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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 23
How Morning Star Ranch Was Named and Dedicated To Mother Before Lou Bought It & Oak Grove David

RAMON: "One sunny morning in May, 1971, Lou, Near, Vishnu, Gina, Sol Ray, Katy Dog and I were driving back from the ocean through Freestone. We stopped at the Wishing Well Nursery to see our friend Tom Field who was working there, and also to talk to a man I will call Paul who had participated in the naming of Morning Star Ranch. An ascetic-looking man with prominent cheekbones framing deep-set eyes, Paul had just moved back to Sonoma County after a number of years away. He sat with us in a tiny, lacy gazebo surrounded by rows of nursery plants and trees. While the mockingbirds sang luscious melodies from the redwoods on the hillside beyond, he told the following story.

PAUL: "In 1969 and '60, John Beecher was the owner of the ranch. He was the grandson of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the abolitionist author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, and himself a poet and seeker with an abiding concern for humanity. Also he was the Novice Master of The Third Order Of St. Dominic, a Catholic lay order with a house in San Francisco. I also was a member of the Order at that time, and groups of us would go up to the ranch for retreats, or perhaps I should say informal seminars, six or eight people at a time.

"The weekends passed quietly. I'd get up early, feed the chickens and collect the eggs, and then go down to the brook and take my clothes off. There's a big beautiful rock there near the stream. I used to sit there, surrounded by trees and water. No matter what you might think, it was inspirational.

"John Beecher was thinking about giving the ranch to the Catholic Church. He decided to dedicate the ranch to the Virgin Mary and to name it. All of us were asked what we thought the name should be, and one day we constructed a cross out of redwood and put it up on the hill overlooking the front drive.

"I suggested that if he was going to dedicate the ranch to the Virgin, it should be called the Morning Star. The name comes from the Litany of The Blessed Virgin, from which two other names were suggested. All the names were written down and placed anonymously in a box. The part of the Litany we are talking about runs as follows:

Mystical Rose (suggested)
Tower of David
Tower of Ivory
House of Gold
Ark of the Covenant
Gate of Heaven (suggested)
Morning Star (suggested)

"Although there were never any group mystical experiences, many people found it inspirational. As far as any direct experiences of God, I certainly felt the Divine Mother's presence and I know many others did also. John Beecher was going to donate the ranch to the Church, and now Lou Gottlieb has deeded it to God."

GWEN: "At night, Bill often half-awoke from his sleep, still completely immersed in his dreams. One evening he jumped out of bed, looked out the window and shouted, 'My God, the studio's on fire!' I pulled him back, told him he was dreaming and he settled back to sleep.


"Less than a week later, we were awakened by shouts of 'Fire in the studio! Fire in the studio!' Bill looked out the window and saw the vision he had seen in his dream. The back of the studio was already being licked by angry, crackling flames. By the time Bill had run naked to the scene, the rest of the studio had been enveloped. The fire shot high into the sky, sending sparks flying the length of the ranch. Luckily the ground was still well soaked by the winter rains and nothing else caught fire. I put my arms around Bill, and walked him home feeling as if I was holding him from flying away with the sparks.

GWEN: "The blossoming of Easter was a culminating point in the lives of many Ridgefolk. Some felt it as a time to move on in search of new directions, while those who stayed felt that they should find their new directions within the already existing open land structure.

"Although Bill was never able to free himself totally from the role of authority which had begun on the first day the ranch opened its gate, the maturing of the ranch brought many who lightened his load of conscious responsibility. Rod took over the water system and the mechanical maintenance of the vehicles, Garbage Mike the trash problem and functioned as the ecological conscience of the land, Mary Garvin did the Ahimsa Church secretary work, Tall Tom offered his help on any project with which Bill became involved. Such an endless number of conflicts and confrontations! 'Somebody ripped off my campsite! 'My old lady has a terrible earache and must get to the hospital!' 'Some crazy guy is following me around trying to rape me!' 'The horses are up on O'Brien's again!' 'There's another hole in the water line!' 'Somebody's stuck in Gruesome Gulch and no cars can get by!' 'Can I borrow you saw/wrench/broom/etc/.' But gradually people were beginning to go to other people for resolution of their problems.

