Rainbow Light calls on everybody to pray to Mother Earth. Lifting a crystal above his head Rainbow Light intones a prayer, "Thank you, Mother Earth, thank you, Great Spirit," turning to the four directions. The crystal catches the light of the full moon, just rising above the crest of the ridge amplifying it. The moonlight seems to bloom in the crystal, taking over the night.

LATE IN THE AFTERNOON OF JULY 5, CICADAS are ringing in my ears as I put my wedding and family rings on the altar next to a medicine pipe and crawl inside the sweat lodge with 15 other people. We sit with our feet to the stone pit. The 16 dogwood saplings there are tied so low that there is barely room to sit up straight.

The sweat lodge is situated far downstream from the rest of the gathering. I'm here at Diamond Dave's invitation; the sweat lodge is part of his wedding ceremony. Felipe will conduct it, along with Green Light, a union electrician from Northern California. Felipe and Green Light explain that this lodge is being run in a traditional Lakota way. We are reminded to pass along water and prayer and pipe clockwise so as not to break the line from the oven and the altar and let in unpure spirits. They pass around osha root - bear medicine, Felipe calls it - to help us with our breathing. Felipe tries to reassure us that all of us can get through if we go through this together.

Sweat is pouring off me, and my pulse is pounding even before Generous Wolf pulls the rocks from the oven with his long wooden fork and carries them into the lodge. "Ho! Mitakuye oyasin " Felipe prays. "For all our relations." The entrance is shut, and it is completely dark. Water splashes on the rocks, and burning steam fills the room. Prayers are offered up for the wedding couple. Many minutes pass. Suddenly, I see my own death coming toward me. I think I am dying. I try to go toward the fear and panic, bolting for the door. Green Light catches me, massaging my back as I babble about my fears. I return to my place as the first round ends after 20 minutes. A jug of water is passed. More rocks are brought in. More burning steam. When my turn comes, I moan out prayers to Diamond Dave and his bride, praying with all the knowledge of all the good in all the relationships that I have ever known. Then I feel myself start to throw up. I scramble clockwise around the pit and throw myself out into the daylight.

Down on my hands and knees, I puke my guts out over and over. It is a half-hour before I can crawl down to Shoal Creek and fall in. What did I put myself through this for? I think about something Robbie Gordon said to me as we were driving east through the Texas panhandle late at night a week before, great swarms of insects splatting against the windsheild of our car. "I'm not interested in money or fame or having a family," he said. "I'm only interested in wisdom."

COME EVENING, IT RAINS, A HEAVY shower that leaves evrybody's things soaked and sends many Rainbows scurrying for their cars and vans and buses. You can't have Rainbows without rain, people assure one another hopefully as they gather beneath the tarp at Kid Village. The lack of an actual Rainbow sighting at this year's gathering has been a source of constant speculation. A Rainbow around the sun that appeared in a cloudless sky - after the July 4th meditation two years ago at the Vermont gathering - has been constantly recalled. People see the Rainbow as affirmation of a good gathering and/or a good prayer.

With so many people fleeing the weather, the gathering turns more intimate. Every year the Rainbow Gathering dedicates one night to its "hipstory." Led by Garrick Beck, several hundred Rainbows hunker down on the damp, straw covered earth and journey through their collective past. "Who remembers 1972?" Beck calls out, and one after another, year by year, Rainbows stand to volunteer a tale about the hardships, the miracles, the community, the visions. But Beck himself tells the crucial tale of the visit to the 1977 Gathering, in New Mexico, by a nearly blind Hopi "keeper of the prophecies," a medicine man named Grandfather David.

The Rainbows were gathered on the North Fork of the Gila River. One afternoon, Grandfather David stood in the blazing sun and in a careful voice recited the entire Hopi history. "Some people were rapt," Beck tells his listeners. "Other people's eyes were glazing over. We were asking each other, 'What is he telling us this for?' At the end of three hours, he thanked us for listening and went back to his tepee.

"The evening of the same day," Beck continues, "the drums had started up, and people were dancing, and a woman came out of the tepee and said, "Gandfather David wants to know if he could talk some more." We kind of went, "Oh, no," to ourselves. The evening was just getting going, but, of course, we said, 'Sure.' And that little old man came back out, supported by two people, and he gave one of the most blazingly hair-raising political speeches I ever heard. It was right up there with Martin Luther King, Jr.'s speech at the Lincoln Memorial in '63. He said, "Don't expect the banks, the corporations or the governments to give you anything. They will never respect you unless you hold territory. And defend it. For the Mother Earth."

This lesson is not lost on the next day's council of Legaliasion. In 1976, Legaliasion came together as one of the many volunteer groups in Rainbow, just like the parking lot crews, the shitter diggers, and supply. But over the years, as government pressure on Rainbow grew more sophisticated, Legaliasion has become a more and more critical aspect of Rainbow. Many of the best minds of the Rainbow Family, including Garrick Beck, Mareba Jos, Robbie Gordon, Michael John, Red Moon Song, Joanie Freedom, Badjer, Shiloh, Stephen Principle, maveric(with a small m), Julia Moonsparrow and at least 50 more circle together on a pine needle covered forest floor to take up what is, perhaps, Rainbow's greatest challenge.

For 22 years, local, state and the federal governments have been trying to stop the Rainbow Gathering. In 1987, North Carolina police blocked a bridge that was the only entrance into the gathering, forcing people to walk many miles to the site. Before the Texas gathering, in 1988, the U.S. Attorney's office in Lufkin attempted to get a court order in Lufkin to blockade all the U.S. Highways leading to the gathering site. State police commonly set up roadblocks on the roads leading into gatherings.

