I arrived in Boston at 5:30am. The sun was up, but the skies were grey. I walked around Boston Commons and people watched. A number of homeless folks slept on the grass. Seeing them brought back memories of the panhandlers I met while I went to school here. There was Uncle Bricks who got the name because he was tired of people stealing the few possessions he had, so he carried a brick in his waistband to protect himself. There was the One Armed Push Up Man who was jacked up from doing so many one armed push ups and smoking crack. The next door neighbor who everyone called Papi who I drank beers with on the stoop and listened to his stories about knife fights and gun fights from his days playing baseball in Puerto Rico. He was proud of his scars. He invited me to play dominoes with his family but I was heading home for summer break and moving to a new place the following year. There were also characters I never chatted with but saw often, like the woman who walked around holding a small mirror at arm’s length in front of her face. I don’t know if she was keeping an eye out for someone sneaking up behind her, or if she was bringing the myth of Narcissus to life. There was also a guy who had scraggly hair and long fingernails. He talked to himself and laughed a maniacal laugh. He reminded me of a Merlin type who was deemed mad by modern society. Despite so many colorful characters wandering & creating texture throughout the city, Boston for the most part houses a whole slew of relatively stuffy, conservatively dressed professionals re: basic, flavorless, and vanilla cookie cutter in-the-boxers. It probably has something to do with its Puritan roots. That’s my guess. In any case, the combination offers up a strange juxtaposition of aesthetic.
I walked probably ten miles from the time I got off the bus to early evening. I decided to pay a visit to Northeastern, which has the same distinct smell I remember from years ago. I’ve never been able to find the exact words to describe it. The first description that comes to mind is always young hormones & fresh mulch. I went to the philosophy department as I usually do when I’m visiting, but it must have been too early because no one was there. I left a note for one of my professors. I slipped it into the pages of a poetry book I self-published. I’ve been giving them my literature for years now. One of these days maybe I’ll write a masterpiece and it’ll slip its way into the curriculum.
Skipping ahead to the Rainbow Gathering, wherein, the outside world is called Babylon…
Upon arrival, I started hearing “Welcome Home” and “Loving You” and “There’s a hole in my bowl, I need a nugget to plug it” and all sorts of other cheery phrases. But, it’s not all rainbows and sunshine. Many people, although having an open heart & gentle countenance, they also maintained a sharp edge of cynicism and realness.
I was walking along the main path enjoying the sunset when I saw an elderly woman wiping her eyes with a tissue. She said she was having a moment. I asked if it had anything to do with the sunset. She kind of laughed and shook her head no. I walked over and sat on the rock next to her & gave her a little hug. She rested her head on my shoulder for a moment and cried a few more tears. Her husband passed away three years ago, and she was feeling disconnected from the gathering which made her sadder than sad. She told me about her family, both her son and daughter who live in Berkeley and Norristown, PA, respectively. Her daughter coincidentally lived in Fishtown for a number of years and married a firefighter. She went on and on about her life and desire to live in more intentional communities. She was sweet. She just needed a friend and a shoulder to lean on. I happened to be there at the right moment.
One dark night a guy attempted to kill himself. He cut his neck and wrist with a knife. The cuts weren’t deep enough, so he survived. That night I made a supply run for a kitchen. It rained and rained and rained. When I was hauling the dolly loaded with supplies through the thick, wet mud, I stopped in front of the medical tent to take a breather. I heard a guy screaming, strapped to a table, “You can’t keep me here! I can’t take this fucking place! I want out! I can’t take it anymore!” The name for the medical tent was CALM (Center for Alternative Living Medicine).
There were a lot of lost souls wandering and babbling probably taking too much acid for their own good. For that reason, Calm occasionally put up a different sign. “There are a number of people experiencing bad trips on acid. Maybe you should consider enjoying these beautiful Vermont woods sober.” Also, “Today is July 5. You are in the northeast region of the United States in the forests of Vermont. Maybe Babylon isn’t out there. Maybe you are Babylon because you are an ass hole. Be kind. Don’t be Babylon… And fuck this “‘loving you’ how about ‘helping you.’” I guess some people needed the reminder.
