Winter heating costs in historical perspective

In earlier times, so I’ve heard, a normal house on Cape Cod used forty cords of hard pine firewood a year. That was back before chain saws or splitting machines, so felling the trees and cutting them to fit a fireplace or stove was largely handwork, even before getting around to stacking. My muscles and back ache just thinking about it.

Mind you, a typical Cape was not a large dwelling – two over two, as they say – or two rooms downstairs and two under the rafters above.

Like many New Englanders, we heat part of our house with wood. It also functions as backup for energy outages, just in case. Since we live in a small city not far from forests, obtaining firewood is rarely a problem. I have no idea what it’s like in a city like Boston or Providence, but the going rate here, delivered, is $300 a cord.

Imagine needing forty cords to get through a year – that would cost $12,000 a year … for a small house! And we think $2,500 a year for natural gas is excessive? I’ll have to ask around to see what folks using fuel oil or propane are shelling out, but it’s still bound to be cheaper than the Colonial alternative.

Two cords of new firewood sit stacked inside a seasoned shell in early September/ Stacking it was a lot of work, but not nearly as much as earlier generations put in on their yearly supply.
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Why this year is a hippie jubilee

What a pivotal year 1969 would turn out to be. Hard to think that was 50 years ago now – seems so long ago and yet, for those of us who experienced it, still so vivid. The hippie movement spread from a freakish fringe happening and out across the nation. So much of its impact we now take for granted, and so much remains to be accomplished.

Fifty years! That’s the jubilee, if only we’d have the corresponding release promised in Scripture.

Here are ten big things that happened that year.

  1. Richard M. Nixon becomes president of the United States. And we had thought Lyndon Johnson was bad? We were in mourning. January 20.
  2. The Beatles final performance. Where would rock go? January 30.
  3. Chappaquidick Affair. U.S. Senator Ted Kennedy loses control of his car and plunges into a pond. A woman’s body is found later in the vehicle. The Kennedy magic ends. July 25.
  4. First moon landing. “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind,” as astronaut Neil Armstrong says as he first walks on the surface. Anything is now thought to be possible. July 29.
  5. Charles Manson cult murders five people, including the Hollywood actress Sharon Tate. Are these villains hippies? August 5.
  6. Not the only big music festival that year, but the most famous. Suddenly, hippies have come out of the woodwork and are visible everywhere. August 15 to 18.
  7. First message sent across Arpanet, precursor to the Internet. Little does anyone know of the life-changes ahead. For me, it’s emblematic of the far-out thinking that accompanied the hippie revolution. October 29.
  8. March on Washington to protest the war attracts 250,000 participants. The largest demonstration to date. November 15.
  9. Draft lottery instituted. Young men now have a clearer idea of their chances of being conscripted for military service. Will this defuse the antiwar fever? Many did utter a big sigh of relief. December 1.
  10. Altamont Speedway Free Festival. Event marred by Hells Angels, violence, and deaths. December 6.

Other significant events include the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Stanley v. Georgia declaring “the State may not prohibit mere possession of obscene materials for personal use” (April 7), the black students’ takeover of Willard Straight Hall at Cornell University (April 19), widespread police crackdowns on student protests elsewhere, and the Stonewall Inn gay club riot in New York City (June 28).

In my novel Daffodil Uprising, similar pressures are building in the hills of southern Indiana. Look how chaotic these events remain when viewed together.

PLAYBOY CENTERFOLDS VERSUS MY OLD GIRLFRIENDS

Like many young males of his generation, Kenzie in my new novel Daffodil Uprising gazes on the Playboy magazine centerfolds as an ideal of feminine form.

In fact, he mysteriously receives a manila envelope containing about two dozen of them, and they wind up being taped to the ceiling of his dorm room. They fit perfectly in the recessed space between the beams.

Never mind that he still didn’t have a real love life. She would be coming along shortly.

Thinking of this while revising the book had me revisiting images of some of those classic “playmates” online. To my surprise, they’re far more ordinary than we guys would have admitted at the time. To be honest, I think of at least ten of my former girlfriends were more attractive.

My, have times changed! Just think of all the selfies floating around on the Net or all of the plastic surgery enhancements now considered routine. Baring skin no longer has the risqué air it carried back then, either.

Me? I still prefer a natural look. As did Hef back then, when the mansion was still in Chicago.

Note the space between the beams in the ceiling. Perfect for displaying Playboy centerfolds, back in the day. By the way, we never had bookcases as standard furniture. Had to make our own with boards and concrete blocks.

ADMITTING THE DARKER SIDES OF HIPPIE

I’ve spent a lot of time over the years pondering the hippie movement. The nation has stubbornly maintained a state of denial regarding those years – and the consequences for public policy have been toxic. The hippie side, especially, has been portrayed as an unrealistic stereotype. Nobody, but nobody, really looked or acted like that.

My wife – who came along after the flowering of the movement and grew up in the Deep South, far from its vitality – contends that the hippie label itself now means “loser.” I’d like to disagree, but when I look around at those who outwardly fit the image, I usually have to agree. Even trying to come up with a suitable synonym can be elusive. Bikers most look the role but hardly embody the light-hearted essence or its underlying desperation.

In revising my novels set in the period, I’ve finally more fully acknowledged the darker facets of the era. Some hippies were violent, contrary to peace. There was anger, contrary to love. There were freeloaders and bums and betrayals. As for bad drug trips or destructive addiction? In the end, so much feels like a string of broken promise. We had so much potential and came much closer to achieving the dream than we might have imagined, only to see it slip from our hands.

