I don’t attend music festivals. I find them to be hallowed by the Millennial impression of what a “good time” can be packaged and sold as. Just another reason for some bum-fuck, upper-middle class college student to walk around, take drugs and wear a headdress.
On Thursday, June 30th, I received a message from Rebel Love Show host, Rob Mathias.
I called him up to figure out what a “Rainbow Gathering” was. My assumption was that this gathering was some sort of music festival, but according to him, this wasn’t the case.
I thought that I wouldn’t be able to go, considering how broke I was. So I straight up told him that I didn’t have any money, but he was persistent .
“It’s an anarcho-communist community” he would go on to say. “This isn’t a festival with a big stage, it’s how people live- it’s a lifestyle. There’s no money involved, they hate money. Everything is community-based, and it’s your personal choice to donate or bring food.”
He sold me. Seeing as though I had no money, this was a pretty good opportunity to check it out. Also, with how sketchy this sounded, I didn’t have much to lose. As I pried for more information, I had to ask the big question.
“This isn’t a cult, is it?” I asked.
On the other line, I could hear a slight laugh.
“No, but this is probably the closest thing to being one without actually being one that you’ll experience.”
I made a nervous chuckle.
“I’m in”, I said, mentally getting myself together to actually go through with my commitment. There was no backing out of this now. I said yes, and I was going.
“Awesome, dude. You won’t regret going”, he said.
My initial thought was focused on my job. It was 4th of July weekend so I had Monday off, but Tuesday needed to be worked on. I told him that I needed to be back for Tuesday morning because of work and he told me he would call some people and get back to me. After a few minutes of waiting, I got a call back saying that his friend, Nate, was going to head back Tuesday. Everything was in place. The only thing I didn’t have was a tent.
“We’ll figure out your tent situation”, Rob said.
As I hung up, I turned to my two friends whom I was staying with for the night.
“I just got invited to a Rainbow Family Gathering”, I told them. “I’m still unsure of what this entails but I’m definitely going.”
As I tried to convey to them what Rob told me, I decided to look it up. There were images of naked, dreadlocked people running around in the mud, holding each other, and standing in a circle with their heads down in prayer.
“This is totally a cult,” I said with a laugh. “Holy shit this is totally a cult.” The tone of my friends was that of concern. They were skeptical as to why I was going and, for the most part, they had a good reason. They didn’t know what I was getting into, hell, I didn’t even know. I had never been to any sort of festival before. I’m not the kind of person who spends $300 dollars to travel out to the middle of nowhere, listen to a bunch of crappy EDM music and wear a headdress, but from what I had gathered, this was something leagues above any of that. This was something that was real. This was a lifestyle.
According to Wikipedia:
Rainbow Gatherings are temporary loosely knit communities of people who congregate annually in remote forests around the world for one or more weeks at a time to enact a supposedly shared ideology of peace, harmony, freedom, and respect. Anyone is allowed to attend and participants refer to themselves as a “Rainbow Family”. The goal is to create what they believe is a more satisfying culture—free from consumerism,capitalism, and mass media—that’s nonhierarchical, furthers world peace, and serves as a model for reforms to mainstream society.“
“Are you going to get naked and dance in the mud?” they joked.
I was unsure.
“At this point, probably?” I replied.
“Well we wish you the best”, they said.
I went to bed that night thinking about what I had gotten myself into. It kept me up, I stirred over how I would handle myself.
“Should I stay reserved? Should I just go all in? It wouldn’t make much of a story if I stayed on the outside through the whole thing. That’s just not fun. I’m only going to be there for a day. Some people have been doing this for 30 years. I think I can handle a day, yeah. If I’m only going to be there for a day, I should just go all in. I’m going to come in hot, stay hot, and leave burnt. Like a comet. Yeah, all in.”
On Sunday, the day that I was expected to leave, I got another message from Rob. This time, he told me that Nate, the person driving me back on Tuesday, planned to leave later than expected. That meant I had to call my boss.
I quickly gave him a call and flat-out explained to him what I was getting into. “It would make a good article for my personal blog”, I explained. He was very understanding.
“Good luck”, he said. “I had a cousin go out to one of those in the 70’s. We didn’t hear back from her for about 5 years.”
That wasn’t the best thing to hear as I was getting ready to leave. I got off the phone and tried to amp myself up.
“You’re not backing out of this,” I told myself. “You’ll only be there for, what, a day and a half? This will be fun.”
I left my friend’s apartment and drove home to get ready. As I was packing, my landlady, who I call “Mamma Brown”, asked where I was going.
“Uh…to a Rainbow Family Gathering”, I said.
