Skyline as a Movable Feast

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Skyline as a Movable Feast

Skyline as a Movable Feast.

Even in communities, some of us were outsiders. In 1967, I was 15, queer, transgender, from an abusive home, but I'd absorbed a lot of the ideals of the community world. I'd read Heinlein's Stranger In a Strange Land in about 1964, about the same time I read Huxley's Island and saw the mix of mystic spirituality and sexually open communalism as a valid personal path.

By 1967, I was already living away from home about 4 nights a week, some of that time spent up the trail from Hidden Villa ranch, on the trail to Black Mountain. My relationship with the area had started a few years earlier, partly a safe place, partly with an animist connection, fed by readings on Native American people of the area, witchcraft, Buddhism, and Celtic mythology. Being into faery and eastern mysticism all helped prepare me for the possibilities that opened up at the time.

From my perspective the focus on the Skyline communities cuts out certain aspects of the way things were. Skyline never existed as a separate experience for me. Even when I lived there, I tended to spend time in both the Palo Alto area, and the City. My first connection with a Buddhist teacher was at Haiku Zendo, a small zendo where Suzuki Roshi used to regularly teach. Both Haiku Zendo, the SF Zen Centre, and Tassahara were parts of my world. Haiku Zendo was set up in a converted garage at the house of Marion Derby. One of her daughters also studied with Gia Fu Feng, the Taoist master who set up Stillpoint, in Boulder Creek. I was one of a number of people who used to visit Stillpoint periodically, in part for meditation and Tai Chi, in part to enjoy the wonderful view from the big copper hot tub.

I came to Pacific High just before the school's economic crisis and spent the winter there almost alone, mostly in the kitchen where it was warm. Alan and Heath Schmidt were people I considered special friends and mentors. I'm not sure what they were supposed to be teaching, but I appreciated their care, friendship, and the trips in Alan's truck, off to see Krishnamurti in Berkeley, or up to Kriyananda's place near Nevada City, singing mantras as we went.

When people started coming back to Pacific, I think it was with the understanding that there was no money. I don't know if any of the teachers got paid, or if the students were still paying tuition, but it was when things changed, and the students started to live at the school. The dome-building came from the need for places to live, as an extension of the math classes <smile>, and from a desire to create more holistic, less resource-intensive, interesting spaces.

As more people started coming, and things got busier, I moved down the creek to Aquarian Valley. Aquarian Valley was about 30-40 minutes walk from Pacific, past the lake, past an old farmhouse with an apple orchard going feral. Following the creek, there was a point where it turned towards the cliffs, eventually going through a small cave. This was a beautiful spot to sit and meditate. From there, the path zigzagged down the cliff-face, through tunnels of manzanita, until eventually one crossed the river to a small plateau. This was where the A-frame was built. At this point, the Valley had developed from a place where people gathered and camped, a place where people were welcomed and fed. Sue Soloman was dubbed Captain Kitchen for her unfailing ability to feed whoever turned up with whatever food we had on hand. Sue later moved to SF, on Brodrick, near Haight not far from Divisidero.

A small spring was dammed, and a pipe brought down to the kitchen area. This is where the A frame was built. Pluter, one of the most consistent residents, built the stone fireplace and chimney in the cabin, and it always drew well. The cabin was an A-frame, shingled with redwood shakes. I learned to use a two-man saw, cutting the large logs into slices, which we then split with wedges and a sledge. The dome-building began at Pacific while I was living in the Valley, and I tended to go back and forth a bit, but mostly preferred the greater quiet of the Valley.

The Valley was a great place, pretty much open to whoever arrived. This tended to be a fair number of people in the summer, and not many in the winter. There were a few of us who lived there most of the time, but I think only Pluter didn't go to the City or the Flatlands occasionally. One day, a fellow came down, got invited to dinner, spent the night, and then said that he owned the land. He then said that since we were keeping the cave clean, and were acting as emergency medics, that he was happy to have us stay. When I say emergency medics, rockclimbers visited the cliffs, which were tricky. If a climber wasn't careful, thin sheets of rock would peel away, taking hand and footholds with it. Many climbers used ropes, but some free-climbed, and sometimes we picked them up from the bottom. I remember on thanksgiving dinner that was interrupted by a fallen climber. He'd broken bones, one of which was protruding from his thigh. We managed to do some emergency first aid, and took him up the path on a stretcher, not an easy trek. Fortunately someone had a car at the top of the trail, and we got him down to the hospital in San Jose.

I didn't spend all my time at the Valley, any more than I had at Pacific. There were periodic trips to the City, where I had friends in the Sunset district, and some in the Haight. I was involved politically, and spent part of the Berkeley riots at Oxford Hall, where some of us worked to bring the injured during the period when Reagan called in the national guard. Barbed wire and troop transports every other intersection, various sherrif depatments, tear gas dropped from helicopters drifting onto schools and hospitals was was an intense time. In the flatlands, I worked with the Palo Alto Resistance. There was a period when I lived in a communal house I helped pay rent on, though I rarely lived there. I also lived in my truck, a converted Metro International bread truck, with a wood stove and bunk bed. For a while I made some money making candles in the artifactory in Palo Alto, and was part of the crew that used to stay up waiting for the bombers that were bombing Keplers, the MFU, and the Resistance. At other times, I helped get deserters up the coast and across to Canada.

I think this floating lifestyle was a defining feature of the 60s for me. It was not so much living in one community, as in several. I'd try and contribute to them when I was there, but there was so much to do... The anti-war movement was important. The spiritual path was important. The communal, create your own world, part was important. Music was fun, getting to the Avalon, the Filmore, concerts in the Park, later the Filmore West or the Family Dog in the Sunset District. The MFU was important, creating our own educational support system. Occasionally doing personal growth things, psychodrama marathons at Hussein Chung's Human Institute. It was all part of things, even though I would get overwhelmed with people and retreat to Pacific or the Valley.

