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Subject: The Stairway to Heaven Gathering - Pennsylvania, 2010
From: Butterfly Bill <farfallaONAYAMSPAYbill@isp.com>
Date: Fri, 23 Jul 2010 16:25:56 +0000
At this gathering in Pennsylvania there was another similar climb that was over three times as long, leading from Kid Village thru the woods and up a mountain slope to a small meadow beside a Forest Service road above where Main Supply was set up, and there was lots of level parking to be found for my van that I prefer for sleeping. Again I chose this path because it turned out to be the fastest and most efficient way, even tho it was very athletic going both ways. And there were times when I really felt it was leading to a piece of Heaven, even tho it was by descending this stairway that I approached it rather than by climbing. And there were times when just thinking "this is the Stairway to Heaven Gathering" helped me thru the strenuosity, so this name was impressed upon my brain by the time I was making the climb for the third time. (I never heard anyone else at this gathering using this name for this trail, it was usually called "the Main Supply trail" but everybody knew what I was talking about when I used it.)
The site was in the Allegheny National Forest in the northwest quarter of the state, and the nearest towns were Warren and East Hickory. This was the first time in the history of the Family that a site used for an annual national gathering was used for a second time. There had been a gathering in this same place, using the same main meadow, in 1986, and I had been here once before for a regional gathering in 1988. Since I approached it from the opposite direction to the way I used back then, it took me a while before things finally started to look familiar, but soon I was able to approximate the location of the CALM tent, Kid Village, and some of the other venues I describe in the third chapter of my book. Thirty years is a lot of time for trees to grow, and there were some that I'm sure weren't there the last time I was on this site. Only a few of the trees that the rangers gave us to plant at the end of that regional survived, and some of them could be identified by the woven wire mesh fences that were placed around them, now very rusted. The main meadow was roughly in the shape of an equilateral triangle, about a hundred yards on each side. Going to Kid Village and the stairway you entered the woods and crossed a bridge over a narrow stream, then passed thru the end of another long and narrow meadow that ran parallel to a side of the main meadow.
Late on June 18 I was surprised by a phone call from Marken, who told me that he could get cell phone reception from where he was standing at the gathering site. He told me to follow the directions he was giving me rather than those that had been posted on the internet. They led me on to a highway that was numbered 666, then up a road called Yellow Hammer which lost its pavement and turned into Forest Service Road 209 when it crossed the forest boundary. The surface was solid caliche and gravel, and I ran into no wet or muddy spots. I arrove at about noon on the 22nd.
After finally seeing some vehicles that looked likely to be owned by Rainbows, I saw Deaf Moon walking by the side of the road, and she saw me thru the windshield and waved and beckoned me to stop. Heart Strong, her husband, also came up to my window. I started to finger spell "Marken", and by the time I had got to the K she pointed down the road. A few hundred feet further I saw Marken and J'ai, who showed me a parking place to make a U turn into. There were no one way roads at this gathering, but all the parking had to be on one side of the road. As I learned more about the gathering I moved my van three more times until I finally wound up in a place about twenty feet from the trailhead.
This was at what was considered the "back gate". The front gate and Bus Village were on the other side of the valley the gathering was in, and to reach it by car you had to drive back out to the highways and come in on another FS road, a drive of some twenty-odd miles. After a few days I explored the trail to the front gate from the main meadow, and I determined that altho it was a more gradual slope, it went over many mounds and rocks and sometimes slippery places, was much longer, and not really easier. And where I already was parked there were no drums or radios at night, and silence could be gained if I closed the doors and windows of my van. In the second week Handi-Camp arrived there, and they provided a shitter to go to in the morning. So I stayed at the top of the stairway, and climbing it was part of every day's experience. I used a walking stick in both directions, keeping it in front of me to make a tripod out of myself while descending, and planting it in the path and using my male upper body strength to assist my legs while climbing.
I stayed on the road above all of the 22nd, but I was able to hear Dinner Circle happening thru the trees below. The morning of the 23rd I discovered the steepness and length of the trail, the Kid Village that had been erected two days before, and the main meadow. There was some initial uncertainty about where we would put Info. Marken and J'ai had found a shady spot beneath some large trees on the edge of the meadow, but about a hundred feet back from it and about 30 feet up in a tree there was the nest of a goshawk, a rare and protected species of predatory bird. This nest was not discovered until the Rainbows had stated moving in, and if its presence had been known before, the resource rangers would not have approved of our being on this site.
They were still trying to keep a people-free zone around the nest, and there were two days of discussions before we got their approval to set up in our preferred place. We were not a kitchen, we didn't have a campfire, and our presence would keep some rowdy and noisier types away from the nest. A barrier of fluorescent pink tape was strung along the back of the Info camping area, and we stopped anyone who tried to walk back there. The rangers gave us some laminated signs to hang up, with a picture of a goshawk and the words: "Caution Goshawk Nesting Tree. Please give the mother goshawk and her baby their privacy and room by staying out of the flagged area.". In the morning we could hear two baby birds chirping loudly like deep throated chickens as their mother was feeding them. This was a surprise to the FS naturalists; they had assumed that there was only one.
