Modern Utopians --
Revisiting the Amazing Communes and Alternative Societies of the '60s and '70s
An excerpt from Fairfield's new book on the living alternatives that
helped define the greatest cultural explosion in American history.
December 29, 2010
The following is an adapted excerpt from the preface and chapter
three of The Modern Utopian: Alternative Communes of the '60s and
'70s, by Richard Fairfield (Process Media, 2010).
From the foreward by Timothy Miller: The countercultural communes
are the quiet giants of the 1960s, receiving far less attention than
the politics, sex, drugs, and rock and roll, even though they helped
define the era. There were thousands--probably tens of thousands--of
them, and hundreds of thousands of young counterculturists lived in
one commune or another at some point.
It was a period in which huge numbers of young Americans rejected the
traditional American way of greed-based and emotionally isolated
living and searched for a new life path that embodied sharing, mutual
caring, and openness. Although not all communes achieved their
idealistic goals, their very existence represented a yearning of the
human spirit for something better than the status quo and a
courageousness to act upon these convictions with direct action and
Communes have a history in the United States much older than the
1960s-era counterculture. One might define a commune as a group of
like-minded persons who withdraw from the dominant culture and seek
to create a micro-culture in which people live together and share
resources while striving for common goals. Groups fitting that
definition go back centuries. Many historians identify the first
American commune as Plockhoy's Commonwealth, or Swanendael, which was
established at what is now Lewes, Delaware, by a group of Dutch
Mennonites in 1663. Other similar experiments followed; a century
later the Shakers began to develop what became an interconnected
group of 20 or so villages that constituted one of the largest and
longest-lived communal movements in history. The nineteenth century
saw the founding of many substantial communal movements, including
the Harmony Society, the Amana Colonies, and the Oneida
Perfectionists. The communes of that era were a diverse lot:
alongside the many Christianbased ones were enclaves based in
Spiritualism (which claims that we can communicate with the dead) and
other innovative religious movements. There were also a great many
secular communes--socialist and anarchist ones, to name just two of
the many varieties. As would be the case in the 1960s era, the
communal scene of the nineteenth century was richly varied.
There was no precise beginning to the communes of the 1960s era; they
emerged organically from the many communes and communal movements
that had gone before. Communes dedicated to radical political
activism, to mystical spiritual pursuits, to self-sufficient living,
and to liberated sexual behaviors all existed long before the
appearance of the 1960s counterculture. But things began to change in
the early '60s. Two open-land communes, from which no one would be
turned away, had appeared by 1963. Informal communities whose members
explored inner space with newly available psychedelic drugs developed
on the east and west coasts at about the same time. Interest in Asian
religions was beginning to stir among young spiritual seekers in the
early '60s, and new ashrams began to show up. In Detroit a commune
with its own rock band was combining cuttingedge arts with political
activism as early as 1964.
All of these new and tentative probings into innovative social
structures were pointing the way toward a new wave of communes by
1965, when Drop City suddenly appeared on the southern Colorado
plains and attracted both visitors and publicity. The original
Droppers--Clark Richert, Gene Bernofsky, and Jo Ann Bernofsky--were
visual artists who met in Lawrence, Kansas, and took their creativity
in unconventional directions. Eventually they decided to start their
own new civilization, and on a six-acre goat pasture began to build
wonderfully unconventional structures--domes constructed from scrap
lumber and covered with car tops cut out of junkyard relics. The
crazy-quilt domes were pictured in magazines from coast to coast.
Something new was clearly going on, whether American society was
ready for it or not.
More communes were not far behind. In Southern California the Hog
Farm began to take shape when its founders were offered the use of a
house and land in return for tending the owner's swine. Later the Hog
Farmers took to the road, staging light shows and cultural events;
they were catapulted to international renown when they operated as
the "please force," feeding the crowds and taking care of the sick
and distressed at the Woodstock festival in 1969. Meanwhile, the
Diggers were taking shape in San Francisco, practicing "garbage
yoga"--gathering food and other necessities of life and providing
them, free, to all, and operating several communal residences in the city.