Since at least the mid-'80's, the Forest Service has been trying to control the Rainbow Gathering with a series of written regulations on "group use." But until now, the Forest Service hasn't found a way to make them constitutional.

Now the Forest Service is trying again. A new set of proposed amendments to the Forest Service regulations would establish seven criteria for noncommercial group use of the National Forests. These will allow the Forest Service to close back-country areas in case of fire danger or inclement weather; force groups to alter their arrival or departure times if the times interfere with grazing or timber sale contracts; and shut down activities that, in the Forest Service's judgement pose a danger to public health by, for example, threatening contamination of water supplies, insufficint sanitation facilities or unsafe handling of food. Any gathering of more than 25 people would be forbidden without a permit. Violation of the regulations could be punishable by six months in jail for trespassing on the Public Lands or a $500.00 fine [or both].

Lyle Laferty, a 26-year veteran of the Forest Service, denies that the new regulations are in any way directed against the Rainbow, which he insists is no different from any other large group of people using the national forests. "Last year, we had over 700 million people use or visit the national forests," he points out, although no group of visitors was remotely close to the size of the Rainbow Gatherings, which often, especially when held in the Western states, attract upwards of 25,000 people.

For the Rainbow Family, the crux of the problem with the proposed regulations is that a person or persons, 21 years of age or older, must sign a special group use authorization on behalf of the applicant. Someone has to accept the responsibilities associated with use of a national Forest. The Rainbows insist that "No one person is responsible for the gathering," as one anonymous Rainbow wrote in a leaflet handed out at the gathering. "Each of us is responsible for ourselves, and legally liable for our behavior as individuals. It is simply human nature for folks to gather, and a natural human right to do so on public land, so long as we are respectful to others and clean up our site."

Legaliasion's discussion goes on for hours. Arguments frequently grow contentious and personal; and legaliasion's focalizer, a tall, handsome redheaded college speech teacher named Sherby Jones, is frequently forced to shout out, "Focus!" when things get too dispersed, several times asking people to hold hands for a moment in a circle of silence.

At one point, a cop wearing a T-shirt marked ALABAMA MARIJUANA ERADICATION CONTROL in big orange letters and an Alabama State Trooper wander into the meeting. Thomas the Scribe, a bearded, bespectacled bohemian in tie-dye, stands up.

Thomas, who is part of the Peace Park Tribe, which has been maintaining a 24- hour-a-day peace vigil in Lafayette Park, across from the White House, for the past twelve years, tells the cops, "There's a council going on, and we're discussing the Forest Service Regulations." Politely, but firmly, he asks them to leave. The beefy policemen peer down at the slight scribe the way bears might contemplate a particularly annoying fly. "We don't have any trouble with that," the trooper drawls, and the two men turn and strut away.

Rainbows tend to hold a fairly absolutist view concerning the First Amendment and the "right of the people peaceably to assemble." Peaceable assembly on public lands is a right, they insist, not a "privilege" subject to government approval. As maverick (with a small m), one of the main Bus Village focalizers, puts it, "A freedom ain't a freedom unless the people excercise it."

It will probably be the end of the year before Jim Lyons, the assistant secretary at the Department of Agriculture (for natural resources and the environment), finishes reviewing the group use regulation, and his boss, the secretary of Agriculture, Mike Espy, signs off on them. The Forest Service's Lyle Laferty is taking a conciliatory posture. "Our position is that we want to grant the permit."

I point out that the Rainbow Family doesn't have anybody who can sign such a permit.

Laverty pauses, "It's a real interesting management challenge," he says.

THE LAST DAY OF THE RAINBOW GATHERING is traditionally dedicated to the Vision Council. The day starts with individuals telling their ideas of what the future of the Rainbow Family should be, and ends with the deciding of where the Family will gather next. This year, the vision council winds up its business quickly, establishing a consensus on Wyoming, including- with a nod to the bioregionalists - the Uinta Mountains in Utah.

The cleanup following the gathering is "one of the easiest yet," according to Mareba Jos, who is one of several hundred who have stayed around to "re-naturalize" the site, to recycle the garbage, dismantle all the ramps and bridges, scatter logs, branches and leaves, and aerate stomped down parking lots and paths. By the time the last Rainbows leave, those who want to extract every last ounce of love and connection from the gathering - or have nowhere to go - everything is reseeded with local wildflowers (and a little pot).

Several hundred Rainbows proceed to Washington, where they camp across the street from the White House in Lafayette Park and demonstrate against a new Forest Service Regulations for the next month. They delivered 600 letters and petitions with 22,000 signatures, to the department of Agriculture. On August 4, the final day for comments on the new forest-use rules, 14 demonstrators are arrested inside the Agriculture Department itself. Seated beneath a Rainbow Banner, praying and chanting, they are arrested for unlawful entry and forced to sit handcuffed for 11 hours before they are booked.

One of those arrested is Julia Moon Sparrow. After she is released, she and Matteo, her companion, move on to an American Indian prayer ceremony. "We are endangered by these regulations," she insists, calling from a pay phone on the reservation. "It's not just taking away our right to party. The Rainbow Nation is a conscious choice to return to the traditional ceremonial ways. But this America of European origin obviously doesn't recognize the value of ceremony, they're going to try to stop us, because we will always remain a threat."

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