The Rainbow Gathering is hard to explain; it's half festival, half intentional community. Since the early '70s, tens of thousands of people have gathered every year in a different American forest to build a temporary village. There are no ticket sales or official organizers; even food is free. Everybody camps out, makes art and shares — a little like a non-corporate Burning Man festival.
People organize smaller regional gatherings around the world, but the American national gathering is generally the biggest. According to Oregon Public Broadcasting, this year's national Rainbow Gathering in central Oregon drew more than 13,000 campers. They built kitchens, cooked, made trails and ran medical tents.
When I was taking photos, a man insisted I snap a shot of his clownish friend. I'm glad he did. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
At Rainbow Gatherings, there's no difference between a "volunteer," "organizer," or "attendee" because everyone is all three. I even found two libraries and met a man who decided to serve as the gathering's postal service.
Dreadlocks were a pretty common hairstyle. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
People who come to these gatherings tend to be interested in the environment and sustainability, though those words mean different things to different people.
I talked to a woman collecting data to figure out how to improve water systems in New York, a man trying to create a permaculture community in the Midwest, a whole camp of people giving away vegan food (another gave out freshly fried bacon), and another camp devoted to nature tours.
It took a few tries to get this photo right, which was no problem for this passionate couple. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
Anyone was free to set up any kind of free service. One man brought a massage table and created a bodywork area. Another group gave away varieties of herbal teas every hour of the day.
Nor was everything limited to the physical. I ran into a man at midnight who was offering dream interpretations. Some people built a full stage, where they hosted a fresh take on "The Gong Show."
Something about this guy reminded me of a magician. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
As for me, I wrote "free photo portraits" on a piece of cardboard and hung it around my neck, which is how I was able to capture all these portraits of the wide variety of folks who attended.
Hippies, crust punks, families, students, homeless kids, engineers and artists all came together on even footing to enjoy each other's company in the woods.
This thoughtful-looking couple could have come from another era. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
She looked quite mysterious under that shadowy hat. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
The Rainbow Festival was also a great place to break out the costumes. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
These two friends played quite a few pranks. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
Everyone spent a lot of time hiking around various trails. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
She went around with other redheads organizing the annual redhead parade. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
People of all ages came, though people in their 20s and 30s seemed to be the most common. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
There were quite a few kids there — one camp was even called Kiddie Village. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
He experimented with different hand positions before settling on this one. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
You can't quite see it, but he's holding a small rodent. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
I was sitting at the trade circle when she came by, looking for items to trade. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
A little kid was watching, amazed, as this man made giant bubbles. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
In case you're wondering what the bubble blower looks like from the front ... (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
I caught this man waiting for food at a big kitchen on top of a hill. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
Crust punks and hippies live in harmony. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
He was helping out at a kitchen giving away eggs, potatoes, bacon and coffee. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
Some people came with close friends, while others showed up solo. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
The only way to look weird at the gathering was to look too normal. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)
Messiness was only to be expected at an extended campout. (Photo: Ilana E. Strauss)