Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 22 Sep 00 09:35
Our next guests are the editors of FREE LAND: FREE LOVE: Tales of a Wilderness Commune a collection of stories by the members of one of the oldest communes still in existence, Black Bear. Don Monkerud, Malcolm Terence, and Susan Keese, all early residents of Black Bear, are the editors of the book. Don is now a freelance writer and editor, based in Santa Cruz. Malcolm teaches math and Special Education at Santa Cruz High School. Susan is a freelance writer and columnist living in Vermont. The book is published by the Black Bear Mining and Publishing Company, and contains stories by the three editors and about three dozen other Black Bears, (including the WELL's own Mary Mackey), some of whom will participate. (We'll introduce them, or they will introduce themselves as they appear.) The interviewer is Earl Crabb <esoft>, who's done a lot of strange things in his life, but has never lived on a commune for more than one night in a row! He is a co-host of the News, Digest, and Engaged conferences on the WELL, and has been online for thirty-five years. Please join me in welcoming Don, Malcolm, Susan and Earl to inkwell.vue!
Earl Crabb (esoft) Fri 22 Sep 00 10:00
Hey, welcome to the editors, authors, and other Black Bears and friends! The book is a collection of stories, poems, interviews, and drawings about the Black Bear commune, which started in the '60's and is still going! So my first question is, why now and how? How did the idea of making the book come up, and especially how did the idea of having the contributors evolve? Was it an open call to the Bears, or did you recruit writers? Why is this the time to publish?
Linda Castellani (castle) Fri 22 Sep 00 14:11
Just a reminder to those of you who are reading along on the Web, if you have comments or questions for any of the participants, please send them to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will see that they get posted for you.
Kathy Whilden (wildini-k) Fri 22 Sep 00 16:17
I have started reading the book and feel flooded with memories of those times. How has it changed so much in the last thirty years. I didn't particiapte in Black Bear commune but I certainly remember the desperate feelings of the time.
Mary Mackey (mm) Fri 22 Sep 00 20:23
Hi, I'm Mary Mackey, a Bear (although of short duration at the ranch), and very much a Well regular. My commune seems to be in cyberspace these day, but I loved the summer I spent living at Black Bear in the early 70s, and the experience has had a lasting influence on my novels and poetry. To the best of my memory, I got email from Don asking me to contribute an essay. Also, he had found a sheaf of poems I had written while I was living in a mosquito house (a tree house platform covered by mosquito net). Black Bear was a wonderful place to writer. You had both community and silence--a hard combination to come up with--and I think the rhythms of the stream made their way into my poetry and can still be found there.
Don Monkerud (don-monkerud) Fri 22 Sep 00 20:58
I'm sure Malcolm will weigh in on this for he had the first idea of a book to recount our experiences. Strangely enough, I sent a proposal about a book on Black Bear around in 1973 or so, but there was no interest from publishers. There was a previous book, January Thaw, put out at the time, but was about what people were experiencing at the moment. Malcolm mentions that he wanted to collect the stories for the kids. For my part, I have a novel, Bear Dance, that I've been working on for the past 25 years, as well as diary entries, short stories from the time and other snippets of experiences. My stories come from my notebooks of the time. I'm a full-time writer so I had more time to spend on this than most of the other people. Susan, Malcolm and I divided up the writers to contact, in addition to putting out a "lowering expectations" edition at BB reunion. Entries began to flood in from people. It was a great way to reconnect with people from then, and continues to be as I get calls and emails from people who have been out of touch for 30 years. Why now? Peter Coyote's book, "Sleeping Where I Fall," came out and I thought there might be interest in this period. May people are trying to forget the 60s and what they did then. Ronald Reagan and the right wing reaction to almost everything we stood for has led quite a few people to denounce their past, to hide under rocks or to simply keep quite about the 60s. Newspapers and experts offered advice a few years ago to lie to your children about what you did then, so your past behavior wouldn't give your children cause to do things that you dont' approve of. Producing the book now is a way to take back our history.
Earl Crabb (esoft) Fri 22 Sep 00 21:32
How many Black Bears are there, in all? How many are you still able to reach? The book _seems_ like it is more heavily weighted toward the earlier years, the late sixties and early seventies...is this true, or is just that at Black Bear it is still like the sixties/seventies?
