(Article 5 of 7)
Welcome back to the Rainbow Family gathering in the Ocala National Forest. If you have not read the previous articles in this series, I recommend that you read Article 1, Article 2, Article 3 and Article 4 for background before reading this article.
I took a trip into the city of Ocala to pick up an ignition switch for a couple whose car broke down. On the way I passed a controlled burn. A few photos for those of you who have not seen one of these:
I met a few of the people who are doing these burns for the Forest Service at the springs, and they said they would contact me when they see we are moving through California so that I can do an article on this subject. Short summary - they burn the fuel represented by dead wood and leaves out of the forest in large swaths in the hopes that it arrests fires in the future.
The car that broke down belonged to DJ and Aaron from Tennessee.
When DJ graduated this spring with a degree in Environmental Science from Tennessee, she and Aaron decided to go on the road with a kitchen that follows Rainbow Family events. The kitchen is named HHK kitchen, which stands for Helping Hungry Kids.
The kitchen is here representing the Hippy Hill Group in Tennessee. They have a large farm on a mountain that includes bunk houses and other facilities. They find homeless kids that want a chance to improve themselves, then feed and clothe them, help them to find anything from a way home to an education.
We spent most of the day Friday together, and thanks to a gift card to Outback Steakhouse that one of you donated to me, I was able to buy then lunch in Ocala. I am learning a lot about those that live on the road - one of the terms people use is "Jugging It." To "Jug it" means to take a gas can and beg for gas at a station. Aaron has worked his whole life - this thing is new to him. A couple of times since May the bus - that gets 4 miles to a gallon - has consumed more gas than they have cash. So Aaron has had to "jug it." He confided to me that after having held down a white collar career for so many years he was mortified to do this. But he has, and he said he knows deep down that the humbling he experienced in the process will be an asset to him.
He worked as a fundraiser for the local fire department in Tennessee, so he is no stranger to raising money. Hippie Hill has gotten food donations from many Tennessee farms and churches to support their effort. These are noble people - I enjoyed my time with them immensely. They, like any of us who is not caught up in our heads, are trying to find direction and meaning in their life. DJ said that she came out of Environmental Sciences almost hating people for the damage done to the earth. But now she finds herself completely consumed feeding hungry kids. I wish the couple much success and hope I cross paths with them again.
HHK kitchen is in the backwoods - where I am camped. They are the ones who brought the fellow going through alcohol withdrawal to our camp the other night.
The kitchen takes care of me, and I try to take care of it. If you are walking through the woods, pick up some good oak for their fires or bring in some water. I have carried back donations from the church. If you are walking out of the woods, ask to take out the trash. It is the Rainbow way - I almost get sick of people stopping by the campsite asking if we have trash or need water. Not really - some of them stop by at night to random campsites with musical instruments and play a few tunes for the camp before they move on. Others stop by to chat - or drop off a bit of wood or whatever. But much of the life in the camp centers around the kitchen that is local to you.
Speaking of the kitchens, I fear that in some aspects I have portrayed the locals unfairly by only speaking of the bad apples. Many locals have stopped by the camp and made large donations of food, tobacco and sanitary items to the kitchens. There are many local who "get it."
But, on three different nights this last week gunfire rang out as people driving quickly down the road yelled things such as "Get out of our woods ...." etc. I have come to find out that this area of land is known by the FBI to be one of the worst areas in the nation for its spawning of white supremacist groups. I was told there are some eighty in the few surrounding counties. Here is the sign at the entryway to the camp today:
In fairness, I am not sure if it was that way before the gathering or not. I have asked numerous people if they noticed and have gotten conflicting reports.
Just up the street (in the neighboring county,) this billboard says a lot about the situation here.
Notice the bottom right of the billboard states "No tax dollars were used for this ad." That makes me real curious as to who is behind this - if private citizens are putting up money for this, especially in the deep South where conservative extremists are rampant, there must be a huge problem.
Back at the camp, front gate is gone and the site cleaned. Here is what it looks like now:
I am told by numerous people that this gathering is far from a normal Rainbow gathering. There are several problems. The first problem is that it is in Ocala National Forest to start with. Beyond the problems with the locals, this happens to be an area where many of the homeless from the north come during the winter. That means that the usual ratio of street kids to Rainbows is skewed. In fact, many of the Rainbow folks call this a "road dog" gathering - road dog referring to those that live on the streets.
The second problem was Rainbow's fault - when they picked the site they did not realize that a marsh cuts into the back of the property. This prohibits a deep woods trail that runs from one end of the camp to the other. Secondly, the property they selected has a road running along the edge rather than being on a dead end as is usual. Being on a dead end would require folks to walk at least a mile past front gate into the woods before they even got to the Welcome Home camp.
