Philadelphia Inquirer Friday, July 8, 1983

A party for flower children who never grew old

……"That era gave us an image of freedom and love, and you really see that around here," said Michelle Barros, 23, Who came to gathering from Santa Cruz, Calif., aboard the "Green Tourist," an "alternative" bus line. An aspiring psychologist who works caring for two elderly women, she said she was mainly there to learn new massage techniques.

Those obviously running the show - folks who gave names like Frog, Badger, Crack, Bear, Freedom, Feather and Gypsy Tripper - denied holding positions of authority. Everybody belongs to the Rainbow Family, they said, the Gathering, held each year in a different National Forest and publicized mostly by word of mouth, is free and open to all.

This philosophy initially vexed the U.S. Forest Service. Officials were told just last month that the Rainbow Family planned to gather in upper Michigan, in the Ottawa National Forest at Interior, a former sawmill hamlet that flourished for 13 years before being burned to the ground in 1900.

The Rainbow scouts picked a high rolling meadow set in a forest of pines and birches. Clear springs and the swift-flowing Ontonagon River are nearby.

"Usually we like people to sign a special use permit," said Forest Service supervisor Joseph Zylinski. "But in the past they've signed with names like Bubble Blower, so I simply authorize the use verbally."

There were no big problems during the Gathering, and the Rainbow Family organizers promised to reseed the campsite afterward. In previous years the organizers have kept such commitments, he added.

"I was received more warmly in here in my uniform than I am in a developed campground," said Mickey Hall, a forester, after touring Interior on Tuesday. "I don't agree with everything they do, but I sure can't complain about the way they conducted themselves. I use the word mellow to describe it."

A state senator here once complained that the "hippies" only bring two things to the Upper Peninsula - a $5 bill and a pair of underwear - "and don't change either."

But although there was some friction this week - "Somebody's got to foot the bill, by golly," grumped retired railroad brakeman Walter Wojciechowski, 73, scowling at two bearded men with backpacks who were making peanut butter sandwiches on the sidewalk in Watersmeet, the nearest crossroads to the campground - local reaction to the invasion seemed mild. State police, who patrolled the campsite perimeter, made no arrests.

"Some of them came into my place and we shot a few games of pool," Jimmy Degroot, a local bar owner told a fishing companion Wednesday night. "They were just like anybody else."

There were some differences, all the same. At least for those who organized the Gathering, it clearly was a utopian exercise.

There was considerable organization. A half-dozen wood-fired kitchens were set up to feed the assembled multitude and to collect donations. The campers were summoned to breakfast and dinner in the meadow when someone blew a conch shell. Staples were beans, sprout salad and marijuana cookies. Metal, paper and glass trash were separated carefully for recycling.

Cars were parked two miles from the campsite, discouraging gawkers. A medical-emergency tent was linked by radio with an ambulance parked on a nearby road. There was at least one scare when a sick baby was taken to a hospital. But there were no reports of drug overdoses.

"It's like getting your pilot's license," Beck said. "People here already know how to fly."

There were rules too. Alcohol use was discouraged for example although other drugs by the handful were freely shared.

"A lot of people relate to the Gathering as anarchy" said Gypsy Tripper, who was coordinator of Fire Watch - camp security -, "But it is positive anarchy - nonviolent."

Shoeless, in order to be "grounded with life," he was a walking museum of the 1960s, from his tattered, patched, bell-bottomed pants to a droopy cap studded with beads and buttons - including a rusty reminder of the "People's Park" confrontation in Berkeley, Calif., that first drew wide attention to the advent of the "hippie" movement.

As for dealing with disturbances at the Gathering, he said, "You can't heal anger with anger. We try to resolve the problem by healing, by letting the brother or sister work out the violence."

One discordant moment arrived during what was supposed to be the Gathering's high point, a mass meditation for peace in the meadow at noon, July 4. A woman complained that she had been beaten up the previous night, a large group of people gathered around her and began chanting "Om."

Gypsy Tripper said that he had brought no money to Interior instead contributing five gallons of grain from a hoard that helped carry him through the Ozark winter

"Everybody who comes brings what they can and shares with everybody," he said, "and consequently, everybody is provided for."

A few of those here this year were working to create a permanent structure around the Rainbow Gathering.

Michael John, 34, a sign painter from Idaho, was selling a directory of regular participants. He hopes that will encourage people to keep in touch with each other all year. He excused himself from an interview explaining, "I'm not very linear today."

"It is a party, but it has the potential to be a "New Age" conference," said Henry the Fiddler, 34, a street musician and gold trader from Colorado, using a term that has become the catch-all for the current crop of "counterculture" pursuits Henry said he sees the Gathering as a laboratory for libertarian principles.

For all such intent, some first-timers seemed boggled and bothered by the Gathering's apparent lack of focus.

"It seems real loose, relaxed and kind of fluid," said Fred Mignone, 22, who belongs to a Philadelphia political collective called Movement for a New Society and who supports himself by cleaning houses. He said the Gathering was different from most meetings of people concerned with social change, the whole thing made him nervous.

"Little groups of people talking just seemed to happen," he said. "People here are real good at just hanging out."

Near where he stood, one group of men and women - some of them casually sunbathing nude - sat listening to a woman describe having communicated with the spirit of John Lennon. Another circle was being told of the healing power of enemas.

On a hilltop where a large quartz crystal had been placed, a man in flowing white robes told a group that "human love is the love of sharing and it don't matter if people think you are crazy". From a campsite hidden in the woods came the sound of a marimba.

"I think there is an element of people here who don't really do much, who aren't very productive," Mignone said, " …. I think a lot of people just moved off into the woods and you don't see too much of them.

"I really didn't think the whole hippie thing existed, but it really did, and it's still going on. These people are making it - they just live very simply and don't need very much."

"The common thing seemed to be spirituality," he said, "spirituality and drugs… There are all kinds of people spouting all kinds of weird stuff".

Of the hundreds of people still here yesterday, few seemed in a rush to leave. They spent hours gathered at a "council circle" debating where to hold next years gathering, each speaking in turn while holding a feather-tipped staff.

"I'm heading for Texas - It may take me a couple of weeks, but I ain't in no hurry," a man called out to a friend as he walked out of the campsite, past a banner that declared "Welcome Home".

"Live, laugh and love," he said.