By the 26th I was able to experience Rainbow Crystal Kitchen in something resembling its glory days back in the 1990s. The soup kettle was going and there were times Gary was sitting in his chair by the trail asking everybody who came thru where they were coming from. There were frequently 50 or 60 people there walking around or sitting in the bliss pit. But there were increasingly long periods of time when Gary wasn’t there; he told me he was severely affected by the high altitude. The kitchen got on well with several of his friends taking over the operations, but its onda wasn’t quite the same with him not there.
It was on this day that I started to especially notice the LEO presence. At the gathering last year in Montana the Incident Commander – the head of the law enforcement officer Incident Command Team that comes every year, sent by officials in Washington and mostly supplanting the rangers of the local National Forest – made somewhat of a show of coming onto the site in civilian clothes with no gun holster, and sitting along with his Operations Officer with us Rainbows in several councils where the operating plan was discussed. He had said things like, “We might as well work together”, and “I think we can accomplish a lot more thru cooperation and not confrontation”, and he never mentioned any permit. I started waiting until this year to see if this was a trend that was going to continue.
Unfortunately I have to say that it did not. The operating plan still sufficed for a permit, but I was told by Gary and some people at Info that there was a new Incident Commander this year, and he never set foot inside the site for the duration of this gathering. And he sent teams of uniformed cops into the gathering with dogs to sniff for drugs, and they went all over the gathering and went into camps and tents for periods of several hours each day. There was also a troop of four policemen on horseback that roamed the site, and calls of “six up, K-9” and “six-up giddyup” were always popping up in the background. The dogs did not get a reputation for accuracy. There were also some occasions that Wasatch County officers came on site, in large groups of fifteen or more. I was told that some of them were especially offended by all of the six up calling.
The many people who got tickets for marijuana possession, not keeping their dogs on leashes, missing or inoperative lights on their vehicles, and other such things were able to appear in a court that was held in a recreational vehicle that was parked in the supply lot at the base of Heart Attack Hill. It was usually referred to in conversations as “The Kangaroo Court”.
At about 4 o’clock in the afternoon a cold front I could feel with a burst of wind from the north blew thru, and the temperature dropped from 69 to 58 in about an hour. A brief shower threatened Dinner Circle, but it let up before the serving began. Then a steady light drizzle started to fall as darkness came and it continued until about 3 am. This was the only rain of any appreciable length during this gathering. (There were some brief sprinkles on July 3rd.) It congealed the deep dust on the trails for a while, and produced no mud.
On the 28th my health started to deteriorate.
I was asked many times during the first days of the gathering if I was having any trouble with the altitude, and I always answered no, because I really didn’t think I was having any. I was huffing and puffing a lot, but that was because of all the climbing. But I found out that it can be something that sneaks up on you after a few days. At Dinner Circle on the 28th I was about a third of the way thru the pan of food that I had collected when my stomach started feeling upset and I couldn’t bring myself to eat any more bites. I first thought that there might have been some kind of food poisoning or a flu bug, but the feelings never got to the full scale vomiting stage. This feeling continued thruout the following days, and I found myself having to force myself to eat.
Then I read some of the papers that were now sitting on the Info counter and found out what the symptoms of altitude sickness were: fatigue or weakness, shortness of breath upon exertion, lack of appetite, nausea, and also excessive flatulation – and they all fit what I was feeling perfectly, right down to long gas pains in my intestines. Again, this all did not start to hit me until the 28th, eight days after I had arrived onsite. Marken and a few others around Info told me that they were also feeling some of the same things, and that the onset for them was also delayed.
Shortly after sunrise on June 29th I was walking along the main trail between my ten and Info and I saw a friend, a brother named Gabriel, sitting on the ground by the side of the trail, and he called me over and told me that he was sorry to have to be the one to pass on to me some bad news. “A brother died last night.” I replied by saying, “I’m not trying to make a joke out of this, but did somebody literally have a heart attack on Heart Attack Hill?”, and he replied, “No, he died in his sleeping bag”.
