Roadtrip to PyCon 2017
May 03 - May 15
This PyCon will be the fourth we have attended. We waited for Justin to find a good work groove before departing from Alabama which was his birthday - May Day. To celebrate while roadtripping we sought out The Station Inn in Nashville (a return for Justin and first time for Chelsea & Notch).
Mar 18 - May 02
We made it.
Georgia Tiny House Festival 2017
Mar 03 - Mar 06
We found out about the GA Tiny House Festival through fellow skoolie owners we happened upon at a laundromat parking lot. We agreed to give tours of our bus to festival goers in exchange for tickets and a spot to camp. Hundreds of folks came through to ask questions and see what our skoolie life was about. The solar panels and power monitoring were popular. The spark of desire people had for tiny & sustainable living was inspiring and made us feel a unique validation for the progress we had made in the bus thus far.
The Rainbow Gathering at Lake Mary
Feb 04 - Feb 15
We encountered the gathering basically by chance; we happened to already be camping in the forest where the gathering was to take place and we heard about it online from a few friends.
In a nutshell, it's a religious gathering in the woods, the primary point of which is to solemnly pray for peace in the world. Overlayed, there is a complex and sophisticated culture, the hallmarks of which include ad-hoc kitchens built mostly from materials found in the woods, systems of nonviolent conflict resolution, and soft prohibitions on money and "hard" drugs, especially alcohol. The gathering in the woods is done without a permit and without any leadership (although a permit is obtained for parking and camping on the sides of the roadway).
We were camped on the road (in the permitted area, about a mile woods hike from the "main circle"). From the road, we made our way into the wood most days to attend the main circle fire and to tour the kitchens and various circles and camps. At the mouth of the trail (ie, on our way from the road into the woods) was a camp called "Welcome Home," which is the focal point of the gathering, serving coffee, answering questions, handing out maps, maintaining water supplies, and keeping a 24/7 fire going.
No vehicles were permitted in the woods, so everything had to be carried in (even water!), a mile or more, to the kitchens and circles. It was quite an operation, and done with incredible efficiency and wherewithall, with elders teaching new volunteers how to achieve this undertaking. Every evening at main circle, enough food was served to feed several hundred people.
Being on the road, we were on the periphery of the Rainbow culture. For example, there were people drinking alcohol around us, but in the woods, this was less and less permitted as one approached the main circle, and strictly forbidden - and fiercely enforced - around the main circle fire. Similarly, there was occasional talk of money purchases at the periphery, but at the main circle, the expectation was that if someone asked for something, you'd give it to them willingly and without question (and, as a corollary, that nobody asked for anything that put a burden on the person being asked for it). The only exception was a "magic hat," a literal hat passed around, with a group of musicians playing, in which donations went, in order to pay for supplies for the kitchens.
A lot of the people at the gathering seemed troubled - for example, many came from broken homes or were struggling to find wellness in the face of addiction or alcoholism. Many others had adopted dogs which were previously abused. Still others were reeling from abuse at the hands of the state - we met one guy ("Catfish") who has been on my mind. He's a wonderful man with undoubtedly genius-level intelligence, but he (reasonably) has ongoing internal struggles after having been locked up for 6 months awaiting trial (he was unable to afford $100 bail) only to have the charges against him dropped.
Overall, it was a very impressive gathering. Everyone who showed up was fed and cared for.
It was basically a perfect scene for Notch - he was able to wander freely as far as he liked with no risk of encountering traffic or water or any sort of danger. Lots of kids roamed freely throughout the woods. Even on the road, cars traveled as slow as we've seen at any camp - usually below 5 MPH. A Rainbow tradition is to yell "slow down" to any passing car, and to do so especially to any car already traveling slowly (as a sort of "atta boy!"). Camps along the roadway had huge handmade signs reading "Slow Down!"
