It’s gonna be a tough day when you discover Satan’s been searching your whole life for you so you can bear his child.
It gets even rougher when bad feels soooo good.
On the surface, Copper Descent, the New Adult debut novel by Angela Hartley, is a love story about teens Nina and Nate who meet while working at an upscale vacation resort in the wilds of Midway, Utah. But Nina faces much more than a simple love triangle when Sinclair Devereux, lead singer of Revelation, rushes in to sweep her off her feet. Copper Descent is really a story of fate, redemption, and the power of free agency as Nina learns her true identity and the role she’s destined to play in the multiverse evolution of mankind.
Nate is full of real world charm, but Sinclair offers the forbidden. Mix Native American folklore, mean girls, murder, suicide, a love triangle, and an old dude who just may be God and you’ve got a hint of what this book is all about. It’s a richly textured story about temptation and desire, the first in an epic series of seven novels by Angela Hartley that weave a new narrative about the genesis and ultimate destiny of mankind.
Copper Descent by Angela Hartley is published by Fox Hollow Publications is available through Amazon.
The librarian called me a liar.
“There’s no way you read those books! You just took them home yesterday. You’re trying to cheat!”
Now a wiser child would’ve simply said something like, “No, ma’am! I live thousands of miles away, but I’m spending the summer with my grandparents. I don’t know any local kids, and my grandparents are happier if they can’t hear, see, or smell me, so I spend my days perched in the top of an old oak tree with an apple, a bottle of Coke, and a couple of books. I’ve already read every word in their house twice which is why I’m back at the library for more.”
But I all I heard was cheat and that hurt my pride.
“I did too read those books! You don’t want to sign my book log because you’re afraid I’ll win the prize!”
Yesterday the sign was the first thing I saw when I entered the tiny public library. In big, bold letters it announced the annual summer reading program with the prize of a free ticket to the magical land of Lagoon for any kid who read one hundred books. I’d heard of my cousins speak of Lagoon in the hushed tones reserved for church or when Grandpa was napping. “It makes Saratoga Springs look like the dinky Strawberry Days Fair,” they said. Saratoga Springs with its waterslides and rows of skee-ball alleys was the bomb-diggity. Lagoon, I figured, was a ten year old’s version of paradise. If I got a free ticket, my grandparents would have to take me.
But that would never happen if this dried prune of a librarian kept giving me heat, saying I didn’t read the three measly books she let me borrow a whole lifetime and twenty-six hours ago. I crossed my arms and stuck out my bottom lip.
She raised an eyebrow and picked up the top book from the pile, Rose in Bloom by Louisa May Alcott. “So when Kitty married Mac—”
“Kitty never married Mac,” I interrupted. She married Steve. Rose married Mac.”
She sniffed. “You read it before.”
“Nope.” I picked up Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl. “I did see this movie, but it was called Willy Wonka. In the movie Charlie and Grandpa Joe find the golden ticket, but in the book only Charlie does. I liked the book better.” The last novel was A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle. I held it up. “I loved this. I want to be Meg and have a brother like Charles Wallace. Do you have any more like this one?”
She narrowed her eyes, but grabbed her rubber stamp and dated my log, scrawling her initials next to each title. The war with the librarian was on.
Almost every day I’d walk the two miles each way from my grandparent’s house to the library, toting the three books she let me borrow in the horrific July heat, stopping to splash in the irrigation ditches and to check if the pawdawadames that grew along the banks were ripe. Each day with the bitter taste of too-sour plums teasing my tongue, I’d get quizzed on the books I returned and watched as the librarian reluctantly stamped my official reading log.
I drove her nuts checking out every book deemed fit for children in her library. I read all the Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, and The Three Investigators mysteries on the shelves and moved on to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House on the Prairie books. I escaped into Narnia, Middle-earth, and Pern. Huck Finn, Tom, Becky, and I explored the Mississippi, and once I went to a strange planet where all the aliens were made of mushrooms. To this day, I can’t remember the author or book title, but I remember how the space children had to eat boiled eggs. I detested boiled eggs.
