Camp Meeker Beat
I was a little short of hard news when writing this column, so I took a really long walk today to gather ideas. I still don’t have much, but I had a fantastic hike. It was one of those perfect Camp Meeker afternoons, with a bright blue sky, and deep shady spots under the trees whenever the going gets a little sweaty. I was reminded with every step that we live in a pretty special place, a place where you can walk out your front door and walk for as long as you want without ever seeing a road. I have to talk myself into getting off the couch and out the front door – “just a little out-and-back hike. An hour, tops, and back to the game.” Then I get out there, lose track of time, and come back three hours later with another half dozen new trails to try. If I could only rid myself of the need to make a living…
Come to think of it, there is a rich history of people trying to do just that in the west county. Two of the most famous such attempts are within a leisurely bicycle ride of Camp Meeker. I’m talking about Morning Star Ranch and Wheeler Ranch, as the many OG Hippies reading this are surely now nodding sagely and perhaps a touch smugly. “I knew you were going to say that,” they reply with that familiar twinkle in the eye.
For those young neo-hippies of today who are not up on their psychedelic history, the first flowering of the famed Haight-Ashbury neighborhood happened in roughly 1966, and by the media-saturated Summer of Love, things were already pretty sour in the Haight (much like today, in fact). That’s when them that had resources escaped to the country, the great hippie diaspora. One of those that had resources was musician Lou Gottlieb, the bass player for the folk combo The LimeLiters. Lou had bought himself a 32-acre spread on Graton Road in 1962 as a tax shelter and investment. Lou was originally going to subdivide and develop, but then in 1963…he tried LSD. You know the rest: by 1966 Gottlieb was tired of the road life and full of Haight-Ashbury utopianism. He cleaned out the egg storage shed and installed the essentials: a mattress, a desk, and a grand piano. He set about to woodshedding, with the goal of making his debut as a concert pianist at the age of fifty (he was 42 at the time). Oh, and he declared his 32 acres “open land”, free to anyone who wanted to show up and live there.
Well, word got around as word does, and the next thing you know a full-blown hippie commune was in full swing off Graton Road. One of the early residents was my own KOWS colleague, the redoubtable Wilder Bentley. Fifty or sixty people (the number fluctuated) living in communal clothing-VERY-much-optional bliss. Art, music, weed, free love, communal gardening, spiritual questing, nudity, mushrooms, brown rice, yoga, macrobiotics, and plenty of interpretive dance.
At first, all was bliss – the barefoot flower children now coming into Occidental for groceries or whatever were well known for their constant smiles and laughter and peaceful philosophizing. Morning Star had another nickname – “Digger Farm” – because The Diggers, an enigmatic Haight-Ashbury-based gang of radical anarchist free-thinkers, had a habit of providing free food for all comers in the Panhandle region of Golden Gate Park. Much of this food – apples, plums, eggs – came from Morning Star Ranch. Revolution was in the air, remember?
But (then as now) not everyone enjoyed living next to a hippie commune. Their closest neighbor was the late and legendary cartoonist Charles Schulz, and although Schulz never put any complaints on record, other neighbors did. Cutting to the chase, eventually the neighbors’ complaints reached the Sheriff’s department and the Pentagon (draft dodgers, don’t you know) and the end was inevitable - health code violations and unpermitted carpentry eventually provided the justification to bring in the bulldozers, around 1973.
There’s more to the story, of course – I didn’t even talk about Wheeler Ranch. That will have to wait for another column.