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Paul Andersen: Fair Game

Paul Andersen
The Aspen Times
Aspen CO, Colorado

He’s an old hippie and he don’t know what to do/Should he hang on to the old/Should he grab on to the new/He’s an old hippie…

Jay wore a long, gray ponytail. He told me he played bass guitar in rock bands for 30 years and made some good money back in the day. “I saw a lot of drunks,” he mused, describing road shows in bars and ballrooms from Oklahoma to Canada.

Today, Jay sells on eBay and says he’s posted more than a 100,000 items he picks up at yard sales, garage sales, estate sales. Mostly, he hangs out in Cedaredge, where he lives. He plays his bass, solo, now. “There’s nobody there to jam with,” he shrugs.

I met Jay last weekend at the Paonia Harvest Festival in a city park shaded by enormous maples, catalpas and elms, where folk and bluegrass music floated lightly on the sweet autumnal air. The vibe was very mellow ” people strolling, kids playing, dogs romping ” a safe haven in rural western America.

Local artisans displayed their wares ” pottery, weaving, paintings. Don, whose wavy gray/blond hair flowed from beneath a wide-brimmed canvas hat, hung wooden racks with skins and furs.

“I came through here a few years ago, liked the feel of the place and moved here five months ago,” Don explained. He describes himself now as a “local” who has blended into a community of farmers, ranchers and miners. Like most of the harvest celebrants, Don is following a different path than the one that runs through mainstream America.

…So he grows a little garden in the back yard by the fence/He’s consuming what he’s growing nowadays in self-defense/He’s an old hippie…

The mood in Paonia was most pleasant as I sat in the shade of a silver maple reading Thoreau’s “Walden” and munching a crisp, juicy jonathan from a large wooden bin marked: “Free Local Apples.” It was the homiest, most relaxed I’ve felt in a long time ” communing with nature, enjoying musical harmony and occasionally bumping into an old friend.

“I remember you,” said a woman from Crested Butte I had known 30 years ago. “I remember when you used to have long hair,” she said. “I remember when I had hair,” I conceded, and we laughed. Call me a sentimental, old fool, but what I felt at the harvest festival was a long-overdue homecoming.

…And he dreams at night of Woodstock and the day John Lennon died/How the music made him happy and the silence made him cry/He’s an old hippie…

A tune came to mind, recorded by The Bellamy Brothers. “Old Hippie” describes a lost generation born of the turbulent ’60s who lived large in the ’70s, weathered the ’80s, endured the ’90s, and now struggles to cope with the new millennium.

Gathered in the park were the people I used to know, not personally necessarily, but as a type. They make quick friendships that go deep in a matter of minutes. They share the idealistic hopes of peace and love and growing their own food in a natural, healthy place. They are like Thoreau, whose book I carried around with me like a bible.

Thoreau advocated a life of deep meaning and lofty values far above the often pointless scrabbling for material gain. “To love wisdom according to its dictates,” he wrote, “through a life of simplicity, independence, magnanimity and trust…”

Middle-aged, now, and sadder but wiser, some of the old hippies still wear their hair braided or banded or falling about their shoulders. The women drape themselves with layers of leggings, skirts and long, billowing blouses. Their hair is plaited, free flowing or twisted into ropes.

Old hippies strolled around the festival with a curious blend of calm and curiosity, as if waking from a Rip Van Winkle slumber. They smiled as if sharing a secret and said, “Hello in there … hello.”

…Him and his kind get more endangered everyday/And pretty soon the species will just up and fade away/He’s an old hippie…


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