Miles and miles of precariously parked cars are parked cheek to jowl with busses of every description. A reckless metal seam threaded along steep mountain edges reveal days of blatant disregard of clearly posted signage “no parking this side.” More than an hour crawls by in this collective ordeal as we creep towards our goal of exodus to “Babylon.” The van reeking of the still-damp clothing, the cart of camping gear hastily shoved in the side and my intrepid traveling companion by my side, I crank the A/C and blindly disregard the eager stares of eager hitchhikers. Garmin leads me through the mountainside labyrinth and I am happy and relieved to be on the road again despite the fact it has, once again, pointed me in the wrong direction…
“Only lunatics and children speak before noon on July 4th” so goes the wisdom of the old timers at the Gathering. The morning of the 4th is for contemplation, prayers for world peace, and only the quietest and most necessary of verbal communication. At noon, the silence is broken every year, by an enormous hand to hand circle and a 1/2 hour of OM ing. After a quiet breakfast, I left camp in the direction of “Magical Warrior” camp navigating the dirt moguls, the swampy bit, the bridge and (quiet) troll, only to come upon an obnoxious yelling young man, (mouthing off to impress a giggling blonde.) I chastised him saying “don’t be such an ass” he responded by saying “I AM an asshole!…. nice boots, wanna fuck?” Of course I didn’t dignify that with an answer but our exchange gave me a few things to think about (and 2 revelations.) Arriving at my intended “quiet spot” I listened to the breeze in the pines, frogs in the stream and observed the sweet people all around me: praying, doing yoga, being. I felt very connected to it all of it. I had the profound feeling of BEING ONE (no, I wasn’t stoned) which means, of course, that #1. I too am an ass and #2. I could have sold 100 pairs of those boots.
There was a lot going on. The day was crisp with excitement as preparations were made for a wedding at “Musical Veggie” a nearby camp of amicable and peaceful hippies (rumored to have the best food in all the camps.) The couple was beautiful, she an actress and the grown daughter of a fellow camped on the “Ridge” the groom a budding screen writer. I spent the morning helping to decorate and fill the marriage blessing box prior to the wedding (one of the most beautiful I’ve ever attended) and then returned to the kitchen to help and then later serve. Perhaps it was accidental, it could have been. She is a dog in search of edibles. Someone may have dropped a chunk of a loaded “treat.” Or someone may have thought it would be fun to get her stoned (the rumor of great food attracted many young revelers to the kitchen.) In any event, before I had time to eat my dinner my camp mate, Sylvia, said HB was acting “funny.” Sure enough, she was sitting like a baby giraffe, legs wobbly, staring around, looking decidedly altered. If I wasn’t so scared it might have been funny. Worried, not sure what to do, and miles from a vet, we got a charcoal capsule in her (great for poison) and sat at a fireside A.A. meeting. HB vacillated between acute awareness and stupefication, peed on both Sylvia and I but came through, unscathed by the experience, to celebrate the July4th the next day.
Every evening the drumming intensifies. Obfuscating all but the most determined frog or cricket. A gentle murmur and sweet rhythm during the day, at night it is crisply carried by chilly air across the miles of scattered camps, ignited by natural intoxication of the “mating dance” bolstered by the freedom of nakedness and outrageous costume, artificially amped by an exotic melange of drugs and super pot. By the 5th day it sounds less like a band of human cicada as it does the soundtrack to a nightmare. Images conjured remind me of art history class…. and Hieronymus Bosch’s triptych. The beauty of the “gathering of the tribes” has digressed at the hands and voices of the “lost and loud ones” from the elders vision of “Eden” to a dark and twisted place. Exclamations of “loving you” now replaced by unintelligible and tormented drug induced shouts and roars, rising and falling, incessantly til dawn.
Safely (and comfortably) settled in, on the “Ridge” far from the drugs, bedlam and drumming of the “downtown” campsites. The following days were a mix of quietude, companionship, fireside gatherings, sharing of meals. During the day I sometimes went alone to explore other camps… down steep paths, across dry and lumpy dirt moguls, across spongy muddy meadows, and handmade bridges (where trolls demanded corny jokes.) Cats perched on head and shoulders and mongrels of every age/variety checking each others stuff out. Clothing, no clothing, mud covered, normally or outrageous adorned, it was “rainbow minestrone.” I met eyes with a free and motley array of hippies, burners, weekend warriors and dreamers. “Welcome home” a common greeting and “loving you!” the campwide exclamation. Fat girls in fishnets, a man dressed as a circus Marshall, one women in mink, another in a Victorian hi necked gown and even a super hero “wedgie woman” who was taking one for the “team.” Lovely, laughable and free. From babes in arms to a woman older than dirt (a tuft of hair on her chin like a goat) most able bodied but some on oxygen, in wheel chairs and another on life support. Tenacity and a connection to their Rainbow family keep them coming back. I found camps of beautiful music, Jesus freaks, yogis, lovely conscious food, tight rope walkers, meditation, sweat lodges, skill teaching and many bright and shiny people interspersed with loud and lost ones – void of contribution (or fair trade) hands out, and heart-filled with an intense, unflinching need for for dope, drugs and the next party.
