No, Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore. We’re in Arizona, where sixties’ peace and love live on at the annual Rainbow Family gathering. Hank Rosenfeld says everyone should go at least once in their life.
If I am to spread the information properly-“take all the junk in the news and make it sing like poetry,” as I.F. Stone taught-then I must inform you I’m starting with disinformation. Disinformation as opinion piece, from the United States Senator from these parts of Arid Zone A, Republican Jon Kyl, in the White Mountain Independent up in Show Low, AZ:
Arizonans near the site of this year’s event already are finding out how disturbing this supposedly peaceful and spiritual group really is. . . . Residents of the town of Springerville have been told if they try to interfere with the group’s illegal activities, this “peaceful” group would “trash the town”. . . . Rainbow members have urinated on food in stores so the shopkeepers will throw it in the trash where members could then retrieve it. . . . I would think all Arizonans would be concerned for the safety and well-being of their fellow citizens and for our state’s beautiful natural resources.
My pal Cape appears to be playing it straight this time, we’re covering this for CBS after all, but once inside the RX-7, he’s still a goner and sooner than ever, stoked by the strong coffee he made on the trunk, followed by a joint, a cigarette, a Coke and more coffee. We’re late and we have to wait for Black Rock headquarters to Fed-Ex the relay equipment from New York: CBS-issue cellphone and mini-disc recorder.
We really came here of course, to The Rainbow Family of Living Light’s annual world meditation for peace, in order to see all them thousands of hippies dancing naked and tripping around their teepees. To conduct a radio investigation for CBS. Who are these people? Are they just some kind of weird Neil Young leftover hippie dream, or the last and best hope still leftover from the 60’s?
Cape sends this first report back to network headquarters: “They came to the Apache Forest in northeast Arizona to pray for world peace, but the Forest Service said `Get a Permit.'”
Pretty good lidlifter. Then our CBS cellular dies-or maybe the wilderness is bereft of cells-whatever, we have to go use a payphone 30 miles back in Springerville, where they don’t get folks from CBS too often.
“Aw these kids are awright, they just don’t like the government is all,” says Joe Ellis, 73, in a laundromat on N. Hopi Drive and Main. “Hell, I don’t like the government either.”
Heh, heh. Way to go Joe, set the scene for us here in the heartland. Eagar, two miles away, is the home of eastern Arizona’s most famous militiaman/supremacist, who just happens to be on the front page of today’s Arizona Republic for refusing to obey a court order and come down from his hilltop lodge/bunker.
Eagar’s also where we find the National Incident Control Readiness Strike Force Team, the authorities that the U.S. Forest Service headquarters sent here to handle the Rainbow Family. From this command post in an Eagar elementary school, National Incident Team Information Officer Rose (“I used to be in radio”) Davis sits us on teensy kindergarten seats for an interview. Davis says she’s from Idaho, and there are Forest Service officers here from as far away as Georgia.
The U.S. Forestry and Senator Kyl are upset because the Rainbows adhere strongly to the part of the Constitution where it talks about the right to peaceful assembly. So why don’t FS Officers just go in and bust those ‘bows for the no-permit no-no?
“Sheer numbers,” Davis shrugs at last. There are 20,000 Rainbows arriving but if any of them are seen using the lake on reservation land, they’ll be kicked off by the Apaches because, she says, “the Apache do not like the Rainbows. They think they’re American Indian wannabes.”
On the mountain top, the wannabes greet us warmly. All we’ve got are sleeping bags and dead technology, but they invite us out in the meadow for a huge drumming circle to communicate with the rain gods. It has been another dusty hot day, 100 plus degrees, even here at 9,000 feet. But “it always rains at a Rainbow Festival,” Running Cloud, our guide says. Rain soon arrives, followed by a double rainbow. Then an additional prayer wish is added, for both rain and bow to be sent to “Our brothers and sisters in Flagler County, Florida.”
Two days later, it will rain in Florida for the first time since the fires started. No propaganda. Just fact. We’re CBS, we can’t make this stuff up. Sure, the double rainbow will turn into “nine rainbows” according to Wolf Hat, sipping tea by a fire the next night. Probably on acid there were nine rainbows visible, but why argue about rainbows? A red-tailed hawk flies overhead. There’s a guy Red Hawk, too; all the Rainbows have names like this, like gang monikers, only the opposite of gang monikers in that these seem peaceful.