The new culture began to stir in the countryside north of San
Francisco about the same time it did in the city. Lou Gottlieb,
bassist with the popular folk music group called the Limeliters,
bought a 31-acre former chicken farm and apple orchard, and in the
spring of 1966 his friends began moving onto the property. Gottlieb
refused to turn anyone away, and by the summer of 1967, the Summer of
Love, hundreds were living there in makeshift shelters. When local
officials directed Gottlieb, as owner, to expel the residents, he
tried to deed the land to God. The authorities were not amused, and
in due course they bulldozed the nearby Morning Star Ranch commune
four times. Many of the open-land communards moved to Bill Wheeler's
much larger nearby ranch, where again they lived in simple but happy
poverty until the code-enforcement agents brought it all to an end in 1973.
But by then--long before that, really--communes were popping up all
over the country. In mid-decade some idealists who were enthralled
with B.F. Skinner's utopian novel Walden Two began to experiment with
enacting Skinner's vision, and in 1967 some of them moved onto a farm
in Virginia that became Twin Oaks, one of the largest countercultural
communes and one still thriving more than 40 years later. 1967 also
saw the founding of the New Buffalo commune near Taos, where young
counterculturists sought self-sufficiency and emulated American
Indian culture. Soon Taos became a notable communal magnet, with
dozens of such undertakings in the area, and also the scene of some
of the worst social conflict surrounding communes, as some of the
local residents took offense at what they considered an invasion of
undesirables. The New Mexico communal scene eventually waned,
although pieces of it have survived, and New Buffalo itself has
recently been revived under new leadership.
Meanwhile, another cluster of communes took shape in the late 1960s a
hundred miles or so north of Taos, in southern Colorado. Drop City,
located just outside Trinidad, was still in its heyday then, but
visiting artists Dean and Linda Fleming, who arrived in the area in
1967, wanted a more remote and stable community. They, with Dropper
Peter Rabbit, in 1968 ended up founding Libre, where members built
domes and other creative structures and pursued their art. Libre,
true to its name, was free, but members had to be responsible enough
to build their own homes and to survive winters at 9,000 feet. Within
a few years around a dozen other communes were in operation within a
few miles of Libre; some of them, including Libre, are still very
much alive today.
New England also had a strong cluster of communes for several years.
In western Massachusetts in the late 1960s a group of young seekers
gathered around a young visionary named Michael Metelica, who in turn
received guidance from a local trance medium named Ellwood Babbitt.
The Brotherhood of the Spirit, as the group was called, quickly grew
to perhaps 300 members. Renamed the Renaissance Community, it
survived until the 1990s, and some of its descendants continue to
live as neighbors. A short distance farther north, in Guilford,
Vermont, several veterans of radical journalism dropped out of that
frantic scene to settle at Packer Corner, better known (after the
title of member Raymond Mungo's bestselling book) as Total Loss Farm.
The literary success of Mungo and some of his fellow new settlers
helped pay the bills for the farm. Other communes popped up nearby:
Red Clover, Montague Farm, Mayday Farm, Tree Frog Farm, and many more.
One important theme of the countercultural 1960s era was spiritual
searching. The largest communal manifestation of the quest was what
became known as the Jesus Movement, populated by born-again
Christians who affected hippie styles (exotic clothing, long hair,
disdain for material luxuries). Most conventional churches found the
Jesus freaks, as they were known, repulsive, but a few accepted them
and, in the spirit of the time, helped them find cheap communal
living. One network of Jesus-Movement communes was known as Shiloh;
at its peak it had over 175 communal houses as well as extensive
property holdings and businesses. It lasted until 1989, when its
headquarters land was seized for back taxes. Other Jesus freaks built
more stable communities, however. The Children of God, for years the
focus of a great deal of controversy for their unconventional sexual
practices, among other things, have become a stable network of
communes with thousands of members. Meanwhile, the more than 400
members of Jesus People USA, established in Chicago in 1974, continue
their common life in an old hotel building.
1965 was a turning point for Asian religions in the United States.
Changes in immigration laws in that year meant that Asian spiritual
teachers could come to the U.S. much more easily than previously. And
come they did, in many cases gathering their followers into
intentional communities. Swami A. C. Bhaktivedanta, later known as
Prabhupada, arrived from India in 1965 and soon was organizing his
followers in the International Society for Krishna Consciousness into
urban temple communes and rural farm communities. Arriving in the
West from India in 1971 at age 13, the Guru Maharaj Ji attracted
thousands of followers to his Divine Light Mission, and many of them
lived communally in the movement's ashrams. Similarly, Buddhist
teachers from Japan and Korea inspired their followers to live
communally in dozens of American cities and in many rural enclaves as
well. Sun Myung Moon, whose Unification Church embodied a Korean
version of Christianity, made a notable American splash in the 1970s,
with many of his followers living in communal homes. A group of
American Sufis founded an intentional community in an abandoned
Shaker village in New York state.
