The Halloween Raid
On October 31st, county officialdom descended in force on the Ridge community. The
first fall rains already had brought a tinge of green grass to the golden brown of the
previous summer. Bill was repairing the community truck in the barn, and Gwen was in the
garden with Raspberry. Someone came running up and told Bill that three sheriff's deputies
and a matron had just climbed over the back fence and were questioning people. Flushed and
angry, Bill climbed into the truck along with Gwen's brother Peter and drove off to
investigate. Gwen put on her clothes, dressed Raspberry and walked out of the garden just
in time to get a perfect view of the drama occurring in the meadow.
GWEN: "I saw Bill walking stiffly and quickly over to a clump of trees. Then I
heard some shouts, and saw Bill running backwards, screaming at the three officers
pursuing him. One officer dropped to one knee and drew his revolver.
"'Big man with a gun!' Bill taunted. 'Go ahead and shoot!'
"The officer hesitated, returned the gun to its holster, and ran towards Bill.
Bill picked up a tricycle, threw it in the officer's path and continued running. Three
more officers came down the hill and several more ran by me on the road. Bill dodged and
ran out of my sight into a gully, followed by all the officers as well as Peter who was
shouting, 'Don't hurt him! Don't hurt him!'
"Cliff, who was walking naked down the hill, looked over where Bill lay under a
pile of police and started shouting, 'Hey, lay off him, man! Cut it out!' I felt a hot
rush of blood surge through me. Clutching Raspberry, I began to run towards the scene. I
arrived in time to see both Bill and Peter pinned to the ground with about ten officers on
top of them. Bill was covered with blood. I began screaming and calling the deputies foul
names. They straightened up and looked at me as if they wanted to disappear. Then they
pulled Bill and Peter to their feet and handcuffed them. When we asked why they were
arresting Bill and Peter, they replied, 'If you don't want to get arrested, you'd better
start moving.' The sheriff's car drove away with Peter looking embarrassed and slightly
worried. Bill looked as if all his adrenalin had been spent."
TRUDY: "We were standing around under the big oak tree getting stoned, a whole
bunch of us. Then the cops came, and there was one really hard-faced woman. She was
wearing pants, and came over to confront us. We just stood there while she looked us over.
Michelle, who was under age, finally got scared and started moving off, but the lady cop
pointed at her and said, 'I want that one!' And the cops went over and grabbed her arms.
"'No, I'm over eighteen,' Michelle said. 'I'm legal. I have I.D.'
"'Go get it,' said the lady cop.
"So they walked over to my place. I was trying to think fast how I could lend her
my I.D. because they hadn't questioned me. If I could somehow just disappear -- but it
didn't work. I ended up having to prove I was me, and that didn't make any difference at
GWEN: "I calmed down, realizing I would have to find a way to get Bill and Peter
out of jail. I asked Alan to help me. As we got into his car, we heard Gina's loud voice
preaching to all the officers how peace-loving we were and how we deserved to be let
alone. As we drove to jail, Raspberry asleep on my lap, I was still shaken by the memory
of Bill and Peter pinned beneath the hard knees of all those officers.
"At the sheriff's department, I was told Bill and Peter had been booked on a
felony charge of assault and battery. I snapped at the matron, 'It was your officers who
were doing the assault and battery, you know.'
"She stared at me with a glint in her eye. 'You want to be behind bars too, lady?'
"I said nothing more. We gathered together the bail money for Bill who in turn
bailed out Peter. Raspberry awoke, and the same matron who had threatened me before looked
at Raspberry and said, 'My, aren't you cute!' I glared at her, remembering a fearful dream
of being in jail and having my baby taken away from me. With Bill and Peter released, we
walked to the parking lot in a glow of mutual relief. A sheriff's car drove past, and Alan
gave it a big whack on the rear with his fist. The car stopped, slowly backed up, and the
officer's brought his eyes level with Alan's.
"'Oh, I beg pardon, sir,' Alan quickly said. 'I just sort of stumbled into you
The cops looked at each of us and then drove on. Alan had expressed the tension we all
felt at having been struck and not being able to strike back. We could only accept what
had happened and follow where it led, through many court appearances and lawyers'
conferences to next summer's 'not guilty' verdict for Peter and a hung jury for
A Jewish accountant who had visited Morning Star and had brotherly feelings for the
cause somehow had slipped onto the jury as the last juror selected. He hung the jury,
eleven to one, and Bill was never retried. Instead he pleaded guilty to the less serious
charge of 'disturbing the peace' and got off with a fifty-dollar fine. "Who disturbed
whose peace on whose land?" he asked laconically when it was all over.
LOU: "That military policeman did open Bill's third eye, no doubt about that.
