Online, I have several chapters of autobiography of my first summer in Yellowstone. Along the way, I lost energy for the project, and I stopped writing it. It was too bad in some respects because the best chapters even of that first summer were left unwritten. The draft I am about to share with you is from another summer in Yellowstone, and interestingly, it is a pretty minor chapter in a fascinating summer. I am tentatively calling this Chapter 7—Rainbow Gatherings—of part two, 1994, of my summers in Wonderland.
Now, the reason I am sharing this with you all is to try express a little glimpse I had into an alternative kind of community. What I’d ask is that you not focus on the obvious romanticism that will probably end up being the tone of this (because I have a romantic fondness for this memory) but on the opportunities unexplored. This expresses a dream, some frustrations, some things that strike me, but also a part of my reality. Maybe, I’m alone here, but I think there are many things in my life that I really dream of doing, that I really even feel some call to do, but that I have not done. Perhaps, these dreams are too daring and too dependent upon others...I don’t know. But, I’m getting the sense from many of you that life isn’t quite what we’d like it to be. Many of us feel like a kind of misfit, estranged from the waves of our culture and the choices and categorizing of people and ideas that goes on...do we ever think it is possible to go somewhere else?
I think what happened on September 11 in our country was a very awful thing, and while it need not have suggested this to me, it emphasized to me that we are in fact not a close-knit society. Actually being touched by the plight of strangers was so strange that it opened up how far we are from being close to those we are supposed to be friends and family with... Unfortunately, what I think I have seen is that the feelings of the 11th simply turned to an easier kind of action, a kind of lashing out, a kind of distancing of the problem to other places and other particulars. I kind of think we talk so much about war because it is a pretty easy and safe subject when compared to the other issues in our lives. Of course, war is important, and I have talked about it at great length just like the rest of us, but somewhere the focus is being lost for me, and the real challenges of what “peace” means are being lost. So, I share this story from 1994 in order to give merely a reflective glimpse of my experience with war and peace of a different kind. What I hope is that it encourages us to share our dreams with each other, and more than that, encourages us to find out ways to make our dreams a practical reality.
So, here it goes...
Three weeks into my summer in Yellowstone, my
life had already been turned upside down, raised to heights near cloud
nine and sunk to depths I had only begun to taste. Yet, this chapter isn’t
about those ups and downs, but it is about an interesting day outside of
the Park. Still, we must see these days, especially in a story about a
life in Yellowstone in the context of an excruciatingly exciting
and yet difficult time. In three weeks, I had a social web of close friends
deeper and more outreaching than any I have had before or since, I had
convened along with my roommate Price an awesome meeting of the Young Romantics,
come out of that with the first girlfriend I had ever had, spent two romantic
nights like most people have never had snuggling on boardwalks at West
Thumb and Norris Geyser basins, lost that relationship almost as soon as
it had started, and began a very complicated summer. Mixed in were overnight
hikes, preaching for my second year with A Christian Ministry in the National
Parks, and wow...much, much more. Being so overwhelmed by my life, I was
not really myself at my small gift department at the Hamilton Stores in
Grant Village. Most days I came to work still awake from the night before.
At times, I was like a butterfly, my heart buzzing, stupid love songs suddenly
making sense, and at other times a manic mess, despondent, unable even
to say hello to colleagues at work.
Naturally, most of my sermons that summer were from the book of Lamentations, and one English atheist from York named Sarah, who had become friends with me (and did she have a crush?) later in the summer, called me the “gloom and suffering” preacher. Of course, that actually was more of a description of her personality, and she missed that my point was to emphasize that we could be happy even as we sometimes suffer...seeing “Shadowlands” later in the summer only helped to reinforce that point all the more—much like C.S. Lewis had done in “The Problem of Pain” in arguing why pain and evil did not amount to the same thing. Still, it was a rollercoaster summer, and the first three weeks were simply unbelievable.
But, on this day, three weeks into the summer, still having not called my family at home (in part because I was too embarrassed by what had happened to me with Kim, and I don’t think I ever told them about that experience, either...surprise!), Price and I planned to take a trip four hours away down past a town called Big Piney to the Bridger-Teton National Forest to what was explained to me as a big hippie festival called a “Rainbow Gathering.” I had duties to be back in Grant Village the following day for A Christian Ministry in the National Parks, or otherwise Price and I might have considered camping overnight.
