Along the Trail from Heart to Heart

for Enoah

39th Rainbow Family Gathering of the Tribes
July 1-7, 2010, Allegheny Forest, Pennsylvania

cruising the woods at midnight
mark the invisible trails
that crisscross the blackness for miles
around my tent

Early the next morning,
sitting on my stoop of pine needles and duff
amid sunlight and leaf-shadow,
between birdsong and silence,
I can’t help noticing
the light
in every passing face

Duet of saxophone and flute soaring “Somewhere
Over the Rainbow”
from the trail above my camp

Down those trails
worn smooth by the footprints
of barefoot wanderers
we go wandering in our turn,
my traveling buddy and I,
over log bridges packed with dried mud,
two more sets of footsteps
in the circumambulating parade:
fire-trolls and water crew,
supply sherpas and shitter-diggers,
drainbows and bliss ninnies,
this laughing, ranting, cursing, chanting spectrum of light
walking upright

Pineapple pizza coming out of the mud oven
till the wee hours
the night we hiked in from Welcome Home

All these trees
grew up together,
dividing up the sunlight,
sharing the rain,
giving voice to the wind,
gradually filling every jigsaw piece of sky
with interlacing branches
that welcome all wandering visitors
into their shelter and shade,
while everywhere underfoot
between the hospitable trunks
that hold our tarps and banners high
lies a cornucopia of firewood
for the ovens and bliss fires,
poles for kitchen rails and bridges,
sticks for tables and counters,
twigs for muddy spots on the trail,
leaves and needles
to cushion my sleep

Ping pong in the nude
across a slab of plywood in the meadow

I swear I saw you at the Gathering,
about twenty years old and gorgeous,
eyes lit up with that mysterious alchemy
of transmuted sunlight,
hair dark and wild like a sleeping memory
of last night’s holy bacchanal . . .
I don’t think you recognized me
But sometimes I only recognize myself
in the young warriors I pass on the trail,
staring around shy and amazed
at this impossible vision
of tipis and trading blankets and smiling topless sisters,
a tribal village floating full-blown
out of the wild reaches of their imaginations,
settling to earth in the Pennsylvania mud
before their unbelieving eyes

(and in one of those tipis we heard the saga
of a busload of hippies who drove from New Mexico
in a freshly converted biodiesel schoolbus,
pulling in behind fast-food joints
instead of the usual truck stops,
working together like a ship’s crew,
hand-pumping used grease through their filters
to re-fuel the mothership
on its maiden voyage,
their dog happily licking up the spills –)

Kitchen crew doing “You’re So Vain”
in five-star harmony
chopping veggies for the stew

So where else can you say
that waiting in line is the best part
of your day? The old friend
unseen for many a gathering,
the new friend who hitched up from Florida
for his very first one –
Finally we reach the pushbutton
hand-wash dispenser,
the stainless steel pans heaped with pasta,
the sublime grins of the servers,
only to realize
we’ve spaced out our plates and spoons somewhere
back along the trail . . .

“Some things can only be achieved
by retroactive planning,”
my traveling buddy explains

The water here
converges in wandering streams
from the mountainsides
that flank this valley,
seeps up through the mud
under sandals and boots and bare toes,
hangs in steamy clouds of humidity,
drips in branching runnels of sweat
down painted faces and tattooed torsos,
saturating tie-dyes and halter tops and sarongs,
flows cold and muddy
almost bellybutton-deep
between naked bodies at the swimming hole,
runs steadily from the circular lips
of black waterpipe
into the circular cups and containers
of grateful humans
taking our turn in the water cycle
that keeps us all alive

A portable massage table headed into Kid Village
for a “house call”
as we head out after lunch

That joyriding helicopter
buzzing our six square miles of meadows and trails,
burning precious hydrocarbons
and fouling the atmosphere
can’t disturb the quiet breathing of these woods,
can’t interrupt the levity
of fiddle and mandolin,
the happy chatter of the kitchens,
raucous drumming and hoots of laughter
across the valley –

Even the one that circles low above the treetops
on the morning of the Fourth
as if under orders
to desecrate our sacred morning of silence
finally fades away,
leaving the forest twice as quiet as before

