Dangerously organic!

In the winter of 1970 a group of strangers migrated from cities to the Santa Fe Community School in Santa Fe, New Mexico where this odyssey began. If there can be a beginning for anything that happens in life, since now I know: Life is a smooth if sometimes irregular and uncertain ongoing creation story, from the big bang to this moment. We each brought with something with us that became a part of the whole.
Like a spark of spirit.
A simple spark inside that was being stoked;
A soul seeking joy and freedom.
Hippiedom, was going on in Santa Fe in the 60s. I was brought there by the stories I heard about a cultural revolution going on there. I was especially moved by a picture, on the cover of Look or Life magazine of a bearded man sitting on a mountain peak in a meditative pose. Inside the magazine, was a story of a holy man jam that occurred outside of Santa Fe. A gathering of holy men, yogis, meditation teachers. Something inspired me and I wanted to be part of the happening.
After ten years of Los Angeles,
I had had enough of big city.
I knew something was out of place there,
It was me.
I was turning 30; 1969.
Knew I could be trusted
Even if the younger ones were saying,
“Don’t trust anyone over 30.”
Imagine that.
I didn’t.
Many of us serendipitously came together at the school, drawn to finding a new camaraderie in fellow seekers that eventually took us to Arkansas. John Jordan, (Janga Ganga), Ken Taylor (Ken Dubie) and Lorraine their kids, Jennie and Robin. Phyllis and Carol, Lance, Kenny to become Kenge, all from Ann Arbor, staunch, anti war activists; Robert national SDS leader and his wife Linda, Bobby and Trudy Dubie all from Austin, Donnie and Kathy, their son Aaron from Austin too. Independently, eight of the above were hired to work in this innovative, open classroom style grammar school. We worked cohesively together, with a serious intent of helping create a new style of education. All of us had some background in education, if not in working with young children, than at least getting our own education. I had worked in the Head Start program for three years near Long Beach, California, one year as a head teacher, so naturally, when I came to enroll Miguel, I was hired to work with the younger children. A year later I was voted by the parents to be vice principal a roll I didn’t quit know what to do with. When Bobby came, he and I teamed up working as shop and p.e. teachers. Bobby, from Brooklyn, began to call me “Coach” as we played ball with the kids. That nickname stayed with me through the commune years, and for decades after.
Moved by powers beyond self-understanding,
A synergy of light and love caught us in a web,
Of personal and collective transformation.
No one told us a thing about what was going on,
Because no one knew anything,
But something large was happening.
When the school year was over we were all invited to move out on the land, to Apache Canyon, outside of Santa Fe. There, a man and his wife lived in a teepee with their five children who attended the school. We, the teachers, were invited to join their effort in farming, living together sharing a new dream for America ─ for our collective selves.
The first day I ever saw Apache Canyon,
Remains a standout day for seeing something beyond my dreams.
Standing on the edge of the canyon,
Looking down at the teepee,
The slight meandering stream,
Slowly moving through the narrow canyon,
The garden fenced in from the small herd of goats;
The most idyllic scene I had ever witnessed,
Little did I know, soon I’d be living there.
We had the invitation, but we had to provide our own shelters. A few had tents; Robert and Linda built a tree house, I did the simplest and least expensive thing I could do ─ bought a ten foot square piece of tarpaulin for me and Miguel to sleep under. I staked it to the ground in the back and raised the front with some branches, putting branches, leaves and twigs around the sides to protect us from ─ from what? I had no clue, from anything that wanted in, which certainly would have had no trouble squiggling through my strainer like barrier. I trusted it would be safe as well as dry, since it barely rained in Santa Fe. My first experience living primitively. It all felt natural, easy, right. For all of us ─ a year earlier, living in cities and now living as primitives; maybe there were recessed, genetic memories of being nomads.
Bob Freeman and his wife, settlers of the land, wanted to share their dream of a collective hope. Unfortunately, they couldn’t share or reconcile their own dream together and in a few, brief, summer weeks, they separated and we were left with a red bearded, giant of man, set on being the master of the community. He had meetings weekly, or wanted them, in the teepee, reading the Tarot cards, or maybe reading I Ching, reading what the future was brining to us. Well, for me, only having my first taste of anything spiritual, it didn’t make any sense. And none of us planned on having some one tell us how we were to live our lives. We just wouldn’t have it that way. One day he pulled up all the dubie plants we planted together. He was being told by God, or the tarot cards, not to smoke pot any more. We knew then, we had to be getting on our way. We sat, watching, in stark other worldly amazement, as this righteous madman, bent on carrying out the word, someone’s word, carried the bundle of early harvested plants to a hastily built stone alter for a sacrifice. My previous sacrilegious joke that, “you can’t tell the alters from a pile of stones,” seemed appropriate, because the dubie didn’t burn ─ too green, the alter built too quickly.
