My husband, step-son, and I just returned home from the rainbow gathering in the Big Hole Valley area of south western Montana. It was my 4th gathering, my husband’s 5th, and my son’s 2nd, although our last one was 6-7 years ago. I wrote most everyday while we were gone and thought I’d share our adventure (this will be a 4 part series).
If you aren’t familiar with what the rainbow gathering is I will attempt an explanation – so, the gathering, as it is often referred to, is a national assembly of folks that happens on national forest land in a different state every year during the first week of July with the pinnacle being a circle of peace on the 4th of July. This year attracted around 9,700 people, which was dramatically lower compared to the last Montana gathering in 2000 which had 18,000 people estimated in attendance.
The gathering is a time to come together in community in a non-judgemental atmosphere of peace and unity. In the rainbow world everyone is family and we often address one another as brother and sister. The phrase, “Welcome home,” is used a lot as people roll into the gathering. While the gathering is officially July 1-7th every year folks start arriving 2-3 weeks ahead of time to set up kitchens and camps in the woods and stick around 2-3 weeks afterwards to clean up the site. Since we are living off the land it is very important and highly stressed that we leave the site cleaner then we left it and pack everything out with us. Taking care of the earth and our surroundings is a top priority at the gatherings.
Money – There is no exchange of money at the gatherings. It’s free to attend, free to eat, free to park, and free to reside there. Donations are appreciated to help keep the kitchens going but they are not required.
Lodging – Folks bring tents, tipis, tarps, campers, buses, and use a host of other creative materials to set up camp. You can park in bus village and stay there or hike your gear in and set up shop at one of many set up camps or go off and make your own spot. Anything goes in the rainbow world and there is everything from hammocks to camp cots to plush elaborate tipis to tree houses to canopies to a sleeping bag on the ground. It’s pretty amazing what is created in the woods and what gets packed in.
Food – It’s good to bring some with you but there is plenty on hand and it’s all offered for free. Kitchens get set up that feed the masses and are equipped with a variety of services, depending on the kitchen, such as, water supply, dish washing and hand washing stations, filtered water for drinking, hand made earth ovens, stove set ups, compost and gray water pits, and pit trenches for latrines. Different kitchens serve at different times and some specialize in serving just pancakes or just coffee or chai or tea or just wild game meat and some serve big meals 2-3 times a day like Kid Village. Once a day in the evening around 6:00pm you can go to main circle in the meadow (all of the sites chosen have a main meadow) for dinner. Hundreds of folks attend main circle where announcements are made, gratitudes are given, and kitchens cart in and serve food.
Water – It’s also good to bring some drinking water with you and store some in the car just in case. Filtered water can sometimes be hard to come by depending on the location. Each site is chosen with access to natural water in mind so hoses are set up to run from creeks and rivers to certain kitchens and public use access spots. If drinking water is not readily available the creek or river water can either be boiled for a few minutes or ran through a filter.
Latrines – The rainbow word for latrines in the woods is shitter so when you’re wondering around looking for a place to relieve yourself you’ll look for signs with the word shitter on them to know you’re heading the right way. Pit trenches are dug and usually each spot will also have a bucket of ash or lyme to cover over the waste and toilet paper. Sometimes there’s toilet paper provided but it’s better to have some on hand just in case. This is usually one of the “scariest” elements to the gatherings especially for new folks attending. Some latrines are covered with tarps for privacy but a great number of them are simply out in the open, which can make you feel like you’re on display.
Trade Circle – Everyday there is a trade circle as part of the gathering where folks can set up whatever they have for trade. No money is exchanged here – it’s goods for goods. There is a wide variety of things offered here from candy (called zu zu’s in rainbow language) to rocks to batteries to jewelry to toiletry items to clothing to toys and trinkets. You can go and peruse the trade circle or go and set up your wares. As with any and all things some people really dig the trade circle while others feel it is not in the spirit of rainbow at all.
Written on June 30th, 2013:
At 8:00am my alarm sounded and I took to making breakfast, watering the vegetable garden, and collecting eggs from the chicken coop before setting out to become a rainbow amongst many in the woods. After some directional confusion and the important discovery that the road we were looking for was no longer marked with a sign we wove our way around green cattle fields on dry, dusty dirt roads until we came at last to Welcome Home!
With packs laden with food, clothes, sleeping bags, tents, tarps, rope, books, duct tape, head lamps, bowls, toilet paper, sunscreen, a frisbee, meditation bell, and barter goods for the trade circle like Montana agate and brand new Maggie’s organic cotton socks (left over stock from the eco store I had up and running downtown for a year) we took to the main trail to find a spot to set up camp and call home for the next four nights.
The day could not have tasted sweeter – shining blue skies, warm golden sun, and fresh greens were thick and fragrant. After handicamp (handicap camp), Mudder Earth and Chai Bahai (which our friends Harold and Wind run) we passed through the main meadow, trade circle, and then into the trees past Nic at Nite, and Mudd & Butts and found a place offering shade and some respite from the malay. It’s now 11:02pm and the woods are clothed in darkness. Drums, voices, barking dogs, and the occasional traveling minstrel can be heard bending through the onset of night as some, like us, attempt to sleep while still others have only just awoken to celebrate the joyous coming together of family.