Unfortunately he did it with a pair of handcuffs, and that was to prove to Bill that he
had an ungovernable temper which, I'm delighted to say, has since been brought under
control beautifully. He still likes to yell, but the last time they busted the Ridge,
Bustini came up to Bill and said, 'Bill, I'm in charge today, so just shut up and do what
you're told.' And thereby he saved Bill's ass, because it was as if he gave Bill a
hypnotic suggestion. Nothing truly violent will happen with Open Land. There will never be
any violent confrontations. Maybe some peripheral skirmishes will involve a little
bloodshed, but that's not violence."
The facts of the raid were pieced together: twenty-five officers, police, FBI,
juvenile. narcotics and MP's had converged on the land without benefit of search warrants.
They demanded I.D.'s, forcibly entered people's' homes, knock down and searched one young
man whom they mistook for Bill. So it was obvious they were out to get him that day.
RAMON: "It was hard to believe that in a so-called democracy a mob of armed police
could vent their savagery upon a village of unarmed people. Bill had tried to keep
sixteen-year-old Michelle from being dragged back to reform school. He had explained to
her that she didn't have to answer any questions because the police were on the land
totally illegally. Pow! He was hit with the handcuffs. Spitting a mouthful of blood over
the MP, he took off across the field with the cops after him. Peter arrived just in time
to pull a few of them off his brother-in-law."
Ramón's Berkeley friend Betty appeared at one of the Sunday feasts accompanied by a
young couple, Delia and Bark, neighbors of hers. Delia and Bark announced they were buying
the thousand-acre ranch one property to the southeast, a beautiful horseshoe-shaped
valley. Also they were definitely interested in starting a community. Their arrival
brought a wave of optimism to the embattled Wheeler's folk who felt that this new ranch,
even if not Open Land, would provide a group of friendly neighbors nearby.
The winter was such a good time on the Ridge, living close to the weather and the
woodburning stoves. But it rained so much that winter that the sound of falling rain
became much too familiar to the soggy residents. Weeks went by without sun. Tents,
clothing and bodies became permanently damp and cold. People began leaving on vacations or
for good, giving up the endurance test, their minds filled with thoughts of warm, dry --
even 'code' houses with hot water.
Ramón walked to the top of Delia and Bark's property with them. Wheeler's was visible
a quarter-mile away, and Bark mentioned that often they could hear music from the
gatherings when the wind blew from the Ridge. Lou and Near also visited the new neighbors.
The day after, some health inspectors came by with photos of people shitting on the land
-- photos which they said had been taken at the Ridge.
"You don't want that happening here, do you?" they asked.
It became obvious that county officials were upset by Delia and Bark's gambit. They
suspected Bill of buying more property under other people's names. To Ramón, it all was
reminiscent of a song from his childhood:
Close the door, they're coming in the windows,
Close the windows, they're coming in the door.
Close the door, they're coming in the windows,
Oh my God, they oozing thru the floor!
Gina conceived after a year of trying to get pregnant and began radiating a healthy
glow. In late January, Ramón's American foster mother Julia Davis visited briefly from
the East Coast. They had not seen each other for five years, their last get-together a
stormy one. It was with some trepidation that he took his bearded self to San Francisco
and drove her back up to Sonoma County. The road to the Ridge was in its usual
butterscotch-pudding condition, too much for a seventy-year-old lady, so instead a dinner
was laid on at Irish Hill, Bill's previous house on Coleman Valley Road. A painter named
Tom Field lived there, a superb cook and raconteur. Don and Sandy with Rainbow, Peter, Lou
and Near, Gwen and Bill with Raspberry, Gina and Katy the Dog attended. Julia drank vodka
while everyone else smoked grass. Lou sat beside her whispering funny stories in her ear
while Ramón stood back watching two halves of his life merge. Later, Ramón and Gina
drove her around the countryside singing some of the Morning Star chants. To his delight,
it was obvious she was enjoying herself. This marked the beginning of a renewal of their
The bad weather continued throughout February, with the lulls in the rainstorms murky
with fog. Colds worsened and infections did not heal. The run-off washed new bacteria into
the water supply, spreading diarrhea throughout the community. And still it rained, with
windy gusts knocking down trees and breaking windows. By the end of that month, with no
end to the storms in sight, about a third of the Ridge population gave it up and left. But
on March first, the sun broke out and the clouds vanished. All the colors transformed from
greys to green and blue while everyone spread themselves in the welcome sunshine to bake
the mildew out of their bodies. With this longed-for arrival of spring, the pace of life
April brought Near and Lou their baby boy Vishnu. She experienced a brief, easy labor
with just Lou in attendance. Welcome, Vishnu! A strong, handsome baby. (see Near's
description in the Appendices)
LOU: "It was too bad there weren't more people present the night of Vishnu's
birth. Actually the idea of the conception of Vishnu -- the annunciation, if you buy the
myth -- came in Chiranjiva's house in India -- in Sonarpur. There, for the first time
while Near and I were enjoying connubial bliss, I felt the desire to create Vishnu. Vishnu
said, 'create me.' I understood for the first time what Chiranjiva meant when he said
about his own grandson Vishnu, 'He wills and I act.' And I said, 'Right on! That's what I
want for myself. I want to have a guru in the house!' So now we have a new generation of
Vishnus, fulfilling the blessed Swami Vivekananda's prediction when he wrote, 'I look
forward to the time when Christs will be born in clusters like grapes.' That's what is
happening! It's a Vishnu generation. And to the extent that we old farts can pick up on
their methods, we will be doing God's will. While on the other hand, to the extent that we
put our trip on them, we will be doing the will of the Devil -- arresting the evolution of
human consciousness. "
The feast given in honor of Chiranjiva the previous fall had initiated the new custom
at the Ridge of weekly Sunday feasts. For the next three years, hardly a Sunday went by
that was not a day of communal celebration. On Sunday morning, every household began
preparing food for the gathering. Around noon people started carrying their offerings and
instruments to some picturesque spot. After the meal, the musicians would begin to play a
throbbing, swirling music which seemed to spring from the roots of the land and spread in
dancing circles to the sky. Everyone looked forward to these get-togethers as a time for
open, orgiastic reveling in the tribal energies. Even the winter weather seemed to honor
the institution by contributing a clear sky for almost every Sunday.
