Tag Archives: marijuana cultivation

Jan and the Helicopter

The following is an excerpt from a work in progress, more or less a people’s history of SoHum.

Jan Iris, in the 80s.

On a day more cloudy than not, I found myself running down a dirt road after a large hairy man who was more or less my boss, more or less a colleague and certainly a dear friend. It had started out a routine day at Briceland Community High School, the alternative school at which we both taught and, as we ran, I noticed that my running was calm and methodical. So was his. There was something almost uncanny about it, something dreamlike. He was not aware of me or anything except the helicopter flying over the dirt road down which we we ran. We could not now see the helicopter but the heart-thumping sound of it was all around us, bouncing off the canyons, coming from every direction at once. We had not entered the Twilight Zone—it was only the first day of CAMP.

California Against Marijuana Planting was a drug eradication program initiated in 1983 by former California Attorney General Van de Kamp, and named as a cute little play on his name. It spent a lot of California taxpayer money, about three million dollars a year, in the nearly 30 years of its existence, transporting members of various  agencies by helicopter to rural areas in California to harvest the marijuana crop early and sometimes to arrest those living in the nearest house, whether they were the cultivators are not. In the first years, it looked very much like a military invasion, flying so low over houses and homesteads that fruit trees and chicken coops were blown apart by the downwash. Livestock were spooked and owners sometimes injured trying to calm them down and prevent them from running into fences or over cliffs. Children were buzzed as they walked from the school bus. The resemblance to Vietnam at the height of the war was more than coincidental. Many of the pilots had, or so it was widely rumored, been helicopter pilots in Vietnam.

Now I ran behind this big man, two strides to his one, trying to keep him in my sight, compelled by some urgency I could not at the time have explained. Trees met over our heads, but I knew that the apparently thick brush at the side of the road only went a few feet horizontally, then dropped off sharply down the side of the Elk Ridge. I was supposed to have stayed with the truckload of high school students we had brought on this impromptu field trip to see our law enforcement officials in action. But somehow, when Jan pulled the truck to the side of the road at the top of the ridge, jumped out and started running down a branch road, I knew he should not go alone. I told the kids to stay in the two vehicles no matter what, short of an emergency, and took off after him.

We ran quietly, introspectively, through the green tunnel of tan oak and madrone trees. Suddenly, the road widened a bit, there was a break in the green tunnel overhead, a wide patch of blue sky. There was a change in the heart-stopping sound around us and the helicopter popped up from behind trees on the downslope side. I found myself watching one of the gentlest giants I have ever met, a man who named himself “Iris,” after the most delicate of wildflowers, a man I had seen display the most incredible calm in the most frustrating of situations—I saw this man begin to scream crazily at the helicopter as it first hovered, then buzzed him repeatedly.

It was trees, not marijuana plants, but it looked a lot like this.

I caught up to him as he ran at some trees behind which the chopper had just dropped. There was no name for the kind of rage electrifying the air around him. I knew it was a rage that went far deeper than marijuana issues or Humboldt County issues or bureaucracies or attacks on the Constitution. I knew that Jan’s rage had taken us back to Vietnam. There was no reaching him, no cooling him out, no talking him down. My assignment was to witness and to validate his rage.

I don’t know how long it lasted. A minute? Five minutes? The helicopter, most likely piloted by another Vietnam vet, hovered, buzzed, dropped, hid, teased, whipping the trees dangerously over our heads. The man on the ground shook his fists at it, yelling, “You bastards, you sons-of -bitches,” over and over. The woman on the ground witnessed, standing silent and awestruck. Finally the helicopter went away. Jan stood there in the middle of the road, staring at the sky, fists still clenched. I watched as, muscle by muscle, he relaxed. Then, he turned slowly and saw me for the first time. There was no need for either of us to say anything. I never told a soul. He never mentioned it. I only tell it now because Jan is dead, it no longer can affect him, and I know that he would understand why the story is important.

Me, at the time I was a teacher at Bri Hi.

As we walked in silence back to the children, the rain finally started. We hurried back into the truck and my car, drove back to the three-room schoolhouse and built a big fire to dry the kids out. What he said to them that day about the constitutional right to privacy or the sole right of Congress to declare war, I’ll never know as I had other classes to teach, but I know the image of Jan screaming at the helicopter will never leave me. It lives in the same mental file as my own memories of the helicopters of war—the ones that flew over Vietnam, which I only saw in footage, the ones that flew over Berkeley, the one that sprayed nausea gas on me and the entire campus of the University of California in 1968—on old people, sick people, children and other innocents. The rage I felt then brought me to SoHum. The rage Jan had just shown me brought him there, too. I know because he told me.

The first time I saw Jan was in court. It was my second Fall in the Land of Shum, long before the advent of either the bigtime marijuana industry or CAMP. The county sheriffs were busting small growers with their Marijuana Eradication Team. We heard that there had been a raid on one of the roads near Briceland. The sheriffs were going from house to house without warrants or probable cause, looking for marijuana, arresting men, women and children living on any land where it was found growing. Following instincts honed during my years in Berkeley, I wanted to drive down the road they were busting and see who needed help.

My new boyfriend agreed, so we piled our respective children into the old VW bus and took off. We passed several sheriff’s cars, waved at them cheerily and continued down the road. No one stopped us. About two miles in, we saw some children hiding in the brush. They interpreted our hippie van correctly as the arrival of help and ran out to us. The little ones were crying. The big one told us his mother had been arrested. She had put him in charge of his younger siblings at first sight of the sheriffs and told them to hide in the woods. He told us that their neighbors, the entire Hoka Hey Commune, recently arrived in the area, had been arrested—mothers, babies and all.

