The joke caught me off guard at first.
"What are you doing for the Fourth, heading up to the prayer circle?"
Prayer circle? Oh yeah. It hit me - it's been one year since a certain non-organization of nonmembers turned Big Red Park into a merry dystopia for any listless drifter, burnout, runaway, rabbi, priestess, church group, camper, artist or vacationing doctor making the haul to the North Routt reality reformation repository.
"Dystopia" may be a little harsh, like a message relayed through an Incident Management Team convoy rolling in flak jackets, ready to fire off illegal occupancy citations. But utopia is far from the truth as well, depending on how much you enjoy weeks of unfiltered coffee and walking barefoot in the dirt.
So we had two opposing views of this "gathering thing." What really was the point of the 15,000-person congregation?
When I'd go up for a story, I'd try to answer that, only to come back perplexed and, above all, amused.
I can still see the kid in the tattered, tie-dyed moo-moo, barefoot at his impromptu court hearing in a North Routt fire station garage bay, a federal magistrate judge allowing him a final round of questions for the IMT officers, only to respond: "(Pause), (longer pause) I, uh, I forget my question, man."
So when not busy waiting for federal summonses, what happened in the woods?
I was convinced I could get a story for the sports section. Nothing. Not a single ball. Not even a hurled earth biscuit. Industry trumped athletics in every way. The competition was in who had the better kitchen, the sleeker mud oven or the deeper fire pit. The full-size pirate ship stage with recreated Globe Theatre-entrance sealed it for me. Like Robin Williams stepping into Rufio's domain in "Hook," it was a fanciful escapist hope for a dusty Neverland.
What happened to the pirate ship? Or the peace pyramid?
Diann Ritschard of the U.S. Forest Service didn't know about that. But after district ranger Jamie Kingsbury took an area inventory three weeks ago, the Forest Service spokeswoman said it looked good and vegetation was coming back to the trodden areas criss-crossing the site.
This is, of course, after a cadre of Rainbows (Ritschard said maybe a dozen) stayed behind this same weekend last year once the makeshift city vanished and heavy rains soaked the refuse and endless remnants. But after the "phenomenal" job clearing trash in wheelbarrows to county-provided Dumpsters and recycling piles, the real work began - a $25,000 process of scoring the compacted lands, reseeding them and then closing the area to the public for the next three years for recovery to take root.
So the Rainbows ending up doing as they said by following the wilderness ethic of leaving only footprints, albeit huge, expense ones that take years to fill. It could have been worse. A forest blaze would've been catastrophic with access to the site choked by a mile-long gauntlet of parked cars. If anything, they gave us a laugh and, at most, helped us remember to respect the vital resource our national forests demand.