The Free-Fall Chronicles
Approaching Terminal Velocity
pochteca --Nahuatl word referring to a
mysterious band of pilgrims who wandered the Mexican Empire
in search for the land of the sun.
Travel was so necessary to unify and support far-flung
communities, that the idea of a Caravan evolved among us
organically out of our normal life. We were about to be evicted
from Olema by new lessees, so for our group preparations for a
family trip seemed timely. The initial plan was to celebrate the
Summer Solstice in Colorado at the Libré commune. I don't
remember who conceived that, but due to the panicked responses to
queries we received from Libré, I am quite certain that it was
Prior to our estimated date of departure, I took a road trip
North to Black Bear as a shake-down cruise for my truck.
Re-reading a journal sharpens my memories of how serendipitous,
comical, and turbulent life on the road could be, and after so
many years when I thought it had been lost, its discovery is like
opening a sealed time capsule. I'll share some extended quotes.
Contemporary edits are in brackets.
Sun in Gemini - 1971
After months of labor Dr. Knucklefunky is reincarnated as The
Meat and Bone Wagon - 49 Chevy one-ton, new brakes, rebuilt
steering, suspension, engine, wiring. Everything touched, looked
at rebuilt or replaced. Wooden sides added to the bed, metal
strapping made into bows supporting a canvas cover; welding tanks
chained to the running board. Phyllis, Natural Suzanne and her
twins, Taj and Mahal, head out with Josephine and I on Saturday,
22nd May to Lost River, Salmon Creek, Trinidad and Black Bear to
gather wild herbs and medicines to carry to Colorado for Summer
Solstice celebration at Libré. Truck loaded with bulk honey,
raisins, milk, flour, cheese for the family at Trinidad.
At Little Robert's, we see maps of the Siskyou lumber cuts
threatening Black Bear and learn what the Indians are planning to
do about it. Stopped at Forest Knolls [The Red House] and worked
on the exhaust, re-routing it to save the lives of Suzanne and
the children riding in back.
North of Ukiah, on 101 run into JP, Bergs [Peter Berg, Judy
Goldhaft], Albion and Chris convoying South from Black Bear. JP
[Pickens] has a new 1948 Chevy 2 1/2 ton we nickname The Circus
Wagon. Stop and picnic. Pull out and repair JP's gas tank. Berg
planning to winter in the East. Reach Lost River around midnight,
miss the turn to David and Jane's,[Simpson and Lapiner -ex Mime
Troupers] camp in a meadow.
David has finished a new wing on his house, all reclaimed
wood. Goats, chickens, horses, machinery, new corral. We walk
through the mutilated forest: crushed trunks, trees lying around
like discarded condoms. A chain saw buzzes up the hill somewhere.
The reason freaks are allowed to live on this land is precisely
because it has been ruined. We are the second crop.
...David shows me his plans for a shower/sauna bath- truck.
It's amazing. Hot water heaters mounted over a fireplace of old
tire rims. Laugh at the notion of the huge thing lumbering
through strange towns, filled with naked people. What a brilliant
idea: to appear at backwoods homes with hot showers.
...Pick sacks of Chamomile and Lemon Balm, leave for Salmon
Creek. Stop at Forest of Arden and pick wondrous Mint. At Salmon
Creek, Gristle and Carol [Gypsy Truckers] are there. Gristle
still looking like Crazed Dr. Sylvana from the Captain Marvel
Comics, kinky hair, wild eyes. He's torched the roof off his 49
Ford School bus and wedged a Chevy V-8 into the engine
compartment. It barks like a wolf when it starts. I weld some
linkage for him and cut some needed access holes with my torches.
Natural Suzanne is down in the dumps, self conscious about
being dependent because of her twins. Her body is probably
complaining from all the work, and perhaps my sense of urgency is
Drive on to Trinidad house, modern tract home in the middle
of a subdivision. You can tell which place is ours from a mile
away, looks like a red ant heap1. The Free fishing boat is
finally in the water.
Up at 5 am to fish, me, Owl [Pickens], and Freeman. Take a
rotten aluminum dory out to the 13 foot wood skiff, which looks
lovely, restored and repainted. Few fumbling minutes attaching
the umbilical cord from the engine into the fuel tank and we're
off, to sea in a row boat! We pass the Head, into open water.
Gray sky. A dolphin, the curve of his back like a fall of hair.
Birds appear out of the swell and thrum like sine waves across
the mind of the sky. High and holy out there. Seals look us over.
Out by Flat Iron rock, I hook something heavy that runs all my
line out, and then rips the hook loose. Rebait and hook something
even heavier that snaps 60 pound test line like a strand of spit.
We all look at each other. Good God, it's the OCEAN! There are
things down there bigger than men!
Capn' Freeman notices that the fog has come in. Hard not to
notice because we can't see beyond the prow of the boat. He
starts the motor and we improvise a direction home arguing among
ourselves about exactly where the edge of the continent is. We
pass a rock almost obscured by Sea- lions and their harem. They
trumpet at us, and I trumpet back exuberantly. The rock appears
to explode, as the sea- lions scream and throw themselves and
their ladies off the rocks. We grip the gunwales of the boat,
terrified that they are intending to capsize us.
The fog lifts a moment and reveals that we are dead on course
for China. Owl, prudent 11 year old, fastens a life preserver...
...The kids make dinner while the adults rap about problems.
Everyone wants to fish, no one wants to tend to the house.
Freeman admits that the boat brings in no money or food yet, so
it is "fun" and everyone wants a share of that,
regardless of the fact that some people are seriously studying
fishing. He reminds everyone of the necessity of food-gathering
as a focus. Plans are made to gather Mussels tomorrow and fix a
dome for the children [to sleep and play in] to relieve the
strain on the house.
Quiet night. My loveliest sisters here: Natural Suzanne,
Phyllis (who I lean against, writing.) Nichole is singing,
"My Cherokee" a capella, sweet and soft.
Something has changed in the atmosphere of the house and
everyone wakes happy as clams. Dave (who escaped from San Quentin
and lived with us almost a year before getting drunk one night
and returning to his home town to brag about being the only
living escapee) builds five bunk beds today. The children had
cleaned the house for us before we woke. Windows are being
washed, floors scrubbed, the house being made love to, turned
into a home. I've seen this cycle before. Beginning with houses
too small for the size of our group needs, people live in them
unconsciously, minds elsewhere, thinking of moving out. The space
becomes cluttered and unloved, problematical, ugly. Then the
inevitable flash occurs: This is it! This is not a rehearsal for
life and people assume responsibility for the place, banish the
filth and make it a home....
I feel outside the main flow of things, so work with the kids
today. I like their natural inclination to deal openly with real
work: shooting out ideas and suggestions, - using what works and
dropping the rest. They imitate faithfully as mirrors. Makes me
reflect seriously what am I actually teaching them- explicitly
and more important, implicitly.
...Natural Suzanne feeling better today. Things a bit awkward
between the three of us. None of us are lovers this trip, some
other relationship is being developed but we don't know precisely
what yet.. Phyllis - holy, magical, beautiful woman who sometimes
forgets to view herself through the same charitable lens she uses
for the rest of Creation. Nichole here, body and spirit
apparently dedicated to random sexual encounters, moves in my
life like a warm, summer rainstorm, satisfying and nourishing.
Natch'l Suzanne getting it together for the road. The trip has
shaken her out of her set a bit. Truck travel is hard for
everyone, but for a real Princess, with twins, it's grueling. She
bounces back dark, foxy and mischievous. My good fortune at
knowing these women overwhelms me. The fact that they love me is
a constant challenge to deserve them.
Sheriff comes. Someone pissed outside again and a neighbor,
who just happened to be watching called the heat. One-eyed
Orville drops in. He is the patriarch of the community,
fisherman, crafty, mean, politic old man. Warns us to respect our
neighbors. The sheriff even tried to tell us that the babies
shouldn't be naked, but couldn't pull it off with the requisite
John, Dave, and Charlie return with 2 fish. A better day than
yesterday. Charlie caught both of them so there was a long
discussion about making him captain when he turns 12.
Discussed an idea called Planetedge, a non profit corporate
form we could learn to handle as a tool without necessarily
identifying with. Could be the family's economic base - an office
and depot in Arcata, clearing house for the Caravan and a central
Friday. Sun in Gemini. Moon in Cancer.
Early morning plans stretch out to noon departure for Black
Bear. San Quentin Dave's final words, to me personally,
"Don't hurt anybody." They puzzle me for hours.
We take Nichole and Vicky to 101 so they can hitch South then
drive down 299 over the Coast range, fogs and firs, snakespine
hill road, to Willow Creek. Two outlaw bikers putt past, MISFITS
from Eureka, dark, wild looking men. They regard us coldly as
they pass and I get a premonition of how dark and pitiless the
road can really be.
After Wetchipec and Forks of Salmon, we're stopped on the
road by a twinkling old man in a Green Pickup. Indian named Les
Bennet. Clear skin, bright eyes, copper bracelets on each wrist.
He laughs softly, talks easily, scoping us out. It occurs to me
that he is guardian of the road. Spots the Elk tooth necklace I
am wearing and asks ingenuously, "Don't it make you
We drive on, engine continually overheating, convinced we're
on the wrong road, until we crest the summit and begin rolling
down into Black Bear. Everyone's on the knoll. The ki-yi-yi's and
ululations start as soon as they recognize Josephine, dancing on
her back legs. Everyone looks illuminated and happy. We set up
camp for Suzanne who is exhausted and I cross the creek to see
Richard and Elsa, [Marley] where we celebrate our annual Yellow
(Nembutols) shoot, surrounded by the sound of the rushing creek
and the rustling leaf-breeze music.
Leveled ground with John Cedar and Richard, set up tent in
the woods at the far end of the meadow. The whole five acre
meadow is being terraced by hand, about. Looks like China:
rushing water, green shoots of plants, the turned earth, berry
brown bodies, naked, bent, working rough handled shovels and
hoes. Fir trees, high hills, everything flexing like the bodies.
Michael Tierra lays out herbs he's collected for the Caravan:
Omole (soap-root, a great shampoo and fish poison);Wormwood,
Verbana, Vervain, Wild Onion, Sweet Cessaly.
Bonfire meeting that night to discuss the Caravan. I try to
interest people in my notion of Planet-edge, but they're
"edgy" enough about anything that would engage us with
the bureaucracy at all.[A non-profit entity would have to be
registered legally.] This precipitates a long discussion about
revolution. I am cranky with them, insist that armed revolution
is a mental pet, not reflected in the daily strategies of people
there. It is a mythic superstructure used to lend an edge of
danger and importance to what they're actually doing, which is
In the middle of this discussion I learn of Lew Welch's
suicide. It grieves me deeply. I Remember how he considered
himself as a failure and yet, how much he gave me [and so many
others] when I really needed it. Puts all our bullshit into
perspective. We have many good words and prayers for him.
Sunday, 2nd Week.
Elsa shows me a large black book covered with the hide of the
Bear Ephraim shot. It will be loaded with recipes, herb cures,
and information about the 5 years at Black Bear. Hopefully it
will educate and inspire others. The entire ranch has
participated in it, and I am very moved and proud of the effort
that these already overburdened people have made to participate
with this trip.[The Caravan] They have given me the charge to be
their eyes and ears.
Natural Suzanne tells me she wants to leave. She's unhappy
and wants to go home She tells me I've been a bummer; no help to
her, and full of bad vibes..
Go for a long walk with Smilin' Mike and Tierra to collect
herbs and roots. Have a long talk about the difficulty of
maintaining intimacies with many different people; with the
comings and goings, closures and intimacies either evaporate or
have to be perennially redefined. I say that it makes me feel
good to know that everyone else is.....(pause, searching for the
word) and Tierra laughs and says, "suffering".
The cow is dead. Danny and I turn it into ribs, steaks,
chops, hamburger for a meadow lunch. Whole kitchen buzzing.
Everyone singing my song, "The power of sweet, sweet music.
Finger popping and taking care of business. Zoe is half naked,
dancing a beautiful ballet to [Michael] Tierra's Bela Lugosi
wake-up piano. Wonderful dark Italian passions in his music, the
piano straining to express his anger, confusion, funky shuffle,
delight, running together, inter-penetrating, breaking into and
out of each other like the rivulets and streams alongside the
house. I get a very clear image of fucking Zoe on top of the huge
mound of raw, red, cow-meat piled high in front of me. Taste and
Wednesday 2nd week.
Suzanne announces that she's having a great time and in no
hurry to leave. Our departure has been put off three times now
and is becoming something of a joke. Each day we tarry adds
something to our swelling larder which now includes over 200
pounds of acorns, small tomato plants, more roots and herbs, and
several new passengers.
Owl and I work all day welding a rack to hold my tool chest
on the running board. I teach him how to use the cutting torch
and he works beside me all day like a grown man. He's 11. At one
point, he disappears and just as I'm beginning to grumble to
myself about kids, he returns with two hamburgers. I promote him
on the spot from Punkus Minimus to Punkus Maximus, and he's proud
of his new nickname.
...The Black Bear Book begins to look like the Torah,
swelling daily as people expend enormous energy adding
information to it daily. Elsa's drawings are wonderful. Each time
one is completed and passed around the room, you can mark its
route through the crowd by the smile lighting up the face of the
person holding it.