(and later that day we heard the saga
of the kid who climbed the wrong tree
in the dark hour before daylight,
the dead branch that cracked under his weight,
his broken pelvis and fractured skull,
the medivac pilot who didn’t trust the meadow
so refused to land until a ground crew had hiked in
to confirm safe landing –)

“Anybody got some helicopter repellent I could borrow?”
asks my traveling buddy

The power of the drum not played,
cradled under one arm
down the trail to Main Meadow,
idly caressed beside the warm ash
of last night’s boogie fire,
all that leashed thunder held in check
till the moment for celebration arrives –
the power of this deliberate silence
voicing a momentary absence of rancor and rivalry,
the song of a deep listening,
a loving drumroll of quiet,
brainwaves and heartbeats aligned
with the millennial meridians of the Earth,
a peaceful, breathing presence
of sunlight and silence . . .

The silence is sacred
because we make it so:
by discipline and attention,
reverence and respect,
aware that our one small particle of choice
compounds with thousands of others
into one huge fern-carpeted,
tree-buttressed, sky-roofed cathedral
of pure intent –
a temple to the planetwide convergence
of vision and will
that must someday calm the noisy world
of killer drones and car bombs
and death camps (real ones, not just pretend)

Been rebelling against authority
for 39 years now, long enough
to have our own rebels
disturbing the peace meditation on the Fourth

So where was I exactly
when I set down my dish
and went on a quest for fresh hot dishwater?
“Not all who wander are lost,”
goes my motto this gathering:
“some of us only lost our stuff . . .”
Of course I’ll never find it
till I stand in the uphill corner of the kitchen
and holler it out –
“Right over there by the dish station,”
someone casually informs me

“We’re doing this on the sly,”
my traveling buddy quips to a pretty young sister
who joins us to scrub a few pots,
“pretending we’re doing a job we don’t like . . .”

Go, team, go!
The barefoot warriors
who haul the food in, the garbage out,
some exhausted mama’s gear
up and down these trails,
the kitchen ogres and dinner-circle servers,
radio-carriers and Info crew,
not to mention a perimeter of warriors
parking the cars,
driving the supply trucks, dealing
with the occasional armed gang in uniform,
working the courtroom in Erie
an hour’s drive away,
making this whole peaceable assembly thing possible
down here in the valley

(and somewhere along the trail we heard the saga
of the weeping young sister busted for heroin
disguised in a bottle of Alleve,
how a family attorney suggested the cops
might want to pick up a sealed bottle
of their own from any drugstore,
how the head cop broke open a pill
with the butt of his flashlight, scattering clouds
of white powder everywhere,
and how it too tested positive –)

The only snake I saw this Gathering
was somebody’s pet, peeking anxiously
out of her shoulderbag

Every trail here is a spiritual path,
a rambling journey
from heart to heart, hug to hug:
every person we meet
is a fresh destination,
every passing glance a potential detour
through airports or alleyways,
online avatars or ancient
every conversation is an odyssey
of chance companions
across the watersheds and divides
of some legendary continent
long ago swallowed by the sea:
every fork along our way is a choice
between parallel dimensions,
colliding techtonic plates
or galactic clusters,
every camp or kitchen where we linger
a supernova of stories,
songs, laments, visions, memories,
each left behind in its turn
on our daily pilgrimage
from daylight to starlight . . .

A long “Om” sounding through the trees
from the neighborhood next door

At every stop for rest
on our way up the long steep trail,
another rustic, peaceful view
down through the woods . . .

Looking back into the heart of the Gathering
from my mossy stump
or fallen log, all I can see is trees
but the invisible valley below swells and surges like the sea
with a jubilant pandemonium,
voices, drums, dogs . . .

With every step the birds grow louder,
the noises fade behind us –
then suddenly out of nowhere an electric guitar,
and a dude strides by
hugging a monster boombox,
missing everything the birds keep
patiently repeating

“I swear that cart has put on about twenty pounds
since we started up this hill,”
my traveling buddy pants

And all at once without warning we’re in the car,
doors slam, engine revs,
driving back into the vast, oblivious,
infinitely obnoxious boombox
of the world

Yet even there, if we pay attention,
under every yard of gravel and asphalt and concrete
we can detect a trace
of an ancient trail
that leads unerringly always
to another heart –
another hug – another

Stephen Wing

Poet, activist and author Stephen Wing lives in Atlanta with his wife Dawn Aura and assorted pets. Read more about him here.

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