No Hippies, But A Lot Of Back-To-Basics

I didn’t see a single tie-dyed shirt.

I didn’t sniff a single whiff of weed.

But I did have a ball at the Sept. 21 session of the Mother Earth News Fair, held at Seven Springs along the Pennsylvania-Maryland border.

Much of that day was spent doing my “Bluebird of Happiness” imitation. I wore a powder-blue rain suit and topped it with a blue-and-white umbrella in weather that ranged from sprinkles to gullywashers – which put a damper on the puffing of tobacco as well as marijuana, if anyone was so inclined. And jackets, ponchos, etc. covered up most T-shirts, tie-dyed or not.

“Mother Earth” has its roots in the hippie movement of the 1970s.

Back-to-basics themes predominate, but with a modern twist. Our farm includes a small pond. Voila! One vendor sold a “pond shark,” a long pole with scissors-like finny things, used to cut pond grasses and weeds from the shoreline.

We have chickens.

There were chickens, goats, alpacas, llamas, pigs, ducks, and geese. and products related to them. But selling wasn’t as important as conversing. Most of these vendors don’t look on their sales as jobs. They are careers, vocations, avocations … some with missionary fervor.

Sure, they’ll sell. I bought alpaca socks, a magnesium-steel-flint gizmo guaranteed to start 1,000 fires, and, of course, my favorite outdoor lunch, a hot sausage sammich smothered in hot peppers and (Urp!) onions.

I also bought a cut-off plastic cone whose innocuous shape belies its sinister (to fowl) purpose: Drop the chicken into the cone head-first, and the chicken is precisely positioned for a quick slice alongside the neck with a sharp knife, the first step in turning it into food.

The teenager who sold me the killing cone took a half-hour to chat about how best to slaughter, butcher – and laugh at, enjoy, and keep healthy, our chickens.

She and her family are from Missouri. The fire-starter’s family is from Utah. The fair drew upwards of 200 exhibitors/vendors for three days.

Pennsylvania was well represented. My wife’s sister and her husband, Claire and Rusty Orner, and their children presented classes on their specialties from Quiet Creek Herb Farm.

A professor from Philadelphia seemed pleased that I agreed to take her on-line survey on what benefits I and my family had realized from simplifying our lifestyle. Now, I really don’t think of our lifestyle as being simplified. It is more like “geriatrified,” to coin a word. We don’t yet raise crops per se, though our blueberries are approaching that status, and our gardens seem to expand each year.

We’re still pretty standard when it comes to electricity, with a United Electric Cooperative transformer beside our house.

But there were dozens of off-the-grid exhibits, mostly using solar energy. Some touted total independence, but most offered hybrid systems tied into electrical grids.

The payback time is longer than my life expectancy, so I doubt that we’ll be going down that road. But if I were in my 40s or younger, the costs are now $10,000 or less for a smallish home, and I would think about it.

The rain, though torrential at times, had remarkably little effect on the fair. Vendors hunkered further into their canopies and dropped the sidewall flaps. Spectators donned rain suits, ponchos and camouflage hunting gear or popped open umbrellas. Most of us were already wearing footwear adaptable to wet weather, or else just-get-wet flip-flops.

I went to just one formal class, a delightful presentation on ponds by a speaker from “Looseeanna.” For the rest of the day, I splashed up and down the vendor aisles, talking and listening, learning and, to my surprise, having something educational to contribute to conversations, a decade of rural living having produced some opsimathy.

I did part company with one philosophy. The survivalists don’t much interest me. Their underlying assumption seems to be that while cities and everywhere else will be destroyed via Armageddon or ecological disaster, their own homes will survive intact, mini-fortresses against the hordes.

Gee, it didn’t work out that way in Europe during World War II, and it isn’t working out that way in Syria today. I just don’t see much sense in hoarding or arming when these “end times” either won’t happen, will kill us all, or will send me trudging down the road with, at best, a wheelbarrow of possessions, just one small dot in a wretched millions-strong procession of humanity. Survival then, as it was in World War II, will be more up to fate than hoarding.

But, hey, I’m in my seventh decade. For me, “long range” is this coming Christmastime.

I like the back-to-basics movement for a lot of reasons. It strikes me as healthy. It is fun. I enjoy the physical work. And I eat very health-inducing foods indeed – with occasional digressions for hot sausage sammiches.

Denny Bonavita is a former editor at newspapers in DuBois and Warren. He lives near Brookville. Email: