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Home Free Home: A History of Two Open-Door California Communes

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Chapter 1
Chapter 2
Chapter 3
Chapter 4
Chapter 5
Chapter 6
Chapter 7
Chapter 8
Chapter 9
Chapter 10
Chapter 11
Chapter 12
Chapter 13
Chapter 14
Chapter 15
Chapter 16
Chapter 17
Chapter 18
Chapter 19
Chapter 20
Chapter 21
Chapter 22
Chapter 23
Chapter 24
Chapter 25

Chapter 15
Ridge Summer & An Interview With Tex

GWEN: "After the previous summer of cars roaring through the land in clouds of dust with radios blaring, we decided to keep all vehicles at the front gate and walk from there to our homes. This decision contributed greatly to the beauty and peace of the Ridge. A two-ton truck was bought for use by the community, and began to replace the need for individually owned cars. Several people learned to drive it, old Ben among them. Community 'runs' were scheduled two or three times a week, and included stops at the laundromats, grocery stores, health food stores and produce stands. Neighbors stared in amazement as we swayed along the country roads with a load of colorfully dressed, windblown people clutching sacks of laundry and supplies. Storekeepers reacted with mixed feelings when the truck emptied its passengers at their doors. They worried about possible shoplifting, but appreciated the business from the Ridgefolk who spent most of what little money they had on food. Whenever the truck broke down, the ranch mechanics fixed it, subsequently assuming control over who used it. However their authority was constantly in question."

July brought beautiful weather. Ramón, Gina and Katy the Dog, squirreled away in their little canvas and wood house under the wild lilac, found themselves happy beyond their wildest dreams. "We are all but a dream that Katy dreams," Ramón wrote one day in his journal. "And Katy is but a dream that her nose dreams." He paused to listen. Tootle-dee-toot! A recorder sounded on the path. Big, smiling Alan appeared with a sackful of instruments and goodies, accompanied by a womanfriend named Louise. Alan had arrived the previous year at Morning Star to visit Lou. As owner of The Gate of Horn in the 'fifties, a Chicago folk music club, he had hired the Limeliters to perform there. When the club folded, Alan returned to college for a Ph.D. in psychology before joining the Civil Rights movement in the South. He recorded much of the music, some of which Folkways Records subsequently released. With their mutual interest in 'people's music,' he and Ramón became good friends. When Gina and Ramón moved to the Ridge, Alan followed them there. He was already an experienced 'Open Lander,' but Louise was not. Gina worried about how clean and neat she looked, and waited for the inevitable, "Hey, where's the bathroom?" inquiry.

Ramón and Alan began playing a simple laid-back style of music with a drone background with just a few chord changes under simple melodies. The music broke the ice with Louise, and Alan smiled at his friends. They had not seen him for some months and smiled back, glad to see him again.

A few days later, NBC Television came to the Ridge to 'overexpose us,' as Ramón called it. A pick-up band gathered on Hoffie's Hill, Bill and Gina tootling away on home-made straw 'oboes' and the accordion pumping away.

LOU: "'Overexpose!' Grrr! Ramón knows that irritates me, because our life is an open ministry. It's impossible to overexpose us. We must live without a backstage - without dressing rooms. All out front, the pea under every shell. Now, when the media comes out to look at Open Land, it is because HE is sending them! Who is HE? HE is God, and God is trying to tell other people that this is the way to the life of immortality. It's impossible to overexpose this. That's what I call, ragañando a Ramón."

RAMON: "Fruits 'n Nuts Nancy's kids Gordie and Norelle, seven and nine years old, came to visit. They had been roaming happily over the Ridge all day and were very hungry, so we fed them our supper. Whenever Nancy and Norelle had an argument, Norelle would take her sleeping bag and go visit someone for a few days. How good tribal living is for children, not just stuck under their parents' thumbs all the time."

Garbage Yoga day, in preparation for the county inspectors. Garbage Mike was in charge, his long beard acting as a garbage-detector. He was called 'Garbage' for short, a popular figure on the land, a soft-spoken brother with a constant twinkle in his eye. Ramón returned later to his house and began to camouflage it to hide it for the inspection. He replanted bushes and dragged logs across the trail, dead-ending the path at an unused campsite above them on the hillside. Wild lilac branches made a good cover for the roof, screening the Mouse House from prying helicopters and the Sheriff's airplane. He piled them high because they would keep the house cool during the hot summer.