Many of the Info regulars who lived on the west coast were not present at this gathering, but we found several young people to help us out. Our regular mapmaker Barry didn't come, but four young artists collaborated for two afternoons to create one for this gathering. Four long logs were found to stretch between the trunks of two pairs of large trees and serve as support for the counters, and one single large tarp was draped over a rope tied high up between one of the tree pairs. Caterpiller arranged for some pieces of luan plywood to arrive from Asheville, and these became the countertops and the bulletin board.
J'ai had come in a small Japanese pickup, and Marken had flown from Portland to Buffalo and hitchhiked to the gathering site, not bringing the trailer he usually comes with that holds most of the Info supplies. So we had to scrounge up most of them from other places in the gathering. We had no plastic buckets, and I carried a real felt top hat for the Magic Hat. Marken bought a new dome tent for our supply tent, and he said he was going to give it away when he left the gathering.
These first two days I was there the temperature was in the 80s in the afternoon and enough to leave me quite sweaty. Then at Dinner Circle on the 23rd it started to rain just after I had gotten around with the Magic Hat. It lasted for about two hours, and it was caused by a cold front passing thru and the next morning it was in the low 50s. It rained again for a while the next morning. These two spells were the only times it rained during my entire stay, and I never had to contend with deep mud like I had to the last time the gathering was in Pennsylvania in 1999. The following night it got down into the low 40s, and these cold mornings continued until the beginning of July.
There were no mosquitoes or deer flies, and the only flying annoyances were little gnats that sometimes liked to buzz around my face if it got rally sweaty. There were some crawlies that liked to attach to your skin, and I had to dig a little one out of my penis. But if you could find a way to sleep off the ground you could avoid them.
I started to explore what was being set up in the rest of the gathering. At the apex of the triangle opposite to the opening toward Kid Village there was a trail into the woods that I heard being called by some people "Dirty Kids Meadow", even tho it was all under trees. Some of the largest blacky-khaki kitchens set up here. At the entrance was 420 Emergency, then River Rats, Camp Kitten, Goat Camp, Shut Up And Eat It, and Fat Kids. This was an especially hard place to walk, because there were many exposed tree roots on the ground that the trails ran over, many large and covered with hard bark.
I could also have called this the Second Hard Walking Gathering, because like in Colorado my feet seldom came down on level ground, and the foot pain at the end of the day was all in the ankles and arches. There were many exposed roots in the woods, and the ground in the meadows was many little mounds. The forest cover was every kind of deciduous tree, with scattered groves of spruces. Ferns covered the ground in many places under the trees, and the meadows were covered with many short broadleaf plants amid the grasses.
Midway from Info to the entrance to the trail to Kid Village there was the beginning of a trail that led up to several kitchens and ultimately to the FS road that Main Supply was on, at a point X miles further. There were almost no parking spots wide enough there, so there were no vehicles except those making temporary stops to unload supplies. It went up a hill that people started calling Bitch Hill, because that's what it was to climb it. It went up at a close to a 45 degree angle for a few hundred feet, then reached a plateau with a gradual slope that extended from the road. Several of the graybeard kitchens set up there, like Instant Soup, Lovin' Oven, and the Purple Gang. I climbed it once on the 29th and never went up it again.
Further along on the Kid Village trail, just after you crossed a bridge over a stream, was another trail that led deep into the woods to Tea Time and Jesus Camp. This one was not an arduous climb, but it was long.
From the apex of the main meadow triangle opposite to the side Info was on a trail led into the woods that became another population center. It was called the Green Path, and it lead past Yoga Camp, CALM (the place that handles medical problems), several other camps, and ultimately back up the Main Supply hill to Katuah Kitchen, which was about halfway up the slope to the FS road.
Leading from it at a point midway along this trail was another one that passed the boogie meadow, with no dug out fire pit but a patio of flat rocks laid on the ground, about 30 feet in diameter . Then this trail crossed a bridge over a creek and ultimately led to Granola Funk. This year they built a structure that looked like a cross between the Frontierland fort and the Fantasyland castle at Disneyland a wooden stockade with a pair of round turrets with conical roofs in the middle, and a wide door overlooking a small stage that resembled a drawbridge. Between the turrets was a green papier machι head that looked like an iguana's. (Maybe it was supposed to be a dragon.)
Like New Mexico this was a gathering where I found enough to occupy me in the main meadow area not to feel like making the extra exertion to go to far parts of it. I could find lines at Kid Village that weren't intolerably long all the way to the 2nd of July, food frequently appeared serendipitously at Info, and it was only the 4th and the two days around it that I had to be relying on my private stash. And except for the night I went over to Granola Funk, I was climbing the stairway back to my van every day around sunset. It was difficult to hold a flashlight while needing two hands for a walking stick.
(to be continued)
The Stairway to Heaven Gathering, part 2
Next to Info there was clearing that we called Cooperations Meadow, and this was the venue for a lot of councils. On the morning of the 25th, there was a meeting with the resource rangers. In attendance was the Forest Supervisor, Leanne Marten, the head resource person for the Allegheny N. F. She was a woman who looked in her 40s, with strawberry blond hair in an Elvis-like do. She was very chatty and outgoing and all the Rainbows warmed to her.
