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Subject: The Muddy Trail Gathering - Arkansas, 2007
From: "Butterfly Bill" <email@example.com>
Date: Jul 18 2007, 2:10 pm
The directions that I had gotten from the internet said "Go about 1 1/4 miles NE of Fallsville to FS 1463." I found Fallsville all right, but it seemed to be no more than a gas station/country store at the intersection of two state highways. I drove NE and scanned both sides of the road for a little green sign that said 1463, but it started to seem like I had gone a lot more than 1 1/4 miles as I continued to find none with that number. I found a place to turn around and I want back to the Fallsville store.
This time I set the trip odometer to zero and again proceeded northwest on the highway. At about 1.3 I saw a road to the left that I had passed before, but didn't stop at because I could see no sign at all. I turned onto this road, passing at the corner a large rock and some others scattered by its side, like it could have been one of the piles of progressively smaller rocks upon a big one that have commonly been used to mark the road toward a gathering, but had been knocked over. After about 20 feet a sign emerged from behind some bushes saying "1463". I drove into the woods and soon saw several Forest Service LEO (Law Enforcement Officer) SUVs with light bars on their tops parked on the left side, and a uniformed officer beckoned me to pull over into a small clearing by the right side of the road.
He came up to my window and asked in a very curt and professional voice, "May I see your driver's license, insurance card, and registration?" While he spoke another officer looked thru my front windshield, pointing a flashlight around (in broad daylight) over the boxes of Rainbow Guides that were on the passenger side and in the back.
I reached up to a compartment my ceiling console and pulled out my little guat purse that has all three of those things, along with my VA medical card and list of my prescription meds. I pulled out the three and handed them to him. He looked at the license and the insurance card, then hesitated on the thing that Oklahoma gives you for a vehicle registration that has in big letters across the top, "State of Oklahoma - Oklahoma Tax Commission". He walked towards the rear of my van out of sight, and I first thought he was going back to call me in and run my name thru the computer, but he returned after too short a time to have done that. He handed them back to me and said, "Have a great day."
Thus I arrove at about 3:30 in the afternoon on the 21st of June at the 2007 Annual or National Rainbow Gathering in the Ozark National Forest in Arkansas. It was the shortest drive that I had had to make to get to a gathering, 20 miles down the Muskogee Turnpike to I-40, then into Arkansas to exit 58 and then north on 30 miles of two lane mountain road to Fallsville -- about 160 miles. In the morning I went to my Coumadin test at the VA hospital, waited around at my house for the trash men to come and leave, went to the post office to mail out some bill payments, then left at about 11 and stopped at the Waffle House in Fort Smith on the way for a last steak fix before the semi-fast began.
I guess I can look and act straight enough for FS policemen even tho I am wearing a rayon dress with little flowers printed on it. My car is a GMC Safari minivan that I have removed the back two seats from and replaced with a bed and a cabinet. It has tinted windows behind the driver's seat, no bumperstickers or any other hippie regalia, and I don't have shoulder length hair, dreadlocks, or a long beard. Later I was to be hearing stories that would make me feel either lucky or privileged to have been able to slide thru this strainer so easily, stories of dogs sniffing and people having all their vehicles contents spread out on the road during searches. The more hippie and road doggy your vehicle looked, the more likely they would choose you for the thorough treatment.
I drove further on the road into forest that was mostly deciduous, with lots of maples and trees that look like maples, like sycamores and sweetgums, but dotted thruout with tall cedars. The road surface was mostly dry and firm with no washboards, gravel spread on a base of naturally occurring rocks embedded in the ground. After about 2 miles I saw a fork in the road, and no signs saying which side lead where. I chose the left turn. I started to descend a hill, and finally I went down a switchback section with some tight hairpin curves, and I finally saw the road level out and make a slight depression under some dense tree cover, and here my way was blocked by three more LEO vehicles parked in a line. I heard one Rainbowy looking man complaining about being searched with lots of talk about rights and the Fourth Amendment, but he didn't seem to be making much headway. I had to spin my steering wheel, go into reverse for a foot or two, shift into forward and spin it some more for a few more feet, about six or seven times to get turned around. At one point one of the LEOs was spotting my rear for me and saying "You're OK".
I had been looking for the Bus Village, and I found it shortly after going the other way at the fork, a clearing in the trees not much more than a hundred feet wide. I parked my car in a shady place temporarily until I had explored some more. When I got out I saw that the tree by my driver's door had vines of poison ivy spiraling around its trunk, and there were many clumps of it nearby. I was able to get to the other side of my van without touching any of it, then open my side door and get out a cotton/polyester tanktop dress to change into from the rayon one I had on. There was once a time when I wore all my finest frockery at the gathering back when it was the only place I felt I could do it, but now that I have been out in Babylon for 13 years I won't subject fragile rayon to the conditions of a Rainbow Gathering. I then put on some black knee high L'eggs nylon trouser socks, which I had found while wading around in sagebrush three years ago in California to be almost as good as armor, and some shoes more suited to hiking than the sandals I had on. I locked up the van and set out walking back down the first road I had driven on.
The slope of the road seemed steeper on foot, especially the switchback section, and I got as far as I had gotten in the van. All along the road I saw vehicles parked by the side, and it was obvious that I would be able to park nearer in than Bus Village. I decided to walk back to Bus Village and drive back looking for a parking place. Going back up the switchback I was majorly huffing and puffing, and my hopes of an easy commute from the middle of the gathering to my car grew more forlorn. I got back to my van and drove it back, and found just before the switchback began a piece of cardboard tied to a fence saying, "emergency and supply vehicles only beyond this point please". I decided I would respect this, and found a spot that was almost perfectly level where my wheels were three feet from the edge of the road, about twenty feet back from the sign.
Then I walked back down the switchback, which descended about 160 feet thru five tight curves where the grade was sometimes almost 45 degrees, for a quarter of a mile until reaching the place I had stopped before. I saw cars parked several places on the switchback, but they were sitting at steep angles to horizontal. This time there were no cops when I got back to the bottom, and I walked across a narrow and shallow brook in the middle of the depression and further on in. The road all along in this lower section had the dark brown color of wet earth, and there were a few areas of churned up mud. I realized now that I had driven almost all the way to the center of the gathering that first time in. The road made a right angle turn to the right, and I saw parked vehicles all along the sides as I continued until the trees parted and I saw a stream.
It was ten to twenty feet wide, and all along the banks near the road were gradually rising shelves of sedimentary rock broken into large segments by cracks. The road led down to the bank of the stream and the water was shallow enough to drive a vehicle across the stream on a smooth arc of solid rock to the other side, where the road rose to an level embankment about 20 feet above the stream bed, then made a turn to the left and climbed the mountainside beyond. This stream was called Buffalo Creek on the left side of the Forest Service topo map, and Buffalo River further downstream on the other side.
I saw people sitting on the rocks and in the water, and I quickly decided that this was a major asset to this site. The people in and around the water all had on wet pants or bathing suits. There was nobody going nude.
Across the river had been laid three logs that were imperfectly straight and waved up and down next to each other and required some attention as I walked on them. They were set upon four short towers of rocks in the river. I got to the other side and looked up and saw that a kitchen had been built on the embankment above. I walked back across the bridge and back toward my van.
Apparently it was still possible to park down in the heart of the gathering, but I looked at how muddy the road was, imagined how noisy it could be down there during the height of the gathering, and I decided to leave my van where it was. I was able to climb the hill twice this day, once when I was tired, and I decided that it was doable if not always pleasant, the price of serenity when sleeping. It was a once a day affair; I had to be sure I carried with me everything I was going to need for the day when I went down in the morning.
All day I had seen no evidence of Rainbow people handling the parking. Everybody was free to go in unhindered by anyone other than LEOs and park anywhere they could get all four wheels off the edge of the road surface.
I had been sure to pack my mosquito net, but as the sky darkened after sunset when I was back up at my van, I waited for them to start coming out and was surprised to see or hear none of them buzzing about. Likewise there had been no deer flies all day. The only flying insects I saw were a few fireflies randomly glowing.
