How Morning Star Ranch Was Named and Dedicated To Mother Before Lou Bought It &
Oak Grove David
RAMON: "One sunny morning in May, 1971, Lou, Near, Vishnu, Gina, Sol Ray, Katy Dog
and I were driving back from the ocean through Freestone. We stopped at the Wishing Well
Nursery to see our friend Tom Field who was working there, and also to talk to a man I
will call Paul who had participated in the naming of Morning Star Ranch. An
ascetic-looking man with prominent cheekbones framing deep-set eyes, Paul had just moved
back to Sonoma County after a number of years away. He sat with us in a tiny, lacy gazebo
surrounded by rows of nursery plants and trees. While the mockingbirds sang luscious
melodies from the redwoods on the hillside beyond, he told the following story.
PAUL: "In 1969 and '60, John Beecher was the owner of the ranch. He was the
grandson of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the abolitionist author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and
himself a poet and seeker with an abiding concern for humanity. Also he was the Novice
Master of The Third Order Of St. Dominic, a Catholic lay order with a house in San
Francisco. I also was a member of the Order at that time, and groups of us would go up to
the ranch for retreats, or perhaps I should say informal seminars, six or eight people at
"The weekends passed quietly. I'd get up early, feed the chickens and collect the
eggs, and then go down to the brook and take my clothes off. There's a big beautiful rock
there near the stream. I used to sit there, surrounded by trees and water. No matter what
you might think, it was inspirational.
"John Beecher was thinking about giving the ranch to the Catholic Church. He
decided to dedicate the ranch to the Virgin Mary and to name it. All of us were asked what
we thought the name should be, and one day we constructed a cross out of redwood and put
it up on the hill overlooking the front drive.
"I suggested that if he was going to dedicate the ranch to the Virgin, it should
be called the Morning Star. The name comes from the Litany of The Blessed Virgin, from
which two other names were suggested. All the names were written down and placed
anonymously in a box. The part of the Litany we are talking about runs as follows:
Mystical Rose (suggested)
Tower of David
Tower of Ivory
House of Gold
Ark of the Covenant
Gate of Heaven (suggested)
Morning Star (suggested)
"Although there were never any group mystical experiences, many people found it
inspirational. As far as any direct experiences of God, I certainly felt the Divine
Mother's presence and I know many others did also. John Beecher was going to donate the
ranch to the Church, and now Lou Gottlieb has deeded it to God."
GWEN: "At night, Bill often half-awoke from his sleep, still completely immersed
in his dreams. One evening he jumped out of bed, looked out the window and shouted, 'My
God, the studio's on fire!' I pulled him back, told him he was dreaming and he settled
back to sleep.
"Less than a week later, we were awakened by shouts of 'Fire in the studio! Fire
in the studio!' Bill looked out the window and saw the vision he had seen in his dream.
The back of the studio was already being licked by angry, crackling flames. By the time
Bill had run naked to the scene, the rest of the studio had been enveloped. The fire shot
high into the sky, sending sparks flying the length of the ranch. Luckily the ground was
still well soaked by the winter rains and nothing else caught fire. I put my arms around
Bill, and walked him home feeling as if I was holding him from flying away with the
GWEN: "The blossoming of Easter was a culminating point in the lives of many
Ridgefolk. Some felt it as a time to move on in search of new directions, while those who
stayed felt that they should find their new directions within the already existing open
"Although Bill was never able to free himself totally from the role of authority
which had begun on the first day the ranch opened its gate, the maturing of the ranch
brought many who lightened his load of conscious responsibility. Rod took over the water
system and the mechanical maintenance of the vehicles, Garbage Mike the trash problem and
functioned as the ecological conscience of the land, Mary Garvin did the Ahimsa Church
secretary work, Tall Tom offered his help on any project with which Bill became involved.
Such an endless number of conflicts and confrontations! 'Somebody ripped off my campsite!
'My old lady has a terrible earache and must get to the hospital!' 'Some crazy guy is
following me around trying to rape me!' 'The horses are up on O'Brien's again!' 'There's
another hole in the water line!' 'Somebody's stuck in Gruesome Gulch and no cars can get
by!' 'Can I borrow you saw/wrench/broom/etc/.' But gradually people were beginning to go
to other people for resolution of their problems.
