I was able to get all the way from my home in Muskogee, Oklahoma to the site of the 2014 annual North American gathering in the Uinta National Forest, approximately 20 miles southeast of Heber City, Utah, in only two days of driving over 600 miles each day, so I arrove at about 7 in the evening on the 20th of June. Someone had said on Facebook that the altitude of the site was at over 9,000 feet, but after I passed thru Evanston, Wyoming, whose altitude my atlas said was 6748 feet, the interstate started to descend thru Echo Canyon and when I got to Heber City the altitude was only 5593. This seemed strange to me as I was driving, but I found out that all the difference would be made up on the road out of the city that eventually ended its asphalt covering and turned into the dirt Forest Service Road that led toward the site.
There was at least 15 miles of constant upgrade, sometimes more than 30 degrees, winding in sharp curves often obscured by tall trees. I also had to drive thru groups of sheep wandering on the road. I did pass two men on horses who seemed to be supervising them, but rather than herding, they seemed to be just letting them do their thing. All of the sheep got out of my way when I got near them as I drove very slowly.
Shortly after the turning at the T intersection of the Forest Service road with the road that led into the site, I was greeted by a man who was standing there alone, Red, a brother I have known for years. He told me to continue down the road until I saw an obvious Bus Village, which I did. It was a large meadow, still mostly empty, and I found a place near some trees at its edge and parked my Dodge Grand Caravan to spend the night on the bed that I have installed behind the driver and right front passenger seats, replacing the rear seats that I have removed completely.
There was a camp with a fire going and some kitchen implements nearby, and there I encountered the second person that I already knew, Sibling, and she and a few of the brothers standing nearby answered some of the questions I had about the site. I was shown the continuation of the road that descended to a stream and climbed to a small mesa above it with a few vehicles parked on it, and told that was the way into the site and the vehicles were Handi-Camp, a place the appears at every gathering devoted to the needs of handicapped people. Someone said that it was about three miles into the center of the gathering.
After the topographic maps stated to appear on the Info counter in the middle of the week that followed, I was able to lay down a piece of string and use the scale to determine that the distance to Handi-Camp was eight tenths of a mile, and the walk all the way to the main meadow was about two miles and a third. The altitude of the main meadow was 9,250 feet, and many of the kitchens were as high as 9,500 or more.
The next morning I was up before sunrise and able to find a shitter that had been dug nearby, and at about seven I started walking down the road. I looked at the land around, and most of it seemed the reverse of the way most sites are. Instead of mostly forest interrupted by small meadows, here the meadowland seemed to predominate with the trees in smaller patches. There were three kinds of trees that predominated: tall spruces with dark green Fuller brush-like leaves, another tall tree that looked like the ones in Wyoming that had been killed by the pine bark beetles, totally brown and dry with shriveled branches, and a few small patches of yellow green aspens. Later I learned from the resource rangers that these dead trees were also spruces, but of a different species from the healthy green ones, and a different kind of beetle burrowed under its bark and destroyed its vascular system.
I saw some deep ruts in the road as I walked, and someone had dragged some dead tree trunks and branches into them in an attempt to macadamize them. I saw some stubs of branches sticking out of the trunks that looked like they could be sharp enough to eat my tires, so I decided then and there that I would not try to move my van any further than Bus Village. A man I passed while walking asked me if I had just arrived, and I answered last night. He gave me a welcome home and then asked me, “Have you been up Heart Attack Hill yet?”
About 15 minutes later I was finding out all about it. There was a stretch of about 250 yards where the road, now just a trail, climbed up a grade that was always more than 20 degrees and sometimes as much as 45, over large boulders. It had not rained for several days, and the trail was covered with dust as much as an inch deep, sometimes making for poor traction. When I reached the top I saw a cardboard sign saying “Heart Attack Mesa”, with an anarchist A symbol that was surrounded by a heart instead of the usual circle. There was another sign by it that said “defibulator”, which I later corrected to “defibrillator”. There was a square of fallen tree trunks surrounding a fire with a grill and some pots for coffee, and beyond it the trail led over a short stretch of level ground.
