(Article 6 of 7)
Welcome back to Ocala National Forest. If you have not read the articles preceding this one, I suggest you do. You can access them by clicking these links: Article 1, Article 2, Article 3, Article 4, and Article 5. Although this will be the last article in this series, this experience will be referenced in the Daily Meditations that I write.
Sunday I headed over Logos Church to spend some time with Pastor Chris's congregation.
Among many other things, Chris is the author of numerous books. One of them is entitled "The Phat News of Mark."
Chris wrote this book specifically for the hippie culture - it is a re-write of the Biblical book of Mark. Now, we could spend a whole day on the lingo that has evolved in this culture, but suffice it to say that there is one and that "Phat" means "awesome." Chris is a descendant of the Ogibwah (aka Ojibwe) tribe - a Great Lakes area tribe that gave him the name "2 Hawks."
Chris says that he wrote the book so that hippies, street kids and gutter punks would have a copy of the gospel of Mark in their own language.
Also attending the service was Thom Buchanan and his family. They traveled down from North Carolina to help reach out to the people in the camps.
Thom spoke to the congregation and then shared a song he composed. His message was that there are only three commandments on Christianity - but most people miss one of them. Love God and Love others people get, but he says the hidden message is that we are to love others AS we love ourselves. Thus, it is a commandment that we learn to love ourselves.
I offered to thank the church on behalf of those at the camps.
A young fellow, Jacob, that our camp had adopted went along with me to the church. On the way back we picked a few hundred tangerines to pass out back at the campgrounds.
Jacob lives in nearby Tallahassee Florida and came over out of curiosity. He had lots of questions for us - many of them about trying to understand women. I stayed out of those conversations.
Thom, an ordained minister himself, met his wife Caroline some years back at a Rainbow Family gathering. They have two children of their own now. Pictured above is Gabriel, who took a spill Sunday morning before church and had to go have his collar bone set. Breaking it means he will miss a season of baseball, his favorite sport.
Thom, picture here with his daughter Taylor, owns a music production business. One of his loves is using the medium of music to connect with street people so that he can then help them with their basic needs. He says the homeless folks bundled up beneath bridges are so numerous it sometimes look like catacombs. He is very talented as a musician,and when they do this they go with battery powered amplifiers. As the homeless folks connect with the music and come out to socialize, they give them fresh underwear and socks, basic hygiene products and food.
Thom and Caroline met at a Rainbow event - she was working with a kitchen and he brought in a New Zealand group that played tribal music. The whole thing was a huge hit, and they both say that when they saw each other they knew that the other was "the one."
Back at Peace Camp on Monday there were some disturbing developments.
During the night, some folks had driven down the dirt road firing bullets into the woods. Here Pastor Chris shows one of the bullet casings.
The casings littered the road, remnants of the fear and intolerance of some of the locals. Another group drove down the street firing paint balls. This would not have happened if front gate had been intact, and it is a sour note that has most folks moving out.
The Rainbow folks really don't get why anyone would do this.
There is a common expression among Rainbows - the only requirement for membership in the Rainbow Family is that you have a belly-button.
My understanding is that none of the Rainbows or the Dirty Kids were arrested at this event - but the Sheriffs did pass out a lot of petty tickets. However, I am told that the Sheriffs did catch some of the local fellows that were driving through the camp firing guns and paint-balls.
So, Peace camp busied themselves packing up - along with most of the other camps. This is the area before the final clean-up crews "re-naturalize" the area.
On the topic of trash there is much to say. The Rainbows send an advance group to each camp area to clean it up before the gathering. I saw photos people had taken of the piles of trash taken out of the woods - literally truckloads of it. In the last eleven years in this forest, they have removed 7 meth labs - places that cook illegal drugs in the woods.
My camp-mates from Alabama had pulled out on Sunday, reasoning that because of various factors this gathering never developed the spirituality of normal Rainbow gatherings. I packed out Monday, and several of the fellows on the trash cleanup crew helped me move my gear back to the main road.
I want to clarify on one issue - numerous locals brought all manner of items in to donate to the camp. A lot of the locals "get it," and are happy to see the Rainbow Family in the area, doing what they do. As for the Rainbows, they have a common saying.
Most of them have this bumper sticker or a button on their lapel with this saying. They don't seem to hold grudges, and the majority of them are moving on to the next event - just a bit earlier than they had planned.
I returned to the forest with Thom and Caroline on Monday night as they visited another camp and shared their music.
The camp had a talented drummer, and the music was all spontaneous. Different people would make up and sing new lyrics to go with the music they established.
I slept in the van alongside the road leading in to the gathering. When I awoke, I drove the couple of miles where the camps had been.
From whatever it was at its peak, the area has fallen to a few hundred people - mostly those that have committed to clean up. Alan, who is a staple at the Welcome Home camp gave me his customary greeting.
Alan was in the Signal Corps in Vietnam, after which he had a career as a nurse. He is a staple at these events, and seems to enjoy needling law enforcement as much as he enjoys helping Rainbows. I sat and talked with Alan and a number of other Vietnam Vets this last week. Many times I didn't know whether to laugh or cry about the stories they told.
I never made it to the majority of camps and kitchens. Here are a few folks left that were breaking down Band Camp.