The summer I turned ten should’ve been lonely, but with my book friends and imagination I was never bored. I rode my aunt’s old bike around town, played in tennis tournaments, impressed my land-locked cousins by jumping off the high dive, and peeled mountains of cucumbers for my grandmother’s refrigerator pickles, but mostly I read. I discovered that books didn’t care what you looked like, what you wore, or where you came from. Unlike people, you could put them down and pick them right up where you left off, ready to entertain, amuse, and amaze.
Years later when I was studying how people learn, one of my professors talked about how reading with speed and fluency were the most important things for a child to learn. In fact, from kindergarten to sixth grade, average kids who spent only twenty minutes a day of their free time in silent sustained reading were guaranteed to score in the ninetieth percentile on standardized tests regardless of IQ. Like a basketball player working the free-throw line after practice, it was a matter of building muscle memory and neural pathways. In a year, those daily twenty minutes compounded into more than one million additional words read. During tests this was a huge advantage because more time could be spent figuring out the best answer and less on reading through the questions. Studies showed that any sustained reading—comic books, magazines, newspapers, the backs of cereal boxes—as long as a reader stuck to it for a significant amount of time, it helped improve reading speed and fluency.
I never imagined that while I was reading about flying dragons, I was really preparing for SATs and earning college scholarships.
The take away here for parents is that we should worry less about grade level appropriateness and vocabulary building—just those concepts alone are enough to turn kids off reading—and more about finding stories that keep kids engaged. It’s sad, but true that my son taught himself to read when I finally refused to tell him what each of his Pokémon cards said. Highly motivated, he learned to read. I’ve seen similar things happen when kids discover Amelia Bedelia, Encyclopedia Brown, or Harry Potter. For some kids reading becomes fun when they discover stories about world records, survival tips, or sports heroes. With sustained reading as the goal, the right kinds of books make all the difference. Libraries with their varied offerings are exactly the kind of smorgasbord kids crave.
It was late in the afternoon and I was leaving for my Hawaiian home in the morning when I returned my last borrowed books to the Pleasant Grove Library. “See?” the librarian smirked, “I knew you couldn’t do it.”
A smarter kid would’ve shrugged, knowing there was no time left in the summer for a trip to Lagoon. I went to the baby section and read thirteen picture books. “Here,” I said, dumping them on her desk, “one hundred!”
“Those don’t count!”
“Your sign says books. These are books. I bet you’ve never given a ticket away. You probably don’t even have one. The whole summer reading program is a scam!”
When I walked into my grandmother’s house, I handed my golden ticket to my nine year old cousin. Lagoon, she later wrote in my Christmas card, was glorious.
Dependent, the stunning new novel by Brenda Corey Dunne, is an unusual coming of age story about a forty-five year old woman finding herself after making hard choices at nineteen that set the course of her life.
Ellen Michaels has been an officer’s wife for twenty-five years. Living in the military’s shadow, all of Ellen’s decisions have been influenced by her husband John’s career—where she lives, what she does, and who her friends are—as well as the choices she makes to protect her family. Lumped in with John’s worldly goods as “dependents, furniture, and effects,” it’s profoundly shocking for Ellen to discover that with John’s death her future is her own again.
Much of Dependent is told in flashback, and we see Ellen grow from a young teen to a mature woman. We see the struggles every young mother faces and typical challenges even the best marriages go through. With John’s death we see the devastating effect of losing a partner and father. But Ellen also has a terrible secret she’s kept for twenty-five years, and she fears this secret is what killed her husband.
Told from an insider’s perspective, everything from early marriages, frequent moves, and long absences to the culture of rank and stiff upper lip is vividly portrayed. It’s these military culture conventions—and the idea that everything is happy, happy, happy!—that keep Ellen prisoner until she finally realizes that she independent and powerful.
And when she does you’re going to want to stand up and cheer.
But I’m not going to spoil it!
Summer used to mean trips to the library, at least once a week and usually more often. Books had to be gathered from under beds and behind car seats and children rounded up and loaded into those same seats, wiggling with anticipation over the new stories they’d discover and bring home.