There were few other live-in vehicles at the top of the hill because there were so few parking places that were wide and level enough, most of the vehicles parked around me were cars, so I didn't expect anybody to be digging any shitters up there. When I got up on the morning of the 22nd I walked deeper into the forest from the road and found a large area of relatively level ground suitable for digging one-dump holes with my small shovel, and I crapped there for the rest of the gathering. I always had to try several times before my shovel found ground soft enough to dig, there were densely packed little rocks everywhere embedded into the soil. The ground also had seedlings of poison ivy scattered all over it.
Starting at about six in the morning a caravan of five or more LEO vehicles passed my van on the road, one vehicle following the other at less than a car's length. They passed by, then come back the other way about a half hour later, and then about two hours after their previous entry they came by again. This was to be repeated every day until the end of the gathering. There were usually at least three white FS SUVs with the single green stripe that bore the letters "law enforcement", and there might be one or two dark khaki pickups bearing the letters "Wildlife Ranger". Sometimes there would be a pickup saying "Sheriff" on its door, this one was from Newton County. They would continue these incursions until sunset.
I walked down the hill and soon discovered another trail leading from where the road had made the right angle turn, making a tee intersection there. This was a Forest Service hiking trail, and shortly after entering it I came to a three foot high speed bump in the trail and a sign advising that wheeled vehicles were prohibited beyond. Someone had dug some steps into the steeper side. It was a dirt rail covered with forest duff that went on straight and level for 4 tenths of a mile until it came to another shallow brook maybe ten feet wide, that was a tributary to the river. There were some large stepping stones set on the brook bed, and the trail continued onward.
Before reaching the brook I saw on the right a bedsheet tied to some tree branches that had Magic Markered on it in big letters "Kid Village". To the left was a space between two trees that looked like it had been walked thru a number of times. Sure enough, there was a trail and after a short walk I found a large blue tarp hanging from some tree branches and beneath it a stove of rocks mortared with mud with some iron grills set over the fire compartments. Almost all of the rocks around were sedimentary with at least two flat sides, ideal for serving as bricks or flagstones. Joe, Felipe, and Lynn were all there and for the first few days of the gathering I sought and found breakfast and supper there.
All thru the 22nd I had been looking for Marken, who usually shows up at the gathering site before I do and most of the time shows me to the place picked out for Information within a few hours of my arrival on site. But I did not encounter him the whole day. In the evening of the 23rd someone told me that they had seen him in Bus Village, but he had not come down yet. So both of those days I kept my backpack on all day and was a homeless person at the gathering. I wanted to set up my tent near Information as I always do, but had no idea where that would be.
I explored the trails some more. On the trail to Kid Village, beyond the tributary brook crossing, there appeared Jesus Camp, Instant Soup, and Shut Up And Eat It. I didn't walk any further that day, but I was told that Quiet Camp was further on, and later I was told that Tea Time, Paonia Peace Kitchen, and Faery Camp were at its far end, three quarters of a mile from the brook. Across the trail from the Kid Village banner there appeared the Arkansas Family camp that had a kitchen, and a about fifty feet further toward the brook was At Home camp, which also had a kitchen and where a lot of my fellow old farts and high holies hung out. It was where Info told people to go to find the Rainbow lawyers.
On the 24th it was about noon when I found Jai and Owl at a campfire that had some coffee and oatmeal going on it near the entrance to the trail to Kid Village, which was now being called Main Trail. There wasn't any clear agreement on what to call the road that goes across the river; I suggested that they be called Main and Broadway. Eventually we all said the Main Trail made a turn and went across the river. There was another short stretch of road parallel to the main one, making the T intersection more like a pi one, and many vehicles were parked there.
Jai and Owl confirmed for me that Marken was on site and on his way down, and we waited for him together by the fire. Marken finally appeared at about 2 in the afternoon, and we discussed where to put Info. First some of us thought that right there at the top of the pi was a good place, centrally located and soon encountered after entering the site. But Owl said he could not put up with all the parked cars around, so we went looking elsewhere. We thought about having it near the bank of the river, and saw a few clearings that would have been good if someone had not already parked there. Then we contemplated a small clearing shaded by overhanging tree branches on the far side of the river, but wondered if there wasn't something better.
The kitchen up on the embankment was Montana Mud, and I saw beyond it a clearing that someone had already cleaned of poison ivy when they had camped there and then moved. Marken thought it proper to ask the workers in that kitchen if they could put up with having Info right next to them, and they said it would be OK, just as long as we understood that they "were not a quiet kitchen", there would be drums and the sounds of partying late into the night.
They had built a rock stove with some iron grills on top, probably made from cutting sections of wrought iron porch railing. Upon them they always had a big pot of water being heated, and sometimes a large coffee pitcher. There were logs for sitting surrounding the stove making a circle some twenty feet wide, off to the side a counter made of short sticks lashed together for serving, and no bliss rail. Anyone could come into the kitchen and sit around the perimeter. The people working there were all young, as in under 40, the kind that wear black, brown, and khaki instead of tie-dye, goth/punk or even cowboy instead of hippie.
They made the coffee in the Rainbow way: take a pot of boiling water off the fire, carefully sprinkle coffee grounds on the surface of the water so they float, then wait 15 or 20 minutes until the grounds get saturated with water and sink by themselves. This was then poured out thru a strainer into the coffee pitcher and then served. The result was some super strong coffee that I usually diluted with half as much water before I could drink it.
If you asked one of them for coffee, you would get the answer, "We don't serve coffee here." If you expressed disbelief, he might turn to the people sitting behind him and ask, "Do we serve coffee here?, and several people would reply together, "NO!" Then he would ask, "What do we serve?", and the answer would be "MUD!" When a new batch of coffee was ready the guy making it would say, "On the count of three... one, two, three..." and the whole crowd there would holler "MUD!!!" As rainfalls continued, I started saying to myself in response, "I know, it's all around us."
And there was indeed an almost round the clock drum circle going on there thruout the gathering, most of the time good and tight. It was the focus of most of the drum energy at this gathering, and there were some excellent drummers to be heard.
I had brought down my dome tent and tarp and left them sitting for a while next to the truck of a person I knew near the camp at the pi. I fetched them over to this place and set up just the tent to claim the space, and left it there overnight. At about sunset when I was up at my van there was a moderate rain shower that lasted about a half hour. This was mostly how it rained thruout the gathering. There were never any day-long rainfalls; there were just brief bursts of usually less than an hour. Every day the sun shone for at least part of it. But these brief showers were long enough to replenish any mud that had already formed. Every day the temperature got into the low 80s, but it didn't feel very hot under the tree cover that was almost everywhere. At sunrise it was about 70. Humidity was everywhere, and many of the mornings were foggy in places.
(to be continued)
The Muddy Trail Gathering, part 2
Marken had bought a new tent that we used for the first time, a "portable garage" that was intended to house a motor vehicle, as wide as a road lane and almost long enough for two compact cars. It had a frame of steel tubes, a fitted white plastic roof, panels for all four sides attached with small bungee ties, and a zipped door in the panel on one of the ends. The sides could be rolled up or left down, and we could close it off completely the times nobody was there. On the morning of the 25th Marken found somebody to bring down the Northwest Tribes trailer with his truck, and a place to park it near the pi. In the afternoon we got the big box for the tent over to the place we had selected, I moved my own tent out of the way, we managed to figure out the instructions, and we set it up in about an hour. Then we brought more stuff over from the trailer, including two new lightweight plastic folding tables.
I found two trees nearby that were almost the exact width of my tarp apart and moved my tent between them. I strung a rope between the trees and laid the tarp over it to make a peaked roof over the tent, and secured the sides with bungees connecting to stakes driven into the ground. It was one of the easiest and neatest campsites that I have been able to make.