Linda Castellani (castle) Sat 23 Sep 00 02:14
And I would like to know why you left!
Susan Keese (susankmag) Sat 23 Sep 00 09:32
Hi. I'm Susan and I live in New England now, but during the late sixties and early seventies I was part of a farflung alliance, mostly up and down the California coast, of people who were trying to re-invent society. At the core (tho even this is subject to debate, we were so anarchistic) was a group called the diggers, who tried to organize a new society called Free City in San Francisco -- free stores, free food, free fishing commune, free bakery commune, outposyt communes up and down the coast. Black Bear was the farthest outpost, incredibly remote. We were mostly middle class people but our vision was that we would be classless and forgo whatever privelege we were born to, and this I (naively) believed. When me moved up to Black Bear Ranch in the late summer and fall of 1968, I think most of us believed we were going to throw out all the rules of a messed-up society, and create a new one that Made Sense. That first winter we also had a bunch of black militants from Oakland with us who thought they were going to have to learn to survive in the wilderness when the revolutionary shit hit the fan in the cities. Working on the Black Bear Book, editing the pieces my fellow communards wrote, confirmed my sense that many of us came with quite differing visions of what our new society would look like -- some amongst us were political, some ethereal, some were artists, some thought art was frivolous. Though we talked ENDLESSLY, we put a lot of faith in unspoken communication in those days, and I think we used catch-phrases Like "yeah, man, I dig! "-- to fool ourselves into thinking we were all on the same page. I believe me made some of the most interesting mistakes in history, and that society has benefited in many ways. I had been out of touch with Black Bear for many years when I visited some old friends in Calif while taking my daughter to look at colleges in 1990. One old friend said I ought to try to write the stories of Black Bear. I came back the next year and started taking oral histories, but the project never took off. Then Don and Malcolm hit on this idea of having everyone write their own story. I was happy to be invited to help, and to be put back in contact with so many old friends. To answer one other question -- I don't think there is any one person who spans the whole life of the ranch, tho many come closer than me. Black Bear ended up being a place where people go to learn something --a lot of practical skills, but more than that -- and then move on. A new group of young people are doing that now, while some of the old hands (working our gigs wherever) debate at annual meetings whether we ought to get insurance in case there's an accident! Guess that's all for now. Susan
Mary Mackey (mm) Sat 23 Sep 00 09:45
Life was very hard at the ranch, but very exciting. All sorts of strange and wonderful (and sometimes strange and not so wonderful) people managed to make it down the road. Many things we take for granted first surfaced strongly in places like Black Bear: the women's movement, gay rights, ecological awareness, herbal healing, natural childbirth. I'm sure other Bears can add more to the list. I particularly remember my experiences with the communal child-rearing. It was never completely communal, but in many ways every child at the ranch had dozens of adults who were (at least in part) mothers and fathers (maybe aunts and uncles would be more accurate). Children had more contact with their parents and their parents' lives at Black Bear than most children in ordinary American society could imagine. In some ways, living there was like living in a small village in, say, 1420. Except, of course, that our political and intellectual discussions had little in common with those of the 15th century.
Don Monkerud (don-monkerud) Sat 23 Sep 00 10:21
To answer Earl's questions... the early years were certainly the most exciting with from 50 to 150 people at BB at any given time, depending upon the season. People coming and going for eight months out of the year; the roads close due to mud and snow the other months. Why people stayed and why they left goes back to individual stories. No followers were allowed! That thinned the groupies, but also left us with many people with strong opinions. Throw that into the mix. When we turned BB into a land trust we were inclusive rather than exclusive and came up with a list of around 500 people who had lived there or had an interest in the place. The list has grown with time... needless to say there aren't 50 people living there now, but the population varies. Why more writings from people in the beginning? Good question. Maybe we're more settled than the younger people, maybe in closer connection, at least with each other. The children born there now are having children so the list grows. People who lived there recently are now having children. These stories, I suspect, will be more personal than covering a swath of 50 to 100 people sitting down to dinner, or roasting a goat or all going out to plant the gardens.
