Even in Utopia, shit happens. Take, for instance, the Oregon Country Fair, that vaunted Northwest gathering of boho spirits and fandango oglers, where the freak flag is flown as a testament to some netherworld normalcy. Even here, at peace-loving OCF, where the ’60s spirit of freedom, expression and communal OK-ness reigns in benevolent wooded anarchy, it might happen that you step on a bumblebee, sprain an ankle or suffer some kind of respiratory distress. It’s all fun and games until you forget your insulin.
Enter Rock Medicine, the festival wing of White Bird Clinic that brings its medical and social services to the carnival atmosphere of the Fair. A nonprofit human services agency based in Eugene, White Bird has been a presence at Oregon Country Fair for the past 43 years. Essentially, White Bird and OCF have grown up together as “stepchildren of the ’60s,” Clinic Coordinator Chuck Gerard says.
“It had to do with the ’60s and what was going on contextually at the time, the spirit of the community and in our case, trying to address some social issues,” Gerard says, noting that what started back in the day as first aid response has grown to a fully staffed and efficient hospital and ER facility. “We’re pretty wired in,” he adds.
White Bird has established close ties with such agencies as Lane Rural and Fire District One, Eugene EMS and Central Lane Communications, which runs 911 response. Bringing in a volunteer staff of 160 or so workers before, during and after the fair, White Bird’s Rock Medicine wing runs the central hospital by the Main Stage as well as an outpost by the Fair’s front booth. There are also as many as five roving response teams out working the crowds at any one time, people capable of handling what Gerard calls “either side of the issue,” be it medical or mental.
“Often if there’s an incident, other people are affected,” Gerard points out, noting that crews are trained to handle everything from freak-outs to foot problems. “Anything from minor care to full emergency response to transport to the hospital,” is how Gerard puts it.
The Fair is one of White Bird’s biggest fundraisers of the year, and here’s how it works: The organization charges OCF for its services, but because everyone on staff volunteers their time, that money goes to fund White Bird’s work throughout the community for the rest of the year. “The staff loves the work, loves the Fair and loves the idea that we’re contributing to White Bird operations for the year,” Gerard says.
“White Bird and Country Fair are all about intentional community,” he goes on. “It means a lot to us. We think the fair is how we should be living, out on the land with just handmade things, where health care is a right, not a privilege.”