“Welcome home…” I can still hear it in my head. Hundreds of people welcoming me to a beautiful national forest. I just got back from the 2011 National Rainbow gathering in the Gifford Pinchot National Forest of Washington state and what an experience it was. This was my second year going and also my second year working at C.A.L.M., the medical area. Rainbow gatherings are a national gathering of as many as 20,000 people from all over the country all converging in one place (some national forest somewhere) for a week of camping, music and fun. As you can imagine, that number of people all in one place for a week provides plenty of first aid opportunities.
I’m not entirely sure how I feel about the gathering as a whole, I’m certainly glad that this space exists and happy to be there helping but I wonder how I would feel if I didn’t have C.A.L.M. to work at? Would I feel out of sorts? It’s hard to say. At Rainbow you can meet some of the most amazing, talented and sweet people you could ever imagine; you can also meet some of the most angry, sad and disparaging of people. I suppose that’s what you get when you have a completely free event and some 20,000 people show up. It’s definitely not the happiest place in the world and yet some part of it feels very home like, very comfortable. Regardless, it is the best place that I know of (actually, the only) where an aspiring herbalist like myself can go and practice first aid herbal medicine with such openness and essentially no regulation. The advantages of this are clear: a huge population of people all with varying maladies and injuries, receptive to alternative treatments provides one with experience and lots of it. People are generally open and willing to allow you to experiment and most everyone is just so grateful. Grateful to be there, grateful that you are there and grateful that someone is willing to take care of them and so many others.
This year was even better than last; there was virtually no police presence and having previously experienced a national Rainbow, my confidence was up and I felt more comfortable experimenting and treating than I did last year. Some of this year’s case highlights include an infected dog bite, a staph infected spider bite, a bad stomach bug and every kind of respiratory malady you could imagine all exacerbated by too much smoke inhalation from the hundreds of fires around the gathering burning wet wood in a low valley.
It’s a very intense experience requiring quick thinking, an ability to improvise and a general understanding that you are in the middle of a national forest and not necessarily able to get exactly what you may need. Working in an office or even out of one’s house is so comfortable, familiar it’s easy to get stuck in that mindset. When you need a pot for soaking a wound or boiling tea, chances are you have several to choose from. You also probably have tools galore, spoons for measuring herbs or mixing poultices, knives for chopping herbs and preparing medicines. In the woods you are limited to what you have around you. You need that soaking pot but so do 15 other people who are working right beside you; you need to stir that slippery elm powder but all the spoons are gone; you need to chop ginger for tea but there’s not a knife to be found. Working in the woods certainly takes some ingenuity, some improvisation but that’s also some of the fun of it. It keeps you thinking and allows for creativity to come through, maybe even more creativity than if you were in your office or home amongst what’s so familiar to you. It’s this ability to be creative that draws me so much to Rainbow, and it’s not just found at C.A.L.M. but throughout all of the gathering. From the many bridges built of fallen trees and tied with various cordage to the clay ovens built out of clay found right on site. Rainbow is a place to express oneself and one’s creativity. I used to think I wasn’t creative; I can’t draw or paint and I’m not especially gifted at sculpting. But then I found cooking. I’ve been cooking since I was 12 and since then I have experimented and experimented some more. Not all of my creations worked out and as I’ve grown older I understand more and more what works together and what doesn’t. But I am creative, my food and meals are my creations. As I’ve found herbalism, another side of my creativity comes out. I love to experiment, to try new things, to try things that aren’t common or maybe even a little bit weird and here I can do that, freely. I get to express myself and be free and help others at the same time. Maybe this is why Rainbow feels a little like home to me.
I am very grateful for this experience and I look forward to doing it again next year. I am thankful to my teachers: CoreyPine Shane, who took me for the first time last year and 7song who took not only me but 17 others so that we could have this first hand practice. It’s hard to put into words just how important this is and how unique of an opportunity it is and I am eternally grateful to be a part of it. I’m not sure what the future holds but I do hope to continue working Rainbow gatherings for the next coming years, improving my skills and helping as many people as I can.