known at gatherings for the longest and have felt the greatest feelings of love from.

On the 23rd Info went up. All the infomaniacs present agreed that the T would be the best place for it, even tho it didn’t have the view of Main meadow that we usually seek, since it was the first thing people would find at the end of the trail up. There was a small level place for it to the right of the T’s trunk. There were some good “tarpologists” among the Fat Kids crew who climbed some trees to tie the ends of ropes that extended over the road, then two Info oldtimers, David Alexander English and Stephen Wing, and a black clad young sister all made X supports for the three pieces of plywood that we had at the time, all lashed together with twine. Barry Summers had purchased a dome tent for supplies and delivered it to the gathering during the Katuah regional. There was an area on the other side of the trunk of the T for Info camping, and I set up my daytime tent there.

(to be continued)

The Fat Kids Gathering – part 3

The next four days descended into a routine of Kid Village for three or four hours every morning, then helping hold down Info until Dinner Circle Time, when I carried the Magic Hat bucket as I have done for the last twelve years. There were only two other Info oldtimers remaining on the site (some others had come for brief visits and then left), and there were some late afternoon stretches where I was behind the counter alone.

Some dark clad youngsters started volunteering. One was named Ryan, and he wore suspenders that held top of his pants low enough to expose about three inches of boxer shorts underneath. The was a tall Brunhilde of a woman with blond dreadlocks from Montana Mud, who wore a top showing lots of tattoos and an olive drab skirt. There was another sister named Chelsea, short and cute, who also wore a black tee shirt and an olive drab skirt. There was another sister who called herself Butterfly, leading sometimes to name confusion when I was around, who wore black jeans and a black bra when the weather got hot, as it did on most of the days.

The first day I was on the site it was in the high 80s and humid, and it stayed that way for the next few days. Then it rained for most of the night of the 25th, and the morning of the 25th it was in the low 50s, and the next three day were pleasant with highs in the 70s. Then on the 29th I broke sweat at 9:30 in the morning, followed by a humid afternoon where it got up into the low 90s. It stayed this way over the 4th, then there was rain and slightly cooler weather starting on the 5th.

Sitting at Info was like watching a parade of all kinds of fashion statements, and I got to hear news of all the crises that were happening all over the gathering. An organized CALM didn’t really come together until June 29th, so in the days previous we either tried to find on the radio one of the several medical professionals that were wandering the site alone, or send the people needing aid to what remained of the CALM at the Katuah regional.

There would be groups 2 LEOs and 2 resource rangers traveling together in a band that would appear every three or four hours and walk thru the site. Sometimes a caravan of 3 LEOs on four wheeler ATVs would come thru, making lot of traders have to scurry to get out of their way. I was hearing many reports of towed cars on the parking road, some estimates as high as 200. There were all the usual complaints about A-Camp.

I saw one thing that I hadn’t seen before. A brother came around to Info and asked if anyone had any mail for the “Rainbow posties”. He had started a service where he would deliver messages from one part of the gathering to another. You had to write it out and put it in an envelope like it was a US Postal Service letter, and you had to hand draw a stamp in the upper right hand corner – or he wouldn’t deliver it. You could write letters to individuals and name a kitchen or other established area for an address, or you could write letters to a kitchen or group and he would read them out loud to the people present in when he walked into there. We found a box to put on the Info counter to serve as a mailbox for outgoing letters.

He was all eager on the first day, the 24th, and in a few days he had several helpers. But we wondered if he would be able to keep up with the demand as the gathering grew larger, and in the first few days if July the frequency of pickups seemed to slacken. But they never stopped completely. All of us at Info liked it; it was better than posting messages on the Info message boards and hoping the intended persons would happen to pass by and see them.

I got to observe an interesting supply council meeting there on the 26th, where there were a half dozen of the Fat Kids, as well as Sloth and two more Nick at Nighters. They were discussing where to locate Main Supply, after they had run into some conflict with A-Camp over where they wanted to put it. Bus Village was in a level clearing a little bit down the road from the foot of the Josiah Hiking Trail and that led up to a junction near Kid Village. This would have provided the shortest route to the main parts of the gathering. But in the earliest days A-Camp had managed to take over most of it. Some of the kids tried asking the A-Campers to move, but they refused to move for anybody. The kids were aghast at this display of selfishness in the face of the common good, but they didn’t want to start any trouble. One of the Fat Kids named Raye had a large schoolbus that she had driven to town for supplies, and shortly before the meeting she had succeeded in parking it. But she had left the bus locked up and unloaded. The plan they arrived at was to hang a tarp and just start setting up Supply by the bus and see if they could get away with it.

There was a discussion of the nigger calling, and I found that not all of them shared the opinion of the man I had talked to earlier. Some of the sisters thought it was rude and disrespectful.

I also learned some things I didn’t know about Nick at Night. One of them referred to another as a “probie”, and I asked what this meant, and I was told that this meant people on probation before they could become a full-fledged members. You had to go out on the trails and prove that you could be just as raucous and generous and effective at getting donations as the oldtimers before you were fully admitted into the fold. As a badge of their inferior rank, the empty used tobacco can that they all carry on a strap around their neck, and which they call their “busket”, is only half the size of a full-ranked member’s can. I saw the probie sitting by himself one morning at about 8, when very few Rainbows were awake and stirring. He asked me if I wanted a cigarette, and I said, “No, thank you. I don’t do them.”, and I didn’t have any trouble smiling as I did it.

Two days later there was another NaN brother standing by the Info counter, and he told me of how the previous night they made him stack rocks according to specific instructions, and “He kept on doing it. All he would have had to do is say, ‘Fuck you, I ain’t gonna do it’, and it would have been all okay.” I didn’t see the probie out after the beginning of July. I guess he didn’t make it.

Later on the afternoon of the supply meeting I saw Raye walking thru in a flustered state and I asked her what had happened. She told me that some of the A-Campers started cutting ropes and slashing tarps and threatening all kinds of violence. She was looking for a new place to move to. They had tried to get the resource rangers to let them use another flat clearing on the road opposite the blue and yellow umbrella, that the LEOs had been using from time to time to park their vehicles. But permission was denied.

The next day I got the denouement of the story from her: they set up near the Josiah Horse Trail, the easternmost one that met the main road around the bend from Main Circle in Jesus land. “So now after being bullied out of what would have been the best spot for everyone, now there’s another mile and a half to carry stuff”. She was in a very depressed mood that evening, and J’ai and I were afraid she was going to burn out. But we saw her usual spirited self a few days later.

On the morning of the 26th I made a visit to dirty kids land after breakfast, walking the mile to there. At Montana Mud I met one of its main ogres, a brother who has taken the name of Useless. He said to the others, “In case any of you don’t know this, we have a policy here that if anybody comes in whose beard is grayer that yours, you offer him a seat.” But the only seats at that time were on logs, and there were enough empty spaces at the time. He talked about how they had cooperated with Shut Up And Eat It. “Montana Mud has decided to be an all-vegetarian kitchen, and they have decided that they are going to serve meat. So we traded all our meat for all their veggies.”

Continuing on the road I came across a tipi-like structure out of heavy logs, and a sign that said “Animal Farm”. A little bit later I came upon Nick at Night’s main camp. There was a campfire ring with some of last night’s embers, and there were some people sitting in chairs by it. One of the sisters asked me, “You’re an elder. How do you feel about saying the N-word on the trails?” I said that it wasn’t something that I would do.

There was another young woman sitting on a log with an iPhone in her hands, looking at what looked like a Twitter page. There was cell phone reception over almost all of the gathering area along the upper road, and there was some controversy about their presence at a gathering. There was a sign at the trailhead of the nameless trail saying “no power tools, electronic music devices, and cell phones”. But many people used their devices, and as I write this I am getting cleanup updates from J’ai on Facebook.