...Stay up most of the night with Gaba. Met her last year and
didn't get time to know her. Large woman who would have driven
Rubens berserk - big breasts, hips, high cheekboned face, flat
honest eyes. Quiet. True. Her questions search after my heart.
She is deft, lifts the corner of word-curtains and peers
underneath. I am nervous, like a deer. I tell her many secret
feelings, shadows, doubts about myself, this family and its
future which are hidden behind my public face. Liberated women
will save us all.
Sunday. Third Week.
Departure is a bungle. Smilin' Mike and his son Timmy want to
come with us. My truck is loaded down so heavily the springs are
bowed. He is no help, can see that but does not defer and,
passive-aggressive, lays the weight of a decision on me. Sensing
the tension, Phyllis offers to hitchhike, and it is so obvious
that he should be hitchhiking that it angers me. I offer to take
his son to Trinidad if that will help. He muddles around.
Something about him doesn't feel right. He smiles too much. [I
mention these feelings here, because they are resolved in an
interesting way, months later, in Colorado]
In Orleans we spot [Karok Indian]Willis Bennett and his
friend Darvin, short, stocky, 1950's pompadour, massive build.
Darvin is drunk, but a high intelligence flashes through the
smokescreen of the whiskey. They insist we stay and go Eel
fishing with them. Willis says it might be a year before we see
each other again. I check with the girls and they say okay...
...later, drinking and making music. All the kids playing
volley ball. Willis likes my buckskin vest with the leather
handprint of my daughter seen on it. He wants to trade for a
fringed, shiny black, 3/4 length vest his daughter made. I try to
squirm out gracefully, but he is insistent. "What, it's not
good enough for you?," He demands. When I refuse, he sulks
off and drinks alone. Willis passes out and his young son Moose
runs into the corner of my truck and splits his head open. I
drive him and his mother to the Hoopa hospital over forty miles
of dirt road. Nice people there. Doctor teaches me how to stitch
and Moose, 10 or 11 at most, never flinches or complains once.
I'm struck by the thoughtfulness of the staff. Different than the
Stop at Trinidad house. Everyone happy. Been pulling in 60
-100 pounds of fish a day, small smokehouses up all over the
yard. Neighbor relations still difficult. One-Eyed Orville comes
around, malicious, insinuating, dropping veiled allusions about
our being burned out. San Quentin Dave watches him blankly. I
watch Dave. Orville has no idea that Dave was sentenced for
Ivory,[ Freeman's wife at the time] is weaving a blanket from
the men's hair. Freeman talks about a Solstice Ceremony at
Trinidad Head to reinvoke the spirit of Surai, the old Yurok
fishing village that used to be there.
Stop at Salmon Creek. Libré has sent a letter reneging on
the invitation, telling us that they are helpless and lame,
working on their own problems. Everyone at the house enthused
about the Caravan. More and more people planning to go. I send
Peter Rabbit and Libré a 15 cent get-well card.
Last minute before leaving. David Simpson takes me aside.
I've confessed my ambiguities about the trip to him and that the
idea of continuing some of the craziest aspects of our life, on
the road, leaves me cold. I feel like being alone. He tells me,
" A man is no better than his time. To try and be better,
means being worse."
David pleases me by saying that after Olema, I now travel as
I would have liked to have moved through my place. He laughs
commiseratingly at the burden I've taken on, and I leave him
Driving South, we pick up an old man named Elmer hitchhiking,
a white gospel singer from Oneida, Tennessee, 69 years old, but
"sexually, just like a young boy," he says often,
darting his tongue about like a monkey and eyeing Phyllis. He's
got emphysema and black lung from coal mining. Tells us all about
it while he eats Wonder bread and drinks Dr. Pepper. He sings
gospel songs in a strong nasal voice.
We drop him off and pick up a stringy Okie named Walt, coming
from Oregon where he got rolled and robbed. All he's got is his
coat and a bottle of wine. His hobby is jokes, he says and he
tells jokes without a repeat for seven hours. Good jokes. I laugh
till I cry. He sings like Hank Williams, yodels and plays
harmonica. He used to be a warm up comic for the Grand Ol' Opry,
but "couldn't take the pills" and left.
Back in the city, Berg is at Treat Street. Tells me everyone
is going to Colorado.
Our departure date kept being postponed. The Summer Solstice
was celebrated on Mount Tamalpais [in Marin County, California].
Sam and I had broken up again when frictions between us became
incendiary and she had been away in Colorado. She appeared again
with my pixie-daughter Ariel, looking beautiful, long blonde hair
cropped short, and her eyes clear, as if she'd been staring off
into the desert spaces. Ariel had lost her infant look, and was
taller, very quiet and demure. I was excited to see her after a
long time, and lifted her up to plant a kiss on her infant butt.
She startled me by smiling shyly and saying, "Don't do that,
Poppa." I set her down, thrilled. Sam was not certain of
what her plans were, and I waited, to give her space to decide
whether or not to travel with us.
A long procession trekked up the mountain carrying drums,
trombones, and wine, winding through a rustling, hissing expanse
of waving, knee-high grass, cresting the hill where the ocean
extended before us, glittering and vast under a dense awning of
clouds. We blew horns, shouted encouragement at the departing
Sun; expressing neither neo-primitivism, nor anthropomorphism,
but improvised ceremony. The gaily dressed children moving as
randomly as milkweed spores blew horns and whistles and sang
continuously, accompanying the sun on its long trek into
The Red House population was reaching critical mass as family
members from different bases crowded the grounds preparing their
vehicles. A sign in a woman's hand appeared on the front door
asking people to consider why they were there and what they were
doing to help. Numbers had swelled to near 40 people and the
neighbors were incensed. "Why's" were swarming like
"Why should I have to wait to pass on a public
"Why are there children playing in the road?"
"Why isn't that septic tank fixed yet, it's
"Why don't you go to fucking China?"
"Whatever happened to our sweet suburban
Cops visited daily, tagging vehicles for parking on the
street. The night after the sign appeared on the door a group
meeting went unaccountably well. People bared doubts, grudges,
and misgivings, but the group mind kept it light and tight so
that no one became a victim. Each person was called upon to
declare why they wanted to caravan and what they thought they
could do for the group. Crazy Kevin, declared that he is pursuing
the wisdom of madness. No one disagreed there. Each person
addressed the group and conversation focused on their issues
until everyone's reservations had been aired, clarified and
dispersed. People felt fine.
The next day, I was up early, soliciting contributions of
welfare money, gasoline credit cards and food stamps as final
provisions for the trip. I was overready to leave, but JP Pickens
gets into a fistfight with a friend's ex-landlord who, for some
reason, had called the police on JP's friend. The guy was
threading his car between our vehicles and JP began screaming at
him, calling him a "scum-sucking pig", and shouting
"you stink like a dead dog." As the man's vehicle was
forced to a crawl between several of ours, JP spit in his face.
This was too much, and the guy got out to fight, even with 30 of
JP's friends standing by. JP's behavior was so bizarre, and the
reasons for it unknown to the rest of us, so we stood back to see
what would happen.
JP was ready for the guy. His only problem was that the
Methedrine residues in his system mis-fired some critical
synapse, because he missed connecting with his first punch, and
the guy flattened JP with one good punch. JP rose from the
ground, one eye split and bleeding, copiously. He giggled zanily.
"Showed him," was all he said. Work resumed after some
Finally, all was ready, and on a Friday morning, with the Sun
in Cancer and the Moon in Gemini, according to my journals, the
first wave prepared to leave.
Word from Libré had come yet again, that we were not
welcome. They were totally panicked. They felt that we were not
"together"; too ready to teach and not ready enough to
learn from them. There was some truth in that assertion, but much
of their information was old, and probably related to my failed
ambassadorial visit and acrid argument with Red Rock Mary the
year before. The group decided that Paul Shippee and I would go
ahead, since two people is hardly an invasion, and see if we
could dissipate their paranoia. By the time we left however, the
initial scouting party (also charged with reporting back about
good routes and campsites), had swollen to include: Peter Berg
and Judy Goldhaft, children Aaron and, Ocean Rush, and their
truck, The Albigencian Ambulance Service. Traveling with them was
a slender boyish woman named Suki, conscripted to operate the
video camera that Peter had scammed from a producer of some kind
who wanted a safe way to participate with the Diggers. His payoff
had been being invited to a Red House party where his glorious
wife, got so loose and carried away by the raunchy festivities
that he became paranoid and jealous and demanded that they leave
immediately. (The Camera stayed).
Paul Shippee and and Mai-Ting, a Chinese woman doctor we
nicknamed, The Dragon Lady, for her no-nonsense, straight-
forward approach to things and her exotic beauty, would ride in
Paul's green Chevy panel truck. Sam, Ariel and I would travel in
the Meat and Bone Wagon.
After a fine birthday breakfast for Judy and Ocean Berg, we
piled into the trucks to finally depart, but were halted yet
again for a serenade by The Valley Liberation Band who wanted to
dignify our send-off. This band was the raunchiest, syphilitic
group of rotten-royal losers imaginable and did nothing to allay
my queasy feelings about the impression we might make on our
visits. JP, one eye swollen shut and bandaged, played Banjo,
Digger, in a filthy LA BIKERS CLUB T-shirt, played tin-can;
Marsha Thelin's temporary lover, Willem, clad in shredded
coveralls, played guitar, Smilin' Mike played something as a
drum, Vinnie, naked to the waist except for copious amounts of
body hair, played trombone, and a crazy woman who appeared from
Mexico with a parrot on her head, did a loose double-boogie in
the middle of the street. We drove all of about seven miles into
San Rafael where we raided good radishes, lettuce, tomatoes and
squash from a garbage bin behind the Safeway supermarket.
Our first stop was to be Gary Snyder's place up near Nevada
City, and first night we camped at the Yuba River under stars
dense as small tufts of popcorn in the blackness of the sky.
We arrived at Gary's place carrying Bay and Yerba Buena
leaves we'd stopped to pick as gifts. Gary was walking around in
a loincloth, cutting Madrone yokes to hang pots over his outdoor
fire pit. He didn't stop working when we arrived and his greeting
was, "You again". I hadn't seen him in several years.
Later in the day, he thawed a bit and took us to a clean and
shaded Pine grove near his place announcing, "Let this be a
family camp." We explained our visions of the trade route
and caravan; how we hoped to stitch together various regional
economies into a larger network. We expressed hope that he and
his friends would participate.
The next morning, Gary wakes me and Berg early and brings us
to his house, for coffee and talk. He tells us that the people in
their area are committing themselves to articulating a sense of
place and understanding its species diversity. They plan to be
there for the long haul; to function as guardians and have
reservations about travelers. Furthermore, he adds, they don't
We had anticipated a response like this, and look forward to
a meeting where we can express ourselves directly to the
community and hopefully put their reservations to rest. When we
return to our camp site, Crazy Kevin has tendered us a gift by
digging out a latrine, using a hatchet, to carve perfectly true
rectangular walls in the granitic soils. It is an act of
We reclaim a muddy spring at the site by removing clay,
water, quartz, and old pine needles. We build a spring-box from
heavy Cedar boards two inches thick and fashion careful
dove-tailed corners and drill drain holes. The box is placed on
four inches of white gravel hauled from the nearby Malakoff
Diggings. We pack the outside of the box with more gravel, and
stand back. The water rises in it vigorously, the silt settles,
and we are rewarded with a deep clear pool of water to leave for
those who follow us. We feel good about our work, and hope that
it will say more about our intentions than words.
That night, members of the San Juan Ridge community visit our
camp. Gary and his family, Zack Reisner, Joel the Potter, Doc
Dachtler, local schoolteacher, craftsman and singer, and his
pregnant wife Shelly. They wind their way through the trees,
hallooing as they come.
Our camp is beautiful: lanterns are strung through the trees
and around the grounds. A meeting place has been marked out with
blankets. Greetings are exchanged warmly, but there is an
undercurrent of reserve. They address us formally, expressing
fear that welcoming us would place their still fragile community
in the path of a hippie migration. They are making a serious
effort to live tribally; maintaining separate households, village
style, but meeting often for group work and policy discussion.
They are pursuing systematic, organized research to combat gold-
mining, irresponsible logging and exploitative real-estate
practices. They are re-learning life-in-place, as people have
lived here for thousand of years, and worry that nomads will not
be sensitive to local practices and spirits. I like them for
their gentleness and concern, admire their unity and discipline.
We trade songs, and the night is good, but a gulf remains
between us. I am not sure whether it is a difference of
intentions or personal development. They are more settled than we
are and, in many ways, more accomplished. It makes me lonesome.
They are the Earth and we are the Wind.
The next day, Doc and I trade songs. He asks to learn my
Rainbow Woman Song, and teaches me a Corn Song I'd admired.
Bearing his song as a gift, we say goodbye and push on, over the
Sierras, down the Eastern slope into the picturesque town of
Sierraville, homing into the magnetic signals of Pyramid Lake.
The next day, we entered the Lake's force-field through the
North end. It shimmered before us in the rusty, dusty, earth, a
perfect turquoise oases. In the town of Sutcliff, Berg remembered
some people we had helped during the Indian invasion of Alcatraz.