She stood there, in a simple confusion.
“I’m not even going to ask”, she turned around and waved her hand. “Just be careful.”
I threw all of my stuff in the car and drove to Rob’s apartment. I arrived shortly before him so I hung out on his stoop until he pulled in. I was a little tense.
He arrived, invited me into his place, and showed me around. Colored lights and tapestries covered the walls. I got to take a look at his broadcasting studio as well as have a discussion about anarchism and the state of things in New Hampshire. Rob’s an Anarchist. He and his fiance moved to the state of New Hampshire for the Free State Project. After some time, Nate showed up. I walked out, eager to meet him.
Nate is a calm, well-spoken individual. Upon meeting him, I could sense a “lightness” to his presence. His genuine personality created somewhat of a foundation of which, if anything were to happen, would maintain some form of stability, whatever “stability” meant. I was glad to meet him and was glad he was coming with us. We gave our introductions and started talking about our limited festival experience. He was like me – none. I wasn’t alone, thank God. Our opinions of what we were getting into were similar which was nervous but excited. We were going to experience whatever this “Rainbow Gathering” was. Maybe we would uncover something about ourselves…or whatever.
We threw all of our stuff together and headed out. I drove with Rob while Nate followed closely behind. The Sun, with its deep red hue, began to set in front of us. Lighting our direction until slowly falling behind the great woods and mountains of New Hampshire.
Our pilgrimage to Rainbow had begun.
It was night. As we drove underneath the deep canopy of Vermont, I couldn’t help but notice that the trees had been reaching out to one another over the road. As if the road had torn straight through them. Like two lovers, they stretched across, but no matter how much they would bend, twist, and knot, they were still just short of reaching each other.
We discussed and explained our political views. I find that the Anarchists in New Hampshire are much easier to talk to than regular people. They’re as honest as they come. They don’t believe in any government (or anyone else for that matter) telling you what to do. It’s up to the individual to decide what is best for them. I thought about a quote I had heard from a good friend of mine a week before.
Let man do.
and man will do.
and man will prosper.
It held weight. The same weight as Rob’s words. It made sense, you know? Let people be themselves. Don’t let rules dictate who you are. I was starting to feel the anarchist in me come out.
Rob continued to speak.
“When you go back to the real world, you’re going back to Babylon“, he said.
“Why do they call it that?”
“I’m not entirely sure, but – what is that?!”
I looked out to see two lights hovering above the car. At first, I thought it was an airplane but quickly noticed that they were two separate lights. They weren’t moving at the speed of an airplane either.
“Dude, is that a UFO?” asked Rob.
“What the fuck is that?!” I said, still trying to wrap my head around what I was looking at.
“Why aren’t you recording this?!” He anxiously stated.
I should have been. As I motioned to grab my camera out of my pocket, I noticed that there was a large bonfire happening to our right. There were people setting off lanterns into the night sky.
“Dude, they’re just lanterns!” we shouted, simultaneously. We started laughing at ourselves. We honestly believed those were aliens. My tense feelings were broken. At that moment, I felt myself lift out of the heavy feeling that I had for the drive . The thought of what I was going to experience at the festival was putting the weight on my head and I hadn’t even arrived yet.
As we continued to drive, we discussed how we both came to be a part of The NH Hempfest & Freedom Rally. I spoke of how I interviewed Rick Naya for GHOM and was asked to be the director of Social Media for the event. Rick really liked the article I wrote for him. It was nice to have someone with such a high influence in the cannabis scene in New Hampshire respect my work.
We continued to drive through the darkness for some time before Rob’s walkie-talkie chirped. It was Nate.
“Hey, can we pull over somewhere? Maybe smoke a joint?”
I had traveled the road we had been on before. I take that road to Okemo where my friends and I snowboard. I knew there was a place to pull over coming up. We would stop there in case any of us needed to use the bathroom.
“This would actually be a great place to stop”, I said. “You can’t see it right now, but there’s a river right next to us. There’s a spot coming up real soon.”
We found the area to pull over. Through the gently rustling trees and darkness, we could hear the sound of water. We turned our car lights off, leaned against the car and stared at the sky. We were miles from any sort of civilization and the closest thing to that, was the small town next to the mountain. The stars lit up the sky like those lanterns we had seen previously, only there were thousands.
Nate rolled a joint and we passed it around. We made sure everyone was doing okay to continue the drive, pissed, then hopped in our cars. We still had some distance to cover before we got there.
We came upon a dirt road. Once I saw that, I knew we were close. As we drove for a few miles through the darkness, we came upon flashing blue lights. We had arrived and it was midnight.