We had a discussion among ourselves and a few other interested people who had come to Info about where we could have Dinner Circle, since there was no meadow large enough for a usual Main Circle. About a hundred feet downstream of the bridge was an island of washed up pebbles and gravel, with channels for water on each side, but along the left side the channel was shallow enough for there to be an isthmus of dry land connecting it with the land beyond. It was about a football field long, shaped like two parentheses close together (), and maybe thirty yards wide. The surface was firmly packed flat stones, and maple seedlings were scattered all over it. Along the channel by the riverbank were some more mature maple trees.
We started calling this "the island", and we all agreed that there was no other open space in the forest that was larger. Some people said they had heard that there was a larger island further down the river that we might could use for the Silent Meditation on the fourth, but we all agreed to use this island for at least the first few Dinner Circles. So we announced our first Dinner Circle for 6:30 in the evening of this day, and Warriors of the Light was able to show up with their bicycle that has a large pot on each side of the rear wheel, that they grab the handlebars of and walk around the circle. One side had beans, the other rice. But just as we getting ready to say the Om rain started falling, and everybody ran for cover. They served the food under the tarp at Montana Mud, and there was no opportunity to go around with the Magic Hat.
In front of Info was a trail of foot trodden dirt going further into the woods, and on the morning of the 26th I explored it for the first time. It first passed a turnoff to a trail to the island, then went on for about a tenth of a mile and made a fork. If you went either way at the fork, you would return to it; the trail made a loop. Somebody posted a corrugated cardboard sign at the fork calling it the "Beltway Loop", and had gone on to put signs at various points around it with exit numbers. There was already a large kitchen going, Warriors of the Light, at one exit and Lovin' Oven was in the process of building in a spot inside the loop. I also saw the people of the camp formerly known as Jerusalem Camp setting up a kitchen that they were now calling Rainbow Zion, because one of the men who had been a main source of energy for Jerusalem Camp was no longer with them. It was all just as Jewish as before. I was told that Granola Funk would also be building there on the loop.
That afternoon I saw a stopped caravan of LEO vehicles by Montana Mud, some of them still in the water at the ford, and there were Rainbow people all around hollering at them. The officers all got out of their vehicles, and I saw one short black woman run out and point around an object that looked like a long barreled pistol, and on top of it was an egg shaped container. She tried to maintain a look of confidence on her face, but I could tell that it was acting. I walked back toward Info when I saw it coming out, and I didn't hear the sound of anything being fired, and I could tell by the noise reduction when they eventually left. I asked about the odd shaped container, and someone told me it was for rubber bullets.
Now that Info was set up and running, people started coming in with other stories about the LEOs actions. They were stopping people for any petty vehicle violation they could find, like a burned out license plate light, and turning a drug sniffing dog loose on the vehicles. They were giving tickets for "public nudity", for possession of marijuana, and for public intoxication. They were looking for people who had outstanding arrest warrants from before the gathering and taking pictures of gatherers so they could compare them with mug shots they had on file. One person said that he had been cited for "inciting to riot" when he had called "Shanti Sena" when there had been a confrontation between some cops and several gatherers. Others had been charged with this same offense for calling "six up". Another had been cited for "interference with a law officer" when she had given water to a man who was handcuffed in spite of being told not to do so by the officers.
The fines for these tickets were amounts in the 300 and 400 dollar ranges. One person told me that the amount he had been given for marijuana possession was 420 dollars. A rump court like the one last year in Colorado had been set up in a town nearby, and I was told that the judge was pretty doctrinaire. One person told me he had taken two witnesses with him, but their testimony was discounted because it was "contrary to the testimony of police officers".
Another story that came thru Info was that A-Camp had moved. In the earliest days they were some place near Bus Village. But some of the older A-Campers said that they couldn't stand the "rowdy young 'uns" and they wanted a place for themselves. The place they chose was a cul de sac leading toward the river that you passed just after getting to the bottom of the switchback and were approaching the brook. On the first day when I drove past there it had a sign saying "Medical Evacuation " and I assumed that CALM was going to be there.
One version of the story had the A-Campers coming in and bodily pushing the CALM people out. Another version had the CALM people already having decided to move CALM to another place further into the gathering (just past the tributary stream on Main Trail), and being already in the process of packing up Whatever the real story was, there were many feelings expressed by people who came thru Info of unfairness and helplessness. The cul-de sac soon filled with vans and busses, and sometimes when I was walking back to my van in the evening and passing the entrance I would hear a car stereo playing Johnny Cash loudly. The bass tones sometimes made it to Dinner Circle on the island. And there was frequently a caravan of LEO vehicles parked by the entrance that I would have to walk thru.
That evening we again tried to have Dinner Circle and this time it rained again starting at about 6:00. There was again no passing of the Magic Hat, but in the daytime of both this day and the previous someone had gifted the bucket at Info with a few hundred dollar bills, so we were able to make a supply run. The rain let up for a while, then returned as darkness descended, and it continued for a few hours into the night.
When I walked down to Info on the 27th, I found that the level of the river had risen, and water was flowing around one end of the bridge, which by this time had had rocks and gravel laid over the logs to make the surface smoother. There was about five feet of rapidly running water to walk thru to get to the end of the logs, and soon some people laid down more short logs to connect them to the bank.
We had first picked a place for Main Supply on the parallel road not far from the pi, but the whole road from the bottom of the hill to the river was now covered with shiny soupy mud, altho your feet didn't sink too far into it before hitting the rocky road surface beneath. We decided to move Supply to a place near Info and Montana Mud, where it would be dryer and there would be people from Info and the kitchen always around to keep an eye on it. We found a few young brothers who were willing to be the supply ogres.
And the beltway loop was now a quagmire with no rocky base beneath. It could suck sandals off of your feet if you were wearing them. I had put on a pair of brand new duck boots that I had bought in Wal- Mart the previous fall during hunting season, and I had had them on constantly since walking down on the second day. Even with these on it was slow walking, with every step part of a puzzle to avoid the puddles. People started walking along the edges of the trails in an effort to find relatively firm ground, and paths that had been maybe three feet wide became as broad as boulevards. In some spots it looked like the delta of a river of mud flowing around the trees.
By now it was becoming very difficult to keep clothes clean, and if they got wet it was almost impossible to dry them out unless you were able to spread them out on the rocks by the river during the sunny hours of the afternoon. Nothing got completely dry hanging from a branch under the trees. Everybody's clothes took on a brownish hue no matter what color they were originally, and it became easy to tell people who had just arrived at the gathering by their cleanliness.
And the lack of flying bugs was more than made up for by crawling ones, ticks and chiggers were everywhere, and I did some of scratching. The nylon trouser socks gave good protection to my feet and calves, usually their favorite parts of your body. I also got some of those machine gun bursts of stings that fire ants give you. But by this day I had not had a significant attack of the poison ivy, even tho back when I was working landscaping in Texas I was very susceptible to it. I concluded that here was a milder form of it than what I had known back then. However other people were not so fortunate, and I saw many people walking around with arms covered with calamine lotion.
There was a space next to Info about fifteen feet wide that had no tree trunks in it under the forest canopy, and there a tarp was strung up and we called that Cooperations Meadow. There on this day we had our first kitchen council, where kitchens could send representatives to make known to Main Supply their needs, and make requests for certain items. For part of this meeting we had three Forest Service resource rangers come to speak with us about their concerns.
There was no permit signed for this gathering, no attempts by individual Rainbows to sign that were refused, and no pressure exerted on anybody in the Family to sign one. The Forest Service agreed to an "Operation and Maintenance Plan" that had "been developed in lieu of a permit for Non-Commercial Group Uses". There were a few printed copies of it given to Info that had "6/21/07 @ 1700 hours" at the top of all the pages. (I am posting a copy of this in a separate post.)
Two of the rangers were women who did not look much older than 30, blond, and attractive enough to be TV announcers. A man accompanied them, and he mostly just stood back while the women did the talking. The woman who spoke the most on this day was named Marcia Rose Ritchie, and she was friendly and sincerely tried to answer our questions truthfully. Most all of the Rainbows present soon developed warm feelings toward her.