She passed out copies of the third version of the Operating Plan, and we talked about the details of it, sometimes suggesting changes. She said that she "would really like for somebody to sign a permit", but she was not insistent, suggesting that "maybe some alternate arrangements might be made." She brought up instances of people asking her "why does the Rainbow Family not have to follow certain rule when other people do?" Some Rainbows asked her about some of the stops for petty traffic violations followed by throw everything on the ground vehicle searches that the LEOs (law enforcement officers) had been doing to people coming in on the roads, and she said that she had no jurisdiction and no power over the LEOs.
There were several requests for minor changes in the wording of the Operating Plan, like the ones below:
"No biological waste may be buried, remain on the site, or disposed of with other trash to "will be buried"
"All man-made structures not previously existing at the assembly location" to "human-made"
"If deemed necessary by the Forest Service (working with members of the assembly)" to "working with participants of the peaceful assembly" (any words referring to the gathering were to be replaced with "peaceful assembly" thruout the document.)
There was a suggestion that specific words be placed to require all medical marijuana that had been seized in a search to be returned to the owner, but it was agreed that this was a law enforcement matter that the resource rangers had no power to put in a statement of agreement between them and the peaceful assemblers.
After about three hours of discussion, she said she would incorporate all the suggested changes into a new version of the Operating Plan and return again on the 28th.
That evening about a half hour after sundown I was up at Main Supply lying in my van when I started seeing blue and red flashing lights thru my curtains. I went out to look, and I saw that a Forest Service LEO truck had pulled in behind a white Chevy van that had just parked in the small meadow beside the road. There was another LEO truck that stopped behind it for a while, then pulled in beside the first behind the van. I started hearing sounds of things being picked up and moved around. I got out of my van and walked closer. I was wary about being seen looking at them for a while, but soon I relaxed a bit more and let myself be more visible to them. There was also a sister who walked around with a camera. Many times I had heard of LEOs searching vehicles, but this was the first time I was able to see it up close.
Standing to the side of the van I saw a young sister with short black hair in a blouse and long skirt with her hands cuffed behind her back. There were four cops in all, and I saw one of them come out of her van with two glass Mason jars that were filled with green leaves, then another smaller jar, and place them all on the hood of one of the trucks. They all wore tight black leather gloves as they did this. They continued to search even after they had found the jars, and they remained for about an hour and a half in all. Finally I saw that the handcuffs had been taken off of the sister and she was signing a ticket book.
After they left, I and several other people went over. There were trunks and boxes scattered on the ground with their lids open, and the open door of her van showed a jumble of camping gear and hula hoops in complete disarray. A few other sisters came up and gave her squealing hugs, and she gushed on about how glad she was to finally be home, tho she "didn't think it was going to be like this. She showed amazing poise after her ordeal. She said that she had been told by one of the cops that she had been stopped for not putting on her turn signal before leaving the FS road to go into the meadow, but she also said they had been tailing her for a number of miles before she got to the parking area. They gave her tickets for possession of marijuana, possession of paraphernalia, and for allowing her shaggy black dog about the size of a German Shepherd to threaten an officer. (When it growled at me for an instant, she was able to stop it with just her voice.) She had to appear in a federal courthouse in Erie.
At about 8 morning of the 23rd I heard a helicopter circling the site and it continued for about 45 minutes. It didn't look like the black machine that the Forest Service police had used before in Colorado and Wyoming. This one looked kind of like a fat Huey, with the fuselage painted white and the tail boom in light olive drab. It was flying sometimes as low as 50 feet, and it was very loud and annoying when it was nearby, enough to make conversation difficult. Many times it stopped an hovered over one spot for a while.
It returned the next day, then at about 10 in the morning on the 26th it started getting really obnoxious. It circled some more and stopped over several places and was low enough that I could see an opened door just aft of the cockpit and a camera inside. On the fuselage I was able to see the same keystone logo that I had seen on some of the Pennsylvania state police trucks that had been seen patrolling the road so this was not the work of the Forest Service. One man held up a goshawk sign for them to read, and out on the main meadow some people started pulling down their pants to moon them. Then some other people got in a circle and then tried to form the interior lines to make it into a peace symbol. I thought this only made the guys in the helo circle around to see more, and I tried in vain to convince some of the other people. They left for about the amount of time it might take them to refuel, than they returned at about noon and buzzed about some more.
We had another council with Leanne and another resource ranger at 11 o'clock, and she experienced the helicopter drowning out our talking the second time it came around. She said that she didn't know who was sending it; there had been no communication with her from any of the law enforcement energies, but she would try to get in touch with them. There were about 20 people present, and she passed out copies of the Operating Plan incorporating the changes asked for the last time we met, and we again had someone read it out line for line while suggestions were taken for changes. Karin Zirk read it this time, and she made mental lists of people who had raised their hands in what order and called on them in turn to speak there was no feather pass. This time there were much fewer requests for changes
For the first time she said that she would be agreeable to this Operating Plan being accepted in lieu of a permit.
(to be continued)
The Stairway to Heaven Gathering, part 3
Again some Rainbows at the council asked if we could get some law enforcement people to come to one of our councils, and again Leanne said she would try. On the 28th, we had another council and this time she brought Gene Smithson, the Incident Commander. (The Forest Service classifies a Rainbow Gathering as an "incident", like a fire or a riot, and assigns a special "incident command team" of LEOs to deal with it. They are assigned from Washington, and do not consist of local National Forest police.)
