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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 20
Relationships & Sol Ray's Birth

BILL: "As the sun sank below the western ridge, people gathered by the barn for the evening milking, some to help, others to watch and visit with their friends. Claudia and Virginia, our faithful cows, ambled down Hoffie's Hill and passed by unconcerned to their stanchions full of hay and grain. Some distance from the barn, a girl stood by herself. Long, brown hair fell to her waist, framing an elegant face with well-defined features, a prominent forehead, deepset eyes so dark the pupil and iris seemed to be one, giving her a piercing gaze, a strong but delicate nose, full but subtle lips and a long neck set on broad shoulders. Her hands hung from long shapely arms and her legs were similarly molded, giving her a willowy quality. Yet there was something substantial about her, almost athletic. Her breasts were young, firm and full. I was immediately attracted by the magic surrounding her. I approached and we spoke, she answering in a soft southern accent. I invited her to come to my studio the next day, suggesting a walk into the canyon for a swim. The next morning I found her sitting by a campfire sipping some tea. She seemed almost surprised to see me, but accepted my studio invitation. We spent some time there, she working on her guitar and I trying to do a drawing. Then off we went to the canyon, plunging happily down the hillside.

"It was still early morning, and the sun had not yet burned off the fog when we reached the swimming hole at the bottom of the East Canyon. It was one of my favorite spots, lush with surrounding trees dipping into the five-foot-deep pool. A big rock at one end made a perfect diving platform. We took our clothes off, swam and laughed. Afterwards, as the sun finally dissolved the fog, we found a soft, grassy spot. Falling into each other's arms, we became one body. In that sweet, sunny place, folded within the protection of the canyon walls, we spent the morning making love and talking about ourselves, our families and past romances. She asked me if I did this to all young girls who came to the ranch, remarking that it was the funniest thing that had ever happened to her. On the walk back to the top, she easily kept up with me; she was a strong woman. Later in the day she left for the city but gave me her address. Patricia and I saw much of each other after that encounter -- perhaps too much, because our love affair ended my marriage to Gwen.

"I had this fantasy that I wanted to try out, of having two wives. So I brought my new sweetheart up from the city and the three of us spent the night together. For me it was great, but the women did not get off on it. Gwen said that by the end of the night the bed smelled like a gymnasium. The secret to having two wives, supposedly, is to treat both absolutely equally. This was one of the reasons why my experiment did not work.

"At that time, Stephen Gaskin was exposing us to some brand new ideas regarding marriage and family life. He felt that a man having two wives or a woman having two husbands was bound to fail because of the lack of symmetry. Instead he recommended that group marriage always retain a equal number of both sexes, describing the four-way marriage he himself practiced at the time in which they traded partners every night. My own attempts at marital bliss could best be described as a battleground where ex-wives and children abounded. Love relationships had left me exhausted and baffled.

"Tremendous sex myths have been connected with the Ridge and with the communal movement in general. The 'hippie chick' became as much a sex symbol for American society as the airline stewardess ('Fly Me To Havana!'). But I could not believe there was any more sexual activity at the Ridge than anywhere else. It was just that we tried to be more honest and up-front about it than our parents.

"The Ridge contained the whole sexual spectrum from celibates, horny single men, liberated women, gay scenes to stable married couples who had not sexual interest in anyone but each other.

A few orgies occurred (someone always had the clap), but they were more of a joke than anything else. Most people preferred privacy to groups for the working out of their sexual dramas. As for myself, my marriage to Gwen was reasonably stable for as long as it lasted, except that I was having affairs on the side and she was not. I could not allow her the same freedom I took for myself, which made me a sexist and a male chauvinist. Nor could I be honest with her about my sexual activities because of my fear of hurting her as well as my guilt, and my worry that she might leave me.

"If any generalization could be made about the family on Open Land, it was that the traditional model of father, mother and child was the exception rather than the rule. The nuclear family rarely stayed intact when bombarded by the intense interpersonal energies of alternate culture. It seemed as if greater affiliations and loyalties were being demanded of us than those of the blood level. Couples attempting to stay together would give each other the freedom to have outside relationships, ultimately shattering the marriage.

"Carl Jung once wrote that jealousy was the absence of love. If one truly loves a person, one should approve of whatever makes that person happy, even if it includes a sexual relationship with another person. This concept presented the basic argument: attached versus detached love. Some said that loose or 'open' marriages tended to lead to dissolution of the bond. Others said the same of communities which have relaxed access rules -- that the effort was doomed to failure. At Morning Star, Lou began to refuse to perform marriages because he felt it was merely erecting a No Trespassing sign. Clearly there existed frontiers involving the family and its relationship to the land which barely had begun to be explored. To change patterns of culture ingrained for generations required a monumentally conscious effort, but for those of us who had come from families characterized by strife, misery and hypocrisy, the changed seemed a necessary and natural alternative.

