Growing up, I thought the hippies I encountered or knew about were a relic of 1960s America; people who had it right, were trying to live alternative lifestyles, who were not slaves to prevailing trends or the beat of someone else’s drum. As I got older, I began to see the hippie subgroup as people either trying to hold on to the golden vestiges of their youth, or new hippies, trying to be throwback, and through shunning mainline pop cultural trends, where subscribing to another one in its place. Not that I perceived this as an entire negative: I was happy to consider myself as a recipe with a dash of hippie, or as I thought at the time, words that were synonymous such as “free” or, for the more committed, “eccentric.” In California, the perception was nearly a sliding scale along a geospatial line: the further north you went, the more “Walden Pond” the scenario got, and the further south, the more the term was used to describe a fashion more than a state of mind.
Obviously, these are generalizations, and I’m sure many would argue not what “it’s all about” anyway. My point is, I thought it was a culture unique to California; after all, I had grown up learning about the Haight and Ashbury, the Summer of Love, the political turmoil and the anti-Vietnam War protests. But, my sample size was small, my worldview undeveloped, my experiences limited.
We arrived to the distillery in Western Virginia after a day spent out at the Maryland vineyards, picking grapes we would later make into wine. The sun radiated that low, more mature light so characteristic of falls and winters out east. Rather than illuminating the world in bright, ever-optimistic sunlight, the sun cast shadows on leaves, threw bright halos on things, did not warm your core as easily. After a day spent out in the sun, drinking wine, clipping grape clusters and lugging heavy bins of grapes here and there, our group was relaxed and exhausted. As we gathered around the campfire, waiting for our designated tasting room time to sample the distilleries cordials, we sat in chairs carved out of massive, aged tree trunks anchored to a carpet of deciduous leaves. I was captivated by the voice of an artist performing her newest songs; the tunes seemed fit for just this occasion as she beat on a hollow drum she held in her hand. She told us her music had evolved to reflect the influences she had encountered during her travels in Southeast Asia. She wore a flower garland in her hair, a Native American blanket as a shawl…
Wait a second… this seemed all too familiar. But what was this? Were we not in Western Virginia? I began to look more closely around at the people. A man nearby wore a tweed vest, a cap with a feather standing proudly at attention, ironic glasses. The younger people sported beards, facial hair, eccentric hats. I realized we were in the land of living off the grid, where “different” is once again on-trend. It began to make sense: we were at a distillery in the Appalachians, where historically clandestine operations of making moonshine were as much a part of American history as the hippie movement of the Sixties. It dawned on me: the alternative lifestyle is not so unique to California hippies. It exists in many different forms, immediately recognizable once you see it face to face, despite the very different environments. Walden Pond was, after all, in Massachusetts, not a California suburb.
And so, once again, I was reminded of the wonderful varieties of America. I spend so much time dreaming of and traveling to far off places in the world, when really there are arguably just as many interesting sub-cultures and regional differences here at home. I really enjoy these moments, when I can appreciate the “fabric of America,” as cheesy as that sounds, and where I can start to daydream about other trips I want to take: to the South, to New England, to the Southwest, to the Rockies, Alaska and the Pacific Northwest… the list goes on and on.