The ``Gathering'' of hippies in the Missouri Ozarks brings whimsy _ and worry By SCOTT CANON Mid-America Correspondent Date: 06/24/96 22:15 THOMASVILLE, Mo. -- So Mountain turns to Papa Gary, who'd been passing the pipe to Peg (as in leg), and says: "Every family has somebody -- sometimes it's an aunt, or a brother or whatever -- every family has somebody who kind of embarrasses them at Thanksgiving," he says. "With us, the Rainbow Family, it's the Drainbows," Mountain told the hairy, but hardly harried, group circled next to the campfire. "Right on," amens Papa Gary. "You said it, dude," Peg says with an exhale of illicit smoke. Implied in all this is that a Rainbow is a good hippie, one who shares and smiles and knows something of elbow grease. A Drainbow is a hippie who chugs brew and bums smokes and makes himself absent when there's a chore or two. This summer, hippies from every hue of the Rainbow Family are coming from across the country to the Ozarks for an annual "Gathering." This year's Gathering figures to bring 15,000 to 20,000 hippies to the Mark Twain National Forest in Oregon County -- crammed into a few wooded acres, temporarily tripling the county's population and taxing its community resources. The Gathering also pits Americans wanting to meet on public land for spiritual communion against government stewards trying to keep a national forest from being trampled. Rainbows started heading to U.S. Forest Service land for their Gatherings 25 years ago. Last year it was New Mexico. The year before, Wyoming. Now, for the first time in 11 years, the Rainbow Family is holding its Gathering in the Missouri Ozarks. But this year's event comes after the government adopted new regulations aimed at keeping such large groupings under control. That, in turn, has fueled a decidedly anti-government vibe among the Rainbows. "The government doesn't like hippies, plain and simple," said Jennifer Roth, a 32-year-old Rainbow who says "home is where my bus is." A court ruling in the late 1980s said the Forest Service has some authority to regulate Gatherings, but not to outlaw them. The Forest Service set out to get the Rainbow Family to sign the same sort of permit as someone putting on, say, a high school reunion would have to agree to. Getting the Rainbows to agree to a permit is a bit like, well, catching a rainbow. For starters -- and Rainbows take great pride in this -- there are no leaders. "We're kind of an organization that's unorganized," said Pete Perrier, a 47-year-old who works construction occasionally. "We're kind of anarchist -- not against the government but against rules." There's the rub. "That makes it difficult to say: `You're the person responsible here,' " said Jody Eberly, a spokeswoman for the Forest Service "incident command team" keeping tabs on the Gathering. Already the Forest Service estimates there are 1,200 hippies camping together in south-central Missouri. Officially -- a word used loosely around Rainbows -- the Gathering starts June 28 and runs through the first week or so of July. This year's new regulations call for any group of 75 persons or more to sign a permit -- essentially a pact obligating them to dig enough latrine trenches, protect the drinking water, guard endangered plant species and keep off archaeological sites in the area. That's where Rainbow Turtle comes in. He heard of the conflict with the Forest Service and wanted to make sure the Gathering wasn't spoiled. So he called the agency, saying he wasn't a leader in this leaderless group, but that he would take responsibility for the permit. "At first, I guess, we just thought it was a crank call," said Terry Miller, the Forest Service's district ranger for the area being flooded in Rainbows. Over time it became clear that Rainbow Turtle, who heads a church in the Milwaukee area and is due in Missouri Monday, was serious about stepping forward. On Friday a permit was signed. "I don't know that we have a bargain with the group at large," Miller said, "but we've got somebody who has stepped forward to take some responsibility." No beer in the sanctuary In the meantime, the hippies come. Deadheads, punk rockers, old hippies. Generation X with pierced faces, hippie children dressed and undressed, just like their parents. Imagine the bar scene in Star Wars, except with tie-dye and dreadlocks. "Welcome brother. I love you." It's the universal greeting. It implies everyone is part of a great, loving family. Some talk of Rainbows as the Lost Tribe of Israel, other see themselves as the fulfillment of Hopi prophecy of "Warriors of the Rainbows." The guys at the entrance, however, appear simply to be drunk. This is A-Camp. A as in alcohol. One of the few rules of Gatherings is the prohibition of booze anywhere but A-camp. Unlike marijuana, which enjoys a special cachet among Rainbows as a natural drug, alcohol is viewed as something that does not lead to a mellow scene. "This is a church to people," said Tecumsah Boyd, at the