Normally this would not be a big deal, but with Front Gate gone (supposedly due to a reversal of a commitment by local law enforcement) there is not the normal layer of protection from riff-raff. Alcohol at Rainbow gatherings is restricted to the front gate area, and a full mile of land is left available for those that drink. The "Front Gators" themselves know how to handle drunks and thus the drunks are kept away from the peaceful folk. With the front gate gone, alcohol has permeated the road the full length of the camp. And, of course, some of it makes it into the woods. The drunks are mostly out on the road all night menacing people and being obnoxious. But with no main trail, those who want to walk from one end of the camp to the other are forced to walk the road for a stretch, thus exposing themselves to the drunks. A number of people left camp this week over this issue - established Rainbows, many with children. These are the last people you want to lose in this situation. So, combine all these factors and you have a gathering in which the spiritual nature of Rainbow itself is much diminished.
A large new group arrived so far this weekend for the second week of the gathering, among them a large number of established Rainbows. I hope they hang in because their influence is critical. And, as a footnote, among those choosing to pull out are my camp-mates. They will be gone tomorrow, so I have to make the choice of staying alone in a campsite, camping with someone else or moving on down the road.
A big positive for the camp - a doctor visited today. This tent is the medical tent and sits within the boundaries of Peace Camp, Pastor Chris's center of operations.
Chris has been struggling with some illness, and many others have pitched in to help. But aggravating the situation for Chris was an incident that happened last night.
Chris uses his own personal cube van to transport water for the camp - it is not a church vehicle. Chris has been laid up a bit with his recent illness, and got several Rainbows to fill in for him on the water shuttling runs. (Far exceeding 600 gals a day now - I am not sure by how much.)
Last night, Chris's wife ran out to the camp with the registration for the truck - just to be on the safe side. Now, although no signs say it, parking is restricted to one side of the road. Chris's wife parked on the wrong side of the road in a clearing and walked across the street to drop off the registration.
When she returned to the car, a black female deputy of the sheriffs department accosted her, grabbed her purse and made her "spread 'em" on the back of the car. The cop was verbally abusive and really had her intimidated - after all she is a preacher's wife from this small town. Now, Chris is a Christian man in the true sense of the word, and while he is humble he is also a man who is not intimidated. As we read the other day, he got a United States Senate committee to force a director to come to a Rainbow gathering and apologize to him in front of the council and then fire the director. Chris is a very loving and giving man, but not one to be trifled with.
Chris's wife doesn't understand about probably cause and is the last person to try to challenge a public servant who is out of line. She failed to get the cop's name. Chris has made it clear - when he gets this deputy's name there will be consequences.
Now I want to make a clear differentiation between the Rangers and the Sheriffs. Yesterday, two rangers approached the Welcome Center and said they would like go back to Kiddo Camp. Welcome Center is built across a dirt access road that runs a mile or so back to the camp. They could have bullied Welcome Center into moving their tent - but they didn't. And they didn't get "cowboy" and sneak in another way. They walked the mile and a half to the camp and back out. I am told they were quite personable with the children and their concerns were for the well-being of the kids - not to make money writing tickets or show off their power. The rangers that are here, part of a task force that works with the Rainbows seems to have the best interests of the people, the forest and the wildlife in mind. I do not envy them their position but they seem to be doing it well.
Meet Dr. Nelson Krauzak. Dr. Krauzak has given freely of his time to come to the camp and saw patients for a good part of the afternoon.
He is a local doctor - one who I was told was a "country doctor." I asked the difference between a "country doctor" and a "city doctor." I was told that a country doctor knows how to center in on the actual issue and use sparse resources to remedy the problem. I was told that a country doctor observes and considers the patients living situation and life style when making a diagnoses and recommending a treatment regimen. I didn't ask again what a city doctor was.
He handled numerous issues and seemed to quickly gain the respect and confidence of those that came to see him.
Full time at the Peace Camp are husband and wife team Todd and Momma Jingles.
Momma Jingles has been helping at the Ocala gathering for 23 years, Todd for 18. These two are the "quartermasters" of the camp. They are constantly trying to meet various needs people have on all levels and are on the move from sunrise to well after nightfall. Here Todd is putting a new skin on a drum for one of the kid's drums.
Meet another extraordinary man - Gary Kadow.
