Reunion of the Elements

27th annual Rainbow Family Gathering
Apache-Sitgreaves National Forest, Arizona

July 4, 1998


Overhead the sun
approaches noon

Underfoot the rain
has molded weeks of dust
into firm mud

Since early morning
I have wandered the trails
of a vast camp
fallen suddenly silent

in consensus
with the peace and healing
of this wild place

Smoothed by passing feet,
dried all morning in the kiln of sun
to a warm living skin, every path
this morning leads to the center
where the procession of feet assembles
around the Peace Pole in the meadow
and concentric circle after circle of voices
hold one Silence

But no one is more silent than the two sleeping
sentries who guard last night's
heroic firepit, one sprawled peacefully
across its architecture of piled stones, the other
cradled in its deep dry moat

This is the firepit constructed
by the frenzied engineers of last night's boogie,
eager for firelight and warmth, the ancient
reunion of the elements, passing rocks
hand to hand, digging in time to the drums,
chanting thanks to the rain we'd all prayed for

Year after year we grumbled about the rain,
forgetting to be thankful, until this year
of wildfire and drought: night after night we sat
staring into the campfire in ignorant bliss,
forgetting to be grateful, until we came
to this dry place heaped with dry firewood
in this dry season— Season of the Firewatch

Wood-gatherers hauling propane tanks, cooks
stirring huge pots of beans over thin blue flames,
minstrels trading songs all night
around a dwindling candle, fire-tenders transmuted
into fire-trolls, patrolling miles of trails
through the dry woods, each one breathing
the dust of a multitude of feet

Maybe it was our Native elders who brought the rain
with their traditional prayers;
maybe it was the children and their raindance.
But no precipitation was predicted here
till August, the Rangers said, and yesterday when it fell
it fell nowhere else in the state

The clouds came out of nowhere
and gathered in a circle around this mountain,
the eyewitnesses say, and after that first
ghostly mist of rain— so gentle that it seemed
the clouds were only passing through
like the rest of us— according to the rumor,
a rainbow arched over in a shower of sun

All around this meadow the aspen groves
join the consensus of silence,
surrounding our concentric circles
like slender shining angels lifting wings
of silvery green: joined underground
by a common root-system, someone told me,
into a single organism

Even the arid soil beneath my blanket
is a woven mat of root-threads,
I can see now, sitting here: a prayer-rug
peculiarly suited to silence,
decorated here and there with the prehistoric
paisley of the lichen-spotted stones

And the heroic builders of last night's firepit?
vanished like the shamans of the Stone Age
leaving only the ceremonial ordnance of their office:
two shovels, standing upright while the sentries sleep:
three five-gallon buckets of water

A helicopter overhead
barely penetrates as the Silence
approaches zenith

A wind blows across the faces
gathered in the meadow

The Earth turns underfoot

A multitude of hands take hold
of one another and we rise
to sing the Om