"Individual families living in their own homes had been the basic pattern adopted
by Openlanders. Small families sometimes included blood relations or relations of love or
convenience. During that fourth summer, a group of twenty of us came together as one
family. Each had come to a point in their single or nuclear family life where they felt a
need to expand and to change. Those with children wanted to share the parenting and their
love, while those who were single wanted to be members of a family. Craftshop Bob donated
his fifteen-foot, circular, wall-less structure as a family center, and we began by
holding family dinners every night. A large circular table was set in the center, and the
floor spread with sawdust and compost. When the sun stood two fists above the horizon, the
family would gather with the dishes they had cooked for supper. Everyone held hands and
'om'd' together before sitting down to share the meal. Although the family was considered
open to all comers, it remained surprisingly stable at about twenty participants. Because
meals were never planned in advance, at times they consisted of five different dishes of
spaghetti or, even worse, rice. But the family supper was a source of warmth and
friendship, and for most of us our first experience with close communal living. We had at
the same time the advantages of a big family and the privacy of our own shelters when
"That same summer, Bill completed our new house, an octagon underneath the
widespread oak at the edge of the garden. It was a 'real' house with doors that shut and
double walls to insulate the interior. He had built it mostly from beautiful secondhand
redwood from an old chicken coop he had torn down. Although I lived in it only one month,
I loved it and felt I was living in the house of The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe. But
the path of separation from Bill which began the year before finally opened before me.
"On July 1st, the day dawned warm and I decided to visit Star Mountain. Bill
dropped Raspberry and me off on his way to the city; I planned to walk back home through
the canyon. The Star Mountain 'main house' was built in 1950's suburban style with a
cluster of boxlike rooms. A front porch ran the full length of the southwest wall, and the
interior had been decorated with Persian rugs, wall hangings, Indian bedspreads, electric
instruments and faces that had come out of the hills of Open Land.
"Later that day when I prepared to leave, Tall Tom offered to help me carry
Raspberry. We set off on our hike down one of the ridges, walking under huge fir trees and
through waist-high golden grasses to the canyon bottom where Findley Creek ran sparkling
towards the coast. We splashed in the cool water before heading up the steep, treeless
side of the West Canyon of Wheeler's Ranch. Raspberry became heavier and heavier, and we
stopped to rest several times, panting heavily and drenched with sweat. When we took the
final steps to the top, we fell to the ground exhausted and waited for our breathing to
"Without speaking a word, Tom and I decided to spend the rest of the day together.
We took showers together, brushed each other's hair in the sunlight, rubbed our bodies
with oil and made a dish for the family supper. After dinner, Tom carried Raspberry home
for me and I asked him to spend the night. He acquiesced silently, and we went upstairs
"I had not made love with anyone but Bill for four years. The next morning I awoke
feeling recharged with vital energies and spent the day enjoying Tom's company. In the
evening, he returned to Star Mountain. I felt I had to change my living arrangements and
moved outside once again. Once more a tarpaulin protected me from the fog and I enjoyed
the simplicity of outdoor living.
"At summer's end, the family meal was discontinued when an irate dishwasher buried
all the dishes and half the family suddenly decided to go to Hawaii and Mexico in their
continuing search for the perfect lifestyle. On September 1st, Tom, Raspberry and I
hitchhiked to Kentucky and spent two weeks living in the lush growth and humidity of
southern Kentucky before hitching back to California. I returned first to Star Mountain
and then to the Ridge. The day was foggy, the land quiet. With colder weather approaching,
the population had diminished considerably and many of my closest friends had moved away.
I sat alone in Lyn's house reliving the previous years, I heard many voices, saw many
loving faces, and felt in the core of my being the meaning of all those beautiful days
spent living within the ongoing creation of land access to which was denied no one. But as
I walked from spot to beloved spot that afternoon, I no longer felt the call to return to
it. I knew then that it was no longer my home.