Often we’d get sidetracked and end up grabbing a shave ice from a local teenager sweltering in a temporary shed covered in plastic raffia. I used to keep baby wipes in the car so sticky tiger’s blood wouldn’t dot the new book covers.
But now things are different. Last week my 14 year old daughter asked if I could take her to the library. I turned away from my computer, blinking. It’s the middle of July and I haven’t had a single strawberry shave ice. We’ve driven by the library a zillion times. Why haven’t we stopped in?
Oh, man. Does this mean I’m a terrible mother? My kids are not reading this summer. They are going to fail their SATs and end up addicted to video games and living in my basement until I die, a cold Diet Coke clutched in one hand and a dusty library card in the other.
Quick! How many books do they have to consume in the weeks before school starts to catch up? 10? 20? We’ll give up tv. We’ll give up sleep. We’ll—
“Mom? Did you hear me? Can we go to the library? Or can you at least recommend something from your eBook collection? Since I can’t pick up the books and check the back, I don’t know what’s good.”
Oh, yeah. EBooks. Between gifts, subscription services, and purchases, there are thousands of books in my digital library for the kids to choose from. “Son,” I yelled up the stairs, “what are you reading?”
The 16 year old peeked over the railing. “Last week I read Brandon Sanderson’s newest. Yesterday I finished the entire Sherlock Holmes collection and I’ve started on Terry Pratchett.”
“So you don’t want to go to the library?”
He waved his smart phone at me. “Whatever for?”
My daughter said, “Well, I want to read The Fault in Our Stars.”
“Mom’s got it,” he replied. “Check her Amazon account.”
“I also wanted dystopian.”
“Mom’s got the Legends series.”
“I want books.”
I get where she’s coming from. There’s something about holding a book, measuring your progress through it, trying to slow down when you know the end is coming up and you war with yourself over wanting to prolong the journey as much as you want to find out what happens.
I also know that eBooks are immediately available and infinitely more portable.
At the library, I wasn’t surprised that when my daughter borrowed Legend by Marie Lu she had to put her name down on the wait-list for the next books in the series, Prodigy and Champion. It’s popular and there were four or five kids ahead of her. I also wasn’t surprised when she came to me at 11 pm asking how to download the final two books.
The desire to know what happens next crushed the book purist in her.
And now I fear I’ll have to find new excuses to make summer shave ice runs. But the kids are reading. Won’t have to finish the basement after all.
When Nels, the Kingdom of Avërand’s most eager aspiring knight, is murdered, his ghost haunts the only person in the kingdom who can see and hear him: the beautiful – but headstrong – Princess Tyra.
Together, the ghost and the princess learn that an ancient magic, called Fabrication, has prevented Nels from crossing over to the other side. Because Nels isn’t really dead – he is just unwoven.
To weave him back to life, Nels and the princess must journey to find the magic Needle of Gailner. They struggle to get along, but when secrets unravel, Nels and Tyra realize they’re the only ones who can save each other, the kingdom, and reality itself.
We are deep in the Mexican campo, far off the beaten tourist path. We’ve come to a wide place in the road that marks a small tienda, a cinderblock and corrugated tin hut that serves as the only grocery, hurricane shelter, gas station, post office, and cantina for miles around. My daughter has asked that we stop here. After a day exploring authentic Mexican ruins she wants authentic Mexican gum.
Newborn, my daughter’s skin was the color of Ivory soap; blue veins ran like lace beneath her tender knees and elbows mapping the way to her heart. Now at thirteen, she’s all legs like a colt, but unlike a colt she walks with the grace of an athlete and the unconscious entitlement of Bolshoi ballerina.
Gathered high on her head in a no-nonsense pony tail, her Nordic blond hair shimmers as she moves from the sunlit road through the doorway, cascading like molten gold down her back. She sets her sunglasses on the top of her head and pauses to let her ice blue eyes adjust to the dimness. Turning to her left, she stalks the scant aisles and shelves for interesting candy or gum.
