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

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Introduction
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
Afterword

Chapter 16
Baby Raspberry Arrives & Parents Visit

Tall, blonde-tressed Trudy, eighteen and fresh from her aristocratic Chicago family, moved in next door to the Mouse House. She became the first woman on the land to build her own home.

TRUDY: "The day I came to the land I was handed a tab of PCP, and that did get me integrated into the community very fast. I went down to the chapel, and Terry-Paul had just talked this narc into buying everyone beer and ice cream, and so they were having a big party. Everyone was stoned on PCP, and there was this mantra going on between Michelle and Miguel who had just gotten together. They were really at the height of their thing. We were all writhing around in this huge mass, and I was just sort of watching, so out of it, and they were saying, 'Michelllle, Miguellll, Michelllle, Miguellll,' We were all getting into it, just writhing around. I think that the effect of that PCP didn't wear off for quite a while. I just looked up at one point, and there was Terry-Paul on top of me. 'You want to go home?' he asked. And I did, so that was how I landed at his place.

"The morning that O.B. told me I should move away from Terry-Paul, seven men came by to see me. I was obviously up for grabs. But in general, I felt that my life on the Ridge was the antidote to all the years of going to school, working hard, staying up late, applying huge amounts of tension to myself, growing up in a scene that had a lot of sadness. People got into such grief and sadness and weirdness and inhibitions. And lots of guilt. The family money was made off of barbed wire, really the antithesis of Open Land. I mean, God!"

GWEN: "Trudy was walking along the road one day and, as I passed, I called out a friendly greeting. Tall, somber and beautiful, she gave no answer, as if to say that greetings were not necessary. There were so many philosophies on the ranch that I gave it no more thought. Peter told me that Trudy was building her own house, and during the next month I often saw her carrying lumber. Another day I saw her on the community run to get a few things she needed to finished her house. She seemed so excited and occupied with her own thoughts. Next time I saw her, she was smiling from ear to ear, her blue eyes sparkling with merriment. When I visited her house, I found a solid platform with canvas sides, many windows, a bed loft and a canvas roof. There was a small pile of chopped wood under the cast iron stove. Although sparsely furnished, the house was immaculate and Trudy was beaming.

"When she first arrived, she shared the dilemma of many single women who wanted to live on the Ridge. They found they could not manage it without sharing the heavy physical work with a man, and thereby running the risk of an unwanted or unhappy personal relationship. Trudy's example was followed by other sisters who wished to have their own households."

On July fourth, Bill and Gwen were awakened at night by the dull roar of engines coming from Coleman Valley Road on the Passalaqua ranch a mile to the west. A procession of single lights were bobbing in the darkness. To Bill, the noise seemed very ominous. He guessed at once they were about to have their first visit from a motorcycle gang, something everyone thought inevitable but about which no one knew what to do.

He told Gwen he was going 'up top' to meet them. Despite her eight-month belly, she insisted on coming along. By the time they arrived at O'Brien's front gate, the procession was about to enter. He went up to their leader and told him the Ridge was having legal problems which made their very existence precarious. If the bikers were to come on the land en masse, it might well be a factor in closing the place permanently. As individuals, any of the gang were welcome to visit, he explained. But as a group they were not. The leader told him that after they had been evicted from their campsite on the Russian River, the sheriff's deputies told them to go to Wheeler's Ranch, proving Ramón theory that it had been the police who first sent the 'heavies' to Morning Star.

By this time, the O'Brien's, their hired man and his son had arrived.

"Why don't you let them go down there," Clara O'Brien sneered. "They're animals, just like you."

After what seemed like an hour of persuasion, the leader agreed to move on. Just as Bill and Gwen were leaving, O'Brien's hired man's son drove into the back of their car. Bill knew it had been intentional. Getting out, he ran up to the young man's window and punched him in the nose. His pacifist ideals in tatters and nursing a sore fist, he drove Gwen down the rutted road to their bed.

The flow of people through the Ridge reminded Ramón of Morning Star in 1967. Many young, intense spiritual seekers arrived, some to settle while others just passed through. Andres Tamm was a young yogi interested in Sri Aurobindo's teachings. A somewhat distant, severe personality, he spent the summer before leaving for India. He returned with the name 'Durga Chaitanya' and built a shrine in the East Canyon before moving north to Mt. Shasta. There he acquired land and started a religious retreat dedicated to the Divine Mother.

