blather storm (lolly) Mon 25 Sep 00 08:49
Yeah - that's how I pictured it. We used to come visit Coyote at Olema, and it was just, you know, an afternoon's enterprise. Also, was BB as much Coyote's place, or was he just another participant there? I had the impression that Olema was definitely Coyote's house. I was one of the people that, as you suggest, had the notion that there was this network of communes of which Olema was the most accessible but they were all part of a somewhat fluid community. How much did people move around among these joints, or was that a total fiction?
Gail Williams (gail) Mon 25 Sep 00 09:46
What a place to choose. That part of California -- in particular Sawyers Bar -- is still unimaginably remote. What year did you guys start? In 1970 long haired friends of mine from Oakland and Skyline high schools went hiking in the southern Trinity alps and were run out of the city park in Red Bluff on the way home. Where we were having a non-alcohol, non-smoking picnic, the only thing making us objectionable probably being loud conversation, generally dirty post-backbacking dust patina and said hair. And that's Red Bluff, a much bigger town on a major road. Sawyer's Bar was so culturally remote from all the bohemian and hip and revolutionary upwelling. Why choose that place part of the back country?
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 25 Sep 00 10:53
If Black Bear hadn't been so remote, hundreds of people would have probably passed through and stayed a few nights. That doesn't make for a stable community. It makes for more of a crash pad. To get to Black Bear you have to go down a twisting dirt road. Unless you know the way, you can't tell where to turn when that road meets and equally twisting, dirt logging road. Because it was remote, it took real desire to get there and real dedication to stay. And no, it wasn't coyote's place. The interesting thing about Black Bear was that it was never anyone's place. It was one of the few communes with no single charismatic leader. Anarchist in the best sense of the word, Black Bear was run communally. The land did (and still does) belong to no one and everyone, and everyone ran the place (although the meetings were often endless and the conversations sometimes a bit too lively). To reply to an earlier question: how did I know about Black Bear? I had friends from Berkeley who had gone up there to live. Did I think it would affect my novels? Nope. I wasn't a novelist at the time in any extensive sense. I had had one novel published by Shameless Hussy Press (one of the first feminist presses--a whole story in itself), but primarily I thought of myself as a poet. But I didn't go up there to write poetry. I went up there to live a different sort of life. I've always been uncomfortable with American materialism and in 1973, I was also acutely uncomfortable with American foreign policy in Vietnam. I figured there had to be a different, better, more real way to live. I found it at Black Bear. It wasn't a perfect place, but it gave you a new way of experiencing life.
Carol Hamilton (carolhamilton) Mon 25 Sep 00 11:58
In response to the question, "Why Sawyer's Bar?" I must say it was just luck. A group from S.F. provided the impetus to get the land, and they wanted a place where they could do anything they wanted without the oversight of the law. For this, they figured they needed a very remote place. When Elsa spotted Big Sky Realty, in Fort Jones, she yelled, "Stop." and went in to see their listings. Black Bear Ranch had been on the market for some time without any bites. It fit the criterion of being remote. It also didn't cost too much, was surrounded by National Forest, had clear year-round streams, a large mainhouse, a 100-yr-old barn, very tall grass, indicating fertility, fruit trees--in short, everything we were looking for. Sawyer's Bar was just incidental. They had the closest post office. We soon found more friends in Forks of Salmon and changed our post office box to Forks.
Susan Keese (susankmag) Mon 25 Sep 00 14:29
I want to re-emphasize Mary's remark about the difference between Olema and Black Bear. Though he tried at times to disavow the idea of hierarchy, Coyote was the leader of the commune at Olema. And I agree that one of the things that made Black Bear unique was the absence of a central charismatic figure (it often seemed that everyone was walking around as an archetype or hero of their own mythology) or unified philosophy. In fact, I think we overestimated, when we started, the extent to which our visions agreed. Everyone was into saying "Yeah man I dig," and making eye contact and assuming that they were on the same page. Or maybe I am just speaking for my very young self at the time.
whatsamatterU (dwaite) Mon 25 Sep 00 14:32
Sawyers Bar. hmm. I spent a summer hitchicking up and down the pacific coast. I may have been one of the few folks who crashed there for a couple of days. I met this wonderfull woman and her daughter in a (not a VS, but like a VW) mini-van, who invied me for a hot meal and a shower. I remember it being a commune of some sorts, but don't reember much else or anyones name. Summer of 78. I wonder if that's wehre I ended up. Were there other communities up in that area?
