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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 8
More Arrests And Bill Wheeler's Offer

Many Morning Star people lived at Don Orr's all winter. But others moved back to Morning Star right after the first bust. The men in jail held out for ten days, refusing to be bailed out or to be released on their own recognizance. But after a ten-day fast, they accepted O.R.'s The case of the Morning Star Fifteen was delayed by the judge until mid-October and then dropped in early November.

It was about that time that Zen Jack arrived, a thin, ascetic-looking man with a wonderful flair for telling funny stories when he wasn't meditating.

ZEN JACK: "I first heard about Morning Star on Haight Street from an old friend who was living there. 'It's a beautiful place - come on up,' he said. So I hitched up, and this guy picked me up in Sebastopol and said, 'I'll take you up because it's getting dark.' He drove me just about sunset and said, 'Here you are,' and pointed to the Lower and Upper Houses and said, 'That's where the people are.' So I got out. It was quiet, wet and dreary. I walked into the Upper House, and there was this one dim forty-watt bulb hanging over all this hair and dirt and funky clothes - a roomful of mostly big hippie men, Haight Street punks having dinner. I looked for my friend, walking through the room with my pack on my back, but I couldn't make out any faces. And people were saying to me, 'Welcome home, brother! Hi! How are you? Welcome! Are you hungry? You want something to eat?'

"I didn't know anybody and didn't recognize anybody, but strangers were coming up to me and hugging me, you know. It was a mind-blower. I was really mind-blown by it. And everybody was filthy and beautiful and they were eating this horrible food under this really dreary lightbulb - this bare lightbulb. Then I said, 'I'm looking for a friend, Kyle Banks.' And they said, 'Oh yeah, Kyle's here - hey Kyle!' And Kyle came over and said, 'Hey, you made it!' It was just like a welcome home party. Everybody just said, 'You're welcome!' None of this 'Who are you?' You walked into the place, and immediately they said 'Welcome home!'"

Fruits 'n Nuts Nancy made a connection for a number of exotic psychedelics including MDA. MDA was not a new compound, but it was only recently that its psychotropic aspects had begun to be appreciated. Psychiatrists found it very helpful in getting patients to loosen up and express their feelings. Tomás was one of the first people at the ranch to try MDA. It was obvious to anyone who saw him that he was having a wonderful time, although he was such a beautiful person that it was like giving Tomás a 'Tomás' pill. One day both Lou and Ramón tried it, and Ramón was totally sold. He thought that at last the pill had arrived which you could drop into your grandma's teacup, safe in the knowledge that she would thank you for it with tears in her eyes. It seemed the safest and most unbummable trip in the world. Later reports proved this not to be so.

But that Thanksgiving it released all the love that had not been finding expression. Twenty or thirty people took it and stood for hours with their arms around each other. It was the ultimate heart experience. Some ex-speedfreaks claimed it was just speed, and indeed it was chemically derived from the amphetamine molecule, although the speed aspect was buffered somehow. That was MDA November, and the Work Party photo taken by the Sheriff's Department came from that time.

LOU: "On the afternoon of the group photograph, we had all taken MDA, some that same day, some a few days before. It was a true love-in, no bullshit. In the middle of everything, an Italian TV company showed up. Their minds were absolutely caved in by the goings-on. Then the police arrived, although by that time most of the trippers had reentered normal reality. We were all sitting around in a group on the hill as they passed by on their way to the orchard to search for structures and turds. So we asked the building inspector to take a group shot."

There was a lull in county pressure at this time. Ramón moved into Otto's wooden tipi behind the barn which was being used for morning chanting sessions. Gina had left the ranch again and he, along with most of the other men, was in love with Cindy. Cindy would get up very early and walk down to Orr's kitchen and cook a huge pot of mush. Ramón would follow her down in his Chevy truck, load the mush and drive it back to the ranch. It would be served by the well to whomever wanted breakfast.