Behind her to the right, a small brown button of a girl stands enrapt as this vision glides by like a lioness. The girl turns and furtively follows my daughter, touching what she touches, examining what she sees. I stand by the cash register, waiting. A woman old enough to be the girl’s great-grandmother putters around the counter, watching without looking.
Unaware, my daughter turns abruptly, bowling over her shadow, knocking the girl off her tiny bare feet.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” my daughter flutters, helping the girl up. She brushes the dirt from the floor off the girl’s dress and glances around for nonexistent shoes and adult supervision.
“Are you okay?” she asks.
“¿Eres un ángel?” Are you an angel, the girl whispers.
My daughter smiles. She doesn’t speak Spanish, but it’s apparent that the little girl is okay. She warmly pats her shoulder, flashes another Colgate smile, and turns her attention to the few boxes of sweets that originally caught her eye. Impatient, she flips her hair back over her shoulder. Mesmerized, the girl reaches out, but her fingers stop just shy of nestling in Rapunzel’s golden web.
Realizing her shadow is still next to her, my daughter squats on her heels so they’re near the same height. The girl drinks all this in. My daughter motions to the candy.
“Which do you like?” she asks.
The girl gravely considers her toes.
“This?” In my daughter’s hand a pineapple dances the merengue with a banana on a bright green and yellow package.
The girl glances up, then shakes her head no.
Another package. “Chocolate?”
The girl shrugs her shoulders. My daughter stands and holds the package out for me to see.
“It’s chocolate,” I say. “Probably over thin sugar wafers with vanilla crème in between.”
She nods and puts it back.
“Get what you want,” I say, “but hurry. It’s a long way back to the harbor.”
My daughter makes a pouch out of the bottom of her tee-shirt and fills it with more treats than she’ll ever eat, more than what everyone waiting in the rented van would eat. It’s an odd sampling of golden taffy, fruit chews, gum, and chocolates that she dumps on the counter.
The elderly woman raises an eyebrow. I’m sure we’ve wiped out most of her supply. She calculates and I pay; the total is less than the cost of a Coke on the cruise ship.
The shopkeeper sweeps the sweets into a brown paper bag, creases the edge, and hands it to my daughter.
“Que linda.” How beautiful, she says to me, shaking her head in pity.
“Gracias.” Thank you, I murmur, rolling my eyes. I know what she means.
At the doorway my daughter rummages through the candy and pulls out a package of gum. She refolds the bag and holds it out.
“For you,” she says, handing the rest of the treasure to her shadow. “I didn’t know what you liked. I hope there’s something in there that’s your favorite.”
The girl takes the bag and raises her arms.
“Oh, sweetheart, of course I’ll give you a hug!” My daughter bends down and wraps her arms around the girl, engulfing her in an embrace. “I’m sorry I knocked you over.”
“Angel bellisima de Dios, llévame contigo. Quiero irme al Cielo,” the girl says. Beautiful angel of God, take me with you to heaven.
“Conchie!” snaps the woman, followed by a torrent of colloquial Spanish I didn’t learn in high school.
Stung by a whip, the girl jumps back.
“Oh,” my daughter stumbles, “I—,” no longer a lion, like a gazelle she flees out the door.
“Lo siento,” sighs the woman. I’m sorry. She looks at the girl, then back at me, touching her forehead with a flick of her fingers. “Tocada.” Touched.
“No problema,” I say and walk out the door.
Back in the van my husband teases our daughter, “Just a pack of gum? Looked like you had a shirt full.”
“I bought more, but gave it to a girl. Did I do something wrong, Mom? Are they mad at me?”
“Of course not.”
She cracks the cellophane wrapper and hands the hard Chiclets out.
“I just wanted to see,” she says.
After many years of thinking of myself as a feminist, I’ve realized that I’m not. That definition has become too loaded with baggage I don’t want to carry any more. There’s a particular brand of feminism that proclaims if you’re a feminist, then you’re for everything womyn and against everything male. Modern feminist rhetoric lost me when their pendulum swung so far that it’s no longer about gender neutrality, but feminine superiority.
