In late June of 1976, mom decided that it would be fun to go to the Rainbow Family Gathering in Montana. She found a family fare on Amtrak and set off with me, Christopher, and our friend Rose, a lovely young woman who’d become part of our extended family. The community that made up our extended family included the people who ran and frequented the Capitol Hill Co-op on 12th Ave, just a block from our house. In addition to having a giant walk-in cooler above which my father slept for some time, the co-op featured a bulletin board where you could advertise for any number of things. One winter my mother posted a request for beds that read, simply: “Help me get my kids up off the floor.”
The co-op attracted all kinds of interesting people so it’s not entirely surprising that Rose found her way to that community when she arrived in Seattle in the mid-1970s. As I recall, Rose was shy and sweet and utterly lovely. Men found her charming and so did I especially since she said Yes when I asked her if she would like to sleep over at my house and she and I slept under the dining room table together sharing stories and secrets late into the night.
The first Rainbow Family Gathering in the US took place in 1972 so they were a relatively novel idea when we set out to join the gathering in 1976. Mom, Christopher, Rose, and I took the train from Seattle to Whitefish, Montana because we understood that the gathering was happening in Glacier National Park nearby. When we departed the train in Whitefish we figured out that the Rainbow Family Gathering had shifted locations from Glacier to someplace called Cave Mountain in the Lewis and Clark National Park near Choteau, Montana. So we hitchhiked approximately 165 miles to the correct location.
(I have no memory of that hitchhiking adventure but mom tells me we had to string together the trip with six or seven different lifts. At one point we rode in the back of a pickup truck on poorly maintained roads across reservation land. As the driver tore along the rutted roads and we bounced around in the open bed of the truck, Mom feared that one of us would fly out and be killed so she banged on the window and insisted the driver let us out in the middle of nowhere. Eventually we made it to our intended destination.)
I can remember that we had to hike in to the campsite but have no idea how far we had to hike. It could have been a mile or two or just a few hundred feet. I don’t remember what we carried (tents? sleeping bags? food?) but I do remember a few important things about that weekend.
1. Although some people frolicked about nakedly, I had no interest in revealing my pubescent form to strangers (or anyone for that matter). Instead I spent the whole weekend wearing a tube top that I’d fashioned, ingeniously, by wearing my tight and stretchy tank top upside down and tucking the shoulder straps under at my waist.
2. Everyone stood around in large circles holding hands and making the “OM” sound before meals. (I don’t think this photo is from the 1976 gathering but this is exactly what it was like: huge circles of people holding hands and OM-ing.)
3. There was a section of the camp dedicated to bartering or otherwise displaying wares or crafts. A tent devoted to wool-related endeavors (primarily carding wool and then spinning it into yarn) included a pile of raw wool and a pair of carding tools so that you could try carding the wool yourself. I was fascinated by the process but somehow used the tools in the wrong way so that I tore the wire surface from the paddle. I looked around to make sure that no one saw I’d destroyed the tools, then carefully set the paddles back in the basket and left the tent.
4. A lot of people were either high on peyote or talking about getting high on peyote. I don’t recall ever seeing peyote (I have no idea what form it comes in or how one would go about taking it) but I certainly remember people talking about it. One man who was high on peyote (or rumored to be) climbed a rock face that overlooked the camp in search of an eagle’s nest because he wanted to retrieve an eagle’s feather. He then fell several “stories” down the rock face, which is how I learned that a story is the equivalent of about 10 feet. People gathered blankets and sleeping bags to keep him comfortable and then we all had to join hands and stand in a circle OM-ing in order to heal him.
At the end of our time at the Rainbow Family Gathering, we hiked out and made our way back to Seattle. We four separated into pairs to make it easier to get rides. Rose and I rode off in a truck with a couple of guys who had designs on her while mom and Christopher made their own way. I don’t remember ever feeling like we were in danger although I also can’t imagine that my 10-year old self could possibly have felt safe hitchhiking such a great distance with only a tiny young woman to protect me. I wonder if mom worried about us, I wonder whether we got home first, and I wonder who looked after Thomas and Jesse while we were away.
The other day I asked mom who looked after Thomas and Jesse while we were off on our adventure. She paused, smiled, and then said “They didn’t go with us?” She and I laughed and laughed and then smiled with relief that we were all OK in the end.
Offering: a sweet wooden box that’s perfect for storing balls of yarn (carding paddles and raw wool not included.)
Addendum: The day after I published this entry, Thomas texted me to say “We got sent to stay with grandma, who promptly shaved our heads because of Jesse’s lice.” I absolutely love that my brothers and mother routinely fill me in on the bits I missed. XO