The Wall Street Journal July 27, 1999
Gravy's Camp for Nostalgic Hippies
Calif. "Mommy, what did you do in the 60s?"
I was boring. I never wore a flower in my hair, I didn't return to the
land, I was never a hippie, and most embarrassing of all, I wasnt
this 30th anniversary year of the famous rock festival, I did the next
best thing. I attended adult camp at Camp Winnarainbow, directed by
Woodstock legend, '60s icon, Ben & Jerry's ice cream flavor, and
still a vision in tie-dye at age 63
Wavy Gravy. Every
summer the man in the rubber nose turns his children's performing arts
camp over to grownups, who try to act as silly for one week as Mr. Gravy
does year round.
thing he did lately was to agree to participate in Woodstock 99
in Rome, N.Y., whose only real link with the 60s original was
the traffic jams on the approach roads. But here at camp, Mr. Gravy
runs a truly hip festival of his own.
to San Francisco, met up with my pal Dianna, and together we drove north
to Mendocino County, where Winnarainbow has been a beloved summer camp
for kids ages 7 to 14 since 1983. Our group of about 50 adults ranged
from 18 to 80, though most were aging Baby Boomers. One women came all
the way from Indonesia, two guys were from New York, one woman was from
Chicago; there were two Oregonians besides myself, and the rest were
the New Yorkers, Peter, said this was his second year at Camp Winnarainbow.
His wife insisted that he return, "because I was so mellow for
so long" after his first adult camp session. I asked him if he
was ever a hippie.
grew my hair long, I smoked a lot of dope and I slept in the park,"
he said. "Does that count?" Besides that, he was at the original
Woodstock and had free food personally dished up for him by Wavy Gravy
(who was then known as Hugh Romney). These days, Peter provides computer
security for the federal government. No wonder he likes to get remellowed
a strict rule at Camp Winnarainbow against alcohol and recreational
drugs, so camp wasn't all that similar to Woodstock. .But we were expected
to get high. Daily classes were in circus arts such as stilt walking
at 8 a. m. the wide-girthed Mr. Gravy, with a derby over his shoulder-length
gray hair, and a fish-shaped bag hanging from his shoulder, trudged
around the circle of tepees, rousting campers with the blow of a conch
shell that went by the name of Consciousness.
he read to us: poetry by Allen Ginsberg, wisdom from the Tao Te Ching,
a children's book, the almanac or excerpts from his own autobiography,
"Something Good for a Change."
our morning mellowing had just begun. Next we did tai chi with Mr. Gravy's
co-director, a clown from Vancouver, British Columbia, named Txi (pronounced
Chee) Whizz. Once we were mellow and flexible, Ms. Whizz sent us off
to our morning classes. Dianna made a beeline for the trapeze; I tried
the stilts, and on other days dabbled in improv, rhythm, ceramics, labyrinth
walking and, of course, tie-dye.
lunch we kind a talent show, with most of the campers showing off what
they had learned. Every increase in skill was appreciated. For example,
a newcomer to unicycling was wildly applauded simply for being able
to sit on the thing. Those campers juggling two balls were cheered along
with those juggling five.
we rode the shuttle van to Lake Veronica, where we could swim out to
George Raft, ride the 350-foot waterslide or play beach-blanket bingo.
Mr. Gravy explained that everybody played bingo backstage at Grateful
Dead concerts. (I never went to one of those, either. Txi!) We learned
that the camp's spectacular sound system was compliments of the Dead,
and that whenever Mr. Gravy reverently mentioned "Jerry" he was
referring to his late friend and fellow ice cream flavor, Jerry Garcia.
my tepee mates, Susanna, had been a hippie photographer, chronicling
Grateful Dead concerts across the land. A camper named Mary told me
tepee living was old hat to her, since she had lived in one in Canada
for several years while "dropping acid and waiting for Armageddon."
She is now a legal investigator for the U. S. Justice Department. Go
more affinity for Alicia from Chicago, who told me she had tried
to be cool during the '60s by growing her hair long and attending two
(count 'em, two) SDS meetings. "But I was just pretending," she confessed.
failed at hipness, unless you want to count the fact that I inhaled.
I was so wary of this hippie camp that I talked Dianna into signing
up for only three days, instead of the full week. But at the end of
each of our three days, after the nightly talent show (Yes! Two talent
shows in one day!), and after our head counselor or, if you prefer,
Head counselor gently admonished us to "Brush 'em if you've got
'em, soak 'em if you bought 'em," I would crawl into my sleeping bag
with a heavy heart. Yes, our departure from this clown utopia was getting
hard to face.
last night we went to the costume barn to dress for dinner, sifting
through the hundreds of clown suits, party dresses and assorted costumes.
Dianna looked regal in a rainbow of skirts and scarves. I passed up
the drawer labeled "Gorilla Parts" and settled for a goofy hat and polka-dotted
ensemble. Finally, I was beginning to let my hair down, to move Toward
the Fun," a play on the Sufi expression "toward the One," is Camp Winnarainbow's
slogan, while the camp director encourages everyone to seek Big Fun.
If I learned nothing else during my three days at camp, I learned that
"Have fun!" is the best advice you can offer anybody.
way, Dianna and I will be back next year, for the full week. It's never
too late to become a hippie. After all, it's just a state of mind, man.