We brought the children out to the county road where they spotted friends in the anxious group of people gathered there. Thinking again of Berkeley, I remembered how glad I was when I was released from the Santa Rita Jail after being busted in the Free Speech Movement, to see, at 3 a.m. at the gates, a long line of cars driven by faculty members, waiting to take us home. I thought, do the new people have anyone to pick them up when they are released? No one knew. My friend, Sandy, and I called the court and learned that the Hoka Hey people would be arraigned the next day. The children would stay overnight in foster homes.

Next day, we drove to Eureka to get them. At the arraignment, they filed in, men bearded and long-haired, women in long skirts. They filled up the jury box where they had been told to stand to enter a plea. One stood out because of his height and bearing. Your eye I went immediately to Jan. He spoke to the judge without waiting to be spoken to, asking politely to address the court. The judge, perhaps expecting a group of acid casualties with burnt-out synapses in the language in areas of their brains, appeared surprised by the assurance of such an obvious misfit. Startled, he gave permission.

“The most important question to be settled here,” said Jan, “is the separation of mothers and children.” He went on. There were children who had been separated from their mothers with no explanation whatsoever and held in strange homes for 24 hours. The children had never been away from their mothers and were surely traumatized and frightened by the experience. Even an unweaned toddler had been separated from her mother, who was now in agony with overfilled breasts. Could those mothers be excused immediately to pick up their children? The judge was pissed, but not at the audacity of the hippie spokesperson. He was pissed at the cops for arresting the mothers and children with so little evidence and callously putting them through such an experience unnecessarily. He asked the mothers to step forward. As it turned out, there was only one, the mother of Jan’s child. She entered her “not guilty” plea on the spot and was released to collect her two-year-old daughter. I was entranced. Such self-possession on the part of someone who looked so completely out of it was an impressive sight to me.

They entered their pleas and were released. Sandy and I drove them back to SoHum, her pick-up truck filled to capacity. I rode in the back and debriefed one of the bearded men, getting the story of the commune, their arrival in SoHum and the bust. It was my first experience of marijuana busts in my community but there would be many more to come, equally unjustified and at least as traumatic, inspiring in years to come the concerted effort of the community to legally restrain the authorities from such unwarranted behavior in the future. The Hoka Hey commune went on to become the center of the drama world in SoHum, through the drama group, Pure Shmint, and Jan became a pillar of the community, the mover and shaker who founded Wild Iris Forestry, the Institute for Sustainable Forestry and his other brain child, Briceland Community High School. 

The all school cast of Briceland Community High School’s production of West Side Story. Although the high school only lasted 3 years, it was a monument to Jan’s tenacity, a loving experiment in education and, I believe, a memorable experience for most of its graduates.

My best memory of him, aside from the time he nearly broke my foot overturning a heavy burl table on it at an emotional parent-teacher meeting, was when we all went to Orr Hot Springs on a retreat to organize and plan the high school curriculum. After a session in the hot tub, my colleagues had all plunged into the ice-cold swimming pool, but I squatted meekly on the edge, unable to take the plunge. Jan walked by and casually tipped me in with a finger to the shoulder. As I came up sputtering, he smiled sweetly and said, “You looked like you needed some help.” It was love him or attack him. That was Jan.

Introduction to the Land of Shum

The following is an excerpt from an unpublished manuscript written in the 1990s, the beginning of a second book on the SoHum community.  It presents some of the material that appears in Beyond Counterculture: the community of Mateel, and will provide a starting point for those who have not read that book.

SoHum view. Photo by Stephanie Johnson.


                                               by Jentri Anders

Who they are

Just past the middle of the 20th century, Western society developed a huge crack. Thousands, maybe millions, of newly formed and forming citizens fell into it. Some experts called this event “the generation gap” and saw it as the inevitable result of dropping the Big Bomb at the end of World War II. Others blamed the later advent of television or the allegedly “permissive” childrearing methods promoted by Dr. Benjamin Spock. Most people called it a collapse in morals and blamed the fallen themselves—an ungrateful bunch who simply had been spoiled rotten by Spock followers or post-war abundance or both.

The occupants of the crack themselves, however, experienced it as betrayal. They were, or had been, the most American of Americans. Their problem was not ingratitude or immorality. Their problem was that the American values they had been taught actually rendered them unsuitable to survive in the reality that America was becoming. The greater their allegiance to the loftiest ideals of America, the less competitive they were in the corporate workplace. American to the marrow of their bones, they had believed that every little boy could become president if he tried hard enough. (Rare were the little girls or children in shades of brown who consciously questioned the inequal premise of this belief. After all, who had ever seen a female president or one whose skin was dark?)

They had believed that, in the words of the Sunday school song, “red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in His sight.” They had believed that Americans were the good guys who saved Europe from the bad guys in the last war, as seen in the war movies, and that Americans would always be the good guys. They had loved John F. Kennedy and many had actually joined the Peace Corps or wanted to. Their problem was that they had failed to grasp that they were only expected to give lip service to the ideals of equality, self-reliance, personal freedom and personal merit. No one really expected them to sacrifice anything for those ideals and, indeed, doing so was a quick path to tribulation.

They were born into a time when, for all but a handful, mindless conformity was becoming the only way to survive industrial civilization. It was as if the world were collectively holding its creative breath, lest any change precipitate still another unspeakable horror—perhaps this time a nuclear war to end all life on Earth. The prophet of this social stagnation was Joseph McCarthy, who was most active when the more precocious of the early and pre-baby boomers were just starting to read newspapers. The vehemence and comprehensiveness of his attacks on freethinkers and suspected freethinkers, working from the very core of a government ostensibly founded on the notion of liberty, was a paradox that became increasingly obvious. Though the influence of the committee he led, the House Unamerican Activities Committee, began to lose its influence long before the counterculture got started, its influence was felt well into the childhoods and adolescences of future dropouts.

Many future dropouts were preset to question the conformist paradigm by some particular condition that made it difficult for them to fit into the homogenized ideal family depicted on TV or in their schoolbooks. Maybe they were too fat, too thin, too poor, too disabled, too gay (to use today’s word). Maybe they were girls too smart to be “a real woman” who could catch “a good man,” or boys too sensitive or poetic or thoughtful or musical or artistic to meet the exacting standards of fifties masculinity. They may have formed controversial political opinions, such as being in favor of integration in the South. Whatever their secret difference, many knew early on that there was some lie behind the golden picture. The emotional impact of the assasination of John F. Kennedy was, for many, a most dramatic validation of that suspicion, nevermind the political explanations for that event that were established much later.

During the mid to late 1960s, demonstrations against racial inequality became demonstrations against the Vietnam War, as the draft claimed more and more young men, particularly those without the financial or political means to escape it. Those who had bought the American values of tolerance and equality now felt betrayed by the refusal of parents and teachers to even admit that anything at all unusual was happening in America. Discontents were dismissed out-of-hand as normal adolescent rebellion, in spite of the unprecedented nature of the historical situation and the fact that neither the civil rights movement nor the anti-war movement were by any means the exclusive purview of the young.

Universities and other duly constituted authorities scrambled to restrain students from their escalating efforts to expose the lie that all was well. That those authorities did not leap to assist the young in their defense of the highest American ideals was experienced as the profoundest betrayal, the ultimate in rank hypocrisy. Instead of being hailed as the courageous and honest idealists that they were, students and other young activists were expelled, arrested, evicted, ridiculed, fired, divorced and disinherited.

When marijuana and psychedelics were added to the mix, at home and among soldiers in Vietnam, the break was complete. If the catchphrase “this does not compute” had then been in use it would have become “and furthermore, it’s absurd.” What meaning remained for them at all, whatever shreds of personality had survived tear gas, riot guns, attack dogs, combat and the monolithic hypocrisy of formerly respected elders, was now dissolved or reworked by the deep cleaning power of LSD and marijuana. Some died here. Some were permanently damaged, by anyone’s standard. Others wandered in limbo for hours, days, years, sorting through the shards of their exploded lives looking for something that worked. Some found it.

Especially for those who had believed most in America, who had fought in the streets for justice only after all else failed, the messege of the psychedelic was—forget it. Discussions took place everywhere as to whether it was productive to “become a Nazi in order to fight the Nazis.” The graffiti “off the pig” became “off the pig in you.” Better to abandon the old way, stop trying to beat them at their own game. It’s too big and they own it. Your game is inside your head. You can rearrange that freely, choose what to toss, what to keep, what to nurture.

The Cold Duck Commune and Band sets out from Minneapolis in an old school bus, headed for northern California in 1969. Among them, Vietnam vets and others who had been at the Chicago protests against the war. Photo by Lloyd Hauskins.

The revolutionary Weathermen went underground politically and began engaging in tactics consciously rejected by those who became the counterculture; the newly forming counterculture went underground spiritually. There was a bumpersticker that said, “What if they gave a war and nobody came?” A bumpersticker for the counterculture could have been “What if they gave a society, and nobody came?” That’s what “dropping out” was. Children of affluence and poverty alike saw that working for the war-machine, even if the war-machine would employ you, meant losing all hope for meaning or integrity in your life. For the draftees, working for the war machine could well mean losing your life, period.

Sometime in the mid-sixties, it all reached a breaking point: fighting the war, stopping the war, being gassed and shot at, being stonewalled by people you were supposed to worship as your professional superiors, their reaction when simple questions were asked. For thousands of people at the same time, the whole social structure of America came crashing down at once. Careers, marriages, futures, inheritances and all predictability disappeared. It was painful, but it left a more or less clean site to build on.

Members of the Cold Duck Commune on the road. Photo by Lloyd Hauskins.

Having bid farewell to their futures, they saw no point in staying put. Cities had become unbearable to people made keenly conscious of their environments by psychedelics. Bob Dylan asked bitterly, “You ask why I don’t live, here. Honey, how come you don’t move?” Former political activists and, mostly younger, apolitical runaways did move. They hit the road and kept on trucking. They became known collectively as hippies.

There were nomadic hippies and sedentary hippies, communal and individual hippies, religious and secular hippies. Some ended up going back to what they had left, maybe with new insight, maybe with a lifelong hatred of hippies. Some became “acid casualties,” never having managed to reconstruct their minds after deconstructing them with LSD. Others were drawn or tricked into more lethal drugs. Some ended up in drug-free ashrams following gurus, perhaps as mindlessly as the LSD had made them, perhaps not. Some formed communes or intentional communities of which some, perhaps, still exist. This book is about the ones that settled in northern California, 200 miles north of San Francisco, near the town of Garberville.

They are a particular instance of that part of the countercultural movement that came to be known as “back-to-the-landers” or the “voluntary simplicity” movement. What makes them unique in the back-to-the-land movement is that, rather than living in isolation on parcels of land interspersed within a mainstream community, the back-to-the-landers in southern Humboldt and northern Mendocino counties were able to settle whole watersheds previously undeveloped. The rapid concentration of great numbers of people who shared overpowering experiences resulted in their creating a community of their own from scratch. This community not only resulted from the spirit and flavor of the sixties, but inevitably made the sixties viewpoint its foundation. The community had values and goals, in spite of itself. One of the values was to not have goals, but that was a sophistry soon made moot by the rapidity with which social connections were formed to meet social needs unmet otherwise, such as appropriate schools and medical organizations. The community, for a time, was a vast laboratory where social experiments were “kitchen testing” possible routes of change for the wider culture, whether the wider culture wanted it or not, whether the testers themselves realized it or not.

The geographical area in which there may be found people who subscribe to the ideals of the back-to-the-land movement covers northern coastal California, much of Oregon and who knows how much of the West in general. There are, or have been, in addition, many similar communities all over the United States. The community described here, however, very probably had, at one time, the densest concentration of sixties idealists of any population in the world. There was, in other words, a higher ratio of self-identified countercultural individuals to mainstream individuals in that area than could be found anywhere in the world.

Members of the SoHum community, taken in the 1980s by Kim Salloway.

This high concentration of similarly oriented people produced the most cohesive non-intentional community of sixties dropouts there was and perhaps still is. The historical waters were greatly muddied, starting in the 1980s, by the growth of the marijuana industry and the cross fertilization between sixties dropouts and local mainstream residents, so that whether the community as I described it in my book “Beyond Counterculture” still exists or not leads one into a great semantic bog. What community? Who’s a member? Where is it?

Muddy waters notwithstanding, a picture of the community as it once existed is still informative to students of culture change. How did it fail and why did it last as long as it did are still relevant questions to anyone hoping to make culture change a tool in addressing the near hopelessness of the current picture of the human species and, indeed, the biosphere.

Much controversy has centered around what words to use in talking about this community and the mainstream community that predates it. The word “Mateel” was coined about 1980 to refer to both a geographical area and those residents within it who subscribed to the values outlined by the poet who coined the word, the late Jim Deerhawk. The word combines the names of the two major watersheds in the general area occupied by the countercultural community, the Mattole and the Eel. I used it in the past to describe a geographical area that included those watersheds, and certain others, and the cultural system generated by the countercultural residents of that area.

I have used the adjective “Mateelian” in the past but have since tended to not use it. This is a word coined in my previous work for discussion purposes only and was never used by Mateelians themselves. The word “Mateel,” insofar as it was ever used by Mateelians, came into question early on and then increasingly because the one organization that permanently incorporated the word into its name, the Mateel Community Center, kept it only after an agonizing showdown between those who took the purist position that it was a local organization formed for locals and those who wished to seek funding from non-local sources. Though the name was ultimately retained, the organization has appeared to many to have strayed from the original values that word hoped to describe.

For those reasons, I will use the word “SoHum” here to refer to the same geographical area I described in Beyond Counterculture. This is a commonly used shortening of the phrase “southern Humboldt County,” but everyone who uses it understands that it includes parts of northern Mendocino County as well. I will refer to the countercultural residents of SoHum as  SoHummers and to non-countercultural residents of SoHum as the local mainstream population.

I do this with the caveat that the two communities, once easily identified by their values, are now not so easily identified. I will leave it to others to decide whether it is still accurate to speak of a SoHum or a Mateel community separate from the now somewhat merged community that has been created by the interaction of SoHummers with mainstream residents and the non-countercultural emigres who came later, drawn directly or indirectly by the marijuana industry.

Mutually perjorative terms are “redneck” and “hippie,” but more tolerant individuals from either side recognize these words as loaded and use them accordingly. They will usually refer to themselves that way ironically, or to the other group by the pejorative, only among themselves. Some people, including second-generation SoHummers will joke that they are both and the intermingling of the two groups in agribusiness partnerships, employment situations and Romeo-and-Juliet marriages makes this joke closer to reality than outsiders might realize. Complicating the picture is what I have called in the past the “we-are-not-here” syndrome, the reluctance of hippies in general to accept any kind of label, suspecting that labels themselves are a source of misunderstanding.

In most areas of contemporary America these days, the word “hippie” has significance only in a historical context. Any reference to a contemporary reality must be preceeded by a qualifier that indicates the writer or speaker’s own youth or modernity, such as “aging hippies,” “freeze-dried hippies,” “unreconstructed hippies,” all of which have appeared in the media, including “hip” media founded by hippies.

The existence of some kind of unusual social situation near Garberville is well-known to the California public, indeed, the international public. The media has extensively covered the marijuana industry, which it often portrays as centering there, though what few statistics have ever been produced to support that assertion are open to question. The press has mentioned the community as well in the course of covering the “timber wars” between environmentalists, largely countercultural, and the timber industry. Because of  these journalistic biases, SoHummers are viewed by the public as being hopelessly behind the times, clinging to long-debunked sixties values and/or caught in some kind of Twilight Zone time warp that makes them irrelevant to current affairs.

Hippies on retreat, 1970s.

This view is based on the assumption that the hippies of Humboldt somehow froze time and never went beyond their sixties incarnation to something new. This, in spite of the many concrete successes achieved by local environmental and civil rights groups and the fact that, at least in the past, SoHum lived and breathed social change and progress. Had it not been so, the word “beyond” would not have appeared in the title of my former work.

If you call someone a “hippie” in SoHum you are using a word that is vigorously alive in the language. Whether it will be received as a compliment, an insult, a joke or a simple statement of fact will depend entirely on the motivation of the speaker and the self-identification of the receiver. Pretending the word is passe is, for the most part, another sophistry. SoHummers may disagree on the value of their tenure as hippies or the validity of those values, but only a handful would seriously deny that hippies or their values never existed. Even their enemies, with some notable exceptions, will admit that hip values were at one time alive and well and, what is much more important, were being manifested.

One of the earliest founders of the SoHum community, the late Larry Bliss, unreconstructed hippie to the end.

Many whose hippie credentials were pure in the early seventies now actively seek to deny that there ever were two distinct cultural communities and to erase any lingering obvious differences. Others adopt the attitude “hippie and proud of it.” The latter group sees the former group as a bunch of opportunistic cop-outs, especially since the more outspoken members of this group are often running for public office, opening new businesses in town and/or joining local mainstream organizations such as the Garberville/Redway Chamber of Commerce or stand to profit in some other way by sacrificing the original values in lip-service to tolerance. The former see the latter as “separatists,” who draw unnecessary lines between people and thereby perpetuate hostility between the two groups.

The SoHum community was born out of the conflict of the sixties and founded by people who made the choice to go to SoHum based on their individual experience of that critical time. Today it also consists of two major secondary groups. One was drawn to the community after it became large enough to support them. The other came, irrespective of values, solely to grow marijuana.

The first group includes professionals who generally are sympathetic with sixties ideals, but prioritized their careers over the rewards of dropping out. They are, to varying degrees, analagous to what political activists in Berkeley in the 60s used to call “teacup liberals,” a phrase coined by University of California anthropology professor, Gerald Berreman. They could only come when the community of dropouts was large enough to support them. They largely include health professionals and attorneys, two groups welcomed with open arms by hippies tired of the intolerant treatment they often received from local mainstream health professionals and attorneys.

The second group includes organized criminals, tenant farmers and legal or illegal immigrant workers, all drawn to the area after news of the marijuana industry spread. As a group, they are distinguished by economic, rather than spiritual motives. Though it is possible that many that came only to grow marijuana subsequently were influenced by their countercultural neighbors, it appears more likely that their influence on SoHum was greater. With them came robberies, murders, guns, fast cars on dirt roads, fires started by ignorance and carelessness and the reintroduction of a “me first” attitude, in contrast to the semi-communal worldview of the original hippies. In response to these factors, many is the peace-loving hippie grower who reversed his or her position on guns.

There are also parents, children and siblings who came to SoHum to be close to their hippie relatives when it became clear that their relatives were here to stay. The flow of dropouts of all ages continues. It came to include more persons from foreign countries than originally, though not any more persons of color,* a criticism that has been leveled at SoHum by its various observers. It has also included new arrivals in their twenties who are often  indistinguishable in appearance from the dropouts of the 60s and 70s. They arrive in Keseyesque vans and old schoolbuses, wearing  granny dresses, buckskin and fringe, offering beads, candles, pipes and crystals for sale on the street and looking pretty much like the hippies of yore.

Where they are coming from

The history of SoHummers begins where the history of SoHum and the general counter-culture intersect. It started when and where it did because certain SoHum ranchers discovered there was a category of buyers who actually needed land that anyone else would deem worthless. The economy of SoHum, having boomed and busted its way through a series of industries, hit another slump with the exhausting of the timber resource. The population was declining; unemployment, rising. The only resource left was the logged over land itself, but any fool could see it was unsellable. It was steep and brushy, full of poison oak. Water sources and building sites were erratically distributed and there were few access roads and no electricity or phones.

Logged over hillside typical of much land owned by hippies


Meanwhile, thousands of dropouts were driving around the country in old vans, pickups and buses looking for somewhere to settle. Mainstream SoHum residents needed a new source of income and dropouts needed a cheap place to live. It took more than complementary needs, however, to start a symbiosis as unlikely as this one. It took a lucky, some might say cosmic, connection. This connection was made by rancher Bob McKee.

McKee is a near-mythological figure in the history of SoHum, in that hundreds of people who never had direct dealings with him know that he is the father of the counterculture in SoHum. The descendant of a family of oldtime SoHum ranchers, he became a real estate agent in the mid-sixties, at a time when real estate was not a hot item there. His contribution was to take the dreams of the dropouts seriously and take a chance on their ability to make the change from urban to rural living, given their abyssmal lack of knowledge of what this change entailed.

Once the word got around on the hippie grapevine that McKee had broken his ranch into parcels and was selling them cheap, dropouts began to arrive. They came in communes, individually and in families nuclear and, by their own definition, extended. They came in old schoolbuses, caravans of pickup trucks with campers and on foot, hitchhiking. Those first years, they lived in tents, tepees, abandoned tool sheds, tree houses and the chicken house they built first, after kicking the chickens out when it started raining.

The yurt/trailer combo or shed/tent/trailer combo was a common early home arrangement.

Cold Duck Commune bus lands near Miranda, September, 1969.

Interior of an owner built one room tiny cabin.

They lived in their vehicles, funky old trailers, abandoned sheds and barns and long-deserted bunkhouses. They lived under large pieces of plastic stretched over pole frames. In the early 70s, the number of “homesteaders” reached a kind of critical mass and they began to organize themselves beyond the family or commune. A community began to emerge from what had appeared to be a very large refugee camp.

Encampment at a retreat attended by about 300 hippies in the late 1970s.

Stories of “how I got to SoHum” often resemble each other, even now. Nonconformists, in families, communes or individually, are traveling around the country looking for a place to live inconspicuously, peacefully and productively. They find SoHum most often by visiting friends already there or because someone they trust to understand what they are looking for told them about it, often someone they picked up hitchhiking or who gave them a ride.

This is, of course, a perfectly rational and predictable way for a community of likeminded people to form itself. There is, however, a surprisingly large number of people whose story has a cosmic element, an opportunity that appeared for them just as they arrived in SoHum, an event that insisted that they stay, a dream or vision that could not be denied or ignored. An enormous number of people simply stumbled into the community while wandering around and knew they were home.

One couple, for instance, had left the unsympathetic atmosphere of Texas with their three children and headed off into the unknown to find a place where their unusual history would not dog them. The man had been a middle-aged priest/philosophy professor at a Catholic college, whether celibate or not, he would never tell me, when he fell in love with his freshman student, who asked him pointed and unanswerable questions after class. Their affair resulted in the loss of his job and vocation and the birth of their three children. Several years of living with the moral disapproval of their Texas neighbors decided them to seek a more sympathetic climate.

After months of traveling, camping out, living in their car, they followed the suggestion of a hitchhiker they picked up in Arizona and headed for northern California. Their car broke down in Miranda. By the time it was fixed, they knew they were home.

Another SoHummer had just been released from San Quentin after six years. In a daze and completely at loose ends, knowing only that he really didn’t want to go back to jail, he was picked up hitchhiking by a carload of hippies. He ended up living with them in Marin County. By the time they decided to check out SoHum, he was well on the road to rehabilitation as a hippie and went along with them, to live a happy and productive life in the land of the redwoods.


Daryl Cherney, one of those led to SoHum through a random contact.


Daryl Cherney, the well-known folksinging environmentalist, famously tells the story that he had left New York and was hitchhiking cross-country when he was picked up by a Native American spiritual leader who did not live in SoHum, but was a frequent visitor. After hearing Cherney’s views on the spiritual importance of the environment, he suggested SoHum, then proceeded to drive him there and drop him of at the Garberville office of the Environmental Protection Information Office. It was there that he would find his vision, and he did.

What they think they are doing

The counterculture got its name from social historian Theodore Roszak, who observed, accurately, that sixties dropouts were doing more than simply withdrawing. They were actively trying to change industrial civilization, what Roszak called “the technocracy,” by seriously altering the way they lived their everyday lives. To the extent that anyone had a goal, that goal was to reverse, or counter, the effects of the technocracy, aka The System, the military-industrial complex, the war machine, the corporate state.

As these appellations suggest, the bottom line in dropping out was always economic. Sacrificing one’s earning potential was the most drastic action to be taken, short of suicide. The extent to which one had taken this action was also the litmus test applied by the counterculture to anyone claiming dropout status. It was the countercultural equivalent of putting your money where your mouth is.

Roszak’s observation and the word he coined to describe it was and is “right on” for outside observers and inside intellectuals (“intellectual hippie,” strange to say, is not necessarily an oxymoron, at least in SoHum.) However, the vast majority of SoHummers I interviewed and observed have vehemently denied they were countering anything.

They have said, with the greatest of truth, that they were looking for personal freedom. Personal experience being the paramount source of knowledge leading to the dropout and informing the post dropout period, they often used to deny conscious political motives and said they simply wanted to live as freely as possible. It was only when critical mass had been reached, when enough peope seeking personal freedom arrived in one spot, that they began to consciously work on finding a better way to meet needs that had formerly been met by the state.

Dropping out was a highly individual action. You did it when the time was ripe for you and to the extent that you were able. Making a new society, on the other hand, was something best done with a little help from one’s friends. The universal problem was how to survive after you’ve quit your straight job,  dropped out of school, turned down the graduate fellowship, refused the inheritance or run away from parental or spousal support and whatever strings might have been attached to it. The counterculture approached this problem in several ways.

Lowering the overhead was the first approach, reversing status markers so that poverty was more respected than wealth. Sociologists referred to this procedure, often snidely, as becoming “downwardly mobile” or joining the “nouveau poor.”  To the extent that this experiment was shortlived for the children of the middle class, the snideness is perhaps justified. However, there were many on whom the new image “took,” at least as an ideal. At the very least, the spectacle of a large portion of the upcoming generation saying “no thank you” to their anticipated share of the nation’s riches served to throw the connection between money, status, power and exploitation into clear relief.

One overhead-lowering strategy was the commune. Housing is cheap if it’s four to a bed. Rice costs less if you pool your money or food stamps and buy it by the 50-pound sack. Transportation is cheaper if it’s six to a car rather than one or two. Better yet, stay home with twenty of your closest friends, call it family night and party down. When communes began to disappear, the communal strategy lived on in the form of food cooperatives, “food groups” wherein people not otherwise economically connected bought food together in bulk to save money.

Other ways of lowering the overhead included scavenging, bartering both goods and services and stealing from large corporations or the state. Opinions varied widely on the righteousness of this latter method and a lack of clarity on the concept was responsible for many bad vibes. One suspects that the prevelance of the concept “right livlihood” emerged as a reaction to this strategy. Right livlihood is however one can survive economically without ripping off someone else or contributing to a part of the mainstream system that rips off someone else.

The significance of communalism in SoHum, however, does not lie in the continuing existence of communes, but in the continuing existence of the social bonds formed by fellow communards and the retention of the values and skills learned during the communal experience. There are at least two reasons why the communes themselves generally did not survive the move to SoHum. The first is what social scientists might call structural. It has to do with the conflict between existentialist freedom on the one hand and the communal diminution of the individual on the other.

The first Mateelians consisted of those countercultural individuals who found it hardest to submit to any formal authority, including that of a rigid or hierarchical commune.  The uniqueness of the Mateelian community stems largely from the fact that its members are such rugged individualists. The community is not only nonintentional, but, because of this emphasis on individualism, it was, perhaps, even inadvertant. It resulted, like a spontaneous combustion fire, from the failure of collective energy to dissipate, not from any great master plan.

Evidence of this is that the communes formed by those who later became Mateelians were almost universally chaotic, egalitarian and tolerant of nonconformity. Former communards in SoHum can seldom even specify what exactly was communal about their commune.  Implementing the communal ideal is not at all that easy in a capitalist context, no matter what kind of commune it is. Maintaining a commune composed of people who value personal freedom over almost everything else is well-nigh impossible.

The structural reason for the demise of communes in SoHum is that, ironically, once they became established in SoHum, the all-American individualistic ideal with which they had been raised, even though it may not have been practised around them, reasserted itself. The individualism of the communards had been redefined to include environmental, egalitarian and cooperative values but, in the long run, only a commune with a narrow, overriding goal and some rationale for discipline, like religion, can survive the materialistic, competitive climate of America.

The second, psychological, reason for the decline of the communes is that, as the counter-cultural community became increasingly visible, it began to supplant the commune as a source of emotional and moral support. Early communes offerred emotional sanctuary for the new dropouts, who were often under severe attack from non-dropouts. That kind of emotional support is not so necessary in SoHum, as it is in places where hippies are in the minority. The countercultural ambiance was at one time so pervasive in SoHum that the need for “courage in numbers” was greatly reduced.

Over the years, as many casual observers have noted, the original values of right livlihood, voluntary simplicity, communally oriented social strategies, alternative ways of meeting social needs and even environmentalism, have been merged and submerged with the predominant mainstream values. Although many of the earliest hippie-founded organizations still exist and their founders can still point to their achievements in the face of impossible odds with great pride, many are the former SoHummers who abandoned the community, unable to bear the disappointment of seeing it fall so short of its original promise.

Many are the current residents of SoHum who came only to grow marijuana, brought hard crime with them and were never motivated by anything but greed in no way distinguishable from the greed of corporate America. Many are the original hippies who traded their alleged values for money the very instant marijuana growing made that possible. Many are the mainstream locals who did not hesitate to invest in or indirectly benefit from SoHum’s latest boom industry while either recasting themselves as hippies to learn the biz or while denouncing hippies and keeping their own biz a secret. The ethnographic study I conducted between 1971 and 1985 could not now be done for these reasons. The current book is an effort to reconstruct the spirit and flavor of those days from interviews with the participants, done in the early 1990s, when that time could still be remembered with joy.

Good friends comfort each other after a funeral. 

View of Bear Butte from Elk Ridge. Photo by Jerry Pruce.

*This statement was still true when I wrote in the 1990s. However, as I post this essay in 2018, I feel obliged to say that there are now visible in SoHum many more persons of color than there were in the 1990s, as well as persons speaking languages other than English. Without statistics I cannot assess the degree to which complaints I heard from persons of color in the past about feeling isolated are still reflected in the numbers, i.e. the ratio of white residents to persons of color. I can only report my observation that I see many more black people in town than I used to.

Washington Post Article on CAMP

for Isikoff entry The Washington Post article on the link at the end of this entry was written years after the ethnographic present I delineated in my book on the counter-culture in southern Humboldt County, the area I now call the Land of Shum. Writing as a field anthropologist studying a particular group, I was constrained to define the group in time and space, following the long-established method of participant-observation as developed by anthropologists studying traditional cultures. Journalists have different constraints, something I learned well when, after comparing journalism unfavorably to ethnography at one point in my book, I was then forced by circumstances to become a journalist myself. And, I specify journalist, not reporter, because in addition to straight news stories, I often also wrote features and opeds. Journalism includes all three whereas reporter reports straight news, avoiding as much as possible biases, slants and opiinions. The article below has the great benefit of being written by someone with no connections at all to Shum or my ethnographic research, in a well known national magazine by a well known and respected journalist. It thus presents a view of the marijuana industry in Shum and the efforts to eradicate it that originates from outside Shum and not constrained by ethnographic priorities. I present it for its historical value and as an informatiive contrast to materials emanating from me.


Vibrum Soul, Act One, Scene Four

NOTE: Because entries show up in reverse order, latest first, this is the last part I have of the play. Links to the earlier scenes are at the very bottom of this page under “related links.” To read about Pure Shmint, search on Pure Shmint Introduction if the various links don’t get you there–I’m not sure the tags are working correctly.

Jack’s House

(Jack is seen with a CB radio)

Jack: Yellow dog to Darth Vader, you got a copy? Yellow dog to Darth Vader, you got a copy?
Darth Vader (from offstage): This is old Darth Vader, here, Yellow dog. I gotcha five five five, now come on back.Jack: You still selling the VW bus?
Darth Vader: 10-4, good buddy.
Jack: Uh huh. Sounds really good. But the thing I don’t know about is me going back nine miles just to check the bus out. Is there a way you can bring the bus down to the end of the road, I can check on it and get back to you later?
Darth Vader: Big 10-4, Yellow Dog. I think I can slap some tread on her and roll her down to the bottom of the road today. Tell you what, you keep your ears on and I’ll get back to you.
Jack: Yeah, I’ll be 1010 on this side.
(Enter Larry)
Larry: Hi, Jack
Jack: Hey, how ya doin’ Larry. What’s happening?
Larry: Hey, you wanna play some ping pong?
Jack: No. I got no time. Hey, anyway, you got the time?
Larry: Time? You wanna know what time it is? Hey, I got a great way of finding the time. All you need is a stick.
Jack: Not another one of these stick things, again, Larry. C’mon, huh, where’s your watch?
Larry: Hey, here, hold this, Jack. That’s great. And hold that like that. No,no, no this way, like that. That’s it. Hold it up near the window, that’s right. Now lift your foot. That’s it. Lift it up, lift it up, oh, that’s great, that’s perfect. That’s it.
Jack: Oh, c’mon.
Larry: You see the sun’s rays go over the stick, hits the ping pong racket, hits your toe and forms a yin/yang mish/mash on the floor. Tells you exactly what time it is. It’s exactly, ah, four thirty one and 27 seconds.

Jack: Really? That late? How can it be that late?
Larry: 11:30 (looking at watch). Can’t understand it. I got it right out of the Idiot’s Guide to Woodsmanship.
Jack: Hey, Larry. You know what I can’t understand is the fact that there’s no water in the water tank, Larry. Three hundred gallons of water is missing.
Larry: Hey Jack, let’s go play some ping pong. Huh. What do you say? I’m really getting into it today.
Jack: You don’t understand how serious this is, Larry. The plants are drooping, do you understand what I’m saying?
Larry: Well, it’s awfully hot out. You know, maybe somebody took a shower.
Jack: What are you talking about, somebody took a shower. We just had a land group meeting yesterday. It’s drought season. You know that.
Larry: I know, but you know sometimes taking a shower is a matter of life and death. Like my grandmother. She never used to take a shower. She used to sweat all over the place. Finally nobody went to her house and she died of lonliness.
Jack: Larry, I got a feelin’, I got a funny feelin’, that you took a shower. Right?
Larry: Well, an itsy bitsy little shower, one of those little ones.
Jack: Jesus Christ! I can’t believe you. You’re up here for three years, you don’t know anything, Larry. Nothing, nothing. Three hundred gallons of water on a shower?
Larry: Hey, hey, hey Jack, wait, wait, calm down, man, calm down. I did not use three hundred gallons of water to take a shower. I attended that land meeting. And I ain’t that irresponsible. I really feel bad that you accuse me of that. I took an itsy bitsy shower. I still have soap on me, smell.
Jack: Huh. Hey, I’m sorry, I don’t know. You know….what happened to the water, Larry?
Larry: Well, the water will be back tomorrow anyway, so you shouldn’t. .  .  .
Jack: What, what did you say?

Larry:Hey, backhand, let’s practice our backhand today.
Jack: The water will be back tomorrow. What the hell are you talking about?

Larry: Well, ah, ah, I’ll level with you, Jack. I’ll level with you. You know this morning I got up, you know. I was lying in my bed and I just realized that my mattress is lumpy. Boy, it’s got these little buttons in it and it just makes you feel…you get up and you got these little marks all over your body. You feel like a radio.
Jack: Larry, what does this have to do with the water?
Larry: Well, I’m getting to that, Jack. I’m driving into town and I just realized that there was a flea market. So I went into the flea market and I’m looking around and there it was.
Jack: What Larry?
Larry: The answer to all my problems.
Jack: Larry, what. What did you see, Larry?
Larry: You’ll never guess. Wanna guess, Jack?

Jack: Larry, tell me.

Larry: Wanna guess?
Jack: No
Larry: It was a water bed.
Jack: A water bed.
Larry: Yeah, I got a water bed. Man, I’ll be the most popular guy in the hills with a water bed in my cabin.
Jack: A water bed. You took the water from the tank and put it in a water bed. Right? Right? Right? Ohh, Larry, I cannot believe…. I cannot believe…. arghh, arghh…. I’m gonna kill you, Larry.

(Jack grabs hatchet from wood stove and begins to chase Larry with it. Larry defends himself with ping pong racket. Fight moves over the room,on the bed.

shmint 5 ed 3

Finally Larry manages to get ping pong racket between Jack’s teeth. Jack bites down.)

shmint 14 ed 2

Larry: Count! One , one,

Jack: (through racket) One
Larry: Two, two, three, four

Jack: Two, three, four
Larry: Five’s next five, six

Jack: Five, six
Larry: Seven, there’s a seven in there,too

Jack: Seven, eight
(Exit Jack, counting through paddle)
Larry: I can’t understand the guy. Just a little bit of water and he gets upset. Man! He just ruined  my ping pong paddle, too. How would HE like sleeping on an empty water bed?


Sad to say, for nearly a quarter of a century, I have believed that I had a fully transcribed copy of this play in a manuscript binder, waiting for the internet to be invented so I would have some place to put it, only to find that I,  in fact, have two fully transcribed copies of most of Act One. So my promise to upload the entire play cannot be kept at this time, although in my frantic search for the rest of a transcript I was sure I had, I did discover that I have portions of other Pure Shmint plays that theoretically could be uploaded at a later time. At the end of this entry are links to audio files of the rest of the play and some rehearsals.

For now, I will post my remaining photos of the dress rehearsal of this play and explain the plot as best I can remember it. Although I am saddened by this turn of events, I will console myself with the thought that, given the climate of Shum and the vicissitudes of my personal life, involving the constant storage and restorage of my field notes, it is a miracle this much has survived.

shmint 15 ed 2

shmint 12 ed 1

The CB broadcast to “Darth Vader” about the bus is overheard through static by Larry, listening to his own CB. He then becomes convinced that it was a warning about an imminent bust. Sometime after the fight scene above, he rushes into Jack’s house with the rumor that a bust will happen any minute. Jill freaks and begins running around trying to think what to do next.

shmint 2 ed





Jack attempts to calm Jill down.


At some point, Jack is either actually dead or is dreaming he is dead. He encounters a sequence of post-death characters, including a tailor who looks and sounds like Larry. Here, set in the laundromat, this character measures Jack for either a coffin or a suit, I can’t remember which.




shmint 17 ed 2

The final act takes place at what Shummians call a “boogie.” The banner on the wall says “Harvest Boogie” and there usually actually is a Harvest Boogie sometime in the late Fall and it does look very much like this, only much more crowded and with a lot more people dancing alone, though very much together with the entire group. In the old days, there used to be a somewhat magic phenomenon at boogies, one that I noticed many and many a time, wherein a group consciousness formed that allowed dancers to be packed together very closely and yet never bump into each other.

When the current Mateel Community Center was built, it included a balcony. I used to stand on the balcony and observe a wave pattern of movement one could see in an aerial view, that was produced by the dancers, unconsciously, without changing their position on the floor. I can’t explain it, except to refer interested parties to the writings of E.T. Hall, quoted extensively in my book.  I noticed that it became less and less observable throughout the 1980s, until by the time I went to my last boogie, I could not see it at all and there were more instances of people bumping into each other. It was one of the signs that made me feel less bad about it when circumstances led me to move from the community.

rehearsal scene ed

Rehearsals and performances of  Vibram Soul took place in what was then called Fireman’s Hall and is now referred to as the “old hall.” When it burned down in an arson fire, many saw it as the end of an era. It had started out being owned by the Garberville Fire Department, whose engines were housed in the adjoining barn. It was then rented for years by Shummians for their activities and eventually bought by the Mateel Community Center organization. For some, the new hall built after the fire was never quite as homey as the funky old hall had been.

dancer gets makeup ed

One of the dancers in the dream and death sequences is made up, with the help of one of the many children to be found at any rehearsal.

Below, it is Standing Room Only in the old hall as the audience awaits opening night.

vs audience ed

vs nonie w child ed

A dancer, before dress rehearsal, the make-up artist and, I believe, her son share a moment.