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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 14
Black Sunday

One Sunday in June, a couple came from San Francisco with their friends to get married at Wheeler's Ranch. It was a beautiful, sunny day and, as people began to gather in the Pine Grove, word circulated that there was some very special punch being served in a little glade. The punchbowl contained a mere two quarts of fruit juice, but it had been laced with five hundred tabs of pure Owsley LSD with a little psylocibin for flavor and some mescaline for color. Fifty people consumed all of it, little knowing just how potent the mixture was.

"This ain't Olympia beer," Bill commented after sipping less than a fifth of a cup. Five minutes later it began to come on very strong.

Gina brought Ramón a cupful which they shared before going back for another to give Lou and Near who were visiting that day. While they searched for their friends they took a few more sips. Some 'acid virgins' and other innocents drank up to a cup and a half. And it turned into a real, old-fashioned group acid freak-out.

COYOTE: "I noticed all these people hanging around a punchbowl, so I got in line for a full cup, and walked back and filled up again. I didn't know what was happening, but then I saw the guy who had been serving the punch, and he was lying on the ground quivering, and I said, 'Wow! This must be dosed!'"

Ramón sat down and began playing his accordion, figuring he had a half-hour to play music before enlightenment hit. Four minutes later some very strrrange things began happening to his insides. The LSD was hitting fast! People in the Pine Grove were looking at each other strangely as if to say, "Wow, do you feel what I feel?"

"We'd better go somewhere by ourselves," Gina said to Ramón. "I'm getting very high! Is everything going to be all right?"

"Sure, sure," Ramón replied, not really so sure. "But it's going to be a total wipe-out trip."

They walked down the hillside to a small clump of redwoods not far from the community garden. Waves of energy were rippling through the air and through both of them. The peaks kept getting higher and higher and closer and closer together. Finally they were flat on their backs. Back in the Pine Grove, people started throwing up, their bodies trying to reject the overdose. No one knew how much had been in the punch or how much they had taken. Other people were rolling on the ground, screaming for help. One girl began biting anyone near her between screams.

I think we've been poisoned," Gina gasped. "I've got to get some water."

She staggered to the community garden water faucet, Ramón wafting along behind her, his head spiraling off into the hot summer sky. Errol and Sarah's son Moses and a couple of John and Sue's kids were there. Gina doused her face and filled a gallon jug.

"We've got to take water to the others," she said, staring back up the hillside.

In Ramón's eyes she transformed into an Old Testament maiden carrying life-saving water to her tribespeople. Now and then another scream would escape from the Pine Grove and they would put on a burst of speed.

"Get me some doooooooowners!" It was a cry from the depths of hell. "Get me some doooooooooowners!"

Upon entering the grove, it seemed as if they had fallen into some kind of demonic inferno. Bursts of frenzied drumming set a backdrop for flashily dressed strangers who were walking aimlessly around. Of all the people there, Ramón recognized only one - Pat de Vita, a Morning Star sister, who looked out-of-her-mind terrified.

Lou sauntered up. "Well, Pat, looks like you've made it this time," he said, implying she had finally gotten as high as she could.

Nobody seemed interested in Gina's water jug, so she and Ramón slowly made their way down the hillside, Ramón pouring water over his head every few steps. Meanwhile, Cliff had run down to the Willow Springs where he hid out for the rest of the trip, feeling awful. Zen Jack sat on an adjacent hillside intoning "In the beginning there was..." in a booming voice but then forgetting what happened next. All day he would almost find out what was in the beginning but then it eluded him and he had to start all over again. "In the beginning..."

Someone turned to Bill who had stayed on in the Pine Grove. "This time you've gone too far," he said. "It's too much!"

Bill staggered down to Gwen who, seven months pregnant, had avoided the punch and was hoeing her garden. What did he have to do with creating this insanity, Bill wondered.

GWEN: "Bill was worried that people would get hurt, that the cops were coming, that the water tank was running dry and that any number of other calamities were imminent. What was happening on the Ridge was so intense that he felt the whole world was focusing its attention on us. I assured him that I would look after all the details. We walked back up to the studio where we found numerous bodies sprawled all over the floor. Half were moaning for water, Garbage Mike was mumbling about trash and cleaning up, and Zen Jack was still trying to find out what was 'in the beginning,' but as it faded from his grasp, he sank into despair only to be raised again by his next flash of inspiration. I went up to the front gate to turn on the water pump because every faucet on the Ridge was wide open and crowded by crawling, writhing, naked, muddy, stoned hippies. All along the road, people were running around madly, shed of their clothes, with expressions of searching horror. One man I had seen earlier walking with crutches and thrown them away along with his clothing and glasses and was crawling around like a baby in search of its mother."