"Individual families living in their own homes had been the basic pattern adopted by Openlanders. Small families sometimes included blood relations or relations of love or convenience. During that fourth summer, a group of twenty of us came together as one family. Each had come to a point in their single or nuclear family life where they felt a need to expand and to change. Those with children wanted to share the parenting and their love, while those who were single wanted to be members of a family. Craftshop Bob donated his fifteen-foot, circular, wall-less structure as a family center, and we began by holding family dinners every night. A large circular table was set in the center, and the floor spread with sawdust and compost. When the sun stood two fists above the horizon, the family would gather with the dishes they had cooked for supper. Everyone held hands and 'om'd' together before sitting down to share the meal. Although the family was considered open to all comers, it remained surprisingly stable at about twenty participants. Because meals were never planned in advance, at times they consisted of five different dishes of spaghetti or, even worse, rice. But the family supper was a source of warmth and friendship, and for most of us our first experience with close communal living. We had at the same time the advantages of a big family and the privacy of our own shelters when needed.

"That same summer, Bill completed our new house, an octagon underneath the widespread oak at the edge of the garden. It was a 'real' house with doors that shut and double walls to insulate the interior. He had built it mostly from beautiful secondhand redwood from an old chicken coop he had torn down. Although I lived in it only one month, I loved it and felt I was living in the house of The Old Woman Who Lived In A Shoe. But the path of separation from Bill which began the year before finally opened before me.

"On July 1st, the day dawned warm and I decided to visit Star Mountain. Bill dropped Raspberry and me off on his way to the city; I planned to walk back home through the canyon. The Star Mountain 'main house' was built in 1950's suburban style with a cluster of boxlike rooms. A front porch ran the full length of the southwest wall, and the interior had been decorated with Persian rugs, wall hangings, Indian bedspreads, electric instruments and faces that had come out of the hills of Open Land.

"Later that day when I prepared to leave, Tall Tom offered to help me carry Raspberry. We set off on our hike down one of the ridges, walking under huge fir trees and through waist-high golden grasses to the canyon bottom where Findley Creek ran sparkling towards the coast. We splashed in the cool water before heading up the steep, treeless side of the West Canyon of Wheeler's Ranch. Raspberry became heavier and heavier, and we stopped to rest several times, panting heavily and drenched with sweat. When we took the final steps to the top, we fell to the ground exhausted and waited for our breathing to quiet.

"Without speaking a word, Tom and I decided to spend the rest of the day together. We took showers together, brushed each other's hair in the sunlight, rubbed our bodies with oil and made a dish for the family supper. After dinner, Tom carried Raspberry home for me and I asked him to spend the night. He acquiesced silently, and we went upstairs together.

"I had not made love with anyone but Bill for four years. The next morning I awoke feeling recharged with vital energies and spent the day enjoying Tom's company. In the evening, he returned to Star Mountain. I felt I had to change my living arrangements and moved outside once again. Once more a tarpaulin protected me from the fog and I enjoyed the simplicity of outdoor living.

"At summer's end, the family meal was discontinued when an irate dishwasher buried all the dishes and half the family suddenly decided to go to Hawaii and Mexico in their continuing search for the perfect lifestyle. On September 1st, Tom, Raspberry and I hitchhiked to Kentucky and spent two weeks living in the lush growth and humidity of southern Kentucky before hitching back to California. I returned first to Star Mountain and then to the Ridge. The day was foggy, the land quiet. With colder weather approaching, the population had diminished considerably and many of my closest friends had moved away. I sat alone in Lyn's house reliving the previous years, I heard many voices, saw many loving faces, and felt in the core of my being the meaning of all those beautiful days spent living within the ongoing creation of land access to which was denied no one. But as I walked from spot to beloved spot that afternoon, I no longer felt the call to return to it. I knew then that it was no longer my home.

"Raspberry and I moved into the small shed where Tom lived at Star Mountain. Soon afterwards, my brother Peter and his wife moved in with us. I weaned Raspberry, and she began to spend nights with Bill on the Ridge. I still visited the land often, and although mu life felt removed from it, every time I opened the garden gate tears sprang into my eyes. So the next critical year and a half of the Ridge's life i witnessed at a slight distance, hearing shouts and sounds drift across the canyon and, only later, the stories behind them."