We talked for a while about basics, like where to locate kitchens, tents, and latrines relative to the river, and about personal fires. She offered to have rangers go around to all firepits and inspect them and then issue special permits for them, so that from then on there would be no confusion about whether that fire was allowed or not when some LEOs came around. In the following days they hung up pieces of paper laminated in plastic on trees nearby that started out at the top, "The Forest Service has blessed this fire..."
Some asked her about nudity, and she told us that the directive that the LEOs were following was that anyone nude and visible from the public road (which ran thru the heart of the gathering) could be given a ticket. Some protested as one would expect, but she continued to tell us that that was a rule that she herself had no power to change.
Others talked about the heavy handed tactics of the LEOs, and she defended them a little, saying that they knew they were outnumbered, and they felt they had to use certain tactics to insure their own safety. Many times she said, "I will try to talk to them about this and relay some of your concerns, but you must understand that we in resource have no real power over the behavior of the law enforcement officers. We can only talk to them and try to see if we can get any agreements."
It did not rain that evening during Dinner Circle, and now several kitchens showed up.
(to be continued)
The Muddy Trail Gathering, part 3
My main task on the 28th was figuring out how to get the Rainbow Guides down from the top of the hill to Information. Walking up and down that switchback carrying individual boxes by myself was unthinkable, and I doubted if I could recruit 25 people at once to be sherpas. I did not want to move my van, because I was sure that if I vacated my parking space and then came back as little as an hour later, it would be taken by someone else. A brother told me that he would ask around for someone with a vehicle to bring them down, but he reported back to me that everyone he asked didn't want to move their cars either.
Then I started thinking of maybe getting a vehicle that was regularly being used to bring in supplies. This would be owned by someone with a kitchen, and I thought of two kitchens that might have such a vehicle going, Jesus Camp and Kid Village. I walked over to the Kid Village banner and turned in to the trail and after about ten feet I happened to meet Lynn coming out. I asked her if Felipe was there and she told me no, he was over at Arkansas Kitchen. I found him over there and told him of my plight, and he said, "Sure, I can carry them down for you. I was just planning to go up to my bus in Bus Village and bring down some more stuff while I can. I have heard rumors that the Forest Service is blocking off the road at the top."
Agreeably to me he was in a hurry as we walked back to the pi where his Japanese mini-pickup was parked, and after having to wait several minutes for some LEO vehicles to get out of the way, we drove up the hill. He stopped a few times to pick up people walking on the road who hopped into the bed of the truck. Sure enough, there were now a pair of sawhorse barriers set across the road about 50 feet from the fork to Bus Village, and Felipe found a place on the side of the road to park before coming to them. We walked around the barricade to his school bus, and he gave me two giant teakettles to take back to his truck and he got several other people to carry boxes for him.
About a quarter of the bed of his truck was now filled with stuff, and there were some sitting people who took up more space, and I was getting worried over whether there would be enough for my 25 boxes, each 9 by 9 1/2 by 11 1/4 inches. He stopped for more people on the way down, and at one point found a regular Kid Villager pulling a four wheeled wagon, and he told him to lift it into the truck. I started saying to myself "Oh, fuck", but when we got to my van, the man set the wagon back on the ground and hooked its handle over Felipe's trailer hitch ball. I left three of the boxes in the van, to save for the people who would be asking to be mailed Guides during the coming year. There turned out to be room for all the rest in the bed except three, and they went onto the wagon. When we got down to his parking place, I said I didn't have any problem with three of them going to Kid Village, and left them on the wagon.
Now I had gotten to the point where they were all in a place a level walk of about a tenth of a mile away from Info, and I walked back there with one of them. I announced when I arrived that the Rainbow Guides were almost here, and one brother went into Montana Mud and rounded up a few people. Soon I started seeing people coming back with stacks of two or three boxes when I was walking back to the truck myself for more. They were all over at Info in about twenty minutes. I opened one box and set it on one of the tables under the garage tent, and I stacked all the others in my own tent, since it was now one of the few dry places on the site.
Now I was getting ready to relax and celebrate having solved this problem, but I was soon presented with another. The male resource ranger who had been at the meetings came by Info, and I asked him if there was any truth to another rumor I had been hearing since the previous evening, that they were going to allow parking on only the right side of the road as you came in, and leave notes on the windshields of all vehicles parked on the left telling them to move or risk being towed. He said it was true. I protested that in some parts of the road there was better parking on the left, but he said, "The only really fair way we can do it is to simply make it all one side. Otherwise there will be confusion over exactly where it is one way or the other."
I immediately walked back up to my van, which was parked on the left side. I had to drop all other concerns and concentrate on the safety of my vehicle and my way back to the real world. And having to park beyond the front gate at a distance of miles would louse up all my plans for serenity when sleeping and easy access to my private food stash, replacement clothes and towels, and other comforts. I took back up a book I had been trying to read and was getting psychologically ready to spend the whole night up there vulturing for a space to open up.
But when I approached my van I examined the right side of the road and found only about 50 feet away a space that looked like my van could fit into. There were a few cars in a row that had been parked perpendicularly to the road, and this was between two of them. When I walked up to get a closer look, a brother sitting in the car to the right, whom I had never seen before in my life, said, "That looks like a good parking place. Hell, that's why I saved it for you."
Now my driver's seat was free of all the boxes that I had piled there to make room on the bed in the back, and there was nothing stopping me from starting the van up and getting it over there without hesitation. I went up over a hump into the space, asked the guy if my ass end was sticking out, and he told me to move another foot. I heard a slender tree make a cracking noise as my bumper pressed into it it, but I got all the way in. It wasn't as level as the other place, my bed now leaned downward at both the front and the left side about ten degrees. But lying in it was still doable.
After two miracles that day I was more tired than jubilant. Again the clouds stayed parted for Dinner Circle. During all my traveling that day I had missed the meeting with the resource rangers, but Marken said that they had mostly rehashed what was said the previous day.
On the morning of the 29th at about 8 o'clock I heard the sound of a helicopter flying low, and soon got a look at it out on the island. It was like what the KOTV television station in Tulsa uses in its news broadcasts, sort of like a Huey but with a fatter and rounder body. It was dark grey, almost black, with no insignia, numbers, or other markings at all. It flew at altitudes of less than 50 feet and circled the island several times. It also flew over other parts of the gathering, hanging around the site for at least a half an hour. After it had left, I caught a brief glimpse of a silver Lear jet with "USAF" on the bottom of its right wing flying down the course of the river at less than 100 feet, which left as rapidly at it came.
Then at about 10 o'clock there was a tense situation on the hill leading up to Montana Mud. A caravan of five LEO SUVs had just forded the river and parked in a line next to the kitchen. Two officers got out and walked over to a man who was sitting on one of the logs, grabbed him by the arm from each side and lifted him up to standing, then handcuffed him behind his back, As they were walking him back to their vehicle there were other Rainbow brothers shouting unapproving words. Several of them had covered their faces with bandanas to keep themselves from being photographed, and the officers said that wearing a disguise was illegal and threatened them with arrest.
One brother started shouting at them over and over demanding that they show him a copy of the warrant for arrest that they were serving. One of the officers said to the others, "Take him too", and two officers grabbed him under the armpits and wrestled his arms behind him to be handcuffed. After this, they all quickly got back into their vehicles, turned around, and left across the river.
There was one man who seemed to be in charge of this squad of LEOs, and he was the one who ordered the arrest of the second brother. He had a shaved head and a bearded chin. To get an image of him, imagine Telly Savalas (the guy who played Kojak) acting like Barney Phyfe from Mayberry. I was told by some later that he was the new Incident Commander, and I never thought I would meet somebody who made Tim Lynn seem like a nice guy, but this person did. Every one of his words and actions projected fear and paranoia. "I can put you in jail" was something he said over and over again.
