End of the Rainbow 

Gathering walks line between order, chaos

The Rainbow Family of Living Light officially ended its week-long national gathering July 7, and the crowds have cleared the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest so that cleanup and rehabilitation of the site can begin. But the effects of the event—both positive and negative—are still being felt.

The Rainbow gathering, held annually at different spots around the country, brings together thousands of counter-culture champions and hippie holdouts from the bohemian days of 1972, the year of the first assembly. Since then, migrating anti-mainstream individuals of all shades have converged on the annual meet-up in a designated national forest to the delight of '60s romantics and the vexation of locals and law enforcement.

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  • Mike Gerrity
  • Attendees peruse items to trade at the 2013 Rainbow Gathering in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest. The event drew almost 10,000 people.

The U.S. Forest Service estimated the 2013 gathering topped out at 9,700 attendees, or less than half of the 20,000 who arrived the last time the Rainbows visited the Beaverhead-Deerlodge in 2000. Still, the 2013 gathering proved significant.

For one, more people required medical care, according to Geoff Roach, director of Human Services at Barrett Hospital and Health Care in nearby Dillon. As of July 16, the hospital reported 102 people admitted for a litany of injuries. Roach attributed the high number to a lack of preparation for wilderness living exacerbated by a drug-fueled environment. He says the hospital rendered $199,199 in unpaid services treating patients from the gathering.

"Golly, we've had some assaults, dog bites, sunburns, broken bones, lacerations. I'm just going down the list here," Roach says. "When you've got that many people coming in, you're going to get everything."

On the Fourth of July, when the number of visitors at the forest reached its peak, there appeared to be virtually no loose trash at the site. Once the gathering ended, a few attendees volunteered to remain at the site to assist Forest Service resource specialists with the cleanup, as well as help rehabilitate the land. Russ Riebe, Wisdom-Wise River District ranger and one of the authorities overseeing the cleanup, said in a statement that he expected the cleanup to continue for several weeks.

"I anticipate the Rainbow Family volunteers will do their part to return the area back to its natural state by removing all trash and rehabilitate disturbed areas as a result of their activities over the past two weeks," he said.

This year's site did not come close to the anarchic nightmare that former Gov. Marc Racicot predicted for the 2000 gathering, when he proactively declared a state of emergency in case he needed to deploy the National Guard. The 2013 assembly came and went with no major conflicts.

Jordan Durfee, 19, who traveled from Washington state, noted during the gathering that law enforcement's strong presence didn't detract from the experience. He said he saw various agencies at the site, some of whom came through on horseback with dogs sniffing around for weed and hallucinogens, items that tend to be as plentiful as dreadlocks there. He also says he saw some folks having their car searched on the road into the site.

"Generally people don't mind Forest Rangers up here, but the cops do tend to be assholes," Durfee said.

More importantly to those who attended the event, its egalitarian spirit appeared to prevail. At the center of the intentional community was a trade circle that looked more like two corridors of people intersecting along an expansive meadow. A pair of socks was easily swapped for a Maglite. A two-liter bottle of Pepsi scored two Camel cigarettes from the guy decked out head-to-toe in Vietnam-era fatigues. The same guy then traded another smoke for a shiny crystal of some sort. Durfee claimed he saw a man trade an orange kitten for two beers and a cigarette.

Near the trade circle, a "Nic @ Nite" tent doled out hand-rolled cigarettes to anyone who could use one. Similarly, the "Emergency 420" tent guaranteed a toke of grass to any person at a limit of one per day.

While weed and other drugs were readily available as gifts or in trade, alcohol is rejected outright. One band of revelers were apparently exiled to the main entrance of the camp where they tried to hit up cars of attendees for cash donations to finance a keg party far from the gathering's main nucleus.

One of the gathering's main happenings is the six hours of observed silence in contemplation of peace, an act that's occurred at every assembly since 1972. The observed silence was followed this year by an ohm circle in the same meadow next to the trade circle. As one hopeful photographer approached to get a shot of the meditation, a man calling himself Rusty Nail warned that some visitors had their cameras smashed and their memory cards taken. He explained that the actions were justified because of suspicion that the photographers were either undercover police or trying to capture images of naked women. After a discussion of the current shooter's intentions, Mr. Nail let him pass and said he'd vouch for him to anybody that asked.

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