It’s not as if we didn’t want to be doing the thing there, like digging a well which only meant two of us going into a ten foot deep hole in the ground and shoveling wet mud into a bucket, while others pulled up the bucket with ropes, emptied it and sent the bucket back down. Sure, I’ll do that, put me at the top of the sign up list. We all had a new of experience doing that. Or making adobe bricks. I had a lot of training doing that in New Jersey and the others, as anti-war activists, it was part of the revolution. We were real good at making adobe bricks. Sometimes, eight or ten of us working all day, making less than a 100 bricks, almost as many at the 80 year old Mexican-American woman made by her self. Well, she wasn’t smoking dope or dancing and singing as she made her bricks. We had our priorities she had hers, yeah, like survival.
When Big Red Beard pulled up the dubies, we figured it was time to get on with our lives. We discussed an alternative life style to this alternative life style. Time for a road trip, maybe buy land in Arkansas, beat the hippie rush to cheap virgin land. But being so certain, we also discussed finding a house to dismantle and rebuild it in Apache Canyon. I volunteered to drive the mountains around Taos which I loved anyway, looking for the rumored house. I left the next day and enjoyed driving aimlessly, asking people I happened to meet on rural dirt roads about a house. When I finally came up with a “maybe” I left, since in back of my mind I was wondering if this is what we really wanted to do, when we didn’t like Big Red Beard.
When I got back to Apache Canyon, I was met with the certainty that everyone agreed to buy the bus, do the road trip and buy land in Arkansas. I was a bit dismayed, since I had just put out this effort, even knowing it may not mean much. I also had fallen in love, again, with Belle, and wanted to see her more, but with no pressure, I was asked, “are you on the bus or off?” Naturally I had Miguel to consider. I had my VW van which I had driven from Los Angels. I wasn’t sure, but decided on the road trip across country.
But before we left, it was touchy with us being around Big Red Beard. There was some antagonism towards him in how he ran off his wife and kids, or how they ran off to get away from him. We were also angry at him for the dubie being pulled up and for wanting to be in charge. One afternoon, as we sat with him discussing the issues, our talk became heated and Kenge, 20 years old and slight build, stood up to the Beard, right in his face, and it almost became violent as Big Red Beard grabbed Kenge, but soon released him.
Well, it was his place, although he didn’t own the land, but he had put a lot of time and energy into creating an almost ideal farm environment and we were learning from him, but didn’t want to be taking orders from anyone really. It didn’t take much to pull up our make-shift shelters, well, especially mine. We bought an old school bus, fixed it up and for a month we traveled across country, to return to New Mexico for the fall semester at the school, before leaving in the spring for Arkansas where land had been purchased by two couples, who split off from the caravan on their mission to Arkansas. They did good ─ forty acres for $4,000. Seemed like a good deal.
Our caravan was a magical mystery trip ala Ken Kensy’s “Cool Aide Acid Trip,” in fact some one said the bus we bought had been his. We weren’t nearly that far out, but something was moving through us and we didn’t want to chicken out.
Colorado was special, traveling through the enchanted Rocky Mountains. I remember being so surprised seeing hippies living in the most unassuming small villages. Why surprised, when in New Mexico, ex-city folks were living the same; small adobe houses throughout those desolate, dry, but pristine, mountains. Yeah, even under a piece of tarp in an isolated canyon.
One night our caravan pulled over on the side of the road in order to cook spaghetti. I remember the menu. There was a rain storm; it was good time to stop. A dozen of us in the bus, our two other vehicles parked in front. One of the women, Phyllis, I believe, became concerned that there was a car in back of us with a few men standing in the rain outside their car. Maybe because I was the oldest, or “Coach,” or because I had a son with us, I got off the bus and went to see what they wanted. Soon, I was joined by Janga wearing his serape. In no uncertain words they told us they didn’t want any more hippies around, since some had burned down a barn where they were squatting. I explained, “we’re only cooking a meal and then we’ll be gone.” “No, you’re not going to cook the meal,” they told us, “leave now.” Since it wasn’t up for discussion and we didn’t entertain any confrontation, we took the spaghts off the stove, drove about ten miles to a state park. Seemed like a safe move.
