(Article 2 of 7)
Welcome back to the Ocala National Forest's Alexander Springs area, site of a Rainbow Family gathering. If you did not read the article that preceded this, I suggest you click HERE so you have a bit of background.
The full name of the Rainbow people is "The Rainbow Family of Light Living." Online information says it started in 1974, and I have not yet had the time to research further the origins of the group. People on the inside say that some of the origins come from Vietnam War protesters that needed to take a break between protests. Another part of it is the followers of the Grateful Dead Band that needed to find living arrangements when the band was not on tour. However it started, there are many different reasons people actively participate today.
I am gathering that many of the participants have done this for years. Some of them go to the various Rainbow functions year around, but many take a month here and there to attend.
I am in hopes that tomorrow I can get around (find) some of the camps who have long term participants so I can get some different perspective.
You may remember that yesterday afternoon the camp that I had been frequenting decided to move. They are all four from Alabama, and I will touch on each of their circumstances in a later writing.
The photo shows the Sheriffs coming through as we were packing. Brendon, pictured with his car and dog had just finished loading. When you drive the road, if you get above five miles an hour people are yelling at you to slow down - there are children and pets everywhere. But the Sheriffs cruise through at twenty miles an hour or so, making everyone a bit nervous. I witnessed someone yell "slow down" at one of the cars, and he accelerated in response.
Last night the Sheriffs did not come in and do the after-dark shakedown along the road as they had the previous two nights, and today they had a much lower presence. As a result, tensions have been significantly reduced. I am told that previous gatherings have been in neighboring Marion County, where the sheriffs were not nearly as intrusive - the next few days will tell the tale.
People continue to arrive, but not quite at the pace of Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Most folks arrive, survey the terrain and pick a section back one of the many trails. They then clear a camp-site and pack in their gear. Some of them are old pros and put together campsites to be envious of in just a few hours. Others are either not as well equipped or do not know how to properly set up with the equipment they have. One glance at a camp pretty much tells if this is someone's "first rodeo" or not.
Last night I made the decision to unpack the camping gear out of my van and join the Alabama fellows in the new camp. It is about a mile back the paths. Here is one of the main trails - it is surprising how quickly a trail forms when the underbrush is cut and some traffic uses it.
Along the way we met some folks who arrived late last night and were just starting to set up off of the trail we are off of. They were busy working and we were packing in gear so I didn't ask them particulars, but I am sure we will meet them again. I don't think they are setting up another kitchen, just more of a hospitality area.
Most of the camps and all of the kitchens/hospitality areas have clear markers to show who they are. This is the entrance to this new camp - put up before they even started clearing brush.
Late last night I learned that Pastor Chris had been held overnight in the hospital, and his wife was supposed to leave the keys to the water truck at Front Gate. I arrived at Front Gate, and guess what I found.
Out of the hospital and in direct violation of Dr.'s orders, here is Pastor Chris. He had enlisted a few of the Front Gators to help him empty the water buffalo that had tipped over. All of the camp's water tanks were empty this morning, so there was an immediate need for water.
Pastor Chris enlisted the men and gave them instruction, then headed home to rest. He had been diagnosed with diverticulitis, which I understand can have severe complications.
The Rainbow Family gets permits ahead of time in the National Forests, and although the annual get-togethers are in the same forest, the specific location for that year always changes. This year the Front Gators didn't look close enough at the permitted territory, and set up the Front Gate camp outside the boundaries by about a half mile. The rangers said they would allow them to keep the camp there, but asked that they move their vehicles down the road to within the bounds of the permitted area.
The Front Gators were quite peeved. Rather than park down the street of move the camp, they said they are packing up their equipment, cleaning the site and then heading to the location of next month's gathering to start set-up. We caught them breaking down the camp.
These few logs are all that remain of a large oven that was here yesterday.
The people I talked to in the camp had mixed feelings about the departure of this group. This is the camp where the alcoholics go, and no one trusts an alcoholic to behave rationally. However, the Front Gators are very good at screening traffic and turning away those that are "trouble" or have been banned from Rainbow gatherings. And no one likes to lose a large and productive kitchen from the site.
Most of them were taking it in stride, preparing to move on down the road and set up again.
One interesting character is this next guy - Fred Martin.
Fred accosts everyone who comes on site and makes sure they have a flier that he passes out. The flier contains practical tips for dealing with others and with law enforcement. It also had an entire section reprinted from the International Association of Police Chiefs that spells out ethics of conduct for law enforcement. The flier urges cooperation with authorities, but it also clearly spells out what constitutes an officer exceeding the bounds of his authority.