Some friends of Ramón's from the Floating Lotus Magic Opera Company in Berkeley visited. Gina, feeling somewhat 'overpeo-pled,' threw a tantrum at evening milking when Ramón announced they were about to have six guests for supper. She then felt guilty and swung to the other extreme, inviting everyone at milking to their house. Ramón suggested a party on Hoffie's Hill instead, and they spent the evening playing music together. The next day, the visitors hiked with their host to the East Canyon for a swim. The canyon was green and cool, lush undergrowth alternating with towering redwoods. The paths topped at a steep hillside over Coleman Creek, and they slid on their bottoms down the final hundred feet. A three-foot marijuana plant was growing in the gravel of the creekbed. They picked a few leaves to smoke, bathed in a shallow pool and walked upstream, the burbling water the only sound in the stillness. Katy the Dog, incredibly pregnant from a romantic fling at Morning Star, accompanied them only part of the way before lurching home.

KATY THE DOG: "That day I felt like a satchel of burglar's tools on legs. A few days later, I started scratching around to make a nest before Gina finally settled me down in my usual spot on the foot of the bed. Around midnight the puppies started oozing out while I panted with each contraction. Ramón ran out of candles and started lighting birthday candles to watch. One, two, three puppies. I chewed through their umbilical cords and tore the sacs enclosing them. Then I licked them until they started to squirm and grope for a teat. The sixth was born dead. Ah, motherhood again! I gazed proudly at my human friends. For Ramón, it was the first time in his thirty-four years he had seen anything born. Perhaps I should also say how much I've enjoyed being a community dog. Luckily I was born small so that the local ranchers think of me more as a rodent. A rodent! What an insult!"

RAMON: "Gina was returning home from town yesterday, and the car had to wait because the county was fixing Coleman Valley Road. Rafael was driving, and they waited and waited until he thought the guy waved them on. So he started edging forward towards the flagman. And the flagman shouted, 'Hey, boy, where d'you think you're going?' And Gina stuck her head out the window with Katy in her lap and yelled, 'I'm going to ask my dog to bite you, you bastard!' But later she passed the road crew again and made the V sign to the flagman and he made the V sign back."

TEX: "He was apologizing to her, but that's cool. The same thing happened to us when we drove on the road. The cat said 'stop!' and they had a big tree out across the road like that, man. And I said, 'Unh, we're stopped, you know,' and asked the flagman how long he thought it would be before we could get through. And he said, 'Well, you might have to wait a bit.' So I said, 'Far out! We have some time to smoke some dope. Would you like to join us and smoke some grass and some hash and drink some wine?' He said, 'No, ah, I'll pass.' But he was so shocked, surprised like. I laid it on him like, 'Here's the world, man,' and he said, 'I don't want it.' Thanks but no thanks, you know. Then he backed off a bit. Then the dude who was drivin' jumped out of the car and went up and was watchin' and got talkin' with the foreman. 'Oh yeah,' he said. 'We're just waitin' to pass, see, an' we're smokin' some dope and drinkin' some wine down here while we're waitin', you know.'

"So the foreman called the guy down and made him clear off the road and we drove on through. Heh-heh, we were the only car there and we only had to wait five minutes. They let us through, ha-ha! They wouldn't let us sit there too long because we don't give a fuck. And they're just puttin' in their time. They just knocked all the shit off the road and let us through. They're not conditioned to say, 'Wow! I'll get stoned!'"

A new type of middle-aged tourist began appearing that summer. The expression of bored curiosity that usually marked their faces was replaced by one of concern and fear. They were parents searching desperately for their runaway children. News of the Haight-Ashbury had spread to every corner of America, and thousands of teenagers continued to take to the highways to get there. Because Morning Star and Wheeler's were open, they were among the most popular places to search for lost children. Many worried parents visited with snapshots of their children, telling their stories and asking for help. The Ridgefolk always tried to soothe them, explaining how peaceful and loving most hippies were, and that their children were probably in a good situation.

BILL: "We used to encourage kids to get it together with their parents, but it was a thin line. Kids have rights too, if not legally then at least morally. And many were escapees from juvenile homes. We never told on them, but always tried for a reconciliation."

RAMON: "Gwen's uncle John Holt, a well-known educator, suggests in one of his books that children be allowed to take on both the freedoms and responsibilities of adulthood at any age. Children are a very oppressed group in our society because they have few legal rights of their own. Hold also suggested that a child be given enough money so that he could freely select the people with whom he wished to live. Perhaps welfare payments should be made to all children, or at least those who apply for them, a kind of federal school and living allowance. They they themselves could work out their lives.

