Monday, September 19, 2011

Peace, Love, Freedom and Whose Happiness?

Shea calls herself a hippie.

An honest to goodness, 2011 hippie. Not a vestige of the '60s. But a 38-year-old free-spirit  whose sooty overalls smell of yesterday's campfire and whose smile exudes joy.

She says she and her boyfriend, Clay, hang with the Rainbow Family. And they wander the US in a beaten-up Ford, towing  their life behind them -- clothes,  books, pots and pans stuffed in an open-bed trailer. They meet up with friends in national forests, where their "happenings" are called "gatherings." They're intentionally homeless. Free. Unfettered.

And I'm envious. Just like I was when I was a teen, when the first hippie movement swept through my life. I wanted that peace, love, freedom, happiness. And I mimicked the look, wearing tied-died T-shirts, beads, moccasins, bell bottoms. And flowers in my hair.

So I sit with Shea, the woman I wish I was,  gleaning tales about the life I think I want.

She tells me about the thousands who meet up in the woods. The organized chaos. The mass feedings (she's part of the cook detail) and the intentional cleanings (leave the Earth unharmed.) They sing, dance. Laugh. Enjoy the freedom of an unfettered life.

Yes. Yes. I love it. Life should be this way.

But how do you pay for this freedom?

Between here and there, she says, she begs money for gas and food at street corners,  "flying signs" (holding signs asking for money) or "bustin" (singing or playing music.). She (well, her boyfriend)  has food stamps. They visit soup kitchens, food pantries and even attend some church services, where Christians pay them in gas vouchers to listen to the message of salvation.


They work the welfare system. To finance their freedom to live an unfettered life.

My enthusiasm pales.

So, I ask, why are you here? In quaint Streeter Park, a free city campground in straight-laced Aurora, Neb.  Hundreds of miles and attitudes from a "gathering."

She's stuck here, she says, because her  boyfriend is in jail. 

Ah, I think to myself. Just like the first-generation hippies, this one tousles with the law.

She says the cops  pulled them over for a busted blinker. Then nabbed Clay on  a weapons charge because his licensed handgun was under the seat, not out in plain view.
Later, while I'm back at my campsite having lunch, I see the cops pull up to Shea's and claw through her stuff in the trailer. (Pic at left)

They were looking for drugs, she tells me when I return (with a food donation for her). They're convinced she's dealing. She laughs at the thought.

She concedes drug use threads through the Rainbow Family life. But not sales.

Oh. Drugs. My enthusiasm dims. I don't like drugs.

And then her cell phone rings. And it's her 16-yer-old daughter. Wondering is Mom's safe. Is Mom OK? When is Mom coming to see her?

My envy flatlines.

And after 40 years, I finally learn the hippie life is not for me. Unfettered. Yes. But it is not free. Others pay. Some dearly.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hey, You Never Know!

We've just returned from the wilds of Wyoming.


We drove the Pilot Butte Wild Horse Scenic Drive, looping from Green River to Rock Springs. The dirt trail climbs up and around 50 miles through the White Mountains, where 2,500 horses run free.

We saw eight.

But those eight run free, across remote buttes and through canyons. Without fences. In Wyoming's wide open spaces. At one point, we looked out upon on an area cradled by three mountain ranges. A sign said Massachusetts would fit on this land, as far as we could see. That's how big it is. And wide open.

Not once did we think about safety.

Before heading out this morning, I read warnings (but didn't heed them) about the desolation of the place we were headed. Take plenty of water. We didn't. Tell someone where you are going. We didn't. Be sure to have a full tank of gas. Did we? And remember, there's no cell service.

None of these precautions seemed relevant. Over the past several months, we've explored intense wilderness in British Columbia, Yukon and Alaska. How dangerous could it be to drive a 50-miles loop from busy Interstate 80?

No problem. We finished the scenic, magnificent drive without delay.

Now we're at McDonalds in Rock Springs, needing to use wifi and get directions to the nearest post office. I see a young woman, maybe 22, sitting at a back booth cruising the Internet. So I ask: "Excuse me. Can you tell me where the post office is?"

She looks up from her computer and grins. "Don't trust my directions," she says. "I just got lost out by Boar's Tusk. For 12 hours!"

We saw Boar's Tusk on our little adventure. It's like Devil's Tower, only a bit smaller. Rumor has it you can find  diamonds  there. And that's what interested Britta (she tells me her name). She's a rock hound. And went 12 miles out from busy I-80 into the "wilds" of Wyoming's high desert to hunt for diamonds. And  got stuck in the sand.

For 12 hours.

No one drove past her. There's no cell service. She told no one where she was headed. Her gas tank was full. But it did her no good stuck in the sand.  She had a bottle of water.  And prayer. "I kept praying that God would tell my husband where I was. I kept repeating Boar's Tusk, Boar's Tusk, over and over." That sustained her for 12 hours, when a Search-and-Rescue team appeared.

It was her husband, she said,  who called the police and suggested she'd gone to Boar's Tusk. He'd heard God's voice, but called it a hunch. And it paid off.