For the most part, I stayed grounded. It’s easy when you’re learning about the plants and mushrooms in the area. We were literally grounding our focus and language into the surrounding flora. I also remained more or less sober. One night we sat around a fire passing tinctures, wines, meads, and teas all homemade and wild-foraged. We each got a little squirt of tincture and maybe two sips on each bottle. The mood was light and floating and our little camp got giggly from the fresh air and sips of spirits.
Outside of that night, I was offered acid a few times, but passed, because I like to do my drugs in the city. The forest is the real world where the air is clear and there’s filtered water to drink directly from the spring. It’s easy to open up the heart. It’s easy to dive deep into conversation. Clarity of vision allows realizations to unfold without effort. Why do drugs? I’m already there. Whereas the city is ripe for psychedelic medicine because there’s so much bull shit in the air & water and we close off our hearts more quickly because there are so many people in close proximity it’s likely we’d lose our bearings if we opened up to everyone. Low doses of mushrooms or LSD help facilitate deeper connections when there are obstacles like electric wires and concrete slabs blocking us from the natural energy flows of life. And it doesn’t necessarily have to be psychedelics: eating healthier foods from local gardens & farms and growing your own goes a really long way in building relationships as well as your defenses via your immune system.
I’ll say also, taking refuge in the woods (or the ocean or the mountains or the desert) is a necessary recharge. Some people view it as an escape, but it’s really rejuvenation when done with the right intention. I believe everyone needs to take time away from social media and work and return to the earth for extended periods of time or even short spurts. I understand this isn’t always an option, but I strongly encourage the culture to shift in that direction.
Many of the folks I connected with, we had very real conversations about the world we are currently living in. We discussed privilege and questioned why it’s so hard for some people to come to terms with it. We discussed emotions and why so many men (and women) have trouble dealing with them. We talked about polyamory and the need to be vulnerable and open. We talked about the implications of converging in the woods and living communally. For every few people talking about chakras, there was another person talking about biochemistry. I’m still amazed at the depth & variety of interests and archetypes.
Rainbow Gathering came together for the first time in 1972 in Colorado. It was inspired by a Hopi prophecy that spoke of the “rainbow people” who would rise up from the earth in all races, colors, and cultures who would help steward in the renewal of community and earth living. In the beginning years of the gathering it was a good portion vets from Vietnam, recovering alcoholics (one reason alcohol is still strongly discouraged), and hippies. It has been consistently moving around the country from year to year, slowly taking on different forms & evolutions. Every year it’s held on the week of July 4th; re-independence day. It’s held in a different national forest for free as an exercise & practice of assembling freely. The economy is solely based on gifting and bartering. While there, I saw zero exchange or handling of money. Every evening there is a center circle where folks gather to eat. Songs are sang and hands are held. Hundreds & hundreds of people circling together. This particular gathering hosted something like 6000-8000 people. A village of tents and other small structures temporarily put up & spread throughout the forest. There were many, many kitchens that prepare meals over wood fires and feed everyone. Some people bring their own food too. There’s an interesting crossover of self-reliance and interdependence.
So many nomadic people.
The Hare Krishnas had a camp and they went deep into the night with their repetition of mantra. They served food too, but for one reason or another, not at the main dinner circle. In the morning, they paraded around singing Hare Krishna.
I’m really happy I met up with Green Path, a group whose intentions are to educate. Their focus is primarily on plants, fungi, primitive skills, and the like; more or less a skill-share/knowledge-share group of people. There were maybe one or two other crews who brought a similar intention to the Rainbow table. I found it pretty incredible how easy it was to access information. All you had to do was ask someone about this or that plant, and they could tell you so much you wanted to know: what it’s good for, how to cultivate it, how to process it, etc. My notebook was full to the brim with practical education, and I returned home with a pocket full of goldenrod.
Trade circle, or trade circus, started everyday around noon. People set up their blankets covered with crystals, stones, beads, clothes, trinkets, mushrooms, feathers, knives, jewelry, magic cards, herbs, crafted objects, books, zines, seeds, tinctures, tents, tools, boots, and all other kinds of odds & ends. Oh, and patches, lots of patches. Acid & bud fetch a good value at trade circle. It’s interesting to see what people place value on. I traded a couple of beads and stones for a brown paper bag loaded with chaga.