On the 23rd I had seen him walking around the gathering site alone and stopping and trying to get into conversations with Rainbows. I was sitting in a grove of spruce trees at the edge of the main meadow. one that Info had been considering as a site if the trees by the goshawk were not approved, and he greeted me by name and asked me how I was doing and how my past year had been. I gave a small talk version of it as I didn't really know how much could trust him. He asked me if Gary Stubbs was coming. (I answered no.) Then he turned to a sister who also been sitting there and tried to engage them in some talk. He let some of his own feelings thru, saying things "I've been doing this for five years and I'm actually beginning to like this job and some of the people I come into contact with. I would almost hazard to say that he was going thru a transformation in his feelings about the Rainbows, wanting to really get to know us better and maybe even wondering about the value of what he and his officers were doing.
On the morning of the 3rd I was walking off the main meadow toward Info, and he interrupted a conversation he was having with some Rainbows by saying, "Hi Bill, I've got a pin for you. It was a little replica of a gold FS LEO badge, about an inch long, with a push pin holder in the back. Later in the afternoon there a council in the Cooperations Meadow and I saw one on the shirt of Don Wirtshafter, one of the Rainbow lawyers.
At this council on the 28th there were about 50 people when it started, and this time it used a feather. It started on the opposite side from the cluster of green uniforms, and it went around fast; very few people had something to say when it came to them. The first uniform it came to was Gene, and he gave a brief talk, saying among other things:
"We're here to help you, we can assist if you need medical help." "It's a tough job we do, and basically we are against you, not with you" "We can't help you if you don't have respect for the fact that we have a job to do".
Then he accepted the first request he got to address the feather. This led to a grilling from all around the circle that lasted a good 45 minutes.
He was asked if CALM could be given information about the exact chemical makeup of the pepper spray in the pellets their guns shot., so they could know the right antidotes to use. He answered that the best antidote was plain water. He was asked if CALM could be notified if there was any incident involving pepper spray, and he agreed to the. "It will be within 24 hours, and I will come to you without you having to ask."
There was some talk about Shanti Sena being called when there were altercations between LEOs and individual gatherers. Gene said "things always get more complicated when you haves a lot of people milling around." A rainbow reminded us that we should never surround a group of officers, but always leave them a way to get out.
He was asked the total number of officers in the Incident Command Team and he said he didn't know the exact number, but it was "approximately 40".
The Kid Village incident in Wyoming came up in the conversation, and Gene said with a frown of horror in his face, "God forbid that we should ever have to go thru something like that again" A gatherer suggested that "all the YouTube videos" of that incident had given other police departments expectations of violent confrontations that caused them to react more paranoiacally than they would otherwise, and Gene showed some agreement.
He was asked about the searches, and here he kind of beat around the bush a bit: "I would have to know more details about specific incidents to know exactly what to do. Every scenario is different." "I can't keep tabs on every action that our officers undertake" ".My officers have a duty to enforce the law" One gatherer talked about people driving in who, upon seeing officers by the side of the road, stopped to ask if there was anything wrong, and then being subjected to searches. "If you see them and they don't specifically ask you to stop, just drive on past them." Gene just listened to this without making any objections. He assured all of us that there wouldn't be any road blocks at this gathering like there had been at Arkansas and Colorado.
He was asked if there could be a phone number that could be called where one could find information on all the arrests that had been made, and where the arrestees were being detained if they were, and he said he "would look into it." He was asked if his officers could "lock their weapons when they come in on the Day of Love" (meaning July 4th), and he replied "I respect your proposal", but that his officers had to follow official procedures. Someone asked about devices that the police could use that could "make a laser check of people license plates", and Gene said his officers had no such equipment.
He finally summed up his talk by saying that "law enforcement should always be a last resort", and asking us to remember that "I have to do my job".
This was in the main a very focused council, the only people who spoke when the feather came to them usually had something to say that was relevant, and there was only one person who started to babble on as he wandered off the subject, and he was ultimately persuaded gently to stop. There were no loud emotional outbursts. And Gene stood up to our slings and arrows with commendable poise. There was finally a look of amusement on his face that he shared with Leanne as he witnessed the last of our haggling over the exact wording of the consensus.
After the feather had gone all the way around the circle, which had grown to about 70 people, someone called for consensus on accepting the Operating Plan, and one brother blocked. He said that he thought that such a decision had to be made by the "official" Council on the Land which starts on July 1. Karin Zirk stood up and suggested that we could at least have a "consensus of heart" and asked if it was possible for the decision to be stated as being made by "the Seed Camp council", subject to further ratification by the regular council. The brother agreed to this, and then there was the discussion of the exact wording. It was finally consensed that: "The participants of Seed Camp agree that the operating plan as of 6/28/2010 is workable. Participants of the peaceful assembly may address the operating plan in council"
So the plan was agreed to in the eyes of both the gatherers and the Forest Service officials, and the only signature applied to it was Leanne's on the xerographed copies of it that she passed out. (The text of the plan can be viewed at http://www.bliss-fire.com/2010Plan.htm.) On July 1, David Alexander English blew a conch and there was a circle around the Peace Pole in the middle of the main meadow, that started at noon and lasted until people started showing up for Dinner Circle. I listened in for a while, and it was mostly heartsongs. I didn't hear anyone bringing up the Operating Plan, and when I asked David later in the day, he said that there had been no discussion or consensus on it. He invited me to bring it up the next day, but I didn't. The circle continued every day except the 4th until the 7th, with typically 30 to 40 people, and I never heard word of any specific consensus reached regarding the Operating Plan.