Our previous neighbors - Frodo and Scarlett came to say good-bye as we were packing out to the road. They have lived together on the road since last August, and acquired their puppy in October.
Froto and Scarlett follow the Rainbow Gatherings, but not in a car or motor home. They hitchhike, as do about forty percent of the participants I have met.
Two of my camp-mates have cars in Alabama, but choose to hitch-hike to the events because of the challenge of the road. But for folks like Frodo and Scarlett, their entire life is lived out of back-packs.
There are a lot of women in the camp, and a surprising number live on the road all the time. I am told it is harder on women - that women who live on the road need a male companion to act as a protectorate. If they break up with the man they are with, they either have to hole up where they are or select another man who is living the lifestyle. Surprisingly, none of the ones I have talked to feel at all "stuck" with this lifestyle. Rather, they say they wouldn't want anything different at this point in their lives.
Another class of folks is referred to as "The Old Hippies." Many of them have been attending these events for decades. I am told that there are informal councils put together for each gathering that consist of some of these "elders." The other participants show them great respect and are quick to fill any requests they make. I hope to talk to a couple tomorrow that Pastor Chris opened the door to for me.
Almost everyone who is walking out to the main road asks everyone the pass - encamped or not - if they have any trash to go out. Piles of trash accumulate on the side of the road and are frequently removed. I have not discovered who takes care of this trash yet, but hope to.
An unexpected $50 donation came in to the website this morning, and since Pastor Chris had gotten the water supply handled, Opie and I drove in to town to get some supplies for the camp. It is about thirty miles or so to get to a grocery with a good selection. We got some necessities that ourselves and neighboring camps needed - hand sanitizer, a bunch of bananas, rolling tobacco, dish detergent etc.
On the way we passed countless acres of orange groves. The Apiaries and plentiful - that is the bee keepers.
If I get the chance I will do an article on these people some day. They have large colonies of honey bees, and travel around the country with their bees to pollinate crops as they blossom. Without pollenization our grocery stores would empty within a year. I know the growers pay for the bee-keepers to come and the bee-keepers get to sell their honey as well, but I don't know much more about the business. Perhaps as spring comes I can corral one for an article.
Arriving back at the camp, Opie and I are met with a surprise. Our camp-mates have set up all of my camping gear - the first time it has been set up.
When I left on this trip 16 months ago, Mike Yost (the researcher on the board of WIND Center) loaned me two bins of camping gear. I have lived on the road all this time without even opening up those bins he packed for me - yet carrying them along all the while.
I knew Mike is an avid hunter and camper, but didn't realize how well he had set me up. I now am in possession of a great tent, an awesome Coleman lantern and cook-stove, a bunch of pots and pans and all manner of other incredibly useful items. Our camp-mates even set up a shelf for the cook-stove and utensils.
Who needs a baker's rack? I now have my own kitchen in the woods, complete with pots and pans hanging from tree branches. Too awesome - I guess I don't qualify as homeless for the next couple days. Thanks a million Mike !!
On that note, I decided to encamp and spend the extra days because the schedule I am on has me completing St. Augustine by March 10th. We made great time coming down from Savannah, and now that we are out of "island country" the going is much faster. I told my camp-mates I would pull out Friday so I can pick back up at Jacksonville.
No sooner did we get the final touches done on the camp - about 2 pm - than it started raining falling steadily until sunset. As soon as it did, I hiked back out and drove down to "The Shockley Hills Country Store" - a small convenience store about twelve miles from camp.
There are several of those folks in the camp with RV's who have set up mobile hot spots for internet and recharging stations for people's phones and computers. But these photos take so much data space I couldn't see taking advantage of one of them - I know there are limits on those hot-spots and they charge you a bunch when you exceed your data allowance.
I heard the local store had wifi, and couldn't bear a repeat of the debacle trying to write last night's article. So I approached Julie at the store to see if we could work something out.
She kindly complied - she is allowing me to use a picnic table out on a porch. She also allowed me to run my extension cord to an outlet on the other side of the entryway. Thanks Julie !! This will save me about three hours a day from the McDonald's routine, and I will look forward to getting to know her and her fiance' over the next few days. Plus, I am right at the entryway where both locals and Rainbow folks enter the store, so I should be able to get some unique perspectives.
Today's "Faces in the Crowd" entry:
And today's parting shot - one of many stickers on the door of "The Country Store."