Also, the nuclear family of modern times was a relatively recent phenomenon. Homes used to include not only father and mother, but grandparents, aunts and sometimes servants, all of whom helped take care of the children. Often the children received more love from persons other than the parents. Within this type of extended family, the child-rearing pressures were lessened on the mother and shared among more adults. Open Land duplicated the extended family, tribal village context within which even small children could run freely, the parents secure in the knowledge that there were many loving people about willing to care for them."

GWEN: "One evening of a hot summer day, Bill invited Patricia to dinner. When I looked up and saw her walking down the path, her long, silken hair swinging, I knew immediately that Bill had fallen in love. He had had womenfriends before during our marriage, but this one was different. During dinner Bill was very excited, throwing glances at Patricia and me and then giggling. Patricia remained calm and poised. After dinner, when she got up to leave, Bill followed her with his eyes, feeling the confusion of being unable to communicate to me what I already knew.

"The next few weeks were filled with Bill and Patricia's growing infatuation, my slow, painful adjustment to the withdrawal of Bill's attentions, and my futile attempts to grow closer to Patricia. My emotions began to tear me apart. I felt the earth being pulled from beneath my feet.

"Bill wanted us both to be his wives, Patricia wanted to be exclusively with Bill. I wanted to be accepting of what was happening, but felt desperately hurt. Although we spent some time together, none of these feelings were ever brought out. I felt we were each walking a tightrope, and were observing some kind of strict etiquette to keep from falling with a crash.

"One day, in desperation, I hopped aboard a van with friends on their way to Colorado. Raspberry and I spent a week traveling the Southwest, but the pain of my failing relationship kept me from enjoying the trip. Early on a Sunday morning I returned, hoping everything would have returned to normal. Bill was relieved to see us and proclaimed he had decided to give up Patricia. I dropped some mescaline and, a little later, he and Patricia dropped some acid. We all three sat together at the Sunday feast, stoned, feeling psychedelic love and trying to share it with each other. By evening I could see that Bill and Patricia did not want to part, so we all climbed into bed together. We made love most of that night. I was terrified, incredibly aroused and satisfied at the same time. Finally we drifted off into a sound and peaceful sleep.

"Raspberry awoke early to nurse, and while I lay with her curled by my side, my breast in her mouth, Bill and Patricia began to make love again. When he got up, he patted us both and said, 'I have two such beautiful women.' The psychedelic had worn off. I felt a snap of anger. I resented being 'had.' Patricia must have had a similar sentiment, because she returned to her previous boyfriend. That day my bond of love with Bill shattered with the realization that he expected me to allow a second wife for his pleasure, but did not have the remotest intention of allowing a second husband for mine. The imbalance toppled our relationship, and I began to search for a way out."

RAMON: "Bill and Gwen's emotional upheavals were felt very personally by the community. Friends rallied to Gwen to help her through her difficult time. Bill was caught in a situation beyond his emotional maturity and floundered badly. As someone who also had fallen off the marriage-go-round several times, I felt compassion for both my friends and could only hope that the spiritual strength of our tribal family would keep them afloat. A community is strong if it has the elasticity to support a member during a difficult emotional upheaval.

"With Bill and Gwen both central role models on the Ridge, it was inevitable that their upheavals influenced the general tone of the community. A liberated singles atmosphere seem to pervade the life, and Gina and I began to feel like stuffy parents in the middle of it all."

That summer there were new babies everywhere. Forest Green Gras, Chandra, Kokham, Christian and many more to numerous to list. At Morning Star, Lou's deeding of the land to God had undergone a series of maneuvers which finally culminated in exhausting the possibility of a favorable decision in the Santa Rosa courts. Lou then drew up a memorandum which, although admitting that the question of God as grantee might be without legal precedent, maintained that the judge was exceeding his constitutional authority in ruling against the deed. In August, Lou, still acting as his own attorney, filed a Supplemental Memorandum arguing that his deeding of Morning Star to God consisted of a legal dedication of the land for public use. Public use of the land was already common knowledge, so it could be argued that it already was in use as dedicated.

Also in August, a friendly lawyer named Solomon filed an Amicus Curiae (Friend of the Court) brief which argued among other points that finding the deed to God valid would uphold a charitable gift of the land for public use, and suggested the judge appoint a guardian or trustee for Morning Star. Another Amicus Curiae brief prepared by a group of hotshot Yale Law students argued that the right to religious freedom should always be interpreted liberally by the courts, and that the existence of the deed itself proved the dedicatory intent of the previous owner. Lou, who by now had spent many long hours in the law libraries, praised it as a nice piece of legal work.

RAMON: "On September 13, Gina's bag of waters broke and she went into light labor. By evening it was obvious that the baby was finally on its way. Gina was restless, finding it hard to get comfortable. Luckily, our Morning Star brother Phil Brougham showed up. An expert Reichian masseur, we could not have asked for a better helper. He sat behind her on the bed, keeping her relaxed by kneading her back and sides, while I sat in front as something to grab during each contraction. Basically, she received a sixteen-hour massage. Gina's brother, Lou, Near, Vishnu, Bill, Gwen and Raspberry all gathered at our house.

"Having a baby seemed to turn Gina into a Gypsy dancer. It was a slow labor, but she kept on top of it by 'oming' during each contraction. A cow across the canyon often answered her with a sympathetic moo. Around four a.m. she finally went into second stage and proceeded to stay there until almost eight. At last, with the first morning sunbeams darting in the window, she grabbed the center post of the house and, kneeling, delivered the head. I was behind her and just managed to catch the baby when he tumbled out. Joy, relief, transports of delight beyond words! We had a beautiful buddha baby boy of about 7′ pounds. I laid him on Gina's tummy just as Beatrice, mother of three boys, came down just in time to suggest waiting to cut the umbilical cord until a white fatty plug appeared. We waited forty minutes and, sure enough, there it was! I then tied and cord and cut it.

"That night we meditated together, and mutually were given the name Sol Ray. Inasmuch as his first experience of life was a beam of sunlight, the name seemed more than appropriate. Also he had an Uncle Sol in his mother's family.

"The whole community rejoiced with us. Everyone showered us with love and many kindnesses, bringing us cooked meals and many presents for the baby. Raspberry and Vishnu were both present at the birth and Raspberry, upon seeing Gina a few days later, squatted and grunted, remembering the delivery."

GWEN: "Gina expressed her labor with much drama. In the light of the candles, she flew about the tiny room, shrieking and moaning most of the night. At long last the baby slithered out into his father's arms, and Gina lay back with her son's birth accomplished, experiencing the deep contentment that wipes away the memory of angry pain. A newborn son woke up the Open Land family to a joyous new day.

"I left the same morning for San Francisco, feeling weak, exhausted, and with a sharp ache growing in my side. The severity of the pain prompted an early return to the ranch. Ramón in the community truck picked up Peter and me hitchhiking. We rounded the last corner that brought us to the top of the hill overlooking the Ridge and at once saw a column of smoke rising from the East Canyon. It seemed to be coming from the vicinity of Gina's and Ramón's house. Ramón started the truck hurtling down the bumpy access road, and with each bump the pain in my side stabbed me. Halfway down, I grabbed Peter and said I couldn't make it any further, but I knew that if I was let out I wouldn't be able to move from the spot. I gripped Peter's arm tighter and held on until we reached the garden. They immediately ran off to fight the fire which turned out to be Cliff's tent halfway down the east canyon road. I waited to catch my breath and then slowly, inch by inch, moved my cramped body to my bed, not to move a hair for five days.

"Bill came home to tell me how Cliff, our self-appointed fire chief, had been cooking enchiladas on his stove. His tent had caught on fire, and in turn the huge redwood stump outside had started burning, acting like a chimney for the flames. The Ridgefolk had formed a bucket brigade from the nearest water line about three-quarters of a mile away. People were filling cups, bowls, anything from the slowly dripping faucet and then running down the steep hill naked, crying, scared. We couldn't put it out, but were able to contain it until three fire trucks arrived along with the borate bombers -- the fire-fighting planes. One of the tank trucks blew its engine, and the firemen had a hard time keeping their minds on the fire, what with Frizzy Nancy in just a top and no bottoms and Corky only wearing boots. But the fire chief was very complimentary to our volunteer brigade, although he suggested that next time it might be a good idea to put on some clothes."

Gwen was sick for a long time, not realizing it was hepatitis. The simplest daily chores put her back in bed weak and trembling, emotionally drained. Finally she phoned her parents and made arrangements to recuperate at their house. Hepatitis swept through the ranch that year, afflicting a large number of residents.


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