The only times I saw Forest Service LEOs coming into the gathering area were in groups of 3 or 4, looking for specific individuals to arrest. The warrants were almost always for failure to appear in court for tickets received from the marauders who preyed on the incoming road traffic. There were no regular patrols like there had been in previous years. But the Pennsylvania state police sent in squadrons of officers on horseback, who sometimes spent long times standing in groups of 4 to 8 at the edge of the main meadow. Sometimes Gene would stroll around with 2 or 3 other officers and talk and give out pins. On the morning of the 2nd I saw a group of 5 men all in navy blue tee shirts with "US Marshal" on their back walking around not especially doing anything, and I saw on the back of another pair of tee shirts as it was preparing to climb Bitch Hill: "Drug Task Force", but I never saw them any days thereafter.
During the final days of June the afternoon temperatures didn't climb higher than the 70s, and out on the meadow many people gathered to sit and talk or play instruments. Sometimes it was as crowded as it might be just after Dinner Circle. Robbie Gordon likened it to a village square, where all the townspeople congregated. Thruout most of the day I heard no drums being played; they didn't start up until late in the afternoon as Dinner Circle approached (and they started up as soon as it was over and continued until 3 or 4 in the morning). After the 1st of July the presence of the council was justification for asking any drummers who tried to start to stop, and the silence was conducive to other activities. There was a yoga circle every day led by a man in a turban, and the Emotional Freedom Training woman who was at Mew Mexico last year returned teach more classes. Robbie set up his tipi at the edge of the meadow maybe 50 feet from Info, and I played my Irish harp in several string instrument jams in front of it. The helicopter continued to return two or three times a day (sometimes at sunset, and once even at midnight), but now it was at an altitude of a couple of hundred feet not quite as loud, but still pesky.
I saw a return to the casual nudity old, not occasional groups of people all doing a mass streak while daring others to do it as I had seen at Wyoming, but people walking around not completely covered and it not getting any attention from the people around. I saw what seemed like a preponderance of young people, teens, 20s, and 30s, and I saw more black people than I had ever seen before at a gathering. I heard estimations of the population of this gathering that range from 6,500 to 12,000, and I think the lower numbers are nearer to the truth. But the small area of the site made it seem in places like the over 20K behemoths of the past. Surrounding Kid Village was what seem like a metropolis of dome tents. The feeling of size and power that had so overcome me at my first gathering (described in my book) sometimes came back to me. When I was lying on my cot in my tent by Info, I heard mostly the sounds of happy and laughing people all around. I started to feel like I was at an old time gathering, before so much had been pounded down by all the LEO movies of the '00s.
(to be continued)
The Stairway to Heaven Gathering, part 4
At about 8 in the morning on the 4th, while I was still up by Main Supply, I heard helicopter noise. It continued to circle as I made the descent into the gathering. This was after waking up to some loud talking around Main Supply on a morning there is supposed to be silence. This sent me into a collossally bad mood and when I got to the edge of the main meadow and a sister standing with a group of people gathered by the edge told me that nobody was supposed to enter the meadow, I grouchily said "bullshit" and proceeded towards Info. Then I looked up at the helicopter, and noticed that its tail was a different color than the one that had been here before. When I got near Robbie's tipi, some other people told me that the meadow and been cleared for a landing and a medical evacuation. I looked out and found the pole in the center of the field had been removed, and there were no bags or clothes or anything else lying around. One person told me that the chopper would continue to circle until the pilot felt it was safe to land.
It finally did come down in the middle of the meadow. I looked like a short and chubby Huey, with a white fuselage and a navy blue tail boom. In addition to the tail rotor it had mounted on it two tails like the back end of a B-24. In orange letters were the words, "LIFESTAR STAT MedEvac". The back of the fuselage had a set of double doors, and these opened and some men came out with a wheeled gurney and took it over behind some bushes near the edge on the far side of the meadow. The Silence was still being maintained as the noise of the helicopter stopped, but as they started loading the gurney after returning, there was a soft chorus of "we lo-o-o-ve you". The jet engine was ignited and the rotors started to spin, and it took off after about five minutes.
I later had a chance encounter by Info with a brother who had been working for CALM and was one of the first on the scene. He said that someone had been tripping on LSD and climbed a tree, naked. He fell out and landed on his head, and broke his spine. He was bleeding and not able to walk, and ultimately the med-evac was arranged with the aid of the LEOs. Later that morning another brother said that I had accidentally stepped on his toe as I was pushing past the people trying to prevent me from entering the meadow earlier that morning, and demanded an apology. He got it.
