Teenage flower children, their long hair strung with beads, play handclap games in front of me at the Amarillo, TX bus station. They tickle each another and make googly eyes despite the presence of the girl’s mother. This petite woman–a hippie hangover–smiles at them, her thin lips stretching to meet a smattering of pale freckles.
They’re headed to the Rainbow Gathering in Arkansas, held annually in a National Forest since 1972. Hippie Mom asks my friend where we’re headed. “Twin cities,” says Emily. She’s returning to her nanny job, and I’ll be headed five hours south from there once our two-day bus trip concludes.
Next stop: Oklahoma City, where a one-hour layover turns into six, then seven. An MIA bus driver means we’ll be spending the night on the most uncomfortable metal mesh benches ever designed for extended public waiting. If it weren’t for the obscene hour and lack of cell phone service, I’d call my boyfriend to pass the time.
Grumpy from lack of sleep, and anxious to get back on the road–a trip that would take over 50 hours between Phoenix and Minneapolis–I look to Emily for support. She’s given up on sleep and stares down at a book, her eyes unmoving. She feels my gaze and scrunches her nose in commiseration. There’s no denying the mid-summer stench of road travel. If our bags hadn’t disappeared with the driver, we would’ve changed clothes hours ago. I look down at my grubby t-shirt and feel depressed. The rainbow gatherers still appear fresh–the women in matching striped skirts and the boy in a Hawaiian shirt with his thin brown hair tied back in a low ponytail. A cool, airy skirt would be nice about now. I scrounge through my purse for a hair tie, but come up empty.
With nothing better to do, I watch the teenage couple paint glitter on each other’s faces, then braid the other’s hair. Hippie Mom sits knitting with a peaceful expression as though she were home and life couldn’t be sweeter. A soft hum rises from her throat. The teens get up and spin while holding hands, repeating what sounds like a tribal chant:
“When Earth is ravaged and animals die
A new people shall come
Many colors, classes, many creeds
Who by their actions and their deeds
Shall once again make Earth green
And be called
Warriors of the Rainbow.”
I lean forward and ask Hippie Mom what they’re singing.
“It is an old Native American prophecy.” Her eyes brighten and she looks at the kids. “The Rainbow Gathering, where we’re headed, has no leaders. We commune non-violently to celebrate peace and love on our planet. All are welcome. It’s a transformative and empowering experience. Here…” She pauses to retrieve a crumpled scrap of paper from her knitting bag. She scrawls two words on it then hands it to me.
The scrap was torn from a flier advertising free community basket weaving classes. I scan for her handwriting and read aloud the two words, presumably a name: “Art Penny.”
“If you wish to find him, he will be found,” says Hippie Mom’s daughter, smiling at me encouragingly. I give a polite nod, but I’m too tired to inquire further.
“Thank you,” I say, and dismiss myself from the conversation by extensively folding and slipping the scrap with Art Penny’s name on it into my purse.
The next day, near Topeka, Emily asks me what I talked about with the rainbow family.
“I can’t be sure,” I say, “but they were very friendly.”