Earl Crabb (esoft) Sat 23 Sep 00 11:47
When you first started Black Bear, did you think it would last this long? Would you have set things up differently if you had been as wise as you are now?
Susan Keese (susankmag) Sat 23 Sep 00 14:35
I think we were very apocalyptic, tho it wasn't necessarily stated overtly. I don't think most of us could imagine ANYTHING lasting 30 years, including ourselves. If we had been as wise as we are now we would probably have convinced ourselves is wasn't possible to buy the ranch,let alone make it through the winter on the resources we had. That kind of youthful ignorance is very valuable in its power to stretch a culture and its paradigms.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (peoples) Sat 23 Sep 00 15:49
> I believe me made some of the most interesting mistakes in > history, and that society has benefited in many ways. > -- Susan Keese What do you mean by "interesting mistakes," Susan. Can you give some examples? And will you elaborate on how society has benefited from them?
Bud Burlison (bud) Sun 24 Sep 00 00:11
This interview has my rapt attention. I'm grateful to the hosts, and <esoft> of course. Play on.
Earl Crabb (esoft) Sun 24 Sep 00 10:57
Questions for Mary, who spent a summer at Black Bear well after it was established: how did you know about Black Bear, what attracted you to go, and why did you stay only for the summer? Do you think staying for a winter might have affected your novels? And for anyone/everyone: How would you characterize the people that have been living on the ranch in recent years? Are they the young idealists of early years? Middle-aged escapists?
Malcolm Terence (malcolmterence) Sun 24 Sep 00 15:52
Black Bear was like grad school. Many people need to go but you shouldn't stay there forever. At the time we thought the ancien regime would come crumbling down and we would be called on to help establish the new order. Our models were Mao and Che, you remember. You think to yourself that neither of them exactly had a society crumble for their convenience. Our brethren in the underground understood history better than we did. But the impact of black bear is durable and can be measured in ways we could not anticipate. 1. It changed each one of us. Few of us left as we came. (That's the grad school part.) 2. The property has been continuously occupied by our successors trying in their own way to define community. It is to their credit that they don't try to have 60 people living there at once. 3. It built a community the sustains over space and time with hundreds of us still in touch. Our children continue the community on their own momentum, a rarity in our age-ist culture. I have one question: What of the title, Free Land: Free Love? It provoked more criticism among the contributing writers than any other issue. It was the Free Love part. Certainly we never would have used the phrase in those long-gone days. It was something a visiting logger might have said in hopes of finding a little. I confess that I like the title with it's soft cascade of irony.
whatsamatterU (dwaite) Sun 24 Sep 00 17:22
I'm with Bud. This is a find discussion and I'm enjoying myself while reading so far. Please keep it up.
Workers of the World, Doubleclick!!! (natedog) Sun 24 Sep 00 18:15
Just wanted to say that I've been reading _Free Land, Free Love_ for a few days now, and it is a VERY interesting book. Not having been alive in the 60's and 70's, I'm finding the book to be a great window into that culture. Truely enlightening! Just one question right now: How were the inhabitants of Black Bear viewed by society at large?
Arf! (mcdee) Sun 24 Sep 00 19:45
I did live through that period, and can tell you that that is a question with no simple answer -- people involved in communes and other serious counter-culture vortices were viewed with everything from envy and admiration to hatred and contempt. With a lot of general puzzlement floating around too.
Don Monkerud (don-monkerud) Sun 24 Sep 00 19:54
Straight people viewed us as complete freaks! Scary! Etc. We have an article in the book by one of the local women about when a bunch of us came down to the Sawyers Bar school and everyone said they weren't hungry anymore because they were afraid that they would get sick from our food. Imagine a bunch of folks who show up together, have a reputation for sex, drugs and rock and roll and the viewer steps back and looks at them. They all have hair down to their waists, they wear boots, the women in long mostly handmade skirts, and the men with torn and ripped jeans, feathers hanging from their hair, ear rings! and a knife hanging from their belts. They laugh a lot, touch each other a lot... get the picture?
Arf! (mcdee) Sun 24 Sep 00 19:59
I know this is an interview topic, so I'll shut up after this, but when I was riding around the country on my bike with hair down to here (in the company of a bunch of equally odd-looking companions), I had straight people invite me into their homes, cook me meals, give me rides when I got lost... and I had people threaten me and throw things at me. I don't doubt that small-town Northern California folks thought commune- dwellers were weirder than shit, but the response of straight America to hippies in general was very complex, and not always negative. Except in Wyoming.