BART: "I had some acid in a little brass box with a red rose on top, and it was real nice acid that Critter David had given me. I had some rock salt in it in chunks, and it was the leftovers of about two hundred hits we had had. Anyway, I went off the land with a friend who had some hash and cocaine, and we went down by the Russian River. We were kinda late, and we saw this cop car coming and knew he saw us because he started to speed up. So my friends threw out his cocaine and an ounce of hash. They pulled us over, three uniformed cops and a plainclothesman, and said they had seen him throw something. So they went crawling around in the bushes, but they couldn't find it, and searched us against our permission instead. We protested, but they found my acid stash and a pipe on my friend, and one cop said, 'Now look, we're just looking for some dope to smoke. If you can like tell us where to get some, or find us the stuff you threw away, we'll just let you go. All we need is a lid.' And we're going 'Whaaat?'

'So he looked in my brass box and said, 'This is LSD -- I know it is.' And I said, 'Well, actually, unh, it's rock salt -- a special formula. I'm not sure what it is really, but it gives me plenty of energy and makes my vision real clear. And I need a lot of energy to hike in and out of the canyons at Wheeler's, and I sweat a lot and don't want to drink water all the time so I eat this salt. And this cop looked at me and said, 'Are you playing games with me?' And I said, 'No, I'm telling you the truth.' And I was, 'cause I thought here I was handcuffed and well, something's got to come through for me, and maybe this acid would pull some magic for me. And he said, 'I want to test this stuff out and see what it really is.' So he licked a finger and stuck it in the box and put it in his mouth. And the other cops go 'Wow! He tasted that! Let me taste it too!' And they all tasted it and said, 'Well, it tastes like rock salt.' But in about ten minutes they started smiling and their eyes started to glow a little more, you know, and we started telling jokes. And I said, 'Could you please let us go?' And they said, 'Oh, okay,' and unlocked the handcuffs and let us go and they've never bothered me again! And I still bump into that cop who had that grin on his face. I told them they could keep the box, and I'm sure they ate more of it. We walked back and found the ounce of hash and the cocaine and went and stayed with these three girls at their cabin."

Open Land seemed to exist in a political vacuum. At times it seemed a rudderless ship drifting helplessly and aimlessly in a storm, but in reality its course was set by subtle and yet very real energies stemming from the land itself and the tribes who settled there. These energies were self-correcting and non-authoritarian, extremely delicate and easily overridden, but woe to the man who tried. Yet someone did come along who saw the Open Land freedoms as an opportunity to usurp power and who tried to become a self-appointed king.

BILL: "David of the Oak Grove had tremendous self-confidence, and believed his power to be equal to any man's. He gathered a following of people mesmerized by his Rasputin-like manipulative abilities, his hypnotic aura and his endless rap about astrology, love and God. Of medium height, thin and bony, he was muscular in a supple way, a typical yogi build. He could fall into a full lotus posture as easily as most people sat down. Shoulder-length hair, full beard, dark-complexioned, deep-set eyes, sharp nose, thin lips and prominent forehead, he was unforgettable and fit Steve Gaskin's description of 'the scary beatnik.'

"He came onto the Ridge in the summer of 1971 and immediately set to building in an open meadow beside the Oak Grove. This upset many people, since we tried to keep open spaces open and encouraged people to build in protected, secluded spots to preserve the rural quality of the land. David maintained that since God owned the land, no one was going to tell him where to build. After some intense discussions, he finally did agree to move further into the Oak Grove, but this original disagreement characterized the stormy relationship he had with the community for the next year.

"A month later, he came into my garden and told me that my dog would have to be taken off the land or he would kill her with his 'zen bow and arrow.' I explained that 'Lala' had been on the land since before it opened, and that when dogs were banned from coming on the Ridge, the dogs that were already there had been allowed to stay. David did not buy this; he said it was hypocritical of me to have a dog when no one else could have one. Because of this confrontation, a meeting was held and it was decided that Lala could stay on as an exception to the dog rule. During that meeting, David sat opposite me, staring needles of hatred and competitiveness. The argument had not been over the dog at all, but rather an ego clash between us.

"We fought over the water system that summer too. David felt that by digging out the spring and enclosing it, he could improve the flow and lower the bacteria count. Without consulting those who had been maintaining the water supply, he went to work on it. His theories were sound, but in practice he made a mighty mess of things, shutting off all the water for a week and making a lot of work for others who had to repair the damage.