"Raspberry and I moved into the small shed where Tom lived at Star Mountain. Soon
afterwards, my brother Peter and his wife moved in with us. I weaned Raspberry, and she
began to spend nights with Bill on the Ridge. I still visited the land often, and although
mu life felt removed from it, every time I opened the garden gate tears sprang into my
eyes. So the next critical year and a half of the Ridge's life i witnessed at a slight
distance, hearing shouts and sounds drift across the canyon and, only later, the stories
BART: "I had some acid in a little brass box with a red rose on top, and it was
real nice acid that Critter David had given me. I had some rock salt in it in chunks, and
it was the leftovers of about two hundred hits we had had. Anyway, I went off the land
with a friend who had some hash and cocaine, and we went down by the Russian River. We
were kinda late, and we saw this cop car coming and knew he saw us because he started to
speed up. So my friends threw out his cocaine and an ounce of hash. They pulled us over,
three uniformed cops and a plainclothesman, and said they had seen him throw something. So
they went crawling around in the bushes, but they couldn't find it, and searched us
against our permission instead. We protested, but they found my acid stash and a pipe on
my friend, and one cop said, 'Now look, we're just looking for some dope to smoke. If you
can like tell us where to get some, or find us the stuff you threw away, we'll just let
you go. All we need is a lid.' And we're going 'Whaaat?'
'So he looked in my brass box and said, 'This is LSD -- I know it is.' And I said,
'Well, actually, unh, it's rock salt -- a special formula. I'm not sure what it is really,
but it gives me plenty of energy and makes my vision real clear. And I need a lot of
energy to hike in and out of the canyons at Wheeler's, and I sweat a lot and don't want to
drink water all the time so I eat this salt. And this cop looked at me and said, 'Are you
playing games with me?' And I said, 'No, I'm telling you the truth.' And I was, 'cause I
thought here I was handcuffed and well, something's got to come through for me, and maybe
this acid would pull some magic for me. And he said, 'I want to test this stuff out and
see what it really is.' So he licked a finger and stuck it in the box and put it in his
mouth. And the other cops go 'Wow! He tasted that! Let me taste it too!' And they all
tasted it and said, 'Well, it tastes like rock salt.' But in about ten minutes they
started smiling and their eyes started to glow a little more, you know, and we started
telling jokes. And I said, 'Could you please let us go?' And they said, 'Oh, okay,' and
unlocked the handcuffs and let us go and they've never bothered me again! And I still bump
into that cop who had that grin on his face. I told them they could keep the box, and I'm
sure they ate more of it. We walked back and found the ounce of hash and the cocaine and
went and stayed with these three girls at their cabin."
Open Land seemed to exist in a political vacuum. At times it seemed a rudderless ship
drifting helplessly and aimlessly in a storm, but in reality its course was set by subtle
and yet very real energies stemming from the land itself and the tribes who settled there.
These energies were self-correcting and non-authoritarian, extremely delicate and easily
overridden, but woe to the man who tried. Yet someone did come along who saw the Open Land
freedoms as an opportunity to usurp power and who tried to become a self-appointed king.
BILL: "David of the Oak Grove had tremendous self-confidence, and believed his
power to be equal to any man's. He gathered a following of people mesmerized by his
Rasputin-like manipulative abilities, his hypnotic aura and his endless rap about
astrology, love and God. Of medium height, thin and bony, he was muscular in a supple way,
a typical yogi build. He could fall into a full lotus posture as easily as most people sat
down. Shoulder-length hair, full beard, dark-complexioned, deep-set eyes, sharp nose, thin
lips and prominent forehead, he was unforgettable and fit Steve Gaskin's description of
'the scary beatnik.'
"He came onto the Ridge in the summer of 1971 and immediately set to building in
an open meadow beside the Oak Grove. This upset many people, since we tried to keep open
spaces open and encouraged people to build in protected, secluded spots to preserve the
rural quality of the land. David maintained that since God owned the land, no one was
going to tell him where to build. After some intense discussions, he finally did agree to
move further into the Oak Grove, but this original disagreement characterized the stormy
relationship he had with the community for the next year.
"A month later, he came into my garden and told me that my dog would have to be
taken off the land or he would kill her with his 'zen bow and arrow.' I explained that
'Lala' had been on the land since before it opened, and that when dogs were banned from
coming on the Ridge, the dogs that were already there had been allowed to stay. David did
not buy this; he said it was hypocritical of me to have a dog when no one else could have
one. Because of this confrontation, a meeting was held and it was decided that Lala could
stay on as an exception to the dog rule. During that meeting, David sat opposite me,
staring needles of hatred and competitiveness. The argument had not been over the dog at
all, but rather an ego clash between us.
"We fought over the water system that summer too. David felt that by digging out
the spring and enclosing it, he could improve the flow and lower the bacteria count.
Without consulting those who had been maintaining the water supply, he went to work on it.
His theories were sound, but in practice he made a mighty mess of things, shutting off all
the water for a week and making a lot of work for others who had to repair the damage.