Now, why was I going to this festival? I suppose most of you who are getting this chapter originally by email are not all that surprised. My parents were children of the 1960s and in college in the early 1970s, and so yeah, I was influenced by their music, their stories, their ideas. We’d sometimes at home watch that Woodstock documentary. And, although I knew that these were not necessarily the good old days either, there was still something of a romantic appeal. Here we were in 1994 at the heights of grunge rock’n’roll, but people don’t stop and think about that until 1998. Culture, especially since I was in an isolated university in Ada, Ohio, still seemed to be simply an extension of 1980s materialism. The politics of the country seemed to be fairly decidedly conservative, and the best the Democrats could do was get a slimy pragmatist like Bill Clinton into office. Hair bands and fashion television were not completely gone, and they certainly weren’t gone from memory (indeed, fashion television was a creature of the 1990s!) So, not being any of those things, my heart was somewhere else. However, those who don’t know me or only know me scarcely or see only certain sides of me, would be more than a little surprised by my desire to go with Price down to this several week festival. They see the short hair, they see the rationalist version of Christianity, they see the guy who doesn’t drink, smoke, or use drugs, they see a fairly puritan guy, and a puritan guy these days is generally not thought of as liberal. But, inside, I want to sing on the streets, dance with strangers, turn real life into a kind of cheesy musical. Well, I don’t know...some hate musicals...but the point is that there is an energy for art that doesn’t satisfy me remaining private. It’s like Yellowstone, actually. Here’s a land that does every kind of strange thing imaginable, sharing its beauty and wonders with strangers, but why is Yellowstone the exception to the rule?
So, you can see why I wanted to go to the Rainbow Gathering, to let the genie out of the bottle so to speak (as many nudists there apparently did), but I didn’t know what it would be like, or whether this genie thing could be let out. In fact, I was even kind of cynical. The past summer during trips to Jackson, I would sometimes observe life in the town square in the grassy area, and small clusters of young people dressed like hippies would descend into corners passing around joints. However, as I would sit there observing, I noticed no real difference between the ways these people related to each other and teenie boppers at a mall were relating. There was a lot of dishonesty in the relations. The body language of people suggested that it was more about the clothes and the pot than about a meaningful change of life. The people didn’t seem close to each other, and it seemed like everyone was in a game to impress everyone else. So, part of me thought that going to the Rainbow Gathering was simply about going to a place where people looked different, used different drugs, and sang different songs.
What’s more, at least one colleague at work, who had already taken a trip down to the Rainbow Gathering, told me more than once that she didn’t think it was for me. She was pretty sure she didn’t think I knew what I was getting into and that I would not be at all comfortable with the culture. However, I simply dismissed her warning as someone who was making the usual false judgment about who I was and what I liked. And, naturally, I was right!
The old people at work talked very disparagingly of the festival. Yes, this gathering was four hours drive away, but many of the people attending it had made their way into the Park. So, there was a lot of talk about the strange-looking people coming into the store. The old people thought that their way of dressing, the fact that the women didn’t shave, the smell, the hair, not always wearing shoes, were evidence of a decadent amoralism. More than one worried for my safety if I went down there. And, you have to remember, these were not the every day run of the mill old people who hold up lines at the checkout. These were very active people, mostly in their 60s and 70s, and some in their 80s, who were now working for a living in a store! These were very special people, wonderful, and very unique. I love them to death and age barriers often disappeared completely. At the time, I was 20, but we spoke to each other with respect. Somehow, though, when it came to people outside the circle, attitudes changed and boundaries came flying in with a new vigor. Old and young in Yellowstone often remained different on these kinds of cultural attitudes, even if they could sit together at dinner, or go out to eat, or hike together. Yet, the barriers would come back at times. This was one of those times, and I didn’t think too much of the snap judgments being made based on a few behavioral traits of a few people. Somehow the worst of all the hippie-dressed people became the standard bearer of what this festival meant to them (kind of like the anarchists become to today’s demonstrations).
