2005 Rainbow Gathering (Cranberry Glades, WV)
July 1-6, 2005
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The Rainbow Gathering is effectively the largest annual hippie get-together
in the US (non-music festival), and occurs every year from July 1-7, no
matter when the days fall. This year's was smaller, at reportedly 10,000
attendees … I've heard when it's out west its topped forty thousand.
The Gathering has been going on since 1972, bringing the Rainbow Family
together in large national parks, where folks can basically stay for free.
The purpose of the gathering is summarized on WelcomeHome.org
Some say we're the largest non-organization of non-members in the world.
We have no leaders, and no organization. To be honest, the Rainbow Family
means different things to different people. I think it's safe to say
we're into intentional community building, non-violence, and alternative
lifestyles. We also believe that Peace and Love are a great thing, and
there isn't enough of them in this world. Many of our traditions are
based on Native American traditions, and we have a strong orientation
to take care of the the Earth. We gather in the National Forests yearly
to pray for peace on this planet.
The 2005 Location: Monongahela
The event happened in the southern portion of West Virginia's Monongahela
National Forest, in Cranberry
Glades Botanical Area. It was supposed to be held near Elkins,
WV, about 70 miles North, but scuttlebutt has it that the Forest Service
denied the permit at the 11th hour, citing an endangered lizard, confiscated
some of the water purifying equipment (for what reason I know not), and
forced the Rainbow Family to select another location just two weeks before
the event. I wasn't there, so I don't really know what happened, but it
does seem that the Forest Service succeeded in fucking with the Rainbows.
(On the other hand, the Rainbow Gathering is put on by an all
volunteer non-organization of non-members…)
Cranberry Glades was a beautiful setting, featuring bogs and a beaver
dam, meadows, glades and mountains, moss and mushrooms and mud, fairy-like
fireflies, paths and streams, fern and pine, rocks and roots. It seemed
there were roots instead of dirt where we camped, fine and mesh-like under
the leaves, softer to sleep on but not good for ground campfires (they
can lead to smoldering root fires that travel and don't burst into flame
until much later).
When Kevin and I arrived mid-Friday evening, our instructions were to
park, hike in and find Information and ask the location of Sunrise Kitchen,
where Dorian and Amethyst were staying.We were under the nebulous impression
that it was actually an easy hike this year, though we'd been told that
one can have to carry gear several miles to get to camp. But the first
hurdle was parking, since there were no parking lots for the
10,000 folks attending. A few long lonely two-lane roads surrounded Cranberry
Glades and cars lined them for miles. A plethora of cops and rangers prowled
the roads in vehicles and on foot, while hippies unloaded and walked to
and from the main gate. We managed to park within a half mile of the entrance,
loaded up as much as we thought we could carry and struck out for Information.
About a mile later we arrived at Info, picked up an All Ways Free, and
learned that it was a long walk to Sunrise Kitchen, about
as far away as you could get from the gate on 150. So we proceeded with
our ridiculously heavy loads down the sometimes quite muddy paths, took
breaks when needed, and after a couple more miles finally managed to reach
our destination. (We later discovered the route we were given was the
longest round-about way to get from Info to Sunrise.) We greeted folks,
located a nicely shaded spot and set up our tent, arranging our sleeping
and storage space within, just before it broke out in a downpour, which
thankfully lasted only the first night.
A Kitchen Primer
To eat at the Gathering, all you basically need is a bowl, spoon, cup
and some dollars to throw into magic hats (or time to donate). Dozens
of kitchens pop up all over the event, serving populations small to large
throughout the day. And most days at 6-ish hippie time, a dinner circle
forms in the middle of the Main Meadow, where various kitchens bring buckets
of food they ladle out to those gathered.
If you go, I recommend taking a small assortment of seasonings and hot
sauce, and maybe a couple foodstuffs you just can't live without …
unless you're anti-vegetables. Nearly every kitchen at the Rainbow Gathering
is vegetarian and/or vegan.
Sunrise Kitchen and Eating
On a relative scale Sunrise Kitchen was on the smaller side (being more
remote), but was fully operational before we arrived. Folks sat on logs
and chatted in a large tarp-shaded area, where a campfire crackled under
a coffee pot, and somebody's set of congo drums stood waiting to be played.
