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A handful of Rainbows stationed on the perimeter of the camping area comprised the first of many welcome wagons, giving helpful information as to what lay ahead and setting the tone for what visitors would encounter.
Already 11 days ahead of July 1, the official opening of the weeklong main event, a few grizzled guys — veterans of previous gatherings — had set up camp along the road near a small body of water.
Their first two words to a couple of strangers who obviously didn't fit the stereotypical free-spirited roamer look?
Further down the road people in a Wisconsin-plated car handed out ice pops to Rainbows who were toiling under the intense June sun.
The Rainbow advance team obviously had traveled from all over the country in a hodgepodge of vans, cars, trucks and buses — one bearing a slight resemblance to Scooby Doo's Mystery Mobile — with license plates from Oregon, California, New York, the Carolinas, Florida, Colorado, Georgia and all points in between.
Parking space (all four wheels off the road, please) was still available not too far from the trailhead on the road the Forest Service had designated as one way because of the gathering. And at the trailhead a woman piped up, "Welcome home!" as she arranged cooking facilities that would have to be toted about a half mile into the woods and to the giant meadow where communal activities such as meals and meditation will focus.
As Forest Service rangers passed she asked them if they had a stapler so she could affix notices to a portable bulletin board. They politely responded no, and as they drove off she called out, "We love you."
That, it turns out, is another signature phrase for Rainbows.
A short way down the trail leading to the main gathering meadow, a "Welcome Home" sign painted in the colors of the rainbow hung in the trees, and a young girl handed out small rectangular stickers printed with "Thank you. I love you."
A helpful, articulate and PR-savvy Rainbow, Adam "Finch" Buxbaum — almost all Rainbows go by monikers of one sort or another — greeted guests. Obviously among the leadership of the unofficial group, he had taken on tour-guide duties, and having personal experience with 60 regional, national and international gatherings, he had a lot to share.
At the opening of the glade, people sat in the shade greeting people and Finch set himself up behind an information counter made from wood cut in the forest. He lamented the Forest Service's campaign of harassment against the group, especially last year in Georgia, and another woman plopped down a copy of "2019 Resource Design Criteria for Rainbow Family of Living Light National Gathering" as prepared by the Washburn Ranger District of the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
But frustration was not the typical attitude of the people who lounged beneath the shade on this sunny day, many of whom were tethered to their dogs.
They happily congregated, setting up several cooking areas soon to be tasked with feeding thousands for free, building water filtration systems and arranging for emergency services should the need arrive.
When thousands more descend upon the forest looking for peace or even new people to call family and a place to belong for a short time, they will be greeted with hot food and clean water — as well as a hearty "Welcome home."
Finch and others explained that the greeting began with the first gatherings, when Vietnam Veterans returned to hostile receptions on American soil.
Rainbows dedicated to peace and understanding set out to give them a proper welcome home, and the phrase has stuck over time.
Visitors to the encampment — Rainbows encourage locals who want to see what they're really all about to stop by — can expect plenty of dreadlocks and tie-dyes and the occasional skunky puff of pot smoke in the air.
But at least from the early arrivals, they also can expect warm greetings from people who say they just want to be left in peace to groove with one another in the wilderness.
If You Go
What: Meet-and-Greet Bowling Party for locals to meet Rainbows.
Where: Uncle Bob's Bowling Center, Iron River.
When: 4 to 7 p.m. today.
That's the greeting for almost everyone — friends, strangers, reporters carrying notebooks and cameras — who visits the growing Rainbow Family Gathering encampment in the Chequamegon-Nicolet National Forest.
The national Rainbow Family Gathering, held annually since 1972 and usually in public forests, is touted as a place for Rainbows — as attendees are known — to enjoy and promote peace, harmony and connection.
In the past few years the gatherings also have drawn plenty of not-so-welcome attention from police and warnings from authorities to neighboring communities about possible Rainbow crimes.