Price and I, however, were determined to go down there despite warnings that this especially was not for me. And, as Price had recently become a born-again Christian (when he had been a doubtful Taoist the summer before), a lot of what people said made him wonder as well whether this was a thing a Christian should be doing. He had gotten off the drugs, stopped drinking, had even stopped having sex with his girlfriend Lynn, and now was being thrown back into a setting that wasn’t unfamiliar to him completely. And, yet, what made Price different here, in spite of his inhibitions about going, was that he knew and loved all the oddballs, and he knew that there was the potential for something special to go on at the Rainbow Gathering. As for me, my life was consumed with so many other things, I didn’t have too much time to think about it. I was simply determined to go.
So, on the first Saturday in July, Price and I drove off in my parents’ Mercury Topaz down toward Big Piney. Having this Topaz opened so many doors for me that summer, and I found myself even less shy with people knowing that I had a car that I could offer to drive people from here to there for various activities. The summer before when I had no car, I never would have considered this kind of trip, and I certainly wouldn’t have asked anyone to borrow their car or see if they wanted to go. Now, having a reliable car, I was able to expand the boundaries of my Yellowstone experience to the outer regions. This was the first such trip that summer, but it wouldn’t be the last. Of course, for this trip, I still wasn’t completely used to driving a stick. I’d still periodically stall out in embarrassing situations, and the trip down to Big Piney had an incident like this where I stalled out twice turning around at one place.
The thing I remember most about this drive up to Big Piney was that I was speeding an awful lot. I know that I had gotten the car up to 85 miles an hour or so at one point—about as fast as that car would go. And, of course, these weren’t freeways, either. We drove south past the Tetons, through Jackson, and then into the heart of Western Wyoming. Big Piney came sooner rather than later because I really wanted to get there, and no one was on the road. This speeding I remember because of how I got caught for speeding soon after we left Big Piney to head for the National Forest.
Nothing is in Big Piney. It is probably smaller than Sparta, Ohio, that small town I lived as a child with about 214 people, and it certainly is when you consider that no one lives in the country outside the town. But, in Wyoming, where every place that someone has a house is a town, it was noticeable on the map. We weren’t sure how to get to the Rainbow Gathering from Big Piney, and I don’t know if we stopped and asked for directions or were beginning to follow the obvious stream of VW Buses. I think it was the latter because I know we were slightly lost when we found ourselves in the country trying to read signs.
Of course, we were lost, and I had slowed down significantly. The town was a mile or two behind us, and as I drove, a policeman drove on the other side. We drove by, and immediately he turned around and soon after flashed his lights. I immediately looked at where I was when this happened, and there was a sign approaching that said 55 miles an hour. I looked at my speedometer and it was hovering just over 40 miles per hour. At the time, I was very puzzled why I was being pulled over. I wondered if he saw my open can of Squirt and thought I had an open container. Perhaps, I was moping because my speedometer was really around 40 miles per hour. After all, we were a little lost. I didn’t think it could be speeding because we were out in the country and I wasn’t going fast and was even trying to go slow.
His lights came on, and with his megaphone he said, “Pull over!” I pulled over, but as the road had no shoulder, I stopped as close to the edge as I could. He then commanded, “Move over!” Not knowing what he meant, I began to move slightly over toward the center of the road, but then he immediately said in a tone that suggested he thought I was being a smart ass, “The other side!” This confused me as the other side was a small ditch, but I did as I was told and sunk my car partly into a small ditch that I wasn’t immediately sure I could get out of...
The officer came up all intimidating and said, “Do you know why I pulled you over?” When I said that I had no idea and even suggested that I might be going too slow, he simply shook his head in mild disbelief. “You were going 51 in a 40.” I said that I was surprised that this was a 40 mile per hour zone in part because we were clearly in the country and secondly we had just approached a 55 sign, which was now behind us. He asked where we were heading, and I told him. Then, he asked for my driver’s license and proof of insurance. Proof of insurance? Well, that sounds about right now, but you see in Ohio in 1994, they had not passed the law yet that required that drivers have on them at all times proof of car insurance. So, I had never heard of such a thing. The officer said that it was Wyoming law that all drivers have proof of insurance on them and that he would not let me drive until I had such proof. Over his radio, I heard him say that he had a driver without proof of insurance that he was bringing in and that he had pulled me over for speeding on the way to his lunch break. I said to Price, “Great! First, he pulls me over for going 51 in a 40 right before the 55 sign when I’m not even trying to speed, and he had to take the time to do this heroic duty on his way to lunch!”