There was nothing stopping me this day from being at kitchen council, and again the Forest Service came. This time it was just the man and the other woman, whose name was Rebecca Roof. All of these rangers who had been talking to us had nametags that said not "Ozark National Forest", but the name of the forest that the Colorado gathering last year was in. They had worked with the Family last year, and now they were being specially assigned to the gatherings.
She said that the barricade had been set by the LEOs because parking was now out of control, people were parking on both sides of narrow stretches of road such that vehicles moving on it could not pass each other. She said that the LEOs were letting vehicles go out, but not letting any more come in. Immediately some people such as supply runners started protesting, and she started proposing some solutions.
The first one was that supply vehicles stop on one side of the barricade, off load, then transfer their cargoes to another one waiting on the other side. Many Rainbows protested the effort involved in doing this moving of loads, and the difficulty of arranging it so that a vehicle coming in from the outside could have another meet it from the inside at the same time. Then someone suggested that certain vehicles be given special permission that would enable them to be allowed thru the barricade by the LEOs. Rebecca responded by saying, "We could give a list of vehicle descriptions and license plate numbers for a few designate vehicles to the LEOs, and they would be instructed to let these thru." This also was not acceptable to some other Rainbows, who said that they sometimes used several different vehicles to make supply runs and it was sometimes difficult to know which ones would the available on a certain day.
Then someone suggested that some vehicle passes be made that could be carried in one vehicle or another, and passed on to whomever needed it for the day. She said that she could talk with the LEOs and see if this could be worked out. Then a discussion ensued about how many passes to make. Rebecca started out with two, and then we gradually bargained her up to eight. These could be used for supply runs, CALM medical evacuations, or any other purpose we deemed necessary.
Thruout the discussion Rebecca showed amazing decorum in the face of protests that sometimes had a tinge of anger about them. She repeatedly said, "I'll talk to them and see what I can get", and "This is not all up to me, but I will tell them of your concerns", and "I will get back to you tomorrow." She didn't lose her cool once.
On the 30th Rebecca came back with eight passes in the form of a sheet of inkjet printer paper laminated in plastic. They said, "Vehicle Pass", had Rebecca's signature, a number followed by "of 8", and four Forest Service logos in a column along the left. The Rainbows agreed to have the place to get them be Info, and Info agreed to have Marken be the one who holds onto them when they weren't out in vehicles. To get one you usually had to convince the other Info people who happened to be sitting with him as well as Marken himself.
CALM was given one pass to hold on to, and one pass was never to be given to anyone unless it was a life of death emergency. That left six to float anywhere, and we soon started having problems with people not bringing them back as soon as they were done with their mission. We also said the person receiving a pass could not pass it on directly to another person without it coming back thru Info, but a few people didn't comply with this. There was a brief period when we were afraid that A-Camp had gotten ahold of a pass because of a young sister being enticed with some pot. But this pass was ultimately recovered. Marken kept strict records of when each pass was issued to whom, and sometimes a person would have to be sent to track one down.
The night of this day was the night of the full moon, but it was obscured with overcast clouds all night. Just before sunrise a steady rain started to fall and it continued for a few hours. This now made not only the beltway loop, but Main Trail extremely difficult to walk because of the mud, and made the prospect of walking to a kitchen where there was as big a chance that they wouldn't have anything as they would less and less attractive.
I am involved with the Magic Hat and indirectly Main Supply, where there are times when there are more kitchens wanting stuff than there are supplies to be passed around, and sometimes decisions have to be made favoring one kitchen over another. To maintain my neutrality, and also to have time for my work at the Info booth, I do not plug into any one kitchen. And as a result, I don't get any of the special access to food that I would have if I were considered to be a member of one kitchen's crew. I always get a big meal at Dinner Circle if there is one, because I can walk around with my eating pan when I am carrying the Magic Hat and get people to serve me when I pass by, but during the daytimes before then, I am dependent on good luck and the good graces of kitchens I visit, as merely a customer from off the trail and not one of their workers.
Sometimes there is a good kitchen located near to Info, sometimes there isn't. This time Info was next to a kitchen that specialized in coffee. Sometimes they would cook some meal food in their back kitchen for their crew, and they would invite us Info people over, but this happened mostly in the very early and very late days of the gathering.
Now, during what is usually the height of the gathering, most of the best kitchens required considerable effort to get to thru the quagmire, and I wasn't up to making it. So the first two days of July were hungry times where I would wait for packets of Babylon food to appear at Info, or I would cook up for myself on my propane burner pans of ramen with canned tuna or chicken.
And I also never made it to Granola Funk for any of their shows. I was told that they had built "a castle" out of logs, but I never got in to see it. And by now it was becoming more and more certain that Robbie Gordon would not be showing up, so I never got to jam with him as I usually do. I had brought my Celtic lap harp, but I didn't want to subject it to the mud danger, so it stayed up in my van. (I did join the Montana Mud drummers with my waterproof 5- gallon drum a few times.) I was mostly feeling disappointed and frustrated. And to add further misfortune, I found cracks in the rubber portion of what had been my new duck boots. They had lasted for exactly 9 days of day-long wear. I made a temporary fix by wrapping duct tape around them.
But on the first of July I heard for the first time at this gathering people chanting Hare Krishna on the rocks by the river. Simply Wonderful had shown up, and by the evening of the second they had their kitchen about a hundred feet down a new trail across the road from Montana Mud that led the other way from Info into the woods. By the afternoon of the 2nd they were serving out rice and curried vegetables with their renowned efficiency. They were a life saver.
The morning of the 2nd I heard several times somebody screaming, "Wake up and rage!!!" There was a brazen voiced sister tending the stove and running the kitchen for the morning, who periodically asked loudly of the people assembled there, "Give me a hell yeah!" Give me a fuck yeah!" "Give me a hell yeah fuck yeah!" The way the kid kitchens like to make sport of what older people call agro behavior was on prominent display that morning.
Late that afternoon the first bundles All Ways Free arrived, the first of 5,000 copies. I wondered where we would get rid of them all. Most people around me, rangers and Rainbows, were estimating the population of this gathering at not much more than 6,000, much less than usual. I had made 3,000 copies of the Rainbow Guide in response to my having made 2,000 last year and running out on July 3rd. But this time I was to be left with 5 boxes, 600 copies, to take home after the gathering.
The 3rd of July the sun rose and stayed out all day. The muddy trails started to turn from having a shiny surface to having a matte one, and in a few places it was starting to get packed firm by the many feet stepping on it. But there still remained places on the beltway with 20 feet of quagmire.
The mud on the ground in between Info and my tent and thru Montana Mud all the way down to the river remained shallow enough that I felt comfortable walking down to the river in some beach sandals, and then keep them on as I walked into the water onto the river bottom, which was mostly more small rocks with only a little silt. There was no place really deep and long enough for swimming, but you could go out into the middle and squat to totally immerse yourself. The water was cold enough to take a few minutes to get used to. You had to go almost all the way to the other end of the island before you were out of sight of the road and could risk nudity.
Late in the afternoon someone came into Info and said that the barricade at the top of the road had been taken down, and that was confirmed by my observations later that night up at my van. Cars that didn't look like police vehicles or Rainbow shuttles were driving past again, and some of the parking spots that had been vacated were now filled with cars I hadn't seen before.
(to be continued)
The Muddy Trail Gathering, part 4
As late as July 3rd there was still no certainty about where the Fourth of July Silent Meditation for World Peace would be held. We were still having Dinner Circle on the island, but many wondered if it was big enough to hold all the gatherers on the 4th. I heard a few people say that there was another island downstream that was larger, but nobody had a detailed description from actually having been there. I decided that I would not explore that island until the morning of the 4th; I would let the discovery be part of the experience if the meditation was indeed happening there.
