A Community Experiment…Circa 1970s

Santafe.com - September 2, 2011

"The laidback California vibe penetrated our minds like some sacred elixir..."

The 1960s brought the emergence of a new culture desiring to align with the natural world, a disenfranchised generation repulsed by mindless materialism, seeking alternatives in most all aspects of life. The quest was for peace, not war, love, not hate, and a communion with the mother earth that spawned a movement back to the land, and toward most things natural, from clothing, to diet, to medicine, to childbirth, to active participation in, and attunement to the body, mind and spirit. 

Of course there was a noticeable level of dysfunction. After all, it was also the drug culture, born out of mostly middle to upper middle class homes, where the emotional and interpersonal dysfunction drove many to a lifestyle that promised expansion, pleasure, peace and freedom.  Many longed to leave behind the social stresses, and neuroses that resulted from the mindless conformity of the day and the prepackaged beliefs about our human experience.  We attempted to look beyond the culture that had morphed into isolation and despair.  The assassination of our inspired leaders fostered a greater distrust of the establishment, and by 1970 the movement toward expanded realities built up a head of steam.

And to that end, having braved and survived the demonstrations, incarcerations, bad acid trips, a missed ride to Woodstock, STDs, and the disdainful  condemnation of the self-righteous mainstream, I packed my bags with my young hippie wife, got dropped off at the on ramp of Interstate 70, and stuck out our thumbs to solicit a new life in California.

I had witnessed the police celebrating with the fans even when it turned to a massive riot after the Ohio State Buckeyes crushed Michigan in my freshman year, but those same police showed no mercy while cracking heads after the Cambodian invasion three years later.  After all, a riot resulting from a coveted football victory is acceptable behavior, to be expected from a throng of intoxicated youth.  But youth with a conscience, exercising their civil liberty to protest an unjust war, well that certainly called for some tuff love… like a little tear gas, clubbing, hair pulling and arrest. I had definitely seen enough, and so, it was time to “get outta Dodge”. 

The Northern California coast was rapidly becoming a Mecca for the counterculture.  Just that previous year, the oil spill along Stinson Beach attracted countless volunteers. Some were castaways from a society that had for so long encouraged conformity and unquestioned consumerism.  Now the motivation appeared to be spurred by the desire to aid in the cleanup of this delicate ecology and to help save the numerous seabirds drenched in oil.  Seagulls, egrets, great blue herons and pelicans struggled for their existence, while countless sea creatures panicked to avoid the slicks that framed the coastline. 

And during this focused campaign there evolved a perspective of how incredibly beautiful this natural setting was, how this waterfront estuary represented such an amazing interplay of varying species and life forms, all interdependent and now struggling for survival as a result of this manmade intrusion.  And after the battle had been won and the coastline restored, many of those volunteers decided to stay on, inhabiting the nearby hamlets of Bolinas, Stinson Beach, Olema, Point Reyes Station and Inverness.  For decades, the local population had consisted of hardcore locals, fishermen, part-time summer residents and some occasional surfers. But in the few short years that followed, the population of the Bolinas-Stinson school mushroomed from around 50 youngsters to well over 200. 

The new generation had definitely discovered this pristine setting along the West Marin coast, and it wasn’t just young American refugees looking to create an alternative reality. Numerous international travelers had made the pilgrimage as well. This nicely tucked away slice of nirvana became an iconic model for alternative living, and, conveniently isolated from the mainstream by the harrowing, snake-like Highway 1 that traversed the great sleeping lady, Mt. Tamalpais, separating West Marin from the rest of the Bay Area.  Residents often described everywhere else in the world (other than the local enclave) as “over the hill”.  There was also talk that given that the San Andreas Fault ran directly up Highway 1, when the “Big One” occurred Bolinas would become an island.  It was already leaning toward being its own nation state.

We felt captivated wherever we looked. The laidback California vibe penetrated our minds like some sacred elixir.  Live music and song floated in the breeze. The smell of eucalyptus dominated, but countless exotic scents filled the air.  When descending the mountain into Stinson Beach, the expanded horizon included a vista that stretched northward along the coast toward the Pt. Reyes National Seashore.  The sunsets along the coast were breathtaking. The contrast of our previous four years in Columbus offered nothing to compare. The gray winter skies and overcast, muggy Ohio summers were about to be permanently removed from our experience. 

Of course we hadn’t yet fully prepared ourselves for the bone chilling effects of coastal fog. We were too enamored with the creativity, cultural diversity and permeating sense of freedom.  It didn’t take long for Sherry and I to realize that our return to the Midwest would be very brief, merely long enough to sell off the bulk of our belongings and make a quick turnaround to this magical “hippie heaven” that awaited our return.

In the years that followed I felt wrapped in the tribal experience of community gardens, feasts, fundraisers, barnraisers, parades, dances, music, theatre and festival. There was shared childcare, classes in alternative healing, herbal medicine, yoga, meditation and everything with regard to the arts.  Beyond the expected rock bands, there was community theater, dance performances, singing ensembles, the local orchestra and even a quilting club. The first local recycling program required willing volunteers to adorn goggles while smashing  glass with a sledge hammer in 55 gallon drums.  In those days, it was the only way the hauler would take it away. 

The sheer level of creativity and community spirit was coupled with a slight bit of an “us against the world” mindset that fostered a deep sense of unity. The sign on Highway 1 read…”Bolinas 2 miles."  It was always removed as quickly as the county could replace it. There were even tee shirts printed that showed the infamous sign with the arrow pointing in the wrong direction.  Yet, for all the community ego-centricity, there lived within this social experiment a common intention for real and lasting community, born out of the common need for freedom, self expression and the web of safety as provided by the acceptance that typical mainstream society could never provide.

The preceding is an excerpt from my upcoming book, “Unicopia, An Evolution of Community Consciousness,” available through Schiffer Publishing in 2012.

Reach the author at faren@unicopia.org or on www.unicopia.org. Follow on Twitter.