The Forest Service road ended in the middle of the woods by Nick at Night, and Fat Kids kitchen was maybe 300 yards away at the end of a foot trail up a hill, with a 30 degree slope most of the way, and a big fallen tree trunk lying across it in the middle. I don’t know how they got their 40-gallon pots of food over it when taking them to Dinner Circle. J’ai told me they chose this spot because it was closest to the best water supply. After I had achieved their kitchen at the summit, there was no food being served at the time and few people walking around, it still being mid-morning. I had been wanting to visit this kitchen more, but I had to regretfully accept that I wouldn’t be able to make that climb any more times.

There was another camp on the slope of that hill that I couldn’t find any well defined trails to. I was told later that they called that camp “the projects.” As I walked on the road back toward downtown I saw a sign for Faerie camp and a kitchen that looked like it was in its early stages of construction.

(to be continued)

The Fat Kids Gathering – part 4

On the morning of the 27th I forwent Kiddie Village for the chance that I might find breakfast in high holy land. It was almost a mile from Katuah, most of it going uphill around two long horseshoe bends. About a quarter mile before reaching it there was a turnoff to Tea Time. Finally I saw blue sky showing thru a pass between the trees in the distance, and it felt like a long time approaching it. Once thru, I saw the oval shaped meadow that was going to be the audience area for the Granola Funk stage. it was one of the most perfect natural amphitheaters they could have found, sloping gently upward from where the stage was going to be. On the uphill side of the road from it was GF’s bliss pit area under a tarp, and further uphill a kitchen that had vertical rainbow flag with a skull and crossbones on it and the letters “SCRUMDIDDLY UMPTIOUS”. They were serving at the time I entered, and I got a thick, round bean and egg burrito. Turtle Soup was still a building nearby.

Going back to the road I passed the future site of PopCorner , and then tried to see if I could get as far as where I had been told Lovin’ Oven was. (All who are in its in crowd always refer to as “the ovens”) . But I stared down what looked like a long road that I would have to climb back up, with no sign of a kitchen in sight, so I decided to turn back. LO always tries to isolate itself from the rest of the gathering as much as possible, and they succeeded handsomely this time.

After breakfast at KV on the morning of July 1, I visited the area again when everything was in full bloom. The Granola Funk stage building was an Egyptian pyramid framed with logs covered with white cloth. Out of the side of the pyramid emerged three short tarps with black undersides framing a hexagonal stage of plywood painted black, tilted toward the audience with its back side about a foot higher. Two tall black poles with colored barber pole grooves carved in them stood at the sides of the stage.

At the top of the meadow was the “Spirit House”, built to commemorate the Rainbows who had died in the previous year. It had a yurt-like frame covered on the top with a parachute. Inside was a wedding cake-like circular table framed with sticks and covered with black cloth and green branches laid on its upper surfaces. On this sat photographs and mementos of the departed. A sign said, “SPIRIT HOUSE, a place to remember elders, loved ones, and family, and leave something for them. SHARE CONSCIOUS SPACE.” At the top of the cake was a large sign saying “Thank you Cecil. Your drum will beat in our hearts forever”.

On the evening of the 4th some people were planning a memorial parade from Granola Funk to Katuah, but it got rained out and postponed to the 5th. I didn’t think I would be able to get to Dinner Circle on time, so I didn’t go (and I also thought it would have been more appropriate to go all the way to Montana Mud). There was talk about burning the whole Sprit House as a last rite, and as soon as I saw the nylon parachute I was asking concernedly if they were really going to do it. Last I heard, they didn’t.

On the road by the entrance to the Granola Funk bliss pit were several panels of plywood covered with white paper, on which had been drawn calendars with days and hours for announcing events, and SHARE FAIR in big letters at the top. It was a more elaborate calendar than we were able to achieve at Info.

Further up the hill from Scrumdiddly Umptious was Green Path, with another board announcing workshops. On that day were being offered:

Permaculture principles,
Native awareness games,
Deep ecology,
Kundalini yoga,
Science of pheromones,
Songshare with Shanta and Lady Bird, and
Bowl burning.