That's one of the reasons the Rainbows are hosting a 4 p.m. bowling party with locals Saturday at Uncle Bob's Bowling Center in Iron River.
The actual gathering isn't scheduled to begin until the week of the Fourth of July, but teams of Rainbows were already in the forest this week setting up cook stations, water-treatment and sanitation facilities and firstaid tents in the woods south of Iron River.
U.S. Forest Service police also were there, posting noparking signs, setting up checkpoints and routinely driving through the rainbow encampment.
Among them this week wandered two Daily Press reporters who were welcomed home and greeted with "Thank you, I love you," more times than they could count.
To hear the congenial "Welcome Home" salute and meet the 400-strong vanguard prepping for the 4,000 to 5,000 Rainbows expected to attend the gathering requires a bone-rattling trip down miles of washboard-ridden dirt road and passing several U.S. Forest Service National Incident Management Team vehicles and checkpoints.
The Ashland School Board will vacate its vote to close two charter schools and will vote again on the matter at its Monday meeting.
Parents and students will have a chance to voice their concerns about closing the Oredocker and Lake Superior schools — an opportunity they did not have when the district voted to close them in May.
The decision to reverse that vote came after the Daily Press filed a complaint with Ashland County District Attorney David Meany, asking him to determine if the district had violated state law in holding the vote.
The agenda for that May meeting said the district would consider "contract negotiations" during a closed session, with no mention of charter schools or the possibility that they would be closed.
State law requires public governing bodies to announce in advance details of matters they will consider and vote on.
Meany on Friday said he determined that the district did not comply with openmeetings law. By late Friday morning, the agenda for Monday's School Board meeting said explicitly that the board would consider in open session discontinuing the Oredocker and Lake Superior schools on June 30, 2020.
"After receiving (the Daily Press) complaint I looked in to what had occurred and since it appeared to me there may not have been compliance with open meetings law, I contacted the School Board and its attorney," Meany said. "After discussion with the board's attorney I was informed the board would be moving forward with a proper open meetings notice. I will continue to review the matter to ensure compliance."
Meany declined to comment on whether he had received additional complaints about the meeting.
He did say that it was the board's lack of specificity that was in conflict with state law.
"I would say that the agenda item under our open meetings law ... did not
appropriately inform the public as to what action might be taken," he said.
Ashland Schools Superintendent Erik Olson and School Board President Jessica Pergolski did not return calls Friday seeking comment for this story. Nor did the district's Madison attorney, Lori Lubinsky, with whom Meany negotiated the new vote.
District leaders said after the May 20 action that they wanted to close the charters, which serve high school and middle school students, to streamline administration.
But students and parents of students in the charters, both of which are housed in the high school, were stunned and irate that they had no input before the unanimous closed-door discussion and vote.
Students afterward drafted a letter to School Board members and compiled a six-minute video in which they demanded a say in the decision and spoke about how the schools had improved their lives.
"We were all very shocked when we learned they had done this in closed session without alerting anyone or putting it on their agenda," Lake Superior High student Ella Syverson said Friday. Syverson helped lead the student protest and letter-writing campaign to the school board.
"We will have our voices heard and we hope they reverse their decision," she said. "I certainly hope they have paid attention to what we've been saying. I think when they initially made this decision they didn't have all the information about how this will affect students. I think we've been able to provide them with that information and our feelings now, and I hope they will take that into consideration and see how valuable these schools are."
Charter schools are part of the Ashland School District, but governed by their own boards. They are granted exemptions from some state requirements so that they can adapt curriculum and methods to best meet student needs.
Students and parents told the Daily Press after the closure decision that their charter schools, which outperform traditional schools on state report cards, offer educational opportunities for kids who typically learn differently and don't do well in traditional school settings.
Tucked away up a dirt driveway through forest growing right up to the drive's edge sits a Bayfield County organic farm that soon will become a mecca for women yearning to learn its conservation secrets.