The officer asked me, “Do your parents have the ability to fax your proof of insurance?”
I answered, “Well, my parents live near a town of about 40,000 people about 6 miles away, but like most people, they don’t have a fax machine in their home.”
The officer said, “Well, you are going to have to come down to the station. I will try to contact your parents and see if they can get somewhere to fax proof of insurance. Then, once they do, I will waive the $300 fine for driving without proof of insurance, but you will still be cited for speeding.”
At this time, we were wondering if we’d ever get to the Rainbow Gathering. Technically, the officer told me that I was being arrested although he didn’t cuff me or read me my rights. He had me back up and follow him back to Big Piney. Times were already really down for me on July 2, 1994, and now I was being arrested for the dumbest of things (and of course, I had never been arrested) and the first word my parents were going to hear from me was from a policeman in Big Piney, Wyoming. What’s more, we were going to spend eight hours on the road for nothing, and Price had nowhere to go. Now, I had to drive in reverse when I’d been very shaky, especially in reverse, with the stick shift. However, magically, I backed up out of the ditch without a hitch, and I made my way to follow him to the station.
At the station, the officer led me (while leaving Price in the car) to a small trailer. Outside of the trailer, a forest ranger (the officer was a Wyoming state policeman) sat. The officer explained the situation and told me to sit there with the forest ranger and that I was not permitted to leave because technically speaking I was arrested. Hopefully, he said, I would be able to leave within half an hour if he could contact my parents.
So, outside of what I learned was a makeshift jail set up to incarcerate people for any and all felonies and misdemeanors, especially those occurring fifteen miles away at the Rainbow Gathering, I sat and talked to this forest ranger. She immediately told me that I was extremely lucky not to have been cuffed and put in the trailer. Everyone for anything over and beyond speeding was being arrested as part of a heightened security effort at the Rainbow Gathering, which was extremely unpopular amongst the local people in Big Piney, who feared theft, vandalism, murder, and general plundering. The ranger herself had been brought up from what I believe was the Deangeles National Forest outside of Los Angeles, and she was somewhat bemused by the paranoia. Her description of where she patrolled was one not much different than an inner city. I was amazed at her horror stories. “But this,” she said, “is nothing. These are very peaceful people, and we have had only one violent incident. There was a rape.” And, while that certainly was awful, it sounded like nothing close to the security that was being used for this event, and it certainly didn’t justify arresting people for minor traffic violations.
However, as you can see, I was able to have a conversation with this woman, and it turned out to be an enormously pleasant conversation. She learned about me, and I learned about her. I don’t remember her name, and I don’t remember too much about what we said, but I do know that I felt like we made a mark on each other. I felt so comfortable with this woman. She told me the reason I wasn’t chained up and thrown in the jail was that I “looked honest.” This bit really ticked me off because I realized that once again I was being judged simply by a look and receiving treatment based on a certain stereotype. Most of these people in there I’m sure didn’t deserve incarceration for lacking proof of insurance or whatever silly pretense the police used to make their statement, and I let her know how I felt. She agreed with me, but of course, it wasn’t her job to change the policy.
In the meantime, the policeman had come back to report his conversation with my father, who thankfully was at home. He shook his head, “I thought you said he was near a town of about 40,000 people. He was whining and complaining to me that he lived in the middle of the country and that it wouldn’t be easy to get this fax.” I had to explain that to the officer that for my dad six miles away from a town of 40,000 is out in the country, and that although he lived in a town about the size of Big Piney, it was still considered to be very rural. The officer was flabbergasted by this and he said to me, “Do you know how much I drive one way just to get to work in the morning? I drive 98 miles one way just to get here.” All I simply could do was reiterate that culture in Ohio was not like culture in Wyoming and that perceptions of things are very different. He didn’t understand and thought somewhere we must have been lying to him, but he told me that he hoped that soon the fax would be coming.