But when I went out to the Dinner Circle island in my beach sandals at about 9 in the morning on the 4th, I saw that a peace pole had been erected hear the downstream end of it. It was a pole of cedar that looked like it had been stripped of its bark very recently, like the previous night or earlier that morning. "Peace" was written on it in colored paint in several languages, including Cherokee, and there were symbols for many of the world's religions, like cross, Star of David, crescent and star, yin and yang, pentagram, Om -- carved and then painted on flat notches they had chopped out. It had rocks piled about its base to support it.
There were already trinkets placed upon the rocks, and a few people sitting around the pole. But I decided to go check out the other island anyway. I had to wade across about 15 feet of water to get to what looked like the upper shore of it, then walk for a short while along a tree covered trail before I found open ground. There was another expanse of gravel like on the first island, but it wasn't really much larger, and there were a few dome tents set up and people walking around them who were not observing the silence. I rejected this as a site in my mind, and I wasn't going to recommend it to anyone else. The feeling was reinforced when I tried wading from the gravelly part thru the river back to the first island, where the water flowed thru some rocks making a rapids, and it took concentration and a walking stick to maintain my footing.
I stayed near the pole and watched the island gradually fill with people, and I looked up the river to the area around the bridge and saw more people standing and sitting there. An inner circle formed around the pole, a slightly larger one formed around that, and along the edges of the island more people made a circle which was more like a long oval. At the upstream end there was a break in the oval and an arc formed from around the bridge that eventually connected with it, with some people standing in the water. As more people joined the oval on the side toward the river, they started moving outward with people finally standing in the water, and the line made a suggestion of a connection with those standing on the opposite side of the river.
I once heard the call of "six up" and I looked toward the bridge and saw in the distance two people in green uniforms walking across it, but I now think it was more likely that they were seven ups, resource rangers. No LEO vehicles came thru the gathering all thru the day. For one day they left us alone, and I started seeing naked and topless bodies appearing here and there. I spent the whole morning and most of the afternoon skyclad myself.
I heard what I thought were drums and figured the Children's Parade was approaching, and I think some other people had the same idea, because this was when a few people started saying "Om", and soon it was going all around the circle. It wasn't ever really loud, but it continued for many minutes. Finally a few kids started trickling into the inner circle, and arms raised and the cheer broke out. There had been no attempt this year to coordinate the Om and the arrival of the children, we all just let things happen as they would.
While we were all still in silence a person had parked a set of three bass drums with a sign on them saying "Time Keepers", and a few other people had set down big drums nearby, at the other end of the island from the peace pole. A drum circle of at least 50 people was soon playing here, while around the pole were other drummers and people singing Rainbow chants. The party had these two focal points for the rest of the afternoon.
The sun shone all day, and for one glorious day we were allowed to have the Rainbow Gathering of our dreams and memories, unhindered and unrestricted, all ways free.
The morning of the 5th I went over to New York camp, which was on a trail leading off from the beltway loop, to finally attend what they called their Fifth of July Brunch, which I had heard effusive praise about from other Info people. After daring to ask for and then succeed in receiving seconds on some potatoes and eggs at Lovin' Oven, and then being given a lecture by a person other than the one who served me on how that food was for the "people who work here", and then having the ovens pointed out to me as he said, "what we make there is what we do for the family" (and on a typical day what I succeed in getting from them is one fist sized roll of white bread), and then having him ask, "Do you want me to tell you where there are some other kitchens in the area?", I finally got him off my tail and went over to the tent of Jackie, who works at info, unfolded my chair at the bottom of a hill leading up to New York Camp, and stayed there for five hours. The first thing I did when I got over there was to say in a Victorian English accent, "Please sir, may I have some more."
There were Sue Bernstein and Joanee Freedom there, and we had a delightful chat that sometimes included others who passed by. Meanwhile up on the hill Garrick Beck had arrived and he started supervising all the preparations like he was a mess sergeant, meticulously arranging all the things on the serving table and giving instructions to others who were with him in the kitchen. They started to fill a large aluminum pastry tray with hors d'oeuvres made of a stack of a slice of Swiss cheese, an olive, a piece of some kind of biscuit, and some other things I forget, all held together with a tooth pick. Soon the tray was filled with more than a hundred of them, and at the same time, they were pulling out from a cooler stuff they were calling "sushi", wrapped in rice and nori seaweed, and arranging them into ranks and columns on another tray.
Garrick wouldn't let anyone take anything other than coffee while they were still in the process of preparing all this, and he evaded any questions about how long it would be until they served. It was getting past one o'clock in the afternoon, and I had put a sign on the box the Rainbow Guides were being served out of back at info that there would be a meeting a two o'clock that day to find a new focalizer for the Guide. Finally at about one thirty I started to consider four things: 1. The food had been sitting out there in the 80 degree heat for approaching two hours, and the cheese was starting to get oily. 2. I really really wanted to be at Info at two o'clock Babylon time in case someone interpreted it that way, even tho it would probably start on Rainbow time. 3. There would probably be a humongous line suddenly forming, and at the end of it I would be able to get one, and only one, of each item being served. And 4. In the time I had been sitting there I could have eaten twice at Simply Wonderful, and had them fill my pan as full as I wanted. I asked someone about the likelihood of a line, and she said it was very likely, so I decided to give up.
Before I left, I walked up to the hors d'oeuvre tray, said ,"I'm gonna steal one", took one that fell apart as I took it in my hand and I had to restack, then said, "and leave." Garrick saw this and said bewilderedly, "Lovin' you, brother" as I left. I proceeded from there to Simply Wonderful and they were spooning out rice and curried split peas when I arrived.
I made it back to Info on time and nobody showed up for the meeting by three o'clock real time.
At about 3:15 it started to rain, and then it came down with a vengeance. A rainfall that seemed like more than in inch per hour fell on the camp, and I heard thunder from lightning that sounded very close by. It hit when I was resting in my tent, and when it stopped I walked back over to Info. Shortly thereafter Dan Farkas came in with a stainless steel bowl and lid set and said, "Anybody want some food from the New York Camp brunch? I got them to give me a load because I told them it was for Info. It was easy for me to get it; as soon as that rain broke about half the line fled."
Nobody else wanted the sushi rolls so I ate all of them. They weren't really sushi, as in fish, but various vegetables wrapped in rice and nori. I tried one of the baked apples, but they were cold. I couldn't eat too many of the olives because of my salt- free diet. There were a few other items that I forget because they didn't appeal too much to me.
Experiences like this convince me that I am not the only one who feels that the gatherings are times of feast and famine, and that the latter is more often the case. Nowhere in Babylon do I hear people talking so much about food as I do at a Rainbow Gathering. They talk about it like people do about sexual conquests outside. "Dude, you should have been at Lovin' Oven last night, they served this dank pizza." "Man, for breakfast this morning we were eating bacon and eggs" "Oh shit, I missed that? But last night we were pigging out on lasagna, and get this dude, it had real sausage in it." And nowhere in Babylon will people wait around for hours in a kitchen to get a small amount of a food item.
I don't go to pizza night at Lovin' Oven, I don't go to Rock 'n' Roll Spaghetti at Kid Village, I probably won't go the 5th of July "brunch" again (it would be better called "dinner", it's too late to be either lunch or breakfast). What events like these are for me is watching people playing with their food for hours, than waiting in a long line for a small portion. Some people just use these hours as opportunities for chatting with friends, but often the atmosphere gets too chaotic for even this. I don't enjoy them.
A little after eating I heard from someone that the river had risen, so I walked over to see. And it indeed had. Water was rushing over the surface of the bridge, and there was now an expanse of rapidly flowing water fifteen feet wide between the end of the bridge logs and the nearest dry shore. I saw David Alexander English calmly carrying a young girl across the water, then I saw him instructing some others in stringing a thick rope across the river and tying the ends to some trees on the dry banks. The first tree they tried on the far end broke, and they had to do it again. Then the rope was stabilized with some thinner bracing ropes and now people had something to hold on to as the waded thru the rushing water. There was some brief fear that the bridge would be carried away by the water, but it held. The basic design of the bridge had been good. Dinner Circle was canceled because the island had become really an island; there was now water flowing on all sides of it.