Finally some LSD veteran suggested that everyone gather in a circle, hold hands and 'Om' together. That seemed to bring things more under control for that particular group of trippers. Lou and Near had missed out on the refreshments and reappeared walking towards Ramón and Near from the garden. Near was golden and naked, Lou in his white Hindu pants and shirt, both in their normal, psychotic frame of mind.

"Gina! Ramón!" Zen Jack's voice boomed across the meadow which he was descending with faltering footsteps. "Come to me! Come to me!" His intonations were positively Shakespearean.

"My God, you're all really stoned!" Near exclaimed, staring at her friends. Zen Jack waved his skinny arms and floated closer. Ramón held up the gallon jug and poured more water over his exploding head. He felt that if he didn't touch water every few minutes, he had no reference point for reality. Zen Jack swooped around them, tweaking Near's Tampax string before being tackled by a young amorous-looking male.

Some truly unearthly screams started from behind the Pine Grove. They put Gina into a panic, and she went to lie down in a mud puddle beside the faucet, her white nightgown turning brown. Ramón felt irresistibly drawn to the screamer. If whoever it was didn't stop, he thought, everybody will really freak out! Around the curve of the road came Janie, naked and totally goodbye out of it. Every few stops or so she emitted a truly unbelievable holler. It came from deep inside of her, and she ended it with her tongue protruding in a gagging reflex. Her old man Eric and a few other guys were circling around, trying to hold her and calm her down. Eric had a very neat necklace of bites she had given him. The whole group drifted down to the by-now archetypal water faucet where Lou was standing. He tried to calm Janie down. She bit him, so he tried blowing his stack. No good. She lay on the ground gasping like a landed fish. Ramón gave her some water which helped temporarily. Now and then some nattily dressed person came by and tried to assure everyone that the punch was 'the pure stuff,' but that a fifth of a cup was a full dose.

Laird and Vivian materialized out of nowhere, Morning Star 1967 graduates. Laird gave Ramón a nutty looks as if to say, "Isn't life just too crazy to believe?" Somehow that exchange of glances with his friend helped Ramón calm down. He started tending first to Gina in the mud puddle and then Janie flat on her back in the road, going back and forth. At one point he looked up at Hoffie's Hill, and it seemed as if there were hundreds of people lined up on it. Oh God, he thought, someone has driven out and phoned in saying, "There are a hundred people dying at Wheeler's! Send out the cops, the fire brigade, the rescue squad! Help!" They must be throwing people into ambulances, he thought. But then he faced his paranoia: "So okay, they're hauling everyone away on stretchers, and all of Occidental is up here watching the debacle. It can only bring all of us closer together." The worst that could happen then didn't seem so bad.

Some people did freak and leave. A girl up at the front gate told newcomers, "Don't go down there. The Devil is loose!"

However no police came and no one telephoned from town for assistance. The Ridge community worked it through on their own in true Open Land tradition. Once again, the lack of easy access to the outside had proved a blessing.

GWEN: "I walked back to the garden where Janie was shrieking and biting everyone who came near here. Folks tried different soothing tactics only to come reeling away clutching at their wounds. As I left the garden and walked along the road, I felt I was visiting the wildest mental hospital on earth. Within the invisible walls of each person's 'cubicle,' a different crazy human drama was unfolding. My stomach was sticking out pretty far, and its glow of peace tended to surround people and bring them out of their interior madness whenever I took their hand and let the warmth of my center flow into them."

In the late afternoon, the wedding finally took place. It was a strange, surrealistic ceremony with everything in slow motion. The bride passed a bowl of wine to the bridegroom who dropped it. The minister explained that the broken pieces of the bowl symbolized the coming together of the bridal couple. Bill found himself wondering about that.

Ramón began to suspect that the heat of the sun might be playing an important part in keeping them all so crazy. He personally felt the need for a cool, shady place. Gina was by now lying on the manure pile while Janie was still thrashing in the roadway. So he turned to a man named Harold who wasn't stoned and asked for help in getting the women and himself into the barn. Harold, a beautiful brother, escorted the women into the barn where all four of them lay down on the sweet-smelling straw. He exuded a calm, confident sympathy which reassured them that everything was really going to be all right. They began to feel much better. In the later afternoon, Gina went out to lie in the sunshine. Bill came by and assured everyone that all was well if not quite back to normal. Janie limped off on a blistered foot to find Eric.