That’s just swapping one form of tyranny for another. If you haven’t picked-up on it yet, I have a low tolerance for bullies.
Now I absolutely support wage equality, shattering glass ceilings, and social, economic, educational, and political parity. Ain’t nobody gonna put Baby in the corner, right? So if that’s how you define feminism, preach, sister, preach.
In my head, what these ideas have in common is that they’re all about how groups of humans work and live together. I think most of us would agree that the rules, expectations, and opportunities in a secular society should be gender neutral.
However, it’s at the individual level where much of what modern feminists beat their drums over loses me, particularly when they start placing value judgments against women who choose differently than they do and claim that all differences between men and women are irrelevant. A lot of feminists groups are drawing hard lines in the sand and to my surprise some of those lines exclude me.
If being a modern feminist means fitting into a narrow definition and being anti-male, I’m going to have to pass.
Besides, some of the finest human beings I know are male. It’s not gender, it’s attitude.
Someone was pound, pound, pounding on the side door. The vicious tiny attack poodles at my feet each peeked one eye open and went back to sleep. Wow, I thought. This must really be important! I quickly hit save, then back-up, then compile, then save again on my manuscript before dashing madly to the door.
A gas leak? A house on fire? Girl Scouts with cookies to sell? I flung open the door ready for anything except a wall of raging tie-dye waving a summons in my face.
“You’re taking me to court?!” the mountain thundered.
“Oh, hi Johnny. Welcome to the Parker Hale. It’s not nearly as grand as the Blog Mansion, but we like it.”
“Court! Over some dry-cleaning and an ER bill.” Johnny Worthen, author extraordinaire of Beatrysel and Eleanor, the Unseen was huffing and puffing like the Big Bad Wolf in acid-laced Technicolor.
“What?” I grabbed the papers and quickly scanned them. “Oh, good. They did include the costs of the rabies shots. How’s Morey The Eel?”
“When my lawyer Sammy ‘Light Finger’ Calzone gets through with you, you won’t have a coconut to crack!” Johnny snarled.
I smiled. “I really liked Eleanor, the Unseen.”
Like water on the Wicked Witch, Johnny melted. “You did?” he breathed.
“Yep.” I opened the door wider. “Wanna come in and talk about it?”
On the back deck I cracked open a couple of Diet Cokes and poured them over ice.
“What? No bourbon?” Johnny sulked.
I waved my hand over his glass. “Tah-dah! Now it’s bourbon.”
He sniffed it. “It’s still soda. You can’t do that. You’re not magic!”
“Says the guy who just sniffed his drink. We’re authors, Johnny. It’s all about suspending disbelief. In Eleanor you create a creature that’s not what she seems. Parts of her transformation are rooted in modern physics—endothermic, mass conservation, and the like—while other parts are more mystical—tasting, shifting, mimicking, and hints about Native American lore. She’s not quite one thing or another. How did you go about creating her?”
The power of metaphor, the energy of symbol, and a web of imagination. I wanted to embody the idea of potential radical change, put it within the most vulnerable creature I could imagine and make it all believable.
Eleanor, The Unseen, is a paranormal story, which suggests that something ain’t right in it, but I wanted that something to be natural as opposed to supernatural. I based it on legends for historical grounding. Every culture I know has some kind of folktale about a shapeshifter, be it the werewolves of Transylvania, the Skinwalkers of the Navajo, or the Nimirika among the Shoshone. I approached that paranormal element within Eleanor from the idea that all these stories were right but wrong at the same time. These ancient peoples all witnessed the same thing, event, creature, what have you, but they didn’t understand it. Their descriptions are full of fear and superstition and prejudice (a theme in the series) but what they have in common, a brush with something unusual, marvelous and scary, was right on point. There is a predator in their midst. The suggestion becomes then that the paranormal element in the story is old and familiar to mankind, but forgotten and dismissed because it is so rare and unstudied.
