Out of the woods, blithe spirit

  • THE PARTY'S OVER: Rainbow Family followers sort therecyclables in a mound of garbage outside theirencampment

    David Simnitt, The Idaho Statesman

Oh my! Oh dear! Imagine ... 20,000 hippies. Not doing a lick of work. Messing up meadows like animals. Befouling streams like animals. Eating, sleeping, defecating like animals. Fornicating like bunny animals, thumping bongos, tooting flutes, gang-singing old Donovan songs, dancing around without a care in their heads like Jenna Bush in a cowboy bar, not ordering a single darn thing from Avon or eBay and not thinking a single darn thought about Britney or Tomb Raider, hugging one another like sissies and doing their best not to start a war. And all this in one of Ma Nature's more pristine nooks. You know what I mean, one of those places the developers like to talk about when they're trying to sell you a $250,000 1/4-acre getaway in the hills.

Too bad those hippies aren't cows. Then it'd just be business as usual. It's likely you don't know what I'm talking about, so allow me to up-catch you: the Rainbow Family - a loosely organized group of frolickers a bit like the Shriners, only with considerably more moderate drinking habits - recently held a large (20,000, give or take) frolic in an alpine meadow. For nearly three decades, they've been meeting like this all over the West. This year, through a process known only to the King and Queen of the Hippies, they chose a spot in southern Idaho É indicating the King and Queen of the Hippies aren't as hip to political realities as possibly they ought to be.

To further complicate matters, the spot they chose to frolic in was also selected by some salmon to spawn in. As a result of this scheduling glitch, most everyone here 'bouts got mad at them. At the hippies, that is. Governor Dirk Kempthorne, worried in advance, even declared neighboring counties disaster areas in preparation for an anticipated disaster. An imagined disaster, if you will. "An alternative future" disaster, if one doesn't mind sounding a little like a hippie. The mere thought of such a disaster gave the governor ample opportunity to wear jeans like a regular Joe and talk like Idaho's most ardent lover of anadromous fish.

Most environmentalists and the U.S. Forest Service were mad, saying the Family endangered the spawning activities of what few salmon make it through the gantlet of Columbia Basin dams - on which, as far as I know, the Forest Service has no official position. (As a matter of interest, Governor Kempthorne is all for the dams.) I assume this is the same Forest Service that recommended rescinding Clinton's ban on road construction on federal forests, but I could be wrong. Surely a Forest Service so upset over a big hippie picnic would also object to an invasion of bulldozers and logging trucks, wouldn't you think?

Idaho's Sen. Larry Craig was plenty mad at them. I suspect Craig's been mad at hippies since the '60s, back when he was a mere student eager to get elected to something and the resident longhairs giggled every time he opened his mouth. Yet he maintains he objected to this event because the hippies didn't follow the rules - didn't get the proper permission to use this particular piece of America for a few days. And it's true, the hippies could have avoided this whole whoop-dee-doo had they applied for a grazing permit. In fact, had they told Sen. Larry they intended to dig an open-pit mine, he might have personally instructed the Forest Service to go soak its head.

Some Indians were mad, too, saying the Rainbows were congregating on sacred land, a place Native Americans hold holy. I guess no one else is supposed to feel that way. Maybe now would be a good time to suggest to the Indians that if their spiritual values and cultural heritage will be carried on into the Age of Casinos and beyond, it won't be Governor Kempthorne, the Forest Service, or Larry Craig doing the carrying.

I was a little mad at them, too. But I expect the spot they chose will recover, and really, aren't 20,000 hippies as entitled to go "OM-ing" in Idaho's meadows as 20,000 fishermen are to go "steelheading" on Idaho's rivers?

But without realizing it - probably because they're such babes in the woods when it comes to environmental politics - the Rainbow Family has handed hydro-lovers like Craig and Kempthorne another diversionary tactic ... another distraction to take folks' minds away from the reality that any one of those many dams between Idaho and the Pacific kill more salmon in a day than all the world's hippies could in a lifetime. Even if they worked at it.

Bill Cope writes for the Boise Weekly in Idaho. He is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News.

Copyright © 2001 HCN and Bill Cope

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