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Rainbow Gathering 2011
5 years ago
| Surprise Me

I have attended many Gatherings in the past..unfortunately am unable to attend this year's event


Thousands flock to Rainbow Family Gathering
People arrive at the site of the Rainbow Family Gathering in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest on Friday.

People arrive at the site of the Rainbow Family Gathering in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest on Friday.


After negotiating miles of serpentine roads through these remote woods, participants in the annual Rainbow Family Gathering were rewarded with a simple, unique greeting at their long-sought campgrounds Friday morning.

“Welcome home,” the glowing strangers said.


To the world, the thousands who gathered in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest in Skamania County for the first day of the national Rainbow Family Gathering event were homeless misfits, delusional dreamers and dirt-covered hippies. Inside these all-inclusive grounds where the outside world mattered little, they were brothers and sisters, one and all.


Since 1972, the Rainbow Family has held events in national forests across America during July. The nonprofit group is unique in that it has no official leaders or members. This year’s event in Washington runs until Thursday.

Attendees said the event is an opportunity to leave behind their daily grind, pray for world peace and bask in nature’s beauty. The gathering included outdoor enthusiasts, counterculture activists and spiritual seekers from across the continental United States and Canada.


“This is like paradise for me,” remarked Gabe Hampton, a 32-year-old from Ocean Beach, Calif. “People are just doing things out of love.”

Participants danced, sang and took nude mud baths inside the swampy Skookum Meadows area. After parking their vehicles, attendees walked as far as four miles with their personal belongings before reaching the main campgrounds.


Officials with Gifford Pinchot National Forest said they expected more than 10,000 people to attend the gathering.

Underneath a canopy of magnificently tall trees, Hampton and his girlfriend, Rose LaChance, sat around a midday campfire surrounded by friends new and old, listening to acoustic guitars and smoking hand-rolled cigarettes. Most of the 40 or so people in their “O.B. Grateful” section hailed from Ocean Beach or San Diego.


They had plenty of food, several bands’ worth of musicians and the joy of friendship. The cares of the outside world could wait.


LaChance marveled at the selflessness exhibited by her fellow Rainbow Family attendees. She and Hampton had been on the campgrounds for seven days, well before the gathering officially began.

“A lot of people don’t work much in real life, but out here they’re digging and hauling wood,” said the 38-year-old caretaker from California. “They get a new sense of self.”


Campers dug trenches for bathroom facilities. The trenches will be covered in dirt when they fill with waste. LaChance and others noted they believe the Rainbow Family will leave the campgrounds cleaner than they found it.

Everyone gets “more courteous” when they realize how much they need those around them to survive in the woods, she added.

Not that affection or respect were lacking on the campgrounds.

Harmony Cohen-Wolff, 40, of San Diego, greeted LaChance with the enthusiastic embrace of reunited friends long ago separated. Cohen-Wolff, a holistic health practitioner, came to Washington looking to free herself of modern life’s trappings, namely technology.


“Even though those things create advancements, they also create separation from the Earth,” she said. “There is so much sadness, war and darkness on this planet. We’re able to raise the frequency and heal some things on the planet.”

Participants barter with each other for goods. Cigarettes are a hot commodity. So is food. Most dishes are vegetarian.

Jeff Sanchez, 25, hitchhiked from Florida over the past month and a half before arriving at the Rainbow Family event. Clad in a hat, scarf and overalls, he declared, “This is like my church.”


“You can take so many ideas from so many people,” he said, noting that he had floated from kitchen to kitchen and camp to camp.

He disagreed with outside perceptions that the festival is merely an excuse to get high in the woods.

Illegal drugs are available on the camp site, Rainbow Family gatherers said. But attendees cautioned that drugs, other than marijuana, play a small role in the gathering. Some use psychedelics in hopes of attaining a higher plain of consciousness. Cocaine, heroin and alcohol are mostly shunned on the grounds, attendees said.

There were rumors that federal marshals would sweep the area. Groups alerted each other by shouting “guns in the woods” or “six up,” denoting the number of lights on a police unit.

