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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 17
The Ahimsa Church, The Manifesto & Another Inspection

One day Cliff and Ramón rode over to Morning Star in the back of the community truck along with a load of garbage on its way to the dump. Cliff had his guitar, and Ramón his accordion strapped to his shoulders which he was allowing the bumps in the road to play for him. Cliff, a livewire, nutty, vibrant but sometimes grouchy brother, was evolving into a self-taught southpaw guitarist on a right-hand guitar. From his house in the Pine Grove he fulfilled the role of a community watchdog, barking at newcomers he considered uncool.

LOU: "Cliff is a great musician, but afflicted with the same troubles Ramón and I know about musicians. He once came to me and complained that my mere presence turned everything into a teacher-pupil relationship. For example, when Ramón and Alan were putting together Alan's house, he said, 'Lou, when you appear, people automatically begin bending nails and acting in a peculiar manner. It's terrible, Lou, because that's what you do every time you show up!'

"And I know this is a true fault of mine, because it's an allergic reaction to ensemble performance of music. In other words, I've played in ensemble for so many years, that unless it's done my way I don't play at all. And Cliff understands that and he resents it, of course. Now I recently noticed he has put on glasses to be able to read music, and so he'll understand my position because I've recently taken my glasses off."

Ramón visited Morning Star frequently during Chiranjiva's stay, caught up in the excitement surrounding the guru. He took the opportunity to pick up some lumber out of the ruins of the Lower House, a window frame from John Butler's room, a door Sandy King had decorated. Sandy was nine and a half months pregnant, living with Don at the bottom of the West Canyon. At last she went into labor and delivered a huge boy - over ten pounds. She tore a little, but otherwise came through beautifully. The baby was another Open Land beauty and they named him Rainbow Canyon King.

Similar to Lou, Bill Wheeler began spending a great deal of time in the courts. Aside from the county's own show-cause actions, Jack O'Brien had sued to close the right-of-way through his ranch. Bill and his attorney Corbin began to consider forming a corporation to remove the burden of Ridge ownership from Bill's shoulders. The more the community grew from a random collection of individuals into an integral tribe, the more pressing the need to spread responsibility more evenly among the people. Financial contributions had begun trickle in, and the decision about how to spend them needed to be shared. Also the community needed some way to confront the establishment other than Bill's short-tempered shouting.

Corbin created a church structure which he named The Ahimsa Church from Gandhi's term for non-violence. Some people objected to the name because they were unfamiliar with it. Also an Ahimsa Church already existed somewhere else. But Corbin wanted to base his arguments upon how harmless the Ridgefolk were in spite of their radical Open Land concept, and thus should be left alone. So the name stuck, and the church was formed as a legal California corporation with a board of trustees elected once a year. The elections were classic New Age events because whoever wanted the job was the one who got it. There was always someone around who would accept the presidency, while those who liked numbers and money gravitated to the job of treasurer. Church activities waxed and waned according to seasonal rhythms, but in every later crisis it proved a help in getting things accomplished.

Within the articles of The Ahimsa Church was included a section entitled 'Keeping The Faith:'

"This corporation exists for the worship of God, our Heavenly Father, and of the earth, our Mother, through the practice and dissemination of the doctrine of harmlessness to the earth and to one's fellow men. All directors and officers of this corporation are charged with the duty of keeping the foregoing article of faith. Among the primary functions of the corporation is the maintenance of the premises of the church as Open Land. The board of directors shall make rules and regulations as it deems necessary or desir-able for the maintenance of Open Land, following always the principle that all brothers and sisters who will act so as to keep the land open have a home in the Ahimsa Church."

Corbin then drew up a long and complicated deed with provisions that the land could never be sold, exploited for profit, rented, borrowed or closed. In the event of the failure of the church, the land would revert back to Bill or his heirs. This provision prevented the land from being given to something like the Boy Scouts of America which by California Law could have happened if the church folded without a provision for the dispersal of its assets. Otherwise, the Ridge was now church land and common property for as long as the Ahimsa Church maintained its existence.

Corbin then tried to get a tax exemption for the corporation. Other somewhat similar groups had achieved a similar status, but when the Internal Revenue Service finally got around to reviewing the application, their requirements suddenly became a great deal tighter than before. They turned down the request, explaining that the Ridge resembled a cooperative country club more than a charitable institution. Corbin wanted to appeal the decision, but other more pressing matters intervened.

