If your summer plans do not include schmoozing in a national forest with a bunch of dirty hippies, then your summer is not complete, because you know that’s where we’re going! Woodstock didn’t simply begin and end in the summer of 1969. It spawned a generation of people disenchanted by modern society and created the Rainbow Family of Living Light. I know it sounds like nothing more than woo-woo New Age crap, so bear with me. This might pique your interest (if not, nothing gained, nothing lost).
Every year, since 1972, thousands of people come together and basically party in the woods for a month. Rainbow Gatherings take place in a different national forest every year, as chosen by a Spring Council every mid-June. Once the site is picked, setup begins. The Council consists of anyone who wants to participate and for the most part – with the exception of the Montana site – no national forest is picked twice.
At first, these gatherings seem like an excuse for a few thousand homeless hippies to come together and recklessly do whatever the hell they want in the woods. While it is a celebration, these hippies are far more conscious than often given credit for. Marijuana is prevalent, of course. Hard drugs are present, but not common. Alcohol is frowned upon, but not explicitly forbidden. The alcoholics are allowed their own area, “A-Camp”, away from the main gathering, so as to reduce violent confrontations.
And while it might sound hypocritical for a bunch of supposedly environmentally-minded people to go tramping about and destroying forest land for a month, I can tell you from experience that these people really are extremely conscious of their impact. All the shelters are made of material found in the woods and by the end of celebrations on July 5th, clean-up begins immediately. The clean-up crews are almost bizarrely meticulous. They scour the landscape in search of the smallest scraps of debris that do not belong. Of course, they cannot find every single scrap and there have been accounts of leftovers being found later. But once the Family vacates the premises, the forest looks no worse for wear.
I could go on and on and on about Rainbow Gatherings. But I’m going to conclude this with the following:
Rainbow Gatherings get a lot of bad publicity for the unethical stuff done by a minority of the folks who attend. Every clutch has their bad eggs and unfortunately, bad news spreads like wildfire, while good news travels slow. As a raging introvert raised in suburbia, I’ve felt more comfortable around these crazy hippy-dippy folks than I’ve ever felt in my life. If you’re free anytime from mid-June to July 4th, I suggest you drop by – even for just a day. The 2014 Gathering is taking place in Uinta National Forest (you can find directions here). Maybe you’ll see us there.
[Edit: And when we get back, I promise to write more in detail about the Rainbow experience.]
If you want a pretty good idea of what a Gathering looks like, go to this “rainbowgathering” tag on Flickriver. Awesome images.