There were seven separate workshop areas defined and sometimes covered with tarps, and given names like Grasshopper, Firefly, and Lady Bug.

Here at this end of the gathering one could truly have a week of spiritually uplifting activities, a lot of people’s vision of an old time gathering, without the need for ever going downtown and thru Trading Circle to Main Meadow and ever encountering people who say “fuck” in a loud voice. But my job kept me downtown, and I much prefer daytime events to those that start at dark thirty, and the walk was long and mostly uphill, so I didn’t return here for the rest of the gathering.

During the last week in June, the food at Dinner Circle was what I heard one older brother call “the best Seed Camp food that I have had ever.” There were over a dozen kitchens coming by the middle of the week. The circle grew until it was in most places three lanes of people facing each other in concentric circles. By late in the week it had got as big as it could within the confines of the meadow and still remain a circle. Then the pattern started to look like an eye, with a circular iris, and triangles to the side like the whites of the eye They tried to still maintain rows of people out in the triangles, but sometimes the patterns got confused, and it was sometimes difficult to serve and pass the Hat in those areas.

The accordion player and at least one guitar player continued to be there every evening to follow me with the Magic Hat bucket until the 1st of July. On no evening did we have trouble finding musicians. They sang a certain song many times:

Magic Hat; that’s where it’s at; make you fat;
Put all your god damn filthy American money in the Magic Hat

The dome shaped hill became a podium for persons giving the announcements, which were brief and about subjects such as latrines (bury your shit and know where the nearest shitter is), water (drink only boiled or filtered water), fires (no personal fires and have a bucket of water handy), and going to CALM if you are injured or sick. A succession of several people, including Daniel, Circus Maximus, Sloth, and a raucous sister from Nick at Night named Dream Crusher, gave the speech in as loud a voice as they could manage.

Fat Kids, and it looked like a few other kid kitchens, had people gather food for their servers and put it all on big stainless steel trays. After the serving was over they all sat around an ate off these common plates. This seemed like communalism taken a little too far to J’ai and some of us other old-timers, but we had to respect their spirit. When the Fat Kids aren’t at gatherings, they live in three school busses and travel around the country serving food “to communities in need and in areas of crisis”, as they say on their website, They live a lifestyle of sharing to the extreme.

After a few days as banker, Sloth stopped going around with his busket as a Nick at Night satellite. But he kept sleeping at his personal camp with them.

On the 28th several of the Info old-timers arrived and I was now freer to spend time in other parts of the gathering. Good musicians started to show up at Kid Village, I had with me the pennywhistles I play at the Oklahoma Renaissance Festival, and my stays there were longer. Marken didn’t feel the need to take over the bookkeeping of the Magic Hat from Sloth, and Finch brought a stack of the first All Ways Free to be published since 2007.

Dinner Circle got rained out on the evenings of July 3rd and 4th. The usual thing to do when this happens is to have the individual kitchens serve at their camps. A few, especially Fat Kids and the Krishna devotees, would take their pots out onto the trails, stop and set them down at several points, holler something like “free food in the woods”, and serve people as they came up.

On the 3rd, we were sitting at Info and some LEO ATVs were parked shortly before they would have passed us on the road. There had been some joking going on between us and them, and at one point one of the cops said, “It’s 4:20”. Almost immediately thereafter it started to rain, and rain hard. This rain was sudden and unexpected; all the rains on previous days had started clouding over and giving signs of their coming in time for people to get under cover. There was a frantic scene at the trading blankets.

The 4:20 shower lasted long enough to mean the cancellation of Dinner Circle. Some people at Info suggested taking the Magic Hat around to some of the kitchens and try to spange people as they were standing in line. The first place I headed to was Break Fast, which had set up at the south end of Main Meadow. When I entered the meadow from the central entrance, I saw many naked bodies walking about. Rather than continue to wear their wet clothes, they had just taken them off. (One of the Info regulars walked all the way to the Granola Funk area and back naked.)

Prior to this, there had been almost no nudity on the trails or in the kitchens. There were occasional sisters going bare breasted, but only Grandpa Woodstock walked around with nothing on below his short coat with buttons unfastened. There was one woman I saw walking around totally nude by Info and Trading Circle, with a look on her face like she was having some kind of mental challenges, but I only saw her for one day. A brother came to Info several times announcing that at Dinner Circle on the 30th there would be a “naked tattoo parade”, but on that night only he and one sister showed up for it (and followed me as I carried the Magic Hat).

I carried the bucket to the line waiting for food at Break Fast, and more than half of the people standing in it were skyclad. I want back to Info and told them that I didn’t think many of them would have had money in their pockets to give to the Magic Hat.

But the bucket when it was sitting on the Info counter more than compensated for the lack of two Dinner Circles. On the afternoon of July 4th I saw a throng of people oozing thru the congestion of Trading Circle, recognized Raye among them, and she told me that Fat Kids was doing a Magic Hat parade. There were about 20 of them, and they included an accordion and a saxophone among their several guitars and banjos and tambourines. They said they visited every kitchen on the site, and came back with $1,462, which is surely an all time record for a Magic Hat parade.

There was a reasonable silence on the morning of July the 4th. I sat in the circle at Kid Village for a while before breakfast, and I was even considering going with the Children’s Parade instead of sitting in Main Meadow. But KV never observes the silence as far as talking is concerned, because there is no way you’re going to get small children to observe it. There was no music being played, and the adults were speaking at a lower volume than usual, but there was conversation going around like it was any other day, and I started to miss the eerie feeling that the silence brings. I decided to leave right after finishing eating.

There was the sun in a cloudless sky beating down upon the meadow, making a microclimate that might have been ten degrees hotter than the surrounding forest. I soon got skyclad, and many people were huddling beneath a large canopy that had been erected for the watermelons.

The only thing that served as a Peace Pole was the center post of Daniel’s pagan sticks, an S-shaped stick about three inches thick and 4 feet tall. He usually put them up and took them down every evening, but left the center one in place. This morning, for some reason, one of the poles with yellow tape wrapped around its top, an east pole, was still in place. The usual pile of trinkets was being laid around the central one, but the display was not as elaborate as in previous years.

By about 11:30 the small meadow was getting dense with people. Spontaneously some of them started standing up and joining hands with others in concentric circles. I stated hearing what sounded like a flute in the distance, and I was going to the central meadow entrance to see what it was, but as I got there I saw Felipe leading a throng of people. He chose to take the parade around to the northern entrance, and in the time it took for him to get there, the Om kindled spontaneously.

It was in full force as the children entered thru the outside rings, and they did it quietly enough that the Om was not dampened. For the first time, I saw realized the often expressed dream of the children’s parade entering just as the Om began – all with no signs being carried around or shushing like I saw at the most recent Oregon and Colorado gatherings.

The Om was loud and resonant, as it can be only when all the people chanting are together in a compact space and not spread out in a huge circle, and it lasted for 22 minutes.

(There was no disruption from Death Camp as there had been in 2010. Death Camp was nowhere to be found at this gathering, and I heard various stories of how that nuclear family had broken up.)

On the 5th, we found a new focalizer for the Rainbow Guide, a sister named Kristen who is a doctoral candidate at the University of South Florida. A 2012 Guide didn’t make it to the gathering.

On the 6th I took the Josiah Horse trail, the easternmost one, into the gathering, since the recent rainfalls had made the hollow down by the parking road of the nameless trail quagmirely muddy. It included an almost hundred yard stretch down a 45 degree hill, and it was indeed more strenuous and unfriendly to bikes and carts than the nameless trail.

(to be continued)

The Fat Kids Gathering – part 5

Some more anomalies of this gathering were:

Along the road above the forest were mostly deciduous trees, with a few conifers scattered among them. Some noticeably peculiar ones were sugar magnolias, still in their later stages of bloom, rhododendrons no longer flowering, and tulip poplars, with their unique leaves vaguely shaped like tulip flowers. Copperheads and rattlesnakes were supposed to inhabit the area, but I never encountered any of them.

