Springerville Survived The Gentle Onslaught.
By Dave Irwin
THE RAINBOW FAMILY of Living Light arrived in Springerville to a chilly civic reception usually reserved for invading Visigoths or British soccer fans. But for all the dire predictions and lurid media reports, in the end, the Annual Gathering of 25,000 people was more family reunion than locust swarm.
The Gathering and its July 4 prayer for world peace is already fading from memory at Carnero Lake in the Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest. In a year or so, you probably won't be able to tell they were ever there, except by talking to the locals swapping tales about what was for a few weeks the largest city ever in Apache County. If there's one thing Arizonans love, it's stories about ghost towns.
Walking around the Gathering, impromptu shouts of "We love you" from large groups echoed across the meadows. Strangers passing on the trails smiled and said, "Welcome home." People called each other brother and sister. Conversations ended with the phrase, "Lovin' ya."
At the dozens of kitchens, with colorful names like "Loving Ovens," "Brew Ha-Ha Tea," and "Serenity Camp" (with daily 12-Step meetings), anyone who walked up with a bowl was fed for free. When a ban on fires shut down kitchens without propane stoves, others took up the slack and no one went hungry.
The Gathering was adamant about hygiene, with instructions posted for properly using military spec slit latrines. At kitchens, hands were washed religiously before food prep, utensils cleaned with soap, rinse and then disinfectant. Working at Bliss Kitchen, after washing up, you're shown how to properly ladle food so that the serving spoons don't touch the person's bowl. As a reward for the efforts, the triage/first-aid station, CALM (Center for Alternative Living Medicine) reported few problems.
Despite the large numbers of people and the duration of the event, only 109 arrests were officially logged. A murder suspect from Florida was removed by Shanti Sena, the Rainbow's own internal peacekeepers, and turned over to Apache County deputies. The group had been warned by postings to the Rainbow's internet news group, alt.gathering.rainbow, so when Joseph Geibel was spotted and his identify confirmed by both photographs and eyewitnesses, he was quietly taken out. Deputies responding at the edge of the Gathering found him sitting, wrapped in a blanket with his possessions in front of him, surrounded by more than 20 Shanti Sena.
Apache County Sheriff spokesperson Jim Morse said that overall, "Certainly, there were people up there who don't like law-enforcement, and they made that loud and clear, but the majority of people were very friendly. When you have 25,000 people together, almost anything could happen."
Inside the Gathering, marijuana use was omnipresent, with some people getting stoned to make their morning coffee. However, non-participation in ganja rituals was politely respected. Hallucinogens, primarily LSD and psilocybin mushrooms, also appeared plentiful for anyone interested.
Alcohol and drug use at "A Camp," the hardcore partying area, and the adjacent Bus Village created the most problems. At one point, when an incident with federal officers occurred near the lake, deeply paranoid A Campers barricaded the road in anticipation of an imagined massive police invasion. The move during an extreme fire danger was as stupid and dangerous as locking theater doors from the inside. In the end, the man wanted for assaulting a federal officer in the incident surrendered naked to police, in a true Rainbow moment.
This was Kay Dyson's second Gathering, having seen the 1979 event near Alpine. The Springerville councilwoman, whose husband works for the Forest Service, conceded that the visitors were well behaved.
"They brought a positive impact to the economy. They brought color, diversity and excitement. As in any community, there were good things and bad. They were just totally different than people you find in a small rural area.
"In any case," she says as the summer monsoons begin to fall on the White Mountains, "our folks are left with a multitude of colorful stories to tell for years to come. They brought some spice to an otherwise rainy July."
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