He proposed asking them for recognition as pilgrims and not
tourists, to clarify our posture towards the Lake. In the General
Store at Nixon, a man steered us to a campsite on Native land, in
In Nixon we meet Dora Garcia, Secretary of the local Tribal
Council who seemed disposed towards us and invited us home. Berg
and Suki fascinate her family by showing videotapes of their
children over their own TV. Dora expresses curiosity about the
utility of this ( then relatively new ) instrument, for
preserving tribal customs. She agreed to put our petition to the
Tribal Council the following night and visit our camp to inform
us of their response.
It was technically illegal to camp on Indian land, but we
were buried way out of sight in the chaparral of a sandy canyon
flanking the Truckee River, and didn't care. Pyramid Lake is one
of the continent's magical and holy spots, and we considered our
being there totally correct.
We made trot lines, fishing lines with multiple baited hooks,
and ran them across the river. Spent most of the day making fish
gigs out of old iron rod I found in the desert; heating it with
my torches, beating it flat and filing barbs and a blade on it.
Shippee fashioned an exquisite Zen spear while mine looked as if
it had been made in kindergarten by physically disadvantaged
students. We spent the day spearing the fat, bony introduced by
Europeans, splitting them open and drying them on the rocks to
store the meat for the road. They glittered in the desert air
like the wings of gigantic iridescent moths resting on the rocks.
Berg returned at sundown, elated with the discovery of
abundant cat-tail shoots. Steamed in the sheath, they are
delicious and reminiscent of asparagus. The air was tangy with
Sage. The children plashed contentedly in the river and when we
weren't lazing away the time discussing alternate economies and
self-sufficient communities, or how to re- configure cities to be
biologically continuous with their larger environments (as
opposed to the present condition of obliterating and poisoning
them), we cleaned the camp-site for hundreds of yards in every
direction, gathering the discarded beer cans, cardboard boxes,
disposable diapers, tangles of abandoned fishing line and
bottle-caps, that thoughtless campers had jettisoned, as our
ritual of respect to the place.
Sam was cranky and piqued that she was not doing what she
wanted . When I inquired what that might be, she said,
"hunting", so I prepared the lever action .22 rifle I'd
had since I was a boy, and sent her off to hunt jack-rabbits with
it, while I spent the day fooling around with my daughter. Dora
came by and told us that the Tribal Council had refused our
request. We decided to wait and see what the next move would be.
At dusk that same day, Judy Goldhaft was cooking Navajo fry
bread over the coals, when a police car pulled in. A short,
squat, reservation policeman with a buzz cut and a tough face
squeezed his pistoled, belted, and black-sticked thick body out
of the vehicle and sauntered over. We acknowledged him casually,
but said little. The first move was his. We observed him
eyeballing our camp, and were confident that it was tidy and
nice. He noticed Judy's fry bread and inquired after it; took a
proffered piece and seemed to enjoy it; offering that his mother
used to make it too. We chatted awhile. He told us that he'd
received some complaints about our being there, but could see
that we were camped nicely. He mentioned the large amount of
garbage we'd gathered and sacked preparatory to hauling it off,
and said he couldn't understand what kind of trouble we might be.
He charged us for one camping permit instead of three and let us
We explained that we didn't want to go over to the official
camp-ground and set up next to the tourists with their mobile
condos, and tv's set up on the pre-fab picnic tables. That was
the culture we were fleeing from. We suggested that in lieu of
site fees, which we could not afford, our cleaning and care of
the area might be considered payment enough. None of this seemed
to strike Phoenix (his name, actually) as out of the question,
but he explained that he did not possess the authority to make
policy. A bit sheepishly, he confessed, said that he was under
orders to bring us in to the Tribal Council Office and discuss
After he left, Suki, Kevin and I, Ariel and Aaron walked over
to visit Stone Mother, a large, dome-shaped rock formation at the
edge of the lake. At the top of the rock there are man-sized
holes that made me wonder if they might have been used as
meditation chambers. From inside, the horizon-to-horizon arc of
the suns' passage during a day is visible. Ancient Pelicans
glided imperturbably around us and, as we left, a formation of 5
Crows flew close overhead. Kevin raised a stick into which he had
stuck a Crow feather. He whistled and one of the birds broke away
from the pack and soared directly over him. I tipped my hat and
saluted them, and another rolled out and did the same to me. They
followed us most of the way back to camp. I didn't care what the
Tribal Council had to say because we had been made welcome by the
Spirits of the place.
The next day we followed Phoenix into town, a slow and dusty
place, with streets too hot to walk on barefoot. An old
fashioned, sweating, Coke cooler dominated the porch of the
General Store, floating its heavy glass bottles in icy water.
We met with Teddy James, Chairman of the Tribal Council, a
pompous sort of bureaucrat in a crisp polyester plaid shirt and
spanking new cowboy hat whose attitude informed us that he did
not suffer "hippies" at all. He talked only about money
and jobs and could not or would not find a place for us in his
imagination. When we proposed our trade of groundskeeping for
fees he became irritable. "Are you saying that Indians don't
keep their lands clean?" he demanded, as if we had insulted
I wanted to show him the 50 gallon sacks of trash we'd hauled
in with us, but knew it was a lost cause. We should have known
better than to use the word "Pilgrims" with a man who
was still bitter about the landing at Plymouth Rock. He told us
to pay up like everyone else or get out.
As we walked back to our trucks, Phoenix, silent during the
Chairman's harangue, caught up with us. He didn't look at us
directly, but addressed the landscape and said, " That guy
never leaves the office. You people are welcome here as long as
I'm the cop." It was a comforting reassurance to know that
someone outside our community could so clearly recognize our
Outside of Austin, after crossing a 7,000 foot summit and a
flat alkali valley, we stop at a Texaco station called Middle
Gate where a rugged, gentle looking man named Vance makes us feel
very much at home. Five or six Indian men were sitting around,
looking over the flats. I spoke with a Shoshone man named Irwin
who knew Rolling Thunder. Irwin volunteered that he disagreed
with his use of Peyote, but seemed to like us and shared
directions to a favorite little camp site called Cottonwood
Such casual generosity occurred so often on our travels that
I am surprised that I never took it for granted. Life 'on the
road' must touch archaic memories for many Americans, so many of
whom were either the kin of migratory pioneers or personally able
to remember their own travels during the Dust Bowl and Great
Depression times. Let one example suffice for many:
During an earlier trip a small caravan had driven South to
play music for the inmates at the Atascadero State Hospital for
the Criminally insane. We were at the edge of medium sized
highway town: clusters of gas-stations, car- washes, and
industrial restaurants; the kind of place where locals are
surfeited with strangers from nowhere, going nowhere, and acting
as if they couldn't care less. Our kids were cold, tired and
hungry from a hard day, when we pulled into a House of Pancakes,
one of those plasticene road- houses with Formica counters,
twinned dispensers whirling industrially colored liquids
masquerading as "punch' and "lemonade" and pies
and confections which appear to be made from hair gel resting
agelessly in the chrome-edged glass cases like the plastic
display dishes in a sushi restaurant.
Our group had filled the counter space and the adults were
conferring, pooling our small amounts of loose change to
determine what we could afford. The kids' heads were swiveling,
ogling the oleaginous pies and steaming plates of burgers and
fries passing tantalizingly close to them, en route to flusher
Our counter waitress was one of those hard-bitten, apparently
humorless women who've served the public in demanding and
difficult jobs for too long. Her face was set in a permanent
scowl and her "don't give me any shit" attitude was as
clear as a warning flag. The thought crossed my mind that she
might be an easy mark for some inspired teasing to entertain us
and distract the kids from their meager snacks, which, at the
moment, were glasses of hot water their mothers mixed with
ketchup to make almost-tomato soup.
Our discussion concerning what we could afford must have gone
on longer than I thought, for suddenly plate after plate after
plate of pancakes and eggs and sausages appeared and were placed
in front of each and every place, accompanied by frothy glasses
of orange juice, steaming mugs of coffee and hot chocolates
peaked with whipped-cream for the children. Some ghastly error
had occurred; some child must have spoken out of turn or
something, because I knew that we did not have money to pay for
such bounty. I envisioned a confrontation and police when the
bill was presented.
I hastened to inquire about the mistake and practice some
evasive diplomacy, but the waitress read my intention from six
feet away and held up a hand, to stop me.
"It's on me," she said. "I got a kid out there
somewhere too." Then she smiled; a tired, ironic,
commiserating, wrinkle of lip; refused the little money we did
have and shuffled off to take care of some paying customers. I
was left with a sour taste of shame in my mouth and relief,
considering by what a minuscule margin of chance I had missed
targeting her as the butt of a cheap joke, and how abruptly she
had up-ended my facile assumptions of spiritual superiority. It
requires only one or two such experiences before one realizes
that, on the road, assumptions are a debilitating handicap, best
left in the rest-stops with the trash. Dylan said it best when he
sang, "To live outside the law you must be honest."
We continued across Nevada. A lovely couple from nearby
McGill, named Chuck and Beverly Hansen, dropped by our camp in
Cave Lake. They'd heard my singing the night before and liked it.
They offered us two Brown and three Rainbow Trout for our
breakfast. Sam spent the morning tanning a Badger skin I'd taken
from a road kill the day before.
Later in the day, the campsite swelled with weekend campers,
expanding like popcorn in a closed pan, and we were seized with a
desire to leave. Occupants of Winnebago City watched in amazement
as our sprawling amalgam of tents and laundry, kitchen hearths,
cook pots, kids, and dogs, dissolved into three trucks leaving
only a pristine beach.
As I collapsed my tent, I caught a small brown snake who had
been resting beneath it. I told him, aloud that I'd let him go,
but as in the fairy stores, he must first tell me something I
need to know. I talk to him calmly until he stops struggling to
escape, and I test our bargain by opening my hand and holding the
palm flat and parallel to the ground. He remains coiled on my
palm, flicking his tongue and scanning left and right across my
body. If he is gauging my intention towards him learns that it is
good, but deliberate. I had asked a respectful question, and
expect an answer.
He turns away and then back, regarding me fixedly. My
thoughts stop and a clear image forms in my mind: red letters
wriggling against a black background forming three distinct
words: "Anger is panic." They are so appropriate to
domestic difficulties I am going through with Sam, difficulties,
which according to her, relate to my insistent and inadequately
suppressed anger. I say, "Thank you," gratefully,
release the snake gently, and dedicate the rest of the day to
considering exactly what that sentence might mean to me.
We camp across Utah, following Highway 180 towards Provo, and
then 40 East through Heber. Torrential creeks thrash beside the
road. The Uintas Mountains are spurs of the Rockies attempting to
reach Idaho. It is rich, green, country bristling with Quaking
Aspen, Pine and Fir. The Mountains appear to have stubbed their
noses against something at high speed, because the strata
suddenly flex into 90 degree sit-ups relative to the horizontal.
At the edge of a fine, grassy valley, sheltered by Aspens,
near Strawberry Lake, I call my mother from a phone booth and
hear that my father is ill. This has been such a common
experience in my life that normally I pay no mind to it. My
father loved to escape the anxieties and stresses of his work by
checking into the hospital with an armload of books, the way some
people check into health spas. While we were supposed to make
excuses for him at family functions where he did not appear, my
uncles just winked and said, "bullshit" to my stories
about his "not being well." However, something about my
mother's anxiety this time leaves a residue on my good spirits.
Sam and I stay up late trying to work out our domestic
problems. She tells me she feels the course of her work in the
world is learning plants and healing people. She's never broached
this subject before and I'm suspicious and short with her,
distracted by news about my father. I tell her about my father's
illness and she confides a dream of the previous night in which
my father is offered the choice of dying or living damaged and
chooses to live.
The next morning I awoke just as Cheryl Lynn Pickens' face
drove by. The others have arrived from the Red House, rolling up
the road in a long line of gaily painted vehicles; canvases
flapping, buckets tinkling, motors roaring, and people saluting
and cheering our reunion.
Bob Santiago and Nichole appear a day later and Sam's bile
rose with her appearance. Nichole was an occasional sun-shiney,
ebullient, lover, but Sam's competitive instincts were prophetic,
because eventually Nichole replaced her as my live-in. These
events occur later in the narrative and must wait their proper
My behavior did not encourage either Sams' mood or her sense
of personal security very much. The next afternoon, Nichole and I
snuck off to go swimming together. After an invigorating splash,
a catch-up visit and a romp of bare-assed bouncing about in the
desert, we returned to the water's edge to retrieve our clothes
and discovered them gone. Nichole and I were stranded, in the
middle of the desert, our only option was walking back to our
camp very publicly buck-naked. So much for my attempts at
discretion. When we returned, with what I considered a great deal
of aplomb, considering the circumstances, Sam's expression of
hostile triumph, made it clear that her laser-like antennae, had
not only intuited that we had gone together, but where we had
gone, and she had stolen our clothes in retribution.