There were no mosquitoes, but there were deer flies and ticks. At night there were occasional fireflies, and there were crickets with a low pitched chirp that sounded almost like cicadas. Another thing I could often hear was the call of whippoorwills, which sounded almost exactly like someone saying their name.

You could take the Josiah Hiking Trail done to the parking road, turn left and walk a short stretch down the road, and the turn right and go thru Bus Village and walk only a few hundred more yards to an inlet of a lake, where there were swimming beaches. But as a lot of people said, “By the time you’ve cooled off in the lake and walked all the way back up again, you’re just as hot and sweaty as before.” I never visited it myself.

There was only one spring on the site. All the other water sources were open streams. All of them were further up the mountain than the main trail road, and the wide separation between the population centers caused problems for the people laying and maintaining the water pipes. At several places thruout the gathering, there were what they called “water buffaloes”, 50 gallon plastic barrels with spigots in the front and two water filters in white plastic canisters on the side where the water pipe from above connected.

I never heard so many accordion players and saw so many ukuleles being carried around.

Unlike some gatherings in the past where you could hear somebody playing drums somewhere in on the site 24 hours a day, the drums at this gathering mostly came out only after the sun had set. I could hear the drum circle in the Katuah meadow while standing outside my van on the parking road, and sometimes they kept going until about 6:30 in the morning. Then daytime was mostly drum silent.

After “We lo-o-o-o-ve you”, “Six up”, and “Nick at Night needs tobacco”, the phrase I heard yelled the most often at this gathering was “Make a hole!”. People were always wanting to get large conveyances thru Trade Circle and there was this one guy who always didn’t want to slow down his bicycle as he rode thru. At Dinner Circle it was kitchen workers hollering, “Make a hole. Hot shit coming thru!”

The residents of Faerie Camp were much more out and about than they have been before. They were out by themselves or in small groups, in their sometimes unconventional garb, casually interacting with people in all the camps – rather than only venturing out in parades. I wasn’t the only dude seen going around in a dress.

A local newspaper article said the Forest Service estimate of our attendance was 6,500. The Magic Hat grossed $9,348 up to the evening of July 7th. This made for an average contribution of $1.44, higher than in previous years.

No permit was signed for this gathering. Three councils with the resource rangers produced an Operating Plan.

There was a flu virus going around that many caught, including J’ai. It spent itself out after 18 to 24 hours. I didn’t catch it.

And I was treated as an elder almost everywhere I went at this gathering, and I was grateful for all the accommodation, but my feelings were a bit mixed. Rich in Spirt was right, it was a hard site, and I frequently felt like I was at the peak of my possible energy output just walking and getting around the site. I didn’t have too much left for manual labor. I did a lot of sitting at this gathering, either behind the Info desk, or in the Kid Village circle, and about the only physical thing I did was carrying the Magic Hat bucket around. I would have qualified as a bliss ninny if I were forty years younger.

I was getting envious of all these black clad youngsters and the way they could scamper up and down the hills carrying heavy loads. And of some other people like J’ai, who is almost as old as me, but still has a four-chambered heart, as I don’t with my atrial fibrillation. There may come a time when I have to admit that I’m too old for two week stays at Rainbow Gatherings, but I hope it’s not soon.

Vision Council started at 12:30 on the 7th in the main meadow/solarium. We circled up in the sun, and there was a brief discussion of moving it to some shade, but there were some who felt that if we were too comfortable, people would be encouraged to talk longer and that we might come to a decision faster if we didn’t move. So the circle stayed in place until about four, when the declining sun had lengthened the shade of the trees to the west enough that the whole circle could join hands and walk over as a unit and then be under it.

Both Woodstock and David Alexander English were there trying to focalize the circle, and they cooperated with each other surprisingly well. Woodstock produced a tied together cluster of feathers from five different kinds of birds, and we started out with a silent pass of it around the circle.

