Thousands of members of Rainbow Family of Living Light and Love arriving in White Mountain National Forest this July 


 Monitor staff

Published: 06-21-2023 5:47 PM

Baruch Chaim calls himself a “weekend hippie.” He leads a typical life working as a physician's assistant in Boston, but he’s also a Rainbow who prays for peace and connects with nature alongside thousands of chosen family members in forests around the country.

Chaim, whose “Rainbow name” is Stone, plans to come to New Hampshire’s White Mountain National Forest the first week of July to join thousands of other Rainbows to celebrate love and nature and pray for world peace.

More than 5,000 Rainbows – about the population of the town of Hopkinton –  are expected to camp in a temporary tent city, which would be a relatively low turnout compared to past annual events. Some have already started arriving. 

The group has no leaders, no organization, no currency, and no barrier to entry — all are welcome to join the Rainbow Family of Living Love and Light. 

 Who are the Rainbows?

The Rainbow Family is an eclectic group of people who describe themselves as hippies, activists, outcasts, and peace promoters. Members pride themselves on their individuality and refer to each other with a unique rainbow name. 

The Rainbow Family’s Facebook group has over 25,000 members, many of whom post updates as if talking to their closest friends. 

Michael Niman, author of People of the Rainbow: A Nomadic Utopia and professor of journalism and media studies at Buffalo State College, said anyone can be a Rainbow, including himself. Historically, he said, non-violent communes require some level of formal membership, which makes the Rainbow Family unique in its inclusivity.

“Anybody with a belly button is a rainbow,” Niman said, “some just don’t know it yet.”

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Gatherings are typically filled with clouds of marijuana smoke, tie-dye shirts and naked bodies wading in muddy water. This peaceful imagery doesn’t always tell the whole story.

“Just like any other town of ten to twenty thousand people, the majority are wonderful, incredible, beautiful people who would probably give you the shirt off their back,” said Stone. “And then you're going to have a couple who are known as ‘Drainbows.’”

Drainbows are the people who come to gatherings with the wrong intention, there to spend days in the woods drinking alcohol and being rowdy.

“They end up sucking the energy and life out of a lot of things,” Stone said.

But Drainbows are a minority and tend to remain near the parking lot, which the Rainbow Family views as a barrier to the outside world that they call “Babylon.” 

Walk a little farther into the national forest, past the parking lot, and you may enter something magical or shocking depending on your perspective. 

 The Nationals

Every year since 1972, the Rainbow Family has gathered in a national forest for their annual week-long event, often referred to as “nationals.” Thousands of Rainbows carpool and hitchhike to get to their destination — a different national forest each year— to make it for the first week of July. 

Nationals are like “summer camp for adults,” according to Stone, with different events each night including a talent show and a singer-songwriter series. Stone requested his paid time off from the emergency department five months ago in preparation for the gathering. 

Rainbows often separate into smaller clusters of people to set up camp, ranging from Kid Village where all of the younger rainbows are, to Yoga camp, to the Lovin’ Oven where big barrel ovens full of cinnamon buns and treats are baking 24/7. 

When Stone goes to nationals, he “plugs in” with two groups — “CALM,” or the Center for Alternative Living Medicine, which functions as the first aid camp at Rainbow events, and the Jewish camp called “Home Shalom.”

Stone is an orthodox Jew who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, but spent a few years in Israel at a rabbinical school, an experience that eventually led him to the Rainbow family. 

Home Shalom offers Kosher food and daily prayers, but most special to Stone is the thought of practicing Judaism in nature. 

“Judaism was originally twelve tribes in the wilderness,” he said. “I never feel more spiritual than when I’m in nature communing with God.”

Pete Golden, Rainbow name Soaring Eagle, is disabled and becoming a student pilot through the non-profit Freedom’s Wings. Soaring Eagle has watched people arrive at gatherings on the verge of complete despair and leave smothered with joy and love. What keeps him coming back to gatherings is “the love and the goodness of the people,” he said. 

The Rainbow non-economy

All you need to attend a Rainbow gathering is padding to sleep on, if anything. Anyone can live off of the makeshift banking system that the Rainbows call the “magic hat.” 

“You give what you can,” said Niman. “Whether you dropped off a thousand dollars to the magic hat, or whether you haven’t touched money in years, you line up with everybody else.”

At one of the larger gatherings in Vermont, Ben and Jerry’s sent a refrigerated truckload of ice cream. 

People might be cooking, educating others, or on “sherpa duty,” but “everybody contributes in their own way,” said Soaring Eagle.