Her ability to detect my dalliances with other women was
uncanny. It would appear that no haymow was secluded enough, no
grove, streamside, tent or hill-top aerie, exempt from her sudden
appearances. One night, later in this caravan summer, in the
Mountains above Boulder, Nichole and I tip-toed into the forest
long after everyone was asleep. This was, after all the pre-AIDS
60's, and the abiding mores of our community decreed dictated,
that if two consenting adults wanted to pair off for sexual
research and development there was little reason why they should
not. Feelings of anger and jealousy were the legacy of a decadent
bourgeois heritage, and not to be acknowledged. Unless of course,
they were one's own feelings, in which case their status was
immediately elevated to critical importance.
My personal sexual behavior must have been inspired by our
country's scorched earth strategies in Vietnam. "No
survivors" pretty aptly describes my intention to have sex
with everyone I was attracted to. While post-AIDS realities have
rendered such experimentation terminally dangerous, at that time,
the stakes seemed minor and my recollection is that both sexes
garnered fun, random tenderness and thrills from such encounters.
This is not analogous to suggesting that there were never any
karmic kick-backs, however.
On this particular night, Nichole and I snuck prepared a bed
far from camp, in a gently breezy glade of firs. We were smack in
the gaspy near-crescendo of love making, when Sam appeared, in a
diaphanous, ghostly ,white night-gown and wind-whipped hair;
trembling, like Lady Macbeth, crazed with jealousy. Somehow, her
antennae, even in sleep, had locked on to my infidelity once
again, with unerring geographical accuracy. Her presence made
continuing difficult, tasteless certainly, if not dangerous,
because Sam was not a woman to turn your back to when she was
Nichole put her arms around Sam, and the three of us sat
there in the suddenly chilly mountain night, trying to pick our
way through the emotional rubble of conflicting loyalties and
desires. Finally, after an hour or two of tortured explorations,
confessions, and recriminations, everything appeared suddenly
stupid, and we began laughing together at the improbable
slapstick bizarre-ness of the incident.
The next day or so, the Caravan pulled into the Speedmasters
motorcycle shop on Pearl Street, in Boulder, Colorado, where
Julie Boone's lover, Carl, was working. We were to rendezvous
with friends there and hobbled in, fatigued and cramped from long
hours of driving. Julie was standing by the far wall to greet us:
lovely Julie, Phyllis' childhood friend; lusty, voluptuous,
Motorcycle Julie who aroused the ardor of Hell's Angel Hairy
Henry who lovingly re-built a beautiful old Harley Davidson
motorcycle for her personal use. She looked at me and tipped her
"Oh Peter," she said casually, as if she'd just
remembered something. "Morris died."
I looked at her, blankly. I felt nothing. Such a thing was
beyond comprehension. How could a man of such vitality and power
pass through the veil without creating some celestial
disturbance, some ripple? She must be mistaken. There would have
to be a rent in the sky, a rush of wind; at least a tattered
sheet flapping beside the road as a sign I might later recollect
and think, "Ah, that was it."
I turned away and lit a cigarette. I saw her telling others.
Berg came over and threw his arms around me. I felt nothing. I
was in a motorcycle shop in a strange city, and a beautiful girl
had just told me my father had died and I felt nothing except
I found a phone and called my mother. She was distraught.
Morris had already been buried. The police had been searching the
country for me for days. No one could find me. She hadn't even
know what State I was in. "How could no one find you?",
she demanded, as if that were important. "Yes", she was
allright. "Yes", relatives were with her. She was okay.
I told her that of course I would come home. Did she need me
immediately? I would have to drive. I told her I had some affairs
to settle up. I didn't know what I had to do. My loyalties were
divided. I knew I should be there, but Morris was already gone,
my mother was in good hands, and I wanted to finish what I had
traveled all this distance to do. I was spinning in place. I had
no father. The ground had eaten him. I was 50% closer than I had
been a moment ago to being an orphan.
I hung up the phone and just breathed in and out. For a long
time afterwards my life was like that, detached and out of touch.
Perhaps it was the drugs, perhaps it was the defenses I'd erected
as a boy; perhaps the impossibility of feeling loved by him. Some
chamber where such feelings would live and flourish within me had
been sealed tight as a bank vault. The combination to spring
those buttressed doors was not going to be produced by anything
as commonplace as a death.
It has been my experience that the more particularly and
specifically one relates personal experiences, the more
universally they are appreciated. There are so many ways in which
individual events are hardly personal property, but participate
in something larger and more profound which other human beings
can share, understand, and empathize with. Consequently, my own
behavior, at the moment of learning about my father's death,
while apparently bizarre, has antecedents and root causes, that
may be quite ordinary and not at all surprising to others.
Recurrent memories from childhood osmose into the present,
I am sitting at a desk puzzling over a series of
incomprehensible high-school math problems. A large, dangerous
man, my father, is screaming, "You stupid, dumb,
son-of-a-bitch" at me. Or being twisted, pummeled, bent,
twisted, suffocated, and choked under the guise of instruction in
Even though my body was the recipient of all that information
and stimulus, I cannot describe what it felt like. I can describe
the chalky green blotter on my institutional -gray desk; the
patterns of pressed concentric squares where I directed my
attention during these homework diatribes, for instance. I can
describe the gossamer curtains and my cherry spool bed, patterns
and textures of my father's clothing. I can recall the melange of
scents in the purple and beige patterned carpet my face was
ground into - but I cannot remember feeling anything other than
numb, and a hot anger, banked like coals deep in my muscles.
The nightly drama of homework is indelibly imprinted and
predictable as a dance, but stripped of the emotional content.
"Let's see what you're doing here," he'd mutter
casually, walking into my room to check on my progress. He would
talk his way aloud through the problem I was day- dreaming over.
Since his calculations were impossibly fast, [he had attended MIT
at 15 and had an extraordinary facility with number and sequence]
I was an audience, reduced to muttering "unh-unh" and
nodding like a drinky-bird toy bowing over a cup of water.
Inevitably he'd make a mistake, correct himself, then challenge
me, "Why didn't you see that? Are you paying attention, or
Next, he'd offer some variant of," Okay, I've shown you
one, you do the next." I had no idea how to begin, or why,
if Bus A headed North at 52 miles an hour and bus B headed south
at 47 miles an hour, anyone cared when they would meet or what
the name of the conductor might be. Inevitably, he became
impatient with my strategic blunders and then abusive. His
fervently addressed unanswerable questions like, "How can
you be so fucking stupid? How can anyone be so fucking
stupid?", paralyzed my ability to respond, which in turn
stimulated his fear that I might actually be stupid. Panic
provoked threats to -" snap your fucking thumbs" or
"break your knees" or, most chilling of all "send
you to goddamned reform school"; which I misunderstood as
re-form school, imagining children somehow broken and reformed to
their parent's pleasure.
The screaming invariably attracted my mother, who entered the
fray on my behalf, moved by maternal pity, and also convinced by
assiduous study of Sigmund Freud, that childhood traumas may
produce lasting emotional damage. Grateful as I might have been
for her aid, from my point of view, there were now two of them,
one on either side, screaming at one another like harpies.
"Morrie, you're making him crazy!!!"
"Shut-up, Ruthie, you're using up the oxygen in the
My role was reduced to sitting there, looking out the window,
studying the facades of the other stately homes lining my street,
wondering whether or not each one had its own quotient of
domestic horrors, or was my own unique?
Social critics in the Eighties and Nineties, ( especially
well-paid ones like George Will) have singled out the
"Sixties" as a malevolent aberration in the Nation's
otherwise glimmering history, and have been alert to blame the
Nation's current problems and loss of wealth and status on the
indulgences and misbehavior of spoiled and disenchanted young
people of my (also his) generation. Since such critics exempt, by
never mentioning, misanthropic public policy, self-serving
economic decisions and the care and feeding of greedy peers by a
political oligarchy, I guess it had to be bunch of fucked up
hippies who turned America into the world's wealthiest Third
World country, with infant mortality figures higher than Cuba and
Jamaica, and punitive social policies which would make our
European allies ashamed.
As I matured, I discovered that my childhood experiences were
not so divergent from those of many others. I offer absolutely no
excuses for my personal faults and shortcomings, by this
observation, nor blame my parents who did their best with what
they inherited from their own parents. During the time-frame of
these chronicles, I was older than my mother was when she bore
me, and consequently fully responsible. Fairness however, demands
that I point out that millions of people did not accidentally or
spontaneously generate a decade's of rage and disappointment like
gas after a bad meal. My generation's disillusion over social
injustice and its fervent desire to make the world a more
compassionate place during our short time in it, must have had
some antecedents. It does not appear foolish to me to inquire for
that evidence inside the Nation's homes where many were being
bent, stretched, folded, stapled and stressed by the economic
system, social and political costs of the Cold War, and
ridiculously inflated promises of Midas- like wealth. One way or
another, such phenomena took their toll on the psyches of the
family and their young, and my household was no exception; and my
own father, for all his excesses and fulminations, was basically
a good, decent, and honest man.
So, after a life-time of habitually closing myself down, it's
not surprising that my father's death did not immediately
liberate a flood of discernible feelings. They appeared later;
about eight years later, the first time I could bring myself to
visit his grave. That occurred after I was forced to admit that I
had failed to secure his beloved Turkey Ridge Farm from the
mountain of debt for which he'd mortgaged it. I'd failed too, in
my attempts to re-bury him there, his favorite place on earth.
Accepting those failures was the prelude, and one day, I drove to
the cemetery in New Jersey where he was buried in a sub-section
of his brother- in-law's plot. What indignity, what affront to
his fierce autonomy and pride he would have experienced had he,
the family patriarch, known that his grave would be reduced a
shoe-box sized granite plate in the lawn, shadowed by his
brother-in-law's far grander, raised tombstone. Death does play
tricks like that on self-importance.
When I finally located the site, I was stunned to find his
grave bare of grass; nothing but beige and lumpy earth. When I
inquired, I was told that the grave had sunk several days before
and the groundskeepers had just stripped the sod and re-filled it
to ground level. The engraved lettering on his stone; his name,
dates of birth and death, and the title of his favorite poem by
Dylan Thomas, "Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night",
were clotted and filled with dried clay from workman walking on
the stone. I dropped to my knees and began prying the dirt out of
the letters with a small twig. It was not until drops were
muddying the granite beneath me that I realized I was crying and
I had not recognized my own voice, a high, keening, tiny,
sound, strangled in my throat. It was not the voice I was
accustomed to. It was the voice of a frightened, disappointed
child, nakedly entreating my father, for affection and respect;
telling him how much I loved and admired him, and how much I
needed him to love me the way I was, even though I didn't enjoy
hurting people and might not be as smart as he was. I cried and
talked and chipped clay like that for over an hour. I didn't
think a body could harbor so many tears.
Memories flooded me, entrancing me with their vividness. I
was engulfed by a profound sense of loss and frailty, as if I
were helpless witness to the fingers of a loved one slipping
irretrievably into quicksand.
After I was exhausted, I took an emotional inventory and
realized all sense of my father had disappeared. I sat awhile
while my breath settled, until I felt the that the grass was
exhaling sorrow, and I could stay there no longer. I rose,
apologized to him for not having visited earlier, and left. I
have never returned.
This failure to visit my father's grave should not be
construed as lack of affection or respect for him. The fact that
so much of my childhood was wasted trying to make him notice me
does not blind me to the fact that in his own way, he treasured,
and appreciated me more than I realized at the time.
Occasionally and deliciously, at Turkey Ridge, when he was
unencumbered by the anxieties of his work, and the sky was lowing
gray; as the afternoon summer rains swept in, he would take me to
one of our barns to nap with him. It was usually the bull-barn he
had designed and built of pungent rough milled beams he had sawn
from native Black and White Oaks on the farm's mill and covered
with aluminum sheeting. We would climb into the haymow together
and he would wrap the two of us in an old horse blanket. He would
drink pear brandy, and I would rest against him, overjoyed to be
tucked against his massive body, protected and not assailed by
the crook of his arm. He would sleep that way while I tried to
stay awake, relishing the plashing and pattering of the rain on
the metal roof. In those rare moments, I felt contented and
proud, the way I imagined other boys felt when I watched them,
jealously, playing with their fathers. My world was momentarily
delicious and best of all, safe.
Now the cause of both my joys and terrors was gone; sucked
him up with the same pitiless neutrality that a tornado chews
through a Kansas trailer-park. I remembered the last time that we
had been together:
It was mid-winter, my last in Olema, the one preceding the
caravan. It had rained relentlessly for days, and the clay road
to the house was a quagmire. The house was overcrowded with
restless people in damp steaming clothes. Some Hells' Angels were
visiting. Ruth and Morrie appeared out of the storm, in a clay
smeared rented car, lugging a case of Scotch for the weekend, his
pockets stuffed with Seconals. He was already drunk.
They dove into the turmoil of the farmhouse, and it could not
have been easy for them. People were stacked like cordwood.
Joints were continuously rolled and passed around, chased by jugs
of red wine. There was a sullenness in the atmosphere from too
many people trapped in too small a space for too long by the
Morris sat at the table, punching holes in his Seconals with
a pocket knife, sharing them with a couple of the Angels.
"When I need 'em, I want 'em to work in a hurry" he
explained to a biker's query about why he punctured them. When
people stood too close to him, he would jerk his shoulders as if
to shake them off or mutter about "faggots" barely
under his breath, when a Hell's Angel's swagger got on his
nerves. He was pushy and belligerent, and I was certain he would
provoke a fight. I considered that this might even be his
preferred way of dying and was preternaturally alert to this
because I knew that if a fight broke out between him and the
Angels, I would have to go down with him.
