---------- Forwarded message ----------
Date: Wed, 24 Jul 2002 15:12:34 -0700
From: radtimes <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Like, Wow, Man
Like, Wow, Man
Pubdate: Wed, 03 Jul 2002
Source: Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (WI)
Copyright: 2002 Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Author: Nahal Toosi
LIKE, WOW, MAN
60s-Style Gathering Brings Peace, Pot, Nudity to U.P.
Watersmeet, Mich. - In this temporary society, the weed is plentiful and
ready for sharing. Luxury includes sleeping on bug-infested grounds in the
woods and not showering for days. Women meander topless; men try on flowery
Maybe the creek full of naked people bathing and dancing describes this
society best. Maybe it's the guy called Toonie Giggles Bubblicious, who
wears garish eye makeup and hangs out in Fairy Camp.
"Welcome home," brother, sister, whoever you are, the thousands of
gatherers in Ottawa National Forest say. The Rainbow Family of Living Light
is holding its annual Gathering of the Tribes for World Peace and Healing
in this wooded area in Michigan's Upper Peninsula - a spiritual high for
some members and a major headache for law enforcement.
"This is the heart of the counterculture," said Barry Sacharow, a
47-year-old community activist from Hollywood, Fla., who spends time
offering tours of this makeshift city. "There's a membership card that you
need. It's not really a card. It's a belly-button."
Born out of the anti-war movement and now in its 31st year, the gathering,
expected to number up to 20,000 people by today, has been held all over the
country. This year, with U.S. Forest Service officials keeping close tabs,
the Rainbow Family, a non-organization with non-members and no leaders,
arrived just over the Wisconsin-Michigan border, spreading out over several
acres about eight miles north of Watersmeet.
July Fourth is the main event for the so-called spiritual get-together,
when people converge to pray for peace and unity. Some already have been on
the grounds for a couple of weeks and may stay for more than a month. Many
are teenagers; others have been coming so long they're called elders.
Entire families, complete with toddlers and pets, show up.
Gathering Called Illegal
The Forest Service says the gathering is illegal since the "family" doesn't
have a permit. As of Wednesday afternoon, some 47 people were arrested, and
more than 200 cited for drug-related offenses, illegal gathering, traffic
violations and more.
The law enforcement hardly deters the Rainbow gatherers, many who refuse to
get permits simply on the principle that the forest belongs to everyone.
Along a three-mile trail, the gatherers have established more than 100
"kitchens" and "communities" with names such as Brew-Ha-Ha, Turtle Soup and
Fairy Camp (mainly gay males, but all are welcome).
People sleep in tents, tepees, hammocks and on the ground. They dig small
trenches for bathroom use. Using logs, the participants build tables and
shelves and cook vegetables in large pots and pans. Several participants
have built a small water filtration system next to the creek.
The work is voluntary, and pretty much everyone pitches in at some point;
the mainly vegetarian food is donated or bought with contributions. In the
evenings, gatherers sit in a "dinner circle" and eat the results of the
day's labor. By Wednesday afternoon, the Forest Service estimated, about
7,000 people had arrived at the forest.
"People make eye contact and say hello to each other," said Brian Reilley,
36, a systems administrator from Massachusetts who is at the annual
gathering for the first time. "You kind of miss that in everyday life."
Rabbi Chayim Levin lives in Jerusalem - not exactly a stress-free zone. He
rests with a guitar on his lap under a tent just off the rock trail. He
wears a yarmulke, blue-rimmed glasses, shorts and a black T-shirt that says
"Stop Police Brutality." Friends surround him, smoking.
"I come out here and I get some peace," said Levin, 49. "I'm sitting with
my brothers and sisters - enjoying their company."
The trail is dotted with signs and artwork. One abstract painting looks
like the head of a wizard. A sign tells passers-by to take the yoga lessons
offered at one camp. A banner speaks of positive group behaviors: harm no
living thing; use no soap within 50 feet of water areas; be responsible for
Plenty of Alternatives
The "Granola Funk" theater is set up for live entertainment. There's a
medical center, where alternative medicine is pretty much the only
alternative. The Christian-minded have camps, as do orthodox Jews. The Hare
Krishnas have a presence. Pot smokers appear to have a stronger one.
The whole place stinks.
Of feces. Of sweat. Of incense. Of marijuana. The sticky smell stubbornly
lingers in the air, exacerbated by heat, thickened by the growing mass of
There's no dress code, so some people don't bother wearing anything,
exposing nipple rings, stretch marks and tattoos. The majority who wear
clothes lend credence to the stereotypical hippie image: long, flowered
dresses and tie-dye shirts, garnished with beads and body paint.
Most of the nudity is found near Sucker Creek. By midday, the water is full
of naked people, from preteens to longhaired old men washing their bodies.
Several lie on the sand, soaking up rays. One man taps on a drum; another
meditates on the edge of the water. Small children play in the mud.
Near the entrance to the trail, cars stretch for miles, parallel (and
perpendicular) parked on both sides of the road. Their license plates come
from all over the United States. Some of the vans look old enough to have
been at Woodstock.
The society that emerges is marked by both a lack of modernization - hence,
"the trade circle," where people barter items such as beads and crystals -
and a reluctant need for it - some have walkie-talkies, for instance. It's
no utopia, and for a group that really isn't "official" in the classic
sense, it's remarkable that the gathering happens at all.
Michael John, 52, has attended the gatherings since 1972. He views the
event as a spiritual get-together, and worries that it's losing that aura.
He said people rely on the "family energy" to make group-wide decisions.
"It's a brilliant family reunion," said John, who lives in California.
"We're seeing God around us here."
At odds with government
Patriotism, family members say, is rampant here. They love this country.
The government? That's a whole separate issue. Especially the Forest Service.
The Forest Service deemed some of the land near Sucker Creek restricted
about two weeks ago. Forest officials said the area is archaeologically and
historically significant and sensitive because the old logging town of
Choate stood there more than a century ago.
Because of the number of people at the Rainbow gathering, there's no way to
ensure that the land isn't harmed, said Becky Banker, spokeswoman for the
Forest Service's National Incident Management Team, who estimated that the
restricted grounds covered some 200 acres.
Banker said authorities are handing out citations and arresting people, but
"when you have that large a number of people, there's only so much you can
do. A lot of our time is spent in traffic control."
Jessi Just, 20, a junior at the University of Missouri-Columbia, thinks law
enforcement should simply stay out of the way and let people enjoy the
nature. She was arrested over the weekend for being on the Choate grounds.
"I want to see us be able to gather peacefully," said Just, who is majoring
in parks and recreation.
Having just bathed in the creek, Just is unfazed by the fact that she's
venting in public while stark naked. "That's the way we all should be," she
Her friend Shawn Poirier, 30, of Portland, Ore., agreed. He pulled off his
shorts and said: "That's what freedom's all about!"
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