All those things - text by Bobby Daglio
Welcome home. It was emblazoned on bed sheets and canvas, propped up on sticks and hung from tree branches. Welcome Home. Welcome back into the fold of the loving arms that you’ve been missing all this time. While the cold world punched and prodded you into submission and left you out to dry in the baking sun, we’ve been here. We’ve been waiting for you. We’ve been missing you.
Max had driven fourteen hours already, in a long shot, from Tennessee when he reached my Brooklyn doorstep. Reto, ready with camera, greeted me from the front seat as I threw my pack into the trunk. It was four hours to Vermont, and the skies were looking mean. This was our first Gathering. We knew no one, and had spent the two weeks prior to the trip researching websites and scouring message boards for any information. In the search Max and Reto came across two Park Slopers who needed a ride to the Gathering themselves. Stevie had been to Rainbows since the early 90s, while her partner Dustin was a novice like us. They were both frail and anxious people, prone to bouts of undercutting each other on our way up north. Dustin was worried that the rain would start heavy, and that they wouldn’t make their desired camp because of a physical ailment he supposedly had. He didn’t stop talking about the rain until he dozed off somewhere around Albany. There I read the Tao Te Ching from the third row of seats, squished between window and backpacks, and prayed for rain. Heaven and earth are impartial.
We reached Mt. Tabor and, following a winding road to the main entrance, pulled the car into the unloading area. A sinewy, bare chested hippie named Jack barked at us to hurry up and keep the lines moving. Friday was the busiest day of Rainbow and the cars just kept coming. I waited behind with our gear, while Reto and Max parked along the forest road. The sky grew dark. Stevie and Dustin shuffled off with mountains of bags on their tiny bodies. A few older people scattered the unloading area, hitchhikers jumped off truck beds and onto the hallowed grounds while I waited for the guys. People came here from everywhere. The car I was propped up against was from Alaska, while Montana, Virginia, and Utah passed on the road. A couple from Massachusetts came and sat with me for a while – they were from outside of Boston, in Worcester. Jim and Kim were regulars at the Lovin’Ovens, and went to Gatherings in the North East as they could. We shared a smoke and a few stories about Jim’s old friend from when he was a teenager. A friend that got him into the Gatherings and was always starting trouble, disrupting the government, rousing the establishment. Soon, Jim spotted that friend walking through the area – A man, now, with long grey beard and fishing vest with a wild Anarchy symbol spray painted on the back in dripping red. He had a bullhorn and giant toothbrush. Jim introduced me to Vermin Supreme, who spoke directly and soft as he welcomed me to the Gathering. Welcome Home. Vermin, Jim and Kim said their goodbyes and moved off to the trail as Max and Reto returned. We loaded our gear and followed the path into Rainbow territory. The rain beat down on the lean-to we had built moments before. After trudging through muck and mud, on the hilly side of Mt. Tabor and The Green Mountains of Vermont, we made camp. Surrounded by howling hippies and crust-punks, old-establishment disruptors, the religious, the spiritual, the uninitiated, the travelers – these were The Rainbow Warriors: a prophesied group of thousands come to bring the human race into a time of unity and prosperity. Their annual gathering was meant to show that we could live together, peacefully and without monetary exchange. Camps were set along the muddy incline of the mountain, each with their own kitchen – offering free baked goods, vegan nosh, or coffee – and all with water piped in and filtered from a naturally occurring spring. People chatted, hugged – the words loving-you were a greeting. Yet, for all the light and love that was said to be here, a haze of distrust lingered; a wariness of anything that smacked of Babylon, as they called the everyday world.