The Ahimsa Church received donations and paid for such expenses as cow feed, legal fees and repairs to the community truck which had become the primary means of transportation in and out of the ranch. Church members organized food conspiracies which bought food in bulk at wholesale prices, hauled it back to the land and distributed it. Sacks of grain were left in the Free Store in the barn, and people took what they needed. Also, the Church started a dental fund which allowed some people to get their teeth fixed.

RAMON: "Ah, the Free Store, an institution so dear to Gina's heart. She moved it item by item to the Mouse House, a dress here, a coat there, until finally out of desperation I packed it all up and took it back to the barn. Then the whole process began again as Gina, assuming her alternate identity 'Peachy Freestore,' burrowed happily in the piles of clothing for hours."

Officers of the Ahimsa Church fronted for the people with the Welfare Department, signed rent receipts and kept appointments. The last president of the Church, Snakepit Eddie, used his position to resolve many problems. He had been born into a black middle-class family in Oakland. During his twenties and after a failed marriage, he moved to an isolated northern California county with a white womanfriend. Because he was one of the few Blacks around, living in a mixed marriage and considered 'uppity,' the local police made no secret of their hatred of him. He was involved in a number of scrapes, and arrived at the Ridge in 1969, saxophone in hand, sporting a half-shaved head. He began to build a rambling, multi-storied mansion on the side of Hoffie's Hill near an abandoned well referred to as 'The Snake Pit' because of the numerous snakes coiled and draped in its murky depths. His house broke every rule in the building code but was a masterpiece of invention. For the next several years he holed up, working on his music which evolved into a free-form, highly expressive, Miles Davis style. As an advocate of people's music, he emphasized the creative, spontaneous side rather than the technical, and encouraged many to make music who otherwise would not have done so.

At the end of September, the county gave the Ridge twenty-four hour notice of its intention to conduct a three-day inspection. The following day was a busy one, everyone scurrying about cleaning up the place. On the first inspection morning, many of the inhabitants left to spend the day at the Russian River. A big busload of freaks had driven in during the night and parked on top of Hoffie's Hill next to the cross, the ceremonial gathering spot. The bus stood at the center of an explosion of belongings and sleeping bodies. When Ramón went to warn them of the impending official visit, a drowsy arm handed him a baggie of mescaline in response.

Thursday brought more officials. The community truck, just leaving, encountered them at O'Brien's front gate. The Ridgefolk yelled at them, especially at one cop Sam Merovitch, an ex-L.A. policeman who was disliked by everyone for his insensitive, up-tight piggishness. This was one of the few times that the community as a group vented its feelings against the county officials.

LOU: "I deeply resent the word 'pig' used in connection with peace officers. It has been my experience since I lived at Morning Star that people who are called to the office of law enforcement are really 'Kshatrya' or warrior caste. Morning Star Ranch has become a gathering-place for warrior caste people. Of course we are all all-caste - we are all priests, warriors, businessmen, artisans, servants and outcasts, but the emphasis in those who have assembled here to free Mother Earth from exclusive ownership are primarily warrior caste. And similar to other peace officers, Sam is warrior caste.

"The more I associate with peace officers from the Sonoma County Sheriff's office, the more I respect the profession. Alas, the more I associate with attorneys and judges, the lower my respect falls for those particular callings because they are like prostitutes - people who render a service professionally which should be free. Now Sam is not a particularly perceptive individual, but he has an idea of what is happening.

"There have been three officers on the Morning Star beat who understood what was going on: John Nichols, Dan Miner and Bob Walker. And the job of a peace officer in our time can test the soul of a man. I mean, if you receive a 5150 - a call to apprehend a psychopath - let's say there's a nutty lady throwing oranges around in the Safeway - that call may come at 9:45 when you've only been on the job forty-five minutes and your coffee has hardly settled. You go to pick up the lady who is very nice except that she draws a four-inch fingernail scratch down your face when you try to tell her to stop throwing fruit around the store. Half an hour later you are called to a domestic argument where the fellow greets you at the door with a shotgun. It's an argument in which you have no possible interest except that he's already knocked two teeth out of his wife's mouth.

"Bob Walker has told me lamentingly that there should be some kind of psychologist present at the office to whom an officer can go and say, 'Look, I've already had two encounters which have rendered me unfit to continue my day's work. It won't be malingering if I say I can't do any more.' If those two incidents happen before 10:30 in the morning, you can figure out where you'll be by 4:30 that afternoon. You'll be psychotic. You'll be unable to render services of peace to anybody. But nevertheless the sheriff's deputies still do so, and my respect for the profession rises."