"David's followers or 'family,' who regarded him as an avatar or guru, consisted of three or four men and half a dozen women. During his time on the Ridge, the number grew gradually because he was always looking for new recruits. To join his family, one had to have the right 'vibrations' and the right astrological sign. His plan was to have a woman from every sign of the Zodiac in his group with a corresponding house in the Oak Grove for her. He and his followers eventually built five houses with this idea in mind. They were extremely energetic, organized people. For a newcomer to join, David required a week's fast and a surrender to his will. Authority was administered by an interesting pecking order with David, naturally, at the head, followed by the rest of the men in a descending order of importance ending in a patsy. Even the patsy, however, was superior to the women who were completely dominated. They slept with the men on a rotating basis, and were seen as the embodiment of complete and universal love. As such, they were expected to be silent and to radiate these feelings. Walking about the land in their handmade, long, flowing paisley prints made from Madras bedspreads, whispering and giggling to each other, they appeared as New Age cloistered nuns. All his followers were encouraged to sever ties with old friends and relatives. Once in the family, it became difficult for outsiders to communicate with the members. "David believed that spiritual enlightenment was to be found through drugs, and he sued them to break down conscious and unconscious cultural and social barriers within the family. He often dosed visitors with acid to gain power over them, and rumor had it that he dealt cdrugs on the side to help finance his projects. In any case, he always seemed to have plenty of grass. Other income came from new members turning over their savings to the family,. credit card scams and shoplifting which he rationalized as relieving the store of its bad karma. He wanted all the Ridgefolk to become members of his family and felt the only obstacle to that end was me. The hostility and unpleasant encounters between us increased in both frequency and intensity until, in the spring of 1972, for this and other reasons, I left the Ridge with uncertain plans. I had been living in Alternate Society for four years, and decided that David's trip had to resolve itself within the community without my being there.

"Upon my departure,he moved quickly. Attempting to gain control of the Ahimsa Church by being elected president, he called dawn meetings on top of Hoffie's Hill to effect it. They were tense affairs, the Ridgefolk not approving of his power-tripping. This was the one time when accession to the presidency by self- appointment was not agreed to. Becoming aware of David's plans, even the most non-political people stiffened in defense of cherished Open Land freedoms. Bad feelings grew so intense that an armed party gathered on Hoffie's Hill with the intention of marching on the Oak Grove family and telling them to leave or else. It must have become clear to David that he had to leave once he saw his ambitions crumpled by the fiber, intent and direction of the community. The Ridgefolk were so anxious for David to leave that they traded the old school bus to the family for their Oak Grove structures. These were turned later into a community center. David and his family left the land on the day before my return."

BART: "I did acid with Oak Grove David after Bill left, two hits of Orange Sunshine. He tried to get me to eat fifteen. He'd always been trying to get me to join his family. So I ate the acid, came on to it, and told him what I could see - that everybody had let him cop their head. He wanted to be my thoughts, but I had not desire for that. I told him, 'What you're doing is fine with me, but a lot of people are upset and it's just too heavy. Eventually you'll have to leave the land.' But he said, 'No, I got so much power. I could make you go flying off the earth!' He wanted to scare me, but he couldn't do anything. I was confident of that."

RAMON: "Enlightenment is sort of like golf. If you can get on the green and stay out of those sand traps which are all the power trips around it. I think David was caught in a sand trap and just sunk deeper and deeper."

BART: "I could see the perfection of the universe on that acid, and when I looked at David, all I could think of was 'psychotic.' A freely assembled group that included Young Chief, Snakepit Eddie, Maverick, Critter Dave, O.B. Ray, Dirty Dan and Bear, went to David and said, 'We'd like to see you gone!' O.B. took on the karma of being the spokesman sos that there wouldn't be any violence, because some of the guys were carrying big sticks. O.B. said, 'You should leave or there'll be violence.'"

AMBRIELLE: "There was a lady who said, "i'm going to get in with David's family and find out exactly what they're doing, and then I'm going to tell everybody and we can get rid of them. She went with them for a long time, and the text time I saw her, she was totally brainwashed. Her eyes were glazed over and she wasn't the same person. David was also in love with Melanie. She kept running into him in the woods, and she would say 'no,' but one day she was walking and she saw Michael, her lover, ahead ahead of her. She went running up to him, and when she looked at him it was David. Isn't that heavy? He hypnotized her into thinking he was Michael until she looked at his face!