Mary Mackey (mm) Mon 25 Sep 00 15:21
If you had a hot shower, you weren't at Black Bear (unless we'd been baking bread and the water in the stove reservoir was hot and you happened to get there first). Were there a whole lot of people at the meal you had and did they all have their own plate and cup and a little cubby to put it in when they were done? If you ate with one or even four or five people, you were probably somewhere else.
blather storm (lolly) Mon 25 Sep 00 18:24
>>Though he tried at times to disavow the idea of hierarchy, Coyote was the leader of the commune at Olema. That rings so true with me - and I did indeed wonder about whether he was as influential up there too. This is so interesting!
Linda Castellani (castle) Mon 25 Sep 00 19:19
I was wondering, given the times, if there ever was a problem where people assumed you were like the Manson Family when Black Bear first started?
Don Monkerud (don-monkerud) Mon 25 Sep 00 20:53
Remember that the Manson family happened after we'd been living at BB for several years. I recall getting a copy of the NYT, Harriet's father gave us a subscription for a time, and we were all shocked and saddened by the Manson story. The Manson Family looked like us, sang and played guitar, lived communally and we felt that this would set us back years. People who saw us would instantly make the connection, or we feared they would. We saw the world as a straight-hip dichotomy. We fancied ourselves somewhat as outlaws also, living outside lawful society, smoking dope, dropping acid, having sex, letting it all hang out. But I will also agree with some earlier comments, people reacted to us in different ways. Most kept their distance and reacted fearfully, but some were attracted to the energy, the joy, the critique of the society. Funny to look back on a time when you could meet someone and have instant rapport just because of the way you looked.
Susan Keese (susankmag) Tue 26 Sep 00 05:00
I want to address two questions that have been asked.... one about whether Coyote was influential at Black Bear. Coyote was influential wherever he went. He has a commanding presence and is just that kind of person. But the forces fighting 'followership' were very strong in most of the individuals at Black Bear. When he visited and spoke, people listened as they would to a respected brother, then mostly went their own ways. I think too there was something in the irrepressible anarchy of BBR that offended Coyote's deep-seated affinity for order. I often thought I detected a judgmental edge in Coyote's attitude toward Black Bear, though I think we were all trying very hard not to be judgmental of anything at the time. Regarding the attitude of the locals towards us. Without disagreeing with what anyone else has said, I think it should be remembered that the so-called straight people who ended up living in a remote place like Sawyers Bar and Forks of Salmon were an odd lot in their own right, tough and freedom-loving and not always on the best terms with mainstream society themselves. Over the years People at the ranch formed many important relationships with their neighbors, especially with the local indians, the Karuk and Hoopa. There are quite a few stories in the book that go into detail about these friendships. Later on (long after I left, in the mid to late seventies) the remaining people at Black Bear -- of whom Malcolm was one -- formed a forestry cooperative called Ent, Inc that at one point employed more people than any other business in the area. I believe neighboring Yreka had a large Mormon population which could never become reconciled to the sinful ways of the communards.
whatsamaterU (dwaite) Tue 26 Sep 00 06:48
I don't recall a shower. but now that you mention it. I kinda felt on my own to eat, but ended up eating with the mother and her daughter. I crashed in what they called the big house, if that helps... Although I don't remember other houses, just a couple of sheds or small barns.
Earl Crabb (esoft) Tue 26 Sep 00 08:53
There were two stories in the book that mentioned an incident in which someone was burned, and two remedies were applied. In one story, the two remedies were applied side-by-side, and one side ended up with no scar, while the other scarred. In the other story, the two remedies were applied sequentially. Is it commonplace that such incidents are remembered so differently by BB people?
blather storm (lolly) Tue 26 Sep 00 12:44
>>Ent, Inc That is lovely!
low as dogs, high as kites (sd) Tue 26 Sep 00 12:51
who said the ents were moot?
