Bringing together an eclectic mix of people, the Rainbow Family
reunites each year in the Ocala National Forest for a communal camp-out.
By Andrew Ford
February 20, 2010
Hippies still exist, and the evidence is always on display this time
of year in the Ocala National Forest.
The annual Rainbow Gathering attracts an eclectic mix of drifters,
alcoholics, anarchists, communists, potheads, fundamentalists and
Krishnas. A rainbow has many colors.
This is the last weekend of the communal camp-out on the southwest
corner of Lake Mary. The reunion is part of a larger network known as
the Rainbow Family of Living Light that has held gatherings around
the country since the early 1970s.
Roughly 1,000 people attended the Ocala regional meeting the first
weekend, according to Heather Frebe, public affairs specialist for
the Ocala National Forest.
The traditions of the Rainbow Gathering are numerous. They shun
central leadership; decisions have to be unanimous based on whomever
happens to be around when they need to be made.
People greet each other with "welcome home," or "we love you." They
call each other family. Everyone is accepted as part of the family.
There have been some troubles in the past. Two years ago, for
example, a Rainbow participant was arrested and accused of
obstructing a sheriff's deputy who was trying to take a camper to
jail after a fracas. There have been other arrests, as well. And some
Rainbow factions have been threatened with tickets because they have
held large gatherings without a permit.
Frebe said the attendees generally respect the area and clean up
"This year has been running smoothly ... because of our long-term
relationship," Frebe said.
But for Kathy Cook, who lives in a subdivision that borders the part
of the Ocala National Forest where the Rainbow people camp, all is
not as friendly as it appears.
Cook's biggest complaint against the campers is the trash they leave
behind - and once the campers leave Sunday, she said she plans to
photograph the mounds of trash strewn about just as she did last year.
"We took pictures of two football fields of trash last year that (the
Forestry Department) had to pay garbage trucks and claws" to remove,
said Cook, who added that she and her husband suspend their walks in
the forest this time of year to avoid the Rainbow people.
"They don't have to pay a dime for a month. The least they can do is
pay for a Dumpster to make sure all their garbage is picked up," Cook
said. "Why should our tax dollars come up behind them and clean up?"
The gatherings are a hodgepodge of tents, community kitchens and
every manner of free spirit.
A person's participation in the gathering is entirely subjective. It
is advisable to bring supplies, but it is possible to get by just on handouts.
A variety of food is available at "kitchens" with names such as "Fat
Kids," "Wholly Stromboli" and "Green and Purple Cafe." These kitchens
are groups of well-equipped campers who give away food for free.
Apple, white chocolate or peanut butter pancakes are offered at one
kitchen, coffee, tea and scones at the next.
A middle-aged man with a thick beard who identified himself as Sunny
works at one of the kitchens. He said he has had good experiences hitchhiking.
"Some people roll the windows down, but nobody has kicked me out."
He'll jump trains if he has to but said that's his last resort.
Sunny has been coming to gatherings since his mother brought him as a
child. He said things have changed, that the government has slowly
encroached on the gathering.
Garret, 20, a Valencia Community College student who preferred not to
give his last name, attended the Rainbow Gathering with a group of
college students from Orlando. This is his third year at the
gathering. He said he and his companions usually bring djembe drums
and didgeridoos, but this time they were packing light.
A man named Rain, 31, wore loose-fitting pants, a vest and bandanna
all of the same fabric - a print of peace signs and smiles. He runs
"Twilight Tea," one of the kitchens.
Music plays a central role at the Rainbow Gathering. A man who
brought a generator, speakers and two laptops out into the forest,
mixed electronic music he referred to as "psytrance." Throughout the
weekend there was no shortage of acoustic instruments, from
didgeridoos to drums to guitars to flutes.
The weekend warriors will go home Sunday, and the core of the group
will continue on to Apalachicola.