Don Monkerud (don-monkerud) Sun 24 Sep 00 20:02
A comment about the effect we had on the society . Malcolm listed several things and I could list more but Id like to mention something that most of us take for granted today that didnt exist then. Part of it grew out of the womens movement and part from living so closely together. Before I went to BB and well into my stay there, I could argue with the best of them. Debate. Shout others down. Talk over them. Denounce them in the most unpleasant terms. Over time these responses changed. Rather than saying, "Youre completely f***ed for doing that," we learned to say something like, "You know that really bothered me." A concern for others feelings that didnt exist before? A respect for each other that wasnt as common in the society at large at the time? At the last reunion, we had several discussions where 50 people sat around in a group and let each other finish before speaking. I dont think that would ever have happened before BB, but I think that it evolved. Not that we were the only ones to do this; it was happening in other places too. Just pointing out that a sense of community, of respect for each person was fostered then and allowed to exists. The Reaganite hordes, of course, are turning this back and were seen as freaks for our sensibilities in California, but I think this was a contribution to society.
Susan Keese (susankmag) Sun 24 Sep 00 20:12
While I was typing my response to an earlier question, some other conversation came in -- I agree with what Don said regarding how people learned to listen and hear one another out, and live together with real respect. In answer to the question, what did I mean, we made some of the most interesting mistakes in history.... Operating under the premise that we were throwing out all the old rules and reinventing society, we followed many different ideas out to their logical (or illogical) conclusions. IT was a radical no-holds-barred time and we buoyed and challenged one another to take things to the limit. Through our experiemnts, we threw ourselves into a future that didn't exist until a bunch of brave fools put themselves out there Ideas came and went. For a while commuinalism was taken to the limit -- for a time personal living spaces were considered burgeoise and everybody moved into the ranch's big main house together. For a period of time (after I was gone) you couldn't even lay claim to your own blue jeans.... if you found a pair you liked, once they went into the communal wash, they were fair game for anyone. Things like this couldn't last for ever but a lot was learned in the process. WE learned that you couldn't build a shitter upstream from your drinking water. We experimented with sexual identity and the nature of the family. Why not have two partners, or more? Why not raise our kids communally? There was a male chauvanist period (which couldn't last)where the women were doing communal diapers and the men were out shooting deer and playing paul bunyon with chain saws... then there was a winter when the men were all off doing one thing or another and the women took over the ranch ("Hey," said my friend Gail "This winch is wound all wrong!") There were was a time when art was looked down upon as a frivolous affectation; There was a time when the dreamers and the doers split up into separate camps; there were experiments with food sources and power sources and healing, and many things were learned. There were mistakes made slaughtering animals, flirtations with cults -- you name it. There was the the first winter when the black militants moved up from Oakland and we were faced with clashing notions of what it meant to be a revolutionary. There was the illusion that we could disavow our privilege and separate ourselves from the culture that gave rise to us. But so much was learned!
blather storm (lolly) Sun 24 Sep 00 22:01
How much different was BB from Olema? Were differences based on proximity (and lack of same) from town? I assume it must've been a pretty big deal, emotionally, to move so far away.
Susan Keese (susankmag) Mon 25 Sep 00 05:35
Having lived at Olema too, after Black Bear, I can say that pro-ximity to town was a big factor in the difference. Once you negotiated that nine-mile road from Sawyers Bar (the town itself was unimaginably remote) to Black Bear ranch, you were In There, with all that might imply./ Getting out was a project. Olema was half a mile off the highway the passed through Marin to the coast -- It was a place where all sorts of Zu Zus and Wham Whams (as Coyote used to call store-bought treats) were available. Though our goals -- of creating our own society -- were the same, or almost the same, there were many more worldly distractions at Olema.. I do think most people visualized Olema and BB ranch as two pieces of a network of Free City outposts up and down the coast, but the ranch was definitely more removed from Amerika. Coyote sometimes called Olema "Olema Waystation." Black Bear was definitely the end of the road.
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