Over the course of the walk in from the parking area there were four climbs that I thought were worthy of that medical name: one as you climbed up to Handi-Camp from the place where the stream ran in a pipe under the road, another from Handi-Camp to another level clearing in the woods where the dropoff points for supplies were located, the namesake hill itself, and a fourth one after you came to the end of Heart Attack Mesa.
After that last hill there was another stretch of relatively level ground, and there I passed several kitchens setting up: Procrastination Station, Hobo Alley, and a place called Kannibal Kanyon Camp. Then the trail descended down another hill that was as strenuous as all the others when walking in the opposite direction out of the gathering. At the end of this was a place that was alternately called Welcome Home and Rainbow Crystal Kitchen where Gary Stubbs set up, and beyond that the trail curved gradually to the right and brought you to the main meadow.
The meadow was covered partly with grass, and partly with false hellebore, a short plant with large leaves that grow out in a spiral pattern, the plant that caused so much trouble for CALM and Shanti Sena in Oregon in 1997 when the rumor got out that eating them would make you high. It is in fact a highly toxic plant that can induce destructive behavior and outright psychosis. Fortunately at this gathering everyone became informed and there were no problems. The meadow was in sort of a bowl shape, surrounded by long and narrow stands of trees that interrupted more meadows leading up to the tops of the surrounding mountains. People called these narrow meadows in between the stands of trees “fingers”, and there were several leading up from the palm which was the main meadow.
As the gathering progressed, most of the old established kitchens set up close to the upper ends of these fingers, probably because the slope of the ground was more level near the tops, and possibly because they could achieve splendid isolation. After a few days, a sort of beltway trail emerged that could take you among them without as much climbing, but from the main meadow and the place where Info was located, a trip to any one of them could equal Heart Attack Hill and then more. The climb to Kid Village was just as steep and at least one and a half times as long. Going anywhere in this gathering involved some sort of strenuous climb, either going or returning, and that was the ever present feature of this gathering.
It was only along the trail immediately after the original Heart Attack Hill that there was much completed construction on this first full day, the 21st. I had arrived on one of the earliest dates that I ever had done to what turned out to be one of the latest starting gatherings I have been to. According to my friend Finch, who was there for the Spring Council decision, the site was consensed on June 15th, and there was also a consensus not to release the directions to the internet until the 16th, to allow enough time for vehicles to go to the site and claim the front gate area, the springs, and some of other strategic places. Then a snowstorm coated the site on the 18th, and it didn’t melt until the next day. So Seed Camp didn’t really start until the 19th of June, and I had arrived on the day immediately after.
One of the first things I do at a new gathering is look for a walking stick among the dead branches I see on the ground. (I have a collection of them from previous gatherings at my house.) I found a strong and straight one on Heart Attack Mesa, but it was about three feet too long. I started seeking a bow saw in the kitchens I was passing thru, and when I got to Hobo Alley, I encountered a young sister who told me her name was Change. She told me yes, they had one, but then she couldn’t find it because it had been lent out, and I followed her as she went to several nearby places in an unsuccessful attempt to find it. I could tell that she had a strong personality and could be called one of the focalizers or kitchen ogres of Hobo Alley. I finally found a saw in Welcome Home.
A few things I noticed early on when I was still in Hobo Alley. One was the youth of all the people there; almost nobody looked like they were out of their 20s. Another was that they unabashedly ate meat; there was a cooled off cast iron skillet on a campfire grill filled with bits of fried ham in it. Another was some empty bottles among their trash that looked like liquor containers. Another was a generally laid back and sometimes giggly mood among the people, and another was a friendliness to me in spite of my aged appearance. One brother said to me, “Would you like to make a sandwich, old man?” as he pointed to a loaf of bread and jars of peanut butter and jelly on the ground, and lent me his knife. All this was quite different from the aggressive atmosphere of the A-Camps I had known in the past.