I made myself a breakfast of ramen noodles on the propane stove in the Info kitchenette, as the 4th of July is usually a day when it is impossible to get food without having to wait in very long lines. Then I walked out into the meadow. The pole had been erected again in the middle, and in what had to have been a very short time it was again decorated with all the trinkets and talismans that it usually bears on the 4th. Then I noticed an elaborately carved totem pole lying on its side nearby. The carvings were fresh; it looked like they had been done only one or two days ago. Apparently this had been meant to be the Peace Pole in the center, but in the confusion following the demise of the helicopter it had not been brought out in time. It was not there about a half hour later, and the next day I saw it upright by a trail that ran to the side of the meadow.
Out in the meadow nobody was talking and in general silence could be perceived. I heard no noise from the directions of Kid Village and the Green Trail. But towards Dirty Kids Meadow I heard soft murmurs and rumbles, and occasional faint outbursts of "fuck you", quite possibly in response to being told to stay silent. As in Wyoming, there were people in blacky-khaki land who didn't feel obligated to maintain the silence. But in the main it was never loud enough to be obnoxious, and barely perceivable when out in the middle of the menu.
Then at maybe 10 o'clock I heard the sounds of a tambourine and some people telling others to be quiet, then I heard a girl's voice saying, "You're all a bunch of Nazis". I looked over and saw three girls walking around onto the meadow, all talking loudly. (I later found out on the internet that some of them were really boys dressed as girls.)
Their clothes were especially noticeable. One of them had blond hair in long dreadlocks, and she wore a short purple dress whose hem ended in several zigzag points, making her look something like an elf out on Halloween. Another was wearing a brown chemise with puffy sleeves under a pink Renaissance fair style corset over a solid turquoise skirt and white fishnet stockings beneath making her look like a hostess at an Oktoberfest. The bra cups in the corset were empty, none of these girls was old enough to have noticeable breasts. The third was dressed in an orange and yellow checker patterned button front tank top and shorts ensemble that left her midriff bare, looking like a 1940s playsuit. She was walking around with a video camera taking pictures of all the people who approached them. There was another older woman walking behind them.
Several people who were sitting in the meadow got up and formed a circle around them and tried to shush them, but they responded with remarks like, "You're a bunch of Nazi punks" and "You're all a bunch of child molesters." Other people started protesting the attempts to silence them, saying, "Let the children speak".
Finally there was a complete circle around them and someone started an Om. One of the kids said to the one with the dreadlocks, "You're being Omed over", and she responded by saying, "This is getting too weird for me", and she walked out of the circle, followed by all the rest. A little while later I heard some rumbling coming from the direction of Kid Village, and I heard their voices again, saying "Nazis" several times. I also started hearing what sounded like one of those plastic parade horns.
Then they came back to the main meadow a second time, and I found out that a fourth child had gotten hold of a trombone and was making blasts on it. The dreadlock elf passed me by, looked at my naked body and said, "Put some clothes on, you weirdo" The one dressed like a Hausfrau threw a smoke bomb on the ground that started a little clump of dry grass on fire before someone quickly stomped on it. Several people got up and I saw a mob of people forming around them, and between the legs on the outside I saw the Hausfrau being thrown to the ground and people piling on top of her. Thruout I heard the girls crying out mockingly things like, "Get your hands off me. and "You call yourselves peaceful. you're really a bunch of violent punks." Another Om started up, and people got up from sitting and started holding hands in concentric circles.
The girl was released, and they all walked over to 420 Emergency, then they remained there and I heard more arguing. I put my dress back on and walked over to see better what was going on. I saw the older woman a little better, and as she was walking back into the Dirty Kids Meadow she was saying to the kids, "Now you can do anything you want. You can pick stuff up out of the shitters and throw it at them; I don't care."
I went back into the meadow, and almost everybody was still standing and holding hands, and the Om continued on faintly some more until silence returned but most of the people were still standing. Then I saw a man beckoning everybody to sit down, and most did. Then he broke the silence with his loud voice announcing how there would be a world crisis in 2012, the last year in the Mayan calendar, and our Hopi brothers have left us a prophecy that we should all gather in "the four corners area", because they knew "how to show us how to survive". Another woman got up and started to add some more words to his. When people stated saying, "Respect the Silence", she repeatedly answered with, "I will not be silenced!" Small circles of people formed around her and the man, and a saw people trying to persuade them quietly. But there were some more outbursts from them, and now everybody was saying Om, and this time it got louder as people tried to use the Om to drown out their voices. The two people finally quieted down, but the Om, started perhaps prematurely, continued until I saw the children's parade from Kid Village start to walk between out rings. They had entered in silence so complete that I was surprised when I first saw them. The Om continued, loud enough to discourage a few people who tried to start playing drums and a fiddle until it finally gave way to the cheer with raised arms maybe an hour or a half before the sun was at the meridian.
(to be continued)
The Stairway to Heaven Gathering, part 5
After about a half hour of staying out on the meadow and eating watermelon, I went back to Info and then back to my tent. I saw that a circle of about 40 people had gathered in Cooperations Meadow, and I saw the girls who had been disrupting the silence sitting in a group as part of the circle, so I went and got my chair and came back to listen. In place of a feather they were passing a yellow foam rubber bathtub fishie with orange fins.
