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Out in the Woods, Nonconformists Gather

An eccentric is defined as a person who deviates from accepted conduct. Nonconformists have achieved greatness in many fields, but many of us remain wary of those who seem odd, extreme, perhaps disturbed or even dangerous.

We think of eccentrics as loners. Yet a recent news dispatch from the western state of Wyoming reported that about 400 members of what was described as a loose affiliation of eccentrics called the Rainbow Family threw rocks and sticks at federal officers who were trying to arrest one of the group.

Once a year this loose affiliation of eccentrics chooses a forest, somewhere in America, in which to camp for a week. This year, 7,000 eccentrics were said to have pitched tents on Forest Service land in the Wyoming mountains.

Disconnected mavericks though they may be, these Rainbow Family persons have managed to put together a website, which begins thusly: "Some say we're the largest non-organization of non-members in the world. We have no leaders, and no organization." Yet, the description continues, these non-members in the non-organization do think alike about alternative lifestyles, non-violence, and peace and love. They're in favor of them, just as another loosely affiliated group of eccentrics called hippies were 40 years ago.

Uncomfortable though we are with eccentrics, Americans seem to tolerate them and sometimes admire their idealism. Several years ago, for instance, the refined New York Philharmonic orchestra staged a whole festival to salute American musical nonconformists described as solitary minds heartened by each other's work. The festival was entitled, The American Eccentrics.