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

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

Chapter 3
The Digger Farm

LOU: "One day I was all alone on the place, playing the piano, and in came this car with Don and Sandy King, their dog Tripper, Phil Brougham and Leni Brown. Phil said they had heard about us from friends of Pam Millward's at Tolstoy Farm, a communal family in the Northwest. They all asked if they could stay. I took them on a tour of the ranch and made some sort of deal like, 'Yeah, if you paint the kitchen in the Lower House' or some dumb thing like that. Don said he would be delighted to do that if they could stay, and so they all started living in the Lower House. Leni and Phil never slept indoors anyway. Don and I went down and got some paint and fixed up the kitchen, scraped crud out from underneath the stove and so on."

Leni was a sixteen-year-old with a rebellious, fuck-you attitude towards the world. Born of a black father and a Jewish mother, she had run away from her progressive high school with Phil, one of her teachers. However she carried a letter of permission from her mother.

LOU: "Leni Brown was one of the great gurus of all time. She was the first real 'Impossible' that I ever met, and since then I've become one, so I know what 'Impossible' is. Her first lesson to me came around the question of body odor. She had, ah, worked up more than a hint of funk, shall we say. In those days I was terribly straight, so I took her to Sebastopol and bought her a chocolate eclair and a plastic bottle of Mennen's deodorant with more than a hint that she use it. She was furious, of course. There was another girl at the ranch named Kris who said, 'Don't you think that Leni smells better than this stuff?' I said, 'No. Do you?' And she said, 'Yes!'"

RAMON: "Leni managed to annoy almost everybody with her temper tantrums and screaming sessions except a crazy, beautiful young woman named Araby who, upon her arrival, immediately joined Leni in liberating us from incipient stodginess. After a couple of screaming contests at the Upper House during which they stood on the sundeck emitting bloodthirsty screeches just for the hell of it, I asked Phil and Leni to leave. Leni suggested that I leave instead, so I packed up and moved into the barn. I built a stove out of an old oildrum with the help of a hatchet as well as a bed and yoga platform."

When Leni went to the community hospital with a yeast infection, the combination of her age, color and ailment shocked the doctor and he alerted the police. Shortly afterwards, Inspector Paul Stefani of the Narcotics Division paid Morning Star the first of many visits.

"Nice place to drop acid," he mentioned affably to Ramon who tried to steer the conversation around to yoga and meditation.

He didn't stay long, but his visit gave warning that Morning Star was now on the authorities' map. Later that year, Stefani was interviewed by the local Santa Rosa newspaper, The Press Democrat.

"There are now one thousand hippies living in Sonoma County," he was quoted as saying. "They're scattered in small households and four large colonies. They don't think we know about them but we do and we're going to know more."

RAMON: "Stefani's visit added to my feeling that Morning Star was no longer anonymous enough for me. I always have had a fear of cops and uniforms stemming from my childhood experiences in Civil War Spain, and definitely did not want to have to worry about being busted. So Gina, Katy the Dog and I moved off the ranch. We rented a small four-room cabin in Bodega Bay from the Santa Rosa Fire department for forty dollars a month, about a twenty-minute drive. After moving, I carved a sign for the ranch's front gate with the American Indian insignia for the Morning Star and Mother Mira's twelve-petalled lotus in the center. Around it I inscribed 'Morning Star Solar Legation and Economic Council.' I felt we were an embassy from the sun to represent solar consciousness on the planet, and thus could claim diplomatic immunity from local laws. The 'Economic Council' was Lou's idea. The sign lasted two or three weeks before it was stolen."

LOU: "During March I received a phone call from the Diggers who had heard that there was an apple orchard on the place. They expected a quarter of a million homeless teenagers that summer and they wanted to have apples for them. 'Could we send a detachment up to take care of the orchard in return for the apples?' they asked. I said, 'Don't call me, I'll call you.' But then I did call them and said, 'Okay, it's sounds right.'"

RAMON: "Lou and I talked over the Diggers' request during one of my visits. I liked the Diggers I had met. They had some definite concepts about working for the people's benefit and about providing as many services as possible for free. It wasn't a question of as cheaply as possible. It was FOR FREE."