At one point, Morris collared Gristle and said bluntly,
"Get Peter for me."
"Get him yourself" Gristle replied blandly. He
laughed, recounting to me how Morris had then propped a hand on
his shoulder, fixed his feral eyes on him and said, "I like
you, fella. You know why? Because you're not afraid to die!"
That night, Morris fell out of the loft bed that someone had
abandoned for him and my mother. Stoned on Seconals, he climbed
out the wrong side, and fell about six feet and cracked a toe. He
was cranky about it, but otherwise resigned. Perhaps he was too
stoned to notice. Ruth, was acutely uncomfortable and
uncharacteristically silent during most of the weekend. God knows
what she felt about the shabby environment and her adored
grandchild picking her way over stupefied freaks and bikers; the
women dressed like girls she had been taught to avoid. Olema was
always raw, in your face and vulgar as hunger. My mother was
refined, spoke in a deep, cultured voice like Claire Trevor, and
years earlier had traded in her Eastern European-style jewish
ghetto in the Bronx for the "modern" world and a
starring role in her own personal Fred Astaire film, smoking
elegantly and referring to people as "darling" as she
soaked up all the information and cultural stimulus she had
hungered for as a girl. She obviously preferred the dazzle and
glamour of the 30's and 40's to the sepia and squalor of our 60's
commune, but she never, ever, missed what was under her nose.
On the Sunday that they were to leave, my dad and I were
sitting together at the kitchen table. The kerosene lamp cast a
yellow pallor on his skin, and the sound of the storm outside was
a subdued howl. His eyes were hooded and his hair, only recently
streaked with gray, was combed straight back in his usual, severe
manner. He was half in his cups when he caught my attention by
saying, "You know son....." and then drifting off on a
nod before he'd finished the thought.
There was a long pause while he appeared to be checking the
insides of his eyelids for the news, then he lifted his head
abruptly, looking directly at me. His face was completely
serious. "I gotta tip my hat to you, Boy", he said
roughly. "You're a better man than I am." Thankfully he
looked away, perhaps politely, so that he would not have to
witness my confusion. I didn't know how to respond.
He continued, as if addressing the wall, "If I was your
age again, this" (indicating the environs with a motion of
his arm) "is what I would be doing."
I was stunned. I had never received such direct and
unequivocal approbation before, and certainly not for something
for which I had many personal, ambivalent feelings. I mean the
idea of Olema, the idea of the Free Family, re-vitalizing and
re-inventing the culture and the economy, was compelling, and
seemed the only worthy thing to be doing with my life. The
actuality was full of contradictions however: behaviors which did
not measure up to the mark of our stated intentions;
embarrassments and confusions. I might excuse its imperfections
as a work in progress, but he must have perceived the reality
naked of ideology, and compared to his own standards of elegance,
it must have appeared a pig-sty. I could not imagine how he might
have construed the swirling chaos around him in order to justify
what he had just said to me.
I told him how pleased I was and how moved, and then
confessed my own lack of direction and insight at the moment.
Told him about my dearth of available wisdom and I asked him for
advice. His response, was in effect, his last words to me, and
more than twenty years later I remember the moment and the words
He hunkered down for another of his long silences and then,
said the following:
Capitalism is dying, boy. It's dying of its own internal
contradictions [He was, after all, a Wall Street financier,
drugs and alcohol notwithstanding, so I listened carefully.]
You think that the revolution's gonna take five years or
something. It's gonna take fifty! So keep your head down and
hang in for the long haul, because I'll tell you something.
The sons-of-bitches running things now don't give a shit
about their children or their grandchildren and they
certainly don't give a shit about you! They've paid their
dues and they want to get out with what they think is theirs!
They're gonna sell off everything that's not nailed down.
It'll all be up for the highest bidder., Don't get crushed
when it topples down. Take care of yourself and your family.
If you can make a difference, do it, but there are huge
forces at work here, and they have to play themselves out
according to their own design, not yours. Watch yourself.
As far as I'm concerned, nothing he prophesied has proven
Little of this was apparent to me that day in Boulder
however. It would be almost another two months before I actually
reached my mother's house in the East, two months of playing out
the caravan, finishing the hand I had dealt myself.
Two nights after I learned of my dad's death, we were camped
above Boulder, in a big, wooded, meadow. The trucks were in a
large circle and we'd built a camp-kitchen and fire-pit in the
center. A friend from the East, living near Boulder, named Lewis
John Carlino, came by unexpectedly and mysteriously. He had met
my parents when he'd arrived in New York from LA, a penniless
writer. He needed a place to write, and my folks had given him
Turkey Ridge gratis for a winter where he'd composed two one act
plays, Snow Angel and Epiphany both dedicated to my parents, and
a three act play, Telemachus Clay which won him an OBIE and
brought him to the attention of Hollywood. Since then he'd
directed several films The Sailor Who Fell From Grace with the
Sea, The Great Santini, and Seconds among them, and made good
money. He'd bought a farm near Turkey Ridge in the Delaware Water
Gap and lived their with his crazy wife Natale and their three
children. Lew was a sweet and complicated man, spiritual,
ambitious, oblique, very talented and amusing, but his future was
dogged by an implacable and bitter fate. One daughter died before
she was 25 of breast cancer, and his son became paralyzed for
life after taking Xsty with his mother, walking off and toppling
off the Santa Monica pier. To this day, I do not know how Lew
found our camp in the mountains.
It was Owl's birthday and I'd made him a necklace of deer
bones as a gift. Local people dropped by our campsite throughout
the day, curious about this host of strangers who had appeared
from nowhere. We begin to drink and party and I declared the
night a wake for my father.
The music is inspired that night, women are dancing
powerfully, and their bellies glow ember-red in the firelight.
Carla's dancing in particular is possessed. She sweats and shines
like chrome, lost in her muscular exertions, giving herself away
to the Gods. Gristle passes out LSD-dosed marshmallows and kicks
the night into overdrive.
Later, I am laying in Carol's (Gristle's partner) lap and she
is sucking my fingers. Gristle appears in the periphery of my
vision, up tight and wanting to settle something with Carol
immediately. A fight starts between them into which Sam
intervenes and bites off more than she can chew. The savagery of
Gristle's response terrifies her and she lays next to me all
night, gasping like a fish out of water. I sit on the tailgate of
the Meat and Bone Wagon, watching the stars turn, trying to
comfort Sam, listening to Gristle smash things and Carol
screaming imprecations at him. The sound of the congas and
guitars is insistent. Clouds and trees jitter before me and
everything in my field of vision writhes and folds upon itself.
It is a fit memorial for my father - an unquiet spirit raging
through the camp. "Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good
Night", indeed, old man.
The next day I was up at dawn, still high from the Acid,
running through the camp, near to naked, hair tangled, wiggling
my finger and speaking like Pantalone, transmitting his essential
insight into the nature of reality. "It viggles, it
viggles," I insisted endlessly, referring to the Universe of
course, making people laugh, and easing the collective re-entry
into the day.2
We lolled around Colorado a while longer, and bumped into
ex-Mime Trouper Charlie Degelman living in the remote mountain
town of Ward. Sam had lived here for awhile when she had left me
the last time, and that was enough of a connection to establish a
network and then a couple of good parties, where we swapped songs
and stories, and true to our intentions, introduced Lew Carlino
to the Ward people and the Ward People to Summerhill and Gold
Hill people. Intra-group tensions evaporated and by the last
party, the Caravan
people were in high spirits, preparing to leave. At that
party, playing the congas and driving the dancers, I looked
across the room while I was drumming and Sam and Mai-Ting, , were
dancing together like light and dark Gemini Twins. Mai was doing
an incredible movement, shaking her whole body like a flapping
rug. She is strong as a camel, a funky-tooth muscular power, and
she and Sam were locked into one another with magnetizing, witchy
energy. Their mutual appreciation was infectious and the Ward
people seem stunned by the rawness of their feelings for each
other. By evenings end, I am drunk and my fingertips are split
and bleeding and Sam drives me home. I fall asleep and in a dream
Hell's Angel Moose is driving me around in a ghostly Cadillac
instructing me about women. I wake up with one of his admonitions
lingering as a refrain, "Get rid of the one who isn't having
a good time."
After final goodbyes, and a hair-raising, public fight
between Mai-Ting and Sam, about a spoon, the caravan crawled to
our final destination, the Huerfano Valley in Southern Colorado.
We drove together as far as Boulder where we made a long,
insane gas stop: eleven kids running around the station; people
eating ice-cream and melons in the parking lot; candy and gum
bought, fought over, apportioned and exchanged; people washing
baby clothes in the water fountain, and the yokel attendants too
mesmerized to check the hot credit card. Then, just as we are
apparently a coherent unit again, several people decide to go to
Paonia on the Eastern Slope of the Rockies and pick Apricots and
dry them so that we would have something to bring with us as a
gift to Libré. Others had minor repairs to do and said that they
would catch up.
A guy named Toothless Jim from back in Forest Knolls
materializes magically in the midst of this circus, gives me a
dollar and I have no idea why. Near Pueblo, Jeff (Jeff and Carla)
drops a valve lifter in his truck, and he and I peel away from
the rest of the group and into a Texaco station where lovely
people allow us use of a berth to repair it. While there, we
received word that Gristle has blown his starter motor, and so
someone is sent back to fetch him while, JP's truck is sent
forward with the children to scout for a campsite.
By the time Jeff `s vehicle is repaired, we were alone. We
drive through the towns of Walsenburg, Gardner and Farasita
looking for our companions or signs from them to us, but to no
The next morning, while we cook breakfast by the side of a
dirt road, Berg drives by in a strange pickup truck with some
Chicano dude. He waves and flashes his necrotic, crack-toothed
grin but doesn't stop. We follow his tracks backward and find
Judy Goldhaft also making breakfast by the road. We're snacking
on her fried potatoes when the schoolbus from a local commune,
the Triple A, pulls up with everyone aboard still wired from an
all-night acid-rock party in Pueblo.
Expecting hostility from our communiqués from Libré, we're
pleasantly surprised when they greet us warmly and make us
welcome. They tell us pointedly about an abandoned homestead
called Ordovi's Farm, not far away and suggest that we establish
a camp there because. It is neutral turf, and we will not be on
anyone if we stay there.
They tell me that there is a birthday party for Peter Rabbit
at Libré and I decide to attend alone and announce the Caravan's
arrival. En route, I intersect Ben Eagle and he and travel to
Libré together. Libré is very grand compared to most places we
live or visit. Inhabitants there seems to have had successful
hustles of some kind before they arrived, and their houses are
palatial by our standards. I meet some acquaintances there from
my previous trip with RD, and they are cordial, but reserved.
The consensus of local opinion is that The Caravan should
move to Ordovi's farm. Libré people intimate that there are
problems there which we might be able to help sort out. I return
to camp to discuss that possibility. Our consensus is that people
don't feel it is our job to sort out the valley's problems, but
since we're guests and this is what we have been offered we
should accept it and make the best of things.
In the midst of this our discussion, Gristle arrives and
recounts the story of Ordovi's farm, as he has gleaned it from
local people. This is the condensed version:
Four guys from Cambridge, Massachusetts came West with a
vision of a self-sufficient truck farm. They can't make it pay
and get bailed out of down-payment trouble by the Red Rockers,
the commune where my old friend Terry Bisson lives. Ordovi's Farm
then becomes the locus of a regional counter-culture vision to
"help the Valley get it together." The three
communities, Libré, Red Rockers and The Triple A, pool their
auto wrecks, tools, spare parts, and garage space and commit
themselves to making the place work. Dissension arises among the
original four, and Gristle tells us authoritatively that the
villain is Tom a "male chauvinist pig who likes to sit on
his tractor." Tom has made the unforgivable error of
"holding out against a collective vision of the place, for a
personal vision." Everyone but Tom has now abandoned the
farm which has become a symbol of everything wrong with The
While we pondered our decision, we went en masse to visit The
Red Rockers, who had moved out of their overcrowded temporary
house and onto their land. They have built an extraordinary
geodesic dome there, a huge silver bug-eye, seventy feet across,
rising starkly in front of the jutting red butte formation for
which their land is named. The floors are rough wood, and a
sleeping loft has been constructed, resting on stout log pillars
which parallel the inside perimeter of the dome for 3/4 of its
circumference. There is a well-built kitchen with brick counters
and four double-burners inlet into the top; a very clean shop
area with a VW engine being surgically assembled on stand. This
is the first house I have ever seen, specifically designed for
the way we live, and it is light and airy and extremely
functional. From their front porch, you can see the entire
expanse of the Huerfano Valley, including its bordering
mountains: the Sheep Range, and the Sangré des Cristos.
I re-meet Red Rocker, Benjo, a fellow I had dismissed as a
low-riding street hustler the first time, but he appears very
different now; simpler, much stronger, less cynical and very
friendly. He tells me that he has been on the Peyote road,
attending the Native American Church's peyote meetings for a year
and taking it very seriously.