"Juvenile justice is a horrendous, tragic aspect of our society. As Lou remarked when Adam Siddartha was arrested, it's a terrible bummer when a child is placed in the hands of adults who are totally convinced they know what is in his own best interests. The next liberation movement must be Children's Liberation. Holt himself once admitted he reached his own radical conclusions after visits to state-operated children's homes.

"One mother who visited the Ridge turned out to be an amazing person. Her daughter was living with her boyfriend on the back of the land, and the mother came to spend some time with them. O.B. took her on a tour and made it his job to see she felt comfortable. Imagine my surprise when a few days later I spotted her at a Sunday Feast, lying naked on the ground, wriggling ecstatically to the beat of the black conga drummers beside her. She had taken the name 'Morning Star' and was apparently having a marvelous vacation. She stayed on for some weeks and became a good friend of the community. I think her daughter was amazed by the way her mother settled in."

Morning Star continued to be home for a small group of determined people who adapted to the periodic police visits as best they could. One day Phil Brougham and Leni Brown visited with Leni's younger sister. They accompanied Lou, Near, Gina and Ramón on a tour of some land for sale across the Russian River. Leni had filled out into a beautiful, poised young woman. Phil, frizzy red hair framing a smiling face, talked and laughed on the drive.

The acreage was landlocked, but accessible on foot from the neighboring Apple Tree Canyon commune. A Morning Star brother living there took the group on a tour. The land was hilly, heavily forested with redwood, bay and madrone. It adjoined a Pomo Indian burial ground as well as a mineral spring. And it was cheap - forty acres for $3000, an unheard-of low price for that area. Lou just happened to have collected that amount to pay his contempt of court fines. Should he buy the land instead?

The following day Gwen went into labor. Gina and Ramón attended the birth in Bill and Gwen's little garden home.

RAMON: "Raspberry Hummingbird Sundown Wheeler was born at 6:34:40 as near as we could figure it. Gwen was magnificent and the baby perfect. We were all beside ourselves with happiness. It couldn't have been a better birth, out there next to the corn patch, the sunset glow matching the ecstasy we felt in being able to participate in such a sacred event. Bill's verbal encouragement to Gwen became known as 'Poppa Willy's Prepartum Pep Talk' when it was repeated at other births on the land."

After Raspberry's birth, Lou, Near, Gina and Ramón drove back to the real estate office and bought the forty acres for God. The realtor tried to put quotation marks around God, to 'God' God, as it were. But Lou said no, the deed must read from the Bank of America to God, straight and simple. They named the land Raspberry in honor of the new life at the Ridge.

Raspberry's first trip away from the ranch came shortly thereafter when Bill and Gwen visited Grandma Passalaqua, the matriarch of the sheep ranching family whose land bordered Wheeler's to the west. Grandma had been circulating a petition requesting the county close down the Ridge community. A fragile, white-haired seventy-year-old, she patrolled her ranch with a shotgun and a two-way radio. Coleman Valley Road ran through the middle of her property, and sometimes Ridge visitors wandered off the road into one of her pastures. Some hippie stoned on LSD even went swimming in her water tank one day.

She was delighted to meet Raspberry but was horrified at her name. Invited inside, Bill and Gwen sat at her kitchen table and talked. She told them that her granddaughters could no longer ride their horses into the West Canyon because of nude male sunbathers. Also, she was constantly losing sheep to wandering dogs. Through her binoculars, she had counted twenty dogs on the Ridge in one day. She had heard there were ex-cons living there, and felt that their presence threatened the lives and possessions of her family.

Bill explained that most everyone who came to his land was peace-loving, and that the community wanted to maintain friendly relations with the neighbors. If the Ridge was closed, many families would be homeless. Grandma felt compassion for the families, explaining her main worry involved the single men. After a long discussion, Bill persuaded her to drop the petition on the condition that the Ridge limit its dog population to four, all of whom would be kept indoors at night. The trade-off seemed reasonable, and they parted with a mutual feeling of trust.

With the legal pressure against the Ridge increasing, Bill asked Ramón to write a pamphlet explaining their situation and asking for financial help. Both the Ridge and Morning Star needed to communicate in their own words what they were doing, and how the authorities were responding. Ramón typed away for some days and consulted with friends before putting together the first Open Land Manifesto which was printed that fall. His writing was concise and moving, describing the joys and heartbreaks of Open Land. The Whole Earth Catalog reprinted a photo and squib with the result that Bill received five hundred requests for copies from all over the country (see Appendix A).