I wanted the miracle to be metaphor and symbol, a complication and not the story itself. The story is Eleanor, her tale, her trials as the ultimate outsider hiding in plain sight. She is a soup of contradictions, lost but found, loved but lonely, malleable but fixed, struggling with who she is, what she might be, and afraid of her own powers in the face of tragedy and hope. To compound the metaphor, it’s placed at that time of life when young people become young adults and grow into what they are to be, those awkward socializing high school days. Eleanor is an exaggeration of the growing up, trying to fit in while being different.
Finally, keeping with the theme of change, I needed Eleanor’s to hurt. Change is painful and her wonderful “gift” has costs — terrible, painful, frightening costs. It’s not easy. It is not quick. She becomes helpless. And she is a slave to it. Thus is change. Change is not easy. Also, I think this simple symmetry of cost and benefit help to sell the concept and make it easier for the reader to suspend their disbelief and concentrate on the story.
While Eleanor prefers to hide rather than fight, she will when her back’s against a wall. Do you think most bullied people are that way? Is there a snapping point?
Bullying is a social interaction that extends far beyond the microcosmic high school experience. It’s a hierarchical thing, alpha males and females rising to the top of the herd by beating others down. I see it as a symptom of insecure people trying to gain some control over their lives. It’s hard to pity them, but in the wide shots, you can and I try to.
The idea of fighting back is a tricky one for Eleanor. Her snapping point has less to do with what her bullies are doing to her than it does with her change of perception of her own worth and her future. She admits to herself that she’s becoming reckless, fighting back when she’d always retreated before because at that point in the book, she has something to fight back for. She has hope. Most people would snap after a long history of abuse, a final straw thing, but for Eleanor it’s an awakening inside her, a new idea of self-worth brought on by the simple affection of a single friend. When survival is no longer enough, the timid become bold.
There’s a whole cannon of literary work about young girls transitioning from victim to victor, everything from Stephen King’s Carrie to Alice Walker’s The Color Purple to Jerry Spinelli’s Stargirl. How does Eleanor add to the empowerment conversation?
There is a lot of Carrie in Eleanor, I admit that. The similarities struck me as I wrote my book, but there are important and fundamental differences between King’s story and mine: his is horror. Mine is a fable.
I don’t think Eleanor is a victor over her bullies. They are trials that shape her, complications that vex her, metaphor for an intolerant society but they are just some among the many troubles Eleanor faces. Because Eleanor has lived in fear her entire life and was forced to hide, she is fearful and passive. She reacts as a frightened animal might. Her achievements then, not to give too much away, are to take control of her life and become an active player in its events. It’s the difference between being a scavenger and a hunter.
It is a complicated dynamic, the bullies and Eleanor, and not to give too big a tease, but it is explored in depth, passionately and lovingly, over the length of the series.
While many readers will focus on the developing love story between Eleanor and David, the love story that caught my heart was the relationship between Eleanor and her mother, Tabitha. Tell me about how this theme came about.
Yes. Absolutely. The original title for the book was not Eleanor, but Tabitha. The series was to be called Eleanor, but editors and publishers wanted Eleanor so Tabitha, Eleanor Book 1, become Eleanor, The Unseen Book 1. Whatcha’ gunna to do? But so central was Tabitha to the book that she was in fact meant to be the title character.
The relationship between Eleanor and Tabitha is central to the book: two women, vulnerable and alone, broken and lost coming together, saving each other. It is a powerful symbol of love and acceptance, joy without conditions. The best of humanity – a mother’s love. It is healing among death, growth during decay, the future from the past. Tabitha is the teacher and Eleanor the student and what is taught is the best our species has to offer.
I channeled my own grandmother into Tabitha, and other friends and family. I took from them the best I’ve seen in people facing the worst; the nobility and affection, strength during weakness, joy during pain. Tabitha’s very personal to me.
Give me the links so readers can find you.
Kirkus Review of Eleanor, the Unseen
Twitter: Twitter @JohnnyWorthen
Any upcoming events? Just in case I need to serve you new papers.