Independent spiritual teachers whose followers lived communally also
abounded. Perhaps the most noted of them was Stephen Gaskin, whose
message drew on elements of most of the world's major religious
traditions. Gaskin, originally an instructor at San Francisco State
College, began delivering his hip spiritual teachings in the city in
the late 1960s and soon was attracting crowds of thousands to large
ballrooms and dance halls. When, in 1970, he announced that he would
go on a speaking tour, his eager adherents asked to go along, and
eventually a caravan of perhaps 70 vehicles snaked its way across the
United States. In 1971 the tour came to an end in southern Tennessee,
where the young settlers founded a commune known simply as the Farm.
Until a major reorganization in the early 1980s the Farm strove for
self-sufficiency and maintained a completely communal economy, its
members working hard, having a lot of babies (delivered by Farm
midwives), and, occasionally, enhancing the spiritual search with
marijuana and other substances. Sometimes calling themselves
"Technicolor Amish," the Farm members at their peak numbered some
1,500. The Farm's population is smaller today, but the Farm is very
much alive and well.
As had been the case in earlier generations, not all communes were
religious in orientation. Many were dedicated to social change,
sometimes involving radical political action. Trans-Love Energies,
led by the energetic John Sinclair in Ann Arbor and Detroit, combined
radical political activism, advocacy of marijuana, underground
newspaper publication, and all kinds of cultural work, including a
nationally known rock band, MC5. Taking a slightly different tack,
Black Bear Ranch was established in a remote area of northern
California as a sort of revolutionary redoubt, a place where firearms
practice could be conducted out of view (and earshot) of law
enforcement and where draft resisters and other political refugees
could hide. It soon shifted into a more typical, and less radical,
countercultural lifestyle, and as such it has continued ever since.
A different sort of social change was sought by the members of
Kerista, a commune that thrived in San Francisco for more than 20
years. Kerista was a group marriage in which one's sleeping partner
changed every night. Members supported the group with a series of
businesses, especially a successful computer business in the early
days of personal computers. Only in the 1990s did it dissolve amid
Yet another theme for many communes was healing. Perhaps the largest
of the health-and-wholeness-oriented communities was Synanon, which
started in California in 1958 as a drug rehabilitation program. In
the late 1960s nonaddicts began to move in, and soon Synanon had many
communal homes, with private schools, communal kitchens, and
dormitories for members. It all lasted into the early 1990s; the
crushing final blow was a huge bill for back taxes that the community
This quick overview barely skims the surface. No one could possibly
list all the communes that existed in the 1960s era, or characterize
the bewildering variety of purposes they embodied and members who
made it all happen. Populated by hippies, radicals, potheads,
witches, organic farmers, mystics, eccentrics, dropouts, sexual
liberationists, feminists, bikers, artists, clowns, ascetics,
spiritual seekers, runaways, and so many more, uncounted thousands of
communes came and went leaving few or no traces. But what is
undeniable is that they collectively had a huge impact on the culture
of the 1960s era, the greatest period of cultural change in recent history.
From Chapter 3 -- A Profile of Sheep Ridge Ranch by Richard Fairfield
In 1963, using money inherited from his father, Bill Wheeler had
bought 320 acres of land in Occidental, California. He had built his
own house out of hewn timbers and had made provisions for plenty of
glass windows to let the sun shine in. He did all this because he
wanted a place where he could paint and live quietly with his young
wife and their infant son. When he opened his land, the county
authorities were quick to move in and condemn his home as not being
up to code standards.
After his home was condemned, Bill and family moved into a tent and
an adjacent, 12-foot-square shed with old windows as sides. The home
became his studio for painting and for building natural furniture; it
also became a convenient place to hold community meetings.