Cold, wet and sorely in need of a hot cup of tea, I found Brew ha ha and to my surprise, the 1 person I remotely knew from the Seattle event out of 19,998 strangers. I was warmly welcomed by the dozen or so there and, after scoping out a flat spot on the ridge, I returned for my stuff. A sweet, strong and very capable (Angel) named “Vanish” appeared on the path as I struggled to combine the cube and the cart (thank God for bungies.) Out of kindness he offered to drag my stuff up the hill to the Ridge, over snow, logs and up to my flat site. Repeatedly I offered him a way out, to stop when he got tired he said “give me 30 yrs.” Oh to feel that tireless. In gratitude I gave him a pound of smoked salmon and couldn’t thank him enough.
Wrung out the campsite and backtracked to where the paths diverged marked by a small sign saying “brew ha ha.” A camp serving hot herb tea to the masses, a legacy begun by art car artist Marilyn Dreampeace (now deceased.) In one of the more inexplicable and awkward moments of my trek in the day before, I recognized her car, now driven by her husband, Shalom Compost (really.) We crossed paths at the car as I shlepped the cube downhill. I introduced myself but found him oddly aloof; the polar opposite to Marilyn’s natural warmth, kindness and effervescence. Distractedly he mentioned the camp, added that it was “sober” and continued his single focused mission to dry his raincoat on a hybrid (no easy task.) The interaction was awkward but it pointed me to Brew ha ha (where I recalled having tea 25 years earlier at my only other “big” gathering) and “Serenity ridge.”
Morning finally came, I grabbed a couple of boiled eggs from the snowbank cooler and HB and I went for a long walk. 2 camps down I found “hobo coffee” and gratefully filled my cup. Further on I met a youngun named Rachel who encouraged me not to give up after hearing my admission of being a “fair weather” camper. From there I continued on, beyond the scattered campsites, a dismal logging site, and up to a quiet place on the empty road where I had heart to heart with God. HB pretended not to notice my tears as questioned myself asked for guidance, courage, and protection. Instead she begged for her share of the eggs and we trekked back to our waterlogged site to break camp.
Slick sleeping bag atop Slick pad atop another slick pad, on an uneven lumpy surface. But wait there’s more. Ongoing rain wicking off rigged tarp, into “waterproofed” tent. Dripping, dripping, dripping. Then shivering dog rattling dogtags outside tent. Poor dog. Now dog in tent (then bag.) Cold, wet, both of us in mummy bag sliding downhill. Puddles of rain in the tent. She growling as I disturb her to try in vain for comfort. Praying for sleep that only comes in minute increments. Relentless stream reminds me I have a bladder. I decide to begin a list of “gratitudes.” 1. No mosquito in tent. 2. No poison ivy. 3. friends loaned me thermal jacket and raincoat 4. HB has been recently bathed 5. neither of us has gas 6. I’m not 6’2. 7. the sun will rise at 4:30 8. I have amazing rainboots. 9. This is only temporary.
I jettisoned the bug and headed up to a National forest (Wa.,) to be joined by 19,999 others. I remotely knew 1 of them (from Seattle event) and perhaps 1 more. I was 1 of the earlier arrivals and only had to drag my stuff 2 miles from my roadside spot (using a rolling cube designed for linoleum) to the road in (where I’d left my “city shopping cart” full of camping gear.) Deciding it was best to pull the uncooperative cube while I could, HB and I walked 2 + miles in the spitting rain until the drizzle got harder. I found a dry spot under a low hanging bough for HB etc. & hustled back to get the tent. I hastily chose a spot for the night, higher than the path, beneath trees and above a rushing stream. It looked kinda lumpy and not exactly even, but light was fading, it was cold, and I had no time to waste. In the gloaming I set up my tiny tent, inflated sleeping pads, rigged a tarp (as best I could) and went to retrieve HB etc. I dragged the cube up the slope, across the snow (yes, snow) and made my shivering HB a dry bed in shopping cart. I took off my rain boots and climbed in the sleeping bag (clothes and all) and although early, I prepared to sleep….