His name was Tim Bear, he had been a long term worker at Musical Veggie kitchen, and he died in the middle of the night in his sleep. It had been one of the coldest nights of the gathering, and he lived in Texas and was not used to the high altitude. I got some more medical details later from Tigger later: he was 68, had had congestive heart failure and was on medications for high blood pressure, diabetes, as well as being obese. Some of his friends were wondering if he hadn’t deliberately exposed himself because he wanted to die at a gathering.
(This was the second death that could be associated with this gathering. A woman named Suzy Sunshine had a heart attack in the night of the 14th of June at the site where Spring Council was being held.)
Later that morning I saw a quad runner with a basket stretcher on the back going up to CALM, and someone told me at Info that the county coroner had come in to take the body out. That evening there was a candlelight vigil at Instant Soup.
That morning I also found the construction of Lovin’ Ovens almost complete and words about another death. One of their beloved kitchen ogres named Abraham Oliphant had passed away on Halloween night of the previous year, and a memorial display had been set up for him. I learned he was the author of the Hopi prophesy parody scroll that I put a picture of on the preface page of my first book:
“When the beans and rice are burning, and the high holies are sniveling, there will come a tribe of pirates who care ... sometimes. They will be known as the Ogres of the Ovens.”
There were two renderings of this prophesy on display this day at the kitchen.
Later that morning I had an encounter at Kid Village.
Two years ago in the early days of the Tennessee gathering, I had been standing in the Kid Village by the table that had the coffee condiments with my cup in my hand when Felipe said to some other people who were sitting in a circle of chairs, “Let me tell you of the customs among our people.” (Felipe is a Yaqui Indian.) “When an elder comes in, one of you younger people gets up and offers your seat to him. That’s the way it is done among us. Bill is an elder, so one of you get up so he can sit down.” Felipe also told me that as an elder, I could also go to the head of the line like the kids are allowed to do. (I decided to return the courtesy by waiting until most of the children were thru.)
I had not been expecting this, and I wondered if this privilege was going to last thru the next year, but I was allowed this by the regular servers in the line thruout the next gathering in Montana. In the early days of this 2014 gathering, the kitchen workers were more likely to be presented a big tub of potatoes mixed with eggs and another tub with pancakes, and allowed to serve themselves without going by the serving line for outsiders at all. (Everybody, of course, washed their hands.) And on a few mornings there was another tub that had some strips of bacon mixed in with the eggs.
But I still was wondering if all this was going to end, and this day I found out it was. Felipe had been absent all morning, and a man came up to me and said, “You’re going to have to stand in line with all the others. This food is for the workers, and you haven’t been doing any.” There was another one standing behind him giving him support. I asked if he had talked with Felipe, and he said something like “Yeah, I know Felipe has his things...” in a kind of dismissive and contemptuous tone of voice that indicated that Felipe’s leadership role in that kitchen was not as unquestioned by all of the others there as it seemed to be.
So here Kid Village had reverted to the pattern of so many years ago: for the first few days of the gathering, it would sitting in circles of chairs in conversations amid passing joints with Felipe and Lynn and Joe Braun and other old friends that I had known for years, and all warmth and friendship and love. Then starting on the 28th or 29th there would be a mass influx of people who had never seen me before and to whom I was no different from some random person who had just come in from off the trail. I would inevitably get into some kind of argument with one of them.
And here was also new installment of something I had seen so many times in so many other kitchens in years before. If they don’t see you working in their own kitchen, they assume you’re a bliss ninny who never works anywhere else. And this man in front of me had probably never been to Dinner Circle where he could see me running the Magic Hat, if he even know there was such a thing since Kid Village never brought food to Dinner Circle had their own collection can that went around their own morning circle.
I didn’t argue any further and went over to Fat Kids, where they didn’t happen to have any food being served at the time, and I went down the hill to the man meadow area. I might could have gone back some time Felipe was there and told him about this, but the accumulated feelings of years predominated and I decided not to go back there for the remainder of the gathering. It was only on the afternoon of July 4th, when their annual spaghetti trip was the only food anywhere, that I went back. I arrived a while after they had started serving, and the wait in line was only about five minutes. The rest of the gathering I stayed away from there.
