Despite a bad reputation, the Rainbow Family gave and received good vibes in southwest Colorado. From the Alamosa Valley Courier.
Tucked away in a remote gully in Rio Grande National Forest, the Rainbow Family of Living Light is holding a gathering this week.
The Rainbow Family is a leaderless group that espouses peace, equality, and community. They hold events known as Rainbow Gatherings sporadically on National Forest land across the country. There are no fees for admission, and all attendees are expected to volunteer labor or expertise, and to share resources such as food. About 200 people have convened this week near Jakes Creek. The gathering is scheduled to continue until Sunday, August 17.
"Rainbows," as adherents call themselves, come from all walks of life.
"We're everyone from homeless people on the streets to hyper-spiritual people living in ashrams and monasteries," said Alix Tate, 24. "We come together and form this harmonious system that is able to work together despite their differences."
The group does not obtain permits to use National Forest land for Gatherings, citing the First Amendment right to peaceable assembly.
"Since the National Forest is free to camp in, we come here as free individuals and form this family," said Tate, who goes by "Tater."
Normally, any group of more than 75 people wanting to use the National Forest would be required to sign a group permit, said Angie Krall, Acting District Ranger for Rio Grande National Forest.
"But because they're a leaderless, memberless group, they don't have anyone who can sign that," said Krall.
In lieu of a permit, the Forest Service developed an "Operating Plan" that outlines their expectations for how the Rainbow Family will utilize National Forest resources. Elements of the plan include parking only in demarcated areas, maintaining cleanliness and sanitation in kitchens and latrines, and not disturbing archaeological resources such as "wickiups" - remnants of Ute shelters that can be difficult to distinguish from firewood.
The arrangement has been going well, said Krall, adding that the Rainbow Family's impact has been no greater than other users of the forest, such as cattle operations. She said a group of attendees will remain behind after the Gathering disperses to clean up the site.
At present, the Forest Service has received no complaints about the Rainbow Gathering.
"These are generally good people," said Krall. "You come into this gathering, you are fed. You are taken care of."
Law enforcement makes routine patrols of the camp. Krall added that although marijuana use is legal in Colorado, it is still illegal on National Forest land, and several attendees have been given tickets for marijuana possession.
The camp is subdivided into numerous smaller camps with names like "Dirty Kid Village," or "Nic @ Nite," which is centered around tobacco use. Alcohol use is discouraged throughout the Gathering, except at the camp clustered around the parking area.
For Finch, a long-haired and long-bearded Gathering participant, the Rainbow Gathering is about finding a different way of organizing people. Because the group has no leaders, decisions are made by group consensus.
"It's an egalitarian experiment in how to live with one another, in an attempt at being peaceful and coexisting," said Finch, 27. "Consensus-based decision making is nothing new. It was used for hundreds of years by the Quakers, and for thousands of years before that by sovereign tribal nations. So we just picked up a model that seemed to work for smaller communities."
Others come to commune with nature.
Marty Heartsong, a fit gray-haired man who attended his first Rainbow Gathering in 1992, called the forest his church.
"This is where we come to pray," said Heartsong. He says he discovered the Rainbow Gathering while working as a Forest Service ranger, and though he initially felt a conflict of interest between his job and the counterculture group, he was drawn to their message of love and peace, eventually leaving his career to pursue a more bohemian lifestyle.
"Madjik," whose face looks younger than his 35 years, attends Gatherings to draw inspiration from others.
"I come to connect with people not just thinking outside the box, but living outside it," said Madjik.
Deborah Dupuis, an American Sign Language interpreter from New York, assisted in delivering a baby boy at the Gathering on Sunday.
"His name is Orion," said Dupuis, 52. "He was born in a bus on the Continental Divide, under a meteor shower, on the 20th anniversary of the death of Jerry Garcia [the lead singer of the Grateful Dead]."
"The mom was very strong," said Dupuis. "The delivery went beautifully."
Tate says the community functions by utilizing the various skills of the participants. He says his camp has someone who prepares nutritious and largely organic meals, someone who performs heavy labor, and someone who looks after children. He says other camps may feature herbalists who gather medicinal plants or doctors who tend to the sick.
"You feel the satisfaction of being needed and wanted and participating in a community that's growing and blossoming," said Tate, who says he abandoned a career as a firefighter to live a travelling lifestyle. "This is what people are capable of when they're given ultimate freedom."