MOUNT TABOR >> Sixty Rainbow Family members appeared in court on Monday to clear violation notices.
"There's been an equal number of incident reports. Nothing out of the ordinary," said John A. Sinclair, forest supervisor for the Green Mountain and Finger Lakes National Forests. "The majority is what we expected."
One hundred and twenty warning notices and 84 violation notices have been issued to date. A few arrests have occurred as well. Most notices are drug and traffic related. Law enforcement officers reported 75 incidents, according to the U.S. Forest Service's daily gathering update.
Tom McCleod, according to family member Adam Buxbaum, is the only one of the 60 who pleaded not guilty on Monday. McCleod was "unconstitutionally detained for one hour while law enforcement left to get a K-9 unit to search without probable cause." He wrote a letter to the judge explaining the constitutional issues; the judge found a technical issue with the ticket and it was dismissed. Buxbaum said those ticketed usually take a fee because they're from out of state and cannot return for another hearing to fight the ticket.
In 2014, at a Utah gathering, Buxbaum was arrested for filming someone else's search, but hasn't had other encounters with the law enforcement.
In addition to regional and state police enforcement, officers from the National Incident Management Team and U.S. Forest Service Law Enforcement patrol the gathering grounds frequently.
Into the forest
When Otter's house burned down and his wife left him, he knew that he wanted nothing more than to be with his Rainbow Family.
"When I went to college I'm like, 'I want me a job where I can be out of the hot sun, an easy job sitting at a desk with air conditioning,' and I got my wish. Be careful what you wish for," he said. "You get tired of the rat race and get tired of going to work every day. After a few years of doing that, I'm sitting there thinking, 'Man, I want to be out there in the sun.'"
Otter worked on computer programming and built houses before he took to traveling all over the South. He's a disabled Army veteran, originally from Kentucky, and arrived on Monday. He's been to about six gatherings.
"It's so much more relaxed out here. People are more accepting," he said. "Doesn't matter what you look like. They got what you call kick downs. Kick downs is giving somebody something. I'll go into Wal-Mart and buy a big bag of flashlights or cigarette lighters, because no one ever has flashlights in the woods."
Otter received his name after swimming at a gathering faster than folks could paddle in a boat.
"It's a lot of fun, if you don't mind camping and getting dirty in the woods," he said. "Out here it's day ball and night ball. It doesn't matter what time it is really. I hate to see it out there in society, people get stressed out. That's where all the violence and shootings and killings are."
A little over 2,000 people occupy a section of Mount Tabor off Forest Road 10 and started arriving at the beginning of June. A formal celebration will commence on July 4 and then they'll begin to depart. Counts are based on four people to a car and 12 to a bus. There's an estimated 27 buses and 35 established camps — some with kitchens — at the gathering.
The U.S. Forest Service got word that some Rainbow Family from Oregon and Colorado are not attending the Vermont gathering and it may be because of the main access road to the camping sites. Vehicles line the left side of Forest Road 10 after the Appalachian Trail crossing. Self-designated traffic commanders of the Rainbow Family check in with each passerby and notify others whether it's a forest service officer or law officer; 'seven up' for forest personnel and 'six up' for police. Forest service officers without weapons are known as 'tree frogs.'
Decorated banners that read 'Welcome Home' and 'Rainbow Family of Living Light,' signs designating maps and trails, line the entrances to kitchens and campsites. At the Crystal Kitchen before Main Meadow camp, over 100 pounds of produce is used to produce meals.
Dream, from Texas, prefers to get up early in the morning and help in the kitchen chopping vegetables and tidying up. She sat under a tarp on Tuesday eating peanut butter on the way to Main Meadow after arriving in a rain storm. Her tiny service dog slept next to her on a leash. This is the furthest Dream has been in the Northeast for a national gathering, but she's attended many regional gatherings in the South.
"I just go with the flow and encourage people to abide," she said. "There's no rules, just encouragements. I'm here because it's peaceful. I don't rock at night, I'm old."
The encouragements Dream mentioned pertain to the rule of always having dogs on a leash and properly parking vehicles in designated areas.
For more information on the Rainbow Family, visit starsrainbowrideboard.org.