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Tinker

2-22-08 Fencing Off---

4 posts in this topic

Fencing Off---

Here in the coastal mountains of Northern California, just a little over an hour drive north of San Francisco, there are 30 acres of land that have been legally deeded to “God”. The heirs of the man who deeded the property to God would love to gain title and I believe the government has also gotten into the act, BUT, how does one negotiate a land deal with God and how do you collect property tax from God?

It began in the 60s at the height of the Hippie movement, when San Francisco’s Haight Ashberry district was beginning to be recognized as the place where America’s young were tuning in and dropping out. They heard the call from the popular bass player of the hit group Limeliters to come north and live free. Lou Gottlieb, a tall, long haired, bearded musician had purchased a ranch which he named Morning Star and dedicated it to the concept of “open land”. Believing that fences and borders were the cause of war, greed and dissention. He opened the ranch to any who would like to join him, no fences. All you had to do was pitch a tent, a teepee or build a lean-to and you were home.

Over the next few years the commune was emulated over and over through out the country but Morning Star seems to have gained the most notoriety. In the good days Lou would gather his followers in front of the ranch house where the meals were prepared by female members of the group. Much of the fare was provided by the communal garden everyone seemed to joyfully tend. At its peak it was known as the digger ranch because the organic garden not only fed the ranch residents, but the produce was sent to the city to supply kitchens feeding the homeless and other start up communities such as Morning Star. Residents of the ranch would come and muck the horse manure and fir shavings from my stable once a week to fertilize their garden.

In the early evening they would play their guitars, sing and smoke weed, take an occasional acid trip and listen to Lou just talk. I have to admit, he had charisma and could charm any who heard his voice. He would stop in at our local coffee shop on occasion and even the local rednecks would listen to his gentle philosophizing, you couldn't help yourself.

But the good days didn’t last long, neighbors began complaining. There were several incidences like when Michael, a resident of the ranch, naked, tripped out on acid and Quaaludes, manically laughed and danced and ran in circles while the police tried to grab him on the public road in front of the entrance to the ranch. Those incidents made some older folk nervous. Then there were no sanitation facilities on the ranch which eventually created health hazards and obnoxious odors emanating from the area. And there were the problems caused by some residents accused of petty theft and one reported case of rape. I was told by one of residents that there was one guy on the ranch who regularly raped the girls there but "the girls handled it maturely" (those were the teller's words) and put up with it without complaint, because they understood he had problems. Clearly there was no screening of the residents, any and all were welcome. Sex, drugs and rock and roll was daily fare. Well really not rock and roll, the music had a more folksy sound.

The number of residents of Morning Star would dwindle in the cold of winter but would again peak when the weather warmed up. Eventually the authorities cracked down and slapped Lou with fines and legal problems that over the years wore him down. The multiple makeshift buildings were bulldozed by the Sheriff's department and Lou’s followers drifted away. Before he died, Lou legally deeded Morning Star Ranch to God thus ending the deluge of fines and lawsuits.

I drive by the rain rutted driveway to the vacant ranch everyday and sometimes flash on the image of a yellow daisy painted on the pregnant belly of one of the regulars of long ago.

~~Tinker

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Hi Tink,

 

I like the way you've given a great spin to the prompt. This is quite impressive - you pack in so much in this quickly written piece! I enjoyed the brief background setting the scene (geographical, social, political and personal) and the way you describe Gottlieb's vision and his building a haven for like minded people. The details of everyday life on his Ranch. I particularly like how you introduce a personal element in the narrative here -

 

"Residents of the ranch would come and muck the horse manure and fir shavings from my stable once a week to fertilize their garden..."

 

and also at the closing of the account:

"I drive by the rain rutted driveway to the vacant ranch everyday and sometimes flash on the image of a yellow daisy painted on the pregnant belly of one of the regulars of long ago..."

 

The highs of such idyllic living make quite a poignant contrast to the breakdown of the commune's vision and hopes - the stories of reckless disregard for neighbors in the naked dancing and the sexual abuse of women make for a sombre read.

 

You give a fascinating account of a movement which had ripples far from its birthplace. Despite its eventual decline and death this experiment of a vision seems to have cradled much hope, talent, generosity of spirit at its height. It's fall seems all the more tragic for this.

 

I have read a little about the Hippie movement but your account with rich details gives one another perspective .

Did Gottlieb have the last laugh? :

"....30 acres of land that have been legally deeded to “God”. The heirs of the man who deeded to property to God would love to gain title and I believe the government has also gotten into the act, BUT, how does one negotiate a land deal with God and how do you collect property tax from God? "

 

Thank you for an engrossing read.

 

goldenlangur

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Thank you gl. After reading your Winter Sun and summayyah's Opacity, I felt that mine was a little documentary rather than a piece of literature as both of yours are.

 

And the hippie movement isn't dead, it is just a little more hushed. There are 2 communes back to back not far from my home where some of the residents of Morning Star migrated and still live there.

 

But they are survivors and now much older. Their idealism is somewhat tempered, but they still cling to some vestages of the freedom they sought. They are just wiser now. But they live off the land, they pursue their art, and I am sure they still toke up occasionally. But they found out the hard way that drug abuse is destructive and it isn't "mature" to endure rape without complaint among other things. They will still take in new residents but they don't advertise and only the dedicated can endure the inconveniences of hippie life.

 

~~Tink

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Hi Tink,

 

I feel you underestimate how you've managed to pack so much into your narrative - background (social, philosophical, generational and the physical) the actual daily routine and how it all unraveled and also how it touched the lives of people in your part of the US.

 

... After reading your Winter Sun and summayyah's Opacity, I felt that mine was a little documentary rather than a piece of literature as both of yours are.

~~Tink

 

I found your account most fascinating and the details you've come back with in your response gives us a good idea as to how the Hippies now cope with the decline of their movement. For many here apart from the Beatles, the Hippie Movement never really made much of a mark.

 

 

I hope you will write more prose and tell us about your part of the world.

 

 

goldenlangur

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