There were group meditations and hatha yoga sessions. A number of young men would always be chanting 'Hare Krishna' or 'Oming.' Ramón organized morning chanting in the barn accompanied by readings from Sri Aurobindo or The Warriors Of The Rainbow which dealt with American Indian prophesies concerning the star that would rise in the east and the chief who would come bringing with him the Herb of Understanding. But with Christmas looming, one day Ramón became very angry and left for the city.

RAMON: "I had begun dreaming almost nightly in a romantic way about Cindy, and whenever that happened to me, I was a goner. I'd wake up early and go off to find her and tell her how much I loved her. I guess she thought I was pretty strange. This went on for several weeks. Before that started, I had gradually involved myself in my Sun Yoga once more and was wearing a golden eagle feather in my hair. Then one day I put up some money to score a pound of good weed. I decided that this time it wouldn't be consumed in the normal haphazard fashion. Instead, I would reserve it for the morning chanting sessions. I was tired of the unceremonial and immediate consumption of dope on the place and was determined to play Medicine Man. Well, I returned from somewhere a day later and was told, 'Hey, your pound of weed was fantastic!' 'Whaaat?' I yelled. It had arrived while I was gone and, in the usual fashion, was distributed and smoked up. Well, I hit the roof. It amazed everyone how strongly I felt about it. But the combination of my unrequited love and the frustration of my plans just proved too much. I gave my golden eagle feather to Crazy Allen and sang him my Eagle Chant, subtly implying he was to take over my role, and left for the city for the winter.

"I lived in a warehouse in the Oakland Naval Supply Depot which was rented by my friend Don Buchla, a designer-manufacturer of electronic synthesizers. He gave me a job wiring circuit boards, and in my off-hours I played in his electronic music studio, trying to duplicate the sound of my nervous system on the equipment. One night I stood up from the control board and implored God to take away any occult or spiritual power I had accumulated. I didn't want to play medicine man any more. I just wanted things to be more or less normal. Then I started spending a lot of time down the peninsula with a new womanfriend.

FRIAR TUCK: "I was tripping through the woods at Morning Star late one night and I saw these things shining on the ground. I couldn't figure out what they were, so I checked them out the next morning. And here were these Amanita Muscaria mushrooms, and they were huge, man, the size of a fucking pancake. So I ran down to Lou's place and said, 'Lou, listen, you got a minute? C'mon with me a second.' So we walked up there, and there were fifty or sixty of them growing under the pine trees. When Lou saw them he just said, 'Aiiiii!' And he got down on his hands and knees and started eating them. "This is the way it's done," he said. "Eat them like a cow." Everybody did and - whew! - we got very high. It came on a lot like acid but without the electric."

COYOTE: "I was walking towards the orchard one night down where my treehouse was, and I heard these noises behind me. They sounded like footsteps, so I started walking a little faster and faster, and then I'd stop and they'd stop, I'd take one step and they'd take two. I said 'Wow! Far out!' Whhht! I was gone, man, like a bolt of scarlet lightning. But the footsteps were right behind me, so I peeled off around the corner, leaped the fence and climbed into my treehouse. I leaped and grabbed the bottom of the doorway and swung myself up - that's what I did. Then all of a sudden there was this 'ch-ch-ch,' footsteps, and I said, 'Guh... there it is again!' Womp! I threw something over the top of the door and then peered out this little crack. Something was walking around the tree, but I couldn't see what it was. Then all of a sudden I heard the boards creakin', the boards that were nailed to the tree as a ladder, like they had a heavy weight on 'em. They started creakin' and I just jumped into my bed and pulled the blankets over my head. I heard the door open, and all of a sudden this feelin' just washed over me. I was layin' there, you know how when you were a kid and you got scared you pulled the blankets over your head and it was alright. Well, I hid out under my blankets, and pretty soon my chest got this cold feeling, and then my whole body started getting ice-cold and the air around me was electric. I couldn't believe how electric it was, but I don't know to this day what it was. It wasn't no bush-stomper neither!"