So it was that Sheep Ridge Ranch (commonly known as Wheeler's Ranch)
became an open-land community. People began to arrive. Tree houses,
shacks, tepees, domes--shelters of all sorts were built at the edge
of the woods, on the hillside, and deep into the woods. A few
residents acutely aware of the vogue for county harassment took great
pains to conceal their homes.
At the present time, most of the dwellings at Sheep Ridge Ranch are
small and airy structures made nearly entirely of used materials,
such as old lumber, doors, and windows, which are employed for walls.
Twigs, branches, and mud covered over by plastic sheeting are used
for ceilings. The floor is typically a dirt floor, although a few of
the better shelters have wooden ones. There is, of course, no water,
no phone or mail service, no electricity. A few shelters have stoves.
The climate is mild, sunny, and dry in the summer, but it tends to be
damp and rainy in the winter.
It is a two-mile hike from the center of Sheep Ridge Ranch to the
county road, then another five or six miles to the nearest small
town. The last half of the trail into the Ranch, or The Ridge, as
residents call it, is so rutted that only fourwheel- drive vehicles
(and hikers) can make it to the parking area without danger. Still,
there are always several vehicles and an occasional trailer on the
property. Bill Wheeler, like Lou Gottlieb, preaches against the evils
of the automobile and mechanized equipment but such opinions have not
prevented him--until recently-- from owning several vehicles,
including a tractor used in the community garden. Cars are always
available to take residents to town for shopping, to the city on
business, or to court. Cars are among the harsh realities of modern
life, even if one practices "voluntary primitivism."
Like other open-land communities, Sheep Ridge Ranch places its
emphasis on people's relation to the land rather than their relation
to each other. As a rule, there is little departure from traditional
standards on the interpersonal level. Women retain their subordinate
roles as homemakers, childbearers, cooks, and bottle washers. Men
roam the land in search of food, dope, and occasionally other women.
The double standard, monogamous family units, separate housing and
cooking, private property (except for land) prevail. Following the
territorial imperative, each family unit usually stakes out its own
space. Others are welcome to visit that space but not to occupy it.
No doubt, the concept of "Land Access To Which Is Denied No One"
requires this separation of units on the land in order to avoid
overcrowding in any one space and to maximize individual freedom. It
supports and encourages the do-your-own-thing hippie ethic, which is
very closely tied to the good old American tradition of rugged
individualism, although the hippie way is in fact a rugged
cooperative individualism rather than competitive. The ideal is for
people to relate to each other as they feel the need. The problem is
that individuals come together on the land with most of the hang-ups
they acquired from the society they left.
Little improvement in the depth and quality of human relationships
can occur under these conditions, as the need for individual freedom
takes precedence over the need for community. "Community" means
working problems out with others, not just doing what you want to do.
It means having to compromise and to do some things that may be
disagreeable. Open-land people, like Bill, Ramon, and Lou, are highly
individualistic, preferring to spend a lot of their time working on
the land, reading, meditating, and tripping. Although they espouse
personal change and personal enlightenment, they see this coming
about in man's relationship to the land more than in his relationship
Those on The Ridge who feel a greater need for community form
loose-knit bonds with other residents and share a number of
resources; also they occasionally eat together.
Residents, as well as transients and visitors, convene each Sunday
for a communal feast and sauna bath. Wood is chopped in the morning
and a fire is made to heat rocks for the bath. By noon, naked bodies
are running into the plastic sauna tent, which is sealed off on all
sides. Old wine jugs filled with water are poured on the red-hot
rocks inside the tent and the steam permeates the enclosure. After a
few minutes of sweating on the mud floor, naked bodies dart out to a
cold shower. This was the scene when Consuelo and I arrived at The
Ranch in the spring of 1970. I was impressed with the fact that Bill
had installed six chemical toilets and that they were all in good
We sat down on the outer edge of the larger circle that was gathering
near the outdoor communal kitchen. Big steel pots of food were being
prepared. A gong sounded several times. Presently everyone stood up,
joined arms, and began to chant and sway in thanksgiving for the food
that was about to be served. Then lines formed and the food was
passed out on paper plates. It was a tasty macrobiotic meal of rice
and vegetables. Most of the residents adhere with varying degrees of
fanaticism to a macrobiotic or vegetarian diet.
