Norma Swetnam Nesmith

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Norma Swetnam Nesmith

Um, yeah, my mom is pretty much THE coolest person out there. I kinda just found this by searching her on Google, but hey! This page is pretty sweet! Love Ya Mom! (even though sometimes it may not seem it!)


I am hoping Jackie will eventually sign on and come of with some pictures of me from these days. She always seemed to have a camera around her neck whenenver she was with us. I literally cant find any. No pictoral history to document my journey! Just happy to be sharing this journey with you. Thanks so much for your efforts and those of all of the other dear hearts putting this together. This site has been the highlight of my year! My little secret living novel to escape to at the end of an evening. Hugs to all..Norma Jean

From GA to Pacific
As I read the stories already posted here, I am amazed at the lives that were being lived 30 years ago; the ones being lived now by those same people. I was mostly oblivious to the drive toward social change that pervaded the days of most of the people I encountered back in my 21st summer. I suppose I was a girl after my time. The living spaces of the land were gone when I arrived in CA. The alumni and friends had just celebrated the one year anniversary of the end of that era, on Easter prior to my arrival. The energy of the event was still palpable and there was rarely a conversation the entire short time I lived in California, where “the land” didn’t come up.

I came to Pacific High School in June of 1979, from very rural Georgia to visit my “cousin” Cathie McDonnell. Cathie wasn’t really related to me “by blood” but she was as surely my family as anyone could ever be. As I read about the various causes and work that brought so many to communal life in the hills, it is a little embarrassing to admit that I came for adventure. I was straining against my provincial upbringing and the expectations for me to take my place in the pecking order. Cousin Cathie promised I would find it in the form of backpacking and hiking in the California hills and through the experience of the communities she loved so dearly. I had planned to stay only 1 month. My father cautioned as I left, “I am just so afraid you will be taken by some religious cult like those (Hari-Krishna) people in the airport and we will never see you again. Now that I am a Mother, I understand his angst. He should have had faith, because I was clearly being guided by my higher power to some of the finest people I would ever meet.

Pacific was no longer a High School, but a community of about 20 to 30 people. Cathie lived in a 1 room hexagonal cabin with a huge tree right up the center, one of the original structures at Pacific, atop one of the beautiful summer blonde hills. I was taken with the natural beauty of the property. I recognized my good fortune to live there immediately. When we hiked up to Cathie’s cabin, there was a point about a third of the way up the hill where the temperature became noticeably cooler and the smell of evergreens was rich and loamy. Cathie would always say, “Mountain energy” when we reached that spot. She had just completed a yoga platform outside the cabin days before I arrived. We took turns sleeping on the platform. I remember being terrified one night when 2 raccoons got in a fight beneath the platform. Their loud screaming and growling woke me out of dead sleep. Wild life indeed!

Across a meadow, atop the adjacent hill was the teepee of Peter Nelson. At the time he was living with a woman named Marietta. If I am remembering correctly, Cathie made, and raised that teepee and then sold it to Peter. It occurs to me now that I never knew most of the last names of the people I lived with there. Peter looked like all of my pre-conceived notions of a California “surfer-dude”. He was really committed to making the Pacific community work and was very diligent in doing more than his share of the gardening and helping in the kitchen. I participated in a few of the meetings mentioned on Court’s rendering of Pacific High School. I can say now they weren’t altogether different in cadence from some of the business meetings I have endured since. Lot’s of posturing; no forward motion!

On My Excellent Adventure..
I remember tall, thin, Wizard who went by several aliases; Thomas Wizard, James Thomas, and many others, I knew this because I often picked up the mail and was always amazed at how much of it he claimed when I delivered it to the communal kitchen. I remember something about his father being highly placed in the music program for one of the armed forces, a fact he did not like to discuss or have revealed. Cathie and I would drop it into the conversation on purpose to annoy him if he was in a particularly surly mood, which I remember being fairly often. He was a talented musician and a bit of a narcissist. Later in the summer, I became the co-lead singer in “his” band called “Fruits and Vegetables” with Kevin Freeman, and I honestly don’t remember who else. I know we had a drummer, it might have been Rip. Kevin will have to help me remember. Anyhow, I am sure Wizard named the group. I think he chose the name because there was a huge colorful satin banner that said “Fruits and Vegetables” which was most likely a classroom decoration/aide when Pacific was actually a High School. We hung it up for a backdrop at the “boogies” we played. I remember Lance Carter, who was often dancing even when there was no music playing, as only Lance could dance. Mark Schneider was living there at the time too! I have no pictures from this time. The only ones I remember seeing are ones taken by Jackie Young at various boogies and the Struggle Halloween party. I envy Neil his foresight in documenting those days. I have looked at every picture on this site so many times.