NEAR: "On Christmas Eve, everyone gathered in Don and Sandy's house. We sat around the woodstove, feeling good just to be together. Don and Sandy alternated reading the bible to the gathering. Lou left about eight o'clock to join his wife Dolly and their kids in Berkeley. Then Don's face lit up.

"'Hey, I have a great idea!' he said. 'Let's go to Midnight Mass.'

Everyone thought it would be a good thing to do, so Ross was sent out to score rides for everyone to Occidental while Sandy rummaged through her clothes and found some rags for kerchiefs for the ladies' heads. About fifteen finally arrived at the church. They were very early and had to wait for the priest to arrive and unlock the door. When he showed up, they streamed in and took seats in several pews. Other sincere folks began arriving, and soon it was uncomfortably obvious that the seats next to the freaks were remaining empty. Some latecomers even chose to stand rather then sit next to them. After the service, some of the Morning Star folk decided to walk back under the full moon.

"Christmas Day began with the police waking everyone up before sunrise, taking their names, addresses, birthplaces and soon. They walked in on Tomás, Judy and Doug who were joyously balling, but whose pace suddenly slowed to tantric at the sight of the uniforms and badges. Everyone poured love on the cops, and the harassment transformed into good vibes. They finally left without busting anyone.

"By then the sun was shining brightly, and people made their way to a bulghur wheat breakfast in the Upper House. A Christmas tree was standing in the living room. Small presents, ranging from roach clips to used socks, had been placed under the tree for everyone. Kyle and Cindy had made wreaths and they crowned each person as he arrived.

"After breakfast, everyone moved out to the meadow to dance, make music, or just lie on their backs in ecstasy. Fruits 'n Nuts Nancy, who had migrated to a nearby town, arrived with a large tray of cupcakes and some joints. Both were instantly consumed. There was no feast that day. Brown rice and pinto beans were the Christmas fare. No one really minded - they had had turkey and ham Christmas dinners many times in their parents' homes. At Morning Star they fed on the love of the tribal family. It was always warm at Morning Star, even when your sleeping bag was soggy."

FRIAR TUCK: "How about the Phantom Fucker? Has anyone talked about the Phantom Fucker? On at least one occasion, almost everyone I knew at Morning Star was visited in the middle of the night by the Phantom Fucker. Whether it was the same Phantom Fucker or not I don't know, but I doubt it. But say you were extra lonely one night and wished someone really near and dear was with you. Well, more likely than not, during the night the Phantom Fucker would make it into your bed and make you! You'd never know who it was that was arousing you in a positive manner, nor did you know who it was when they left. I think just about everybody I knew was the Phantom Fucker or the Phantom Fuckee at one time or other. I know that Near was for awhile, and I imagine Lou was the Phantom Fucker more than anybody else I know. No, I really think so! He won't admit it, and says that during the Morning Star years he got less pussy than at any other time in his entire life, but I think he's a damfool liar."

Throughout that winter, Lou continued to be held responsible for everything that went on at Morning Star. Ultimately he was fined $500 thirty-seven times for contempt of court each time someone was found living on the ranch, the grand total reaching $13,500. If the cost of the improvements he made by order of the county were added to the fines, the abortive bath house, the leach lines to the toilets nobody used as well as the value of the Upper and Lower houses (both of which were finally bulldozed at his expense), Lou was in the hole about $100,000.

LOU: "Injunctive procedure, as John L. Lewis found out as well as many others under the Taft-Hartley Law, renders you powerless once you have come under it. The judge tells you what you will do and then you do it, or otherwise you are already guilty. He's both the judge and the jury. He sets the law and enforces it. Very bad. Injunctive procedure is worse than any kind of criminal procedure because you don't have any - well, I've never been on trial, don't you understand? Never once. There has never been a trial. These are all orders to show cause, to demonstrate why I should not be found guilty, as if you can prove a negative. There is no way I could show why I should not. I was already guilty if I had failed to do what the court thought I should have done, and there was no crime. It was a real move against a life style."