Gary has had a cool life. He was a Vietnam Vet, he ran HUD in the state of New York, he became assistant director of HUD in Washington DC, he was a direct adviser to Bill Clinton when that administration was balancing the budget and cutting government spending - on and on. I am not going to say too much about this man now except to say that he has come to help Chris and he is responsible for a good portion of the donations to the camp. He has formed a non-profit whose mission it is to reach the 153,000 homeless veterans (VA 2014 estimate) who live in this country's national forests. I have to spend a Wednesday with him to get the story I want, and if I end up not being comfortable staying here this next few days I will be sure to return here to write this story. It needs told.
Meet some more cool people -Tom and Caroline Buchanan. I guess too much exposure to all those hippies is making me air headed.
Tom is a music producer who has arranged shows at this gathering in the past. He and his wife met at a gathering here many years ago - they both say they knew they had met their mate the minute they laid eyes on each-other. Meanwhile, Tom has become an ordained minister in North Carolina.
He and his wife spend much time and energy helping kids at these events and in other forums. We are meeting with them again tomorrow and I am excited about spending time with them.
Relining a drum is quite a project. It takes a couple of hours to do one right. It was fun watching Todd do this today. I understand he sometimes holds classes for the kids who want to learn to fix their own drums.
Meet another cool soul, Momma Rocket.
Momma Rocket runs one of those kitchens in the woods - this one called Launch Pad.
In the last week, Launch Pad has served over 4,000 plates of food and over 2,000 individual snacks.
Tonight they are making a dish with gator meat - one of the locals dropped off a good quantity of it for the kitchen.
These kitchens all have twelve to fifteen people encamped beside them that help run them - 24 hours a day in most cases. They separate their recycling and are very proficient at cooking in the woods. This kitchen has both a large grill and a large oven they built on site.
Wild rice, veggies and alligator in a sauce - I may have to stop by after I am done writing tonight. They also turned out a large quantity of quiche today - and I imagine a few other things.
Many of the established Rainbows bring in their own food and cookware - these kitchens mainly serve the dirty kids.
Every one of these kids I have talked to (usually around a camp-fire) has come from not only a broken home, but from a bunch of chaos. They feel completely unwanted by society and hold a deep distrust for everyone but their own. You can clearly see the pain in their eyes.
But, there are the Rainbows and folks like Chris's crew. This lady has a home, husband and child in New Hampshire.
She goes by "Red Riding Hood." She told me she recently lost a baby and needed a mental re-set. She calls herself a mountain girl, and came here with the blessing of her husband to find some healing in the woods with the Rainbows.
This is Red and Jen with their dog Helen.
Red and Jen said they are on a "walkabout" trying to "heal from life" a bit. They didn't expand and I didn't ask for further details But I have noticed them going out of their way to help others.
I forgot to write this woman's name down.
She and her boyfriend are from Tampa Florida. They had heard about Rainbow people and came here to check it out. She was up at Peace Camp asking for scraps of cloth to make a coat for a dog who had been badly wounded by cactus. I found a blanket for her to use.
This is Jessica.
She was waiting to see the doctor because what she thought was a fire-ant bite had become infected and inflamed. She was so much fun I forgot to ask her anything else.
He is another of my camp-mates from Alabama Family who will turn 25 in May. Ryan comes from a broken family - he didn't even meet his dad until he was ten years old. And at ten years old his baby-sitters used to bribe him with beer, cigarettes and pot so he would leave the house and they could be alone with their boyfriends. Ryan married his childhood sweetheart at the age of 19 - they dated for three years prior to that.
Ryan was diagnosed as a schizophrenic in his teens - and there is a history of it in his bloodline. Doctors gave him cocktails of drugs that all turned him into a zombie. Ryan finally refused the cocktails - but then he was beset with hallucinations that were both audio and visual.
Ryan found that smoking a bit of pot every day stopped the hallucinations, but he is left with "impressions" that someone is watching him or stalking him. He says he has become adept at telling the true from the false, and it is rare that anyone notices that he struggles with this.
My first night at Rainbow - while I sat at the bonfire watching the crowd - Ryan approached me and started talking to me. He soon invited me back to his camp. I asked him "why?" Ryan said that when he saw me a voice in his head said "There's Waldo !!" So he talked to me. I guess Waldo refers to some game - "Where in the world is Waldo" - but I don't know anything about the game.
I related Ryan's story of pot and his symptoms to Pastor Chris, who told me that there was just a study done that said the two causes of schizophrenia are heredity and marijuana use. So, I don't know what to believe, but I do believe that Ryan is doing the very best he can with what he has. I am pretty fond of the kid.
These shitter signs crack me up. I have never seen detailed instructions for making your toilet.
Today's face in the crowd:
And today's parting shot, seen on a Rainbow's tee-shirt.
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