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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 2:
First Arrivals

RAIN: "The Trips Festival was such a new experience for all of us! We had always been really poor, and our minds were blown by having been connected to something that was making money. But the rock music trip really wasn't for us. Ben said, 'I gotta go off somewhere and do some Zen.' So later that spring, I packed my old treadle sewing machine and a lot of brown rice into a truck and we lit out for Lou's land to be with Ramon and Gina."

Suffering from a similar overload, Lou had the old egg storage shed at the ranch renovated to accommodate him and his grand piano. He arrived that June to join the growing community.

LOU: "I was exhausted. My health had failed. My body was in bad shape and I had a crisis of pessimism. It was real exhaustion plus God-thirst."

GINA: "Nobody was planning anything. I felt all along that 'someone' knew, but it wasn't us. The people who came fit in. There was plenty of room and there was no reason to tell anyone to leave. As it was, a group of very talented people showed up -- artists -- people who liked to spend a lot of time in thought and contemplation. Somehow the land itself encouraged meditation, peace and happiness."

One of those artists was poet-painter-calligrapher and composer Wilder Bentley.

WILDER: "I went on the road in September of '63. I had the vision that rent was what was keeping me from self- realization and, since I had been searching for economic security and never finding it, I said obviously there is no such thing as 'enough.' Therefore I decided to pursue my art relentlessly and just accept wherever I sank in terms of the world's status orientation. So of course I sank straight to the side of the road, to where the wild animals have been pushed by cars and private property. It's all that's left of the Commons. I crossed fences in the evening and got out early in the morning and painted pictures that I sold in the cities for money. Other than to sell something, I never went into cities, but did everything on public land. I lived on beaches and in the woods for two years.

"I saw myself as having taken sides in a struggle that was going on all over the world between those people who could pay to have their right to occupy land defended by cops and those who couldn't. In other words, when you pay taxes, you're hiring an armed force that permits you to run anybody off your land. This threat is implicit in American land ownership, and this is the means by which you are drawn into commercial employment. The necessity to pay to use land makes you sell your work. This in turn draws you into a servile conformity, and no art is ever produced out of that state of mind.

"The whole world looks different from the side of the road. Only then can you see what's wrong with the social structure, because otherwise you get into your 'niche' and only perceive the totality by what you do to hang on to your 'niche.' But finally in 1966 I became tired of doing the fugitive American-Indian-in-the-woods number.' I began to think about getting once more into the mainstream of American life. At this juncture, I was visiting someone who said 'One of the Limeliters owns some land and we know somebody who knows him and we're all going up there on Tuesday. Want to come along?' So I said 'Sure', and got into the back of his truck and went to the ranch in mid-June. There were seven or so people living there. I moved onto the back porch of the Lower House where I spent my time lettering books. While I was working one day, a dormouse came up, put its hand on my toe and looked up at me."

Bruce Baillie, one of America's most respected avant- garde filmmakers, set up a small editing studio in a detached room behind the Lower House kitchen. A shy, quiet man, he worked diligently all that summer making a series of short films.

RAIN: "Bruce had this dog named Mama Dog. He was the only other person besides myself to use the kitchen. He'd come in to fix meals for her. He was so sweet to her! She was so old that he had to help her up and down."

GINA: "Rain was a marvelously domestic woman, a wonderful cook. She made the place pretty and began to cook amazing macrobiotic meals. We began to feel good physically. Also we pooled our money and had more than enough to meet our needs."

BEN: "Lou seemed such a larger-than-life figure, such a raconteur, but somehow separate from everyone else. He maintained a sort of eminence, like those members of royalty who went out and did archaeological digs at the turn of the century. He'd come down and check us out as a sociological experiment, unable to make up his mind whether to be a lord or a serf. After supper he'd show up in a white shirt and pants to smoke some dope and give religious instruction. We'd each read our favorite passage of this or that. 'I'd like to share something tonight,' someone would say. There was far too much talking. But we also had silent days where we went around grunting 'mm mmm mmmm,' or used sign language or wrote our message."

Lured by the magic of Rain's cuisine, Lou abandoned the steak dinners that his carpenter friend Pete's wife served at the Upper House, and started eating with the Lower House group. RAIN: "Oh, it was great fun when everyone was at the

table and Lou was there because he was the image of the patriarch, which kind of solved that problem. If we were all a family, then he could be the daddy and we were all happy to have him in that position. It was great fun and we participated willingly in this fantasy. We had been taking a good deal of acid, and were having very grand ideas about the nature of things. These were magical times, with us playing archetypes on a big Grail Quest. We had this sense of wonders to be seen and fantastic games to be won."