Upcoming events? Serving papers? Well, uhm, I’ll be at the “Process Server Lynching” on the 19th and the “Frivolous Lawsuit Retribution Society” meeting, gun sale and barbeque on the 5th. Don’t forget the “How to Poison Your Neighbors” workshop on the 8th. I’ll be presenting.
Otherwise check out my events page.
And make sure you come out to the Eleanor, The Unseen Book Launch on the 28th of June at Barnes & Noble in Sugarhouse. 12:00-3:00.
Johnny leaned back in his chair and drained his glass. “Well, you got me all talkative about Eleanor, The Unseen. I love that book. It’s deeply personal. My grandmother is in Tabitha; Eleanor is the daughter I never had. The issues are as deep to me as the marrow in my bones. Now, where was I? Oh, yeah. You still owe me for Morey The Eel’s rabies shots.”
I waved my hand over a cocktail napkin. “Here you go. Paid in full.”
Links to my visit to Johnny Worthen’s Blog Mansion
“But Lehua, where is your Christian charity? We should welcome everyone with open arms. You’re judging and that’s wrong.”
Or words to that effect. It’s a PG blog after all.
Charity is something I take very seriously. I feel that as someone who has been given much, I have a responsibility to give back in continuous and significant ways. I give generously not only in money and goods, but in time as well. And unlike many of the people who disagree with me, I’ve also traveled enough to know what real need looks like. This isn’t it.
To the Christian (or Muslim or Jewish or Buddhist or Flying Spaghetti Monster) charity proponents, I’d like to point out that the Rainbow Family is composed of people who are choosing to come here and break the law by camping longer than anyone else is permitted to and without paying required fees or even providing for modern sanitation services. These are not people fleeing a natural disaster, military coup, or economic downturn. These are not down on their luck, brother can you spare a dime panhandlers. Regardless of whether or not you believe in their message of peace, love, and dubious hygiene, they are lawbreakers amassing in a number that allows them to act this way.
We have another name for people who think they are special like this: bullies.
Funny, we spend a lot of time and energy teaching children that bullying behavior is wrong. We tell them that it’s not okay to simply take what they want. We teach them to take responsibility for their actions, to think of others, and to understand that might does not make right. To do other than this is to act as a selfish elitist.
No matter how much the Rainbow Family preaches love, tolerance, and acceptance, by their actions you know them for what they truly are: bullies.
I’m not going to welcome them and encourage this behavior. It’s the equivalent of telling a child that it’s okay that the bully takes his lunch money. He needs it.
That’s not charity. That’s victimhood.
I’m calling a bully a bully, and if that makes me uncharitable in your opinion, fine. Don’t expect me to be handing out sandwiches or spare change or giving away blankets or coats this summer to the panhandlers who have already hit me up.
I’m giving my charity to people who really need it.
I’d always assumed if I was paying for a party, I’d at least get to pick the guest list.
I am soooo tired of special.
This year, the Rainbow Family has chosen Uintah National Forest for their annual gathering. It’s a pristine chunk of federal land that starts just a few miles from my front door. It’s breathtakingly beautiful up there. Being so close, I’d always wished I could park my camper in a prime location and run back and forth all summer long, but there are laws that don’t allow camping in one spot for more than 14 days. Rangers keep track of who’s camping where and if you’re out fishing or hiking when they stop by, they’ll thoughtfully leave notes telling you how many more days you can stay. To camp in the Uintahs all summer, you have to break camp and move at least five miles every 14 days. That way everyone gets a chance to enjoy the area.
Unless you’re the Rainbow Family.
You see, they’re special. The rules don’t apply to them.
Let me tell you a little bit about the Rainbow Family. They claim to have no leader or leadership; if you have a bellybutton, you’re in. Call them counter-culture, hippies, or alternative life-stylers, nobody applies or signs a permit, pays a fee, or is accountable for the group’s actions. Through magical group consensus—maybe it’s a homing instinct—a place for their annual gathering is selected about two weeks before the big shindig. You know your town’s the gathering place when they start showing up. The media takes care of the rest of the invitations.
