Rio Burns

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Rio Burns

[[Rio Burns|rio_1977.jpg]]
photo by Ann Mason
At age 16, in the summer of 1968, I first came out to the Bay Area from my little hometown in western Mass. My brother and sister-in-law Stewart and Rain had moved to Palo Alto with the Institute from Carmel Valley, where they had been married in a beautiful classic hippie wedding (Joan Baez singing and Ira Sandperl presiding). At this point they lived in East Palo Alto, across the street from Lee and Carol Swenson, and were deeply involved in the Resistance and the Institute. During my time there I worked as a secretary for the Institute, on Moody Road. In the leafy sunlit office I typed up the Institute mailing list, smelled the western smells of sage and eucalyptus for the first time, and met all kinds of people, including the Baez sisters, Joan’s aunt Tia, Jeffrey Shurtleff, and others like Bill Giordano and Tom Jans, who were making their first appearances as well.

I went home to finish high school and soon came back out. By now Stewart and Rain had moved to the big house at Struggle Mountain. Joan (whom all called Joanie) had hand-picked a group to live up there with her while David was in prison and she was pregnant with Gabriel. She lived in what is now Mark’s house, and others lived in the big house and elsewhere. The group I most clearly remember included Robert and Christie, two beautiful kind people who often drove naked along Skyline Drive in their Land Rover; Tramp, a 7-foot-tall drummer from Hawaii who once lived for 3 months alone in the woods off Skyline with just a cooking pot and a bag of rice (I really wanted to do this too); Chris, my brother’s best friend, red-haired and passionate; Bill Giordano, handsome gentle Prince Valiant; gracious and beautiful Iris, then known as Marion; Fondle (Richard Festinger), Joanie’s brilliant and sweet guitar player; and Jeffrey Shurtleff, who had a ringing tenor voice and sang in harmony with Joan on "Take Me Back to the Sweet Sunny South" and other tunes on David’s Album. There were two horses in the field below the big house, and cats and dogs including Moondog and Tommy.

The sun was extremely bright and the people were larger than life. Just 17 or 18, I had eye-opening experiences at every turn: a meeting held in complete silence in Joanie’s living room; discussions over dishes of what nonviolence meant in its truest essence; macrobiotic meals on the high chairs at the high dining room table; golden naked sun worship; strong fierce women and gentle men; California poppies blazing from a dry sage-filled creekbed; galloping up a hill bareback; lots of music; the spicy smell of the big house pantry; swerving down Page Mill Rd. in utter hysterics with Rain in Joan’s Rover (again and again); the sublime view from Joanie’s rock tub, where you might see all the way to San Francisco or just a lake of fog. Jeffrey showed me a wild and lonely outlook just below Joanie’s house where you could sit on top of the world.

Stewart resisted the draft in August 1969, and Rain and I accompanied him to the induction center in Oakland. It was pretty intense, because that pitch-black morning was so filled with rage and threat and hostility. But at one point Rain and I were on a city bus through Oakland in the dark and she got the whole bus talking about the war.

Rain and I had all kinds of adventures, things you truly would not believe (we’re going to write a book), often with Tramp as well. We sang a lot. And Joanie frequently used to sing, just for fun, loudly, joyously, and generously, in the big house. She was recording a country album. I remember her (and then all of us) coping with a super-persistent fan that would now be called a stalker, constantly showing up at Struggle – a challenge to all nonviolent principles. We all went to the Monterey Folk Festival. Joan gave me a beautiful suede skirt when I left.

Years passed. Rain and Stewart separated – he moved down the hill to pursue political activism and she moved to the Land. I might not have that right but it’s what I perceived. I had this passion to see the world and lived in Vancouver and Alaska, traveling with Rain and my close friend Susan Enteen (Riva). Riva and I visited Rain and Stewart, and vice versa. Riva went to live on the Land for a while, in the Rose Cottage.

I came to the Land to stay in early fall 1976, returning with Rain from our incredible, epic nine-month sub-poverty-level adventure through South and Central America.
The period I then spent at the Land was an extremely happy time for me, for the most part, and ironically most of it occurred in the year after the Three-Day Notice was served. I’ll write about that later, now that I’ve gotten myself there.

Rio now - photo by Nick DeCandia

3 June 2008
Tom and I thought we should each post a "now" photo so we were faintly recognizable at the reunion.

We're leaving at the crack of dawn for the West Coast (on a high after Obama's passionate speech just now). My co- workers here in Mass. gave me a big send-off this afternoon, because they are all so thrilled and curious about this reunion.

Why? Because people everywhere yearn for the very thing we did. Humans were meant to live in self-reliant interdependence with others, in close connection to the earth. We need to find that again as part of creating a healthy world. In my opinion, our kind of experiment in community living was as important in its way as California's technological innovations.

I certainly wouldn't be who I am except for my time at the Land. When Rain and I returned from South America in Sept. '76 we were flat broke, fluent in Spanish, fairly emaciated, and culture-shocked (who was Jimmy Carter? we wondered). I'd visited before, but it was my first time living there. Little did I know in what profound ways the Land would change my life. Such as:
- I met my husband Tom McHugh at the Land
- I found some of my most beloved and inspiring friends there
- I embarked on my career there -- it's true! Rip invited me to help him with Barn Talk and I liked it so much that I got a job typesetting, went on to UC Berkeley journalism school, and finally became a book editor.
- I discovered how cool kids are, thanks to being befriended by Josh Murphy.
- I met young moms who inspired me when I became a mother years later -- thank you Robyn and Maria.
- I fell in love with gardening thanks to Patsy, Rip, Willy, and the John Jeavons book Rip illustrated, still my favorite all-time gardening book.

- and those are just the obvious things. Support and community are essential in life. How great it feels to have a large family that you are part of, people who care about you like a brother or sister. I remember Danny, David, and Billy rescuing me once when my car threw a rod halfway between SF and Sacramento. And Alan Bowers spending weeks helping me take apart that engine and rebuild it again. And so many other incidents small and large. It was a great time to be young and living with a lot of people on the Land.

It has been a blast being on the planning committee, as the vision took shape. Travel safely, everyone, and we'll see you in a couple of days!

Love, Rio