Houston Chronicle

Sunday, July 3, 1988

Rainbow clan gets nod for gathering

By Richard Stewart and Roy Bragg

Tie-dye and tattooes: Rainbow clan colorful

by Roy Bragg

Zavalla - Under the parachute tent, a tattooed man known as No Lips says he'll wave his arm over a bleeding wound and heal it.

A half-mile away, on an inlet of Sam Hayburn Reservoir, a circle of conga drummers beats time - all day long.

A toddler, walking with his semi-nude parents, puts a penny in a gumball machine under a pine tree.

Life on Main Street of the Rainbow Family camp beats a drive downtown anytime. A three-mile expanse of lakeshore forest that was vacant last month has become the hippie version of Grand Central Station.

A "Welcome Center" sits in a fork of the main entry road. It's staffed by men clad in tie-dye, their hair and beards in braids. They wield sticks and direct traffic, encouraging fellow Rainbows to park and walk from this point.

Tents, makeshift shelters, buses and vans are the predominant homestyles. One bus has a wooded house built on top. Some of the letters on the side of a school bus are covered up so it now says "Cool Bus." One Rainbow, Bible Bob, calls his home a "mobile shanty."

Some tents and vehicles are huddled. Others are isolated.

Nude or semi-nude men and women go about the business of being different. That involves hugging each other, swimming and taking occasional cat naps under the trees.

The place is split into areas, each designed by crude signs tied to trees. There's a Kiddie Village, a Musicians Camp, and Bus Village.

Just north of Bus Village sits the Circle of Drums, which is a percussion section whose membership is ever fluctuating. The topless woman dancing in the center to tribal chants at noon may be dressed and playing conga for the next number.

The circle, say longtime Rainbows, is where the nightly tribal council meets - sort of - to make important decisions.

"I love you, brother," said a member of the Shanti Sena, the unofficial, unorganized and essentially unclothed peacekeeping force of the Rainbow Family.

The Rainbows - known as brothers and sisters to each other - pride themselves on being a leaderless collective of individual souls. But even anarchy's got to have some rules or institutions.

The Shanta Sena, said a member known as Sheri, who described herself as a gypsy, try to make sure things go smoothly. That's about as specific as they get.

"We greet people, make sure everyone's O.K., make sure everyone's taking care of their fire," she said.

Shanta Sena duty isn't mandatory, nor are members recruited.

"People just kind of show up," she said.

It's the same way at the CALM - Center for Alternative Living Medicine _ the Rainbow equivalent of a field hospital. Sort of.

"What we've done is take the best of their medicine (standard treatment offered by licensed physicians) and our medicine and turned it into something that works," No Lips said.

So far, there's been no need for serious attention, said Josef Greenfeather, who said he's a certified emergency medical technician in Big Sur, Calif. Most treatment has been for bug bites and sunburn.

The Livin' is easy: Rainbow Nation holds a woodlands get-together

We heard it all before in the 1960s, of course. Then, with a political to the right and an economic shift toward scarcity, the ideas faded from general consciousness and the popular press. But somewhere out there, loosely united through food-coops, allegiance to Eastern forms of spiritualism and members of what might have been, thousands have been hanging on, and each year a few more join the ranks.

The gathering here was the 60s revisited, yet it had elements you'd find at any convention where old chums with common beliefs get together for an annual bash. The ideas that bound these people are no longer new, and so, to that extent, it was not that much different from a convention of veterans or politicians or even Rotarians.

Marijuana was served instead of booze, the uniform was Levi instead of Brooks Brothers and the food was said to be Karma-free rather than calorie rich.

Joan was one of the Rainbow people, and she looked the part. A tall, full-bodied woman verging on 40, with streaked blonde hair and the facial lines that weather exacts, she scanned the awakening gathering.

Immediately below was the Council Circle, a meadow bitten to dust by dancing, with a fire in the center. The dancing never ceased. It had gone on all night to a maddeningly singular rhythm - boom, boom,boom-a-boom; boom, boom-a-boom, over and over and over - courtesy of bongo drummers seemingly cloned from the same beat.

Perhaps 20 people, including several . Shivering men and women, were dancing to the music of two physic properties of color and sound and as a landscaper had kept her away before form what she considered an important quest: "To live my life so I can live life," she said.

Then she got up and walked away.

The U.S. Forest Service and the Michigan State Police co-operated, and the local economy, such as it is, prospered from the sandaled and long-haired conventioneers.

Nearlt everybody had a good time. When it was over they felt better about themselves, having received reinforcement of the conviction of their ways are the right ways and, so, terribly important.

Michael Jonh, 32, a sign painter and commercial artist in McCall, Idaho, publishes a directory with names and addresses of the like-minded throughout the United States. The directory contains a declaration of Rainbow Nation principles. It begins with this paragraph:

We, the people of this nation, each with our own freedom and responsibility, recognizing the absolute power of love in our lives, do hereby declare our independence, and do set forth this plan and these many visions to bring forth alternative systems of spirit, supply, law, organization and trade, and so become the new humans of the Lord of life's plan for earth.

"It's the whole idea of community," John said, as he lolled in a hammock, overseeing the sale of the directories. "We hope people will take what they feel here back to their own communities. There are no pressures here. We just want people to come and plug in."

A good man to plug in with was Klaus Ebeling, 53, a swarthy, gray-bearded art teacher at a community college in Adams Center, N.Y. The gathering here was the fifth he has attended.

On the perimeter of the gathering, a couple of tents had been set up as a medical headquarters. In one of them. Dimly lit by candles, a naked man, who appeared to be about 20, was being tended. He was delirious from drugs, and others were trying to talk him back to sanity.

A number of people complained about drug use, saying it spoiled the spirit of the gathering. Virtually no alcohol was consumed.

There was an air of innocence to the gathering, and sometimes young love bloomed. Mina Chang, 16, of Woodland Hills, Calif., met Scott Goldstein, 19, of Philadelphia. At the end of the gathering, he was taking her home with him to meet his parents.

Mina said she had been on the road for several months, following concerts of the Grateful Dead, when she heard about the gathering.

"I heard about it in Chicago," she said. "Before that, I'd been in Washington D.C.; Harrisburg, Pa,; Madison, Wis., and St. Paul, Minn. I'm a Deadhead."

Scott said he had also been attending Grateful Dead concerts, financing his travels with money from his bar mitzvah.

The Rainbow gathering did not actually end; it just sort of evaporated. People would fold their tents, shoulder their packs and walk away.

Many had vehicles parked outside the campsite, but many others were hitchhiking. At the intersection of Highways 2 and 45 at Watersmeet, a town of about 1,000, a line of people stood with their thumbs out.

"Back to the real world," said David Bargans, 24. For him, that means a job as a plumber's assistant in the Bronx. "There are a lot of hippies on the prowl."