Three Rivers Muse & News

The Kaweah Commonwealth is the weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, Calif. The coverage area includes what is collectively known as "Kaweah Country," from the highest peaks in Sequoia National Park to the Sierra Nevada foothills to the floor of the San Joaquin Valley.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Love and Haight, flower children and a touch of gray

Unbelievably, it’s already the middle of August and for many — especially school-age children and their parents — summer is all but over. The fall semesters at the local schools start this coming week.

It’s a phenomenon being dubbed “the incredible shrinking summer.” What used to be three months of summer vacation from school books and teachers’ looks has now, for 75 percent of Americans, been reduced to two months, or with summer school, even less.

It’s further evidence of a society trying to compress more in less. Some educators attribute less summer vacation to a need to get a jump on improving spring testing scores; others say we are so behind that year-round school should be the norm, not the exception.

The bottom line is that we all get less quality time with the ones who matter most — our families.

In the evolution of social theory, it’s a disturbing trend that is explained as a byproduct of institutionalized self-alienation. All these high-tech gadgets that require a more specialized education to understand in the first place bombard our brains with stimuli — wants that we confuse with needs, and in extreme cases, become motives for unprecedented antisocial behavior.

To borrow a phrase from a song made popular by two “righteous” dudes from Orange County — “We’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.” We might be astutely aware of our global position and rapidly expanding networks, but we’re out of touch with our spiritual self and, sadly, the ability to love one another.

At the risk of sounding old and in the way and maybe a bit corny too, consider this. Forty years ago (1967), thousands of high school-aged kids with an extra month of summer set out to become part of the much ballyhooed Summer of Love. Some sought a spiritual revolution, others a political agenda, still others simply wanted to get high on sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Many of these flower children, whether consciously or not, were looking for love or, at the very least, an alternative lifestyle.

Whatever the true motive of these so-called hippies, many believed that love was certainly lacking in a country in the throes of a terrible war (Vietnam) that one day they or a loved one might have to experience via the draft. The media during 1966-67 had a field day glorifying these hedonists at the Human Be-Ins or the free concerts in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

This counterculture couldn’t have been better advertised. By the time school was out in June 1967, thousands of high school students and college kids were going to San Francisco wearing flowers in their hair.

In fact, at its peak during July of the Summer of Love, 600 underage teenagers were arriving in Haight-Ashbury everyday. Add to those numbers the thousands who were 18 or older and it was an “Invasion of the Flower Children,” according to a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle. In reality, the City of San Francisco coped with 100,000 hippie visitors.
Ironically, most of the founders of the new hippie movement had already left the Haight district to do their spiritual thing elsewhere. What remained was a transient population of a generation looking for love in all the wrong places.

Whatever that Summer of Love did or did not accomplish, it was a life changing experience for many who made their way out West for the first time. A naïve 16-year old (yours truly) from Cleveland, Ohio, was among those flower children, and after visiting Haight-Ashbury, vowed to one day become a transplanted Californian.

But that didn’t happen until 10 years later and that story is for another time and place. The actor Peter Coyote, a self-described “crazy hippie anarchist” and former Digger, helped ensure that those 1967 visitors had access to free food and social services. He said recently that although the political agendas of the 1960s failed, the cultural agendas “all worked.”

Today, the rise of the 1960s counterculture has had a profound influence on our world. The image of the San Francisco hippie dancing in Golden Gate Park with long hair flailing has endured as an American archetype.
Vestiges of the Summer of Love remain in Yoga classes, pop music, visual art, fashions, attitudes toward drug use, personal computers, and the frenzied greening of America.

If not for the stigma of LSD and drug use, there would be many more fond memories of a time when we could look each other in the eye and exclaim: “Love one, love all, Man!”

Peace.

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