March 18, 2010
By Lois Swoboda
APALACHICOLA - Deep in the Apalachicola National Forest, a diverse
group has gathered the recreate the innocence of a bygone era.
As you drive down the road toward Wright's Lake, bear to the left and
you will start to see parked cars. Further on, there are tents and
campfires, heaps of neatly bagged trash and even RVs but motor
vehicles were not allowed beyond a set point in the camp.
The Rainbow Tribe has come to Franklin County. The group holds a
permit allowing them to camp through March 28.
"Rainbow Gatherings and the Rainbow Family of Living Light," as they
are properly known, are a form of modern-day hippie culture, with
roots traceable to the '60s counterculture. Participants say they
believe modern lifestyles and government systems are out of harmony
with the planet's natural systems and are unhealthy. The original
Rainbow Gathering was in 1972, and has been held annually in the
United States in early July on national forest land. Other regional
and national gatherings are held throughout the year, both in America
and other countries.
On Monday morning at around 11 a.m., about 100 people inhabited
scattered tents at the site. But A.V., who said he was "semi-hosting"
the gathering, said more than 400 people were on site on Saturday.
Midmorning campers were walking dogs, shaving and enjoying a late
breakfast. Several people strolled through the campground playing
musical instruments. A pretty girl named Moonbeam studied a deck of
cards displaying animal figures and a serene young mother fed a happy
baby swathed in tie-dye.
The campground was quiet, even peaceful.
Although some of the campers were craftsmen who sell their goods, no
vendors are allowed at this gathering. There was an area designated
as the trade circle where people with goods to barter could do so.
Katy, who like most campers, declined to give a last name, said candy
is used as money at the gatherings.
Near the entrance to the campground, Al, who described himself as an
elder, sat with a circle of friends. He said he attended his first
Rainbow Gathering in the early '70s after leaving the Army. He
attended his second Rainbow Gathering in 1990 following an interlude
of "normal life" during which he worked as a nurse and raised a
family. Al came to Apalachicola from a gathering held last month in
Ocala and said he will leave here and go to the VA hospital in
Gainesville for treatment.
John and Sandra Davis traveled from Seattle, Wash. to attend the
Ocala Rainbow Gathering and camped at Wright's Lake on their way
home. They said they are self employed.
John pointed out a large pile of trash next to a colorfully decorated
bus and said the bus owners hauled out refuse for other campers.
"That's not the way it's supposed to work," said Sandra. "Everybody's
supposed to take out their own garbage."
The pile of garbage was eventually sorted for recyclables and removed
from the site.
Jason Flowers, Franklin County's environmental health director,
visited the gathering last week and expressed concern over sanitary
conditions. He was concerned over the amount of refuse produced by
campers and the lack of sanitary facilities on the site.
"The national forest issued permits for the group and then locked the
bathrooms," he said. Campers dig trenches to use as toilets and
spread ashes over the waste before burying it.
There was no odor even within a few feet of a trench on the site;
however the trench was within 100 feet of the river, so there was a
possibility of seepage. After heavy rains this weekend, there was no
sign the trench had flooded or overflowed.
Several campers described themselves as unemployed, and one man said
he lives in a short bus after losing his house due to medical
expenses and a debilitating accident.
Certainly, some of the campers were in need of a shower and some
appeared to be intoxicated, even at 11 a.m., but there was no
belligerent or destructive behavior.
A.V., of Tallahassee, attended the event with his wife, Samantha
Shiver, originally of Eastpoint, and his baby son.
"What we do is kind of like a family reunion," he said. "People run
into old friends or even relatives at these gatherings."
Rabbit, who said he was a Delaware Indian, plans to leave the
gathering and visit an old acquaintance, Mama Copper.
"She was the love of my life," he said. "I met her 14 years ago at a
Rainbow Gathering and lost track, but a guy I met camping here knows
where she is and I am going to Georgia to find her."
Rabbit said he does not consider himself to be a Rainbow, but camps
with them and helps with cooking or cutting wood.
A middle-aged camper, who did not sport the colorful dress popular
with the Rainbows, said Ocala was his first gathering. He said he
found the event on the internet and decided to attend. He followed
the Rainbows to Wright's Lake, but said he does not plan to attend
"I didn't know what to expect. It was wilder than I thought," he said.
Lt. Bobby Shiver of the Franklin County Sheriff's Office has visited
the gathering several times since the Rainbows arrived.
"These are very nice people," said. "We sent in undercover agents but
they were not able to buy any drugs. Except for panhandling, there
hasn't really been a problem."