So she's safe now, sipping soda at McDonalds, checking out sites to dig for her treasures.

And next time, she says, she'll heed those safety warnings and leave a note behind. Take more water and some food.  And perhaps, she winked, we should, too.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A High Desert Serenade

I'm at Buckboard Campground, 25 miles from nowhere in Wyoming, staring at a high desert sky so close I can smell it.

Across the horizon, I see mountains and buttes and a landscape polka-dotted by yellow and silver sagebrush.

It's still out here. Nothing moves, except jackrabbits.

A breeze kicks up. I hear leaves quiver.

Allen works on his bike and I'm sitting in the shade, reading.

I'm thinking it doesn't get much better than this.

When  "Heheheheheheee wipe oooout!" The Beach Boys? They're so loud, the drum solo thuds in my chest. Where is it coming from? Who cranks up music in the desert?

Allen and I look at each other. And we figure it must be a fellow camper a little too enthusiastic about rock 'n roll. Disturbing my peace.

I stand up and scan, looking for the soure of our concert. And I see just one motorhome in the midst of the music. So I leash up my dog to take a walk to find out what's what. As I walk, the Beatles join me in this dusty place. And the Eagles, too, welcoming me to "Hotel California." 

As I near what I think is the out-of-control music lover, I find the source. It's not a selfish camper at all. The strains waft from a marina about a mile away, next to the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. There's a bar-be-cue, I learn, for anglers in competition to raise money to support research into Down Syndrome. And it might go on for hours.

Nice cause. But hours?

Well, it could be worse. At least the music's not awful. Just out of place. Out of sync with reality. So we decide to ride our bikes, out into the desert.

I'm thinking we can get away from it out there. And recapture the bliss.

But it follows us. This concert. As we pedal along a dirt trail through the desert, past yellow and gray sagebrush, as the sun drops behind the mesa, turning the sky a brilliant red, orange and Prussian blue, we do so to a classic rock soundtrack. Like we're in our own personal movie.

And, oddly, I'm no longer bothered. Instead, I'm thinking, it doesn't get much better than this. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Jacob Goes For A Hunt

We're taking a nap and I hear what I think is someone stealing my bicycle.

I raise up, peek out the window and see my bike, just sitting there, surrounded by  Wyoming's high desert (See the pic? That's our view).

We're pretty isolated here, about 25 miles south of Green River, WY,  in Buckboard Crossing Campground. I doubt a crook's anywhere nearby.

Oh well. Must have been a dream. I'm awake now. So I get up. And feel an eerie emptiness in the motorhome.

Because they are gone.

My dogs, my giant standard poodles. My babies! Are both gone.

Th door is wide open (that's what I heard ... the door opening) and my dogs escaped.

I don't panic.

I'm sure Joshua, our good boy, is near. Jacob, our hunter, our runner, is Milwaukee already (joking), so there's no sense in me running.

I grab Jacob' leash (joshua doesn't need one) and head out the door to hunt for them. And, amazingly, they're both nearby. And both come running to greet me. Wow. Jacob's not running away! Jacob's not hunting! Jacob's trotting merrily back to see me.

He's so happy to see me. Maybe he's changed?

For the next two days, we give Jacob freedom. And he's such a good boy. He stays right with us. He doesn't hunt. He doesn't run.

Until Day Three.

Allen opens the door to take the trash out and Jacob leaps LEAPS out, and runs RUNS deep into the desert. He' gone. Out of sight. Just disappeared, where scorpions and rattlesnakes live, where coyotes howl. Oh my. Jacob's GONE!

I grab his leash, run outside and start to call. JACOB! JACOB! JACOB!

A fellow camper stops. 

"Are you looking for a black dog?"

"YES!" I say.

"He's across the road. Chasing a herd of pronghorn deer."

A whole herd? JACOB!

I jump in the car and drive back and forth along the road, looking for my dog, his deer or even a suspicious cloud of dust.  Instead,  I see a flash of black down by the marina. JACOB!

I zip down. Jacob sees me and a jackrabbit. And he's OFF, chasing that rabbit! And I chase them. In my car.  Over ruts and across brambles. In the high desert. JACOB!

Then, I see Allen, on his bicycle, circling around to the left. I'm on the right. Jacob's in the middle. He stops. We got 'em. But ZOOM! He's off!

Oh, this is a bad doggie.

He stays 10 feet ahead and refuses to even look our way.  He runs up hills, down the street , leaps over ravines and chases a whole warren of jackrabbits.

And then SPLASH! He goes for a swim in the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. JACOB!!

But AHA! Allen's set for the catch. Jacob comes out of the water the same way he went in. And Allen gabs him by the collar, hands him off to me, and I stuff him in the front seat of our little car (he's never been in the front; his head touches the ceiling). He' dripping wet. Out of breath. But, wait, is he grinning?

At home, he sleeps for hours and awakens with a limp. But he's not sad. Instead, I see that grin again. And think maybe he's thinking about the hunt, the excitement of a swim and the thrill of a front-seat ride home.