Trash/recycling and dish wash/sanitize areas encouraged responsible clean-up.
Shaded with several sails (from sailboats), the ample cooking area was
lined by a large counter on two sides and contained a wood-burning grill,
often tended by Starcatcher, who ran the kitchen. Only cooks and authorized
helpers could be in the kitchen or serve food, for sanitation reasons.
Volunteers were welcome.
We'd heard that food can be uniform and bland at Rainbow (to appeal to
more palates), so we decided to bring along a crate full of edibles plus
two coolers, a Coleman stove, and a small assortment of cooking and eating
implements. I don't recommend following our example! While we
did eat well, we felt compelled to use our food to avoid lugging it out
again. Cooking at our camp kept us less social, which was somewhat against
the point of being there. (We did donate food to the kitchen, and the
cold stuff mostly got left back in the car. I should add that the various
kitchen food I did eat was mostly very good.)
Observations & Experiences
- Alcohol is discouraged and is generally absent or kept private, except
in A-Camp. The only guys I ever saw with beer cans overtly in their
hands were some good-ol'-boy locals checking out the freaks. They were
being harassed by a hippie chick for having the beer out and around
the children, and they pretty much just snickered at her. (I wonder
what exactly the "A" stands for? Alcohol? Type A personalities?
- Beyond the kitchen, past some tents and slightly down the hillside
was the slit trench shitter — a term regularly used,
but I still prefer ladies room or bathroom or little
pyramids room. I had no problem with the slit trenches … and
toilet paper on a stick, and the shovel to cover your leavings with
dirt and lime or ash from a nearby can, and the nominal attempt at privacy,
and the flies… mostly because I experienced them in Girl Scouts.
(I wonder if Girl Scouts use those much today.)
- To me, the first and most surprising thing about Rainbow were the
dogs. EVERYWHERE. Puppies and ones with three legs and one eye. Pairs
mating. Litters suckling. I wonder how many dog packs have formed after
Gatherings have departed.
- The Krishna Kitchen, at the edge of the Main Meadow, was one of the
most popular, sometimes with long lines. Cathy reported a delicious
7-course meal there. They were very far away from our camp, and though
we were by there several times we never bothered to try their food.
Maybe next time.
- A short distance behind our tent was the Musical Veggie, a kitchen
with a stage of sorts. We got to enjoy great live, non-amplified music
most of the time we were back in camp. But all over the Gathering people
played a wide array of instruments, solo or in groups. In quiet areas
you might hear a flute or a fiddle. Around campfires and in shade tents
you'd find digeridoos and singing bowls or drums. I recall a saxophone,
and someone assembled a xylophone in the middle of Main Meadow. It's
a special thing to walk through aging woods and hear the soft ring of
a xylophone drifting across the breeze.
- The Mayor of Richwood, a nearby town, reportedly visited Sunrise Kitchen
as he made his rounds through the entire gathering, meeting people and
handing out flyers touting their very inexpensive housing among other
benefits. He even got on the Musical Veggie stage and recited his own
poetry about the beauty of West Virginia. When Kevin and I later took
a drive around the area, Richwood greeted us with a big tie-dye printed
banner that said "Welcome Rainbow Gathering!"
- There's a Country Roads Cafe in nearby Hillsboro. The food is decent
and the interior crammed with some interesting stuff (but we noticed
nothing related to the song).
- We hiked for miles every day and had a blast people-watching and seeing
the beautiful Cranberry Glades setting. I finally used an awl to tighten
my Naots that were stretched at Burning Man.
- On our drive around the area, we took a little-traveled road in the
park and managed to see a bear run off the road, and a wild turkey hen
and her chick.