GINA: "We were looking for something. At first I thought I was alone, that I was the only woman desperately seeking an alternative, for something different. But it's always been the case that when I feel something strongly I'm never wrong. There were thousands of people feeling the same thing. It was the era itself, a time when possibilities opened up to us that never had been revealed before. I, for one, had thought life rather drab up until that point. I mean it wasn't all drab -- I had literature and music -- but these were all things that already had been accomplished. In the actual minute-to-minute living I was experiencing, I was somewhat disappointed in the early 'sixties. Then psychedelics came along in 1964 and there was a change in consciousness. New possibilities opened up -- worlds we had never dreamed of, almost like a new spectrum of colors. It was as if I had been living inside a prison and never realized it. Our appreciation for the beauty of life increased -- for things we had always taken for granted. A leaf, a blade of grass, everything was tremendously heightened. I felt a real joy in getting out of my previous existence.

"Also there was an upsurge of interest in ritual, magic and things from the deeper levels of consciousness. At Morning Star we had opportunities to go into a kind of Black Magicky place, a little bit witchy. But I always felt we should steer clear of that kind of thing. And I didn't feel it was my personal trip I was laying on others. It was like a message I was hearing that our trip was one of loving God and of sacrifice. In other words, of opening ourselves to people and loving them, trying to be a part of that love that was descending upon us and never trying to power-trip in any way. I know that Lou and Ramon felt that way.

"I remember instances when Rain and Ben played with electrical flashes on a psychedelic trip. They stood on either side of the barn door throwing flashes of lightning back and forth from their fingertips. Very impressive magic! I watched them and thought how my devotion was to God. I myself had indulged in witchcraft more than once, and could have used certain powers if I had wanted to. I could have jumped up and exchanged some lightning, but I had an urge not to do that. We all had strong feelings regarding spiritual purity and were not drawn into psychic power trips. One the one hand, the feeling was very childlike, and on the other it took a certain kind of dedication.

"One acid trip definitely solidified us as a group. We had eaten nothing but brown rice for ten days, and on the evening of the tenth day we all took acid. It was a wild trip, with Ben screaming and I don't know what else, but I do know there were some very intense experiences that brought us together. Lou and Ramon became much closer on that acid trip. They had a strong brotherly feeling for each other, and at that moment realized that something was going to happen at the ranch. It was only something you could sense, not something planned. I wanted to dedicate myself, to be part of a huge, loving, giving, motherly force. I gave up my concern for my personal welfare and concentrated on a concern for the community, for the group consciousness rather than on my individual self. We instituted the Indian-type steambath ritual.

"Early Sunday morning we gathered in a special hut and crouched over the pile of hot rocks in the center. Then we would emerge, shower, put on our finest clothes and sit at the dining table. We wouldn't speak or eat, but remained at the table for maybe one or two hours, doing nothing! Yet it felt as if we were having a great feast together. We fasted and remained silent all day, a tremendous purification. We were pretty far out in some ways.

"We had other very intense experiences with Ben and Rain that summer. It was just so beautiful on that land. The fruit flowed as if from a cornucopia, apples form the orchard, six different varieties, walnuts, plums, pears and quinces. It was a mind-blowing experience for everyone. That summer was paradise."

One day, while rummaging in a closet, Gina found some old bills made out to 'Morning Star Ranch.' Also, over the door to the Lower House was painted 'Morning Star Press.' It was obvious the ranch had a name, something even Lou had not known, and everyone began using it. Ramon especially was fascinated by the discovery. He began researching the symbolism of the morning star among American Indian tribes. The actual story of how and for whom the ranch was named no one discovered for another five years, but Her presence during these earliest months began to manifest itself over and over again.

LOU: "Ramon was the first spiritual aspirant I ever lived with. He was intensely interested in these matters and, by the way, introduced me to the works of Sri Aurobindo which had a tremendous influence on my life. We began to be co-aspirants, sharing experiences in the investigation of consciousness." Sri Aurobindo, the great Indian spiritual philosopher, taught there was an evolution in human consciousness occurring that would culminate in an immortal human body. He hinted it would come about through a fusion of science and religion. To that end, he established an ashram at Pondicherry in southern India where, after his own death in 1950, his work was carried on by Mother Mira, his co-worker and an avatar in her own right.

RAMON: "My goal at that time was to rediscover the most ancient of all religions, Sun Yoga. Also I was convinced many people would come to Morning Star Ranch for enlightenment. However I was a mere student, a beginner who had been given a glimpse into the higher realms. And I was stuck at a strange place: I could not yet look at the sun long enough to trigger the change that Sri Aurobindo had predicted, and that would allow the 'rainbow' body to emerge. I considered myself an Aurobindo disciple, a combination of a mad scientist and the Solar Consciousness of the Buddha.