Our two groups mingled easily and we spent the day with them
explaining our intentions for being there. We played a couple of
volley ball games in which their tight teamwork annihilated our
At day's end, dinner was prepared and greatly impressed our
group. Their gathering exhibited none of the greedy scramble of
our camp where people normally behave as if food which is not
under their dominion might be lost forever. After a leisurely
preparation, and a silent moment, their dinner is served calmly
and elegantly. Compared to us, they are formal, but their house
is easy with good feeling and cheer. They are relaxed and
unguarded with each other, and for a moment I compare my own
people unfavorably, thinking how, next to them, we appear cranky
After dinner Benjo stretches a water drum and prepares for a
group sing. The water drum, central to the peyote ceremony, is
fashioned from a round bottomed, three-legged iron cooking kettle
half filled with water and some fresh charcoal. A skin is
stretched over the top, a pebble put into the edge of it and a
line anchored on the pebble and skin is passed under the pot and
attached to another edge of the skin, also wrapped around a
pebble. The line is passed under the pot again and cinched, seven
times in all, until the skin is tacked down tight around the
pot's circumference. If it's not done correctly the skin will
come loose during the meeting and the sound of the drum will
deteriorate. Beneath the pot, all the lines cross in the center
and create the pattern of a star.
The drum's sound is indescribable, deep and visceral, somehow
rubbery. You can sense it in the belly. The Rockers sing Peyote
songs and Christian Hymns, and their music is very refined and
Later in the evening, the subject of Ordovi's farm surfaced
in discussion. The Red Rockers' community is riven by competing
political and spiritual visions of the world. Some members can
only view the situation through a political prism and cannot
separate their feelings about this fellow Tom from what they know
of his history and behavior. Benjo and the Peyoteros respond that
the others should pray for help in loving the man.
Some Rocker women critique traditional Peyote ceremonies as
"male chauvinist bull-shit." Sexual liberation is a
dominant theme in their community and they all seem committed to
transcending role-lock. The subject is new to me, and their
diligence is instructive, although it sometimes approaches mania,
as when one of the women turned to me and said, "We noticed
that some of you were served your dinners by your women."3
The Red Rockers are much wealthier than we are, and have none
of our conflicts about easing their labors with technology. They
argue that they don't buy enough merchandise to offset the energy
gains they've made from collective living, but are not
forthcoming about where their capital base comes from and we
don't ask. My suspicion is trust-funds and inheritance, though I
know that is not the case for Terry.
The day of our move to Ordovi's farm arrived, and Digger
style, it was a comedy of errors. Trucks became separated from
one another; half of our people had no gas, and hours were
wasted, siphoning fuel from one truck and driving miles to
deliver it to another.
Ordovi's Farm appeared to be a breeding ground for wrecked
automobiles and trucks. There was a heavily weathered and
obviously unloved, but well-made adobe farmhouse, that we eyed
warily until it began to rain, and
everyone jammed inside. It enclosed a large whitewashed
kitchen and a back room stuffed with drying onions laid out in a
criss-cross pattern on the floor.
Shortly after we arrived, the infamous Tom pulled up in a
blue pick-up with the words I-Am-You painted on the side. He
regards us warily as we pore over the house and grounds,
cataloguing resources. He talked to me for a long while. He has
been pushed and tested and challenged about as hard as a man can
be it appears, and is spare as a piece of sun- bleached
Cottonwood. Long- boned, with heavy wrists, his eyes, behind
rimless glasses reminded me of the darkness inside a hollow log.
He appeared more stubborn and entrenched than violent.
Our initial conversation revolved around outside affairs. Two
local hippie-haters named Tony Panda and Bob Hudson had been
frightening people and menacing them, forcing them off the roads
with their trucks. Just before we arrived, Bob Hudson shot a
bucket out a man's hand in front of his son, and weeks later, the
boy was still afraid and sleeping badly.
I had met Tony Panda, when Gristle and I stopped by his
fields on the way to Ordovi's Farm. His place was isolated and
dry with lots of rusty old machinery in the weeds. A worried
looking woman holding a baby poked her head out the door, and
nodded us off in the direction of the field, where we found Tony
repairing a smashed propane tractor. He was clad in soil-stained
khaki's, dark and skinny with a brooding face that reminded me of
a crushed olive. In response to our queries for work he replied,
"Yes, I do need help, but I don't hire your kind."
Ben Eagle and I had previously discussed this situation late
one night, and strategized a trap for either or both of the men
by walking the Libré road, apparently two shiftless hippies in
serapes. If either showed up and gave us trouble, we'd take it
from there and put the fear of God in them, because we'd both be
armed and ready for the occasion. Before initiating something
like that however, we needed to know more about the lay of the
land and the local political situation. I sympathized with Tom
who had his share of trouble with these two, but when I offered
the possibility of Ben and myself correcting the situation, he
chastises me obliquely and very sagaciously by saying,
"If you're going to live somewhere,
you have to keep peace with your
neighbors. When a man steps out of the
bushes and points a gun at me, I tell
him to shoot straight so I don't feel
it. Sometimes that changes things more."
I admired him for this courageous resoluteness and in the
shadow of that honesty, had to admit to myself that my image of
the Diggers riding in and cleaning things up other people's
dilemmas was a masturbatory fantasy. There would be serious
consequences to any fear or violence we initiated and it would be
wreaked on the people who lived here. The issue of freaks being
terrorized suggested something deeper and unresolved festering
underneath which I did not have enough information understand,
but which I resolved to be alert for.
The next day our camp was seized by one of its periodic
explosions of energy and people awoke committed to making the
farm home. The furniture was hauled outside, the floors were
scrubbed, the walls, stove and old icebox thoroughly cleaned and
polished like new. We painted the kitchen a bright sunshiny
yellow, and Mai-Ting threw the I-Ching and received the hexagram
for Gradual Development and drew the Chinese character on the
wall. The trash was hauled off and the garage ordered; everything
salvageable was sorted and saved and the rest thrown away. The
house hummed with energy, and when people from Libré and the Red
Rocks dropped by, they were stunned by the transformation. The
house's spirits had been recognized and honored, dirt and stale
ideas blown away as if it had been scoured by a stiff wind. We
are the Wind.
That night we were invited to play the Starlite room, a local
bar in the town of Walsenburg, as a coming-out party for the
Caravan. Sam washed my hair with Yucca root she dug that day and
by the time she was done I felt as clean as a new enamel basin. I
shaved, put on my good pants she had made me with silver studs
down the legs, and a clean white shirt. Sam brushed my hair out,
and tied it behind my head in a bun with a strip of crushed
velvet, Navajo style. I was ready to rock and roll. As usual, it
took hours for the group to depart. Gas had to be siphoned, yet
again, instruments loaded, kids tended, and it was dark by the
time we began the 40 mile drive to Walsenburg.
The Starlite room was a revelation. It was jam-packed, with
wall-to-wall freaks, Chicanos, old men in stained and dented
cowboy hats, and women in demure polyester dresses or Gypsy
finery. Everyone was hooting and jumping up and down to the music
of the Triple A band, who are tight, funky, and extremely
professional. In fact, they are professional, and several members
have made records.
As we enter the room, someone shouts, "The Caravan is
here" and there is a loud cheer. It is our moment, an
acknowledgment that we had done what we said we would do, and we
surged into the bar proudly en masse, everyone looking great in
the bar's amber light: white teeth, clean, sun-browned skin,
silver rings, bracelets tinkling, laughter. I was proud of my
During a break, the Triple A bass player, a lovely LA rock
and roll girl with a thicket of curly hair, a rock- steady
back-beat and the improbable name Trixie Merkin, invisibly palms
me a ten-spot. I am touched by her consideration, and able to buy
enough beers to get our people up to speed. It was not at all
unusual for us to be so far from home with not even ten dollars
between twenty or thirty people, and yet, somehow, things seemed
to work out.
Turning from the bar to deliver the suds, I bumped into
Susanka, a lusty and very sensual belly dancer from San
Francisco. I had pierced her ear and the nose of her friend at
Treat Street house one day. Susanka informs me boldly that they
have both been waiting to fuck me to say thanks. She smiles like
the good witch who has just magically invoked a seven pound cock
for her own delight, and fades into the crowd with an "I'll
see you later" expression on her face.
Carla begins to dance and the crowd makes room for her. My
God, the girl can dance! Her eyes are closed as she communes with
her body and the energy of serpents, earthquakes, magma flows and
torrential winds flows through her like spurts of hot oil. The
Triple A trombonist is laying down syncopated, double-tongued
riffs over the drums. Mai-Ting dances like an electric motor
whose governor has broken. Rhythm infects the room like plague,
and suddenly, my spine is seized by some insistent force and I'm
propelled into the crowd, dancing the broken-breath boogie.
Beers are passed over the crowd, flecking the dancers with
froth, old women are smiling ecstatically, flapping leathery
limbs with abandon while the old men are snatching at the young
girls, and changing dance partners simply by changing the
direction they're facing. The room is braiding itself into
ecstatic recombinations of multi-racial, cross- generational
possibilities. I have never seen a whole town high before.
The Triple A set ends and they offer us the stand. None of us
are used to electronic instruments, but we accept the invitation.
Owl on drums, Richard Kunreuther plays electric piano, I'm
playing guitar and trying to sing, but can't hear myself over the
monitors. The music is not working and I am stressed, not wanting
to let down either my team or these collective high spirits.
David from the Triple-A sits in on drums and tells us to try once
more. It was kind of him not to let us leave the stage on a
failed note. I begin to sing, Devil Dance, a song of mine which
seems emblematic of our reality. It has a refrain which goes:
If you weep, it's only skin-deep
If you weep, it's only skin-deep,
If you weep, it's only skin-deep,
Because: Every skeleton wears a grin.
Your bones are begging you to give in.
Every skeleton wears a grin.
Your bones, are begging you to give in.
The song finds its groove and takes off, discarding the
impression of our temporary failure like the spent stage of a
two-step rocket. The room is high and happy again, but I'm
uncomfortable with the electronic gear and trapped by
self-consciousness, withering under my unforgiving judgments of
my own errors. When the song is over I want to quit, but the
others won't and I can't leave them alone. We stay and play, and
are doing just fine. The place is back in high orbit, but for all
the fun other people were having, I am trapped in
self-consciousness and can't seem to cut myself loose. A little
more beer and a visit to our emergency-only cocaine stash and
soon I forget that I ever cared about anything. On the other
hand, the Triple A expressed amazement at our looseness and
spirit, and admiration about our musical freedom.
Stumbling out into the street at closing time, I see the
constellation Orion in the night sky. It is a premonition of
winter. Just as I'm about to crawl into my truck a stranger
approaches and gives me a paper printed by our people at Black
Bear, concerning a pending clear-cut of timber growing over their
creek. It is obvious that silt from the cut will drain downhill
and choke the creek, and they are preparing their resistance4.
The stranger has handed me a Planet-bulletin which has somehow
reached me without postage or address, over a thousand miles
away. Home is always where you are.
We paid for our triumphs the next day. People crawled out
from under their trucks, tongues swollen, eyes running,
completely hung over. Everyone was so hopelessly wretched it
became the morning's competition to see who was in the worst
shape. The emergence of each new victim of excess provoked waves
of laughter. We assembled a rescue center and began passing out
coffee, nicknaming it the "sacred herb" this morning.
I am conscripted to help a fellow named Harmonica Jack work
on his Chevy truck, which has idled on blocks for months. I am
crippled with a hangover and not looking forward to the task at
hand, when Susanka, the belly dancer,
and her friend, Pat drive up. grinning like Cheshire cats,
scrubbed shiny and apparently not at all ruined by last night's
debauch. Susanka and Pat are transmitting clear sexual intentions
which make my devotion to Harmonica Jack's truck waver. I bully
young Jeff into helping Jack and grab Susanka and Pat, preparing
to run off with them, when Sam walks out of the house, and with a
"Hi, ladies" that could snap the nipples off a stone
statue stops everyone in their tracks. I stand around stupidly,
while Sam assesses the efficacy of her initial salvo. Seeing that
Susanka and Pat are appropriately mollified, she modifies her
weaponry and enlists them to go off and pick sweet- corn with
Feeling as if I've been caught masturbating in the outhouse,
I return to help Jack and by afternoon we have his truck off the
blocks and running out in the road. A blue pick up with a Chicano
fellow driving his wife and daughter, pulls up and he asks if we
need help. In the back of the truck is a dead Coyote.
I ask him what he's going to do with it. "Sell it,"
he says. He has a curious, sheepish smile on his face which makes
me wonder if he is human or a phantom of some kind. I offer to
trade him something for the body, and we discuss tools and
various things, until Harmonica Jack pulls a fluorescent-red
foul-weather jacket from out of his truck. The Chicano man, a
woodcutter named Raymond, likes them and a deal is sealed.
