My Hippie Friend

How does someone you know change over 50 years? Especially if he was a hippie!

I recently spent 2 days with my friend Mike Kennedy and his wife Kristen in Barnet, VT. Here is one of a couple of memories to share before I move on to my bike ride.

Many years ago, in a different time and place, there once was a guy who I would consider among my closest friends who decided he had had enough of the bullshit of Viet Nam, politics, religion, etc. Back then in 1970 or so you had a new choice of protesting and dropping out or going mainstream. Much of it was based on the draft and extreme politics and social norms of day. Most of us were not motivated or had the courage enough to do something about it. But Mike Kennedy was.

Mike at the guitar playing Americana music. Equally talented on the concertina (squeeze box) and musical saw.

While we had graduated Roselle Catholic High School in 1966 together, he had chosen to go to Wilkes College in PA. The rest of his close friends took various college paths. While we were told college was important, we mostly went to local colleges to stay out of the draft and maybe find a direction for a career.

Mike rebelled with his new college friends. This led him to “Tune-in, turn-on and drop-out”. Or, as we would say “He freaked out!” Most of us lost touch with him and his life was directed more on a set of principles than reality. He hoped to find – or create – the ideal lifestyle in Vermont. And, he was not alone. Like it or not, it was a noble goal at the time.

Some statistics have shown that Vermont was poorly populated at that time with less than a million people when an influx of 70,000 in one year was to come with similar motivations. Imagine this as a 1970’s version of a migrant invasion. It was to change Vermont forever.

Despite the harsh environment of Vermont, Mike strugggled, worked, got married, had a family (wife and 2 sons), continued his personal interest as a musician and evenually became a person familiar to us again. But, with a Vermont flavor. Vermonters are tough, versitile, independent, empathetic, socially conscious and caring individuals that have a problem with authority. It looks like Mike found exactly the place where he belongs.

Mike Kennedy’s beautiful house he built in Barnet / Harvey Lake VT

Over the years, Mike lived in a treehouse, ran a local movie theater, built houses, performed as a musician and story teller, learned carpentry, built his own house and gravitated toward a career in planned housing and environmental engineering. He helped build a regional housing project for seniors still in use today in this remote area of Vermont. What I leaned is that today Mike is not unlike you and me. We have just been in two different orbits that have finally met. Maybe because time is the great equalizer

It seems we both have similar life experiences and wishes for today and the future. We might have been on different planets for a while but we all have landed in the same place. I learned that Vermont is both about living a dream and facing a harsh reality. We still dream of what could be and share the principles of the past.

Walking with Walt

Learning life lessons from the Ambassador of Forbidden Drive.

It’s not uncommon to meet people along a trail when you are on a walk.  My theory is that there are almost always interesting people there to meet, if you care to engage. Walkers are not alike but we all understand the benefit of a good long walk.

Colleen and Me
Colleen and Me

Fellow FreeWalker, Colleen Griglock, and I, along with a couple dozen other FreeWalkers and EverWalk members were strolling a drop-dead gorgeous trail on a beautiful Fall day this past Saturday. It was  the last few miles of the FreeWalkers (13.1 half) Marathon Walk on the outskirts of Philadelphia.

The trail we were on has ironically been known as “Forbidden Drive” since the 1920s when automobiles were first banned from this gravel road. Now, it’s a popular wide trail that follows Wissahickon Creek Northwest of the city. It was recently named “Trail of Year 2018” by Pennsylvania Department of Natural Resources. And, it’s a most inviting trail to pedestrians, cyclists and equestrians with plenty of room for everyone.

Used to be a busy bridle path
Forbidden Drive

We approached a gentleman walking briskly and confidently with a cane and struck up a conversation. There was something about his smile and energy that belied his years. (Hey, I just joined the Septuagenarian club and and am curious when I sense someone has a secret aging process going.) Walt Dinda is an 83 year-young, long time resident of the area and a regular walker on these trails. I would call him the Ambassador of Forbidden Drive.

Walt Dinda
Walt Dinda, the Ambassador of Forbidden Drive

As an attorney, he and his wife raised a family of 6 children which has now grown to 19 grandkids, with the hope of great-grandkids in the near future. I can relate to all this having 6 grandkids myself and looking forward to the possibilities.

Walt is wearing his Penn State hat he says he “borrowed” from his son. Everyone seems to be connected to Penn State here, including most of his family. As Colleen suggests, most fans make the pilgrimage to Happy Valley (Penn State) this time of year. Maybe, one not so big secret here is Pennsylvanians love their communities.

Walt began telling us about the trail and the area before greetings came from others along the way. It seems Walt has been walking Forbidden Drive for years. He even credits this particular walk for much of the good things in his life.

“Walking this trail has taught me more about life than any classroom or degree I ever got. And I continue to learn from it.”

Walt has met hundreds of people of all types on the trail over the years and he has gotten to know and care about them. Walt’s parents were Eastern European immigrants that came to this country and settled in the area. His father initially had a hard time finding work and his mother worked as a domestic for a wealthy family in Philadelphia. Walt goes on,

“I’m basically a conservative guy, but I have learned to accept and embrace others.”

It appears there are many regulars on the trail that he checks in on, or asks about. They are true trail buddies whose lives revolve around the trail.

Making friends along the way.
One of Walt’s buddies asks about the health of an 87 year old mutual friend.

So, the trail is Walt’s extended family. Add a couple dozen of these trail friends to his already large family and the complexity of relationships in his life is astounding. But, I believe it might be the secret to his longevity, or at least his happiness. Walt goes on to say,

“If only the rest of the world had more caring. Caring like we have with friends and family. Most of the problems of the world could be solved or would not exist if we saw each other as part of a family.”

I think it’s fair to say that Walt had a certain personal chemistry that attracted people to him. Or, maybe there was something about walking this particular trail. But, I was fascinated by his story. After talking to him about careers and kids for 15 minutes or so, his daughter in law and grandson showed up giving each other a great big hug. This is what we all want – love and understanding. Walt has earned it in spades and has reminded me how best to grow old.

Tammy, Connor and Walt
Tammy, Connor and Walt on Forbidden Drive

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