After the Gathering
13th Rainbow Family Gathering of the Tribes
July 1-7, 1984, Modoc Forest, California
After the Gathering comes an equal
and somehow greater Scattering:
those who stay behind
only stay to scatter every sign that we were here.
I joined the crew going down to the lake.
Hadn’t been down there yet for a swim
or a sweat.
The water was cold; a glacier above us melting
in the mountain sun,
a bulldozed basin at 7,000 feet.
We dried in the sun before our final task:
the sweat-lodge. Someone had given us directions.
We followed the stream that fed the lake.
Our landmarks were failing us.
It grew late.
We started the mile’s climb back to camp.
Next morning I returned alone, deputized.
At last found the right set of stones across the stream,
the right path
among fallen trunks and flowers.
But I was late: two brothers had come before me.
The lodge was a hutch of bent stripped sticks.
One brother wore a leather loincloth and worked
at their unraveling.
The other brother
worked naked, scattering ashes with half a shovel.
The great Gathering was over.
We shared water over the stones of a dead fire.
Then I stripped my shirt and started lugging the stones
two by two to the clearing’s edge,
each with thanks and a blessing
to find their own hiding places in the brush.
The lodge came down, leaving
a small circle of pressed earth and a pit
in the center heaped with stones:
that had held fire to make steam of a scattering
of water, steam that had glistened
on dark naked bodies in the glow of the red-hot
heap of stones—
Those we scattered together.
My turn with the broken-handled shovel came.
I broke the little circle
of the shovelblade, each resounding through my arms,
through my legs and into the earth
like the note of a drum:
the great Gathering was over.
My hands began to blister. I grew slippery with sweat.
Kicked off my shorts and kept working.
The greenery around us glowed like green flame
in the high sun.
We covered the firepit, lifted logs
and left them in the random pattern the stream’s
spring anarchies had made.
Scattered a coarse mulch
over everything and shouldered our tools.
High summer, sweat
and the cold lake waiting.
The great Scattering moved slow and radiant
in every direction around us.