I, as well as a number of other people, found edible mushrooms, so one night we brought them together and cooked up a hearty meal around the campfire. That night we also sang plant songs to call in the spirits of our favorite wild medicinals.
Kid Village was another camp. On the morning of the 4th from sunrise to noon, we observed silence to reflect on life & peace. It was pretty incredible to experience the silence, the whispers of breeze & birds, especially after so much rowdiness and drum circles that went through the night into the early morning. At noon on the 4th, people gathered in a large circle to meditate, and from Kid Village a parade of all the children came through to break the silence.
There was very little police presence there, and just a handful of park rangers who rolled through. Because we were in Vermont, which is generally laidback anyway, was everyone’s best guess to the low level of authority. Apparently in prior years, there’s been a higher presence of police. Who knows. It was surreal coming back from the woods to hop on the internet and see everyone in a frenzy about the recent murders of Philando Castile & Alton Sterling (may their souls rest in power). It’s sad for more to say, but it feels as though very little has changed. People are erupting (understandably & necessarily so) and showing their dismay about the way police are over stepping their boundaries, and then police are showing up to protests in military gear and, yet again, over stepping their boundaries. There is absolutely no chill and absolutely no accountability. The law of the land is living above the law. The culture of authority is in need of radical change. Our society at large is in need of radical change. People are overheating and inflamed like the planet we’re living on. Especially when summer rolls around and our blood boils twofold. I’m hesitant to say much more, because it sounds as though the story is on repeat. One thing I do notice from last summer until now is that more people are speaking up and voicing their opinions. In general, it seems more people are engaging with what is happening. And with the shootings in Dallas (may their souls rest in peace), people are realizing the severity of the circumstances. The cries are real. No justice, no peace. There is war in our streets, and everyone is in need of re-evaluating priorities & where we expend our energy.
There are images (and even words) that very easily trigger the sympathetic nature of our bodies into a frenzy of flight and fear. We become agitated by gunshots & death. We get stuck in our heads. We get so accustomed to a state of madness that we very easily sputter out, lose our bearings, and freak. We become consumed by the news. Tapping into the heart helps create a balance. It’s as simple as, let’s say, staring at a rose. When you stare at a flower, allow yourself to not only see it, but feel it. This is the heart at work. So often we find medicine and energy through ingesting food, but there’s something to be said about eating with the eyes too. Like when the brain entrains with the gut entrains with the feeling center of the body, and this consciousness of heart leads the body’s rhythm: the sympathetic branch of the nervous system shifts to the parasympathetic nervous system, at which point the levels of cortisol produced by our bodies begins to reduce. We go from stressed to resting. As we continue to integrate with the digital world, these moments of meditation are very necessary, not only with activism, but also with simply living a healthy life. We absolutely need to ground into our bodies, and access our abilities to connect with our environments via feeling-perception. Otherwise, the brain will run amok, and we’ll witness a spiking pattern of enflamed reaction sputtering into dejection & burnout. We must incorporate rest & respite. We must transmute our anger & rage.
So many of us wanted to be here; we just didn’t know what it was going to look like. The breakdown of modern society is happening. This is what it looks like when we smash the white patriarchy.
And there is more that I can do. There is always more that I can do.
If I learned anything from Rainbow, life starts on the ground. It’s important to grow from there, to shed light where there is shadow, to bring definition where there is blurriness, to give knowledge where there is ignorance. We have to stop giving our stories over to the top-down model and build our stories from the ground up. I know it seems impossible when it’s raining down bullets from above and misinformation is rampant, but other paths are available for walking & living. It takes work. When you start believing in a new world, you start seeing where it exists. If you’re not willing to take the first step on your own, no one can lead you to it. The least I can do in this moment is clean a window so you can see out.
Banjos and guitars, fire and drums, a primal twang & a thumping racket reverberating the trees in the stars so many stars like glitter and gold spread across the sky. Voices go up like the smoke of tobacco and prayers for peace acted out boldly sometimes silent in this world overrun with a war of police. The rhythm of feet stomp the fertile earth, hoots and howls ring the air, bare feet dance long into sunrise.
I am full of gratitude to have crossed paths and sat deeply with so many kindred spirits.