"David's followers or 'family,' who regarded him as an avatar or guru, consisted
of three or four men and half a dozen women. During his time on the Ridge, the number grew
gradually because he was always looking for new recruits. To join his family, one had to
have the right 'vibrations' and the right astrological sign. His plan was to have a woman
from every sign of the Zodiac in his group with a corresponding house in the Oak Grove for
her. He and his followers eventually built five houses with this idea in mind. They were
extremely energetic, organized people. For a newcomer to join, David required a week's
fast and a surrender to his will. Authority was administered by an interesting pecking
order with David, naturally, at the head, followed by the rest of the men in a descending
order of importance ending in a patsy. Even the patsy, however, was superior to the women
who were completely dominated. They slept with the men on a rotating basis, and were seen
as the embodiment of complete and universal love. As such, they were expected to be silent
and to radiate these feelings. Walking about the land in their handmade, long, flowing
paisley prints made from Madras bedspreads, whispering and giggling to each other, they
appeared as New Age cloistered nuns. All his followers were encouraged to sever ties with
old friends and relatives. Once in the family, it became difficult for outsiders to
communicate with the members. "David believed that spiritual enlightenment was to be
found through drugs, and he sued them to break down conscious and unconscious cultural and
social barriers within the family. He often dosed visitors with acid to gain power over
them, and rumor had it that he dealt cdrugs on the side to help finance his projects. In
any case, he always seemed to have plenty of grass. Other income came from new members
turning over their savings to the family,. credit card scams and shoplifting which he
rationalized as relieving the store of its bad karma. He wanted all the Ridgefolk to
become members of his family and felt the only obstacle to that end was me. The hostility
and unpleasant encounters between us increased in both frequency and intensity until, in
the spring of 1972, for this and other reasons, I left the Ridge with uncertain plans. I
had been living in Alternate Society for four years, and decided that David's trip had to
resolve itself within the community without my being there.
"Upon my departure,he moved quickly. Attempting to gain control of the Ahimsa
Church by being elected president, he called dawn meetings on top of Hoffie's Hill to
effect it. They were tense affairs, the Ridgefolk not approving of his power-tripping.
This was the one time when accession to the presidency by self- appointment was not agreed
to. Becoming aware of David's plans, even the most non-political people stiffened in
defense of cherished Open Land freedoms. Bad feelings grew so intense that an armed party
gathered on Hoffie's Hill with the intention of marching on the Oak Grove family and
telling them to leave or else. It must have become clear to David that he had to leave
once he saw his ambitions crumpled by the fiber, intent and direction of the community.
The Ridgefolk were so anxious for David to leave that they traded the old school bus to
the family for their Oak Grove structures. These were turned later into a community
center. David and his family left the land on the day before my return."
BART: "I did acid with Oak Grove David after Bill left, two hits of Orange
Sunshine. He tried to get me to eat fifteen. He'd always been trying to get me to join his
family. So I ate the acid, came on to it, and told him what I could see - that everybody
had let him cop their head. He wanted to be my thoughts, but I had not desire for that. I
told him, 'What you're doing is fine with me, but a lot of people are upset and it's just
too heavy. Eventually you'll have to leave the land.' But he said, 'No, I got so much
power. I could make you go flying off the earth!' He wanted to scare me, but he couldn't
do anything. I was confident of that."
RAMON: "Enlightenment is sort of like golf. If you can get on the green and stay
out of those sand traps which are all the power trips around it. I think David was caught
in a sand trap and just sunk deeper and deeper."
BART: "I could see the perfection of the universe on that acid, and when I looked
at David, all I could think of was 'psychotic.' A freely assembled group that included
Young Chief, Snakepit Eddie, Maverick, Critter Dave, O.B. Ray, Dirty Dan and Bear, went to
David and said, 'We'd like to see you gone!' O.B. took on the karma of being the spokesman
sos that there wouldn't be any violence, because some of the guys were carrying big
sticks. O.B. said, 'You should leave or there'll be violence.'"
AMBRIELLE: "There was a lady who said, "i'm going to get in with David's
family and find out exactly what they're doing, and then I'm going to tell everybody and
we can get rid of them. She went with them for a long time, and the text time I saw her,
she was totally brainwashed. Her eyes were glazed over and she wasn't the same person.