Word trickled back from India that Chiranjiva was in Nepal on his way to the States but had cashed in the ticket Lou had bought him. Lou fretted, finally sending a second ticket. At last Chiranjiva arrived! Slim form clad in Levi's, he had hitchhiked from the airport to Morning Star, a fact that impressed Superman very much. "A hitchhiking guru!" he commented in amazement. A welcoming party was prepared for the white-bearded holy man at the Ridge on the first of September. People gathered in the Pine Grove, some LSD circulated and the musicians tuned up.

By the time Lou, Near, Chiranjiva and a group of Olompali folk arrived, the musicians were too stoned to play. The children had taken over the instruments, banging away happily on the drums while Claudia Cow mosied over to see what was happening. Four beautiful naked sisters placed a garland of pink lilies around Chiranjiva's neck.

"I'm only a beggar," he said, bowing to the ground in appreciation of the honor.

Everyone stared in growing delight at this handsome Bengali who claimed to be the Creator of the Universe in human form. Later that day, while taking a tour of the land, Chiranjiva described what he saw as 'divine infantilism.' A man of tremendous energy and looking younger than his fifty-seven years, he rested briefly at O.B.'s tent, the Ridge's own holy man.

Sometime during that afternoon, Nevada staggered up to him, drunk as usual. "I shee tha' you're a holy man," he hiccuped in Chiranjiva's face. "Have you sheen Jesus, motherfucker?"

When Chiranjiva was told Nevada's name, he commented, "Ah, yes, the testing grounds."

There was a great deal of discussion about Chiranjiva during the next days. Zen Jack felt he was a phony and left immediately for the San Francisco Zen Center to clear his head with some no-nonsense meditation.

ZEN JACK: "We're all Lou's ultimate dream - Morning Star, Wheeler's Ranch. And he sees all his efforts and work - the whole thing - being washed away in gallons of Red Mountain wine and violence and screaming and knives. So he goes to India to find the guru - the great hash-smoking guru. And finally, after months and months of delays, Chiranjiva arrives at Morning Star. The winos are down by the Lower House getting loaded on wine, heh-heh-heh. But the guru to save Morning Star from the winos is here! He goes down and comes back staggering, bloody-eyed drunk, and says to Lou, heh-heh-heh, 'Why do you spend so much money on hashish? This Red Mountain is just as good!'"

The next day many people gathered at Morning Star to hear Chiranjiva discuss the new age which he called 'Shiva Kalpa.' He chanted the Bhagavad Gita on Don and Sandy's platform - all that remained of their house after complying with the county's building code - while the listeners lounged and dozed. He then left for the city to give a talk over a local hip radio station and see the sights.

FRIAR TUCK: "When Chiranjiva came to Morning star, he set himself above the rest of the people there. He was very aloof, to say the least. Anyway, early one morning Chi-Chi, as we called him, was sitting in the lotus position with all his girls around him.

"Nevada came stumbling up with a jug of wine in one hand. He squinted at the group, weaving back and forth. 'Wha' th' fuck's goin' on?' he inquired politely. Then he posted himself directly in front of Chi-Chi, just barely managing to stay on his feet, staring at him. 'Ah'll trade yuh thish bottle of wine for thoshe two chicks,' he said, pointing at two of the more luscious-looking women.

"And Chi-Chi, of course, didn't say a word. He just sat there with his eyes closed.

"'Di'n you hear wha' Ah shaid?' Nevada screamed. 'Don' you unnershtan', man? Ah shaid Ah'll trade you thish whole bottle of wine for thoshe two chicks!' And he gave the sisters a pleasant leer.

"But Chi-Chi was above it all. He must've realized Nevada was there, but he didn't really want to hear what he had to say. I guess Nevada had been drinking all night or something. Anyway, Nevada started rubbing his stomach - I witnessed the whole thing, man. 'Unhhh, thish goddam wine ish really - ulp!' And he puked all over Chi-Chi."

RAMON: "Lou had great hopes for 'Father,' as his disciples called Chiranjiva. He expected him to settle in at Morning Star and zap the county officials with high vibrations. Instead, Chiranjiva spent more and more time in the city and made it clear he didn't like life at the ranch. It's primitive earthiness reminded him too much of the poverty of India, just what he wanted to forget. For him there was nothing new about shitting in the woods, and he preferred the amenities of hot water and clean surroundings."

"Lou tried to hide his disappointment, but said he was writing Chiranjiva's little grandson in India a long letter about it all. Near had not accepted Lou's guru as her own, and remained somewhat critical of the goings-on."

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