COYOTE: "We'd be walking around the land, tripping on acid, and just out of the clear blue sky we'd see somebody we'd never seen before with a very, very dark-colored aura. He'd try to be friendly, but at the same time he was being very cold to us, seeing what kind of information he could get. So we'd just walk up to him and go, 'Hi, how are you?' and when he opened his mouth to say something we'd shove acid in it. 'Here, man, you need this. What's the matter with you? Why aren't you being cool?' And he'd say, 'Ghrh, what's that? What are you doing?' And we'd say, 'Well, have a good trip,' and walk off into the sunset. Whichever way the wind was blowing, that's the way we'd go. I think we dosed something like seven pigs up there, seven people who we felt really needed it because they gave off the vibes like they were there to see what we were up to."

BART: "The jailer, who Samuel got to know, told him they'd lost more undercover agents to Open Land than to any other project - not physically but spiritually."

While the Manifesto was being prepared for the printer, many trips were made to San Francisco. During one of them, Gina, Bill and Ramón stopped off to see Lou and Near at the apartment where Chiranjiva was staying. The atmosphere was a bit strained, and Near left with them on their return to the Ridge. What was going on?

LOU: "My whole life has been dedicated to the proposition that if anyone is told to leave anywhere they have to follow me out. But Chiranjiva, to whom I have made a spiritual surrender because he has a more evolved consciousness than my own, sensing that I'm hung up on my discovery of Open Land - not my discovery, but I do formulate it more frequently than others - anyway, Chiranjiva said to himself, 'I have to crash Lou loose from this or he will be the land-access-to-which-is-denied-no-one doll for the rest of his life! You wind him up and he says, "Land-access-to-which-is-denied-no-one, land-access-to-which-is-denied-no-one!" But how shall I do it? I'll stage a little scene, and then he'll have to give up!'

"So the scene began with Near popping two strawberry LSD tabs of 225 micrograms each into Chiranjiva's mouth on the sly. And Chiranjiva, who had been dosed before, looked at me and said, 'The same dumb joke! This is the fourth time they are giving me this!' He was very angry and said, 'Near, get out!' And then he turned to me and said, 'Well, are you going too?' I stayed, although needless to say there was extended domestic unrest in my house for a while. We are all sincere aspirants being hastened to our heart's desire in the most direct possible way."

When the Manifesto went to the printer, Ramón began writing down his religion at Corbin's request. He finished it the day before Lou's birthday (October 10th) and tried it out on Fruits'n Nuts Nancy and Old Ben. They liked it and were very encouraging. Entitled Morning Star Faith, Thy Open Land Church (see Appendix B), it incorporated suggestions from Alan, Bill and Lou among others. The next day, a group from the Ridge left for Morning Star for Lou's birthday but missed him. Ramón forgot his accordion at the post office and had to go back for it. The trip continued to the city where, after supper with Gwen's brother Peter, they visited Chiranjiva. When he began his what-a-drag-it-is-to-live-in-the-woods-like-animals harangue, Ramón became angry.

"But we are animals!" he insisted.

"Get out!" Chiranjiva yelled. "Get out!"

Gina and Ramón stood up to leave, trembling with emotion.

"Theatrical braggart!" Ramón shouted and left the room.

"God bless Morning Star!" Gina added, and slammed the front door. "God bless the poor and the homeless!"

LOU: "Ramón of course hurt Chiranjiva deeply, and the reason - that was made clear to me - is that just because I have found my guru doesn't mean that all of my friends and co-workers must accept the same guru. That's absolutely preposterous. It must be an action of the heart - a spontaneous outcropping of divine love.

"Chiranjiva has of course hurt me many times for my own benefit. I would say that the wound from which I have yet to recover is when he took me aside one day and said, 'Your whole open land thing is nothing but a re-run of Vinova Bhave.' Vinova Bhave is the disciple of Gandhi who is the originator of the Bhu-Dan (land gift) movement in India. I have never recovered from that blow. Vinova has done great work, but the problem is that he has never opened land like a lotus, but instead like a corporation. That is the Indian hang-up. But Vinova is very high. Everybody in India loves Vinova-ji. But Open Land in the United States is no re-run of anything. If you can find a precedent for this, I want to see it. Now Chiranjiva knew all this, but he wanted to deflate my ego just a trifle and took this path to do so."