BIG MIKE: "One day there was a big happening in Golden Gate park at Speedway Meadows. There were rock bands and everyone sat around, smoking grass, drinking wine and dropping acid. So this kid came up with this great bunch of balloons -- some guy had put him to work selling balloons filled with helium. He wasn't selling too many -- it was a free concert, you know. This one Digger told the kid he wasn't interested in a balloon but that he'd turn him on to some grass. The kid said, 'What's that?' 'Here, try some,' the Digger said. 'I'll hold your balloons.' So while the kid was getting loaded, the Digger said, 'Shit, the balloons should be free too -- it's all free!' And he let them go to the applause and cheers of the crowd. Somehow it didn't matter to the kid at this point either."

GINA: "It happened very fast. After the first wave of Diggers came to Morning Star, we attracted many wonderful, marvelous people. Word got around quickly about the 'Digger farm.' Ramon and I liked the new energies and made plans to move back. It seemed that the more people that came, the happier everyone was. Of course it was a big change from a quiet, private sort of place, but you just went along with it because it was the spirit of the times.

"We had not too many people and not too few, about sixty which was just right for the land. All of them were immersed in spiritual pursuits, strong and beautiful, not messed up. It was about that time that Swami Bhaktivedenta visited. He was just becoming wellknown as a leader of the Krishna movement. Some of the people at Morning Star were already singing the 'Hare Krishna' mantra. For the Swami's visit, we set up a temple in the orchard and made him a flowery throne. It was an exquisite spring day, the air soft and clear, the blossoms on the apple trees, the birds singing like something out of a fairy-tale. A large crowd greeted him. He spoke and began chanting 'Krishna' while everyone danced and sang. We absolutely floated in bliss. He was a really great teacher because he just became one of us. It was a great experience of springtime and love of God."

The burgeoning population and the flow of curiosity- seekers attracted the renewed attention of the police.

LOU: "We were warned by the fink who had come to set us up. The Saturday before the first of April, we were all working in the garden, and a man by the name of Dennis Thoreau Poret walked up and said, 'I am now doing time in the Sonoma County Jail. They told me to come out here and gather evidence for a search warrant to set you guys up for a bust. So that's what I'm doing.' Of course six hippies immediately turned him on, and then he went back to jail, having done his duty. Now it was my impression this was the Mother Force in action, you see, because to my recollection, I have not yet heard of a case where the fink told the mark. There have been people who have said 'Yes, they were trying to get me to set up Allen Ginsberg' and things like that, but this was a unique case.

"The guy they sent was a very beautiful man, very nice, and since we had a week to prepare for the raid, it didn't take any great perspicacity to be clean on Saturday night. Also, there was rarely any sacrament on the place because when it arrived, it was consumed."

Sure enough, in came Inspector Stefani and gang on Saturday night. They spread out all over the ranch, shaking everyone down, but not finding anything except an ancient paper of speed someone had forgotten in his wallet.

LOU: "They came into my place, and I had the most unfortunate experience of having my personal effects rifled. That's very unpleasant. 'What's this? Let's take that!' -- and looking through my phone book. I had an old leather tobacco pouch where I used to keep my stash. I had smoked it all, or did something with it, and then had taken the vacuum cleaner and vacuumed it out, but the smell was still there. A cop held the pouch under Stefani's nose and said, 'Smell that!' Also I had one of those little vials that had contained some 'blue juice' and there was just a little, teensy snippet of a corner left. Stefani found the vial -- it was the first thing he reached for -- and said, 'What's that?' I said, 'It's ink eradicator.' And Stefani looked at me, his head to one side, and said, 'Were you guys tipped off or something?'

STEFANI: "The first time I went out (to Morning Star) I was charmed. I came back to the office and kidded the guys that I wasn't going to be around much longer -- I was going to defect. Then I went out there a few more times and began to wonder, to see the other side, the great danger of a couple of

LSD trips. There were IBM operators out there, teachers, and people of education who took LSD and other hallucinogens. It became a religion. They give up their jobs, careers and futures and they they are happy. But their gentleness is a veneer and quickly shed. I stepped on a tomato plant and an enraged hippie girl called me a dirty bastard, threatening to bust me out of the place... Lou Gottlieb is a likeable guy, but has not cooperated with us. I imagine I've been out there fifty times and instead of cooperation I get obstruction and questions."

The new wave of arrivals that spring included Pam and Larry Reed with their golden-haired one-year-old Adam Siddartha.

PAM: "I came to Morning Star because I wanted to live on a farm (I was brought up in the country). Previously I was working as a dancer and model in San Francisco so that we could eat. Larry had heard about the ranch from the Diggers, and we rode up with one of them for the weekend. We stayed a week, and then went back to the city and got our stuff. I worked for a couple of days to get money to contribute to the ranch before coming back to Morning Star to stay.

