Rainbow Reflections

Welcome home. We love you!


Participating in the Rainbow Gathering felt like living in another country for a week. I have never camped with so many people (around 5000 people? I am unsure). I camped on the hill above the First Aid station. From my hill, I can see people walking around on the landscape below. On the day of the "beginning" of the Gathering (which just means more people start arriving), I enjoyed watching the flow of human traffic: thousands of people with big backpacks and camping gear streaming into these forests. At night, the forest is all dark, with bright stars above, and the light of thousands of flashlights with people attached, walking to and fro across the meadow and through the forest. Imagine seeing this at night, with so many little and large campfires scattered across the landscape, with different songs, foods, stories, and small celebrations (and some fights) throughout different camps. And, drumming. Drumming all night, drumming all day, endless drumming.


7song had prepped us with a bunch of horror stories, and I was prepared for the worst. It wasn't nearly as horrible as I thought it would be, based on his stories. In fact, I enjoyed it. I plan to return next year, if I am still in the USA, and am available.


I like the teamwork and grassroots aspects of Rainbow. Some people work really hard to make Rainbow happen, such as all the dedicated cooks at the camps that feed people, the people I worked with at the First Aid tent, the info tent, etc. Whenever there was a problem, people would shout, "Shanti-sena!" This is equivalent to calling the police, or dialing 911. As one person shouted, the next people who heard would shout and pass it on, and soon enough, the whole camp would know that something was amiss, and the Shanti-sena folks (basically Rainbow police/ peace-makers) would be dispatched to the area (sometimes us First Aid folk would get dispatched as well, depending on if anyone was physically injured, or not.)


The day that we left Ithaca for the Rainbow gathering, a light rain fell onto our field and forest landscape. My landmate and I watched as a double rainbow stretched itself across the hills. "This is going to be a great trip," she says, as she hands me a four leaf clover, under the rainbow, as we head towards Rainbow.


So my Rainbow Gathering adventure starts and ends with rainbows. Our final day at the Gathering, the rain finally falls. Large droplets fall thick and fast on the dry dirt, as lightning clangs and people howl, turning their faces toward the sky with open mouths and wide smiles. Wherever I am in the Gathering, I smile when I hear the sound of booming lightning, with the celebratory and animalistic howls that come after it, from the Rainbow folk throughout the Gathering. Our final day, after the large droplets of rain quenched the thirsty landscape, the sun pierced itself through the clouds to illuminate the tops of trees, then some of the golden dewy sagebrushes that covered the landscape. The shout goes up, "Rainbow!" and people run out into the meadow, hugging each other. A triple rainbow gracefully arches itself over the hill above the Gathering, right above the First Aid area, and facing the Main Circle (where we share huge meals for dinner). This is my first time seeing a triple rainbow; majestic and magical. A few hours later, as the sun prepares to set, a double rainbow appears. A few hours after that, a single rainbow appears.


And then, the silence. Of drums, of voices, and of heartbeats.


The yearly ritual of the Rainbow Gathering is for everyone to have silence on the Fourth of July, until a large OM circle at noon. I woke up that morning surprised and delighted to birdsong and silence, instead of incessant drumming. I got to the Main Circle in time to join thousands of people streaming into the meadow to join the thousands already linked together with hands held just tightly enough, and voices OM-ing as one. We stretched ourselves in a massive circle that looped up and down small hills and through small forests, surrounding and surrounded by Sky, Earth, and sagebrush. With silence and OM-ing, we stand together. And then, the children walk together into the center of the circle, singing peace songs, the drums start beating again, and a raucous celebration ensues, with many people dancing naked with primal found pounding Earth, to the primal pounding of drums.


I spent 1-2 hours each night wandering around the Gathering. A particularly memorable night, I walked to "Lovin' Ovens," a camp where they make delicious baked goods in Earth ovens. That night, they were having pizza night. I walked down our First Aid camp hill, and then up another hill to get to the Lovin' Ovens camp. Going through the darkness of the forest, I could see lights and hear music ahead of me. Suddenly, the forest opens up into a small clearing, where a few hundred people are sitting, chatting, eating pizza, and laughing. The atmosphere is peaceful and joyful. There are three fires that are linked together, with people sitting around them, and two accordion players dueling and dueting in the middle. I sit and enjoy the music for a while, watching people's faces in the firelight. Walking a little further back into the forest, I see Earth ovens and a Earth table with people surrounding it, and flour and laughter flying, as people kneaded dough and created pizza. Walking back to the First Aid area and walking past campfire after campfire, I hear different songs and conversations, smell different foods, and see people of differing types clustered together, brought together by Rainbow magic (or something), and all saying, "Welcome home," and "Lovin' you, sister." That night, I walked Jesus camp, a circle of marijuana indulgers, a Hari Krishna camp, a camp serving late night coconut oatmeal, a quiet camp playing gong-like fairy instruments, another Krishna camp serving chai and Hindu stories, and the raucous fire circle of drummers and dancers that hold their circle until the sun rises.