David was also in love with Melanie. She kept running into him in the woods, and she would
say 'no,' but one day she was walking and she saw Michael, her lover, ahead ahead of her.
She went running up to him, and when she looked at him it was David. Isn't that heavy? He
hypnotized her into thinking he was Michael until she looked at his face!
"I wasn't there at that last community meeting, but the decision was that the
community would give them the bus and then they would have transportation and could leave.
David agreed to that. All the people stood in a circle, 'oming' and chanting, as they left
the land. The skies were all clouded over, but when David's family drove off, the clouds
parted and the sun shone through and there was a rainbow.
"I think David's trip was this one person taking all this energy from a whole
group of person and becoming very powerful, like Charles Manson, drawing out these
people's life forces. You could see in the glazed eyes that they had no will of their
Ramon, Gina and Sol Ray returned to the Ridge that September, fresh from a visit to
Alan and Priscilla on Maui. Similar to Gwen, they felt the beauty and idealism of the
community but could not settle in again. One day while Gina and Sol Ray were at the beach,
Ramon moved them over to Star Mountain, pitching their tent on an old fire road facing the
In the spring of 1972, the provisions of O'Brien's lawsuit went into effect, limiting
traffic on the access road to the Ridge to Bill and his immediate family, five social
visitors per month (provided they had written invitations) and 'tradesmen.' All foot
traffic was forbidden.
BILL: "I cannot overemphasize the effect of the access road's status on the
community. When it was passable during the dry season, the land was hot, socially and
politically. Despite our remoteness, the world streamed to our gate and into our lives. It
was a hard yoga, constantly being torn apart by outside forces, but something in my spirit
loved it. The wet winter season was a time for recuperation. The community drew closer
together, and the population dwindled. When the O'Brien lawsuit restricted road traffic,
the whole nature of the community changed. We saw that the judge had done us a favor,
allowing us to survive and prosper. We missed the flow of people, the juice from outside,
but we were able to generate more of our own. Truthfully, the traffic on the road probably
should have been restricted at a much earlier date, but I just could not bring myself to
do it. I took pride in our being open, in our ability to handle it, even with the legal
hassles it brought. If the road was to be classed, let them be the ones to do it. I could
not turn away a single brother or sister."
"COMMENT FROM AN ANONYMOUS SISTER: "Especially if she was really cute."
In 1969, when O'Brien began his first attempts to limit access road traffic, Bill
decided he needed an ace up his sleeve. His mother had left him some money, and so he used
it to buy the Star Mountain ranch, But he put the deed under Gwen's maiden name. When
Ridge traffic was reduced to a trickle, the inhabitants began walking in via Star
Mountain, an arduous trek that involved climbing a very steep canyon wall. Star Mountain
people laid out a trail that bypassed the Main House, and a constant flow of
backpack-laden Ridgefolk could be seen trudging along it almost daily.
The Ridge population gradually decreased during the winter months. Carolyn came back
into Bill's life. She would spend some weeks with him and then disappear back to her
native Missouri. He then would follow her and bring her back. Ramon and Gina broke up that
same spring of 1972, Ramon joining Alicia in the Sierras where they began planning a book
together. That summer they travelled to Central and South America in the process of
writing it. Gina stayed on at Star Mountain, feeling close to the people there.
RAMON: "This was a hard time for Gina and me, but we needed some space and time
apart to see each other better. Alicia and I were away through the following winter. When
we returned, we had completed Being Of The Sun, the book we had dreamed of doing
for so long. Lou, Near and Vishnu were living outside Los Angeles, Lou having returned to
the Limeliters to earn some money. The Morning Star legal expenses and Contempt of Court
fines had cleaned him out. Frankly, I was relieved when he finally left Morning Star. Many
people had advised him to do so, including myself. He had done as much as he could do
there, and the last few times I visited him at the ranch it seemed as if he had reached a
dead end, a stalemate without a solution.
"While Alicia and I were away, Bill and Patricia had married in a
church wedding, believe it or not! We returned to find most of my old neighbors and
friends from the Ridge living at Star Mountain. They had formed a close-knit family, with
the band at the center. Alan had fallen in love with Delia from the Pastures, and she
moved in with him. They formed a strong, vibrant dyad, two Pisces fish swimming within the
same stream of consciousness, and we all rejoiced in their happiness. Gina had found a
Hindu guru whom she was ardently following around the country, singing sacred songs and
dressing in cotton saris, but still basing herself at the ranch."