Hippies are annoying and filthy creatures, but you’ve got to hand it to them: behind all the patchouli and Grateful Dead bootlegs, they’re a resourceful lot.
A Canadian couple in British Columbia, Catherine King and Wayne Adams, have been living for nearly three decades on a floating, man-made island off the western coast of Vancouver. Like good hippies, they built the island—which weighs over one million pounds—from recycled materials, mostly lumber. In a particularly Boomer hippie detail, Adams would trade artwork to fishermen for scraps of lumber and other cast-offs.
As a not-very-successful musician, I’ve spent a good deal of time around aging Boomer hippies, the ones that were born near the beginning of the long Baby Boom generation (which officially includes those born between 1946-1964). These are the folks that truly participated in all the counterculture craziness of the late 1960s (my parents are Boomers of the mid-to-late-Fifties, and are totally different, just as Boomers born in 1964 are quite distant from 1946 Boomers). They’re also the ones that wrote the great folk and rock music of the late 1960s, the stuff that still gets played on oldies stations and classic rock radio.
Regardless, I’ve noticed their resourcefulness (living out of the back of VW van surely teaches you some self-reliance). Sure, the most annoying ones are those that never gave up the lifestyle and continue role-playing as activists and rebels (it always kills me that they fail to see that they won: after failing to convince everyone to live on ashrams, they managed to cozy jobs in the academy and institutions and radicalized the nation from the top), but they often possess some impressive skills.
Such is the case with the Pacific Northwest island couple. I can put down hippies all I want, but I couldn’t build a million-pound floating island from scrap wood (and make it look as cool as they did). My guess is that a great deal of that generation still learned how to make stuff—not just funny memes, but actually how to make stuff—chairs, doors, houses—with their hands.
Sure, I’ve picked up some stuff from working maintenance at the school over the summers. My teacher: our aging Boomer head of Buildings & Grounds, the venerable Bob. My dad taught me some things, too, but I was a lazy, doughy child when it came to physical work (that changed in my twenty, when I realized that if I ever want to retire, I had better sock away as much cash as possible while I was still physically able to earn it). Indeed, I still don’t like toiling away on some mechanically-difficult task, lest I break into a sweat. I’m good with sound equipment, and I can do some extremely basic maintenance on my car, but I’m otherwise mechanically-challenged.
I talk a big game about “High-Tech Agrarianism,” but my yard is overrun with weeds. Smilax stands like thorny towers from grape vines—the plantings of a couple from the Greatest Generation that I scarcely know how to maintain. If the zombie apocalypse were today, I’d be one of the first ones eaten (but I’d have lots of grapes and weeds).
The hippies in Vancouver have turned their island into a self-sustaining fortress. After dusting and cleaning carpets each day, they take care of their food and fuel:
She then waters her thousands of plants and vegetable gardens – all germinated from seeds – and rows out in her canoe to gather seaweed for compost.Adams begins by gathering firewood and starting a fire to make sure the house is heated.They both work on building new components for their home.“It is a project,” King says. “It is a project in growing food to provide for the family. It is an art project … It is a project to have a space to move, to dance, to play music, to do things spontaneously that you couldn’t just do in the same way if you were in the city.”
I don’t think we should all live on self-sustained islands, and I surely love air-conditioning and frozen pizza. Still, in these increasingly dangerous times, planting some foodstuffs in the backyard and storing up firewood seems like a good idea.
Of course, it’s never too late to learn (until it is). YouTube might be kicking off all the conservatives, but there’s still some survivalists on there—for now.