There was an "old guard" of Rainbow Family that emerged from the Vietnam War era. They are passing on, and there are not many people in their 40's and 50's that follow it. Will the 30 year-olds carry the torch? Is this simply the remnants of a fast dying anthropological sub-group? Who else can connect with these "Dirty Kids" - the street kids who were abandoned by their families and trust no one in society? After all, that is the bulk of the Rainbows that I met - former street kids who lived in orphanages and foster homes. These kids are all over our country - Rainbow didn't create them.
For those that preach that society rather than government should deal with society's problems, well here is what that looks like in this instance. If you want society to deal with these issues, it is incredibly hypocritical for those that lack the courage to get involved to recline in luxury and criticize the efforts of those who are willing to get their hands dirty.
Brendan was part of the Alabama Family group I camped with. Brendan comes from a long line of woodsmen - in fact he is very knowledgeable when it comes to living off of the land.
Among other things, Brendan is also a skilled carpenter. He comes from an educated family, and has the skills to function in society just fine when he needs to.
Brendan has decided that he wants to try to put together a kitchen for Rainbow events. He is traveling back to Alabama to meet with some of that groups council members to see if he can muster some support. Then he is heading to Apalachicola, the gathering that is currently gearing up for next month. Alabama Family wants to put on a Rainbow event in April, and he would like to have the kitchen up and running for that event.
Meet Hassan, owner of "The Country Store."
I asked Hassan today what he thought about the Rainbow People. He said he would love to have them here 365 days a year. At first I thought he was talking about the money they spend - but he explained further. Hassan grew up in Bangladesh among a forest people who were disparagingly called "The Clay Hut People." They were very poor, but were also very adept at living off of the land and the crumbs of society. "I understand these people - I know them from my childhood" says Hassan. "They have that happiness that I knew - the happiness that money cannot buy."
This is an officer whose name I did not get. I asked both Rangers and Sheriffs to talk to me. The Rangers referred me to their public relations department - I never got a response from the Sheriffs.
As to the National Forest Rangers that follow the Rainbow groups, I empathize on many levels. They are forced into a position that they must constantly strike balances. I assume their first duty is to protect the land and the wildlife. After that, the concerns I saw them showing were for the children here and for the integrity of the food supply and cooking. That order of concern seems as appropriate as it can be.
Yes, with the influx of street kids comes some conflict. Yes, the Rainbow Family presents a challenge because the sheer number of people raises awareness. But what of the millions of squatters that live in our National Forests? There were only a couple of thousand Rainbows at this event and they were encamped in a manner that made them highly visible. What of all the drug dealers who cook chemicals and grow illegal plants on these lands? What of the children of families that simply migrate to another area of the forest when the Rangers become aware of their presence? As an enforcement officer, how do you strike the balance between the decrees of government and reality of the situation on the ground? And the Rainbows clean up after themselves - what of the mountains of trash left by those squatting all throughout these lands? I am sure there are other quandaries - I do not envy the job these folks have to do.
Were there drugs at this gathering? Yes, there were. You would have no problem finding some pot to smoke, and with the break-down of the front gate you would have no problem finding booze. There were a number of sober camps, but most of the camps tolerated pot. There were a few camps that liked to eat certain mushrooms that grow in the forest - that is a whole sub-culture to itself. But everyone I saw worked hard to keep the hard drugs out. Time and again I was told that Alcohol is the hardest drug - it causes way more collateral damage to those around the user than any other. And I witnessed this first hand. But, I was told, methamphetamine, crack cocaine, heroin and many of the prescription drugs such as Oxycontin follow alcohol closely for the devastation they cause.
I met one fellow in the woods who asked me "Where is all the spirituality I hear about with Rainbow? I came here to check it out, and I don't see any of it." Meanwhile, a few guys scurried by hauling water and food back to a kitchen, others were picking up trash and carrying out to the road, others were ministering to the health needs of their fellows, still others were passing out clothing and camping gear. All I could do was look at him and para-phrase the words of Balou at Bare Necessities Kitchen. I said: "If you want spirituality, quit looking for it and get busy helping your brothers." He looked at me as though I were just another lunatic - and maybe I am. But this day I was a lunatic with a sense of purpose and a deep peace.
It is tempting to throw in with a kitchen or with one of the ministries that is involved in this Rainbow organization. I know from talking with many folks that visiting other Rainbow gatherings would add whole new perspectives and richness of experience. But that is not my path - my path is to continue along the coast to blaze the trail for the fundraising effort that will come in a few years. But I leave this forest both humbled and enriched. I know of nothing I would trade for this experience. I may head back to the coast and pick up or may stay another day in this area and try to pick up a story on "The Forest People."
And I need a bit of time to just process the last three weeks. I spent a week working in a projects - I was in 19 different apartments in one of the poorest urban areas of Tallahassee repairing kitchen cabinets. I did not write about this experience because I was there as a contractor and it felt wrong to. But I saw all manner of difficult circumstances there, as I have here. I am by no means sheltered, but it still is a lot to take in.
That brings us to today's faces in the crowd. There are so many - I just selected a random few to share that I did not use with articles.
And today's parting shot(s). I never knew what a "hippie back porch" was -
Let alone a "Hippie Back Porch" with an awning.
Lovin' you !! (Standard Hippie salutation)
EMAIL me if you like, DONATE if you can, Read Today's Meditation if you have time, but whatever you do be sure to have an awesome Wednesday.