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 26 Sep 00 14:13
Whatever happened to Coyote?
blather storm (lolly) Tue 26 Sep 00 14:24
He's around. Reasonably busy as an actor, mainly, I guess. I run into him from time to time up here in SF. Others will know better than I, for sure.
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Tue 26 Sep 00 15:24
This is Peter Coyote you're talking about, I presume?
dog (bud) Tue 26 Sep 00 15:58
Not to drift too much, but, although I enjoyed his book, his was the type of personality that I avoided back in "those days". The group I glued myself to wasn't very well known and we stayed around the Martinez area. Revolving between there and River Pines. Not very far away, but enough for us at the time.
blather storm (lolly) Tue 26 Sep 00 18:20
(Cynthia - yes.)
Linda Castellani (castle) Tue 26 Sep 00 19:02
So Peter Coyote was the charismatic leader of a commune near Olema, if I read this correctly? That's confusing to me, because I know that Peter Coyote spent some time at Black Bear. So he was actually at both??
Susan Keese (susankmag) Tue 26 Sep 00 19:57
To address Earl's question -- in working the book I was aware that two people recalled the story of Dick Valdez burns rather differently. We three editors talked about it and decided-- and stated in the intro, I believe -- that we would let each piece speak, Rashomen-style, for each person's memory. You know what they say about the sixties -- if you remember them, you weren't there. I think I have an excellent memory -- plus as a writer, I was taking notes, even back then. But when I passed the piece that I wrote around to double check it, there were people who said, 'That's not the way I remember it.' If you read all the pieces you will find that many of them contradict one another in spirit or viewpoint as well as in fact. But collectively I think they convey a sense of What It Was Like better than if we had narrowed it down to a single definitive version. There never was a single definitive version of anything at Black Bear!
Don Monkerud (don-monkerud) Tue 26 Sep 00 20:43
Coyote did visit several times. His bus broke down and a number of people stayed for several weeks at BB. He did carry on, stories, talk till all hours, plans running at 90 mph. Because several hundred people had come and Coyote stayed for this short period, some of us, me included, felt overwhelmed. We avoided the main house (no big house here) and ate in small groups, avoided the main house for the most part and did our own thing, complaining most of the time about too many people being there, how we were overrun etc. BB was always best when the roads were closed and there were fewer people, as I suppose any place is. In light of Susan's comments about the local people, my comments about how people thought of us had more to do with the outlying areas; especially places like Yreka and Etna, the nearest "towns." People who lived on the river gradually became friends, after an initially critical stance -- we were city kids, didn't know up from down, wouldn't last a season, etc. Some of the old timers had come from places like NYC during after the depression or WWII or the Korean War and adopted us, seeing in us, I believe the spirit of their own youth.
OZRO W. CHILDS (oz) Tue 26 Sep 00 22:08
I'm wondering how the Black Bear children turned out. Do you think most of them resented their unconventional childhood or teenage years, or look back on it with longing? Do the parents have regrets, or do they think their kids ended up far better and successful than they probably would have been otherwise (there are, of course, many possible definitions for "successful").
blather storm (lolly) Tue 26 Sep 00 22:57
(Maybe some helpful context re Coyote - he was one of the Diggers in the Haight area back in the 60s. Susan mentions them in her post <8>. It seemed to me - correct me if I'm wrong! - that many of the communes were spin-offs from or extensions of this group. Ron Thelin to Red House in Forest Knolls, Coyote to Olema - etc. Black Bear certainly prototypical, or at least to those of us who DIDN'T ever get up there, mythological. What are the others, Wheeler? um, what else? Anyway, whether or not there was really a sense of network probably depends on who you talk to. But Coyote was pretty well known among this crowd, as he was a rather charismatic guy and he collected devotees to some extent. You can read his memoir, "Sleeping Where I Fall" for his own point of view.)
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