I had never met Bill Wheeler, but I quickly spotted him in the crowd,
because I had published his picture (taken by a friend and
professional photographer, Bob Fitch) in The Modern Utopian. Bill is
a very young-looking man, and very Anglo- Saxon--blue eyes, light
blond hair and beard. He talks with vibrant enthusiasm. He is not shy
and seems glad to answer all inquiries and share his opinion on
whatever subject is being discussed.
The subject we discussed most that day was his forthcoming trip to
court. He had two or three cases pending. One was an assault charge,
another had to do with the rights of way on the road, and the third
was the usual harassment by county health and sanitation authorities.
Actually Bill and the other residents are quite conscious of
sanitation: food scraps are buried for compost, paper and trash is
collected and burned periodically. Yet it is easy for officials to
find fault if they want to do so.
Early in the morning on October 31, 1969, a 25-man army of policemen,
narcotics agents, juvenile officers, FBI agents, et al., had
descended on Sheep Ridge Ranch without benefit of either invitation
or search warrant. They said they were looking for juvenile runaways
and Army deserters. When they arrested one of the female residents,
Bill objected. Without warning, an officer swung around with
handcuffs in hand and gashed Bill's forehead with them. This led to a
melee of hitting, shoving, and pushing, and the subsequent arrest of
Bill and four others on felony charges of assaulting an officer.
When the testimony was all in at the trial, Bill and friends were
found not guilty on three counts. The jury could not agree on four
other counts, so the judge declared a mistrial.
Bill Wheeler Bathes for an Interview
Going to court is a regularly scheduled event for Bill, which is why
every time I see him he's either on his way to court or just finished
with it. One such time was in February 1971, after I had moved to San
Francisco. Bill came in to visit and be interviewed while taking a
bath in my tub. We talked of many things:
Dick: What's happened in the last six months? I haven't been on The
Ranch since last July.
Bill: Well, physically the place is growing, there are more and more
people coming on. It seems to be the general consensus of opinion
that the place is higher than ever, and there are just some really
wonderful people there. It's also the general consensus that we're
more together than we ever have been. The sort of organic
evolutionary process that we're founded on is bearing fruit now, in
terms of a real group head and a feeling of a real group purpose.
We're all in a learning process and experimenting and trying to find
out what will work, trying to find out in our own heads how we really
fit in. I find I become more and more enthusiastic as time goes on.
Dick: That's good. Especially with the open-land concept. Because
that's a pretty heavy trip on a person, to have people come in
without kicking them off. Do you have any provisions for eliminating
people if they get too troublesome?
Bill: Well, in the first year or two I had to kick off one or two
people in a very--I didn't really kick them off--I merely said to
them, "Look, we have a real personality problem here. The planet
earth is a very large place. And we're not supposed to be in the same
place." In the last two years, now, there's been no problem. With one
exception--one kid who came up here whose mind was completely blown,
I guess on speed or something, and was totally psychotic and was a
case ideally suited for Marat-Sade. You see, there's sort of a fine
balance on the land between private property and communal property,
and people soon learn when they come on the land that just because
it's open land doesn't necessarily mean that you have the right to go
into anybody's place. A person's home is private and this boy
couldn't comprehend that. He went in and tore places apart, and
started getting automobiles and tearing them apart. At first the more
devoted maniacs for open land would say, "Oh, he's all right," and
then after a while said, "Something's gotta be done about that kid."
Dick: And you had to be the one to do the something about it, no?
Bill: Well, it got to the point where it was more than me. It wasn't
a personal thing. . . But in general we've had a very beautiful sort
of people, and I really see that the open-land concept--you know, all
of Lou's theories of the divine casting-- is true. When there's a
need and when something has to be done, if you've got open land, that
person appears and the job gets done. I've seen it happen time and
time again. . . As time has gone on there have been people who have
settled there, who have adjusted to the open-land concept and have
become dedicated to it. They've also found their own niche, for what
they do on The Ranch. We have one person who takes care of the water.
We have one person who will do a community run of some kind or other,
and we have another person who takes care of the livestock. Each
person seems to have found a thing. It's really an incredible thing
just to watch it happen, sort of unfold before your eyes. We've been
very fortunate that the legal problems, although they're still very
critical against us, have been somewhat resolved.
Dick: There was a time when you were worried that the road access to
the property would be cut off.