It's especially strange, and somewhat lovely, to bump into random strangers, and most of them look me in the eye, try to give me a big hug, and say, "Lovin' you, sister." Where else, but at a Rainbow Gathering?


And now, for the reason of coming: First Aid.


The First Aid tent was set up across from the information station, a little to the edge of the Gathering (not as central of a location as 7song would prefer.)


We hung up a bright yellow tarp. Patients would walk into the First Aid area. A bunch of us herb students would hang around the entrance or watch the entrance, and go up to patients as they arrive. "Hi, I'm Jiling. Who are you? How can I help you today?" is how I would introduce myself to new patients. They would proceed to explain why they came to our First Aid tent, and I would take them to a quiet spot to sit down, chat (figure out their constitution and condition), and then serve them alcohol (our medicines, usually in tincture/alcohol/water form.)


Around the First Aid station, we had a wash station, medical waste water pit, small kitchen to the side, fire pit outside, and two supply tents for stashing our extra medicines and gear. Under the immediate First Aid tent, we created a table on the right that stored herbal tinctures and first aid supplies. On the left, we created a long log seat where patients could be treated.


Some commonly encountered conditions, and their treatments:

- Foot cuts, often from going barefoot. If the feet were really dirty or infected, then we would clean them out with a foot wash of yarrow (Achillea millefolium), Epsom salts, goldenseal, and/or chapparal (Larrea spp.). Then, we would continue cleaning the feet with a cotton-tip applicator. I liked to use goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis) tincture. If there are cuts or blisters in between the toes from dirt and chafing, then we would thickly layer baby cream mixed with goldenseal into the cracked feet, and then thickly wrap them with gauze to prevent further damage and aid speedy recovery, as well as providing detailed directions for personal footcare.

- Sunburns. We had everything from mild sunburns to inch-high blisters on the skin from severe over-exposure to sun. We rubbed mild sunburns with aloe vera gel. In fact, we placed aloe vera on the self-help medicine table right outside of our First Aid tent. For severe burns, we made a prickly pear pad (Opuntia spp.) poultice, or used a clay poultice as a drawing and cooling agent. Then, lavender essential oil or aloe vera to top it off.

- Sore throat. There's two basic types of sore throats: a phlegmy wet sore throat needs expectorants and warming/ drying herbs, such as osha (Lingusticum porter) and wild cherry (Prunus serotina). An inflamed and dry sore throat needs demulcents and cooling herbs, such as licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.) and marshmallow root. I ended up using a lot of Echinacea (Echinacea purpurea) to boost the immune system and encourage the body to heal itself. I am curious about what other herbs are immune boosting. Some ideas: elderberry, astragalus. I also used a lot of goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis) for its antibiotic properties, to help destroy whatever destructive agents that were hurting the patients' body. For sore throats, I would partner Echinacea with whatever throat tonic appropriate to the person's condition, and also add goldenseal if it were an infection.

- Every day, at least one person would come in from getting hurt from a drunken fight. We would clean out their wounds, locate the perpetrators of the fighting, decide if it was a community risk, and provide some counseling support for the patient. For immediate post-fight care, we would give Echinacea for immune boosting, and Arnica (Arnica spp.) tincture as an anti-inflammatory. I would also add some nervine medicine to help soothe frayed nerves. Some of my favorite post-fight or post-trauma nervines at Rainbow: passionflower (Passiflora incarnate), chamomile (Matricaria recutita), St. Johnswort (Hypericum perforatum), and California poppy (Eschscholtzia spp .) After cleaning the wounds, Goldenseal or Chapparal can be applied into the wound as a disinfectant. St. Johnswort and Arnica can be applied around the wound to help reduce swelling and aid tissue repair.

- Continuous vomiting and/or diarrhea. For vomiting, I would initially give a few drops of peppermint spirits, neutralizing cordial, and/or ginger to help ease nausea. Then, I would treat it like diarrhea: give activated charcoal to help draw unwanted agents out of the body, wait 20-30 minutes, then give a strong dose of Oregon graperoot (Berberis spp.), Chapparal (Larrea spp.), and/or Goldenseal (Hydrastis Canadensis) to help kill infectious agents, and Echinacea to help boost immunity. If someone was having bad bellyaches that accompanied the vomiting/ diarrhea, then I would also give them some digestive nervines to help them feel better, such as Chamomile (Matricaria recutita).