Stone contributes to gatherings with his medical expertise. For any health issue that a Rainbow is facing, whether it be a cold, a splinter, or a medical emergency, Stone is there to help. He will diagnose sicknesses, recognize the symptoms of stroke, help treat drug-related emergencies, and even perform CPR if needed. 


In 1980, nationals were at the Monongahela National Forest in West Virginia. In late June of that year, Nancy Santomero and Vicki Durian were hitchhiking to their Rainbow Family reunion when they were murdered. Though the murder was not traced to anyone associated with the gathering, the crime contrasts with the Rainbow Family’s reputation of safety. 

“If there’s violence in American culture, it's gonna show up at the gathering,” said Niman.

What sets Rainbows apart, however, is their approach to violent incidents that do occur. 

“If you see a problem, you don’t call the police, you become the police, and everybody around you becomes the police, and you try to intervene non-violently,” said Niman. 

Soaring Eagle, who sits in a wheelchair as a quadriplegic, feels safe and protected at Rainbow events, but understands that entering an event through the parking lot full of chaos can be intimidating.

Hilary Markin is an officer for the National Rainbow Incident Management team, a collection of people who work with national forests around the country. 

“We help respond to the incident, to address the public health and safety concern for minimized environmental impact to the resources, and to recognize and mitigate the social and political impacts that are happening on the ground,” said Markin. 

Their team is on-site at the nationals from mid-June through early July, working with the campers to ensure the health and safety of Rainbows and the resources around them. They post daily about the number of people on site, safety estimations, and other updates for the community. 

Gatherings in national parks of 75 people or more require a permit, but because the Rainbows have no system of leadership or hierarchy, they claim no one of them can be in charge of the licensing process. 

Each year, the incident team hands out permit applications, but these end up being more symbolic than anything, as the Rainbows have not budged. 

Marijuana and drug culture

Keeping with its aura as a counter-culture community that originated in the 70s, marijuana is a key ingredient to any Rainbow gathering.

“A lot of rainbows have taken marijuana as a sacrament,” said Niman. 

If there is tension between rainbows, marijuana can often be the unifying solution. “Just chill the f*** out and sit down and smoke this bowl,” Niman described as a typical reaction to friction. 

Though marijuana can be seen and sniffed in almost every crevice of the campsite, the Rainbow Family does not believe in alcohol consumption.

“Alcohol is the source of so many problems,” said Stone. If a Rainbow is found drinking alcohol, members will kindly intervene. 

There are also dry camps at nationals that have Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, and other sobriety chapter meetings every day. 

 Impacts – environmental and otherwise

The environmental impact of thousands of people living in the forest is a potential concern. Last year at nationals in Routt National Forest, Colorado, officials were concerned with the “environmental and wildlife impact of any gathering this size, along with the fire risk,” Larry Desjardin, president of Keep Routt Wild told Steamboat Pilot & Today.

In 2017, nationals were in Malheur National Forest in Oregon. Dave Halemeier, Blue Mountain district ranger for the Malheur National Forest, said the land would take years to recover. “It’s basically been reduced to dirt,” Halemeier said of the Rainbow gathering’s main meadow. 

National Forest officials also reported that elk and other animals were displaced by the gathering, possibly because of the dogs and other pets that Rainbows bring with them. 

Generally, though, the National Forest Service expects Rainbows to clean up after themselves and trusts them to do so. The USDA Forest Services website reads: 

“The Rainbow Family is responsible for site rehabilitation. Guidelines are outlined in the resource protection plan. At past events, many individuals have stayed to assist in site clean-up and have paid for trash disposal with a local vendor.”

On the same website, the forest service warns: “Some activities may include public nudity, civil disobedience, drug and alcohol abuse, confrontations between Rainbows and locals, abandoned or disabled vehicles, and traffic congestion and parking for 4,000-7,000 vehicles.” 

The impact of the upcoming gathering in New Hampshire will be followed closely by the forest service and other local and state organizations. 

This year's gathering will be held near the Kilkenny Loop Road near the city of Berlin.

“An incident of this size can have significant impacts on traffic, communities, local resources, residents, and visitors,” the Forest Service warned. “Local businesses can expect to see large numbers of Rainbow Family participants visiting stores and buying food and supplies along routes to the incident location. Forest and local roads in the vicinity may become congested during the incident and road closures and/or traffic detours may occur.”

Though the dates are technically July 1-7, the event is sure to peak on the 4th. 

For Rainbows, July 4th is spent entirely in silence from dawn until noon. People meditate, do yoga, pray for peace, and sift toward the main meadow all morning, waiting for the Kid Village parade to break the silence.

Then, once the quiet is pierced, everyone joins hands for an “om” circle that lasts about forty-five minutes and leads into their biggest festivity.

“Everyone goes wild,” said Soaring Eagle.