With the expansion of the gardens and the increase in population, the ranch's water supply needed upgrading. The spring at the front gate was pumping to capacity and yet not sufficient for the community's needs. Bill had started plans for constructing a dam below the Willow Spring, a few hundred yards from the community garden. He had talked to friends, read books and gathered materials. Forms were nailed in place as well as a long slide to feed the concrete down the hillside. When he was ready for the first pouring, he called a meeting to ask for help. But many people resented Bill's request, claiming he was just playing dictator again, wanting to be the boss and asking them to provide free labor. He should have made the new water supply a community project form the beginning, they said. Others expressed the view that concrete was unaesthetic, while still others, who knew from experience that leaderless community projects progressed at a snail's pace, said nothing.

No one offered to help Bill, and he couldn't do it alone.; It looked like the gardens would be condemned to a long, dry summer without irrigation. However the next day, Gwen's big, strong brothers Peter and Todd visited and volunteered to help. The dam was soon finished, a windmill set up and pumping a plentiful supply of clear water into the thirsty soil.

RAMON: "Bill Wheeler, Bill Wheeler, what to do with him? That's what I used to think as I watched his painful transformation from an independent, irascible loner-artist to a patient, understanding brother and teacher. So often his impatience with others less skilled or with a different approach to a job erupted in sarcastic remarks that made the other person wonder why he was wasting his time trying to help. The change took some time, and Bill grew more in spirit and compassion than anyone else during those years.

"The early Ridge settlers, who had experienced Bill as a feudal prince riding on horseback into their humble camps with a pompous air, nurtured many resentments. They saw him as a rich young man in a fancy studio who was always telling them what to do in snotty Ivy League tones. But the real Bill Wheeler was a person with a true vision of the Morning Star ideal and with the courage to stake everything he had to see it come to fruition. The battle to save the Ridge community was a true heartbreaker, a spirit-shatterer, and Bill took the brunt on his own shoulders. I love and bless him for it."

At Corbin's insistence, Bill ordered some chemical outhouses from Empire Sanitation so that Corbin could demonstrate there had been an attempt to provide additional toilet facilities on the Ridge. Photographs were taken of the toilets in use - Gina emerging with a satisfied expression. Superman, who had just returned from New Mexico, took an LSD trip in one in an attempt to consecrate it. But almost everyone hated the damned things. They reeked of noxious, inorganic chemicals, but perhaps they would impress the judge. Once a week or so, the Empire Sanitation truck rumbled down the impossible access road, sucked out the holding tanks and puffed back up the hill, gurgling as it went, with six or seven hippies hanging on the back.

One day, Lou, Near and Zen Jack came to the Mouse House for breakfast. Zen Jack, with his long toes and funny stories, had settled on a neighboring hillside. A dedicated bachelor professing celibacy, he lapsed occasionally with one of the many beautiful sisters who admired him. Katy the Dog liked him too, except for the time when she was nursing her puppies and he picked her up and tried to suck milk out of one teat. That was beyond the pale of her dignity!

Fruits 'n Nuts Nancy also visited that morning. She brought with her her latest religious enthusiasm, The Urantia Book and left one of the twenty copies she had ordered. An endless string of men friends had helped her build her house on the Knoll, and her dream was to transform the whole ranch into a garden.

Harold, of Black Sunday fame, also joined the party. Broad-shouldered and smiling, he had grown up as one of triplets in a carnival family. With him came 'New' Chuck or 'Laguna' Chuck, a very blonde ex-surfer who held the current Ridge record for 'Oming.'

RAMON: "I remember it was a scorcher of a day. After everyone left, I moved to the baby redwood grove to start an embroidery. It was a tiny, very magic place, just big enough for two people. The 'walls' were made of a burned-out redwood trunk, shiny and black with charcoal. I went there whenever I wanted to be alone, walking fallen logs so as not to break a path through the underbrush. Wild cucumber vines twined in the branches in Art Nouveau arabesques. bearing their strange prickly fruits. A pair of bluejays lived there, and the first time I visited had set up a terrific screeching. But finally I became an initiate, and they accepted my visits in good humor."

Tex moved to the Ridge and built himself a tiny house down by the community stove which sat out in the middle of the meadow by the Willow Spring. He lived there with a beautiful young woman named Rosemary and served hot meals to anyone who needed them. On the last day of July, Ramón paid them a visit and turned on the tape recorder hidden in his shoulder bag. Cynthia from Rio Nido was visiting as well as Baker Bart.

TEX: "Who is it?"

RAMON: "Ramón!"

TEX: "Ray-mone! Come in! Close the door, and smoke some of what we're smokin'! We have some fine raisin bread with peanut butter and jelly too. Like a piece of bread?"

RAMON: "Thanks, but I just ate."

RADIO: "Suggested retail price, $110 dollars."

CYNTHIA: "Raymone, why don't you sit down? Can't you sit down?"

