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Oh, my, says Idaho, 20,000 hippies are way too many 

Oh, my! Oh, dear! Imagine -- 20,000 hippies, messing up the meadows like animals. Befouling the streams like animals. Eating, sleeping, defecating like animals. Fornicating like bunny animals, thumping bongos, tooting flutes, gang-singing old Donovan songs, dancing around without a care in their heads like Jenna Bush in a cowboy bar, not once calling a broker on a cell from a Beamer, not ordering a single darn thing from Avon or E-Bay, not thinking a single darn thought about Britney or Pepsi, hugging one another like sissies and doing their level best not to start a war.

And all this in one of Ma Nature's more pristine nooks. You know what I mean, one of those places the developers like to talk about when they're trying to sell you a $250,000 1/4-acre getaway in the hills.

Too bad those hippies aren't cows. Then it'd just be business as usual.

It's entirely possible you don't know what I'm talking about, so allow me to up-catch you: the Rainbow Family -- a loosely-organized group of frolickers sort of like the Shriners only with considerably more moderate drinking habits -- recently held a large (20,000, give or take) frolic in one of Idaho's alpine meadows.

For nearly three decades, they've been meeting like this all over the West and for this last event, through a process known only to the King and Queen of the Hippies, they chose a spot in southern Idaho, indicating the King and Queen of the Hippies aren't as hip to political realities as possibly they ought to be.

To further complicate matters, the spot they chose to frolic in was also selected by an unknown number of salmon to spawn in. As a result of this scheduling glitch, about everyone here 'bouts was mad at them.

Gov. Dirk Kempthorne even declared neighboring counties disaster areas in preparation for an anticipated disaster. Only time will tell whether such a disaster actually occurred, but it gave the governor ample opportunity to ride in a helicopter, wear jeans like a regular Joe, and talk like Idaho's most ardent lover of anadromous fish.

Environmentalists and the U.S. Forest Service were mad at them, too; said the Rainbows endangered the spawning activities of what few salmon make it through the mighty gauntlet of Columbia Basin dams -- on which, as far as I know, the Forest Service has no official position. (As a matter of interest, Gov. Kempthorne is all for 'em, those dams.)

I assume this is the same Forest Service that recommended rescinding Clinton's ban on road construction on federal forests, but I could be wrong. Surely a Forest Service so upset over a big hippy picnic would also object to an invasion of bulldozers and logging trucks, wouldn't you think?

Idaho's Sen. Larry Craig was plenty mad as well. Craig maintains he objected to this event because the hippies didn't follow the rules, that they didn't get the proper permission to use this particular piece of America for a few days.

And it's true, the hippies could have avoided this whole whoop-dee-doo had they applied for a grazing permit. In fact, had they told the senator they intended to open a pit mine, he might have personally instructed the Forest Service to go soak its head.

Some Indians were mad, too; said the Rainbows were congregating on sacred land, a place Native-Americans hold holy, and I guess no one else is supposed to feel that way. Maybe now would be a good time to explain to the Indians that if their spiritual values will be carried on into the Age of Casinos and beyond, it won't be Gov. Kempthorne, the Forest Service, or Larry Craig doing the carrying.

OK, I was a little mad at them, too, though now I fully expect the spot they chose will recover, and really, aren't 20,000 hippies as entitled to go "OM-ing" in Idaho's meadows as 20,000 fishermen are to go "steelhead-ing" on Idaho's rivers?

But without realizing it. probably because they're such babes in the woods when it comes to environmental politics, the Rainbow Family has handed hydro-lovers like Craig and Kempthorne another diversionary tactic -- another distraction to take folks' minds away from the reality that any one of those many dams between Idaho and the Pacific kill more salmon in a day than all the world's hippies could in a lifetime.

Even if they worked at it.

Bill Cope is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News in Paonia, Colorado (www.hcn.org). He is a musician, freelance writer for the Boise Weekly, and part-time gardening assistant in Meridian, Idaho.

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