Children of the Sun: German and California Proto Hippies

It’s fig season in California. Those sweet tree warts are beginning to sag with the weight of their sugars. True bliss for urban and rural foragers alike. The season reminds me of these folks…

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Natural music and vine ripe watermelon with Gypsy Boots and his talented friends on a summer day in Hollywood,1948. Gypsy Boots and his pals would often travel over 500 miles just to pick and eat some fresh figs.

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Seven of California’s “Nature Boys” in Topanga Canyon, August 1948. They were the first generation of Americans to adopt the “naturemensch” philosophy and image, living in the mountains and sleeping in caves and trees, sometimes as many as fifteen of them at a time. All had visited and some were employed at “The Etropheon” where John Richter gave his inspiring lectures about raw foods and natural living.

This magnificently illustrated book chronicles the philosophy, lifestyle and dissemination of Lebensreform, (Life Reform – “neither communism nor capitalism, but land reform”). In reaction to industrialization, from Hermann Hesse and the artist Fidus wanderings through pre-WW1 Germany in edenic bliss to Bill Pester going natural in a Palm Springs canyon. Pester, a German born immigrant, was counted in the 1920 census as one of the 24 members of the Cahuilla tribe.

Bill Pester at his palm log cabin in Palm Canyon, 1917; note palm blossoom walking sticks leaning on left side of the door.

Man was intended to live in a state of nature. All mans troubles, sickness, anxieties and discontent come from a departure from nature. I would advise you to go back to nature, if you want to be cured; give up your extravagant habits, your high-priced hotel life, quit taking medicine and discharge your doctor. -Bill Pester

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Image by Fidus


Wandervogel means “migrant birds/free spirits.”

Categories: Robby Herbst | Tags: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

About Jay Babcock

I am an independent writer and editor based in Tucson, Arizona. In 2023: I publish an email newsletter called LANDLINE = Previously: I co-founded and edited Arthur Magazine (2002-2008, 2012-13) and curated the three Arthur music festival events (Arthurfest, ArthurBall, and Arthur Nights) (2005-6). Prior to that I was a district office staffer for Congressman Henry A. Waxman, a DJ at Silver Lake pirate radio station KBLT, a copy editor at Larry Flynt Publications, an editor at Mean magazine, and a freelance journalist contributing work to LAWeekly, Mojo, Los Angeles Times, Washington Post, Vibe, Rap Pages, Grand Royal and many other print and online outlets. An extended piece I wrote on Fela Kuti was selected for the Da Capo Best Music Writing 2000 anthology. In 2006, I was somehow listed in the Music section of Los Angeles Magazine's annual "Power" issue. In 2007-8, I produced a blog called "Nature Trumps," about the L.A. River. From 2010 to 2021, I lived in rural wilderness in Joshua Tree, Ca.

7 thoughts on “Children of the Sun: German and California Proto Hippies

  1. I believe the guy sitting down in the first picture is Eden Ahbez, famous for writing ‘Nature Boy’ then later being discovered by a shocked press living happily underneath the Hollywood sign while Nat King Cole’s rendition of his song was taking America by storm.

  2. A friend of mine who passed away a few years back used to be a publicist at Capitol Records. She told me that Eden Ahbez used to hang out in the lobby handing out his songs. He wore a long white robe. The way the story goes, one day he hands out a song to Nat King Cole’s manager and he takes it to Cole, who decides to record it. That was in 1948. Eden died several years back and the obit in the L.A. Times suggested that he lived off the royalties of that song for the rest of his life. He died a healthy man, by the way, in an auto accident in Palm Springs.

    By the way, Jack Kerouac, in ON THE ROAD, refers to the nature boys, calling them ‘Nature Boy saints.’ — Joe

  3. This is really amazing. I’ve known some people in this direction, very core people. And I inspired and lived similarly for a time.
    Amazing to see this documentation of the history of the ‘lebensreforme’/ naturist/ hippy movement

  4. Pingback: CHILDREN OF THE SUN | Blacklodges

  5. Pingback: Mushanokoji’s Good Natured Man 10 – Furin Chime

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