In 2014 the only town near their gathering place is my town, a rural high-desert valley community of 12,000 residents misnamed Heber City. Heber’s small enough that the tellers at the bank, checkers at the grocery store, waiters at the diner, and the guy who takes the movie tickets know me well enough on sight to ask how my daughter’s soccer team is doing. We’re also remote; our nearest neighboring towns are 30 minutes away in different directions through winding canyons at freeway speeds. We’ve learned to watch out for deer, elk, and the occasional moose crossing.
Living on the outskirts of Heber on the main road to the Uintah National Forest, my neighbors and I have never locked our doors. Seriously. When the sheriff told us we had to start locking up our houses, sheds, garages, and barns because Rainbows are opportunists, we all had to run 25 miles to the nearest Home Depot. In my case after 15 years, we couldn’t find a key. Many of our garages and sheds don’t have closing doors. Hell, half the cars and pick-ups in the valley are left unlocked with the keys in the ignition. Yes, Virginia, there really is a place like this in 2014 America.
Conservative estimates think we’ll get 10,000 to 15,000 Rainbow Family members, although they admit some gatherings have been as high as 30,000. The big event is July 4th with most arriving before July 1st and staying through July 7th , but some stay all summer. The Rainbow Family Council started showing up mid-June and selected their main campsite June 15th. Like busy beavers, they’ve been setting up satellite camps since.
June 15th to July 1st to July 7th to…wait a minute…
But it’s okay. They’re really nice people with just a few bad apples giving the group a bad name; we know because they say so.
I’m calling shibai. Here’s the real deal.
The Rainbow Family has held yearly gatherings since the early 1970s. They are fully aware of their impact on small communities—in fact, so aware that they target them. Like modern day locusts, they descend waving flags of free speech, the right to assemble, and freedom of religion while thumbing their noses at laws that govern the rest of us. They gather in such large numbers with no advanced warning that communities are overwhelmed. They camp on federal land which is under Federal, not local jurisdiction. The only way to enforce the laws already in place is to send in the National Guard to root them out. No Fed wants pictures of flower-wielding, kumbaya-singing hippies forced at gunpoint to break camp splashed across the news. So the Federal attitude is live and let live. Besides it’s not like they’re camping on the steps of the White House.
As hopping mad as we get, Heber City’s 12,000 tax paying residents simply do not carry much juice with the Feds. We’re not even a rounding error in their calculations.
Heber City and Wasatch County taxpayers will be left picking up the tab for everything from the trash Rainbows leave behind—I don’t care if they claim to bag it all up, somebody at some point is going to have to haul it out of the mountains and pay to put it in a landfill—to the overtime cost for EMT, police, fire, and all the other civil services needed to manage a double or tripling of our population. Of course, there’re also softer costs like vandalism, petty theft, theft of services, unpaid hospital visits, and drains on the local food pantry and disaster relief services. Rainbows are quick to point out that local business benefit from their arrival, but the math doesn’t add up. Previous Rainbow Gatherings have left behind bills of more than $500,000 in services alone—that’s more than $4,000 per resident in Heber City—bankrupting already thin county coffers. This is not an exaggeration. During last year’s gathering in Montana the governor issued a state of emergency to help defray the fiscal impact. Look it up.
And the Rainbow Family knows this.
And they don’t care.
So don’t tell me how wonderful they are. Really wonderful people pass the magic hat and pony up impact fees, group permits, stay no more than fourteen days, and pay for porta-potties instead of digging slit latrines. Yeah, that’s right. Their waste management plan is slit latrines and campfire ash. Don’t even think about the fact that a human creates about .8 lbs. of solid waste a day. With 15,000 people, that’s about six tons per day. In pristine wilderness. A day.
But I have to give them credit. Next time I want to camp on federal land all summer and dump my black water into a slit latrine instead of hauling it to a sewage treatment facility, I’ll just tell the Ranger I’m with the Rainbow Family.
After all, I have a bellybutton, too.