“They slipped me a mickey, “ Mike said. He was a sallow faced man with dark bags under his eyes we had met our second day at The Gathering. “I woke up surrounded by fourteen of ‘em, agents.” I couldn’t tell if he was putting us on, though his voice seemed sincere. He spoke clearly and nearly never broke eye contact. Still, his thoughts were jumbled and misaligned, talking in circles trying to convey some wrongdoing. This kind of conspiracy is right at home here. Having been a reaction to the U.S. invasion of
Cambodia and the shootings at Kent St. during the height of the 70’s radical youth movement. Mike looked beat and timid, though his frame belied something else. He was eager to help, and bring us into the fold in anyway he could, telling us of the kitchens he was working in and the activities the night would bring. We had started walking back to the Main Meadow when he yelled about sushi happening in the Purple Gang camp tonight, and that we should come by. We nodded a bit and waved, turning back to our course. That night we made chicken with onions and peppers on a skillet at camp. We drank coffee and smoked cigarettes to the sound of drums beating in the woods. Charlie, a hulking hippie with grey beard and turquoise jewelry had come upon us on our third day at Rainbow. He ambled down the incline to our camp with Jelly Roll, his shaggy dog, behind. Charlie sat around our morning fire as we all smoked and talked about what brought us here. We learned he had traveled from his home near LA, and planned to drive back, making stops along the way to other gatherings and to see family. Charlie had traveled the US more times than he could tell us. He journeyed by motorcycle from Ohio to Arizona, then to Utah, where he stopped along the way at the Hoover Dam to tow a Harley to safety with his Honda, switched bikes and on to Southern Florida. He was a very spiritual man, in tune with his God. He likened the relationship to an electric guitar string: he coiled around the inner chord of Him, and when plucked, resonating together to make music. That music sprang from his mouth and his eyes. He was Holy. He was Joy. Charlie was a prophet that spread his message everywhere he went, and it was good.
Whole families, toddlers and infants and kids of all sizes were there. Walking barefoot through the mud and jumping in puddles, laughing. I laughed and smiled to see them eating it up, but it worried me too. Were they safe and taken care of? What dangers hid in the confines of this community? Soon we found out the dangers were real. Max watched as a man was expelled from the grounds for allegedly molesting children in what they called Kid Village. Magic Bowl Bob had run a camp and kitchen for years at Rainbow, who knows how many were victim to his advances. There was somberness to the rest of the day. Quiet.
At night everything became more alive. People everywhere, chanting and screaming – calling out their afflictions and loves. Drums. Drums drums drums forever. Mist settled in the valley over the tops of tents and teepees, blanketing everything in cottony fog. In the meadow the fire raged and the circle around it looked to be in the hundreds. All waving hands and up turned heads and breasts and dicks and mouths. The flames erupting from the center, as the drums pounded rhythmically, sent frenzy through the crowd. Faces peeked through the darkness, cast in orange light – there was Quay, from Santa Cruz, who we met emerging from the woods near Faerie Camp, and the two bike riders who had jumped freight trains together to arrive at Rainbow. Some say Bill Murray was in attendance, but I couldn’t make him out.
Celebrity didn’t matter at Rainbow. Who you were outside the Gathering didn’t matter. We were all in that space together, with each other, and that’s what was important. Max pushed a literal ton of Ice Cream to the farthest part of the trail– Kid Village – only to come back down with little else than fuller karma. During the days, the light leaked through the trees around our campsite, and faces would pass on the path. Occasionally they’d spy us down the incline and wave. Some even wandered over and stayed for a smoke, or just to chat, but not for long. It was pollination – drop some of yourself at each campsite and pick something up to take with you – an organic dissemination. Whether they’re ideas or kind words, a scarf or a little weed, we all gave each other gifts. We were all there to interact and connect.
It was a blessing to stumble into the Gathering. Out in the middle of Vermont with little else than tarps and a tent - escaping our routines for even a moment to explore a new world; a different culture of living. This was our welcome home. You forget about other people when you’re constantly on top of them. The city has a way of putting blinders on and narrowing your scope of view. I needed to shake that off, and get my peripheral vision back. The sage has no mind of his own. He is aware of the needs of others. “It’s not a movement, a cult, or a religion.” Mike went on to say about the Gathering. “And yet, it’s all those things.”
Those were the most-true words Mike had given us. Rainbow isn’t just one thing. There is no label for it. It’s not a home, a haven, a retreat, a religion, a movement, a party, an acceptance – but, it’s a community, a place where people searching for those can come and maybe find them to bring back into their lives.
We were stuck in the miserable traffic of the West Side Highway on July Fourth, the stink and humidity of the city boiling our brains. A storm came through that night soaking out our plans to watch the fireworks from a rooftop in Queens. We were still together, pizza and beers on hand, as the neighbors shot off bottle rockets just outside the window. None of us could put into words what the last four days had held, but they weren’t needed. As I was leaving Reto’s apartment, he gave me an umbrella. I walked the three blocks to the train, safe from the downpour. Walking up the steps to the platform, a woman and her small child caught my eye. They were wet and waiting out the rain. It was late. Things come and go. I owe you an umbrella, Reto.