All of this was a vast extended network of change, and the Skyline communities were, in my experience, just a part of it. I remember my reaction to some of the first "back to the land" articles in Mother Jones. I had been part of the People's Park movement in SF, and the takeover of City Hall and the Be-in that accompanied it. That was based on the notion that City Hall was a space for the people of SF, and we WERE the people of SF. It was a reclaiming of democracy in a participatory form. Shortly after, I started seeing "back to the land" articles, and thought, "This is a diversion. Rather than claiming the power as part of society, rather than taking ownership and control of society, we are being told to 'reclaim our power' by purchasing land far away." The articles were accompanied by ads for stuff; wood stoves, olde timey tools, stuff. "Back to the land" was being marketed.

The thing about Pacific, or Aquarian Valley, or some of the other communities like The Land, is that in many ways they were reclamation of space. They weren't just "back to the land", though people there really wanted to be closer to nature, loved the mountains. People simply did stuff, with very little money, and hardly any "approval", and very little organised consumption. In the Valley, we just built the A-frame out of fallen timber, in a place where people gathered anyway. Other people moved further into the forest, and constructed small abodes. Pacific happened because the money ran out for the "official" high school, and the kids and some teachers just moved in, and built things.

Somewhere around Christmas of 1969, I came back to the Valley after having been away for a few weeks, and found no-one there. Asking around, I heard there'd been a raid. ..That some of the other more distant forest dwellers had also been raided. I never found out exactly what happened, but about that time, I moved to Star Hill. I don't remember how I heard about it, I think from someone in the Floating Lotus, who were living there then. It was a fairly fraught time in my life, I'd been working to catch the Mad Bombers, spending nights up waiting for them to throw a bomb through the windows, so we could get license numbers. They'd put a pipebomb through the window at the MFU, the Resistance, and attacked Keplers bookstore. Roy Kepler, a long-time peace activist, knew who they were, and had had a meeting with them, but the police took no action until finally the bombers bombed a city councilman.

Around that time, various government agencies had infiltrated the MFU, and tried to get it involved in violent political action. A lot of people left the Free University because of that. Finally, there was a demonstration where the police had orchestrated a major swoop on protesters. We'd gotten wind of this, and invited many shop-owners, councillors, and so on, to come and observe. Some agents provocateur encouraged throwing rocks at windows, and the police came in from positions on rooftops, and on all streets, collecting people and taking them to San Jose, where they terrorised them. The people arrested included many of the observers, and some councillors, and the subsequent outrage spurred investigations that led to both criticism of the police, and to revelations about the role of government agents in creating the "riot". It was a win of sorts, but overall a loss, and the Free U never really recovered from all this.

I sold my candle business, and moved to Star Hill, where I lived reclusively in a hollow redwood I found down the hill from the old sawdust burner. I didn't really socialise much, beyond swimming, and sharing in the evening observation of the sunset. This was a wonderful ceremony. There was a wide curve of grass, from which the land fell away to the the hills and the distant ocean. Each day, as the sun would set, people gathered to watch, standing quietly looking over the forested vista. It was a half-hour of stopping and sharing, that made me feel close to all the people there, even though I didn't interact much, generally.

I didn't live too long at Star Hill. At the beginning of 1971, I left for Europe and the Middle East, living in an old army ambulance, or in a cracked house in Amsterdam. I returned a couple of years later, living in Page Street near Ashbury, selling Buds Ice Cream on telegraph avenue from a small homemade cart, working with the Food Conspiracy as the cheese and herb buyer. That summer, my partner and I went to Mexico, and then moved to Synergia Ranch outside Santa Fe, one of the major successful SW communes. I was with the Synergias for 7 years, helping build the 100 foot junk Heraclitus, and sailing around the world. I left about the time they started getting into huge projects, which culminated with Biosphere II. I'd liked what we'd been doing in terms of small, low cost community development projects, and things like Project Tibet, but the things we started getting into seemed far from that.

In the 80s, I moved to Australia, and got involved with the Rajneesh neo-sanyass movement. I came back to the US for a while to live and work at Rajneeshpuram in Oregon, until that imploded.

I still think that communal living is one of the best ways people can live, but it is difficult, and our society makes it very difficult. The atomisation of community, with each of us being "an individual" who increasingly is expected to own a full range of stuff, certainly works to increase consumption, but now even nuclear families often don't work together. It's a crazy way of life, but feeds into our desire to each have our own path. The romance of extended families and of communes often ignores the fact that groups of people develop hierarchal structures of power, and these can become abusive and/or exclusive. Even if the "family patriarch and/or matriarch" is empathic and caring, it can be smothering for those who are different. This is as much a problem in communities as it was in old extended families.

Communal living makes sense. Sharing resources and tools makes sense. Living more intimately with a diverse range of people makes sense, too, even it it can be difficult. Living in communes, we tend to find friends and lovers, if they are populous enough, and if we hang in. Even people we don't like, we can often learn to get along with, knowing where the areas of problems will arise. Living isolated drains our emotive being, though much can be said for a contemplative/meditative life.

I don't really expect anyone to remember me, nor do I actually remember many people, but I do remember the places on Skyline as home. I lived in several, as a fringe-dweller, and just want to speak up for fringe-dwellers, and those of us who were less rooted in any specific place. It was a way of life, having several places I could live, contributing to their existence without any expectation of a say or of control. Maybe it was because I was young, and queer, often depressed, and by choice into contemplation/meditation. But the Skyline communities were part of my life, and the place I identify as "home".