Well, I spent 45 minutes talking to the forest ranger (which I figure was really worth the $58 speeding ticket given just how unexpectedly pleasant this interaction was), and Price spent it in the Topaz, which he said was also a pleasant experience of reading the Bible, and finally someone came out of the station and gave me the fax with my proof of insurance. She said to me also that my parents wanted me to call home. So, I asked if I could call from the station. She said, “No. We don’t allow people to call from here.” So, no one read me rights and apparently there’s no such thing as the one phone call. I thought, “Well, surely there’ll be some phones where we are going, so I’ll just call them there.”
Price and I finally got back on the road, and we had gotten firm directions from the authorities on how to get there. We had decided that we should continue even though we had lost a significant amount of the time we could spend before turning around. Naturally, I was frazzled by my mixed up experiences, mostly the thought of calling home when I hadn’t called home all summer. Price consistently tried to calm me down, and ultimately he fought a losing battle. In the back of my mind was this thought that I needed to call home and would have to explain how I got into this embarrassing situation.
Still, we pressed forward approaching the last ten mile windy stretch along awful roads toward the Rainbow Gathering. We were now in a long line of vehicles, and I am sure that half of them were old VW buses. As we drove, people leaving from the Rainbow Gathering were honking their horns waving at us. This helped lift my spirits because it was very strange to see such friendly public shows of affection. They didn’t know us, but here they were all waving at us with big smiles on their faces. I didn’t even drive a Bus!
Eventually, we approached the parking area. The Bridger-Teton forest wasn’t much of one. It had very scrubby conifers and there was a very wide-open feel about it. It was really the middle of nowhere. The sky was blue, the dirt was dusty, the grass was scarce, the trees were fairly short. It wasn’t beautiful in the way Yellowstone was beautiful...there were no natural wonders here, but it was exotic in its own way, very different than where I grew up.
I drove to approach for parking. In front of the long-haired long-bearded man who probably hasn’t shaved or possibly bathed since the 1960s, I stalled out.
He said, “Hey. Welcome home.” Then he quipped about the car laughing, “Shit happens.” Then, he directed us where to park.
As I typed that right now, I got a big smile on my face. The reason I did was because I remembered just how instantly welcomed that he made Price and I feel. Instead of judging me for my obvious lack of skill in driving the car, instead of even showing the slightest bit of condescension, he found his own unique way of embracing me and telling me that it was ok. That, for me, was an unusual feeling, especially as I worried myself sick over calling home.
We parked, and as we walked toward the front of the gathering, people were coming and going. They would stop us and smile and say, “Welcome home.” I was amazed. They didn’t know us, and yet they were coming up to us with such earnestness. The cynic in many of us would likely see this as a gimmick of a phony culture, but no...it wasn’t that. They would look you in the eye or grab your arm, and they really wanted you to know that you were somewhere else. “Welcome home” I heard at least a hundred times.
To the eye, of course, you noticed all the funky clothes or all the people lacking clothes. You noticed hair like people just don’t style much anymore. You’d see young, you’d see middle-aged, you’d see senior citizens. Rarely, you’d see people dressed like Price and I. Price had shorts and a white t-shirt, while I was wearing a plaid shirt and some jeans. But, we kind of stood out because even though I looked a little grunge, we didn’t look like these people. Some were completely nude. The first nude person I saw was this very fat old man. It made me laugh. Yes, laugh and laugh with giddy excitement. Price and I were simply so happy and amazed by all of this.
Then, we approached the front of things and there was this American flag turned upside down. I thought to myself, “Oh no. Here we have the stupid anti-American political statement.” But, I was a little surprised to read the inscription under it. The inscription claimed that this was a signal for SOS not because they hated the country but because they loved it and saw it was in trouble in so many respects, especially with how we were treating and approaching the environment. It said that the upside-down flag was not a sign of anarchy or patriarchy but one of matriarchy, and while I wasn’t overwhelmed by that kind of cliché, it did make me think that there was a basic good-natured reason for this very provocative and often divisive image.
But, here at this gate in this very turbulent summer in this very turbulent day, I knew I was in the right place. For, already I was finding a genuine alternative in the human spirit, one that had already, in our short walk, began to break down walls that I didn’t even know existed. “Welcome home,” I thought, “What a novel thought...and out way beyond Big Piney.”