“We live our lives and work and this and that,” the 32-year-old cook said. “Here we can be at home and be comfortable.”


5 years ago

Across a improvised path coated in clumpy mud existed a series of teepees known as Teepee Circle.


Dressed in a Che Guevara T-shirt, Josue Holguin sat in front of one of these triangular structures making twisted balloon animals for children at the site. The Montreal, Canada, resident wore an orange octopus balloon like a crown.

“We live our lives and work and this and that,” the 32-year-old cook said. “Here we can be at home and be comfortable.”


Less than 100 yards away, Alicia Betkey, 18, relaxed in the nearby “Washington Represent” camp. The Tracy, Calif., resident had previously attended four regional Rainbow Family events, but this is her first national one.

What attracted her to the event was the culture of love promoted within the camps.


“Everybody is accepted,” said Betkey, who had red hair and wore a bikini top. “Everybody is loved. Nobody is judged.”

5 years ago



The Rainbow Family of Living Light, sometimes known as the "Rainbow Tribe", is an international loose affiliation of individuals who have a common goal of trying to achieve peace and love on Earth. Those who participate in, or sympathize with, the activities of this movement sometimes refer to the circle simply as the "Family". The words: Rainbow Family in the longer title are a reference to the families inclusiveness of all colors, classes, races and creeds.

Rainbow Family of the Living LightThe use of the phrase: Living Light in the longer title is a reference to "living lightly", or living with little mass or impact on the environment. Here's another daffy-nition: A rainbow gathering is called "rainbow" because it takes the full spectrum of hue-manity to make it happen; it literally 'takes all kinds' ... IOW, many hands make light work. :^) -or- Ya' know (the Rainbow) "it's made up of light". Living Light that is.


Some rainbow family participants make the claim that the family is the "largest non-organization of non-members in the world". In addition to referring to itself as a non-organization, the Rainbow Family of Living Light's "non-members" also playfully call the movement a "disorganization".


There are no official leaders, no formal structure, no official spokespersons, and no membership. Instead, the Rainbow Family forms community through passivly shared "traditions" of love for the Earth and gatherings to pray for peace. Most gatherings are loosely maintained by open, free form counsels consisting of any "non-member" who wishes to be part of a counsel. There is no formal organization or leadership. It is felt by many to be contrary to the spirit of the gatherings.

It is said that any one with a belly button may consider themselves part of the rainbow family, and that even a belly button is not really needed. We are welcome home as one family.


5 years ago

What is a Rainbow Gathering?


5 years ago

Thank you David. What a wonderful gathering of beautiful people. God bless them.

Rainbow Gathering
5 years ago

Reading your post and seeing the pictures of this event takes me back about forty-five years. It's good to be free to be yourself. Old hippies never die, our beards just turn white.

5 years ago


5 years ago

Inside the rainbow: Love, mud and smoke welcome members home

It’s unnerving the first time you hear it: A stranger smiles big and says, "Welcome home. I love you."

It’s a kind sentiment, to be sure. But then you realize you’re expected to say it in return. And, well, telling strangers you love them doesn’t come easy for the uninitiated.


Dozens of people greeted me, my wife, Shawna, and Daily News photographer Bill Wagner this way as we hiked into the Gifford Pinchot National Forest Wednesday to camp with the Rainbow Family of Living Light.

The family welcomes everyone to one of America’s national forests each year to eat, dance, sing and pray.


"Welcome home," they tell each other as they settle in for this time of simply being together.

"Lovin’ you!" they call out in camp, again with the big smiles. Very few use their true or full names.


The event officially begins Friday and climaxes Monday when attendees will meditate and pray for peace in Skookum Meadow. As many as 20,000 are expected to camp here before the event officially ends next Thursday.

It’s impossible to say how many had already arrived at the meadow Wednesday. One Rainbow elder put the number at between 5,000 and 7,000.

Calling this a camp-out for hippies doesn’t quite do it justice. Think of it as how the survivors of a societal meltdown — fuel supply collapse, apocalyptic economic crash, nuclear attack — might give civilization one last shot.