At about six o'clock Marken, Jai, and I were sitting inside the Info tent and Marken said, "Let's have a meeting to discuss what to do with the Rainbow Guide and the All Ways Free." I told them that I would take the contributions and entry slips with me, and continue to save all the entries that came in online, and if a new focalizer was not found, format and publish the 2008 Guide. But while we were talking, a brother who was standing in front of the tables overheard us and said, "I might be interested". I wrote down his name and e-mail address, and sent him one message after I got home, to which he replied. I sent him a follow-up message, which at the time of posting this he has not yet answered, so I am not yet certain about this person.
I first thought that I would put up with the drums and sleep in my tent that night, because there was no way I was going to walk thru the water without getting my duck boots thoroughly soaked, never to dry out again. But then I remembered that all the heart and blood pressure meds I take before bed were up in my van. So about two hours after the end of the rain and the flow had let up a bit, and just after darkness had fallen, I walked all the way back to my van in my beach sandals. What mud got in my feet while walking the slimy mud plain I was able to wash off while crossing the brook just before the beginning of the switchback, where there was hard packed gravel and caliche and never any mud.
On the 6th of July word came in to Info that almost every major kitchen was breaking down and pulling out, among them Kid Village, Simply Wonderful, and everybody on the beltway loop. It was like everybody as one mind finally decided they could no longer endure the mud and the moisture, and wanted to end the gathering early.
Some of us had been hoping that the LEOs would go home after the 4th, but those hopes were dashed when we started hearing "six up" again on the afternoon of the 5th. I saw another confrontation at the ford on the 6th, where I got another look at the bald headed guy and was able to read his nametag. It said "Keith Whatworth". I couldn't think of any answer to that question. This time they were coming around looking for people who had gotten tickets at the gathering and failed to show up at the court. One brother unwittingly tried to walk between two of the LEO vehicles while they were handcuffing another and he was immediately grabbed and handcuffed and forced into one of the vehicles with the other. Another story started coming thru Info that evening of a brother who had been hit by a tazer the day before while walking on the bridge, and fortunately he fell directly forward on his face onto the bridge and not into the still torrential water.
There was no rain that day, and the water level receded by evening so that you could again walk to the end of the bridge on dry rock.
(to be continued)
The Muddy Trail Gathering, part 5
The day that I have come to call Agro Eighth seemed like it was coming on the seventh this year; as I was walking down the switchback in the morning I heard all the way down an argument going on in A-Camp between a man who was accusing another of stealing from him. "Give me back my shit!!!" he yelled over and over again.
The road in front of Montana Mud was a good place to park the flatbed truck of a brother who volunteered to help with taking out the trash, so at the entrance to this kitchen there started to grow a pile of plastic garbage bags, remains of destroyed aluminum chairs and camping equipment, and empty watermelon crates now full of old metal cans.
People had been asking at Info since the day before where Vision Council would be, and we were telling them that it would start at the peace pole on the island, then probably move to some place shadier. The brothers at Montana Mud were trying to clean their place up to be used as a possible venue.
I was one of the first people to arrive on the island around noon, and I found that the peace pole had been removed. I set up my folding chair in the shade of some short maple trees that bordered the landward side of the gravel, and waited until I saw what all the other people would be doing. Some others set chairs beside me, and others sat on the ground in the shade, and soon there was a cluster of people next to me, having informal conversations. Finally I asked if they would like to arrange themselves in a circle, and they gradually did, extending out onto the sunny part of the island from our chairs that were in the shade. Several others were able to remain in the shade beside me. Someone immediately brought up the possibility of moving the council, but there were objections to all the places that were proposed, including Montana Mud, the Cooperations meadow, and a clearing near where Granola Funk had been. Then someone said, "Well, why don't we just stay here?", and soon everyone was accepting this. Someone called for a ten second consensus by silence, and nobody broke it.
With about 40 people present at first, somebody started an Om. Someone else asked if anyone had a feather, and Jai produced one that had an ornate bead and tassel at the bottom of its stem, and I gave it to the man who had been blowing a conch shell to summon people to the council, and he gave it to Marken to start.
And those people are the only ones that I am going to mention by name for the rest of this description of the council. I have learned to disassociate people's behavior at council from the rest of the things they do, for this is the best way not to let otherwise good feelings of friendship be damaged by my frustrations with their behavior in council. Like in Vegas, what goes in council stays in council. Vision Council is a separate world that I disassociate from the rest of the gathering.
Marken handed the feather to a brother who spoke for almost a half hour, mostly about international gatherings, and after the feather got past him it went quite easily around the circle, with nobody talking for too long, and nobody letting others "address the feather". More people joined the circle as it progressed, and soon there were over a hundred people present, and the circle extended all the way across the island, while enabling me to stay in the shade all day.
Again and again people said Washington. There were some people who lived in the state who had all come together to the council to plead their case, and there were sympathetic outsiders also giving reasons, like that there were some elderly brothers who lived in Montana, and they "wanted to be able to get to one last gathering before they passed on." Some people gave refutations to the notion that the state had been scouted and no suitable sites were found, saying that they knew of regions that had possibilities that were not looked at by the others. One brother came with some inkjet printouts of some pictures he had taken of a place in the extreme northeast corner of the state, that showed a meadow, a stream that ran by it, and a sample of the woods.
A few other state names came up, like New Mexico, Alabama, and Wyoming. One brother talked about having it in New England. But it looked to me at this time that these were just individuals, and the state that had the most people wanting it was Washington. By the time the feather got all the way around the circle, it looked to me like this might be a repeat of the council in West Virginia two years before, where the feather went around only twice and it took only two and a half hours to consense to Colorado. This circle had about 60 more people than that other one where many people didn't come because of rain, and it had taken about four hours to get around this circle the first time, but it still looked like a quick consensus was jelling.
Then the feather started its second time around, and one person called for consensus on Washington. This was to be attained by passing the feather all the way around the circle with everyone remaining silent, until it had come back to the person who had done the call. It made it barely a quarter of the way around the circle before some brother said that he had a question, and this was sufficient to be a breaking of the silence, which effectively blocked the consensus. Then the feather was passed back to the person who had called, and he talked for a little before passing it on the next person. The next person also called for consensus, and again it was blocked. This went on thru the next few people, one after another they called for Washington and it was blocked. There was one sister who repeatedly said she blocked, but said she wanted to wait until the feather came around to her (not in a consensus call, but as part of the regular speaking circle) before she would detail her reasons.
At this point the feather protocol broke down and soon the feather holders were asking if there would still be any objections before making the formal consensus call, and that person pointed the feather at people around the circle who had had their hands raised. The objections were becoming clearer. Some people just declared that the state had already been scouted, and that there were no good sites found there. The pictures the brother taken of his site proposal had a fatal flaw, it showed two bare grooves in the grass the width of truck tires apart going thru the meadow, and some people alluded to the predatory raids by the LEOs along the vehicle road at the gathering we were in now. The brother's repeated insistences that it was just a rough trail and not a full road failed to impress them.
Finally the feather managed to get out of this tangle and proceed without much addressing of the feather. When it got to the sister who didn't want to say why she was blocking, she finally talked for a while about how frustrated she had been with the scouting and scout rendezvous movie leading up to this gathering. Then it went on thru several more people until it got around to the brother who had talked about New England, and this time he was intransigent. Of the last ten gatherings, seven had been out west. There hadn't been a gathering in the northeast since Vermont in 1991. There were Rainbow brothers out east who had been wanting to be able to come home for years. The original idea of the traveling gathering was that it reaches out to all parts of the country to turn on more people to Rainbow. He held onto the feather for a while as he threw out questions to the circle, pointing the feather at people who offered to answer them.
The next person to get the feather after him was a brother who started to make it a class issue. "I stand up for the kids and the people who don't have any voice next to the old people and high holies." "I will always stand up for the little guy."
