Forty-four years ago, thousands of drifters forswore Eisenhower crew-cuts and Betty Drapper mothers and migrated to Golden Gate Park in the western side of San Francisco. They frolicked and danced and swore they’d never need a boyfriend or job again. But here’s what they don’t tell you about the Summer of Love–it was almost certainly  cool, damp, and overcast.

As I learned at the 2011 Ocean Beach Summer Solstice Celebration, that has never stopped a bunch of hippies from getting naked. It had been the hottest day of the year–in the 80’s when I left work in Oakland–but you’d never have known it in the park, where I the deniers wore t-shirts and the hypochondriacs, wool coats. And those hulking eucalyptus wore that same rich, earthy musk that could have made a tree-hugger out of a tea-partier.

Some people don’t just hug trees–they worship them. We call these people pagans, and that was about the extent of my knowledge of the the creed until Tuesday’s solstice. At least they were easy to recognize after a long bike ride down the 1 on the beach: totems, henna, staffs, beards, beads, and big, broad smiles.

These were clearly not the hippies of the current Haight–the runaway gutter punks with bulldogs who trade weed for food, the drum circle dancers who were one acid trip away from ’67, or the man who once offered to sell some friends dog poop (“I got terrier, poodle–you name it!”).

No, the solstice attendees were the go-lucky’s who somehow, in all the decay of the 70’s, the recklessness of the ’80’s, the commercialization of the ’90’s, and the fright of the ’00’s, continued on hugging and smiling like the world was not permanently on the precipice of disaster.

Summertime in California

Whether to call that naive or wise beyond comprehension is up for debate. But I was surprised by the range an age at the festival, with gay couples cuddling on blankets, kids tearing down the dunes, and a few curious interlopers making laps around the outskirts of the beginning of the fire.  As long as you were earth-tones and had left your snickers and sneers back in the city, no one cared.

My second surprise was that pagans use lighter fluid to start beach fires.

When he still was clothed

The third surprise came when we gathered around the fire.  A white-haired bohemian wearing a rainbow dress and a pink beanie that read “Vagina Warrior” disrobed, maintaining his hat and nothing else, before retreating to the outskirts of the circle. A few people struggled to contain laughter and a few more glared at the laughers.

“Follow me,” a man with some papers said, pointing into a section of beach directly in the way of the campfire’s smoke. The troop, at this point probably 75 strong, reluctantly followed. “We’re gathered here at the people’s beach to celebrate the gifts of nature,” he began. “But the park service doesn’t understand that this is the people’s beach. They don’t allow fires–this is an ILLEGAL GATHERING.”

To reassure us, he went over a routine. “We’re going to have one group lock arms and circle around the fire. Another group of us who don’t want anything to do with police are going to go up on the dunes and sing. And a third group…I guess we’ll kind of dance around.”

To be continued Continued here….