“Well, shit,” I said. “This doesn’t appear to be good.”
“It certainly doesn’t” Rob said.
As we pulled up closer, we noticed that the police were just directing traffic. Where they were was where we had to park our car.
We pulled over to the side of the road and, in a panic, we left most of our stuff in the car. I grabbed my sleeping bag, my backpack, and my water bottle. That was pretty much all I brought with me anyways so it wasn’t much.
I noticed that we parked 2.3 miles away. This was going to be a haul. Just beyond the flashing blue lights, we could see a pickup truck. We hurried over to it and a man stepped out. He was wearing a yellow jacket with no pants, not even underwear.
“You guys heading up?” he asked.
There was a collective “yes” from our group. We threw our stuff in the back and hopped in. A few others had joined us as well. There were a few people speaking in a different language. My ability to decipher where they were from was limited. My guess was Eastern Europe. The half naked man jumped into the driver side and told us to hold on. I felt like some refugee sneaking into another country.
With the amount of people in the back, it sagged. The sides of the truck had wood guards that, if you were in the right place, you could hold onto. They were barely screwed on.
The man behind the wheel was ripping up this narrow dirt road. In front of me was a man wearing a cowboy hat. With everything being a new experience for me, I didn’t notice the man in front of me duck his head to avoid a low lying branch. I was met by a face full of leaves at 40 mph. It was quite the reality check. I used him as a reference for the remainder of the car ride. If he ducked, so did I.
Looking to my right, I noticed the line of cars parked on the side. Some parked so far into the ditch, it looked as if they were never going to get out.
We stopped, picked up more travelers, and continued to the entrance.
After a few minutes, we made it. We were greeted by school buses, painted on them in the most decorative, psychedelic ways. A banner hung between two trees read:
“Welcome Home, Rainbow Family 2016.”
Everyone jumped out whichever way they could, grabbed their belongings and went their separate ways. Rob, Nate and I still had some distance to cover before we got to our campsite.
As we walked, a tired man dressed to the brim in camping gear walked up to us.
“Do you guys know how to get to the campsite?” he asked.
Since neither Nate nor I, knew where this place was, we kept quiet. Rob, on the other hand, did.
“Well, Basi Legani is this way. Does that sound familiar to you?”
“It certainly does!” said the weary traveler.
We were glad Rob had the answer. It would have sucked to just have shrugged this guy off. He looked beat.
We made our way to the campsite with our new found friend. The only lights were the small flashlights we had brought. Around us was complete darkness as we headed into the woods.
Our traveling friend had told us that he had been hiking for a few days in the nearby mountains, this gathering took him by complete surprise.
As we walked through the darkness, I could vaguely hear sounds of thunder. I looked up and saw nothing but the clearest sky. The sounds that I had mistaken for thunder were drums. Echoing and weaving through the trees making its way down the mountain.
“Hey, this is my spot!” said the traveler.
“Well, it was nice meeting you, my friend”, replied Rob.
We parted ways as he walked off into the darkness never to be seen from our group again. Drums, guiding his way home.
It was now the three of us. Walking in a rhythm to the drums. A caravan of wanderers.
“Here we are,” said Rob.
The camp was located just off of the trail. It was so dark that I couldn’t find my sense of direction. Nate and I both looked around for a comfortable spot to set up our tents. Being so late and dark, I opted to set up my tent in the morning and sleep on the ground. Nate, who I had mentioned being somewhat of a foundation, came prepared.
“I have a hammock if you would rather use that”, he suggested.
The idea was far better sounding than sleeping on the ground. The hammock could fit two people easily and had the ability to fold up around you like a cocoon. We quickly set it up, then moved onto setting up his tent.
As we were getting everything ready, we could hear a faint sound in the distance. Rob quickly recognized it as his fiance, Ann, or as she likes to be called, “The Rebel Mistress”. The surrounding area was such a thick blackness that we could only see the bright white dress she was wearing. I still had to squint to make it out. She walked closer, her white dress made her seem like a ghost, elegantly dancing behind the trees. Like a spirit of the deep wood, she disappeared behind the trees and found her way over to Rob. They embraced each as if they hadn’t seen each other in weeks, which in reality was only a couple of days.
Nate and I finished setting up, greeted Ann, and discussed what the plan was for the rest of the night. I was excited to venture out to the drums and witness what exactly this gathering had to offer.
“It’s up this way,” said Rob, now shirtless, and carrying a drum. “You have to follow the treeline. Just whatever you do, follow the tree line.”