Ramón went to Bill's studio and found him entertaining, of all people, a straight young woman from Freestone who was very upset because a neighbor was going to butcher a steer. The animal had been grazing in the lot across from her house and she felt she had established a friendly relationship with it. She talked for a long time about vegetarianism and how she was all for it, but what could she feed her husband? She must have been experiencing a 'contact high,' because she talked on and on, obviously enjoying her visit, her first time on the Ridge.

RAMON: "This little touch of non-stoned reality felt good. I then walked down to Gina, and we took a stroll to the end of the land and back up to the studio with my accordion, laughing and having a good time. The sun was setting, and a group had gathered to watch the huge, ripe persimmon moon come up over the hills. I played "Shine On, Harvest Moon" in fourteen different psychedelic variations while Harold did a softshoe routine and cracked silly jokes which made everyone laugh and laugh. It felt so good just to be alive, to have survived with no one dead or permanently flipped out."

Reports trickled in from all corners of the land. A beautiful young girl named Claudia had fallen off Shanti the mare into a bush. Cliff thought the revolution had started and thrown a rock through a studio window. Some guy smeared shit all over himself and ran around hugging everyone. Don and Sandy King, quietly living by themselves at the bottom of the West Canyon, reported later that the vibrations were not-to-be-believed strange from 'up top' that day. Everyone in his own way had gone through some kind of hell and lived through it.

"Ah, psychedelic splendor," Gina intoned, with a sweep of her hand to the stars.

And Bill believed that he had understood the agony and ecstasy of man that day, the experience Aldous Huxley called 'Between Heaven and Hell.'

DAMIAN: "Well, I drank that stuff and within two minutes I couldn't walk, I just couldn't walk. So I figured well, if I can't walk I'm gonna crawl, so I crawled out in the hot sun and went around in circles for a while, and then the sky opened up and I saw a couple of guys up there blowin' horns and I thought, 'Shit, man, it's the end of the world!' And there were ten or fifteen people lined up below Hoffie's Hill in a straight line waiting for the ambulances to come. I would've gone to the hospital that day if somebody had taken me. Some helicopters flew over that day too, and there were a couple of guys in army uniforms, so I started thinking maybe we'd been dosed by the cops with STP. I thought maybe it was like a joke or something that the Santa Rosa officials were playin' on us.

Well, finally I crawled down into the canyon and puked my guts out, and then I started feelin' pretty good! My old lady still teases me about it. She says I went up the hill fully clothed, you know, everything on, and when I came back I had lost everything, my shoes, my pants, my ID, everything. I was stark-assed naked!"

The story behind the punch was that the caterer, a rock promoter from Seattle, enjoyed getting people so stoned that they saw God. The week before he had done the same thing in San Francisco at a rock concert and some fifteen people who saw too much God went to the hospital. It was of no small credit to the Ridgefolk that they had enough of a community and enough trust in each other so that everyone got through the experience without permanent harm. Whenever that day is talked about, and it still remains one of the favorite stories among those who were there, it is referred to as 'Black Sunday.'

ZEN JACK: "On Black Sunday I jumped up realizing the whole thing! All the people being there, all the dope, the whole situation taking place in such a freaked-out way, and I looked at Lou and said, 'He's the one responsible! You're responsible for this, Lou Gottlieb! And I said it in a happy way, zonked to the limits, you know. So okay, Open Land is Black Sunday. And what's Black Sunday mean to you? All pure lilies and flowers, but it's - you know - your holy day and holiness can be black too. It takes all forms. Now, for an outside observer to witness Black Sunday, someone who hadn't experienced an acid trip or the Open Land trip, it might have looked like a real bummer. You know, people shrieking and falling about. But once you've taken acid, you know what the situation is, and you know it's not so, ahh, ugly. It's not so black. And afterwards, everybody said, 'Hey, you know what? We lived through it, heh-heh!' Well, so what was Black Sunday? It was something that couldn't have taken place probably anywhere else in the world, not in a state park, not in the city or in a private home somewhere. It only could have happened on a piece of land ruled by anarchy or not ruled at all. It had to happen where it was totally free to have whatever happened happen!"

