YAKIMA Marie Hanson made a spur-of-the moment decision last month to attend a "peace rally" in a remote Washington forest, after her neighbors told her they had an extra seat in the car.
Her family hasn't heard from her since.
The South Lake Tahoe, Calif. woman isn't the first to go missing during the annual gathering of the Rainbow Family of Living Light, a counter-culture group that prays for world peace by the thousands each July 4. Except that Hanson is hardly your stereotypical hippie.
A 54-year-old grandmother of two who cares for her disabled husband, Billy, Hanson had never attended the event before. And unlike the teenage runaways who eventually turn up when the gatherings end, Hanson is still missing nearly five weeks later.
Authorities call her case unusual. They say they're doing all they can to aid the search, but aren't ruling out that Hanson simply opted to follow the rainbow trail to the next hippie-fest.
Impossible, her family says.
"She would never do this to her family," said Nancy Enterline, whose son Tim is married to Hanson's daughter, Tawny. The couple has two children, ages 5 and 10.
"She talked to her daughter every day. She's been a couple with her husband since she was 16 years old," Enterline said. "Marie was very involved with her grandchildren's lives. She's the grandma who's there every day for them. And she has not called them."
Borne out of the `60s counterculture movement, the Rainbow Family is a loose gathering of peace activists who gather each July in a national forest. The weeklong event culminates July 4 with a circle to pray for world peace.
Rainbows cook for each other, passing a "magic hat" for contributions to pay for supplies. Otherwise no money is exchanged, and members trade for things they need while camping. They also generally police themselves, only calling in authorities when absolutely necessary.
This year, the 40th annual gathering was held in Washington's Gifford Pinchot National Forest, about 60 miles northeast of Portland, Ore. News of the event traveled by word of mouth. Everyone was welcome to Skookum Meadow, a lush green space still soggy from melting winter snow.
On July 1, Hanson's neighbors told her they had an extra seat in their car for the ride to the gathering. She had never attended but spontaneously decided to go, telling her family she was going to a "peace rally" and that she'd be back July 10. She called the next day, July 2, with word that she was almost there and she was excited.
"I don't think she knew what she was getting herself into," said her daughter, Tawny Enterline, 29. "This thing was huge."
An estimated 10,000 to 20,000 people attended this year's gathering. Every day, authorities searched for people reported missing -- runaway teens and others who simply failed to check in with loved ones back home.
Hanson's family reported her missing July 9, after the neighbors called and said they had not seen her for days. All of her belongings were left in her tent, including her purse and medicine for pain following back surgery.
Also in the tent: a handcrafted doll for her granddaughter and a trinket for her grandson. She had traded for them as gifts.
"We don't even know that we have a crime at this point," South Lake Tahoe Police Detective Jeff Roberson said. "I'm not going to preclude the possibility that she's out hitchhiking around the country, but as time goes on, our concern becomes greater. This is not her normal course of behavior."
Hanson's family fears she may have been a victim of foul play. But investigating that is difficult when most of the people who attend these events go by nicknames, shy away from interaction with police and often use drugs.
Some reported seeing Hanson last with a man known only as "Owl." Turns out, there are more than a dozen known Owls in the Rainbow Family and no leads have panned out.
Hanson has been entered into a federal missing persons database.
Rainbow Family members who remained at the sight cooperated fully during the search and rescue efforts, said Detective Tim Garrity of the Skamania County, Wash. Sheriff's Office. With no leads to follow, though, it's hard to know if Hanson is still in the area, he said.
Rob Savoye, a computer programmer who has attended gatherings for 32 years, said Rainbows are actively digging for information to try to help the cause.
"We all hope in the long run she's OK," he said in an email. "While I don't want to make this sound less serious than it is for Marie's family, it is not exactly rare for people to go to the annual Rainbow Gathering and decide to spontaneously go on the `rainbow trail."'
Tawny Enterline isn't buying it, and she fears she may have sparked her mother's recent sense of adventure. A week or two earlier, Enterline had teased her mother about never having visited New York when the family flew to the East Coast for her brother's wedding.
Billy Hanson questioned his wife about her sudden interest in camping before she left.
"She said, `I've never done anything like this before, and I'm not dead yet, so I'm going to try it out,"' Enterline said. "That hurt me. I feel a little at fault for all of this."