At the Colorado and Wyoming gatherings I had been hearing stories about a place called "Death Camp", where people walking past on the trails were sometimes attacked by little kids throwing mud and rocks, hitting with sticks, or aiming squirt guns sometimes filled with urine. Sometimes they would throw firecrackers in people's tents as they were sleeping. Their parents made no attempts to discipline the children, but instead laughed and encouraged them in this kind of behavior. This had been something that I had never experienced personally and had known only thru rumors. But now everybody saw them clearly identified here in the circle.
I finally got a good long look at all of them, especially the woman who was apparently the mother of a lot of the kids. She was middle aged in a long brown check patterned muumuu with auburn red hair, and a pierced lip that had a ring in it. A man with long hair and a beard dressed in a plain shirt and jeans lay nearby, apparently the husband and father, but he didn't say anything. A few more children were nearby that I didn't especially remember from earlier that morning, but they acted like they were friends or siblings.
Sometime early in the discussion I guess someone had said, "Let's talk about facts and not opinions", and many times when someone in the circle started to wander off into discussion of feelings the kids would start yelling, "Facts! Facts!" They interrupted other speakers often, and didn't show too much respect for council protocol.
There was much protestation at the way the girl had been tackled and wrestled to the ground, along with names being called like "child molesters", "perverts", and "Nazis". There had been someone who had tried to grab the video camera away from the other girl but didn't succeed, and someone else had taken away the trombone and damaged it in the process.
The mama had lots of things to say about this. "I think this shows what kind of monsters you really are. You talk about peace and non-violence, but here you go attacking little girls." As she spoke further, it became more and more apparent that she had decided to use her daughters to deliberately provoke some kind of violent reaction to prove what she thought about the hypocrisy of hippies, and she was acting very smug in having succeeded. Whenever something made her laugh, along with the smiling expression of the mouth there was an almost pained look in her eyes, suggesting that the laughter was feelings of revenge at many years of bitterness.
There was contrition among some of the people in the circle, a few went so far as to apologize for the severity of the reaction. Some suggested that "we let the children speak". Others were like Garrick Beck who went on about how the Silence "is a delicate thing, but powerful when it is maintained, like fine spider web." Most of the times someone defended the Silence they were met with cries of "Facts!" from the kids. One person produced a bicycle horn in the shape of a hunting horn, with the rubber squeezer missing but a collar at its end that made a good mouthpiece, and gave it to the kids to make up for the destruction of the trombone.
Somehow the Death Campers migrated to the other side of the speaking circle, and they were allowed to speak again. Some more kids had joined them, and at one point the father arrived with a plastic chest full of hot dogs in buns and fed the kids. Some of the girls said right out, "We're just doing this to see if we can get a reaction out of you. If you don't give us one, we'll get bored and stop." Someone from the circle said., "So what is the solution?", one of the kids said again, "just ignore us and don't give us a reaction" The mother said, "Come to our camp and talk with us an get to know us. You'll find out that a lot of the stories people tell about us aren't true."
After about two hours of discussion and another trip of the fish around the circle, I heard Joe from Kid Village say, "We were given a test, and we failed", and I thought this was a good point to leave the circle, since it seemed that everything that could be said was already said. It continued for a while longer without me.
Among the Lakota Indians there were men who had a role they called "heyoka", a jester with a spiritual aim. As Wikipedia says:
"Principally, the Heyoka functions both as a mirror and a teacher, using extreme behaviors to mirror others, thereby forcing them to examine their own doubts, fears, hatreds, and weaknesses. ... They provoke laughter in distressing situations of despair and provoke fear and chaos when people feel complacent and overly secure, to keep them from taking themselves too seriously or believing they are more powerful than they are."
These people in Death Camp acted like they saw themselves as heyokas, whether or not they were actually cognizant of the Indian tradition. They were here to prove that all the Rainbow talk about peace and nonviolence is all platitudes, and that the Rainbows are as violent as anyone else. The mother seemed possessed of a vehement hatred of hippies, and was out to expose them as much as she could.
They have been the subject of numerous Shanti Sena councils over several gatherings, and there have been people advocating their forcible removal. But like A Camp and the traders, they have their defenders and they can't be kept out of the gathering in the anarchy. So they have been coming back, a direct challenge to the efficacy of all the Rainbow ideals peace and love and including everybody with a belly button. It's a story that looks like it's going to go on.
(to be continued)
The Stairway to Heaven Gathering, part 6
The temperatures went gradually higher and higher as the first July days succeeded one another, and things were starting to feel really summery by the 3rd. The 5th thru the 7th were especially hot and humid, and by this time I was starting to get cumulatively tired, and didn't have too much energy. I was asking myself several time if I wasn't finally getting too old for all this. Sometimes it took all my concentration just to navigate thru all the tree roots to make a trip to my tent from the Info counter. The number of people congregating on the main meadow during the day dwindled, but the mad dogs and Englishmen in the council continued to gather around the pole. The ground was now covered with pieces of broken dead grass which wanted to attach itself to all of my clothing. The helicopter was now flying at about 500 feet.
We did find a new focalizer for the Rainbow Guide on the 5th. Elizabeth, a rather attractive young woman who was fond of going around nude, responded to the want ad that I had placed behind the box of Guides on the Info counter. She showed up with several zip-lock plastic bags in which she neatly stashed away all of the cards and contributions that I gave her, and showed signs of being greatly concerned with organization something that I and the rest of the Info crew saw as a very good sign.