"I wasn't there at that last community meeting, but the decision was that the community would give them the bus and then they would have transportation and could leave. David agreed to that. All the people stood in a circle, 'oming' and chanting, as they left the land. The skies were all clouded over, but when David's family drove off, the clouds parted and the sun shone through and there was a rainbow.

"I think David's trip was this one person taking all this energy from a whole group of person and becoming very powerful, like Charles Manson, drawing out these people's life forces. You could see in the glazed eyes that they had no will of their own."

Ramon, Gina and Sol Ray returned to the Ridge that September, fresh from a visit to Alan and Priscilla on Maui. Similar to Gwen, they felt the beauty and idealism of the community but could not settle in again. One day while Gina and Sol Ray were at the beach, Ramon moved them over to Star Mountain, pitching their tent on an old fire road facing the Ridge.

In the spring of 1972, the provisions of O'Brien's lawsuit went into effect, limiting traffic on the access road to the Ridge to Bill and his immediate family, five social visitors per month (provided they had written invitations) and 'tradesmen.' All foot traffic was forbidden.

BILL: "I cannot overemphasize the effect of the access road's status on the community. When it was passable during the dry season, the land was hot, socially and politically. Despite our remoteness, the world streamed to our gate and into our lives. It was a hard yoga, constantly being torn apart by outside forces, but something in my spirit loved it. The wet winter season was a time for recuperation. The community drew closer together, and the population dwindled. When the O'Brien lawsuit restricted road traffic, the whole nature of the community changed. We saw that the judge had done us a favor, allowing us to survive and prosper. We missed the flow of people, the juice from outside, but we were able to generate more of our own. Truthfully, the traffic on the road probably should have been restricted at a much earlier date, but I just could not bring myself to do it. I took pride in our being open, in our ability to handle it, even with the legal hassles it brought. If the road was to be classed, let them be the ones to do it. I could not turn away a single brother or sister."

"COMMENT FROM AN ANONYMOUS SISTER: "Especially if she was really cute."

In 1969, when O'Brien began his first attempts to limit access road traffic, Bill decided he needed an ace up his sleeve. His mother had left him some money, and so he used it to buy the Star Mountain ranch, But he put the deed under Gwen's maiden name. When Ridge traffic was reduced to a trickle, the inhabitants began walking in via Star Mountain, an arduous trek that involved climbing a very steep canyon wall. Star Mountain people laid out a trail that bypassed the Main House, and a constant flow of backpack-laden Ridgefolk could be seen trudging along it almost daily.

The Ridge population gradually decreased during the winter months. Carolyn came back into Bill's life. She would spend some weeks with him and then disappear back to her native Missouri. He then would follow her and bring her back. Ramon and Gina broke up that same spring of 1972, Ramon joining Alicia in the Sierras where they began planning a book together. That summer they travelled to Central and South America in the process of writing it. Gina stayed on at Star Mountain, feeling close to the people there.

RAMON: "This was a hard time for Gina and me, but we needed some space and time apart to see each other better. Alicia and I were away through the following winter. When we returned, we had completed Being Of The Sun, the book we had dreamed of doing for so long. Lou, Near and Vishnu were living outside Los Angeles, Lou having returned to the Limeliters to earn some money. The Morning Star legal expenses and Contempt of Court fines had cleaned him out. Frankly, I was relieved when he finally left Morning Star. Many people had advised him to do so, including myself. He had done as much as he could do there, and the last few times I visited him at the ranch it seemed as if he had reached a dead end, a stalemate without a solution.

"While Alicia and I were away, Bill and Patricia had married in a church wedding, believe it or not! We returned to find most of my old neighbors and friends from the Ridge living at Star Mountain. They had formed a close-knit family, with the band at the center. Alan had fallen in love with Delia from the Pastures, and she moved in with him. They formed a strong, vibrant dyad, two Pisces fish swimming within the same stream of consciousness, and we all rejoiced in their happiness. Gina had found a Hindu guru whom she was ardently following around the country, singing sacred songs and dressing in cotton saris, but still basing herself at the ranch."


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