There was a big green shower dome at Pacific which Cathie cautioned me not to use because the water was extremely hard. She warned a shower there would totally trash my skin and hair. After my first week (ever) with no bath or shower, I finally couldn’t stand it anymore, and took a shower in the shower dome. The water smelled terrible and metallic, and my skin looked like I had a layer of ash dusted over me and my hair did in fact, feel like straw. It took me weeks of lotions, nettles tea and olive oil conditioning to get both back to some state of health.

Pacific was still functioning fairly well as a community though there were lots of fractures beginning to occur. The Buddhists who now own the property were already eyeing it for their retreat and there was much tension and discussion around their rights (and obvious plan) to evict all of us. I attended several of those meetings some of which occurred down the hill in a woman named Mary Kate’s home. Ted Tripp came to live there shortly after I arrived. I believe he came to be there because of Kobin (sp?), the Zen master of the group trying to purchase the property. Ted played a part in one of the many excellent adventures Cathie and I had later that summer.

Fiercely Loyal Land Alumni enters my daily life
Cathie was head over heels in love with Brett Turner who had moved to Pacific sometime after the end of the Land. Before I arrived, she had written me numerous letters with tales of Brett. He was of course, well known for marching to the beat of his own drummer and for his skill at fixing machinery; the fact that he had been a helicopter pilot in Vietnam and had lived to tell about it, and of course, his intense and strong personality. As luck would have it, I did not get to meet him until several days after I got to Pacific. He was in Gilroy sewing his own teepee. Imagine my surprise when the “he-man” I had envisioned as a result of everyone’s stories, showed up in a skirt!! It was my first experience of “hip” cross dressing. Brett was a character in every sense of the word and I adored him immediately. After my first comment about the infrequent opportunities for personal hygiene, he started calling me a “flash woman” which I quickly learned was not a compliment. While his opinion did give me pause to contemplate my priorities, it never diminished my desire to be clean! The urge to be well kempt was like a tribal calling from my proper Southern upbringing that could not be undone completely even though I believe I made great progress during my days at Pacific.

Brett regaled Cathie and me with tales of the Land and of his continued run-ins with the law as he struggled to let go. He occasionally went over to the land and got “in the face” of the cops and then was "invited" down the hill to the “flat lands” to make multiple court appearances in front of the same judge. On one such occasion Brett showed up in court in one of his skirts. The judge summarized his tirade against Brett with a loud and exasperated “get a job!” Whenever Brett wanted to emphasize a point (which was often) after that, he would say, “GET A JOB”. There have been so many situations in my life since, when those words appeared in perfect context on the tip of my tongue.

The Girls are Back in Town


Norma Jean with red backpack "donated" by David McConnell

Cathie certainly delivered on her promise for adventure. We hitched to Boulder Creek, Big Sur, and Santa Cruz or would take off on a road trip in her VW bug with her black lab Charlotte up to Reno, or Yosemite. She would actually beg me to sing to her in endlessly in the car. The song she loved for me to sing most was a song written by Mecca Burns, called, “Only the Night”. I still know it by heart today from all of those miles of practice. Did I mention the car didn’t have a radio? But really, whatever the desperate reason, what is not to love about someone actually asking you to sing? Later in the summer we hitch hiked to Durango Colorado via the Grand Canyon where we worked on a llama and cattle ranch together. The owner was Ted Tripp’s long time summer employer and he hired us on as cooks (I COULD NOT COOK!) and to round up llamas and move them further up into the mountains. The landscape was severe; the craggy San Juan Mountains, but breathtakingly beautiful. The horses were well trained and knew what to do. All we had to do was stay in the saddle. We bathed in the irrigation ditch while hanging with one arm looped over a log foot bridge.