TEX: "The bread's pretty good! We already O.D.'d, but it's tasty, righteously tasty! Aint't it good? Bart baked it."

CYNTHIA: "What did you put in that bread, man?"

BART: "Peanut butter, salt, yeast, flour and water."

CYNTHIA: "Whole wheat flour only?"

BART: "Yeah, that's all."

TEX: "So, what d'you do about all the people, Raymone?"

CYNTHIA: "Yeah, all the straaaaaange people that come!"

TEX: "An' they say, 'Where's the restaurant?' What about the guy who walked in my door and said, 'Can I join you?,' an' I said, 'Look, man, I'd rather not,' and he said, 'Well, now that I'm here...' Like I mean he was in my house! Ha-ha-ha! He's in my house! What am I supposed to do? Kick him in the nuts and chase him out? It's like the day me an' her was hongry, an' I put a can of minestrone soup on the stove an' walked to the toilet, an' by the time I got back - before the soup was even warm - some cat had come down the road, took my pot of soup off the stove and fed it to some hongry kids. I said, 'Well, man, I'm a hongry kid, my old lady's hongry, an' here you ate up my goddam soup an' - an' the people who had eaten the soup were strangers and said, 'Oh, don't worry, we're cooking something. We'll give you something to eat. You know what they did? They offered me somebody else's food that was on the stove! 'We're cooking something. We'll feed you.' An' I said, 'What about my can of minestrone soup? And how come my old lady's hongry?' Well, this cat says, 'Those kids were hongry.' An' I said, 'So am I!!' Now I don't mind givin' all the food in the world, man, but don't take my food off the stove. That's my can of minestrone soup, and my old lady's hongry! If I hadn't had another can of it here, I'd a really been blown out!"

CYNTHIA: "Well, what do you do about that, man? You know, you don't seem to do anything about it."

TEX: "So what do you want me to do?"

CYNTHIA: "I don't know!"

BART: "Label your food 'Tex.'"

TEX: "I don't want to label my food! I don't want to label my food!"

CYNTHIA: "Right on!"

RAMON: (singing) "Well, what go 'round come around."

TEX: (singing) "An' if we don't go 'round we mess around, and if we goin' to mess around we're goin' to mess up so we'd better go 'rounnnnnd!"

RAMON: "Well, I figure all you can do is be honest."

TEX: "All I can do is make sure my kids live! Somebody came down this morning and said, 'Can I use some of your honey for some pancakes?' An' I said, 'Well, I don't have much honey. Sparingly, go ahead an' use it.' If they use it all up that's far out. I'll just have to scuffle about tryin' to get some more, but I'd rather not give it all away because I need some. My old lady's hongry."

CYNTHIA: "Unh, man, I got kids. I'd be more out front than that. I'm tellin' you. Out front!"

TEX: "I'm hip to responsibilities. I'm faced with a few of 'em right here... right now... An' in order to be free I must be responsible."

CYNTHIA: "Really."

TEX: "I know where my head's at, an' I don't play no fuckin' games on myself."

CYNTHIA: "And hopefully not on anyone else either."

TEX: "I lay it down right dead in front of 'em, hard as it is, like it is, whether they like it or not. That's the way it is. If I don't like somebody, I'll tell 'em right out, free face front, out front and in front of everybody, an' tell 'em why I don't like 'em! An' if they can dig that, they can either adapt to the situation or else they can forget about me forever! I don't give a fuck, man. I set a reality in front of a person, man, an' I cannot be humble. I can be real, but I cannot be humble. Just like this cat comes down here sayin', 'Unh, am I too late for breakfast?' An' I say, "Well, look, I'm in bed.' He says, 'Well, what are you servin' this morning?' And I says, 'Well, I dunno. I don't have anything to serve. This is not a cafeteria.' He says, 'Oh! I'm under the impression because last night I came here an' I ate. An' they told me I could eat in the morning.' I says, 'Far out! You got something to cook, go ahead and cook it.'

CYNTHIA: "Right on."

TEX: "If somebody comes to my door an' says, 'Can I come in?,' I say 'I'd rather you didn't.' I don't say they can't. I don't kick nobody out, but I let 'em know when I'm havin' some personal stuff."

CYNTHIA: "I suppose it's a different thing when you're so isolated up here that kicking somebody out means they may have to sleep on the ground."