Cars from just about every state line the forest road for miles. It’s a two-mile hike to the main camp, where trees give way to an open meadow speckled with tents and teepees. More tents are tucked among the evergreens, near thick and wet snowdrifts. Smoke rises in plumes from cooking fires. Branches and carefully cut logs serve as foot bridges across a clear mountain stream that snakes through the camp.


There is no money here. People cook fresh vegetables, stew, oatmeal and rice in giant, dented pots over roaring fires. The masses wander along muddy trails with cups, bowls and spoons, lining up to eat for free.


Others pass glass marijuana pipes and joints, the skunky smell blowing over the camps.

Many barter. As I strolled into camp, a woman offered me chocolate for pot.

There’s a different feel in each part of the gathering. In the western meadow, the older traditional hippie-types and professionals with kids have set up camp. To the east, just beyond a grove of trees, are the "Dirty Kids" and "gutter punks" — the young and homeless, who wear mostly black. Some have tattooed faces and pierced cheeks. The mood here is aggressive, loud and brash.

Dogs, mostly puppies, run everywhere. They occasionally growl and lunge at each other.


Every adult is his or her own show: dreadlocked, barefoot, bearded, long-haired, sunken-cheeked, wild-eyed, leather-clad, haunted and staring, joyous and grinning — all happy refugees from the normal world.

A young woman dances through camp naked. Two guys gyrate at the roadside while they sing a punk-rock song in Spanish. A couple stop for a lengthy make-out session in the middle of a busy trail. A group of kids stand in a circle, palms hovering over each other’s palms to pray. "Love is true!" a man says over and over.


It all feels primitive, tribal and at least slightly off-kilter.

We chose to make camp with the street kids. We pitched two tents — unknown to us at the time — about 30 feet from latrines, which are shallow trenches cut into the soil. A few wet, brown-stained clumps of toilet paper had been tossed into the dirt not far from our tent.


Down the hill, young men set up a kitchen named "Shut Up and Eat It." They tore into logs with chain saws and hustled the wood to their fire pits.


The old hippie tribes began congregating for these gatherings 39 years ago with a message of peace and love. But these days the event also attracts a different counterculture group, known amongst the Rainbows as "Dirty Kids." Most are homeless and wander from city to city, some hopping freight trains.

"They don’t do well in town," said Karin Zirk, a 50-year-old database administrator and graduate student from of San Diego who has been coming to Rainbow gatherings for decades.


5 years ago

But here in the woods, Zirk said, these street kids are "equal members of the community and the world, and what they have to offer is valued."

"A lot of them would say, ‘This is home. This is the only time I feel like I have a home,’ " she said.


Maybe that’s why some of the toughest-looking kids — the ones who you feel glaring at you from across a meadow, smile when you meet their eyes. "Welcome home," they say.

Justin Heckman, 39, dug a pit to dispose of dishwater at the "Montana Mud" kitchen — one of the Dirty Kids’ camps just down the hill from our tents.

He said he comes to these gatherings partly because people here share his outlook on the world: They "stand for the rights of the earth." They disdain government "control" of the public and are "anti-technology."

Heckman, of Arizona, said his parents kicked him out when he was 14, so he started hitchhiking and became, for a time, "a gutter punk with piercings in my face."


"You’re young. You don’t know where you’re going. You’re trying to heal from something — for me it was anger," Heckman said.


Coming to the gatherings is "spiritual in a sense," he said. "It’s the only thing that gives you pride sometimes."

Hazel, a 19-year-old who was hanging out in the "Montana Mud" camp, said that last year she hitchhiked and rode freight trains through 38 states, including in Pennsylvania, where she attended her first Rainbow Gathering.

"It opened my eyes to community and a whole different way of living," Hazel said as she slurped from a bowl of Ramen. "I feel at home here. It’s bliss."


Along the trail, I ran into Brittney, 21, who traveled here with her mom from Oklahoma. She was helping run the Bread of Life kitchen, a Christian camp. The camp, she said, has been helping the most troubled street kids — people surrounded by "dark, evil spirits."


"They call it the light in the darkness," Brittney’s friend Madeline, 15, said of the Bread of Life camp.