"All during my childhood I wanted to be an actress, and I studied drama in college. But I had already changed my mind about ana acting career by the time I came to Morning Star. My only goal by then was to find a way to live, to take care of my child and husband, eat fairly regularly and not be caught in the city. At Morning Star I experienced consciousness-expansion in daily living unequaled in my life before or since. Telepathic occurences, dreams in common with other people, telepathy in conversations. I nearly always dream about Morning Star at night."

LOU: "Pam Reed is one of the most extraordinary people this world has ever produced. The first time I can actually remember Pam was one morning I was down cooking breakfast at the Lower House, and the mouth began talking about brahmacharya -- celibacy. Pam just started to cry. That was her only comment, you know, she just wept uncontrollably. Both Pam and Cindy had no wardrobe. They were never caught with any clothes on that summer, that's for sure. Those two were the first militant nudists I had ever known in my life, and very well equipped for the role, I must say."

Digger Cindy, a tiny brunette from Massachusetts whose delicate features were balanced by her tough no-nonsense attitude, organized the kitchen and took on the responsibility for feeding the hundreds of guests.

RAMON: "A female karma yogini was worth her weight in miso, especially Cindy. What with half the men on the place in love with her, she had a willing line of male volunteers for any task. Morning Star, in the lap of the Divine Mother, suffered badly from male ego trips. It's too bad the women weren't put completely in charge."

David and Penny Pratt built a multi-storied treehouse in a redwood tree that was a true masterpiece. A talented artist, David painted the backs of many Levi jackets that summer with Buddha's face and other religious themes.

DAVID: "Living on the street in San Francisco, young, dumb, idealistic, I heard about the 'Digger ranch.' I went to investigate -- no other options, and found out it wasn't a Digger ranch at all but something else, 'Digger' being basically a political, East Coast concept. In contrast, Morning Star was basically an evolutionary experiment, much groping by mostly immature young people. What was going on? If you took it from the top, it was a divine drama with people like me who didn't have anything better to do as the actors. God was trying out a new scenario, a possibility for the master plan of the future, just seeing if it would work."

'Superman' materialized from realms of spare-change sidewalk adventures, popping pills he claimed to have found in the gutters. Claiming ancient Egyptian ancestry, he amazed everyone by writing hieroglyphics in a perfect hand as well as endlessly complaining about how horny he was. It turned out he was a thirty-nine-year-old virgin, and finally some compassionate sister initiated him into manhood to everyone's immense relief.

GINA: "Many journalists came to the ranch, but the only one I happened to talk to was the Time Magazine reporter which 'immortalized' me. He liked me and listened to what I said. Many of the reporters were looking for 'yellow journalism' stuff, but the Time reporter was trying hard to understand. He had a very open, positive attitude.

"We believed in publicity because we felt we had to tell the world that this kind of experience was possible. We weren't recommending it for everyone, but we wanted to show that it was an option. We had had some bad experiences where the wrong people had met the interviewers and had not made a good impression. So this time Ramon and I decided to meet with the reporter ourselves. He loved the ranch from the moment he got there. It was a good day, sunny and comparatively quiet. A lot of beautiful naked girls were running around, Cindy in her Indian costume. Even though people didn't wear clothes, there was a great purity about it -- like the Garden of Eden. It was an innocent thing, and there were no great sex orgies or anything like that. A childlike experience, really. So we walked around together with the man. I was feeling very verbal and particularly happy that day. He listened to everything we told him. Of all the publicity Morning Star received, I think his was the best. He really caught the feeling of it. We took him down to see Pam and Larry Reed and their son Adam Siddartha, a beautiful blond little boy, just a dream of a child."

TIME: "An hour's drive north of San Francisco, in apple-growing country near Sebastopol along the Russian River, some 30 to 50 country hippies live on a 31-acre ranch called Morning Star. Their closest neighbor: cartoonist Charles Shulz, whose 'Peanuts' people are hippie favorites. The ranch is owned by Lou Gottlieb, 43... who has his hippie followers hard at work -- rarest of all hippie trips -- growing vegetables for the San Francisco Diggers.