Ann Rosenquist will host a Women Caring for the Land workshop on July 16 at North Wind Organic Farm to give female farmers, gardeners and others who work the land the
chance to network and learn conservation practices to implement when they return home.
Rosenquist will share the farm's practices with up to 25 women who arrive at 9 a.m. for the five-hour event that includes a listening circle, potluck and tour. North Wind Organic Farm, 86760 Valley Road, is one of six farms the Wisconsin Farmers Union has chosen to host the workshops in 2019.
Rosenquist said the president of the local Wisconsin Farmers Union chapter asked her to consider hosting the workshop and she jumped at the chance to show off the farm and discuss caring for the land with fellow female farmers and gardeners without men listening in.
"I think more comes out when it's just women," she said.
Helping her host will no doubt be Pippi, Rosenquist's dog that contributes much to the success of the organic farm's operations. The friendly female four-pawed farmer chases and kills chipmunks and squirrels, keeping potentially destructive beasts at bay.
"She's one of those women caring for the land," Rosenquist said.
The Women, Food and Agriculture Network actually established the model upon which the workshop series is based. It recognized how powerful it could be to bring female land-tenders together to network and learn conservation practices, said Danielle Endvick of the Wisconsin Farmers Union.
The union works hard to identify farms to highlight on the workshop tours, and Endvick said they've heard good words about North Wind's practices.
"It sounds like they really have the environment in mind and are great stewards of the land," Endvick said.
Growing up green
Living off the bounty of the land isn't academic for Rosenquist, who farms alongside her partner, Tom Galazen, on the Bayfield-area farm. She grew up with the ethic.
Her parents introduced her to gardening and foraging for food, and she cultivated her green thumb her entire life by growing, reaping and eating her own produce on her Grand Marais, Minn., land.
"I've always just loved stuff right out of the earth," she said. "It just tastes so good."
Then she met Galazen on the dating website farmersonly.com and found herself on the south shore Fruit Loop farm about 10 years ago, transitioning from gardener to farmer.
North Wind Organic Farm sports a dizzying array of fruits and vegetables — providing the stock for Rosenquist and Galazen's CSA, farm visitors and farmer's market customers — and a variety of jams, jellies and cider.
Pointing to the apple trees Friday, Rosenquist predicted a bumper crop come fall based on the number of blossoms they sprouted earlier in the year.
Off to the side of the driveway, white flowers dotted the strawberry patch. As the berries typically follow one month after the blossoms, Rosenquist speculated the crop may not come in by the Fourth of July. Later in the year the farm will harvest raspberries, currents, gooseberries and blueberries among other succulent berries quite possibly right up until the snow flies.
A puffed up tom turkey gobbling to beat the band and clucking hens that the farmers keep on hand for meat and eggs added sound to the rural scene.
With so much food on hand, the couple has almost everything they need right out their front door.
But a lot of conservation and renewable energy practices underlay the idyllic farm scene.
Solar panels placed wherever the farmers could find space and a wind tower provide all of the farm's electrical needs — they are completely off the grid, Rosenquist said, and don't even have a line connecting them to the energy company.
The wind and solar power they generate, up to about 10,000 kilowatts, is up to the task of running four freezers and three refrigerators during the summer months. Wood provides the rest of their energy needs, such as for cooking and heating, and some of the farm's vehicles are electric.
The farm relies on weeding and mulch to help keep weeds down — they never use plastic — and coexist with any bugs that might come to feast on apples. All of the crops are produced according to organic standards, and no chemical pesticides or artificial fertilizers are used.
To attend the Women Caring for the Land workshop scheduled between 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. July 16, RSVP to 715-723-5561 or wisconsinfarmersunion.com/events.
Child care is available, but it must be noted on the RSVP. For the potluck bring a dish to pass; the main dish will be provided. Participants should come dressed for walking in the fields.
Although men are welcome to join in the farm tour, the listening circle is open to women only.