TEX: "I slept on the ground before I had this house here, right? And it was rainin' and cold. I used to guard the oats from the horses so we could make breakfast in the morning an' feed the people that lived here. If I can do that, they can sleep out there on a nice warm night. Before I even had this house I was sleeping on the ground right outside so nobody would steal the food, and so the horses wouldn't eat up the oats. The horses will eat up a hundred pounds of oats in one night, and then everybody[s comin' down sayin', 'What's for breakfast?' I say, 'Oh plenty of oats, but the horses got 'em all.' Or all the brown rice or somethin'. An' the horses have plenty of grass out there. Nobody was helping me. I had a hard time just gettin' people to lug water to put in the pot. I had a hard time gettin' anybody draggin' on down here to chop some firewood 'cause all they wanted was to sit there and eat, smokin' up the tobacco or the dope. They were quite willin' to do that. Well, I'm glad I'm relieved of that responsibility, 'cause I feel so much better now. I feel they're goin' to have to help themselves or else they're not goin' to make any advancement whatever, right? They gotta help themselves. My shoulders are heavy, and if anybody gets sick or in trouble, I'll be the first one there to try to help them. But when they can help themselves and just won't do it, and are layin' the shit on me... I'm sorry, but you have to do it yourself. That's the only way they can get strong enough to overcome their shortcomings, you know. The only way to get strong is - is to do what you fear."

RAMON: "Man, I'd be busy for a long time!"

TEX: "Well, I am busy for a long time! All my life I've had to be, an' I still have too many things that I fear that I have left to do."

RAMON: "But man, the universe is so full that - "

TEX: "We realize the universe is full, we realize the universe is too full, man! We don't know how to weed it out! Because we might be the most inferior - we just don't know. We want to keep the quality if we expect anything to survive us. But we all just come an' go anyway, so what's the difference? The thing is to make it groovy while you're here. An' - an' - an' try to look for a little bit of compassion for your brothers an' neighbors. An' the people who are fuckin' people around, we don't need them really. We don't need then at all, an' I'm kinda down on 'em, just a little bit down on 'em. An' the people who have to take orders will not unless somebody tells 'em to do it. It's a beehive, man. You have the workers, the drones an' the babysitters an' the babies an' the mothers an' the fathers - an' the chicks."

CYNTHIA: "And you also have the cops."

TEX: "You have to have all of 'em."

CYNTHIA: "Really?"

TEX: "But we don't need so many of 'em, of course. We can police ourselves if we have our own truth."

CYNTHIA: "I'm not talkin' about your own, you know. I'm talkin' about outside."

TEX: "We have 'em here... I happen to be one of 'em... And I know who the others are. They don't even realize it. An' I got my workers an' I got my lovers. I got that cat here who'll go out an' chop wood all day long just to get that violent shit out of him. An' the cat that can't do that - not capable of it, but he'll sit down an' wash dishes or just tend the fire. I got a guy here that can bake bread better than anybody I've met, and I've got a few cooks that can cook really good."

CYNTHIA: "I'm really impressed with your bread, man. It's good!"

TEX: "Bart's one of the best bakers I've ever run across!"

RAMON: "You want to try - would you like to hear a holy mantra? I'll sing you one, but it's not really singing."

TEX: "I hate repetitious chants. They're too, unh, mwahhhhmah! I like to hear it comin', changin' every time the changes change. The fact is that changes change. Otherwise, unh, it's really too repetitious. It reminds me of regimentation, an' I tell you, I hate it."

RAMON: "All you have to do is - "

TEX: "I'd rather not hear any repetition. I hate to repeat-peat-peat myself. I hate-hate-hate to repeat-peat-peat myself!"

CYNTHIA: "You're really -"

TEX: "I really-really-really hate-hate-hate to repeat-peat-peat myself!"

RAMON: "What if I guarantee you'll get twice as high as you are right now?"

TEX: "Well, I'll be drinkin' this wine, and you'll probably guarantee it, Raymone, but work out! I'll learn somethin'!"

RAMON: "Okay, all it is - "

TEX: "I might even join you."

RAMON: "All it is is an ancient name of the sun, and ah - "

TEX: "Rumplestilskin, rumplestilskin, rumplestilskin..."

RAMON: "It's on your breath like Eeahhhouuueh, Eeahhhouuueh." (He continues for a few minutes.)

TEX: "You know what you reminded me of is - all you did was build a mellow, blended tone, and it sounded like ol' Bob Dylan when he stopped rapping and got into a 'Lay, lady, lay.' You fell in love, and that's what's happening. All you did was get out of the rap bag and into a monotone, you know. It sounded good! And I sang a little song to her here while you were singin', an' it - it was where it was at!"

BART: "It sounded real good!"

TEX: "Yeah! I dug it!"

CYNTHIA: "Ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!"

TEX: "What're you tryin' to say? What're you tryin' to say?"

RAMON: "That all there is is everybody - everybody praying together in their own way."

TEX: "Did anybody dig that or not?"

CYNTHIA: "Ah-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha!"

TEX: "Far out! You done it!"


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