"Most Morning Star colonists avoid acid. 'I'd rather have beautiful children than beautiful visions,' says a tanned, clear-eyed hippie girl named Gina. That hippies can actually work becomes evident on a tour of the commune's vegetable gardens. Cabbages and turnips, lettuce and onions march in glossy green rows, neatly mulched with redwood sawdust. Hippie girls lounge in the buffalo grass, sewing colorful dresses or studying Navajo sand painting, clad in nothing but beads, bells and feather headdresses. (Not everyone is a nudist -- only when they feel like it.) A shaggy sheepdog named Grass plays with the hippies' children, among them a straw-thatched 17-month-old boy named Adam Siddartha.

"The new-found trip of work and responsibility reflected in the Morning Star experiment is perhaps the most hopeful development in the hippie philosophy to date."

LOU: "That Time article was really when it hit the fan. People came pouring in from everywhere. I know of one young man who read the article as an inmate of a New York mental hospital. He split for Morning Star that same day saying, 'This is what I'm looking for and these are the people I want to be with.' His father had been paying a hundred dollars a day for his treatment. At Morning Star he got it for free." The flower children of the Summer of Love flocked to San Francisco with all the fervor of pilgrims to Mecca. A teenage girl named Near, idealistic and voluptuous, joined that throng. A bad psychedelic trip in the city rendered her incapable of smiling. Meeting Larry Reed in the Haight- Ashbury, she followed him up to the ranch a few days later.

NEAR: "My ride let me off at the parking lot a few hours before sunset. I walked up the dusty path to the center of the ranch, the well and the campfire circle. A tall, buxom woman was sitting on a log beside the fire rocking a one-year-old boy in her lap. It was Beatrice with AndrŽ. For the first time in a month I smiled. I knew instantly I was home. I asked Beatrice where I could find Larry. She pointed vaguely down the hill. A glowing blond-bearded man came along and guided me to Larry's house, a platform on a treestump. Larry was standing beside it whittling on a pole. Pam sat inside playing with Adam Siddartha. Larry hugged and kissed me before introducing me to Pam and Adam Sid. I was a bit shocked to discover that Larry had a wife and a baby. I had assumed from our fun night in the city together that he was single. However Pam welcomed me and beamed a friendly smile.

"It was time for supper, so Larry guided me to the Lower House. Pam decided to stay home with Adam Sid, and Larry promised to bring back some food. We found about fifteen people gathered on the back porch. Lou Gottlieb had cooked the dinner, and a silent blonde girl named Penny had baked some 'macro' bread. The group held hands and enjoyed a minute of silence. Then Lou served each a portion of rice and broccoli. The folks were friendly, and took an interest in the new girl, but Larry made it clear I was staying with him. After dinner, he led me back to his little house. I wasn't quite ready to jump into bed with a married man, his wife and baby, but Pam assured me it was perfectly all right. Larry lay in the middle and made passionate love to me. Then he gave Pam a kiss and fell asleep. I didn't, as I was a little bewildered, and also not used to going to sleep at nine p.m.

"The next morning at sunrise, we were gently awakened by someone distributing LSD to everyone. Larry, Pam and I each swallowed a tab. Then Larry made love to me again. When we had finished, he turned to Pam and started getting it on with her. Meanwhile I took Adam Sid for a walk to the Lower House where pancakes and whole wheat cereal were cooking. After breakfast, we gathered in the barnyard to sunbathe nude."

Bill, an ex-Catholic priest, lived in the orchard with sixteen little Mexican chihuahuas that yapped all the time. He was nicknamed 'Deputy Dog' by someone. And of course 'Nevada' showed up, one of Lou's 'Impossibles.' A muscular triple Scorpio and supposedly one-time California rodeo champ, he brought with him an endless supply of Korean War stories which he relived in drunken detail whenever he could find an audience. Equipped with a voice which could penetrate any barrier, Nevada would find the listener's soft spot and zero in with unerring precision. You don't like drunks? Loud voices?

"How about Jesus, asshole? Have you talked to your Savior? Naw, I mean your Savior! YOUR SAVIOR, MOTHERFUCKER!!! D'you understand? I mean, DO YOU UNDERSTAND??"

Nevada's truck looked as if it had hit every telephone pole in the county. Calamities clustered around him, but he always emerged unscathed. One day his truck lost its brakes coming up the front driveway. It rolled backwards down the hillside and across the parking lot before coming to a halt with its rear wheels hanging over a twelve-foot drop onto Graton Road. Nevada's backwards rush into oblivion had been halted by a few strands of wire fencing.

RAMON: "With Nevada's and his outrageous friends' arrival, the noise levels on the ranch tripled. What to do? Society's problems were coming to the Divine Mother to be healed, and no one was willing to stand in the way of whatever it was that was happening."


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