An America of Walmart and Fox is nothing like the healthy alternative of community and equality we anticipated. Politics and the power of global conglomerates has been responsible for much of the loss – I’ll save those rants for later.

The dream, though, doesn’t need to die. In fact, its essence may be more essential now than ever before. Having my character Cassia look at it from today feels quite relevant. I hope so.

That said, I’ve changed the name of the series of novels from Hippie Trails to Freakin’ Free Spirits, which I feel is more accurate regarding the individuals inhabiting the stories.

Let me know what you think.

Daffodil Uprising

My new novel reflects much of my revised thinking, as related a generation later.

OH, THE LIFE LOOKED SO BEAUTIFUL

“Sister Act,” a profile of the German twins Gisela Getty and Jutta Winkelmann in the May 2018 issue of Vanity Fair, reminds me of another disturbing side of the hippie era. The two celebrity “cosmic flower children” are portrayed as the antithesis of the poor underage runaways-turned-beggars who populated Haight-Ashbury a few years earlier, desperate for a better life than they’d had growing up.

No, these two had access to anything – and anyone – they wanted. They were already the Jet Set, slumming for fun during the day and partying with the rich-and-famous at night. Or the other way around, depending.

The photos made their stylish life look so beautiful. Much more so than the rundown places where most of us were living or the clothing we wore.

Their biggest leap into the spotlight came when Gisela, then 24, became engaged to marry oil-fortune heir J. Paul Getty III, age 17, shortly before he was kidnapped and held for ransom – and had his right ear severed and mailed away as proof during a five-month ordeal. His abduction itself may have been prompted by his own wayward wanderings and musings. They did marry after his release, though it had its problems leading to divorce.

So just what upsets me so in the article by Mark Rozzo?

I think of social activist Saul Alinsky’s revulsion at the yippies and the like, perceiving that their actions actually harmed efforts for political and economic justice.

Over the years since, too few dreamers have stepped up to do the nitty-gritty daily labor toward these ends – a protest march is superficial in contrast to serving on a board or writing to officials or work on campaigns for office.

The article also has me recalling an op-ed piece in the New York Times in the early ’70s that noted six types of hippies – and a huge gap in the middle of the range. In the upper categories were altruistic social reformers, artists and poets, spiritual practitioners – the ones I celebrate. In the lower categories, though, were misfits who had little ambition and few abilities. Ultimately, the two extremes had little in common.

Rozzo’s depicted counterculture is self-indulgent, narcissistic, rife with drugs and promiscuity, and celebrity connections like actor Dennis Hopper and his machine guns. This is the Revolution of Peace & Love? Or its spoiled countercurrent?

What a waste, I mutter. What a waste.

What did they contribute to the common good? What was their vision for a better world? They had so much to begin with, they could have supported so much.

The very tempting beauty they embodied winds up feeling hollow, even venomous.

Pipe dreams, then. There’s so much we lost that still haunts me.

THAT VICTORIAN APARTMENT WAS REAL

The once grand dame of an apartment house turned shabby that I describe in my novel Daffodil Uprising was real, though situated in Upstate New York rather than southern Indiana. A little bit more poetic license, if you will, in my relocating the blocky building.

I use the past tense, because satellite searches inform me the structure has been demolished, no doubt because of some of the health and safety issues the story relates. Bringing everything up to code would have cost a fortune.

Well, maybe a fire did it in. That, too, feels quite plausible.

When Kenzie and his two buddies flee their dorm, they have such high expectations. So did I, in what was supposed to be a haven after college. Look, this was what a professional journalist could afford – slum housing.

Still, the moldy manse was memorable and possibly haunted. I certainly heard rumors to that effect.

LETTING THE POET SPEAK FOR HIMSELF

I had long been perplexed why my modern American poetry class in the late ’60s had spent so much time on Edwin Arlington Robinson, especially since we never got up to more pressing figures like Kenneth Rexroth, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Allen Ginsberg, or Gary Snyder.

I made a jab at this plaint in my Daffodil Sunrise novel, where our budding photographer was panicking while typing away on his take on Robinson.

More recently, when reworking that manuscript into Daffodil Uprising, I found myself running with the poet more fully.

For one thing, I had to admit he was more contemporary than I’d allowed back in college. His lines and insights are clean, prescient of new approaches, even snippy.

For another, he could be bitter, sarcastic, depressed – as were many beats and budding hippies.

Edwin Arlington Robinson. I still think he looks like a proto-hippie.

His parents themselves weren’t that far from bohemian, either. His mother couldn’t even come up with a name for him, after all, and that fell to a circle of “summer people” visiting Maine. They put names in a hat or whatever and the slip of paper that came up was Edwin. The woman was from Arlington, Massachusetts. Bingo. We have a middle name.

His eldest brother went from being a successful businessman to bankrupt and alcoholic to die in poverty with tuberculosis.

His other brother, a physician, became addicted to morphine and died of what might have been an intentional overdose.

Living the past 31 years in northern New England, I’m now familiar with the culture Robinson grew up within. Gardiner, Maine, is a few hours up the road from us. I have friends whose roots are there.

Without giving a spoiler, let me say Robinson is now an active figure in the new novel. He infuses some wonderful, if sardonic, perspectives to the younger generation, and becomes a foil for similar spirits from the Edwardian past that sway the photographer’s girlfriend, too.

Would he talk this way, though? Who knows.

By now we’re dealing with fantasy, anyway, and that’s so unlike the concrete details of his verse. Again, we’ll excuse ourselves with poetic license.