It was easier said than done considering how dark everything was. My assumption was that the three of us would stick together through the first night. We walked up the path, again, with only our small flashlights. People walked past us, barefoot and dirty, shirtless and dreadlocked, naked and free. This was my first, dimly lit glimpse of this gathering.
The drums, heavy and dense, their rhythmic currents blasted throughout the open, center field. I could begin to hear howling. Not from the wildlife around us, but from the people themselves as if I were walking into a wolf’s den. My thoughts moved towards just staying with the group and having a bearing as to wherever the fuck my location was.
We had arrived at the bonfire. The scene was if the world had ended. People jumping and howling, banging drums and dancing. Naked, ruthless and liberated, their motions echoed the same resonance as the drums. Everyone reduced to primal and instinctual manifestations of themselves.
I was taken aback. I started to gazing at what this was. What I had said yes to. I stood there in awe as I witnessed the madness. A minute passed before I realized that I had lost both Rob and Nate and that I had really no clue as to where I was or how I was going to get back to the camp. The silhouettes against the fire clouded my sight. Without panicking, I searched around. After another minute, I had located what I thought was Rob. I walked over, and there he was, dancing and drumming to the rhythm of the crowd. Not a care in the world. Letting his expressions guide his journey over this dark, but immersive, rainbow.
“Where’s Nate!?”, I shouted.
“What?!”, Rob replied. Our voices completely drowned out by the thunderous sound of drums.
I motioned to take a few steps back from the circle. Rob agreed and joined me.
“Do you know where Nate is?”, I asked again.
“Uh, he’s not with you?”, asked Rob.
“No…” I said, unsure of what to do. “Christ, I hope he knows how to get back to the camp.”
“I think he’ll be okay“, said Rob.
We made one more pan of the area to try and find him. Of course, we couldn’t, but it was worth a shot. The drum circle was overbearing at this point and I wanted to venture into other places.
“I kinda want to see what else is happening here, if you don’t mind,” I said.
“Not at all“, replied Rob. “This is your first night. See everything you can.”
We walked further up the hill. West of the campfire into other areas. There were different stations all throughout this great gathering. We reached the top of the hill and saw an acapella group. The songs started in one place and ended in a complete other. Everything was improvised. The singing turned to fart noises and my mind was actually blown by how fluid the transition was between them. Their minds were all in the same headspace as if they were one collective consciousness. This same collective format would go on to resonate throughout my experience with this Rainbow Gathering.
We walked North. From the top of the hill, you could see everything that had a fire near it. Each flame, a beacon, a direction to each person’s home. Each home, a person’s independent sanctuary. This place was massive. A commune of individuals, each gathering to this place for their own reasons. Each one chanting a different hymn while resonating with the same rhythm.
The fires illuminated small patches of light throughout the encampment.
As I looked around, I noticed the time. It was almost 4 a.m. We decided to head back to the camp. The drums still resonating with their intensity. The darkness that shrouded us the entire night had been lifting. The faint outline of trees came into my vision. As we walked, I could see my breath. I knew that sleeping in the hammock would be cold, but I didn’t really have much of a choice.
We arrived at our site. The sun, while still not up, illuminated the mountain just enough to give me a field of vision.
“Nate…Nate. Are you here?
There was a faint sound of rustling from his tent.
“Yeah, sorry I lost you guys.”
“Holy shit, dude I’m glad you made it back”, I said, the weight of losing him had been lifted.
Both Rob and I breathed a heavy sigh of relief. We didn’t want to lose anyone on the first night or (at all). I made the decision that when I woke up, I would walk around and get my bearings on the area.
I put on both pairs of pants and my socks, hopped into the hammock, wrapped myself up in my sleeping bag and tried to sleep. My last view before descending into a great, deep slumber were the stars that somehow made their way past the deep foliage of the forest. I thought about the sheer number of them and how, no matter how hard the trees tried to block out the sky, there would always be stars to peek through the empty gaps.
I woke up to a strong beam of light seeping through a small gap where both sides didn’t fully close. It was 8 a.m. I had only slept for 4 hours. I was groggy, but I wasn’t going to sleep through the day. I only had this one day to fully embrace and experience what this gathering had to offer.
I peeked my head out. It was morning. The sun shone brightly through the foliage. As I looked further through the woods, I could see beams shining through the trees.
As I rolled out of my hammock, I was met by the sounds of the wood. The sounds that circled me were birds. Each bird, like the people last night, chirping their own song but creating a wall of immense sound as they collectively called out to one another.
For the first time since I had arrived, I could see. The area wasn’t as chaotic as the night before. You couldn’t hear a single person. I heard a rustling from Nate’s tent. He awoke with a stretch and we greeted each other with a good morning. Soon after, Rob and Ann woke up. We put our heads back on and went about planning the day ahead of us.
“Why is everything so quiet?” I asked.
“It’s a moment of silence”, replied Ann. “It’s supposed to last until ‘hippie noon’. Then we can be loud again.”
“What time is ‘hippie noon’?” I asked.
“I don’t know, like 5?”, she said.
Around this time, I remembered that we needed to grab the stuff we had left in the car from the night before.
“We need to grab our stuff out of the cars”, I said. “I think Nate and I are going to make the pilgrimage down and grab what we can.”
Nate, who had brought a small furnace and coffee, brewed a batch. I’m not a huge coffee drinker, but that was probably the best thing to happen to me that morning. I also thought about breakfast and how I hadn’t really eaten since I left the day before. It didn’t bother me as much as I thought it would. I could always go to a kitchen and get food so I wasn’t concerned. I would probably get food when I got back.
After the coffee, we gathered a few things, loaded up our backpacks with some water and made our way to the cars. The silence of the entire camp made it hard to walk without making a lot of noise. It was peaceful. Not many times can you have so many people together in one area and be completely silent.
We made it back to the entrance and to the main road where everyone parked. The atmosphere was different during the day. It was lighter, more friendly. A family with two sons were cooking by the entrance. The two boys must have been at the most, 2 years old. They were running around the entrance with no clothes on. Their parent’s, traditional looking hippies, gave us a friendly smile and wave.
“Peace and love!” they said.
“Peace love and unity!”, I replied back.
As we walked, we discussed what brought us to the gathering.
“This is a really cool experience”, Nate said. “I’m glad I decided to come. You know, my wife is in China right now, teaching English to children.”
As if I didn’t think this guy was genuine enough, he pulled that on me.
“I can’t wait to see her again. I’m going out to visit her.”
“Can I make the assumption that she wouldn’t be too keen on going to something like this?”, I asked. It was a little probe, but I was curious.
“You would be correct”, he said. “I’m kinda doing this all now while she’s away so I can experience this while I can. I love her, so I don’t want to give off the impression that I do this all the time. I don’t.”
He wasn’t like that at all and I didn’t want him to believe that. I don’t think he believed it himself, but the moment called for me to say something so I did.
“Hey, man, after meeting you for the past day and a half, I can pretty much assure you that nobody would think that of you.”
We continued our walk. The sounds of birds chirping were really the only thing we could hear. The line of cars stretched for miles. Every now and again, we would see a friendly face and wish them peace and wellbeing.
After walking for a few minutes, two women came out from behind their car and called to us.
“Hey! can you guys help get our car unstuck? It’s in the ditch and we’re trying to leave.”
Nate and I both looked at each other and nodded in agreement.
“Sure!”, we both replied.
We walked over to the car and we saw that the front passenger tire was sunk in, but not impossible. I broke a few sticks and placed them underneath. With one person behind the wheel, the three of us would push the car. In less than 10 seconds, the car was out and they were free.
The two women were ecstatic, giving both of us two long and grateful hugs.
“Thank you guys so much! Hey, since we’re leaving, do you need a ride back to your car?” one of them asked.
“Actually, that would be awesome!” said Nate.
They drove us all the way down and dropped us off. The car ride was short, but if we had walked it would have taken us at least an hour. We parted ways, happy to be at our car in such a short time.
“That worked out perfectly!,” I said to Nate. “I thought we were going to be stuck there trying to get them out for a while. Then they drove us to our cars.”
“Yeah, everything came together nicely”, he said.
As we gathered our belongings, I began to think about this trip. I thought about how, even though nobody knew each other, everyone was still super friendly every was available to help. You don’t see that level of togetherness back in the real world. There was no real judgment aside from my own personal thoughts.
We finished grabbing everything we needed. Once that was taken care of, the reality of walking back popped into our heads. We were ready to make the trip, we had nothing else going on, so we started.
A few minute up the road, we could hear a car behind us.
“Hey, think we should hitch a ride?”, I asked.
“We can try”, said Nate.
I held my thumb out and smiled half jokingly. My thoughts were that this person was jut going to drive by, but low and behold, they stopped. We ran up to the car and squeezed ourselves in the back.
It was a boy and girl, a little younger than we were. The driver didn’t say much. He was just chill, he was probably the most cautious one. A couple of vagabond strangers just getting in your car would make any normal person a little weary of the situation, but once we settled in, he was comfortable.
“Hey!”, they greeted us happily.
“Thanks for picking us up. Oh man, we would have had to walk forever with this stuff.”
“No problem!” the girl said.
“I’m Ashley and this is Johny Catsh.”
She held up a kitten.
“Is that a kitten?” I exclaimed.
“Yeah, someone gave it to me last night”, said Ashley.
“They just gave it to you?” Nate asked.
“That’s pretty awesome”, I said. “Can I hold it?”
She handed me the cat. It had to be only a few weeks old. It was exploring across all of our stuff piled into the back seat. My initial thought was that somebody probably tried giving it away because they couldn’t take care of it. That was my general impression of what I had seen so far. These people traveled light so bringing a cat along with them could create some sort of issue. On top of that, if they knew they couldn’t take care of it, they probably didn’t want it to die in their hands. It would certainly create an issue for me if I were in their shoes. I was happy that the cat found it’s way back.
After driving some distance we talked about where we were from.
“Were from the Manchester area.” Nate and I said.
“Oh, same! We are too!” said Ashley Excitedly.
“Yeah we came with our friend Rob and Ann.” said Nate.
Ashley lit up in an excited instant.
“We know them too! The Rebel Love Show!”
It was awesome that out of everyone who picked us up, it was someone in our circle of friends.
We arrived at the entrance again. The banner hadn’t changed at all. The sun, beating down in the wide opening, gave us very little escape from the sun. We said our goodbyes and ventured back to the camp.
It was still quiet during our journey back. The sun was now completely up. A dense and heavy air had greeted us upon walking to the treeline. By this time, we could hear countless people moving around rustling in the foliage around us.
At this point, I realized why it was so dark the night before. The area was covered in dense, vibrant, and green trees. Any light that was trying to shine through was quickly shrouded in the thick forest. Prior to this gathering, there mustn’t have been any foot traffic coming through. Now, thousands of people venturing through, creating their own paths.
We had arrived at our camp. Rob and Ann were out and about getting everything ready for our night ahead. We had discussed what we were going to do that night and after hearing it, I wanted to take my walk around the area to get acquainted.
All of a sudden, as if the whole area had spoken at once, a large, rising chant started from the main circle. The moment of silence had been broken. It was officially “hippie noon” which was exactly regular noon.
“Who would have thought that?”, I said to myself. “I’ve never seen a hippie on time.”
We began our walk to effectively get my grip on the night ahead of me. I walked without saying much. Rob and Ann, on the other hand, spoke to each other and showed me around. I was quiet, just analyzing my surroundings.
As we walked, I got to see the full spectrum of the gathering. More naked individuals had peered into my vision. I looked to see individuals who were burnt by the realities of living in a commune. Some had been here for a while, their eyes drooping with age. The wrinkles in their eyes made them look older than they probably were. They were here, enjoying themselves. They would move on to enjoy themselves elsewhere. They didn’t care. Some were just looking for a place to belong. Some were here to find something of themselves. Others knew themselves and knew that this is where they believed themselves to be.
As I sat at the main circle watching every person walk past me, I noticed a man in a toga/robe walking around collecting water in a jug. The purpose was to distribute it to others. The anarcho-communist way went to the fullest extent with him. I looked at him in the eyes as he offered me water. His pupils were dilated. Gazing at me with his aged and withered facial features, I could sense his full detachment from reality. A gold star in the middle of his forehead accentuated the blue and white robes he wore.He truly believed he was helping people by doing this. Had I not known anything about what this guy was doing, I’d probably listen to him, but I knew better. I declined his offer for water. The first time I had to turn somebody down for offering me something felt weird, but it was my independent choice to decline and I did so without judgment of the man who had offered it.
Soon after that, a group of people came over and tried to get him to stop what he was doing citing that it wasn’t a very healthy choice. I couldn’t disagree with them. Even as I was sitting in one of the largest anarcho-communist hippie gatherings, I still didn’t trust myself enough to get free “community water” collected by strangers.
Rob decided he wanted to join the main circle with his drum. Ann moved to a different area to dance with her hula hoop. I was left sitting there, taking in everything that I was experiencing. To my left were naked women, my right, naked men. Everyone with their arms out, embracing some sort of deity. Whoever it was, they appeared to be listening, feeling some sort of spiritual guidance. Giving themselves up and letting whatever drugs they were taking guide their mental voyage.
You could see the people who had been doing this for some time. Their souls etched with age, their withered body’s striving for the freedom that once inhabited their souls. Here they were, their skin and spirit drying under the heavy sun. Their minds like sun-beaten trees, the leaves dry and cracking, falling off one by one until bare. Leaving only the cracking branches. A skeleton, ready to fade away into the wind.