That was only the beginning of a fast flurry of amazing things. As we walked into the community, we saw a huge line of people passing buckets of water. We overheard someone explaining to someone else, “Someone accidentally started a fire with some food they were cooking down there, but the nearest water is half a mile away. So, we got some people, and we made this water line.” There were hundreds of people in this line, perhaps, close to a thousand. You have to figure that half a mile is over 2600 feet and the average person in a line is probably taking up about three to five feet, so there had to be nearly a thousand people passing buckets down a line.
This was amazing enough, but that wasn’t that amazing really. Of course, in a land with no hoses, no bathrooms (and of course, as I quickly could tell, no phones), one would think that people might form a water line. However, this line was really beautiful. People would pass the water, and then they’d yell down the line, “We love you!” Responding back, they would say, “We love you!” There was a joy on people’s faces, and there was an amazing sense of togetherness. Why were these people drawing such a police presence, beyond all reason, and why were they the knock of such suspicions?
These people were onto something. They were expressing love to each other, making quick friends of strangers, expressing and showing and living an alternative kind of spirit.
Price and I quickly joined the line, helping out, and added to the chants. I never saw such a spontaneous spirit in my life. It was simply unbelievable. Before long, the word passed that the fire was put out. Everyone cheered and celebrated. Here now for only ten minutes, I already felt like I belonged.
So, with that over, Price and I walked along the trail. In ways, it felt like we were in a third world country. Traders were set up along the path who were there to barter. There was no money exchanged here, and no one paid for food. The idea was that kitchens would feed everyone, and people would chip in whatever they were able for the general good. If you weren’t able to contribute food or were disabled or elderly, it simply didn’t matter. People fed and took care of you. The spirit of this place was evident in one event that faced Price. He was looking at the goods on the ground, and he saw a harmonica that he really wanted. Price brought a pair of moccasins in his backpack, and he asked the guy if he might be interested in trading the harmonica for the moccasins. The young man looked at them, tried them on, and it looked like they were two sizes too small. The young man looked at Price and simply said, “They’ll fit,” and he made the trade. Isn’t that bad business? Isn’t that what would destroy us all if we allowed ourselves to make trades like that? I think the idea was one of expressing a fundamental trust, a value in a way of living. If one can make a trade even when one is getting screwed over, one had better have faith in the general love and support of his community, or at the very least hope that he gets something more valuable from his way of life. This is what was expressed by this man. Everyone knew that those moccasins were way too small, but he made the trade anyhow (and by the looks of things, he didn’t put the moccasins out for trade either!), and he expressed a different kind of spirit. It wasn’t about trading commodities, it was about an honest interaction and sharing of gifts.
Further along the path, we came across a circle where some people were banging on some bongos and a beautifully shaped black man was dancing nude in the circle. He danced endlessly to these rhythms as others simply gathered in small clusters and watched. Price and I were simply in awe, but then we felt a little down that we could not contribute to this music. So, what we did was the next best thing. We got a couple rocks and started banging them together. What difference did it make? It wasn’t about looking good or sounding good or dancing good, but about living in a community where people held a different set of ideals.
Then, there was an anomaly of sorts. A young woman with a very typical hippie outfit approached us. She stared at us, took a significant pause, and simply said, “You two people look like freaks.” Then, she walked away. I don’t know what she meant, and it was true that Price and I were differently dressed than almost all the people in this part of the Gathering, but it seems to me that she was actually expressing a kind of compliment. I know that this is how I took it because I was soon remarking to Price and he to me that it was amazing...“We can do anything we want, and no one will care what we do.”
So, do you know what I did? I danced while running down a short hill and waved my arms around spinning (those who know me know that I don’t do stuff like this), and a young woman did the same, and then I stopped in the path and I did a headstand and screamed for joy. Price had a huge smile on his face looking at me. We were home.
Well, we couldn’t have been there more than an hour before we decided we needed to get back to Yellowstone. Deep down, we wished we had brought tents and found some way to stay, but I was dedicated to my commitments to the ministry, and so I knew I had to go. Besides, I had to call home. Still, as we walked back, all of the sudden, a woman poked me on the shoulder. She said, “Can you two guys help us out; we need you to help us carry some things for supper?”