Running Cloud’s been camped here 34 days already. He’s a scout who helps find the landing site for the Gathering. He says Senator Kyl’s opinion piece was the typical retro-propaganda re Rainbows, something they’re used to from the local scare-mongering fishwraps.
“Migosh,” he laughs, “any damage we do to this forest, which we repair before we leave, doesn’t hold a candle to corporate industry’s weapons of mass destruction. This is just more diversion, puffery, makeshift reality. Like Shakespeare says, the masters of culture always hatefully resent the promises and the trustworthiness they’re forced to demonstrate. They loathe it. The reason the Forest Service is upset is twenty thousand people are having too much fun in their park.”
After harnessing the ether, the winds, the tides and gravitation, we shall harness for God the energies of love. And on that day, for the second time in the history of the world, man would have discovered fire.-Teilhard de Chardin
As night falls, we throw our sleeping bags on some pine needles and go meet Jackie from Iron River, Michigan (“up in Superior”) working at the Gathering’s Info Center tent. Jackie also helps run the Lost and Found there: a hemp hat, knife from Kathmandu, a puppy, and “Oh, we found your husband…” That sorta stuff.
Jackie gets us stoned. “Welcome home!” Amazingly this is also CBS’s motto: “Welcome Home.” (Nice yin-yang there, the somethingness and the nothingness mutually necessary.)
CBS deemed it okay we spend our days straight and nights stoned to get perspective on the scene here. I have never seen so much grass smoked. And this just in the Info Center, because I haven’t been here long enough to see anything else. Psychedelics use appears much more discreet. We can’t find any mescaline at all for instance, nothing for sale, certainly. Only barter is done here.
“Using money jeopardizes our right to use public land,” says the Guide. My green energy, five bucks, dropped into the “magic hat” is welcome barter. “Remember,” says the Guide, “The energy you give will come back. Wherever possible.”
“It’s a pleasure doing pleasure with you,” one trader says after I exchange my WalMart canteen for a rock. Cape, trading with a six-year-old from Pt. Loma, gives up Pez for a crystal. We heard Rainbows love sweets. In fact, this place runs on sweets and no sleep. Everybody’s slept two hours in the last three days and has been up for about 38 hours straight, depending on their drive or hitch to get here.
Directions from the Info Center lead us to a living breathing Whole Earth Catalog, with workshops on everything from earthship building (solar homes in Taos, I learn), to Lubavitcher Kosher cooking (chicken, trust me).
Something else from the guide: “What you have, share. What you are, teach.”
Pretty intriguing. To see if it works, I show Jackie some sign language I learned from my nephew in San Diego, and she teaches me how to draw a new Lost & Found sign (somebody lost the old one). Cape says Abbie Hoffman said, “There are no teachers, we are all each other’s teachings.” This seems to grok what the Rainbows grok. We get into a discussion with her friends about Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Huxley, Buckley and Cassady, touching on Groucho, The Free Speech Movement, SDS, the Diggers and Dharma Bums. Jackie suggests that from now on, the Info Tent will be where one brings information.
She calls me “brother” and takes me to sit by the “Gypsy Cafe” fire. There is a total fire ban statewide, but the Rainbows got an okay from the Forest Service to architecturally-construct a couple of safe fire pits. Beautiful faces reflecting rising firelight are chanting in front of us. Some of the sisters bare their breasts and beat drums with beatific looks beamed back out into a widening circle of dancers. I’ve died and gone to tribal heaven. Welcome home.
High on popcorn, fire and dope, this is the best party I have ever been to. One of the keys I think, was realizing that being a “reporter” sent a bad vibe. Plus all our CBS TV references and movie references are lost on the Rainbows. They are not only a US Forest Service headache, they’re Hollywood’s worst nightmare. They just do not meditate at the multi-plex; they’re busy making their own movies in the moment. Hippies, lawyers, stroke victims, people with broken necks, architects, grandmothers, all here doing it. So Cape and I have decided to tell them we are “elders,” and in this way the media wrapper peels away and kids and women and men will overcome their inhibitions more easily and speak with us. Not that they have any…
“Omitakuye oyasin!” I keep hearing this by the fire and along the trails here, as a greeting or exclamatory. Or: “Om atakwe ase,” as BeeohBee spells it for me. It means: “All my relations. Two-legged and four-legged. Whole!” Shared responsibility (Oglala).
