One look at this year's Rainbow Gathering and even the crustiest skeptic will agree that the '60s didn't die in 1970.
It's all here: the tie-dyed clothes, the reek of patchouli and pot, the body paint, the mud wallows, the shouts of ``peace'' and ``love,'' the mongrel dogs with bandannas around their necks, the blissed- out smiles, the drug ODs, the dysentery and the macrobiotic grub.
No wonder it looks like so much fun.
A city of tepees, backpacking tents and log lean-tos is rising here on this sub- alpine meadow in the middle of the Ochoco National Forest. It is expected to reach a peak population of 20,000 citizens in the next couple of days.
This is the annual gathering of the Rainbow Family -- a loose-knit confederation of aging relics from the '60s, young neo-hippies and unorthodox religious adherents ranging from the Hare Krishnas to tree-worshipping pagans. The event runs until July 10.
The first Rainbow Gathering was held in 1972 in Colorado. Since then, the family has staged celebrations each year in national forests.
For the past several years, gathering sites have been in the South or East. That has kept West Coast members from attending in force.
``For some reason, western brothers and sisters don't like to travel east, but eastern brothers and sisters love going west,'' said one participant as he tested various rhythms on a drum.
The Rainbow Family is ecumenical in its approach. Criteria for membership are minimal.
``All that's required is a belly button,'' said one Rainbow ``brother.''
HORROR OF `BABYLON' It also helps, of course, if you esteem marijuana and psilocybin mushrooms and express a horror of ``Babylon'' -- the outside world of 40-hour workweeks, strip malls and food products derived from animals.
News of the events is disseminated by word-of-mouth -- and in the past couple of years, on the Internet.
``Just think of this as a finishing school for hippies,'' said Tim Freebird, a Rainbow veteran from Arkansas who serves as a liaison between the family and outsiders.
Freebird, a tall, raw-boned man with a craggy face and bristling beard, said that Babylon persists in its efforts to derail Rainbow gatherings.
``The Forest Service has been trying to stop us for years, though there's not much they can do when 10,000 people decide to show up someplace,'' he said. ``And we've been hassled pretty bad by the cops at times, particularly in New Mexico and Florida.''
About 35 miles away in Prineville, locals seem more bemused than frightened by the hordes of Rainbow members trooping through town on their way to the gathering.
``Other than being dirty and stinky, I guess they're not too bad,'' drawled Ron Loyd, manager of the Prineville Pizza Hut.
``We had a few problems,'' said Loyd. ``Nine of them came in here and tried to feed everybody off two all-you-can eat salad bar dinners. And some other guys were bathing in my rest-room sink. I had to put a stop to that.''
Oregon State Police and Forest Service special agents are monitoring the event.
``It's been pretty quiet for us,'' said state police captain Dennis Dougherty. ``Nothing in the way of major incidents.''
Many of the younger hangers-on who come to scarf free food, smoke free dope and sit naked in the sun strumming their guitars are nonplussed when they find themselves drafted for hard labor such as splitting firewood and digging slit latrines.
``They find out pretty quick that participating in the crucial work of the gathering is what it's all about,'' said Thumper, the prime mover behind Morningstar, one of the many kitchens set up around the site.
The kitchens are the focal points of the gathering. They churn out an impressive quantity of vegetarian pizzas, beans, soup, fried rice and fruit cobblers, all cooked on stoves built on the spot with dirt, rocks, 55-gallon drums and other found materials.
The food isn't exactly superabundant -- mealtimes are fairly fixed, and a lot of people wander around looking hollow-eyed and hungry. Still, everybody gets fed.
``This is what I was born to do,'' said Thumper, as he supervised a crew sawing firewood with a formidably sharp crosscut whipsaw. ``Ten years ago, I was a civil engineer with a suit and tie and a live-in girlfriend. I was dying of boredom. So one day I quit it all and never looked back. I have my bus, my friends and about $5,000 a year from some investments. That's all I need.''
Covered head to toe with a thin layer of meadow loam, Thumper freely admitted that life as a Rainbow road warrior can be tough.
``Let's face it, sometimes it sucks,'' he said. ``I like a shower every day. Right now, that's not possible. But I'm an engineer. I'll have something rigged up that will give me a hot shower before the gathering ends.''
The most meticulously maintained camp is Kid's Village, where families with young children camp. The kids kitchen serves the best and most plenteous food, and the hygienic standards are of the highest order. A wide meadow is reserved for the use by youngsters, where they romp under the watchful eyes of monitors.
Of course, conflict occurs in even the most loving of families. One woman took umbrage when her friend's dog defecated in her ``power circle'' -- a consecrated spot believed by some to harness the beneficent energy of Mother Earth.
``Bunny,'' she carped to her friend, who was wandering nearby looking at the wildflowers, ``My circle is desecrated. You've got to clean it up.''
Bunny, focusing resolutely on the blooms, seemed disinclined to undertake such a task. Grumbling, the woman marched off to find a place for a new power circle.
After that comes more dancing and drum-beating -- and cleanup. Family members pride themselves on leaving their sites in immaculate condition.
``The ovens will be torn down, the meadows will be reseeded --you won't find a single cigarette butt lying around,'' said Freebird.
Everyone will then return with varying degrees of reluctance to their old lives.
``Dude, the only thing I miss about Babylon is the movies,'' said one kid to his friend as they smoked a fat joint. ``I'm going to watch a lot of 'em when I get back down there.''
(c) 1997 The Chronicle Publishing Company