There were about 40 people in the circle, and after the talking began the feather got all the way around for the first time in only a little more than two hours. There was very little addressing of the feather, and only two people talked for more than 15 minutes. Almost everyone who mentioned a state mentioned Montana, and those who mentioned others went on to say that they would be all right with Montana. It looked like it might be a record short council.

I had the feather last before it returned to its starting point in Woodstock, and invited him to call for consensus by having a silent pass around the circle, which he did. But one brother asked for more clarification of how much resources the Montana family was willing to put into it, and the feather started going around again. The first pass had been remarkably focused on picking a state, but now people were coming out with unrelated heartsongs. Then some people started suggesting that the Black Hills of South Dakota be included, and other started objecting, and then there was a woman who had had a divine vision of Wisconsin and she looked determined to push it thru. After we moved to the shade, the people who didn’t want us to get too comfortable were proven right. The circle almost tripled in size, and more people stated talking for longer.

I had decided I wanted to leave on the 8th, as the support system I had come to depend on at Kid Village was going to be dismantling that evening, and I was wanting to get my campsite broken down and bagged up while there was still daylight, so I left at about 5. I returned at 6:30 to see if there was going to be a Dinner Circle, found there wasn’t, and found them still talking. I took my last load down to the van while I still had daylight.

According to reports on Facebook, they finally arrived at a consensus for Montana, with nothing in addition, at 8:10.

This was the first time I had been to a gathering in the 2005 Dodge Grand Caravan I bought last year. It was a used car with one feature that I wouldn’t have chosen if I were buying it new, a supposedly super burglar-proof locking system where instead of sticking my key into the door, I push a button on the key itself to lock or unlock all the doors at once. (It costs $180 to replace.) There were also lights that came on whenever I had the doors open, something that I frequently like to do when I am sleeping on a hot summer night. There were four bulbs to light up the interior, and they not only couldn’t be turned off with any switch, but were connected to a computer somewhere that turned them off exactly 20 minutes after you had started to leave a door open. If you closed and then opened a door, the cycle started all over again. The only way I could find to stop all this was to remove all four of the bulbs. But a door open warning light on the dashboard and all the numbers on the odometer continued to glow whenever I had any door open.

So to keep battery from running down, I tried disconnecting the ground lead to it every evening before I opened the doors to eventually go to sleep, and reconnecting it every morning so I could lower the power operated windows a crack and use the buttons on the key to lock up.

This didn’t work; after 17 days, the battery was too low to trip the solenoid and start the engine. I got a jump from a sweet local woman whom I saw getting ready to leave and got the engine going, but then as I was driving I saw the battery light on my dashboard go on . I managed to get out of the woods, apparently with only the alternator supplying any voltage to anything, and I found a convenience store in Bristol to stop at to see if it would start again. It wouldn’t.

The lady in the store let me use her yellow pages and her phone to find and call a tow truck, and the driver knew of an Advance Auto Parts that was open on Sunday morning. I got a new battery (with my Visa card), and finally got onto the interstate at about 10:30, four hours later than I had wanted. The drive home was like the drive out, hot and sweaty, even with the air conditioner on.

Thus ended my stay at the Fat Kids Gathering, where the bright colors of the rainbow came to rest upon a foundation of brown and khaki and gray and brown. In at least this one instance, the baton, or torch or feather or whatever you want to use, was successfully passed from one generation to the next.

This younger generation of Rainbows seems to be more practical and pragmatic, and not so much inclined to trust in spirits and spend long times in ceremonies. They don’t see the sense of wearing bright colors when they are going to get so dirty from working that you won’t be able to see them anymore. They do have respect for Rap 107 and 701, and the good kitchens among them ask you to wash your hands. They don’t care what names you use for them, and will take what starts out as a derogatory term and turn it around into a badge of pride. A lot of them like to eat meat and believe that alcohol can be used prudently by responsible people, and don’t feel so much the need for absolute prohibition. And none of them will accept anyone as an authority unless they find some benefit to themselves in temporarily submitting to it. With these people the Rainbow will be able to continue after its founders are gone.

(the story ends here, but the gatherings remain

 to be continued)

– Butterfly Bill

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

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