heart of the gathering about three miles from A-Camp. "You don't bring a beer into the sanctuary." Even a sanctuary under construction. The Rainbows are in seed camp. They're running plastic pipe from springs to backwoods kitchens. They're building ovens from rocks, mud and 55-gallon drums. They're hauling in wood-fired water heaters and, yes, the kitchen sink. A substantial portion of the people at the site are accustomed to this sort of life. They do their best year-round and coast-to-coast to live aside from American consumerism and 9-to-5 paychecks. They call where you live Babylon. Theirs, in theory, is a simpler and kinder place. Cash is frowned on at Gatherings as crass and too commercial. Barter is better. Cigarettes, pot and chocolate bars are the chief coins of the realm. Mostly in that order. It's said a Rainbow need only bring a spoon, a bowl and a cup. Each meal is preceded with "circle," a joining of hands and prayer that bridges Christianity and Native American spiritualism. Stews tend to dominate the menu and consist mainly of whatever has been tossed into a large pot. Afterward, they pass the hat. Mountain looks to be in his 40s. He and his wife brought their two grade school-age sons to the Gathering from their home in Salem, Ore. They've done it several times before. He'd just as soon keep their first names and his last name out of the newspaper. Still, he is eager to talk about how his family loves these things. "I just love being with these people," he said. "There's so much love." "They don't learn bad things here," he said. And with that he turns to the young siblings: "Do you kids smoke pot?" he asks. "No," they say. "Do you smoke cigarettes?" he queries. "No." "Do I smoke pot?" "Yes." "Do I drink beer anymore?" Mountain continues. "No." "Which would you rather I do, drink beer or smoke pot?" "Smoke pot," they chime in unison. "See?" says Mountain, his quizzing of the boys complete. "They're learning about being mellow and how to live peacefully in the woods. And the boys love the music." There is plenty of that. As the sun relents at dusk and the temperature in the steamy Ozarks forest becomes subtropical and almost tolerable, guitars get strummed and voices take flight. Drum circles, improvisational orgies of rhythm, can pound through the night air for an hour without pause. All is not blissful It's about 9 a.m. Thursday, the sun already has become oppressive and four persons lying on their backs with the bodies arranged in an X are listening to the woman covered up with a bikini, bottom only. "Imagine you're a tree, planted in Mother Earth...Our roots are descending." A few feet away, only slightly cooler beneath a huge plastic tarp, sits 9-year-old Haley, one adult hippie and eight toddlers. This is Kid Village, i.e., Rainbow day care. Haley loves it here. She likes playing with the children. She likes the friends she makes here. Haley loves grabbing that rope somebody rigged by the creek and swinging into the water. "This is the funnest time of the year," she declares. Nineteen-year-old Ryan -- again, full names seem hard to come by -- finds the place a relief from "the cars and the money and all that crap." He has been living a vagabond existence for two years and at the Gathering he feels secure. "It's a real spiritual place." But Oregon County commissioners saw more problems than spiritualism. Last week they took a worried tour of the accumulating buses, tents and sleeping bags. Just how 20,000 people would shoehorn into the narrow valley was a mystery. At Ozarks Medical Center about 25 miles away in West Plains, Mo., the effects of thousands of transients moving in already can be seen. The hospital administration learned about the Gathering three weeks ago when a staff member stumbled across the news on the Internet. Sick Rainbows have begun to show up at the small hospital's emergency room with nasty cuts, bowel obstructions, appendicitis and more. Rainbows are drinking spring water without boiling it, which could cause sickness. "We're worried there could be some illness from the water," Leslie Speak, the hospital's vice president for patient care services. She expects largely indigent patients to cost the hospital something like $30,000 and stretch the area's ambulance capacity. And while most of the Rainbows assembled so far talk of the bliss they're enjoying, there are signs that this year's event may not match the peaceful standard set by past Gatherings. "These young hippies put on this attitude that they don't care about anybody but themselves," said Boyd, a Rainbow of long standing. "And the locals come in wanting to see the naked hippie chicks." The panhandling is aggressive. "Hey, brother, got some tobacco? I know you do." Some drinking can be found outside A-Camp. "The attitude is kind of a bummer," Anne Lance said as she hiked out after 24 hours in the camp with her boyfriend, Jason Brandon. They had planned to stay two weeks. But now they were headed to Maine.