- Drums played all day and all night, with screaming and people everywhere. Not as crazy as I thought, but definitely affected my own sleeping habits (I didn't sleep well), and I saw many patients with difficulty sleeping, as well. I like nervines. I like that herbs seem to help ease nerves so well. Some sleep-aid tinctures that I thought were effective at Rainbow: Hops (Humulus lupulus), Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), and Chamomile (Matricaria recutita).

- Staph infection. I didn't see or treat as many staph infections as I expected. Wash out the infection with yarrow, goldenseal, or chaparral. If a scab has developed over the wound and it is infected below, then soak the scab with a hot compress of the above herbs, to loosen and remove the scab, and clean the wound. Apply activated charcoal paste. Then in the evening, apply a tincture mix of chaparral/ berberis/ goldenseal. Internally, take Echinacea and goldenseal/ chaparral. Alternate tincture and activated charcoal external treatment twice daily. Give the patient strict directions to not touch/ infect other people.


Some other herbs that I found useful at Rainbow:

- Willow (Salix spp.) as an anti-inflammatory

- Propolis; applied onto minor wounds to help disinfect, bind, and seal the wound.

- Rose (Rosa spp.) and Monarda, for more nervine bliss.


Some ineffective herbs/ treatments, and questions:

- We had some difficulty with politics within the First Aid tent. Two of the main people of the First Aid tent, M and J, have really strong personalities and are very difficult to work with. Actually, they create disruption. They would not listen to positive criticism. M would regularly freak out, shout, and disturb both patients and healthcare workers. I wonder how best to remediate the situation of difficulty within the healthcare practitioners, so that we can work well together as a team. I wonder if herbal medicine would be appropriate to use in such a situation, for the healthcare practitioners in question. And, as a community, how can we address problematic leaders?

- I have a chronic condition with my throat, that I contracted while teaching English to rowdy young students In Taiwan. During my last day at Rainbow, I started getting sick: upper respiratory inflammation, nasal congestion, general fatigue, sore limbs, mild headaches. So, I treated myself like I treated other patients with inflamed respiratory conditions: up my Echinacea intake, and take demulcent and antimicrobial throat remedies. After a week, I am feeling better. But, I still wonder how to treat my chronic condition. And, I wonder about the best way for healthcare workers to take care of themselves. I watched many of my fellow students struggling with their personal health problems during the Rainbow Gathering. It feels challenging to maintain personal health while taking care of others' health, and seeing so many sick people each day. But, I also noticed that most of the more seasoned First Aid staff did not get sick.

- What herbs are useful for reducing a fever?

- Toothcare. I feel like we could help dull or suppress tooth pain, but did not treat the core problem. We only alleviated the symptoms. I look forward to learning more about tooth care and treatment. I experienced some toothache on the journey towards Rainbow. It probably arose from a change in diet and increase in stress during travel. We applied goldenseal topically, directly to the point of pain. It didn't really help. I haven't tried clove oil yet, but it seemed to help somewhat with some tooth pains. We cleaned out toothaches with goldenseal and astringent tinctures, then used clove essential oil to numb out most toothaches.  

- For preventative medicine, as per 7song's suggestion, every day I took a dropperful of Echinacea tincture, and half a dropperful for chapparo amargosa morning and night. I also added a dropperful of Berberis tincture into my water bottle. Besides the tinctures, I wonder what good preventative medicine foods would be helpful for people to eat, and how we could easily integrate these into a Rainbow diet. It is difficult to keep fresh veggies as part of the diet, while in the woods. Some other Rainbow botanists suggested eating some local wild edibles everyday to help increase the body's adaptive immunity.

- I wonder how to help relieve someone of an unwanted "high," such as if they accidentally ingest a drug, or if they ingested too much. I helped a patient feel better during their unwanted high, with nervine and sedative herbal medicines. But, it didn't get rid of the high. It just made it more manageable. I wonder if anything can get rid of the high, or expedite the process? There was another patient who was going through a drug experience, and came to First Aid because he was not feeling well. I gave him an assortment of nervines, but they did not help. This is one of the difficulties/ specialties of herbal medicine: how one plant works for one person, might not affect someone else the same way. Over time, patterns arise, and certain herbal medicine is repeatedly helpful. But sometimes, nothing works. I guess then, it's time to try something else.

- How effective is Echinacea as an immune stimulant? How do "immune stimulants" work? Should we use different immune boosters for people with different constitutions?

- Finally, I wonder about all the different herbs that I mixed together, and how they interact with each other, and with my patients. I don't understand herb interactions yet. Chinese medicine works carefully with herb interactions. Here, we work with a western model of treatment: the patient is going thru x and y symptoms. So, I give them herb "a" to treat condition "x," and herb "b" to treat condition "y," and they just happen to be in the same bottle together. Well, I look forward to refining this process so that the herbs can support each other and more specifically treat the root of the issue, and the entire unique human individual.