We dance around religiously for a bit, meet parents and their children, Willow and Miracle, Ocean and Stony. I meet Roger, who hitches to the gathering every summer. The rest of the year he is an electronic underwater welder. “There’s like twelve in the world,” he says. He teaches me some Rainbow code: “Six Up” means there are Forest Service or cops in the camp. Guns in the church, six bullets to a gun, hence “Six up.”
“This is our church,” Roger explains.
After nodding off by the fire, I stumble my way back to our CBS campsite, and a perfect night for lucid dreaming. It’s cloudy and no stars now, a slight breeze at 9,000 feet. Cape and I are probably the only ones here without tent or teepee. My new $29.95 bag from SPORTMART keeps me cozy. (It was really $39.95, but the woman rang it up wrong; hence, shopping smart at SPORTMART!) Laying back I feel wet drops fall upon my eyelids. Not a lot of rain, intermittent droplets like little angels from above, telling me to “Go! Go! Go to Sleep!” each time one plunks my peepers.
An elder named Elijah, a fantastic-looking black man walking naked with a stick, says all of this is about love and God. Peace and passion too, but mostly love and God. That’s what people bring in and search for here. People are lost all over the place here; everyone is always asking directions to the dozens of neighborhoods and kitchens. With all the hitching, praying and partying, everyone has had like two hours sleep in three days. Children give the best directions.
For Running Cloud, it’s not all warmth and light. “Rainbow life can be hectic, chaotic, blissful, rewarding,” he says. “Also disappointing, the political side of it especially. Sometimes they get on your last nerve, and I only got one.”
Another thing making him nervous are the US Forest Service choppers whirring overhead. On my morning walk, I see a Ronald McDonald beheaded and stuck on a pike just off the path. I see Elvis on a skull and crossbones flag. There is a “DEAF TRIBE” campsite here. A woman lifts up her granny dress and pees right next to me. Here’s a firefighter from Maine, a software salesman from Provo. Perhaps our best interview for CBS today is a guy from The Netherlands who wants to, “Thank you everyone, for this is the American dream!”
The 4th of July is Rainbow’s annual peace meditation, twenty-five thousand of us now, joining in a “silence is sacred” morning. Around midday everyone comes together in ever-widening circles, hands held skyward like we’re saguaro cacti giving it up to the Arizona sun. Half of us are half-naked (as if expressing some kind of wholer human?), and a Hopi-styled kachina clownguy darts in and out of the circles, fucking with everybody. Cape turns on the mini-disc recorder to capture thirty minutes of Om-ing. The sister on my right in the peasant dress keeps switching her handholds from sun-raised to held-between to the arm-upon-shoulder-drape. She is weighed down by her rings and bracelets, although each position works for me. I feel that I’ve found the center of the counterculture, after being too young for it in the 60’s and feeling too old for it in the 90’s.
Then the children come parading out from Kiddie Village in face paint and costumes under the long green drape of a dragon train, breaking down our circle wall with an explosion of holy antics. Kiddie Village is probably the coolest neighborhood/kitchen here, full of flowing food and dirty-faced kids with non-stop smiles running between the trees. There are even a couple of naked pregnant women. (Pregnant women and kids are the first fed everyday at the dozens of kitchens/neighborhoods.)
The rest of the day promises constant partying. However, the sister next to me in the peasant dress does not give me a Rainbow hug. I don’t know why. The Rainbow hug is famous world-over for its length as well as its depth. And I’m wearing my fresh, tie-dyed John Lennon tee-shirt today, too.
CBS issued me no bowl and you’re also supposed to have a spoon attached to your belt. But I’m starving and determined to get fed in the Krishna Kitchen. A hunk of mush made from yogurt, rice, fruits and nuts gets dropped into the palm of my hand and I sit on some pine needles to slurp it up. Yuck. Yummy. Yuck. But as luck would have it-not luck, “magic”(the total appreciation of chance)-I get to have a pregnant naked woman wash my hands off afterward.
Whenever you look at someone with love in your heart, you are praying. -Jane Siberry
Everybody here looks better in the dark. A lot of last night’s starry dynamos are walking around burned out or just sitting and gazing off stumps today. Poetry, lectures, meditation and massage, and consciousness-raising circles begin to dot the meadow. I go stand in a huge line, I have no idea what for: it’s a woman on a chair, giving bite-sized Snickers bars for a hug. This place runs on hugs and chocolate.