COYOTE: "There was this guy down at the creek, and he was scooping mud and holding it up to the sun and going, 'Gwurk!.' I jumped off a cliff to see if I could hurt myself but I couldn't. I'd never seen so many stoned people in my life, but I don't know why it's called 'Black Sunday,' That's an exaggeration!"

BILL: "My own feelings about LSD are that it should be taken sparingly and only in a supportive environment. If the conditions are right, LSD can be enjoyable and educational, but if they are wrong, expect a bum trip. Acid is inorganic. Artificial fertilizer will produce big fruit but the food value and the goodness are nothing compared to something organically grown. Most people, after a certain amount of LSD-taking, find they have gotten as much out of it as they can and turn to spiritual and yogic disciplines for a more lasting attainment of expanded consciousness. Chemical heightening of awareness can be a trap and a dead end.

"Drugs have never been a problem on the Ridge. Extremely popular, they are consumed as soon as they get here. A favorite agricultural pursuit was growing your own. Rarely have any hard drugs such as heroin, methedrine or other types of speed been used on the land. Our isolation precluded a habit, and many addicts came here to kick their addictions. It there was a villainous drug on the land, it was alcohol. Any violence, disturbance or trouble usually was caused by it. Drinking lowered the vibrations and reinforced the worst in human behavior, tendencies and desires. Future historians surely will find it puzzling that our society made it legal and marijuana illegal."

COYOTE: "For the record, I'll challenge anybody to an acid-eating contest anytime, any place, any where. I've tried every drug there is to try, and I'm All-American. The prize is the Cosmos, of which I am currently the President. I'll give up my badge and trade positions if I lose. But when I tell people how much acid I've eaten in my life, they don't believe me! They refuse to believe me!"

ZEN JACK: "Open Land Boogie-man, Open Land Boogie-man! Shut up, shut up, I'm the Boogie-man, Open Land's the Boogie-man! Eat, sleep, shit, make love with the Boogie-Man! Now, once you've learned how the Boogie-Man can be lived with, then you're not afraid of him anymore. There is no Boogie-Man, nothin' to fear. Death isn't to be feared because we're the grateful dead.

We come out here, and everything we had that we thought was ours, physically, mentally, emotionally, gets ripped! Right? And we stand naked, goofy, starin' at the sun, babbling great blithering idiotic nothings, freaking on dope. Everything that's considered to be of worth in straight society is totally lost, surrounded with trash, disease, no future, our past is ruined, we're a heap - hallelujah! Then when you stand up with nothin', you realize where it's all comin' from. What's really worthwhile isn't something that money can't buy me love, baby! Dum-de-dum, I need some money and I need it fast, rip it off from the ruling class... We are hippies, silly hippies! Yes, that's what you are! Stoned hippies!

"To be convinced to open your land, take any of your problems, any one of your problems or hang-ups, and I bet you can trace it to some sort of physical thing - a car, a woman, your food, your house payments. Whatever it is, you know that if you let go of it and don't watch over it, somebody else greedy enough is going to latch onto it and take it away from you, and then there's all that pain and horror and sorrow. So what you do is you learn to let go, just let go of whatever it is you have, especially land. Let go of it, and watch it get taken, and when you learn to be taken and smile and not have it hurt, then you're free of it. Now if you have property and you're hoarding it, that's a selfish thing, and it causes pain for others and for yourself. So let go, you know, and become extremely freaky like Morning Star - Open Land people, where they let go of everything in an unrealistic way, thank God, and then you'll learn a lot about love and you'll be concerned more about others and ultimately it'll all balance out. Let go of 'em all!

"That's what Black Sunday was all about, where you didn't have a choice to let go or not, whether you wanted to live or die. You just got killed, heh-heh. You were so ripped that you just had no idea. Every now and then you'd pop back in and say, 'Oh yeah, I'm stoned on LSDeeee! Who's that? Where'd that bird come from? Aha! That's my great uncle! I'll catch him by the tail and fly off to the moon of seven veils!' It was a beautiful party, see, the situation was perfect, good food, beautiful colors, balloons, great day, good music, everyone relaxed. It was my first day back in the country, and when somebody offered me dope, I figured what do you need dope for? This is beautiful! You don't need any dope because everybody's already high! And then the dope came, and then the whole thing was just thrown out into, unh, you couldn't say what it was. It was just the biggest dope trip I'd ever seen!"


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