Neil and Micheal (Sept. 1974) Taken from the Town Crier
GEORGE AND MICHAEL ON THE STRUGGLE BACK PORCH, 1974
MICHAEL, PHOTOG, JUNE '75
photos by Neil
Part I: Coming to the Land
I came to the Land by a roundabout route. After spending a year and a half back East, in March and April of 1972 I hitch-hiked back to California and the Bay Area. Actually, I was looking for Stewart Brand of the Whole Earth Catalogue. I heard that he had come into a bunch of seed money that he was spreading around as grants to people with good ideas. I wanted to start a multi-media inter-communal communications network and I thought Stewart might not just be good for some money, but could put me in touch with people who might want to work with me. So my destination was the Whole Earth Truck Store.
But when I got there, I was told that Stewart was in Sweden attending some kind of conference...but if I wanted to hang around, there was a Hog Farm bus parked in back with a few of the Farmers on it. Since I was old friends with the Farm from our days in SoCal, I thought I'd say hi. It turned out that I didn't know anybody on this particular bus, but that the rest of the Farm was hanging out up at Pacific High School and if I was willing to wait a day or two, there was bound to be a ride up.
In a day or two I did indeed make it up to Pacific and a great greeting from Wavy and Bonnie Jean and several other of the Farmers that I had known from the Single Wing Turquoise Bird days. I got into their scene and spent a couple of weeks with them at Pacific before wandering up the coast on one of the busses. We got as far as Springfield, OR, and I decided to come back to Pacific.
While there, a young woman would show up from time to time who had some kind of lech for one of the Farmers, a guy who called himself Walking Horse. I do not remember her name. What I do recall is that she was about 20, blond, said that she was a minister's daughter, and lived on the Land. This last bit was of interest to me as the kids at Pacific had gotten tired of the Hog Farmers and were kicking them all out and this girl suggested that the Land could be one place that people could go to live.
By now it was June, and sometime early in the month I came over to check it out and talk to people. First I stopped by the Front House and knocked. Michael Ward came to the door and talked to me though the screen, but wouldn't open it or ask me in. He seemed almost frightened to talk to me. This left me wondering what kind of a place this was. Later I realized that this was just Michael's way of behaving.
Then I ran into Fran, who was more welcoming. I asked her what kind of jobs needed doing on the Land and she rattled off a number of possibilities. One of them was "gourmet cook" and I thought aha, here's something I might be able to do. I liked to cook and most people seemed to like what I made.
I wandered back into the Backlands, which at that time of day were mostly empty. About all I saw was a rattlesnake sunning itself on a dead stump. But I got a good vibe from the Land itself. So, a day or two later I grabbed all my stuff and made the move.
Finding accommodation was not such a simple matter though. There was a very tiny affair just big enough for me to stretch out in that had been built beside the Bay Tree springbox and I moved into it for a few nights. The first morning, I woke up to the sound of splashing water and doves cooing in the trees, and to the fragrance of bay leaves and wild roses. It was as though the Land were welcoming me as a bride welcomes her groom. A couple days later, I awoke to find another person in the vicinity. In his characteristically gentle way, Kim pointed out to me that the structure I had been sleeping in was actually a kind of sweat lodge and a community structure. I took the hint and moved on. But I never forgot that first morning. Forever after, the Land was to me as a lover.
Part II: Living On the Land
There are so many stories about living on the Land that I hardly know where to start. I always loved to travel, but during the years I lived on the Land I was often reluctant to leave. You see, in a lot of ways it was like living in the middle of a soap opera, and I was afraid of missing an important episode.
And that brings up what I think is a significant point: we were always really good at entertaining ourselves. In fact, it was probably what we were best at. I have taken note since the Land of how many people spend thousands of dollars each year to try to find entertainment and then I reflect on how we seldom had to spend a nickle for it. Quite aside from investing an afternoon on the edge of a meadow or the side of a hill just watching the day go by, there was usually somebody somewhere you could go hang out with and talk to or make music with. Often lots of people.
The first summer I was there, 1972, there were those wonderful evenings by the cookshack sharing communal meals and then general conversation and/or music with the stars, moon, planets and the occasional meteor to keep us company and Lone Oak Hill looking over our shoulders. I mostly remember easy laughter and warm comradery from those times.
Then came the Great Influx. Somehow the word had spread that there was this place up on Page Mill Road etc., etc., and in August and early September things started to get a bit crowded as lots of people at loose ends in their lives and no idea of how to live in a place like the Land began to flood the place and change the feel of it. It was a hard problem to deal with as I don't think any of us really wanted to get hard hearted and tell people who were often obviously needy that this just wasn't the place for them.
Fortunately, the weather gave a hand. Sometime around the middle of September, if I remember correctly, it started to rain. And it rained. And it rained. And it rained. And then it rained some more. Except for short periods, I think the only time it stopped raining was when it snowed. The worst I recall was from about the beginning of February until early April, during which time it in fact rained constantly. It might taper off to a misty drizzle, but then it would build up to torrents again. It was a bonanza for the frogs. Every bit of low ground was turned into a pond. The Swamp filled up all the way until it was even with the barn. And every place there was water, there were frogs. It was almost deafening to be in the barn that spring. We held some meetings in there that winter and had to shout to be heard.
Well anyway, the rain soon drove out all but the hardiest souls and reduced the population to what became a stable core that remained until the end. That spring we had to face up to the fact that it was going to be up to us to find a way to regulate immigration. It was a painful process and not everybody felt that we ought to be doing that kind of thing. It took a lot of trial and error before we finally settled on a method that worked well enough that we could live with it, but I don't think we could claim that it was ever perfect. New people did join us, but at a rate that allowed them to be brought up to speed on what we felt we had to do to get along and also not put too much hurt on the Land itself.
To be continued...
Michael's web site:
Nov. 25, 1949 - Oct. 24, 2021
Posted Wednesday, November 24, 2021 at 3:54 pm in Port Townsend's The Leader
Michael was born with the name Larry Smith, in Alabama. At age 18, he changed his name and moved to the West Coast.
Michael lived his life with intelligence, humor and a great deal of courage. He leaves behind brother Jim Smith; sister-in-law Robbie; and their two children. He touched many lives here in Port Townsend as well as friends in California, Oregon, and around Washington.
Michael said he enjoyed meeting new people because he loved hearing their stories. We all miss him.