It all began at the Tryon Life Community farm on the west side of Portland, Oregon. We had all gathered there for a day of sharing sacred songs around a fire, a day long facilitated work/play shop, part of the Village Building Convergence. Just before lunch a small group of about 20 people met out in the garden away from the main workshop area. They were meeting to discuss plans and preparation to create a free kitchen at this year’s Annual Rainbow Family Gathering, which was to be held in the Cascades mountain range. I couldn’t help but feel drawn to join this meeting as I had never been to a Rainbow Gathering before.
We sat down in a circle and introduced ourselves, before diving into the theme of the kitchen, which was to be that of healing, nourishment, and medicine. After a while of popcorn discussion, the vision coalesced with a name for the kitchen, Medicine Warriors and a specific intent to serve as much organic, cooked and raw vegan food as possible, as well as medicinal teas to nourish and support each other in the wilderness for the duration of the Gathering. Many different spokes we generated, such as, water crew, tool crew, food crew, transportation crew, infrustructure/early crew, fundraising crew, etc… We walked away from the meeting with each others contact info, a google group page, and responsibilities to undertake. We knew what had to be done and we were ready to co-create the Medicine Warriors kitchen for the 39th Annual Rainbow Gathering.
Back in Olympia, I quickly got to work contacting as many people I knew who had vehicles that may be interested in helping us transport a lot of equipment to the Gathering. A close friend with a van manifested and volunteered to be a driver. We acquired the necessary kitchen equipment and sent it on down to the Gifford Pinchot National Forest, directly in between Mount. St. Helens and Mount Adams, a large, beautiful site called Skookum Meadow. While the crew began to set things up in the forest, I departed for the Fairy Congress festival in the Northern Cascades where I would soon meet the tribe I would be traveling with South to the Gathering. I squeezed into a large but tightly packed van full of hippies and drove on down through the Cascades, stopping only for kitchen food donations, restroom breaks, and fuel and for the van and our bellies.
We arrived at the main trail of the Gathering late on a cold and rainy night, greeted by many Rainbow nomads camping out along the road, “welcome home!”. We quickly unloaded all of the food for the kitchen into a big pile along side the road, placing a tarp over it and someone in charge of watching it while we meandered through the muddy Gathering in in the dark, guided by our little headlamps. in search of our kitchen crew who had already gotten there a week earlier to set up. By the time we got to the kitchen, we were so confused about how to get back to the road and ready to sleep that we ended up leaving our friend at the main entrance to camp underneath the tarp with all the food for the night. In the morning we went back up the hill and transported the rest of the gear in to start setting up, and serving righteously nourishing meals. Once established, a lot of our energy was focused on getting clean water to our side of the Gathering, since the nearest piped and filtered spring water was all the way on the other side of the main meadow, which I’m guessing was nearly half a mile wide. I got to connect with some really key people who have been working hard at the Rainbow Gathering for decades now, taking on the responsibility of getting clean water to kitchens near and far. Myself and a couple other kitchen members worked on manifesting the right amount of coiled pipe to connect to the main line way across the gathering. Once the pipe was present, we meandered it through the forest, buried it under trails, and hung it across a stream, along a tight rope, fastening it to a filter that led into our 275 gallon water buffalo catchment tank that we hiked in down the muddy hill with four people. All of this work was done purely out of our hearts. We focused our energy to hydrate thousands of people a day. When it came down to it, we had to take the initiative in order to really make it happen for the Family. Hundreds of pounds of food and kitchen equipment were hiked in serve food round the clock. I am amazed at the amount of people who were fed and hydrated without charge.
The Rainbow Gathering is a village in the forest that does not utilize money during the duration of the Gathering. Everything is either gifted or traded. It is an interesting example of how communities can support each other. One aspect that I would like to speak about is that of the environmental impacts of the Gathering. Every year, there is one large Gathering that occurs surrounding the week of the 4th of July. At least tens of thousands of people travel from all over the country and all around the world to be there. That consists of utilizing a substantial amount of fossil fuel energy to travel from where ever they may be coming from, be it within the State or not.
And of course there are a significant amount of kitchens who do not purchase local, organic food, hence the carbon foot print is increased. If people truly believe that the Rainbow Family Gathering is totally “sustainable” or ecologically conscious, then they are mistaken. For the energy needed to get us and our gear into the Gathering is of a significant amount. I feel that a dichotomy is quire apparent at the Gathering. There are those who come for their first time, thinking that it is going to be like some kind of music festival, where one can openly use drugs and alcohol. There are many who are not aware of the life around them, they do not respect the natural ecosystems of the forest. To them, it’s just another city of people and tents for a week.
What of the Aina, this land, the vast family of plants and animals, big and small? Do we tread on or walk among them? This step, this footprint, this offering… They are holding space, holding presence, holding awareness. How do they feel about this massive congregation of humans invading their home? How do the plants feel about the significant widening of trails? How do the young trees feel about being cut down for fire wood? How do the birds and all the other creatures feel about being displaced? I believe Earth is a benevolent force, but I still wonder how it feels about such things as the Rainbow Gathering… I feel that during the Gathering the land does not receive the respect and care necessary our extreme presence in the forest.
Yet, why do we gather? What is the vision… the purpose? To heal… escape… release? Who are these so called “Rainbow Warriors”? If you ask me, I feel that it is the focalizers, the healers, the cooks, the setup crew, the cleanup crew, the people working hard to make sure everything flows, working to share the love in their hearts. But of course, there is always duality, those who come to consciously pray, and those who come to unconsciously play, those who gather to give, and those who gather to receive. The heart of the Rainbow Family is one of peace, love, and gratitude for life. A family with intentions to heal each other and the patterns of living that have become so destructive in our society. We share our medicine, whether it be the food we painfully hiked in on our backs, the water that we tediously laid piping for up a mountain, our music and divine expression, maybe a blanket when it is cold, or a pair of clean socks, a seat next to a warm fire on a moist and chilly night.
Plugging in with a kitchen at the Gathering was a profound experience of selfless service of love. We must have fed over a thousand people a day for about two weeks straight. Although, we could not have done such a thing without the gracious help of volunteers, who came to serve. It didn’t really matter what needed to be done, if it was lunch prep, chopping veggies, searching for and cutting fire wood, tending the fire while we cooked, cleaning up around the kitchen, making bridges across streams with dead logs, constructing a sweat lodge for our brothers and sisters who had been working all day for the kitchen, building kitchen counter tops out of small logs from around the site, digging deep trenches for toilets, offering workshops on yoga and meditation, it was all done with out question and with great enthusiasm and joy. Even during challenging times, volunteers held strong to the vision of embodying service and community.
I am humbled by my experience at the Rainbow Gathering. It truly is not called the Rainbow Gathering for nothing, for all colors of the rainbow are present, all types of people with different intentions, all types of things to experiences. A space held for freedom. No bosses, no police, no one telling anyone what to do, and how to be. At the end of the Gathering many stay for at least another month or so, cleaning up the site. Picking up every single little piece of micro trash, shoe, tent, dog, cloth, food, tool, etc… There is nothing left behind when I site is departed. Even the trails and compacted places are aerated and covered with forest litter. Plants and trees are planted, fire pits are filled in. The top soil begins to regrow, and sprout new life. Signs of maybe 30,000 people camping in the forest are no where to be seen. Nature takes over, the animals return to their homes, along with all the traveling people who’ve come so far away. Until next year…