At Rainbow noon on the 7th Davis Alexander English blew a conch and people started to gather in a circle around the Peace Pole for Vision Council. After about 20 people had showed up, several people started suggesting moving the council into the shade. David asked for a consensus to move, and nobody blocked. After first considering the space in front of Robbie's tipi, we all went over to Cooperations Meadow. David produced a feather that he said was from an eagle, and gave us all a brief explanation of council process. Then he said. "All I've been hearing is Washington."
He started the feather around after what was one of the shortest times I have heard him speak at council. Many people afterward said that they liked Washington, and those few who suggested other places usually started out by saying, "I won't block Washington, but..." There were a few suggesting South Dakota, and others responding to this idea by saying the Lakota Indians who live there should be contacted first before we decided, and some went so far to say we should have their specific invitation. But Washington kept coming up again and again. (When the feather came to me, I said, "I'm an Okie from Muskogee and pretty much equidistant from any of the various places you could decide on, but on behalf of Gary Stubbs I would like to recommend the 2011 gathering be in the state of Washington.")
The circle grew to about 60 by 1 o'clock, and everybody who got the feather got up and spoke for at least a few paragraphs; there were no people passing it in silence. As the day progressed, more people joined the circle, especially on the sides that were still in the shade, and in some places the feather had to make a convoluted path between three or four lines of people. As a result it took a long time for the feather to get around. There were a few people who hogged the feather, but not very many, and there almost no yelling of "pass the feather", and few complaints about agro energy and disrespect.
On subject much discussed was a Shanti Sena incident in the main meadow the evening before where some people who described themselves as Satanists tried to burn a small wooden cross. They were ultimately prevented from doing it by several people, some of whom did some tackling and grabbing like on the morning of the 4th. Along with this were general discussions of the influx of young people with punk rock values, one old guy calling them "Nazi punks", and several young people defending them. Death Camp was also talked about. There were some of the usual people I call "preachers", who tell us ways to solve all our problems, and talk about how we all really need to get beyond our egos and think about what is really best for the Family. The 2012 woman who had interrupted the silence on the 4th gave us all an apology. Someone asked for a show of hands from those who were at their first gathering, and almost half the people there raised theirs. The helicopter interrupted us for about 15 minutes starting at 1:45.
It was 6:20 when the feather made it all the way around the circle and David held it again. He spoke again for the usual length he has been known to speak in council, going on for a while about international gatherings, then he said he was calling for consensus for Washington. He said he was afraid of trying to pass the feather around in silence, and asked for us to signify our consent by maintaining ten seconds of silence. A brother said, "Block". When he was asked to explain, he said he wasn't really against Washington but he was "insulted by how someone had said that we shouldn't go to South Dakota unless invited by the Indians".
While this was going on, Dinner Circle was finishing its Om and kids were being served prior to the pots going out and around, and it looked like the council wasn't going to end for a while so I went over and ran the Magic Hat. I kept looking over toward the council and noticed that they had all stood up and were holding hands, and I started thinking that it had ended. I told Marken that I would take the hat over to Info before counting it (as opposed to our usual practice of doing it out in the middle of the dinner circle). But when I got over there I heard people still talking; perhaps someone had suggested an Om while holding hands to calm things down.
Soon I heard David calling for consensus again, and after two requests for clarification on the wording of the consensus (was it the state or the "bioregion"? the state; and could "2010 Rainbow Gathering" have "of Living Light" be added to it? yes) David got the ten seconds of silence, and a cheer went up. It was a few minutes past 7:00. At approximately six and a half hours it was the third shortest Vision Council in Rainbow history. (The one in Alabama in 1993 that decided for Wyoming lasted four hours; the one in West Virginia in 2005 that decided for Colorado four and a half.)
With Vision Council over Info could start coming down, and that started on the morning of the 8th. I had separated most of the change for counting on the 5th, so that annual task didn't occupy all of the morning. I made the last climb with my tent and the rest of the stuff I still had had down in the valley, and I was ready to drive out of the site at 11:30. There were no LEOs still lurking as I made my way down the FS road to the highway. I had another happening on the way home that I can add to the list of auto repair miracles described in my book, where an impending trouble waits to hit me until I am in a place where I can immediately find what I need to get it fixed. My fuel pump went out on me, making me start to lose power when I was about a mile from an exit near Dayton, and I was able to get off the interstate and finally coast into a convenience store parking lot, where a man who worked there called me a tow truck driver who knew of an auto repair place just on the other side of the freeway, where they just happened to be finishing up a tire installation on another car and had an open bay for me. They replaced it and I was on the road again in two and a half hours.
Thus ended my stay at the Stairway to Heaven Gathering. In last year's review I wondered if that Sabbath would be followed by a Monday. I am happy to say that we got at least a three day weekend. It was like a renaissance; I felt a lot of old-time gathering feelings again. I like eastern gatherings on small sites where everybody is concentrated together and all the energies intertwine. I like hot days where people start wanting to shed their clothes. I like lush green vegetation with low fire danger. All of the people who boycott gatherings that don't take place in high western mountains missed out on a really sweet one here.
(The story ends here, but the gatherings remain
to be continued.)
This post was the basis for the tenth chapter of Rainbow Gatherings, vol. 2.