In late February, little Pam Reed was arrested for assault on Deputy 'Rocky' Rockson at Morning Star.

LOU: "Larry Reed had been found guilty of living at Morning Star Ranch. As a result, he had been put on probation and told to leave the ranch. However he had returned to live with his wife Pam and Adam Siddartha. Three days earlier he had appeared on a TV show and had admitted that he lived at Morning Star, a clear violation of his probation. The sheriff's department had seen the show, so they came out specifically to get Larry. Deputy Rockson, who covered this beat, or 'Rocky' as he was called, and another cop arrived early in the morning.

"The first thing I knew about the bust was that Pam, who was often moved by the dramatic, was screaming. And Pam could scream like I've never heard another creature scream. It was unbelievable. There have been good screamers here, but let's say her screams were resonant and had a certain vocal opulence. By the time I got there, the cops were hauling both of them off to jail. Rocky claimed that Pam had kicked him in the nuts. She was less than five feet tall and seven months pregnant at the time. Anyway, they took the whole family off and little Adam Siddartha went to Juvenile Hall. That was a real bummer, that one, but it gave us all a visit to Juvenile Hall, which was really terrible. I think the thing that's bad about it is that there are so many people there who are absolutely certain they know what is in the best interests of the children. Oh ho ho, mother! When you know what's in the best interests of somebody else, it's terrible"

Pam opted for a jury trial which was scheduled for April and returned to the ranch. The police continued to make periodic checks, increasing their surveillance to almost daily when the warmer weather began. As the morning star rose in the sky, a cop car would pull in by Lou's studio and park. Two deputies would make a circuit of the property, aiming their flashlights in sleepers' faces and demanding their names. The injunction would be read aloud while the person stood yawning and rubbing the sleep out of their eyes. If it was the first time, a warning was issued. If a week or two went by before the cops found the same person, they tended just to warn them again. But if they found him within the next few days, he could be sure of being arrested. Obviously only hardy souls could survive, the 'brush rabbits' as Lou named them. At the first sign of the deputies' car, they hightailed it for the bushes and tall grass.

ZEN JACK: "The cops were welcome, even though they chased us. Everybody accepted the game. The cops would chase you and you'd run. Gina and I went running one morning in the misty fog through the orchard with Katy the Dog. We were naked and it was really beautiful, running naked, rotten apples squishing under our feet, the cop right behind us, sliding and slipping on apples. 'Here he comes! Here he comes!' He wouldn't shoot at us or anything, but he was running as quietly as possible, hoping we'd think he wasn't there any more and stop. That's when they'd tackle you. There was this girl who was running around a bush. One cop ran around one side and another around the other.

"'Oh! You've caught me!' she said.

"'What's your name?' they asked.

"'Mary Lady,'

"Come on, what's your real name?' they asked.

"She stamped her foot and said, 'That's it!'

"They laughed and said, 'Okay, Mary Lady, if you're here tomorrow, we'll take you to jail.' The cops saw it all as a game too. They'd laugh and be good-humored about it."

Lou and Near had started living together in an on-and-off way. They certainly made a striking couple; Near, young and very beautiful with a marvelous head of curls, intelligent but right out of Zap Comics, and Lou in full beard and hair, the beleaguered and articulate prophet of the New Age. Their relationship seemed cosmically destined, although Near liked to test its elasticity with handsome newcomers, something which put Lou through the emotional wringer on occasion. Each had much to offer the other. In the hard months that followed, they set a strong example for the rest of the ranch inhabitants.

RAMON: "In early March, Pam, Gina and Cindy visited me at my womanfriend's house in Redwood City. They asked me to come up and visit Morning Star, implying in a somewhat flattering way that the place needed my energies. I had been wanting to visit, and started spending weekends there. In April I moved back. I parked my old yellow panel truck on the orchard road as a roadblock in an attempt to keep the orchard free of vehicles. One tire had a slow leak and went flat, so I flattened its opposite to keep it level. Lou referred to it as 'Ramón's cave.' So I was back on the land I loved so much."