At the ranch, people are cooking venison over an elegant
adobe fire-pit that Paul Shippee has constructed in the front
yard. Bob Santiago is cutting meat under the stark glare of a
Coleman lantern, and I lay the Coyote next to him, bathed in the
light. It lies under the hissing lamp, and somehow transmits a
heightened awareness of a circle of mortality in which all are
included: the Coyote, lips curled away from his shiny teeth, who
eats the deer roasting on the fire, which we, the people gathered
for dinner, will eat and all of whom will one day die. People are
I take the body inside and Jeff holds the front feet while I
skin it. He was a fat and healthy pup, and I work attentively,
careful not to cut the skin, finally passing it successfully over
the ears and head. I see the purple spot behind his ear where a
bullet unzipped his life. Children and adults have filtered
indoors and watch quietly. I am absorbed in my work and my
prayers to this little cousin; intent on expressing my respect
and allowing no frivolous thoughts to intrude.
When the skin is off, I rub his body with cornmeal, pierce
his ear with my turquoise earring and wrap him in white muslin to
bury later. I tack his skin to a board and salt it so the hair
will not slip. By the time I am finished almost everyone is
asleep. I wander outside. Kevin is sitting with a woman by the
fire. Over his right shoulder, in the glow of the firelight,
gleaming in the darkness, is a bleached coyote skull. I blink,
startled, and it is revealed to be a wild Sunflower bush. Three
people will have the exact same experience that night. Orion is
brighter and higher in the sky. I return to the house and hang
Blue corn everywhere. I take the clock off the wall. I know what
time it is.
The next morning all the children and several adults tell me
that they had Coyote dreams. It doesn't surprise me because his
spirit so permeated the house last night. Sam appears to have
been affected by it. She takes me aside and picks up a
conversation I had started earlier, criticizing her for her
hostility to Susanka and Pat. [The only appropriate definition
for this behavior is the Yiddish word chutzpah, which means
"nerve", but a particular kind of nerve. It is defined
as the nerve of a man on trial for murdering his parents who begs
the judge for mercy because he's an orphan.]
Sam admits her hostility to the Sirens, but pinions me by
saying that she has been through enough changes about my lovers.
"I learn to love them," she says, "and then, when
you lose interest in them and leave, you blame it [the breakup]
on me. I'm tired of it." She tells me that she is straight
with everything now, that my pleasure is hers and that
consequently I can't hurt her any more.
I am dumbfounded by her accuracy and her gift; perceive it as
unconditional love and permission to live true to my
predilections and affections. I am overcome with appreciation for
her; feel as if she has released me from a spell and that I am
freed from the conflict of loving her and other women as well. We
fall against each other laughing, and talk intimately most of the
day. That day.
The summer passed at Ordovi's in this manner, fretting and
feuding over personal dramas and public politics; fixing trucks,
playing music and frolicking; taking care of the children, and
following an easy an organic sense of inner time.
At the initial hints of Autumn, people began to crystallize
their plans. Shippee decided to stay in Boulder and study with
Chogyam Trungpa, the Tibetan Buddhist teacher. Mai-Ting and Tall
Paul decided to stay in the Valley and make it their home. The
Berg's planned to travel East and winter in Maine.
Jeff and Carla decide to return to California. Jeff trades
his truck for a red MG, and confesses to me how much he misses
the city and the fun of getting high. His confession makes me
cringe and remember numerous times I had been high with and in
front him and other young people for whom I should have been a
role model rather than a collaborator. Just before he departs, he
searches his gear and retrieves a photo of me he calls
"Coyote Crash". In the photo, I am stoned on heroin and
pasty gray; my eyelids appear to have andirons dragging them
down; my lower jaw is moronically slack. Jeff gives it to me
conspiratorially, alluding to it as a bond between us, laughing
and teasing me, saying, "I'll be there again before you
will." He piles Carla, and Owl and their possessions into
his new MG and roars off down the road, like Freddy Frog, in a
cloud of dust. That was the last time I saw him until, one day
several years later when the picture of his coffin, a 50- gallon
drum weighted with chains, appeared on the front page of the San
Francisco Chronicle. My own plan was to return to the East Coast
to help my mother, but I kept delaying the inevitable, wrapping
up loose ends for an unconscionably long time.
The ceremonial punctuation mark of our stay in Colorado was
the big Peyote meeting, to be held with Cato Indian people from
Oklahoma. It was intended as our welcome to the Valley, but by
the time it was organized it served as our farewell. One of the
Red-Rockers, a slow-talking chunkily built blonde man named Tush,
came by to pick me up one day and we drove into the mountains
toward Rainbow Lake, climbing past stands of Aspen, Scrub Oak,
and Blue Spruce until we arrived at the Lodgepole Pines where the
slender, ruler-straight trees stood erect as Porcupine bristles.
We apologize to each and state our purpose and each of us fells
ten good straight trees. Others have departed for Texas to gather
"buttons" in the Peyote fields and we keep them in mind
as we work, wishing them luck and a safe journey.
It was dark by the time we'd finished and the combination of
high altitude, three days of debilitating diarrhea, and no food
has made me disoriented. My feet are blistered from not wearing
socks, and the effort of pulling these spiny, twenty five foot
long logs up the steep hillside in the dark, between standing
trees spaced only twenty or so inches apart, was exhausting.
Branches poke and tear at me, snagging my clothes, puncturing and
scraping my skin. I recall reading somewhere how Peyote always
grows amidst thorns.
We tie all the logs to the truck rack, and stop for a pie and
coffee in Westcliffe at a coffee shop whose schticky Western
decor announces its owners' hope that an Aspen-type boom is about
to occur here and transform the homely Huerfano Valley into
money-making real-estate. Drinking our coffee, and munching on
sweet pie, we overhear that people are planning to build a ski
resort locally, and that Bob Hudson, one of the two hippie haters
plaguing our Valley friends, is planning to run for Supervisor.
His campaign promises include tarring all the dirt roads to
increase property values, and routing all the LA traffic he can,
directly into the Valley. It is a disheartening vision, but does
make abundantly clear to me another piece of the puzzle
concerning tensions in the Valley. Just like black people, and
Mexicans, hippies are bad for the neighborhood.
On the way home, a fat, happy, Coyote dances down the road in
front of Tush and me. He spins in a double circle, winks at us in
the headlights. Tush looks at me oddly, and I nod. It's a good
It required another two days to limb and then skin the poles
smooth with a draw-knife. It was nice work, straddling a pole and
watching the long tendrils of bark curl over the blade, leaving a
long furrow of shiny white moist skin behind in the scaley Pine
bark. The pine pitch has crusted over my fingers, my muscles are
sore from stooping and working the draw-knife, but and I feel as
if I am preparing myself for the meeting by these labors.
Mai-Ting squats next to me while I work one day. She
describes an underlying sense of panic in the camp as people
intuit that it will soon break up and are wondering whether they
will be alone, if they're prepared for living without the support
of the group, and what they might do. The peyote meeting could
not be coming at a better time.
Not far away, Ben Eagle (Morea) and his wife Chipita are
living in small canvas wikiups, small dwellings resembling
mushroom caps, they've packed on horseback from Southern New
Mexico. Ben and Chipita are edge-dwellers. Originally Puerto
Rican or Italian from the lower East Side of Manhattan, Ben had
been part of a Digger-like, anarchist family there called
"The Motherfuckers", short for "Up Against the
Wall, Motherfuckers." Migrating West, some found their way
to Olema, and others to the Free Bakery and Black Bear. They were
generally considered part of our formless confederation. Allen
Hoffman, one of their family's theoreticians and wise men, a tall
man with the rimless glasses and absorption of a Talmudic
scholar, had been killed en route to Black Bear the year before,
when their pickup was rammed by a logging truck while he slept in
back. Thrown over sixty feet, he remained in the hospital in a
coma, prayed over by Native American shaman Mad Bear Anderson,
and attended by an honor guard of friends from both
"families", until he died. Through deaths like his, and
births, and common intentions and time, our diverse strands of
people became braided into this loose amalgam known as "The
Ben and Chipita had been living rough for over a year,
surviving by hunting and foraging and occasionally resorting to
Food stamps for infrequent town trips for staples like oil and
flour. They spent their days hiding from the "tree-
police", as they referred to the Forest Service, and
actually wintered in the bitter cold Sangre de Christos with
their horses and little canvas tents. Ben was completely immersed
in the peyote path and had taken to preparing elk hides for the
water-drums used in the ceremony. He became so purely dedicated
to the process that one Indian old-timer, so conservative that he
did not speak English, after meeting Ben and reviewing his drum,
confided to a friend, that he had not known that "the Spirit
In the coincidental manner in which life braids experience
and strands disappear and surface unexpectedly, in 1993,, I was
walking on the Rue de Princess, in Paris when two strangers in
1940's retro Western fashions saluted me. They said, "Hey,
Peter," and waved and I, assuming it was someone recognizing
me from films, acknowledged the address but did not stop. They
laughed at me, and the man said, "You don't know me do
you?" The man was beardless, in his mid-forties. The woman,
petite and attractive, and it was she who seemed the suddenly
familiar to me. It was Ben and Chepita. They manufacture beaded
earrings under Chepita's name and sell them all over the world.
They were in Europe on a business junket, and our paths crossed
on this tiny side street in the neighborhood I most usually
frequent in Paris. They still live in the Huerfano valley and
currently employ over a hundred local people to manufacture and
market their intricately fashioned wares. They show me
photographs of a very stylish, very modern house they have built,
and are affectingly proud of their prosperity. They both still
take Peyote. They are both still grand and fearless, and we spent
the evening eating Mexican food and reminiscing about the life
and land we shared thousands of miles and many, many, years ago.
. As I worked on the poles for the second day, the riddle of
the social tensions in the Huerfano Valley resolved itself in my
mind. I understood that despite their poverty, the freaks were
actually aristocrats in the Valley and deeply resented for it.
Their wealth, aside from access to cash, was their education,
mobility, social and political skills, and they were not sharing
them locally with the small shopkeepers and farmers; not creating
a common destiny in place with them. They organized their own
bulk buying cooperatives that drove to Pueblo and Denver to
acquire food more cheaply than Valley merchants could supply it
to them. They might have been putting orders through the local
stores, teaching the small shopkeepers to do the paperwork and
allowing them a commission which would have linked their economic
fates. They might have been teaching other families how to
cooperatize their purchasing as well.
Only a common consciousness based on the Valley as a shared
home could save this place. I saw that clearly and knew that
failing such agreement, people would eventually tire of the
struggle to live there and move away or sell land to the highest
bidders. A dialogue about whether or not they wanted a rich or a
peaceful stable valley needed to be initiated. Even here at
Ordovi's farm, the land was going to waste and might have been
leased or sharecropped to local farmers creating a shared
destiny. It occurs to me as I work, that the worship of different
gods in the same locale often leads to war.
I'm disturbed by these insights. They remind me of an earlier
campfire conversation with Ben Eagle. He was railing against the
Red Rockers, demeaning their collective efforts as a "white
comfort trip "; berating them for their creature comforts
which came directly from the Earth's skin. He demanded to know in
what manner they reciprocated for what they took. From his
minimalist perspective of his own mode of life he was correct,
but compared to standards of living of most of the people in the
United States, Red-Rocker per- capita use of energy was very
minimal. I told him that I thought he was being harsh, but could
see that he'd simply drawn a very clear line for himself, and was
determined to take no more from the Planet than he absolutely
needed. We discussed this back and forth for an evening, trying
to determine the degree to which one's own ethical decisions are
applicable to others.
As I consider relationships in the Valley from the
perspective of this conversation, I am confused. I feel limited
by my own mind and assumptions. On impulse, I take the tanned
Coyote skin and put it on my head, wrapping the front legs around
my neck, and walk off. My shadow has ears, and the thickness of
fur disguises my human neck.. I dog trot around for over an hour,
breathing like a dog, clearing my head of all thoughts. I am
something else, between animal and human.
I returned tired, but finally unconflicted. The only ethical
position I can arrive at that seems as true for other species as
humans, is that the place itself must be the determinant of how
one lives there. Moving to Nevada and expecting to eat
strawberries in January is indulgent, and from this perspective
unethical. The whole idea of a "national life-style"
appears ridiculous from this perspective, and I have a kind of
vision of diverse people in radically different environments,
trying to turn grass, topsoil, water, timber and minerals into
washer-dryers, pick- up trucks and snow mobiles, in their quest
to be good citizens.
In the midst of these thoughts, Gristle sits by me and
announces that perhaps he'll stay in the Valley and open a Free
Store. He feels that a presence here dedicated solely to the
Valley's interests might serve as its defense against predators
from Denver and New York. Remembering Gristle's active part in
the troubles at Bryceland, California which culminated in the
town being sacked and burned by people associated with our
family, I listen dyspeptically, but offer nothing. I am suddenly
tired and dislocated. Common vision appears to have evaporated
from our camp, and I feel solitary and self-contained as a stray
The next few days were dedicated to clearing a teepee site
and waiting for the Peyote gatherers to return. I spent much time
thinking about the prayer that I will offer at the meeting; how I
will beg for vision, for common purpose, and so that our various
"sleeps"-(my private term for unconscious behavior) -
Finally the day arrived. Not even a celebration could occur
in our camp without some tensions. Red Rockers, Lars and Little
Richard, chastised Owl just outside the ceremonial teepee, about
taking Owl feathers into the meeting. They told us that the Cato
Indians don't like Owls or Coyotes; felt that the Owl was a
back-stabber who strikes from behind, (I don't know what they
think about Eagle's thieving and carrion eating) and Lars and
Richard didn't want to offend their guests. They were not too
damn sure about me either, but I was dressed simply and rather
formally out of respect, and except for a striped Blanket to sit
on and one Eagle feather, carried nothing that might disrupt the
ceremony. Owl agreed amicably, and left his Owl- wing fan in our
camp. Our revenge was that Owls and Coyotes virtually surrounded
the tent, hooting and howling insistently from a very nearby
grove all during the meeting.
