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‘Acoustic guitars and friendly chatter’

Valisa Higman
Special to the DailyValisa Higman and a friend found a butterfly in the grass at the rainbow gathering.
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Happy Independence Day! We bring water and a few snacks and walk in silence through the forest to the annual ceremony.

Everyone we pass on the trail is silent. No words are wasted on this morning, and the silence makes me more aware of bird song and running water, and the feel of the earth and the brush of branches against my skin.

We spill out onto a hill overlooking the main meadow, and below us a tribe has gathered. This is a tribe of many colors, many religions, beliefs, politics, and backgrounds. They are a beautiful swirl of color and movement against a backdrop of greenery, and everywhere there is quiet.



I bend down to sit, and find a butterfly with curled wings in the grass at my feet. Just out of the cocoon, it crawls onto my outstretched hand and hangs, abdomen pumping. With silence all around I watch its wings unfurl. We sit together: me, friends from the disaster zone in Louisiana, and this little butterfly, unbothered by our curious eyes.

As a volunteer at the New Waveland cafe, and later at Emergency Communities’ Made with Love Cafe, I had grown used to circles. We made our decisions in weekly circular meetings, but this circle is different.



No mouths move, no sound is made, we are not here to work out problems or make announcements.

It feels so powerful, standing here in this circle of thousands of people, in a field, in the forest, under the hot sun rising towards noon-bright. I try to imagine peace on earth. It seems so possible here, with Hindus, Jews, Arabs and Christians holding hands.

It’s funny though ” we can’t even find peace here in the forest. Federal law enforcement officers ” or, LEOs ” have shown up in force.



A friend of mine who set up and ran one of the first medical centers on the Gulf Coast after Katrina is ticketed twice while doing first aid and medical evacuations from the gathering. Another man is ticketed for transferring a heart attack victim in an evacuation vehicle.

The various kitchens cook late into the night to feed all the people going to court. A troop on horse back is standing over our gathering here in the meadow. They glower down at us, pulling on their black gloves. They seem so angry; but then, anger is just one of the faces of fear.

For all their show of force and power, it is uneasiness we see in their eyes as we surround them with silence. Earlier in the week, LEOs abandoned a roadblock after drawing their weapons on a circle of chanting hippies.

Sometime around noon a procession starts from Kiddy Camp. Silently the children march, surrounded in a shroud of dust, until they reach the center of the circle. We begin to Om…

I guess I just don’t understand the controversy surrounding this gathering. Yes, there is fire danger, but our ovens and cook-fires have all been approved for fire safety, and crews are clearing out beetle kill to fuel these fires, which is a service in itself.

We aren’t a threat to national security; in fact, we have used this opportunity to hold disaster-relief planning and brainstorming meetings.

Mostly people are here to reunite with friends from around the country and to talk about peace and love and to eat and eat and eat.

I have never been to a gathering before, but there are so many familiar faces. People from all stages of my disaster-zone career have come together in this forest.

Those of us who have just left, or who are taking short breaks from our new kitchens, drink in the fresh air and find joy in flowers and trees and all things natural and uncontaminated.

On my last day at the gathering we all come together for a wedding. A disaster-zone couple is joined in marriage aboard a giant pirate ship marooned in the forest. We make jokes about it floating inland during the hurricane.

I look around and think, this really is the rainbow: Bright dresses, colorful tents and tarps, crystals laid out on blankets, and a wide spectrum of colorful personalities. When we leave this gathering we melt back into our various communities. We are doctors and lawyers, street kids, restaurateurs, and firefighters, and don’t forget the children.

Young ones, even babies are being raised to find joy in the simplicity of the forest, with no TVs, no stereos, video games or plastic toys. They play with sticks and rocks, and swing sets made from dead pine.

They fall asleep beside the fire surrounded by the sound of acoustic guitars and friendly chatter.

Vail, Colorado


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