We did most of our outside work on the ranch in the traditional attire for communal gardening; topless. It created a stir in the ranching community but eventually the other woman who lived there on the property joined in. While it was never discussed openly, I believe our presence there may have been the highlight of the male hands still committed to more traditional backgrounds from places such as the Midwest and the east coast. I believe I read one of Robyn Clare’s comments referring to our “strong able bodied selves”. Cathie always put me in mind of the women in Gauguin’s paintings with her deeply tanned skin and lovely dark features. The sun shining down our young skin was such delicious freedom!

Stallings - Home Sweet Community
After we returned to Pacific from the ranch job, I went to work at Alice’s restaurant (at corner’s) as a waitress and begin to meet folks from Struggle and Stallings. Cathie and Brett were back together and the one room cabin at Pacific seemed kind of small for the 3 of us. Diane Buuke agreed to let me move in with her until I could find alternative living arrangements. I quickly became part of the Stallings family and loved living on the property with Court and Heather, Mecca and Rip, Diane, Larry and Cindy and Jackie Young. There was always 10 or so other people hanging around or visiting for various reasons. Lot’s of lazy days by the pond which was at that time very good for swimming. It was just the best! My brother Asa came out from GA to visit and ended up staying, so for awhile we were both staying with Diane. She was so generous opening her home and heart to us.

In addition to my job at Alice’s, I went to work for Billy Wheatley and David McConnell down the hill. They were building condos in Palo Alto and my job was to clean them once they were complete. I really had fun being part of their crew which also included Danny Lynch and his younger brother. Being just 20 years old, I had a new crush on one of the men at the worksite every day. Suffice it to say, my metabolic rate was maximized all day long at the sight of all those shirtless, well built, handsome men. No cardio required! It was a fortunate, unusual work environment. Unfortunately, they were all with other women. Lousy timing! It spoiled me for future jobs where the scenery was significantly less exciting! It is a memory that makes me smile every time I think of it.

One evening after working late at Alice’s, and having a beer or two prior to driving up to Stallings, I was walking back to Diane’s house and it was pitch black; not a star in sight. I could not even see my hand in front of my face. I was “feeling” my way along the path by the pond, sensing where to turn left because of the extra strong smell of pennyroyal growing there. What I wasn’t able to “sense” was the fact that a big earth moving “scoop” had been there earlier that day to do a soil sample right in the middle of the beaten path to Diane’s. I was walking along one moment and looking up the bottom of an 8 ft deep hole the next. For a moment, I thought it might be a grave. It was really hard climbing out and figuring out which way the house was, the unexpected fall had disoriented me so. When I got to Diane’s she said, “they came and took a huge soil sample today right at the top of the hill, wait until you see the hole, it’s huge”. NO KIDDING!

Not long after, I met Patsy Gustafson. Of course her reputation preceded her. She was one of the anchors of the hill community scene. I remember thinking she seemed to actually glow. What a beauty! She and Tom Dodd had been together for a couple of months and were planning on getting married and moving into the “big” yellow house at Stallings. They needed 2 more people to make the rent, so Mark Schneider signed on for one room, and I was in for the other one. Patsy was pregnant and loving it. We had great times in that house. I remember the woodburning stove was not functioning properly and would eventually smoke up the living space so badly you could hardly see through it. Patsy was like a whirlwind of energy: never daunted by an extra person, or 15 showing up for a meal. I loved her energy and her connection to everyone and most especially, nature. The time in that house is such a sweet memory.

The friendships I made, and the experiences I had during what amounted to a little over a year, were some of the richest and most transforming of my life. I was free to reveal myself in an atmosphere of acceptance and love. I eventually went back to my GA home to live, but I was forever changed in ways that I am grateful for to this day. The fabric of my life was made much stronger and infinitely more beautiful by the people who came into my heart during those days.

When I read all of your stories of then and now, I realize those days were exquisite and magical. A very elderly friend said to me not long ago, “Live life; because you may reach a point where your memories are all you have left”. That doesn’t seem such a terrible fate. If I find myself alone with my memories some day, I will carefully savor every delicious detail of my time in those California hills.

I look forward to the reunion and the opportunity to bask in the magic one more time.


Norma on the Applacian Trail- Fall '80


First "date" with Jim -Fall 1980. We have been together for 27 years, married for 20 of those.