RAMON: "I must confess that I was already somewhat annoyed at Chiranjiva before I came into his presence that day. I had heard reports of his tantrums, of his referring to Lou as 'that Jewish ape' and to Near as 'old cheesy cunt,' epithets that seemed somewhat lacking in the love and gratitude you would think he would feel for the people who had hauled him and his family out of a mud hut into what could only seem like an earthly paradise in comparison. Later we became friendly again, although I saw little to emulate among his circle of disciples and family. He seemed to run a sort of city dope recreation center."

LOU: "One of the delights of having a guru is known as bad-mouthing the guru, which I am unable to do. I cannot to that. But I leave you to some of his goddesses who can do it so much better than I. Then you'll see, and Chiranjiva will love it because every time you say anything about him he says, 'It's me!'"

RAMON: "On October 21st, the county housewreckers arrived at Morning Star. By the judge's order, the bulldozer growled across the meadow, tearing up the fragile topsoil and knocking down a redwood by the front driveway. In two days all the existing structures except for Lou's studio had disappeared into the wrecking machines. Goodbye Lower House, goodbye Upper House, garage, goodbye dear old barn, Don and Sandy's platform, David and Penny's treehouse, Pam and Larry's meadowboat. Three plum trees went with the Lower house. New houses can be built in a few weeks, but trees take long years to establish themselves and bear fruit. Killers! Desecraters!"

LOU: "During the first bulldozing, I freaked out only once. The bulldozers began pushing down the Upper House. Near and I got into the car and left. When we came back, not only was the house gone but they had torn down the garage too. That's when I really got annoyed. I started yelling and cursing Zack Shaw, the building inspector, and one of the men driving the bulldozer got scared but continued to do his job. The interesting thing was that my studio was never touched, and it never was up to code. It was, however, within 300 feet of an operating toilet facility - the bath house - a facility that operated for about four days before it was inundated with shit from all the offerings. Originally Chuck Herrick told me I could have an operational shithouse for less than $300. Some fifteen grand later, it was still not functioning. So that was a breech birth. The project of erecting a code shithouse at Morning Star broke three men. When it finally was completed, it operated for four days."

NEAR: "8:00 a.m. The loud clanging of the bulldozer bell awakened those still sleeping at Morning Star. Two dump trucks with a crew of eight men had arrived. Some brought along their teenage children along to watch the 'fun.' They had a map prepared by the District Attorney pinpointing all the homes. Residents were told to grab what possessions they could and split. Those with tipis ran to disassemble them and hide the canvas and poles. Others grabbed their sleeping bags and hid them in the woods. Some residents pleaded with the wrecking crews not to destroy their homes. The spokesman for the wreckers gave the old line about only following orders, and stated that they intended to do what they were getting paid for.

"I followed them around reading aloud from the Old Testament, naked as usual, while they demolished the houses. They tried to ignore me, although some found me somewhat distracting. An hour later, friends returned from a town trip with two watermelons. We gathered and had a watermelon party, inviting the wrecking crew to join us. The crew ignored the invitation. The party was held about twenty feet from the house they were demolishing. We sang 'Hare Krishna' and other spiritual songs. A messenger left to inform the Wheeler Ranch folk of the destruction. A few hours later, Bill and Crazy David showed up with a movie camera and sound equipment. They took off all their clothes before beginning to film and record. The camera noticeably upset the wreckers but they continued with their work. By this time the police had arrived to protect the destruction crew.

"Friendly freaks pulled out guitars and flutes and started making music. Others sang and danced, mostly naked. A few followed two wreckers down to David and Cathy's house in a redwood grove near the brook. Since the bulldozer couldn't penetrate the grove, the men carried wrecking bars. They called out for everyone to vacate the house before they attacked it.

"'Go away! We're balling!' David yelled.

"A policeman was called, and David and Cathy were evicted from their house. Cathy was eight months pregnant. She begged the men to leave her house alone, and then began to cry. She stood there, crying, watching the demolition of the house where she had planned to have her baby. All the houses were destroyed. The wreckers made a pile of the wood and burned it. The remains of this fire smoldered and smoked for two months.

"There was no need for the bulldozer to return the next day. When 9 o'clock passed and we were sure they wouldn't be back, the sound of hammers and saws started. People were beginning to build new homes. This time the structures were designed so they could be disassembled quickly and hidden in the woods in case the wreckers reappeared. The tipis were raised again, and the good life went on at Morning Star."

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