Author's note: My intention here is not GTKY, it's to make a point that happens to involve a bit of personal history. (Sorry, none of it's quite blackmail-grade.) No fair ignoring my thesis and reading it as a story about my upbringing.
I am proud to call myself a Second Generation Hippie, but you need to understand my lineage to really grok what I mean. The braid down my back ain't all there is to me, and I've never inhaled a single lungful of dope (Well, except the unavoidable secondhand stuff at concerts and such.)
Maybe it's the cold winters, or maybe it's the abundant supply of Scandahoovian dairy farmers providing a cultural counterbalance, or perhaps we just got lucky when the gene pool settled out, but the area of rural Wisconsin I was raised in seems to produce a hardier breed of hippie than most places can claim.
The rural hippie is, of course, an entirely different creature from the soft-handed, stoner-giggling city type. Urban hippies have been well-roasted in other nodes, so I will restrict myself to one example: Go look at your local head shop. The Third Eye in my fair city of Portland, Oregon is a prime example, with an exterior covered in a psychedelic mural that features magic mushrooms, vines and an absurd centerpiece in the form of a tree frog hanging off a green stalk that seems to be suggesting all at once a grass stem or large fern, a phallus, and a guitar neck.
That mural is, in a nutshell, what is wrong with most hippies. I encourage everyone to paint as many vine-laden murals as they like, but not until they've spent a day pulling vines off a tractor that's been parked for ten years.
When you go back to the land, you learn fast what your redneck neighbors have known since they were three years old: there is no such thing as a part-time Simple Life. Either you work, hard, to make what you need, or you move back to town, find a job, and pay someone else to bring you the things you thought you were going to "provide for yourself." Or, I suppose, you stay in the woods and sell weed to all the city hippies who didn't want to risk their paisley peasant blouses (blice? bloose?) in the brambles and grease of a real peasant's life.
The hippie who aquires this work ethic early will survive and thrive. Solar power and organic farming were made ready for the masses by backwoods idealists who went to bed with sore backs every night. Patchouli and crystal power were popularized by idealists whose new-age impulses weren't tempered with enough shit-shoveling.
My parents are back-to-the-landers who outstayed the various waves of dabblers to become lifelong practitioners of the lifestyle they call "voluntary simplicity," "scrounging," "the good life," "voluntary squalor," "real" or any of several other epithets —my mother fills in "peasant" as her occupation on tax forms. Like most of their friends, they're ensconced in a perpetually unfinished house at the end of a long washed-out gravel driveway, growing all the vegetables they eat and collecting rusty junk faster than an electromagnet in a blacksmith's shop.
The place my parents and their various long-haired friends settled is in a county still running at the deliberate pace of a farming town, but a mere hour and a half from the urban rat race of Minneapolis. Thus, after the requisite failed commune, bankrupt food co-op, and string of abandoned farmhouses rented for the fixing, migrant nature children had two options:
This is the world I grew up in. A party* full of "hippies" could be any mix ranging from potters, musicians and weavers to farriers, gardeners and mechanics. Someone was bound to show up in their work clothes, be they paint-splattered or manure-soaked, and as often as not it was me and my dad, dropping in on the way home from a windmill repair job.
That's why I own a paisley bathrobe, some tie dye, a lot of silk shirts, and a selection of greasy t-shirts, blue polyester janitor pants, and a feedcap so disgustingly filthy I wouldn't pick it up to wipe my hands on. I live in both worlds, I'm a hippie in both worlds, and I like it that way.
* I should add that these parties, while usually well-stocked with beer, never seemed to have that overwhelming stench of the sacred herb that you're probably imagining. I guess even old hippies clean up their act at the parties they take the kids to.