The next afternoon some of us went to town for supplies. When we returned to the camp we were followed by the same boys that ran us off the night before. Except now there were more. They got out of two cars, stood in the rear of the bus. Waiting. Since I had talked with them the night before and was the oldest, not by much, I followed through and went to the back door of the school bus and squatted down on the edge of the bus, and began my peace talk telling them what we were about. Soon after I began my pow wow, the Gange Boogie Band, my live back-up, lived up to its name, struck up some music. Janga could play the guitar and sing good ole country and western songs leading the others helping ease the tension of our confronters. Maybe they were curious, because soon they were less fearful, wanting to know more. I kept talking. Before long, some wine was offered to us, we in turn shared some of the early harvested dubie and a party ensued, with them feeling safe, getting the hint we were just having a good time, now assured, knowing we were soon on our way. They even drove to town to get more wine. As we danced I noticed a gun stuck in back of the man’s pants I had my conversation with. They were prepared ─ fortunately, kind words, maybe divine, since I didn’t know what I had to say; words just came through. Words worked better then confrontation which we had no inkling for anyway, although there were rifles on the bus.
For those that came from anti war city protests, guns were part of the revolution more as a defense, against Texans or right wing supporters of the war. The few men who were interested every once in a while, did some target shooting; a bit of hunting. I have imprinted in my memory of Donnie and Bobby coming back to main house in Nogo, carrying frogs over their shoulders like big game hunter. Maybe it was my imagination, but I sensed, in their walk, a feeling of pride in having hunted successfully. Frogs? really boys. I never shot a gun. My father never did. It’s something.
Colorado must have had its fill of hippies as rip-offs.
We weren’t beyond that.
In Santa Fe, I remember shoplifting some food,
With food stamps in my pocket.
We all did.
I got over both quickly.
Liberating goods for the common good was acceptable.
A weak part of something revolutionary.
In a small mountain town in Colorado, a grocery store, the proprietor knew what to expect from hippies and had a sign on the door:
Naturally we all got off the bus,
Walked in.
Before long the sheriff showed up to escort us out.
Men in tee shirts and worn jeans,
Women in long printed skirts,
Was a giveaway.
We discussed paying more attention to our attire if confronted with this social discrimination in the future. I doubt if we ever followed through.
We were paying for most of the trip with a credit card that was Lance’s. I assured him there was no debtors prison and we could use it and use it, till we couldn’t anymore. I’m not sure where in me that came from, but I had an anti-establishment mentality for many years. When I graduated from college a few years earlier, a gas company sent me a credit card. I mentally thanked them and I did the same as with Lances card, using it till it was taken away. We stayed in hotels, ate in their dinning rooms, paid for our gas. Once when we left a hotel in South Dakota, some one took two pillows, thinking they were ours since we had slept on them, or it was simply a gratuity from a hotel. Pillows, towels, wash rags, soap, weren’t they standard souvenirs for the guests? The hotel management didn’t think so and must have called the police who put out an all points bulletin, because the next day, while getting gas, a cop comes on the bus, no warrant, no judges order, taking the law into his own hands, and confiscates the pillows. Just came on the bus and took it. Imagine that; but not the too early harvested weed. That seemed fair to us considering the consequences if he had searched the bus. As bad as that weed was though, none one complained. Pillow for weed. Keep the weed, enjoy yourselves.
In the fall we all returned to Santa Fe renting cabins in Tesuque, a small village outside of town, to teach again at the community school till early spring before going to Nogo. Bobby and Trudy were expecting their baby Sadie, Robert and Linda expecting their child. To get with the program, I continued to fall madly in love with Belle and moved in with her who was also pregnant. I had written to her once, a bit of a love note, since we really hadn’t spent any time together, except a casual date or two, but it seemed like we were both ready for a partner and she being pregnant could use the help and liked connected with our budding tribe.
I had driven on to New Jersey where Miguel spent sometime with my parents and then drove back to Santa Fe on our own I had no clue where Miguel and I would be living. I went to see a women friend to be welcomed back to Santa Fe. We slept together. Like I said ─ something about eating Oreo cookies. The next night I was falling in love with Belle. This early love in my life was a disaster. We lived together that winter, me helping her through her pregnancy with Cybelle, who was the unclaimed daughter of a beat poet.
