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COLUMNIST: Invitation from naked hippie goat farmers

I met an old hippie the other day. Although I was never really a hippie, I did for a while masquerade as one, back in the day. Matter of fact, when we moved up here 30-some winters ago, we kind of looked like hippies, so much so that the hippies already here kind of welcomed us in.

Feeling welcomed was fine until they invited us to a naked bathing. At this point in time, and at that point, too, there just aren't and weren't enough drugs to get me in the mood to go to a neighborhood hippie naked bath event. That was when I realized that I had goals involving family that substantially differed from those of real hippies. By not regularly attending those naked bathing events, I did miss the evening when their milking goats got out. The goats didn't have much trouble getting out. I saw what they called fences. Only if the goats were as stoned as the hippies would this brand of fencing have worked.

Anyway, several of them were soaking in an outdoor hot tub, which sounds pretty fancy, but was in fact an old galvanized cattle tank crudely plumbed into a wood burning stove next to it. One of them looked up and saw the herd of goats grazing their way out onto the gravel road, at which point everyone got out and began running after the goats.

I've never been a goat, but all those prune wrinkled people with flopping appendages chasing them was too much for them, so they really took off. About then, the neighbors came back from Sunday church, only to see what looked like a breakout from an insane asylum. I'm sorry I missed that, as long as if I had been there, I would have been in the car coming from church.

Some of you may remember The Mother Earth News, a monthly publication that in many hippie enclaves--and, I will admit, in some regular enclaves, too--was regarded somewhat ahead of The Bible. The Mother Earth News had lots of information about gardening, which was valuable for a generation of pampered misfits who had never considered where radishes and carrots and such came from. It had information about building your cabin in north Alaska using nothing but a pocket knife and a hatchet, very valuable if you were stoned enough to take nothing else with you up there.

I remember one of the issues that I saw. It showed how to put lots of chimney pipe on your wood stove, which you should position as far away from the chimney hole as the room would allow. That way, you'd gain a lot of extra heat from all that additional pipe. Some of their example looked like the guy who had put it together had worked at a pretzel factory.

So when I hooked up my first wood stove, of course I had to throw a couple of extra elbows and pipe in there. No, I didn't locate it clear across the room, which was a good thing, because when that metal chimney pipe caught fire, it began to turn red right above the stove. The red slowly moved toward the wall. Had it made it, keeping warm wouldn't have been a problem for about a half hour, at which point the house would have been completely gone to ashes.

I'll bet one of those issues showed how to turn a cattle tank into a hot tub. Maybe even something about fencing.

When I run into old hippies, it's easy for me to recognize them by the glitter that shines from their eyes when they begin to talk about how they're going to harness the sun, harness water, harness hydrogen, harness the earth. When I ran into this one, he was demonstrating a house with a three-foot-thick wall that had been constructed of giant straw bales.

"You know," he said, "the straw in this bearing wall wouldn't carry the weight of the roof. We had to reinforce it with poles." He seemed insulted by all this. The weight of his indignation at this taking place probably seemed to him justly equal to the outright lack of respect the straw bales had for his engineering.

Huh. Straw bales wouldn't hold up the roof. I didn't get a chance to ask if he had been referring back to the engineering in some of those 40-year-old Mother Earth News magazines. Even if it had occurred to me at the time, I wouldn't have. No sense ruining a good trip. Back then, if your straw bale house sagged a bit, no real hippie cared, given that, viewed through a smokey stupor, no one noticed in the first place.

He had other ideas for building low-energy houses, all of which were very expensive.

How are you going to get people to spend so much money on this, I asked the old hippie.

"Have to get them fashionably excited about decadent sustainability," he replied.

Decadent sustainability, the new hippie goal. Make a ton of money, then spend it on houses built so warm that they heat comfortably with big ideas.

On a par with goat roping and home-made hot tubs.