We had to be two of dozens and dozens of people around, and yet she picked us out of this crowd, and I will never know for the life of me why...the touch of an angel unbeknownst? But, naturally, as was the spirit of this place, we readily agreed and took a walk into the woods. We helped them carry some pots and things of that sort for cooking...some of it being quite heavy. Everyone remained enormously friendly to us, and how I wish I had stayed. But, of course, to stay would have been to give up not only my commitments but also my love for Yellowstone, which was no less wondrous. Still, we could have made a home there...I have no doubt about it.
Of course, this was not a utopia. Someone was raped. Other people you can see were in fact there for the drugs or the offshoots of culture. You could see the body language, and you knew that this was a culture with problems and anxieties of its own. Had I been there longer, I am sure to have seen the internal politics and the loss of innocence that have forever infected my first impressions. Yet, it would cheapen this way, way too much to say that it was not different than what we usually live. This was very different; it was a counter-culture. Words may not show it to you, but if you had been there, you would not be able to mistake it, and my heart has longed for it ever since. What is it longing for? It longs for home. It longs for community, it longs for some way to overcome these inhibitions that keep me from saying what is on my heart and mind. When I see a pretty woman, I want to simply tell the woman, “You’re beautiful” without that meaning anything more than that, and I want to live in a place where we can go beyond the weather and the sports scores and who and when are people coming over to eat...I want to be so much more than I am. Perhaps, we cage birds because we ourselves know no other way than cages. “Good fences make good neighbors,” how I hate that poem... I can’t sing, but when I sing, I don’t want to be shunned. And, that’s I guess why I don’t dance, and I guess that’s why I’m afraid even to say nice things to people. For ninety minutes, all that changed. For ninety minutes, I was in a place where people had created a structure where it was okay to express your better nature and a place where you did not want to express your worse nature.
And, these were the scum of the earth that the residents of Big Piney didn’t want in their town and the masters of Hamilton Stores didn’t want as customers. How backwards was it? I don’t know if I am permitted to be that melodramatic, especially since I loved those people in Yellowstone so much, but there was something to learn here. The outside world was offended by the way this culture worked, and at times I know individuals in this culture were infected by the same awful mistrust and antagonism in the outside world. Their very way of being together was in some ways divisive to the whole of society and even slightly subversive, but was this the point? Should we shut up these displays? Should we shut them up when there was so much going on here? It isn’t perfect, but how I miss it. I miss it for its community. This wasn’t a waterfall or a geyser or the colors of the canyon, this was what all of that rolled together was...a discursive interaction, one premised on, “Welcome Home.”
So, we left. On the way out, we were now welcoming others coming in home, and we were honking our horns and waving at people and showing them that they belonged.
Finally, several hours later, I found a phone. No one was home; they were at the Living Word Outdoor Drama. I called and got them hours after that and was relieved to find everyone in good spirits. I was being paranoid for no good reason or out of my own guilt for having not contacted my family. Still, they did not know what I had been through. I had shut them out, and I think to a large extent, each member had shut me out as well. My home wasn’t home, but it wasn’t some awful place either. For here, I was the one guilty of judging, and I was the one who had assumed that I would be harassed, but it was not to be because my family does love me. They welcomed me, too. It’s just we don’t live in a culture where we express it to each other enough. Often that is also true among my friends as well. And, so we fall into a kind of box. Then, when we realize that this love is precious when tragedies happen, we sometimes take a few steps out of the box only to step back in...I am probably more guilty of this than anyone. Still, I take these steps to change that, to see that peace can be more explicit, that ways of living are possible to change, and that we should help each other reach our dreams. And, I know from talking to all of you that in your own lives you have had these “Welcome home” experiences in different places and different times. Some of you may in fact find yourself living it, and that is beautiful.
I’ve lived it in Yellowstone, and I want to live it again...Help me live it again.
Price and I drove home as the day grew to night...the Tetons by twilight is always something I relished. Driving more slowly, more carefully, we approached my life in Grant Village, especially an active hotspot for me personally in 1994, but even then, today was so wondrous, that we had no desire for tomorrow. Tomorrow as I have often said here is a dirty word in Wonderland. The future was now, and our hopes and dreams were present and practical reality.
But, as for yesterday, we can only hope to make the beautiful ones beautiful today.
And, as for that yesterday, I was arrested, but I found my way home. Then, as now, I longed to be able to say to a brother, a sister, a parent, a relative, a friend, a colleague, an acquaintance, a stranger, “Welcome home.”
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