(And all of my music making was in front of Robbie’s tipi, where I also got to play with Henry the Fiddler a few times. I was still able to blow into a wind instrument at 9,000 feet, but there were times when I had to drop out completely for a verse.)
I spent a tired afternoon in my tent letting my mind go to contemplate all this: Even tho a lot of the words at Rainbow councils celebrate how there are no hierarchies and leaders and no person is any better than others, the fact was, as I had written in the last chapter of my first book:
... there are groups of people who share privileges with each other that they don’t grant to everybody they encounter at a gathering. A regular worker in a kitchen gets access to food and smoking opportunities that are not available to any bliss ninny who just walked in off the trail. The way to attaining these privileges is clear and easy for anyone who does not have insufferable social problems.
Find a kitchen that you feel good in. If you are a strong young man, haul lots of water, fetch and chop up lots of firewood, assist in the digging of lots of latrines. If you are a young woman you can do all of these same things, or you can gain admittance by chopping up lots of vegetables, standing with spoons behind lots of serving counters, washing lots of pots and pans, babysitting lots of other parent’s kids. Many of these activities can be done by not-so-young people as well. (My own Rainbow career began when I was 40.) Whatever the exact nature, be ready to take on sometimes strenuous physical tasks in your early years.
25 years ago when I was making my living doing construction I was able to run right into the middle of all this, and it made me feel strong and healthy and it got me lots of insider privileges with lots of kitchens and their people we weren’t supposed to call leaders. Some of these privilege gaining relationships endured to this day, and some of them went back as much as 25 years.
But some of these people were older than I am, and they have been having some problems that might indicate that they aren’t going to be around much longer. One of them had had several cardiac events, one of them leading to a helicopter evacuation from a gathering. Another had to carry an oxygen bottle at this gathering. (And the only medical condition that I did not share with the brother who had died of exposure was the obesity. I had all of the other afflictions myself.) Now it wasn’t entirely old fogey kitchen ogres that I had managed to gain the affections of, I had gotten enthusiastic accommodations from younger people like Tigger and some of the people at Fat Kids, and from Useless and the offspring kitchens of Montana Mud, but these had still come about as a result of older folks initially introducing me to them.
I thought back to the feeling I had at the Katuah camp at the Tennessee gathering, where there was an efficient kitchen operation and there were many people who acted together like they had grown to trust and love each other, but where I couldn’t say I really knew any of the people there (except one whom I had met years ago at east coast regionals). Would I be able to do the carry water and chop wood apprenticeship all over again with these people, starting 25 years later in my life? Like it or not, participation was the key, and that participation was something a young person was far more able to provide than an old one, especially in extreme environments like this gathering.
I was able to come up with a few tasks that a person with lesser physical strength could do, jobs that are more frequently done by women in spite of the gender equality ideals of the council speakers. One could chop up vegetables or stand behind the serving line. One could make herbal teas if a stronger person could be found to fill and bring over the brewing pot. One could be continuously microtrashing around the kitchen. One could be babysitting the children of the other more heavily involved workers
But none of these would get you the prestige of being able to do the heavy manual labor that being a full fledged kitchen cook requires, of having the strength to pickup large pots full of water and shove large pieces of wood around in a fire and push spoons and spatulas around in large quantities of thick foodstuff . This strength and stamina would be necessary to get into a position where, if you aren’t a leader, you can least get other people to do things you ask them to do.
This let this kind of thinking let go on for a few hours. It wasn’t until about 4 in the afternoon that I finally found any food. This was after they had spent most of the afternoon at Welcome Home boiling soapy water in the kettle to wash it, and then emptying it and starting a new batch of soup and waiting for things to get soft. It was a struggle getting down a bowl of that, and again I couldn’t eat all of what I got at Dinner Circle.to be continued