Bill: Yes, absolutely. See, we've had a real hard time legally. We've
probably had as hard a time as any commune could possibly have. The
county is trying to close us down, the access is being denied to us
by a neighbor: two major lawsuits. That's a pretty heavy thing to fight.
Dick: Why do you think that the county has been so opposed to this
Bill: There are many reasons. But I would say one of the primary ones
is economic. Naturally, there are elements of politics involved. "The
hippies are living off welfare, living off the fat of the land. Why
are they having such a good time while us people have to slave in
factories eight hours a day?" That's part of it. Another part is that
we depress land values in the area.
Dick: People don't want to buy land next to a hippie commune.
Bill: Sure, unless they're hippies themselves. Also, the access road
is through the property of a man who is very influential politically,
and has, you know, made a major contribution to the DA's election
fund. So, he's able to bring force against us. Dick: I have theorized
that maybe some of the local, rural teenage girls come out there.
Then their parents get uptight because there might be a bad influence
on them and so they go to the DA to try to get rid of you. Is that a
Bill: No, not really. The high school was coming there. A couple of
them, maybe five or six, were up there sitting around. Actually I was
very nervous about it. But, our thing, our ace in the hole so to
speak, is the access road, which is such a miserable road. It's the
old Marshall McLuhan thing, the 20th century is communication. Well,
we are living in the 19th century: that road buffers us. Primarily
because of automobiles. People do not want to leave their cars. This
is slightly off the subject, but speaking of automobiles, it's been a
problem which has bothered me for a long time. . . the whole problem
of exclusive transportation. My vision had been that The Ranch would
have strictly communal automobiles, no private cars. As it's worked
out, The Ranch is so large and there are so many people, it's really
hard to have a policy like that. But we have gotten a school bus on
the land, a 32-passenger 1950 International school bus, and we
squeeze in about 50 guys. And we've got a ton-and-a-half flatbed
truck. I've sworn myself never to own another automobile as long as I live.
Dick: That's a hard thing to do.
Bill: Yeah, well, it's where it's at, though. Because the air's
becoming unbreathable. With the bus, we pollute much less. Like
1/32nd of a pollution per person. Less than that actually 'cause we
often have 50 or 60 people riding in the bus at a time. The whole
point of The Ranch up there, or a lot of it, is that we are learning
new lifestyles. Part of that alternative lifestyle is a low-consuming
way of life. So private transportation, which means more pollution,
is out. We combine forces for communal transportation, otherwise just
hitchhike. It's amazing what a wonderful way of getting around hitchhiking is.
Lou has found it out. He says he loves it. I told him last year, "Get
rid of your car, Lou, like, you gotta hitchhike."
Dick: Has he gotten rid of his car?
Bill: Oh yeah. He doesn't own a car any more.
Dick: How does he get to court?
Bill: He hitchhikes.
Dick: Isn't that a problem? Hitchhiking is not a time-oriented thing
and if you've got a time when you have to be there.
Bill: You'd be amazed at how easy it is to get rides. Incidentally,
we now have our own food conspiracy on The Ranch--we order food in
bulk about two weeks before we're going to buy it. We send out a list
of available stuff and people order what they want. My wife adds it
up, and then someone goes into San Francisco. We try to get about $50
worth extra for the free store, so that that people on the land who
don't have any money can get free food. We do this once every month.
People are very excited about it; it's a real getting away from
health food stores and getting real participation in the commune. So
that's been a really nice thing. We've also set up a church, the
Ahimsa Church, which is tax-exempt for California, and we hope to get
federal exemption soon. The ownership of the land will be in the
church and the ownership of the bus and truck will be in the church.
Dick: You're not going to deed the land to God?
Bill: No, the land is going to be in the Ahimsa Church. It's written
in the deed that it's "land access to which is denied no one." The
land cannot be sold, nor can it be used for exploitative purposes.
There always has been a funny dichotomy between [nearby pioneering
commune] Morning Star and The Ridge, in that, well, you know, we love
Morning Star, it's our spiritual home, it's our Mecca so to speak.