This wasn’t a place for the people I knew. The trivial novelty of a quick $300 bucks snatched up from some twenty-something wasn’t the message that this place was sending. This was a place for those who wanted a real glimpse into this culture. To be a part of this culture. This wasn’t a cheap thrill, no. These were real people colliding with each other. Praying to the winds, or whatever spirits heard them first.
I didn’t want to just sit in one place, I was done watching and. I felt comfortable in my surroundings, in my own skin. While Rob and Ann kept with the drum circle, I wandered off. I walked around, the sun beating down on my back. I looked at the withered and dirty faces of people who never got off. Their spirit was the only thing that had appeared to be keeping them together. Their quest for spiritual guidance being the roots that connected them to the trees. I was ready to get lost. To be a part of the wandering souls that had ravaged these deserted areas of the continental U.S.
After an hour of walking around by myself, I ran into Rob and Ann again. This time, they had found a friend. The man was heavily bearded, wore a red cape and had a large rubber boot on his head. he carried a large toothbrush as if it were his staff. It was Vermin Supreme. His calm, friendly debonair was comforting. Like a wizard that had come from the deep woods, his spoke well of everyone and you could sense the genuine character in his eye. He looked at each of us and spoke about his experiences running for president as well as his past experiences with the gathering.
After speaking with the well-spoken wizard, we wandered. We made it back to the camp, found Nate, and decided to get the night started.
Nate, being the rock that he was, made another cup of coffee. I drank it, but I didn’t feel that I needed to with everything we were going to do that night. Hell, I wasn’t even sure about doing everything that I was about to do.
I did it. We waited for a few minutes, gathered everything we needed and left.
After a few more minutes, I could feel my mind start to bend. The air became lighter, softer, and warmer. The wind swirled around my head and wrapped around my ears. It felt like someone was running their fingers through my hair.
The sun was setting, but it was so red that the sky around it became saturated in its deep hue. The heat from it was still intense as it beat down on my back. My senses started to heighten as what had taken started to envelop me.
I walked through a field. The tall grass was waist high. Around me were the wanderers. It was as if you were 10,000 years ago. Walking through this once untreated place I could feel the spirits of the mountain whispering to me. The red sun had now set past the trees but the light would still go on to burn for another hour or so. The darkness had yet to set in as what I had done finally began to fully affect my consciousness.
I wound up by myself as the sun set. The refraction and scattering of the sun’s ray in the atmosphere dimly lit my way. I had no flashlight. I felt like I had no way home.
In a short panic, I walked to the main circle. There, I could see the people without judgment. Everyone circled around the large fire. The complete darkness set in once again as I made my way around. I needed to find something resembling sanctuary. I could start to feel myself losing it.
I walked. I didn’t run. I wasn’t scared enough to run. I wasn’t scared at all, I just needed someone I knew nearby. Like a security blanket. A safety net. Something. Everywhere I turned I saw blank faces. As if the very souls of these people had left fleeing from their eyes to leave them withered. This trip, for lack of a better term, was going straight fucking south on me.
I walked around more and heard my name called. It was Rob and Ann. I walked over mumbling to myself with my face covered.
“Of fuck. Jesus. This is intense, man. Holy shit.”
I smiled. Laughing at myself, I put my face into my hand and let my hair fall over it. I could feel the weight of me head press hard against my hand like holding a large stone.
Rob laughed. His light examination of the situation made me chuckle as well. It brought me back up and I started laughing with him. I couldn’t control myself so we walked back to the tent. We lost Nate once again, but we figured he had found his way home.
We got back to the tent and, sure enough, he was there.
“Nate, what’s up? Are you okay?” I asked.
From the tent, we could hear him rustling.
“Yeah, I just have a really bad headache.”
It was a huge bummer. I felt bad seeing as though it was his only night and I was the only one enjoying it. I spent some time back at the camp. The drums pounding away.
As I sat there, a man walked past me.
“Happy 4th of July,” he said, then disappeared into the woods.
I had totally forgotten that it was a holiday. Especially the 4th of July. What better way to spend America’s independence than by sitting the middle of nowhere with my face melting off, and hanging out with a group of anarcho-communist hippies.
Damned if I could think of a better way to celebrate.
I spent the next couple minutes gathering myself to go back out. Then a girl and a quirky kid came over. From a distance, you could hear their conversation. Something about jerking it. I didn’t want to listen in after I heard it. The quirky kid, who I forget his name, had curly hair and glasses, he was also wearing a bathrobe. I wasn’t sure if he was wearing anything underneath but I had hoped he was. The girl had dreadlocks and was incredibly nice. Apparently, she knew both Rob and Ann.
