Digitize This, by Marlene Bruce



2005 Rainbow Gathering (Cranberry Glades, WV)

July 1-6, 2005
[Skip to photos below.]

About Rainbow

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 thus:

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).

Hiking In

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? Assholes?)

  • 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 on.

  • 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 Glass.

  • 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 sick.

  • 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 all weekend.

    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!

July 4th

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.

Start the slide type presentation (click-through)...

...or select any of the following thumbnails to see more: