Activism

Vision: 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.

The following is an adapted excerpt from the preface and chapter three ofThe 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 sustained efforts.

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 internal discord.

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 couldn't pay.

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.

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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 to people.

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 working order.

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 openland thing?

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 valid reason?

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 population control.

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.

Copyright Process Media 2010 -- All Rights Reserved

Richard Fairfield is the author of The Modern Utopian: Alternative Communes of the '60s and '70s (Process Media, 2010).