I am having a great holiday, but I forgot to bring fireworks. Good thing though, as none are allowed. When some jerk launches a sky-rocket into the crowd, he is quickly surrounded by the Shanti Sena, the Rainbows’ internal security force. Some have walkie-talkies, the others you never notice until they surround you, I guess. Non-violent intervention. There are other helpers, healers in C.A.L.M. (Center for Alternative Living Medicine) tents.
Tonight we hang in a great neighborhood: “The Lovin Oven,” where a Deadicated band is strumming and harmonizing, and cookies are being passed around. Finding the Lovin Oven is like stumbling into the heart of the forest. Here the Rainbows have built mud kilns in a pine grove, stuck dough inside all that packed-up earthdirt, and then stacked the heated loaves in rows of skinny quaking aspen branches about eight feet high. Close by is another tent where women roll and powder and put all their lovework into the delicious buns, breads and cookies that feed thousands through the night. To come upon this baking bread is surely to breathe in the heart of the forest. And just like that, this is the best camping trip I’ve ever been on.
Don’t try to build another ark; create a cup for your brother to drink from.-Eduardo Machado
I don’t know how they do it-yes I do, by consensus, like the Iroquois Code that Ben Franklin studied while he wrote the Declaration-but the Rainbows seem to find the most beautiful spots on the planet when they come together to pray and play. Every year since 1972 the Rainbow Family has found a different national forest in which to live this collective vision quest in a wilderness of bears and blue dragonflies, and God, of course, on the good clear nights. All they want to do is feed everyone, and every year they run into trouble with the government. Two years ago in Missouri, the Forest Service joined the prayer circle on the 4th, but this year the National Incident Team is putting out press releases detailing the “confiscation of illegally possessed feathers” and other violations of the law.
Presently, I find myself in a stand of trees, serving water to my brothers and sisters. Here by the big black kettle, I fulfill my own Fisher King initiation myth, sharing the cup like it’s the holy grail. In this tent I also find my music, the right band to jam with on my Hohner. Folk music, anybody can play with that, so I join in. When everybody is singing Jesse Colin Young’s “Get Together,” you feel an old revolutionary zeal made new again in this moment. And you know it will be won with affection.
“We’re all the same person looking in a mirror, trying to shake hands with ourselves.” -Wavy Gravy
In the morning, I hear some frogs in a swamp beyond the parking lot and meet Paul, a software engineer from Provo. “I’m ready to go back and work my life,” he says, inspired and accepting at the same time. I go to the It’s a Beautiful Day Cafe for some “hot mama” tea and suddenly see cops on horseback, in longcoats like western highwaymen. “SIX UP!” I turn and shout, but way too late. Everyone’s gonna be busted. Then one hippie by a fresh green patch of sprouts offers some up to a police horse.
USFS: Oh please don’t, I’ll never get him back.
HIPPIE: Ohhh I’ll bet he’d like them. They’re reeeeal good.
USFS: (pause, noticing sprout path) Say, how did you do that? That’s pretty amazing.
The hippie starts to explain sprout-farming and how this bunch came up in less than two weeks. And this is the closest I have seen the Rainbows and the U.S. come together this weekend.
“It was the media coverage of the Human Be-In that destroyed the spirit of the Haight-Ashbury.-Flashing on the Sixties, by Lisa Law
Cape backs the Rx-7 off onto the gravel road carefully. We drive back down into Babylon to Superior, where the century plants bloom every hundreds years and the Rainbows pass through in buses and colored vans and jeeps.
How did all that Rainbow prayer affect Arizona? Only one person was killed over the 4th of July weekend. Ten died last year. According to the news, the reasons are, “Driver awareness and increased patrol presence.”
There are more Rainbow gatherings scheduled for Greece, Costa Rica, Russia, South Africa, Israel and Quebec. Everyone should go to one once in their lives.
Will I ever really “let it all go,” as a Krishna brother counseled? My backpack spilled open in the Krishna meditation tent and he suggested I throw it all in Ma Vishnu’s fire. Until I do, I haven’t done anything, have I? I haven’t let it all go, it’s just in my head, in notebook testaments. I certainly haven’t committed to living it, and when I get back to LA I’ll rip up parking tickets and throw them in the meter maid’s face, and yell at a gardener for no good reason. So what happens to our bliss when it doesn’t follow us out of here?
We sent CBS 18 reports; they aired a few of them. Our final report should have been: “The 90’s are dead. Long live the one good thing from the 60’s still going on! OMATAKWEASE! ALL MY RELATIONS. WHOLE!”