As the concept of Open Land developed, for many of its practitioners it began to mean
'Open Everything,' open house, open wallet, open bed, open car, open cupboard. Personal
freedoms, so limited in most of society, became of primary importance. More and more it
began to be believed that if everybody did exactly what they felt like doing every day,
then everything that really needed to be done would get done. In such a healthy, natural
state, each person would gravitate to the role or occupation best suited to him or her.
Personal privacy, minimal rules and the occasional need for decisive action played a
constant tug-of-war within the basic anarchic framework of the community.
RAMON: "I had promised Gina a chicken coop for Easter, and so I got busy on the
campsite uphill from us, putting in a fenced run and reassembling a coop Gina had found
one day by the roadside while on a community run. She had piled it onto the truck along
with everyone's groceries and laundry and brought it home in triumph. Shortly thereafter,
some friends came by with a rooster and six hens. This first rooster dropped dead almost
immediately, so we started bringing other roosters from the barn for auditions. One
freaked and ran right back where he felt he belonged, another's crow made us sit bolt
upright at dawn. Finally we found Brewster X. Rooster (X for 'Xerxes') with a gentleman's
demeanor and a soft voice. He fit in perfectly, the hens agreed, and by that summer Gina
was collecting about two dozen fertile eggs a week."
Stephen Gaskin's Monday Night Class was going strong in San Francisco. It had begun as
a course in North America White Witchcraft at San Francisco State, becoming so popular
that Stephen moved to a concert hall where he spoke to almost three thousand people every
week from 1968 until 1970. These were fine, instructive occasions attended by the cream of
the hip world. Many Ridgefolk made the effort to attend regularly and listened carefully
to his message of love, honesty and understanding. Although he never visited the Ridge, he
exerted a strong influence there.
BILL: "Stephen's teachings had a wonderful effect upon us and we hated to see him
and his people leave the Bay Area. But it was time for them to find their own land. Their
caravan of buses travelled across America before finally settling in Tennessee on a
thousand acres. There they continued setting a fine example of a closely knit fellowship
that could get things done. Their own publishing company provided a good documentation of
About this time, Bill's relationship with his attorney Corbin began to deteriorate.
Corbin's total fees had grown to, what seemed to Bill, exhorbitant heights, and Bill's
annoyance was compounded when he visited Corbin's new Union Street office. Why didn't
Corbin just move up on the Ridge? he asked himself and others. They began spending more
and more of their meetings arguing until finally Bill told Corbin that inasmuch as money
had poisoned their relationship, none would pass between them from then on. Corbin replied
that Bill should look for another attorney, and that any of the downtown firms would
either laugh in his face or else charge him much more.
BILL: "About a week later, while hitchhiking up the coast, I was picked up by a
dapper gentleman driving a small sports car. On our way north he talked about his marital
problems and I about my legal ones. I invited him up to the Ridge, and he came the next
day to have tea on our garden house. Then came the mindblower: he said our conversation
the previous day had helped settle his head, and he wished to return the favor by offering
the services of his forty-four member law firm in San Francisco. This is how Alan Cobb,
our new lawyer, took over the appeal of the injunction, with the result that the county
had to wait much longer to bring in its bulldozers than it did with Morning Star.
Preparing the appeal was a huge task, considering that the stack of court transcripts was
a foot high. We will forever be indebted to him for his openheartedness. He told me once
that he felt that God had called him to our case. I know that is the truth."