How Forest Cities Come To Be Built

Each year a temporary village of 15,000 people springs up out of the forest over a few weeks time. Saplings and deadfall are cut to form long counters, kitchens, serving tables. Clay patted by many hands into hearths, around metal drums to form ovens. Slender men and women scamper up trees, towing ropes to the highest branches, stretching taut tarps that shelter a hundred from summer rainstorms. Wood is gathered.

The kitchens go in first, in choice locations, some near meadows, downhill from water. Gravity, and donated dollars, run the water filters. Camps grow around the kitchens. A place to fire sit, play music, and sing. Where you quietly wander in the morning, holding your bowl, filling it first with smoky black coffee, then oatmeal. Sitting around the remains of last night’s fire, feeding it for the new day.

You wander from your home kitchen to another, your feet adding to the thousands of footsteps forming the network of paths between them. The hand-painted map at Central Supply, near the rap sheets and message boards, shows the network you’re forming. Different each year, for each forest, each state. Feet on the land, Rainbow People gathering.

The way to Lovin’ Ovens is easy to find by smell. Dough in the forest. Rolls for thousands at dinner circle need kneading all day. You’ll help for a few hours this morning, circled up to the 8’ x 12’ plywood trestle table, covered first in plastic, then a dusting of flour. Three people grunt as they up-end a 100 gallon tupperware of first rise dough.

Dough-cutter-wielding bakers divvy out five pound sections to each bleach-water-clean pair of waiting hands. Knead like this: fold in half like a lover, turn a quarter turn, repeat until your thumbprint bounces back just right.

The afternoon is spent exploring: a cup of chai and a quiet heart-to-heart with a stranger, sitting on cushions under tapestries hanging in the pines.

The discovery of Hammock Village, where a beautiful woman rocks in a third story hammock, playing the accordion with her toes and singing with her eyes closed.

Instant Soup is cooking up their tenth cauldron of the day, and you help peel and chop a mound of garlic as big as a baby, destined for a pot you could bathe children in. Just as you finish, forty pounds of potatoes arrive from Central Supply in a wheelbarrow with mountain bike tires.

Resting in a patch of sun, smelling the garlic on your hands, you watch the nudist parade pass by on the main trail, banging pots and pans, picking up in numbers. That the hairy man in the back has a tag of TP stuck to his butt does not deter people from stripping down and joining.

You’ve heard that the kettle corn kitchen is making chile-brown-sugar next, and that starting at dark thirty, Lovin’ Ovens is making pizzas ‘til sunrise. And a kitchen to the south that sprung up yesterday has spread word that they’ll be making pancakes through the night. It’s somewhere down the trail past the place you had a cup of coffee strained through a dirty t-shirt while pole dancers performed on stripped trees.

You will find it, unlike the wandering saxophone player who haunts the woods. You’ve been looking but you haven’t found him yet on the network of trails.

And you still haven’t gotten the courage to cross the creek via the catapult bridge, preferring instead the log bridges near the circus tent Granola Funk, where talent shows and bluegrass happen nightly. It’s a bit of a walk, but you also get to pass by the Shanti Sena medic outpost, C.A.L.M. and the Barter Circle.

There, a novice tarot reader who gives you a reading in trade for the eagle feather in your hair, offers an excuse to open up. In Tipi Village a man tells stories from a richly illustrated book. Uphill, on the outskirts of the gathering, Bus Village is filled with vehicles right out of Lloyd Kahn’s Tiny Homes – caravans and painted school buses and home welded, half-this-half-that homes.

Walking in a forest path, headlamp off so as not to blind those who cannot afford headlamps, you find your way along the now familiar trails, feeling for roots with your feet and the moonlight. An owl hoots, and then the shadowy stumps begin wildy dancing, erupting with beatboxing and strobe headlamps. A dance ambush!