"Looking back over my life, it seemed as if my mother's dying prayers had placed me in the care of Our Blessed Lady in whose lap I sat, fat and sassy. It had been She who brought me and my sister Benedicta our of Europe as the Forces of Evil gathered in an attempt to do us in. They knew I had come to the planet to help start the new age, and wanted to keep me from performing my appointed task.

"I had grown up with an American family, gradually forgetting the nightmare of the Spanish Civil War. At nineteen I married Sibyl whom I had met on a blind date three years earlier. It was she who introduced me to the idea of communal living, having grown up in the remnants of the Oneida Community as a great-great grandchild of John Humphrey Noyes, the charismatic founder. To this day she remains at the Society of Brothers, the Christian community of which I am a runaway Novice member. Their self-flagellating, moralistic attitudes freaked me out totally.

"Those first months at Morning Star I was so preoccupied with my new discoveries that I didn't have any specific teaching to share with people. I dug around in libraries and bookstores looking for references to the sun and hints on Sun Yoga. I found a few things that encouraged me, such as that the Plains Indians during the Sun Dance gazed at the sun for two or three days without any permanent damage to their retinas. I was still fighting the blindness paranoia myth we all grew up with. But then I thought, 'Well, I must have faith that God won't damage my eyes and then he won't.' But as I have said, I was always careful not to do anything painful, always gazing in partial shade, but always limited by the fact that the shade I was using would shift as the earth moved.

"I was more or less playing Ramamkrishna to Lou's Mr. Bizwas, the businessman-patron of the saint. That group acid trip brought us very close, and Lou became my greatest enthusiast, encouraging me on to ever greater heights. He would bring visitors down to the redwood grove where I lay on my back in deep meditation. 'Here's the graduate seminar!' he would say, pointing at me. He himself became very interested in Sun Yoga and began practicing some sungazing. However when anybody followed my example I became worried because I was not willing to take responsibility for anyone else's retinas. My eyesight, by the way, improved considerably. I had a near- sighted left eye that returned to normal on the driver's test chart. I thought a lot about the phrase, 'Things look brighter when you're in love,' and kind of turned it around: if you gaze at sunlight, then that light stimulates your heart until love bursts out of you in all directions."

In Aurobindo's epic poem Savitri Ramon found a section that seemed to prophesy what was happening at Morning Star Ranch:

I saw the Omnipotent's flaming pioneers
Over the heavenly verge which turns towards life
Come crowding down the amber stairs of birth;
Forerunners of a divine multitude
Out of the paths of the morning star they came
Into the little room of mortal life.
I saw them cross the twilight of an age,
The sun-eyed children of a marvelous dawn,
The great creators with wide brows of calm
The massive barrier-breakers of the world
And wrestler with destiny in her lists of will,
The laborers in the quarries of the gods,
The messengers of the Incommunicable,
The architects of immortality.
Into the fallen human sphere they came,
Faces that wore the Immortal's glory still
Voices that communed still with the thoughts of God,
Carrying the magic word, the mystic fire,
Carrying the Dionysian cup of joy,
Approaching eyes of a diviner man,
Lips chanting an anthem to the soul,
Feet echoing in the corridors of Time,...

High priests of wisdom, sweetness, might and bliss,
Discoverers of beauty's sunlit ways
And swimmers within rapture's laughing, fiery floods
And dancers within rapture's golden doors,
Their tread one day shall change the suffering earth
And justify the light on Nature's face.

LOU: "At the urging of an Aurobindo disciple who visited us, I sent my photo and that of Ramon, Gina and a few others to Mother Mira, and asked that she keep us in her consciousness. I think that this was the first time we established a conscious connection to the Divine Mother force. As a result of that, we were able, to use Aurobindo's terminology, to 'bring down the Mother Force' here during 1966. And it seems to me that 1966 was the year of transition, the beginning of the Aquarian Age, if you will."

GINA: "At the end of that summer, Ben and Rain went back to San Francisco, Bruce and Wilder went in different directions, and Ramon went to New York for a month to visit his relatives. Finally just Lou and Pam Millward remained with me, Pam a novelist and a poet, a very nice person who had her little daughter Natasha with her. We began doing yoga together. At first it was just an hour a day, and then it was two and then we went up to three. We developed this technique of watching each other do the 'asanas,' the postures. But instead of just watching, we would ride the other's energy. If the person was doing The Cobra posture, the others would help them psychically, giving them strength, and at the same time experiencing their exertion. We did this every day, plus breathing exercises and meditation.