But we also see that we're in a New Age and we've got to get
together. A lot of it has to do with the nature of the land, a lot of
it has to do with who's there who originated it and stuff, and we've
fought hard for our alternative kind of status. The reason we've been
as successful as we have is because we're isolated. Appropriately
isolated from straight society. Whereas Morning Star is so close and
so exposed, it's like a raw nerve. This is one of the reasons why
they've had such a hard time. Tourists in general are very
debilitating to a community. I think most places have found this and
it's really a drag. People coming in with cameras and people getting
uptight. The reason we don't have to get uptight is because we're
isolated enough that anyone who cares enough to walk in that far is
cool. Also, if a person is uncool, there's enough of us and so few of
them that we're protected. And they know it. There are a lot of
people down there. Very rarely do we ever get any really bad trouble,
in terms of drunks coming in and stuff like that. We had one scary
thing happen up on The Ridge. One guy just opened up one day with a
rifle. It scared the shit out of everybody. Some drunk came roaring
in, you know. But this could happen anywhere. It could happen in San
Francisco, walking up Haight Street. I'll say this, that The Ridge is
maintaining its record of lots of babies and no deaths. And no major
injuries actually. We've had a few illnesses but.
Dick: A young person living on the land like that might be able to
stand it better than someone who's older. But when he himself gets
older, if he's there long enough, it might take effect on
him--rheumatism, that kind of thing. I was wondering if there is an
awareness of the possible ill effects of this. Obviously there are
good things about living really close to the land, but most of us are
not geared to that kind of thing.
Bill: I suppose this is one of the ways that open land has a built-in
Dick: You either build a suitable place or you leave. Bill: Yeah,
it's not all a bed of roses. You see thousands and millions and
millions of people in the city and you say to yourself: why aren't
they all up on The Ranch, free land and all? But it's hard. And, I
don't know, it's kind of a mystical thing. The thing about it is we
are the avant-garde, we are the, if you will, the future. We are
learning new ways of living. I was just reading--it's a ridiculous
book but--Leon Uris' Exodus, the Israeli thing. Like, I'd never
really read too much about Zionism and all the things they went
through in Israel. But I see real parallels between what happened
there and the young people who are moving from the cities and on to
the land here. The parallels are alike in a lot of different ways.
For example, much of the early experiments of the Israelis were very
disappointing and they needed support from the world Jews to keep
them going. They couldn't support themselves. In this sense I feel
that the welfare trip which goes on at The Ranch is really just a
subsidy from the government to help us get going. Because agriculture
things take years and years and years to get going. Home industries
take a long time to get going to support themselves. Most people want
to support themselves. I don't think there's really anybody on
welfare who doesn't want to support himself. But it's going to take
time for us young people to find out where we're at, to know exactly
what we want to do. The energies are there. There's no doubt in my
mind about that. The imagination is there--no doubt about that. What
I've seen of what can be done, it's incredible. But it's going to
take time. The real insight which I had on this was the Bolinas
thing--the Standard Oil disaster in the Bay. I was out in Bolinas,
and just to see thousands and thousands of young people out--most of
them longhairs--doing a really beautiful thing cleaning up.
Dick: Yes, and the older people there were Standard Oil employees.
They were getting paid for the work, and the longhairs weren't.
Bill: Right. Therefore the experiments, such as Morning Star and such
as The Ranch, are of critical importance to this country. We are
finding ways--ecological ways--to live in harmony with the earth.
It's not easy. Time's gone on and a lot of communes have fallen by
the wayside; others are still there--like Morning Star is still
there--in spite of everything that's happened. The Ranch is better
than ever, you know: it's going great guns. And the authorities know it.
Dick: Do they still come onto the property to check you out?
Bill: No, they haven't been on the property for, oh God, well, they
came up maybe three or four months ago, to deliver a message--some
girl whose mother was dying or something.
Dick: I've been getting the feeling that there's getting to be an
awful lot more tolerance of longhairs at least in urban areas where
people have had more exposure. It seems the media have picked up on
the positive aspects as well as the negative ones lately.
Bill: It goes in cycles. There was a cycle like this about a year and
a half ago, in which it looked like communes were the up-and-coming
thing, you know. Life magazine had their beautiful article, all those
pretty, you know, apple-pie photographs. And I mean, it's just yummy!
It looked like: "Oh my God, we made it! They've accepted us.
Wonderful!" Two weeks later what happened? Manson. And the honeymoon
was over. My feeling is that it's very similar to the Army, like
Manson was the My Lai of the hippie movement. The Manson thing has
blown over; people really don't have much interest in that any more.