At this point, my head was in the right space again. I was light and comprehensible. It was good to just have a seat. There were a lot of things going on at once. We left Nate at the camp to rest and made our way back. Our thoughts with him as we marched our way through the darkness.
Ann wore a creative dress covered in little bells that would chime whenever she took a step. While walking for a bit, all I could eventually hear were the chiming. With every step she took, I started to lose it. I cracked up hysterically.
The girl who had showed up earlier caught up with us. Her name was Keena. She was a New Hampshire native and it was pretty obvious. She was a free spirit. Her positive attitude resonated within our group.
The temperature dropped and my skin started to feel the cold wind of the mountain. You could see my breath exit my body like my spirit was trying to leave. My soul trying to escape from any orifice it could. Of everything that I had experienced in less than a day, I felt it appropriate to do this. To be a part of the wonderment and awe that echoed through the bones of each traveler.
My judgment towards everything that I had witnessed had started to dissipate. My mind, now clearer, worked on focusing my steps carefully. The howls of wild people filled the space in my head and resonated.
Keena walked with me. We didn’t say much, but there wasn’t really a need to. The same experience that I was having was shared with every mind in the forest. As one collective consciousness spanned across the pallet of thought.
I stopped and looked up. The stars were still magnificent. A billion clusters inside another billion clusters, the closer you looked, the more intricate each fractal became. Never ending – infinite.
I looked down, it was only Keena and I. We walked towards the main circle to try and find Rob and Ann. When we arrived, it was like everything slowed down. People jumping up and down, their hair catching up to them and following just one step behind. The breath from every cold person was illuminated by the giant fire in the center.
It was a collective of beings. No gods, no masters, just us. The universe collided in the eyes of every individual. Deep red hues contrasted the enveloping darkness. We were lost. With Rob and Ann nowhere in sight, we wandered on our own.
The souls of this vast area had begun to wind down. The drums becoming quieter, each bang sounded more tired than the next. The fire, that once illuminated the land, had started to die out. The weight of everything during the night had begun to fade away. The eclectic, symbiotic chaos started to vanish. Everything became calm.
As we made our way around, the sun started to rise. As it did, my perception of my surroundings began to change. The people, who were once tribal and fierce, had become cartoonish. The sun began to uncover the realization that this place was for the weary, the travelers, the side-shows and the benign. A man with a top hat and a tie-dye t-shirt came out from his tent in the woods and wished us a good morning. We made our way back to the camp and laid down.
The sun was up, but it was blocked by the mountains. It was officially morning and the experience was over. I got up, started to pack my belongings and checked to see if Nate had woken up. I could hear Rob and Ann moving around in their tent so it made me comfortable to see them back, safe and sound.
The air was still cold, but bearable. My vision still racing from the night before and the hallucinations were still surrounding me.
Nate had begun to wake up. He rolled out of his tent and started to make coffee. I rolled up my sleeping bag and started to gather my notes on the experience here. I laughed at myself as I read through the garbled messages and wondered how I would ever piece this together. Keena woke up and laid out in the hammock at our site.
I looked around our site. There were paths this morning that weren’t there the previous day. I made that connection in my head.
“All these paths, they just naturally formed from people just walking around,” I said as I rushed to get my stuff together.
“They are,” Keena said. “You can even see that there is a path between our campsites.”
It was interesting. What some people would call that to be a “natural process”, I saw it as a bunch of stumbling hippies in the woods. It was more humorous than it was intriguing.
As I finished gathering my belongings I sat down in the hammock. Nate, who had finished making coffee shared some with me. I held my cup and looked at the trees once more. The branches created a fractal. Each one connecting and creating polygons. The sun peaked out from behind the mountain and the clouds went away. As I picked up my head from the ground, Nate and I said our goodbyes to everyone. The experience that we had was something few can say they’ve tried…or even wanted to.
We walked back to the car. As we made our final walk, I turned and asked Nate.
“So what did you take away from all of this?” I asked.
“I like the ideology. I read somewhere that an Anarcho-Communist gathering is the best place for a zombie apocalypse. The way people can work together is something that wouldn’t make much sense back in the real world, but hey, it works here.”
I thought about what he had said. I processed it for a while and thought hard about it.
We made it back to the car and as we were throwing our belongings in the trunk he asked me the same question.
“So, what did you take away from all of this?”
I opened the door, threw my backpack in the back seat and replied:
“Nothing.” I said.”I learned absolutely nothing.”
As we started the car, I felt releived to be once again united with the real world.