"Last night we met this guy — he’s been a street kid since he was born," Brittney said. "You could tell darkness just overwhelmed him." But, she said, he started helping in the kitchen, and she hopes he’ll learn more about her faith.

After the gathering, Brittney said, she and her mother plan to hitchhike around the U.S., "staying in shelters and witnessing to kids."


Across the main meadow, Monica, 25, walked along a path with her 18-month-old daughter, Abigail. She said they took the bus here from San Jose because it’s "a place that’s free and loving — where my daughter can run around and I don’t have to worry about her."


"It’s really good for kids to be in this kind of environment," said Monica, who studied child development at a Cupertino, Calif., college and attended a bible college in Scotland before her daughter was born.

She worked her bare toes through the mud as she spoke.

Monica’s new friend, Lee, also has a son, Tobias, 9, who was playing in a family friendly and drug-free camp on the other side of the meadow called "Kid Village."

"It’s the best thing going on in the world," Lee said of the gatherings.

"Everything seems really chaotic in the world as far as how we treat each other. I feel we’ve lost our connection with each other. This is like a breath of fresh air."

Just after 3 p.m., we gathered in a circle with about a dozen Rainbow members and two Forest Service officials to work out a written agreement for using Skookum Meadow and the surrounding area. These sorts of gatherings usually require a permit, but Rainbows insist that they are exercising their First Amendment right of free assembly on public land and that no permit is required. This "operating plan" — like others at past gatherings — will serve as a compromise.

A Rainbow elder named Gary offered the group coffee from a steaming cauldron and, with a laugh, assured the Forest Service officials it contained no LSD. Since the Rainbow Family has no governing body, anyone is invited to these meetings and all decisions are reached by consensus. Speakers hold a feather, signalling they have the floor. Nobody had a feather during this meeting, so Janine Clayton, the supervisor of the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, removed a bright-pink ribbon — the kind used to flag trees — and tied it in a bow.


The agreement seemed to cover all aspects of the event, from cleanup to how medical tent volunteers would dispose of "biohazards" to where Rainbows would be allowed to engage in "public nudity."


5 years ago

Clayton told me there haven’t been any major problems at the gathering so far. The most significant incident as of Wednesday afternoon involved the arrest of a man on a felony warrant. He was carrying a concealed weapon, she said.

From an environmental perspective, Clayton said, she’s worried about all of the loose dogs that have been racing up and down the stream’s banks. The dogs are stirring up sediment, which will harm spawning fish.


"The stream is noticeably cloudier today than it was a day ago," she said. "That’s a biggie."


In the evening, we volunteered to help cook dinner at Camp Eugene, which is in the main meadow. We chopped organic kale for a vegetable dish. Bill, our photographer, hauled food and luggage down the hill from a supply drop point.

"It’s indescribable — the feeling of community, of being part of the human community here," said Riverstone, 39, who is helping run Camp Eugene. "There’s no money. When you take away that aspect, it takes a way a lot of the things that are dysfunctional with our society. Everyone can find their place — at least for a short time.


Riverstone, a Eugene horseshoer, had brought his four children to the gathering. "This is the greatest schoolroom they can experience," he said.

Around 10 p.m., we climbed into our tents. A huge congregation of street kids gathered around a bon fire where giant logs had been set alight. The kids danced and hollered to the ceaseless pounding of drums. A dreadlocked guy played a flute.


This pounding, punctuated by a regular, screamed battle cry from the group, continued through the night. The kids had found their noisy home in the forest — and no one would dare tell them to keep it down.

5 years ago

I used to do some "Rainbow Festivals"in the 90's. while I always appreciated the spirit and found that 90% of the people were awesome. had intellectual, emotional, physical gifts to share with everyone, there was always 10% that were the same leaches on society that there are in every other aspect of society.  


I could never quite reconcile the "ideals" with the "practice", though i will always and continue to give high props to those that participate in the spirit and intent of the gatherings. They are truly wonderful people.

5 years ago

What a refreshing read those articles are, David ... Thank you

5 years ago

I think Zhapod attended this here event.  Sounded like fun!

5 years ago

Love these...







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