Inside the teepee, the floor had been swept clean and
opposite the entrance someone had hung a large knitted U.S. Flag
without stars that someone's wife had made in jail. It hung over
the officers, Red Rockers: Lars, Little Richard, and Benjo, who
were joined by some blonde fellow as the Fireman. The flag gave
the teepee the aspect of a kid's fort, and it embarrassed me.
The Indians were serene looking people and physically strong.
There were three of them: an old man named Howard, his grandson
Harvey, and a swarthy friend, a Vietnam vet who never removed his
dark glasses. Rumor had it that he was one-legged Don Pedro's
son, an oil-speculator from Oklahoma.
The ceremony began with people blessed with cedar smoke by
the Cedarchief. An altar in the shape of a crescent moon had been
built on the floor, in the center of the teepee. The tips of the
moon pointed East, the direction to which the door opened, and
through which the morning sunrise light would stream. This altar
represented the Moon. The top of the altar was flat with a line
running down its center from tip to tip. In the center of that
line was the Road-man's5
Peyote Chief, his largest, oldest button. This button
represents the Sun, and the line on the top of the altar was the
Sun's path. The Road-man would watch his Chief button throughout
the meeting, and some old timers claim that during the meeting
the cotton tufts on the cactus will glow like beams of light
illuminating the world, inside and outside the teepee. The
Firechief, had cut and stacked enough wood to keep the fire going
throughout the night.
The pig-tailed fellow from the Rockers acting as the
Cedarchief, was being quite elaborate in fanning the smoke over
people's bodies. His stylized, balletic movements made it feel as
if he were more fascinated by the ritual and paraphernalia of the
ceremony, than the essence of the practice. He continued
officiously, explaining the complicated rules and obligations of
the ceremony interminably. The Indians tried to hurry him along,
at first helpfully, soon ironically and at times scornfully. It
was obvious that the officers were not yet up to the task of
running a meeting. Though well intentioned, they were just too
callow and inexperienced.
Like the Native people, the Caravan family members were
restive as well, but for different reasons. Our shibboleth and
guiding principle was absolute freedom and, we tended to be
competitive and a bit superior about our lack of attachments to
form of any kind. Superficial reading of ancient
"crazy-wisdom" literature and stories about eccentric
Zen adepts, supported illusions of a freedom which was supposed
to exist independent of form.
The peyote was passed around and the drumming, rattling, and
singing commenced. I had never heard anything quite like it
before. One man beat the drum at about double the speed of a
human heartbeat. The rhythm was absolutely, regular and without
accents or syncopation. Another man at his shoulder shook a small
rattle made from a polished gourd. It had a tuft of hair sticking
up from the top, and the handle was elaborately beaded with tiny
cut-glass beads. The gourd rattles have seven stars in them,
little glass beads or pebbles of just the right size to make the
sound that peyote people favor. He also held a fan made from the
tail feathers of a bird, perhaps a magpie, set into another
elaborately beaded handle. I had never seen such beautifully
crafted objects and it was obvious that the labor was sponsored
by absolute devotion. Each feather was held in a little buckskin
socket and the rim of each tiny socket was dressed with
miniature, multi-colored parrot-down feathers. The handle
glimmered catching the firelight on the facets of the beads which
are laboriously gathered from old purses today, because, Hitler
bombed out the cut-glass bead industry in Czechoslovakia during
World War II.
As the peyote took effect, my attention was drawn into the
singing. Two men harmonized the curious peyote songs together,
with intricate rhythms and subtle, unexpected, shifts of
emphasis. Peyote language comes from the cactus itself, and
usually a song is a gift from Mescalito, the active spirit in the
cactus. It is neither Spanish, nor Indian, but a language of its
own, which gave me the feeling that if I were one notch higher,
it would have made perfect sense. Each singer followed the other
a millisecond of a beat behind, as close as a dog chasing a
dodging rabbit. To heighten the mysterious effect, they employed
a kind of ventriloquism that sent the song rolling around the
interior walls of the teepee, behind the heads of the
The throbbing from the water drum filled every available
space; you could feel it in your ribs, pushing your heart,
blotting superficial thoughts from the mind. The coals from the
fire glowed fiercely; shooting tendrils of colored heat into the
worshippers, filling them with amber light as if the human beings
had been transformed into luminaria. The combination of sound and
light and scents of Cedar and Sage coupled with the absolute
concentration and dedication of the participants was mesmerizing,
creating an optimal atmosphere for transcendence.
People offered prayers for loved ones or requested aid. There
was absolutely no grandstanding or false piety, and in fact,
deviations from correct behavior were marked publicly in a
mysterious fashion. Others besides myself were disturbed by the
pomposity of some of the "hippies" at the meeting, but
they were our hosts and also officers of the meeting so it was
improper to be critical. When Gristle made one of his sly
sideways comments about the Cedarchief however, the words
"wise-guy" materialized suddenly in the teepee as a
disembodied whisper that circumambulated the room, circling
around like a ghostly bird, publicly identifying Gristle's
behavior for all to apprehend and consider.
Though he was in error for speaking out, Gristle was not the
only one affected by the officers' posturing. When the white
fireman faltered, one of the Indians assumed his duties, stoking
the fire as if it was a life or death situation. I was struck by
the difference between doing something and pretending to do it,
(A critical distinction for an actor.) and how selflessly the
Native man dropped his self-consciousness to dedicate himself to
the job at hand. He had no attention left for considering what he
might look like since it was all directed so totally to his task.
At a certain point in the proceedings, the officers were
muddling around discussing some arcane procedure, when the Native
man in the black sunglasses addressed the room in total
frustration. In a tearful and passionate voice, he explained how
the peyote ritual was the "last chance for Native
people." How its rituals and rules had been set by the
Creator himself and he did not feel that it was appropriate to
take any liberties with them. The man was genuinely upset. He
offered that he was a Vietnam vet, and had seen and done things
in Vietnam that made him want to change his life and follow this
road. You could see in his face and body, a great strength of
purpose. I was chastened his speech and reconsidered my own
readiness to throw away forms and conventions without considering
how my behavior might affect people who held them dear. It was
the first time since my enforced hepatic vacation at Olema, that
I revisited the concept of limits.
As the night passed, the Red Rock "officials"
became progressively more pinched and wizened. They appeared
prematurely aged and anxious, while the Indians, sitting ram- rod
straight, seemed more and more confident and relaxed. It was a
stunning and unavoidable comparison.
Peyote is a teacher, and the manner in which it teaches is
always unfathomable and mysterious. The tall blonde man from
Black Bear named Smiling Michael; the one who had insisted on
leaving with us in our overfull truck, was sitting opposite me in
the circle. He did not like me at all and throughout the trip
there had been an edginess between us., Every time I caught his
eye, during the meeting he was staring at me fixedly, sending
waves of hostility at me. I have always had a good relationship
with Peyote. It seems to tolerate me, and so I felt protected by
it and did not consider Smiling Mike too seriously.
Late in the evening, I glanced over at him, and, startled by
what I saw, looked again. For the first time since I'd known him,
I saw him: not a projection of weakness, prideful arrogance or
the compensating aggression he usually manifested. He was sitting
quietly, proud and calm, completely himself. His eyes were fixed
into the impenetrable middle-distance and his face was suffused
with wonder. He gazed about the room, studying everything as if
it were all new and splendid to him. In the course of his survey,
his eyes caught mine. Spontaneously, I pointed at him directly,
grinned, and transmitted very clearly the thought, "That's
who I've been holding out for!" He smiled broadly,
understanding me perfectly, and a wave of good feeling flowed
between us: a perfect resolution of the chafing which had
previously haunted our relationship.
I spent the rest of the night clarifying fallacies in my way
of life and thought and investigating areas where I found myself
slack or wanting. High ideals and articulate visionary brilliance
were no substitute for daily practice of behavior grounded in
spiritual insight. I was filled with respect for the Native
people and the ceremony, and, in light of their self-effacing
behavior and dedication, even their conservative Western clothing
took on a new significance to me.
In the morning, the night's glowing coals were raked into the
shape of a Phoenix bird, by the Fireman, and the brilliant
wavering hues emanating from them seemed complemented by a
similar light glowing from within each person and article in the
teepee. Every time I looked at Sam, stars seemed to be streaming
from her eyes and she looked so beautiful my heart fluttered with
pride to know her; to have a child with her. The glowing Phoenix
bird symbolized the rebirth of our collective and personal
spirit, and when the morning sun streamed through the teepee door
and onto the altar, I thought it the holiest, most beautiful
The meeting ended with a ritual feast of blue corn, fruit
salad and venison. The day was chilly with the first sincere
warning of Autumn. People sat around smoking and talking quietly.
I lay down in the grass with Sam, Ariel, and Josephine, contented
and happy with my journey on the rainbow road. I napped most of
The man in the sunglasses who made the impassioned speech the
night before came up to me to say good-bye, even though we had
not been introduced. "You got a taste of it tonight,"
he said to me. "I saw that. I hope you pay attention to what
you learned." I did pay attention, and practiced paying
attention, but it took many more years before the insights of
that evening even approached the consistency of habit. Everything
I had come to do had been accomplished and it was time to leave
for the East. My journal for the day of departure read:
Orion is riding high now. The Big
Dipper carves its swastika track in the
sky and the cold nights make the hair of
my white dog fluff and full. The
Universe has made nearly a half
turn...Vernal Equinox past Summer
Solstice and the Autumn Equinox is
I had postponed my return home indecently. I loaded up The
Meat and Bone Wagon with my family, my dog, and Chloe Bear's
teen-age daughter Sam had decided to bring East. Bill Kydell,
from Libré was taking a lift to the East Coast with us as well.
Bill was a thickly built bartender from New York City, who
claimed to have been a mercenary soldier in South Africa, a
specialist in explosives. It might have been true, because just
outside Wanatah, Indiana, while I slept in the back, Bill high on
Speed, blew the hell out of a piston, stranding us at 3 am. on a
two lane road in bum-fuck- Egypt.
We were towed to a local wrecking yard, while Bill ran off to
have his brother wire us money. The wrecking yard proprietor,
allowed us to camp in his junk-yard. He was fascinated with our
truck, our homey camp-fires and our skills at living rough. Every
night after his own dinner, he joined us outside to smoke his
pipe and listen to the music. He contributed stories about the
glory days of his own youth, during the Depression, when he
hopped freights and wandered around the country as we were, and
it was easy to see that those adventures and the sense of freedom
the memories resurrected, meant a great deal to him.
It was pleasant camping in the canyons of wrecked vehicles,
propped on discarded truck tires, eating fry-bread before a fire
contained by a semi-truck wheel rim. Light glinted off the
twisted chrome and glass and eerie shadows poked and probed
through the smashed car carcasses. This was the heart of the
mid-West, real red-neck country, and far from being excoriated
and rebuked by the malignant spirits imagined in "Easy
Rider", this man adopted us warmly, allowed me use of the
winch on his tow truck to pull and replace my engine, and shared
his tools with easy generosity. The wind has whipped his name
from my memory, but I am forever grateful.
Three days later, we drove off, and two days after that, I
pulled the Meat and Bone Wagon up the Maple-shaded street of my
boyhood town into the driveway of the stately old house where I'd
1 Trinidad population, as best as I can remember was: Freeman
& Ivory[House], Jim and Sue, and their 5 kids, Danny, Luna,
Dave, Jonny and Mad Anthony. Some Free Bakery people there as
2 Years later, in Hollywood, working on a film called
Heartbreakers, the art director, David Nichols, approached me one
day. I had noticed him studying me quizzically from time to time,
and now, he explained it all with a question: "This may
sound weird", he began, "But were you ever camped out
in the mountains above Boulder partying with a bunch of trucks
and crazy people?"
When I admitted that I was, he recounted how he had walked
out of the woods by chance the night of the wake and stumbled
into our camp. "I was terrified", he confessed.
"I'd never seen a group of people before this out there,
this wild. It changed my life." I could believe him because
it had changed mine.
3 She had mistaken courtesy or affection for oppression and
would have seen the roles reversed equally often, had she
observed without prejudice.
4 Not only was the creek jammed by the crushed granitic soil
that washed down after the trees no longer held it in place, but
the road into Black Bear was washed out as well. The slopes of
the hills are so severe, that after that debacle, logging was
prohibited in that drainage until 1995 when the struggle between
Black Bear, the progressive community, and the Forest Service
5 The Road-man is the official who runs the meeting and sets
the rules and procedures and is responsible for its efficacy.
Date of last modification: July 1, 1996
The Free-Fall Chronicles is a "loose" memoir of the
'60's by Peter Coyote, actor and one of the earliest members of
the Diggers. It is a "loose" memoir because every third
or fourth chapter is about another member of the community. The
book traces the experiences, the lessons and the costs of the
pursuit of absolute freedom, and ponders the utility of limits.