The law enforcement presence was ugly and hilariously over-the-top. The USDA police (a component of the forestry service whom the Rainbow Family believe are basically an anti-Rainbow task force) flew low helicopter missions overhead twice daily, seemingly in an effort to disrupt and intimidate. Large swaths of heavily armed officers walked the main trail 2-3 times daily, amidst a completely peaceful and disarmed gathering of hippies and christians. It made no sense. I noticed that the district ranger staff (ie, the normal, unarmed staffing of the area in question) also seemed uncomfortable by the presence of the darker, armed, and obviously politically motivated group of USDA police. It was clear that they were there to disrupt and not to protect, while the district ranger staff were chiefly concerned with fire safety and renaturalization of camps and kitchens.
At one point, the police opened fire on a dog. The dog survived. I spoke with three people who witnessed the scene; all three said that the dog, while unleashed, was completely docile during the events in question and was not a threat.
During one of our trips to the beach, we came upon two police officers writing a ticket to a gentlemen, which we learned was for swimming nude. The irony of these officers, dressed in heavy armor and canvas uniforms, displaying a frightening buffet of weaponry (ie, dressed completely inappropriately for an 85 degree sunny day on a beach), writing a ticket to a naked man, who was dressed completely appropriately for the weather, was not lost on us. They told us initially that it was illegal for the baby, who was naked, to swim without clothes. After the affair concluded, I asked if it was against the law for the baby to be naked generally, to which they responded in the affirmative. A fair gathering had appeared by that point, and it was obvious that issuing a ticket to a naked baby was going to be a Youtube sensation. I invited them - in fact pleaded with them - to issue a ticket to me for this offense, but they refused, obviously concerned more about their image than about any sort of consistent enforcement of the law. I surmise that they were briefed on how not to draw attention to incidents like this, which will probably have the effect of gaining substantial negative press for their overreach in the first place.
Perhaps even more alarmingly, the US Navy maintains a bombing range to practice live bombing in the forest. Although we were camped in the forest for more than two weeks prior to the gathering (at an official campground, exempt from the 14-day occupancy limit) , it was only once the gathering started (with a "seed camp") that the air began to be punctuated by horrific explosions in the distance. Ostensibly a coincidence, I thought it was obvious that this was a coordinated effort at further intimidation.
There was ample peaceful resistance to the obnoxious intrusions of the USDA police, with people following the force with cameras (and loudly heralding their presence) and teaching children how to do likewise. It was a very strange thing to witness - both saddening and uplifting at the same time.
Many in the group expressed outright revolutionary plans, which of course must have drawn the attention of whatever undercover agents might have been present. I heard a few people discuss plans to ensure that, when violent revolution begins, that there is enough food in all the woods of the country to keep revolutionary fighters well-fed and healthy. Many others, like me, hoped, prayed, and predicted that the fall of the state will occur soon and without significant bloodshed and were, also like me, personally committed to nonviolence as a political mechanism.
My understanding is that the July gathering is quite a lot larger, and has grown steadily over the past few decades to at least 25,000 today, and is more focused on a single prayer, which occurs on July 4, the main Rainbow holiday. There is a gathering-wide vow of silence on July 4 starting at sunrise. Then, the children lead a parade from the kids' village to the main circle just before sunset, where a conch is blown three times, and then all gatherers are expected to appear and "om" for peace, holding hands in a huge circle, breaking the silence and praying that the children at the gathering will commit themselves to peace for life.
I'm fairly certain we'll be there.
If there's a gathering near your neck of the woods, I suggest giving it a try - it's quite a thing to behold.
Dec 20 - Jan 02
The Everglades were nothing short of magical. We saw all sorts of interesting wildlife in this unique ecosystem.
On the water
We got out on the water in canoes or kayaks a few times. One of the most memorable was our Christmas canoe trip, during which we took to the open water on the ocean side. We saw many hundreds of birds from dozens of species. As we rowed back in, we saw a group of 3 manatees engaging in some kind of group mating. Very sensual water cows.
One of the most populous creatures was the mosquito. In fact there were something like a dozen species. Some came out during the day; some were typical dusk-and-dawn suckers, and some stayed out all night. All three of us donated a fair bit of blood.