When the feather had gotten about 330 degrees around from the starting point, a brother asked for a consensus for New Mexico. This came up totally unrelated to anything that had been said by the people leading up to him. The feather then made it in silence, with a lot of people holding on to it for a bit like they were needing to think a few things over before passing it and affirming the consensus, until it got around to me. For the first time in my 20 year Rainbow career, I said, "Block." Then I said, "The onda here is obviously for Washington, and this is totally from out of the blue." This seemed to me like a consensus just for the sake of achieving a consensus.
The person in the last position before the beginning of the feather's circuit now expounded some more on a topic he had only explained briefly the first time around, having a "parallel gathering" on the east coast if we chose the west coast for our next gathering, one that would also run from July 1 to July 7, one for people who didn't have the resources to come all the way to the national. He wanted to be included in the consensus a statement that we "support" such a gathering. Some people spoke up from around the circle of that complicating the consensus process, having to agree to two things at once, but he continued to advocate it.
The sun was dropping low in the sky as the feather started its third circuit, and there was now lots of feather addressing going on with people pointing the feather around the circle in a way that was being described by some other frustrated people as "being like a teacher in a classroom calling on students to answer."
That traffic jam where consensus was called for by six people in a row to have it blocked by the same sister was now being described by some as "Washington has been blocked several times so we will never get consensus on it.", and some people were asking for new suggestions. Wyoming was proposed by some people, it was still close to Montana for the elder brothers to be able to attend, it also hadn't hosted a gathering for more that a decade, and there were people saying "I KNOW there are lots of good sites in Wyoming". One person called for consensus, but it was blocked on some procedural grounds that were raised by somebody else.
Now it was getting dark enough that you couldn't see other people's faces, and people from around the circle (including me) were butting into the conversation raising this point. But we couldn't get a focus and an agreement to adjourn until the next day. Some people were starting to pack up their things and just leave. Somehow the feather got into the hands of a sister who walked out into the middle of the circle with it and started pleading in a loud and almost weeping voice, "Please, PLEASE!, can't you feel it? A few hours ago I felt the Spirit calling so loud for Washington, I knew it was the Spirit talking, and I thought we would all come together in this. And then it didn't happen and I am heartbroken. Please, listen to the Spirit!"
"I'm going to point this feather around the circle at all of you, and when it comes to you, I want you to indicate your agreement by keeping silent for ten seconds. Please, even if you don't agree keep silent for at least six seconds so I can at least feel it for a brief moment. Please, Please! Let me experience the Spirit guiding each and every one of us." She didn't get more than one second of silence, but she said she was going to try again, this time almost sobbing to the point of tears, and at this point Marken walked by and I joined him as we left.
The circle at Rainbow noon the next day was about half the size it had been the previous evening. The peace pole had been reerected in the middle of where the circle had been the previous day, and people finally started sitting around it. This day there was to be no sitting in the shade possible, and I held my umbrella over me the whole afternoon. Before the circle formally started there were again a few people gathered near the shade trees on the side, and there was some animated argument going on between several people. It didn't look promising for harmonious agreement.
The council start was delayed a bit when some people came with food, including a tray of hors d'euvres of tuna and mayonnaise upon ornately cut cucumbers, and two pots of spicy beans and basmati rice. The previous day the only food that had been brought to the council was a watermelon, a bucket full of salted popcorn (which I can't eat), and something a Montana Mud cook brought that he called "ganja goo balls." (There was an almost unbroken succession of joints and pipes going around the circle most of that day.)
The council started again with an Om, and the feather started to go around. It was quickly agreed to that this day when the feather was being passed around in a consensus call, and a person blocked, that person would explain the reasons and then pass it to the next person and the feather would continue from there around the circle, rather than going back to the person who had called for consensus.
Several of the most prominent speakers of the previous day were absent this day, and there were several new people who had not been there the day before. A lot of them had long winded heartsongs to deliver that had no relevance to the previous day's discussion, including a brother who proposed Hawaii, and one man who went on an on about why he would block a consensus on South Dakota, because he knew how the Lakota Indians really felt.
The disagreements of the previous day rekindled, and the New England man was still as passionate, and there emerged others who told him they would block New England. But at one point this man said he was ready to accept a compromise on Wyoming, as long as the northeast was given respectful consideration at next year, and a ray of hope appeared to many. One sister even called for consensus on Wyoming, but it was blocked by a brother who said that he thought the process was that any agreement by the Family must be made by at least a hundred people. He was eventually convinced of how impossible this would be at this point.
The discussion went on, thru occasional calls for consensus that were blocked by people who then held the feather and acted like the schoolteacher calling on her class, for about four hours, and the prospects of any kind of agreement arising were looking more and more bleak. I started thinking of giving up and leaving. The feather got to the man who wanted the "parallel gatherings", and he said outright, "I'm gonna hog this feather until we have a thorough discussion of this because I think it is important."
While he was going on, a brother walked up to me, someone whom I had a few hours before impatiently told "pass the feather" when he himself was taking a long time having the feather addressed after he had blocked a consensus call. He said in a low voice into my ear, "Why aren't you giving this guy the same shit you gave me when I was talking a little while ago?" I waited a few minutes, and then started talking to him out of turn, and there was a sister talking up in agreement with me. The man continued on as we was doing. My patience fuse blew, and I folded up my umbrella and chair and walked out while the man was still chairing his little discussion. I walked back to Info, where I met Marken, who had also been there and left, and answered yes when he asked me, "Are they still spinning their wheels over there?"
But about a half an hour later, a brother who had been at the council walked up the trail in front of Info and called out, "Consensus for Wyoming!" Some more people who had been at the council came and I asked them what had happened, and I learned that for the second time in my Rainbow career I had walked out on a Vision Council about a half hour before it came to a consensus and an end. After the parallel gatherings man had finally passed the feather, the next person was a young sister who called for consensus on Wyoming and got it. It was a suspense filled passing of the feather, with it hesitating at some people who looked like they were almost going to block, but it made it all the way around.
I hung around on the 9th because it looked like Marken would need some help breaking down the Info tent, but he instead used the day to do a sorting of all the containers of Info stuff that he had meant to do before this gathering but didn't. On the morning of the 10th at about 7:30, enough cars had left the gathering that I was able to find a place to park my van on gravel just before the main trail dropped down to the riverbank. I only had to carry my tent and other stuff about a hundred yards down to the river and across the bridge, rather than all the way back up the switchback.
My van made it back up the hill, I encountered no policemen on the way out, and the drive back to Clarksville and I-40 was shrouded in fog for much of the way. When I crossed the Arkansas River on I- 40, I saw the water level up to the lower branches of the trees on its banks. My next door neighbor told me that it had rained a lot in Muskogee, and the newspaper said that rainfall all over the Ozarks region had been much above normal.
Thus ended my stay at the Muddy Trail Gathering. The weather presented challenge after challenge, and ways that worked on one day often didn't work the next day, and new ways had to be found. It was a never ending succession of new problems to be solved.
On one side, the resource side, the Family achieved the permit-free cooperative relationship with the Forest Service that it had dreamed of for years.
The law enforcement side, without the power to punish us on the basis of an unsigned permit, didn't try to blockade or expel the gathering with shows of manpower and force. Instead it resorted to guerilla-like warfare against individuals of the Family. The ultimate intent was still obvious, the one the ICT has had for years, to shut down the gatherings and intimidate people from coming to them. Unlike three years ago in California, the LEOs refused all of the Family's invitations to attend our councils and open communication with us. They refused all of our requests for information on whom had been arrested and for what, and even on what cars had been towed.
But their raids were just like the many other obstacles that Mother Nature placed in the way of this gathering, just another barrier to overcome, another problem to be solved. Like the Arkansas mud, the Family just oozed around any obstructions the LEOs tried to put in its way.
(The story ends here, but the gatherings remain,
to be continued)
– Butterfly Bill
This post was the basis for the sixth chapter of Rainbow Gatherings, vol. 2.