GWEN: "One day in early March, Bill and I were on our way home from shopping when Lou's car, loaded with people, pulled in front of us. We followed them, everybody honking and waving, until they stopped at a house on Coleman Valley Road. Lou came up and invited us to join them in the celebration of Jade's birthday. That evening we learned that the county courts had decreed that all Morning Star residents had to leave their homes or be arrested. The houses were to be destroyed and Lou was to be fined for every person living there. The powers of the government stood in opposition to the existence of Morning Star and were prepared to let neither justice nor humanity stand in the way of its destruction.

"Because the Morning Star family loved their home, quite a few were prepared to stay and be arrested, if necessary. However there were some who could not afford to take the risk because of previous warrants, either for traffic tickets, dope charges or draft evasion. Families feared having their peaceful life interrupted by scenes of arrests, and having their children placed in foster homes. Much happiness from personal and spiritual growth was experienced at the ranch but, in the face of losing their homes, the residents felt confused and depressed. When Bill and I left that night, we invited Lou and his family to dinner the following week."

Somewhere during that evening's festivities, Near asked Bill the question that was on all Morning Star residents' minds.

"Why don't you open up your land, Bill?" she asked, giving him a sexy Persian kitten look.

He seemed embarrassed by her question. It would be like giving away his beloved land. But something else took over, as if a higher consciousness spoke to him. Perhaps the land itself was calling the people to its groves and meadows.

"I never closed it," Bill responded with a glint of mischief in his eyes.

BILL: "I wondered whether in the American land-rights system there could be a radical experiment in which a substantial number of people lived together on a piece of land and did not destroy it. Open Land felt like the answer. And the land did call, opening itself."

Bill's response to Near set all the hearts in the room beating wildly. Was this young Connecticut Yankee really throwing in his lot with Morning Star? Suddenly all sorts of new possibilities seemed to take shape, the most important being the chance to try out Morning Star's thesis on a piece of land ten times larger and much more isolated from its neighbors. It would provide a refuge form police harassment.

BILL: "I was deeply sensitive to the fact that I had more land than I needed. I began to feel it was my duty to share it. The Morning Star family were being hassled and arrested daily. It was a heartbreaking drama. They desperately needed a home. It was no accident that the police in the sweeps of Morning Star arrested the most loving and responsible, leaving the winos, speed freaks and bikers to tear the fragile fabric and drive the good people away. The ranch's bad reputation and impossible living conditions stemmed from this. In a speech at that time, California governor Ronald Reagan said, 'Let there be no more Morning Stars.' The irony was that in attempting to close down Morning Star, they opened Sheep Ridge."

On the evening of the first day of mass arrests at Morning Star, Lou and his friends came to dinner at Bill and Gwen's. Mostly women, children and those who had hidden to avoid arrest attended, the majority of the men in jail. Spirits were somber but mellow, reflecting the pain of the blow to the community. Gwen had cooked when she thought was a large dinner, but when one Morning Star brother saw the meal, he offered to help her cook up all the rest of the food in the house. And it was all eaten. Conversation was sparse. Lou lay on the floor, commenting on the pleasantness of the barnlike studio with its handhewn beams and large windows facing north. Near stood on her head in the corner.

GWEN: "A few days later, Bill told me with his little-boy-doing-what-his-mother-told-him-not-to-do-and-enjoying-it expression that he had opened the Ridge to anyone who needed a home. I immediately saw the significance of his decision, which was his alone, and rightfully so because it was his land to do with as he pleased. But my initial reaction was one of fear. I felt a need to hold on tight as if we were about to start spinning. Then I began to feel excited, for I knew that a seed had just sprouted."

BILL: "What I would like to say essentially about opening the Ridge is that it was a real leap of faith, a real leap into the darkness, or the light - or whatever you want to call it. At it was an incredible, very revolutionary thing. One of the reasons why I opened the Ridge was because I wanted a place in history."

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