Welcome Home, or Rainbow Crystal Kitchen, looked fairly advanced this day. The trail passed between two trees, and stretched between them was a large banner that said “WELCOME HOME” in colored letters that you passed under as you entered the kitchen area. To one side of the trail there was a large square of logs around a bliss fire beneath a large tarp, and on the other side there was a table and Gary’s traditional soup kettle and fire ring, made from a 55 gallon oil barrel. (There was, as usual, no bliss rail that separated the kitchen patrons from the workers.) More trees formed an exit to the trail beyond, and leaned against them were several large sign boards made out of 4’ x 8’ panels of plywood. They displayed Rap 107, Rap 121, and “Participation is the Key” in colorful calligraphic letters, hand painted by a Rainbow sister. After you passed thru the exit trees and passed the supply tent and food chopping area to the right, you saw a cloth banner that said, “BURY YOUR SHIT”.
They also brought in a plywood box with a toilet seat at each end that they put over their latrine. My tent wound up being located only about 150 yards away, so that was the one I was able to use every morning. Whatever other difficulties I had at this gathering, I was at least able to shit on a royal throne. For a day it was out in the open and you were visible from the main trail while sitting on it. The next day it was hidden by a blue tarp hung from some posts set in front of it. There was no sign saying “shitter” or ribbons or such pointing it out, and on the other side of the kitchen there was another latrine, slit trench, that had a sign on the main trail pointing it out. I wondered if this was deliberate, to prevent it from filling up too fast and save it for the kitchen crew. The pit under it must have been huge, because it didn’t fill up by the time I left the gathering.
It became evident to me that this was not going to be a gathering where I could commute every evening to my van, so I would have to set up a tent inside and sleep there nightly. It also meant that I would want to be bringing in a minimum of equipment, because it would all have to be carried out again. I had brought my usual suitcase full of fashion statements, but I wound up using only about a quarter of the clothes that I brought. The only musical instruments I brought in were my six pennywhistles.
The previous December I had undergone an operation to repair an inguinal hernia, and I had been advised by the doctors not to lift anything heavier than 20 pounds for the first six weeks, and not to do any extremely heavy lifting for at least a year. This meant no heavy backpack, as I had been used to using. After looking at various conveyances such a bicycle trailers, I finally decided that the best way to transport would be my one wheeled construction wheelbarrow. I cleaned it up and removed all the nuts and bolts to disassemble it to make it easier to carry in my van, and I put it all back together in the Bus Village lot.
It worked according to all my hoped for expectations. Using the Law of Levers that it is based on, lifting a 50 pound load required less effort than a 20 pound one lifted directly, and I was able to wheel in my tent and tarp as well as the two creature comforts I always take in that make my life so much easier after I get them there, my folding cot that gets me up off the rocks and crawling life as I lie on it, and my high holy’s folding canvas chair, that I use at Info and I can’t endure Vision Council without.
As I walked the trails I saw other people displaying many inefficient ways of carrying stuff. There were people dragging airport suitcases with small wheels that did a lot more bouncing than rolling. There were people pushing high sided wheelbarrows loaded to where they were top heavy. Many of these had two wheels on an axle at the front, which made them bounce and rock much more than only one wheel. (I had rejected this type long ago when working construction.) I saw exhausted people walking bicycles with trailers up the steeper parts of the hills. I saw a wire spoke wheel by the side of the trail that had buckled and bent under the weight of the load that had been placed on it. I saw people with backpacks, rolled up blankets draped over their shoulders, and bags with handles in both hands, all at the same time looking along the sides of the trail for a place to sit down.
I seemed to me that the most efficient way was to be able to get it all on your back and walk if you were strong enough. Two people walking with a stick on their shoulder with the cargo hung beneath it on a rope could also work well. But the best vehicles had only one wheel and it was at least a foot in diameter so it could roll over large rocks.
It eventually took three trips before I got what I thought was all the stuff that I wanted to in. There was a fourth trip with my backpack after I discovered I would need both of my sleeping bags and my long quilted greatcoat. There were a few days that I had this garment on all day; the weather was mostly cold. Most of the days the air temperature didn’t get out of the 60s Fahrenheit and it got down into the 30s some of the nights. You could be out in the middle of a meadow in bright sunlight and think you could even take all of your clothes off, but then the slightest breeze picking up could start to produce uncomfortable wind chill. Walking out from the shade of trees into an open meadow was like a change of seasons. There were some people walking around skyclad at this gathering, but I was never one of them.to be continued