"After we had done this for about six weeks, we split one tab of LSD three ways, went up to the meadow and began our normal yoga routine. The acid clarified and emphasized what we had been doing for weeks, along with an incredible telepathic contact. After three hours of yoga, we elephant-walked down to the lower meadow -- you know, how elephants walk with their trunks and tails connected? We imagined we were elephants. And there, in the lower meadow, we had a remarkable experience. We were seated under an oak tree, and suddenly all three of us felt that some outside force was communicating with us. Perhaps not 'communicating,' but rather descending upon us. This was something undeniable, something we had to acknowledge.

"We lay on our backs holding hands, forming a triangle, taking turns filtering that energy, that incredibly loving, powerful force. Otherwise, if we had all three done it at once, we would have been exhausted and not able to experience it. We balanced our energies and could have gone on forever. It built to a crescendo, and I think we were there for hours but the trouble is that you can never describe these experiences because they are beyond normal consciousness. There is no terminology for this kind of thing. I just remember that it built and built. Finally, at the peak, Lou burst into tears and got on his knees. And I saw, shimmering a few feet in front of him (Pam and I were behind him), the Virgin Mary. I actually saw Her too. But She wasn't just the Virgin Mary, She was the manifestation of all mother love.

"Lou was saying, 'Hail Mary, full of grace, Ave Mar’a, gracia plena.' He was brought up part Catholic and part Jewish, so he knew both religions. He called it 'The Descent of the Mother Force.' I know that the three of us did experience it together. Afterwards, that evening, we all knew that something had changed in our lives. There had been a radical transformation. Something unusual was happening on that piece of land, and we were very blessed to be there. We knew we would do anything to further whatever it was. Of course, at that time we did not know the ranch had been dedicated and named after the Virgin Mary."

That fall, Lou, Gina and Ramon went to a community conference in Santa Cruz, representing themselves as members of a small religious ashram named Morning Star.

GINA: "At the conference, we sat around and talked about various possibilities and directions. There were all kinds of ways of running a community. Some had rules and were very structured, the other extreme being Morning Star which had no governing body or anyone with the final say. One man stood up and said, 'Anyone is welcome at my place if they won't talk.' I always wondered what happened to that place and if anyone did come.

"Communes were popping up all over the place as a result of the psychedelic age. With heightened awareness and sensitivity, people began to scatter into the countryside looking for places to visit. Once they had tasted country life, they began searching for somewhere to live. The most economical way to do this was to live with others. It made country living feasible. Otherwise, you had to spend a fortune buying land. And there were people around who owned land and were willing to share it.

"Our friend Zilla came up to visit early that summer. She was a dancer and an actress, a wonderful, flamboyant creature who blew everyone's mind by walking into the living room, taking off her clothes and just continuing the conversation. We were a little bit shocked but not terribly so. I don't know if it was because of Zilla, but as the summer got hotter and hotter we all started going without clothes. It was only logical. We were down to rags anyway."

RAMON: "The day Zilla came up, she accompanied Gina and me to the lower meadow to chant the sun down. God spoke to me for the third time, giving me a name to call Him and also saying, 'You will not be alone on your path, but there will be many others.' For me it was a tremendously moving experience because sometimes I did feel very isolated -- sort of way out there by myself, not really knowing what I was doing."

Early that winter, a few young people arrived from the Haight-Ashbury, having heard through the community conference in Santa Cruz that Morning Star was open to new members. After one particularly noisy night, Ramon posted a list of rules on the wall: "Community members are expected to gather at Lou's shed before breakfast for exercises. There will be Hatha Yoga at noon, and there will be Silence after supper in both houses." When the newcomers ignored the rules, sleeping late and talking all night, Ramon asked them to leave.

LOU: "This incident brought the owner trip into focus insofar as I was concerned. When one of the newcomers came to me later and asked, 'Do I have to leave?' I said, 'Yes, Ramon has had enough.' So I did the Pontious Pilate trip. Then they went to Pam Millward and said, 'Wait a minute, we ought to have a discussion about whether we have to leave or not, and the majority should rule.' And Pam, who had the greatest mouth of them all, said, 'The majority elected Ronald Reagan governor.' So they did leave, but they helped me establish, at least in my own consciousness, the terrible onus of telling anyone to leave."

GINA: "At that same time, Nina Simone came up to visit Lou, a marvellous person with a great aura and dignity. She walked around the land with him before returning to his studio to play the piano and sing. 'Lou, there aren't any black people here,' she said. 'Well, what can I do?' he answered. 'I want them to come, but we don't invite people. They just show up.'"


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