- Though I don't have any photographed, there was a central fire circle
every night, down off the main path that went by Information. Loud drumming
accompanied dancers, while fire performers spun poi, juggled burning
things and breathed fire. But surprisingly, I had a really hard time
finding a circle playing music one could belly dance to. I didn't search
relentlessly, but I was always on the lookout and wearing danceable
clothing. It was a little regrettable…
- Up the hill from Information was a gong and singing bowl area set
off to the right, among some tents. Two people slowly struck gongs of
various sizes and types, hung on frames to create an enclosure. Within
sat a few folks playing singing bowls or meditating. The effect was
magical, and I wish I'd had the wherewithal to have figured out how
to end up in the middle. Instead, we observed for a while and moved
- During the day the main drag was lined with seated hippies, their
blankets laid out and covered with all manner of items available for
trade. Money was not involved. We saw clothing, jewelry, rocks, toys,
hats, condoms, books, stickers, food, games, beads, batteries, art,
homemade crafts, collectibles, and on and on. Pretty much a little of
everything. We traded only for a few pieces of Afghani gypsy jewelry,
useful for belly dance and other costuming. It will accentuate the belts
and baubles of the same we bought at Brew
- Like us, Amethyst's son Brandon and his friend Josh attended their
first Rainbow and had a memorable time. Our friend John M. had taken
the week off from work and looked forward to joining Kevin and me. He
didn't arrive as scheduled, and we worried that perhaps he'd forgotten
the name of the kitchen, so we posted a note on the message board and
spent much of the week looking for him, but he never showed up. Turned
out he'd come down with bronchitis. And Luisa was also slated to appear,
but instead wound up tending her boyfriend Dylan, who was also quite
- The people we met were really awesome. Some seasoned folks habitually
called everyone brother and sister. Camps and kitchens
were regularly heard to call out "WEEE … LOOOOVE …
YOOOOOU!" to everyone within earshot. This often prompted another
group (out of sight) to yell back the same, and it would echo back and
forth for several rounds. We Love You happened sporadically
I've heard of but never really experienced being called sister
by strangers, and let me tell you it's one of the healthiest practices
I can think of. Imagine the culture we'd have if you felt comfortable
calling that guy who fixes your car brother, or the woman you
buy your groceries from sister. What if instead of watching
violence on TV, we sat around playing musical instruments and communicating?
You may say that I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one…
- Speaking of people, I haven't yet mentioned also seeing or meeting:
Jsun in his braids, Cathy in her cute outfits, Ronda oh so briefly,
Gary without his glasses, friendly Ruth and her partner, Starcatcher
and his partner (she told great stories, of S&M and politicians
and of avoiding a bust years back on the way to Rainbow), Satia carrying
food, Tony and his engaging conversation, slender Karen and her guitar-playing
partner, Robin the recovering outlaw, Robin the recovering activist
(who upon "meeting" me for the third time in two days declared
that I looked dramatically different every time), Puddleglum of the
morning Yahweh chant, Thallia from Brazil, Alan the carpenter, Ari the
Christian (engaged by the Krishna leader), Chris the game designer with
the all-inclusive game, Craig the genuine hippie dude, the couple who
own the "junk store" across from Joe's,
and numerous other names I've forgotten.
- Thanks Amethyst for lending me tops, bottoms, and jewelry!
Unlike most of the rest of the country, Rainbow didn't celebrate Independence
Day with fireworks. Instead, the day was an occasion for prayers for peace
and the healing of the earth. Rainbows were asked to observe silence all
morning. Of course, one could talk if deemed necessary, but it was done
quietly so as to not disturb others. Walking through Cranberry Glade on
the way to Main Meadow, there was lots of eye-contact with folks and many
smiles were passed, but the only voices we really heard came from Kiddie
Village (of course).
Between sunrise and noon, Rainbows gathered at Main Meadow to form a
gigantic circle. As noon approached the Kiddie Parade arrived. The circle
was made larger and larger until it pushed out to the edge of the meadow,
so that tiny people lined the woods far away, some out of sight. At noon,
hand-in-hand, everyone sounded a great OM. Finally, with cheering, the
circle broke and folks headed for the center to celebrate. There was music
and dancing, and many crates of fresh fruit were brought forth to feed
the crowd. Colorful banners flew, a stilt-walker waved his stuffed fish
around, and merriment ensued.
Given that the 4th was on a Monday this year, it made it easy for people
to go back to civilization the next day, and many did so. The word was
that somewhere around 25% of the people stay all the way to the 7th, the
official last day. We had planned to remain that long, but late in the
afternoon of the 6th we looked at each other and decided it was time to
head back to the Happy Cabin to check on the garden. We actually didn't
arrive home 'til after midnight, so it was the 7th by then. We'd had a
wonderful time, and look forward to going again. The 2006 Gathering will
be somewhere in Colorado.
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