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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 19
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 all."

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?' she asked.

"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 there.'

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 Bill."

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 relationship.

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 accelerated.

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 their message."

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."


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