That past school year the poet came to the Santa Fe Community School with friend Allen Ginsburg to do a reading to help raise money for the school. One afternoon, I happened to be alone in the school, when this man came storming into the school. He stared at me, maybe sizing me up, then pointed at me, asking me if I knew Belle. When I told him I knew her, her daughter Tasha was a student in the school, he in no uncertain terms told me to take care of her. Insisting that I do that. Well, at the time she was only one of the many school parents to me, although her beauty and aura had my attention for a while. Since he seemed like a bit of a madman I didn’t pay a whole lot of attention to him, but later on, whatever the course of human events are, I began to pay more attention to her, she to me, and such is life. But it didn’t work out. When our tribe, we were becoming a tribe, came together, she didn’t quite fit into our totally hippie world, being of another socio-economic class and couldn’t imagine moving with us to Nogo. Maybe she didn’t love me. Such is life. I say that simply, but in reality, in my heart, it totally devastated me that she didn’t want to continue our relationship. Well, later on I found out she was sharing herself with others, while I was totally moonstruck. I did enjoy helping her through her pregnancy and the birthing of Cybelle, who was the first of eight births I’ve witnessed.
There was nothing that officially declared Santa Fe, or New Mexico itself, a “spiritual” gathering place, maybe Mecca, but things went on there that were out of the range of ordinary. And in looking deeper into the mystery of things, maybe because of the history of that region especially in regard to the Native American’s, there was something there that attracted seekers. The Native American’s had for centuries made this uninviting region, home. For centuries. They had many spiritual practices that attracted the youth of our country who were seeking greater understanding of life beyond the material plane that our cultural given us. In the 60s and early 70s many thousands of young seekers were coming to New Mexico, with Santa Fe being the hub where many people stopped off to see what was going on. Of course, Taos long an artists and seekers community, had the same experience, it was also the focal place of communes. I felt a it privilege, yes it was such, to have the opportunity to visit many of thecomune on a few occasions. In my impressionable mind, it was a mind altering experience to see people living collectively in the adobe houses under the harsh winter and summer conditions.
The summer before, while still living in Apache Canyon a few of us piled into my VW van and drove around Taos, stopping in the hot springs, that were a common spot for the young to enjoy.
One small spring was off the road,
A walk up the hillside,
There it was,
Like a birthday surprise,
Set in amongst hillside rock,
Two or three small pools of hot water,
Coming out of mountain rock.
While in that pool we met a man, who called himself, Ulysses S. Grant, a pseudonym for a hippie who wanted to run for governor. At that time he was part of a commune and challenged us to play softball against his commune. We hadn’t adopted our Arkansas names, and were then, “The Right Life Way Baseball Team,” with me as “The Coach.” Right \life Way came to us through Big Red Beard, Bob Freeman, whose real name by the way was Bob Tricky. We all agreed it might be fun to go out and see what that commune was like, play a game, roast corn that he said was in the field waiting to be harvested. We went and beat them with me playing third base and putting the tag on ole Ulysses who would have been the winning run. Bobby used to love to relate that story, especially after what transpired.
After the game he invited us for a corn feast. He took us out to a field where we picked away. There were only a few people around the commune and we wondered and asked where everyone was; whose corn was it? Who planted it? but Ulysses he didn’t have much to tell us. As we sat around the fire eating corn, a drunk Mexican-American came riding in on horseback, and begins yelling at Ulysses, cursing him, calling him names for having run off the other members of the commune. When he got off the horse he pulled a knife on Ulysses, right in front of us and we’re witnessing something we weren’t expecting. I mean, we’re,hanging, just eating someone else’s corn, that to tell truth was very sweet, but I wondered where were those who planted it. None of Ulysses few friends wanted to help, but finally someone gave him some rope and he managed to hog tie the Chicano. We left. Later on ole Ulysses, was wanted for two or three brutal murders around the area. So, much for commune peace and love.
A digression here about my first commune experience.
We made our way up to Taos where we spent a day and night at the Lama Foundation, then famous for the place where Ram Das wrote “Be Here Now,” not long before our visit. We all felt proud being able to buy the brown box that held the three part book, later put into one book, that became the spiritual guide, as he has become, for 10s of thousands, in the last 40 years. We were impressed by the flavor of their spiritual effort in making that place something special and could see on the material level they were accomplishing much. The Lama Foundation has continued for over four decades offering many spiritual workshops.
Father George Hurd, ex-hippie turned priest, showered joy, gifts and guidance to many in Santa Fe. He set up a place, El Centro, for displaced hippies to have a room, get meals, pray together holding hands before eating. I had never experienced that before. My Jewish birth family didn’t say a prayer before eating, nor did we hold hand much. Father George did a lot of good for many with about 10-15 rooms for the lost and disenfranchised to sleep for a night or so. I found it a good place to hang out sometimes, meet travelers, help others with the little bit I knew about the area.

Two times, our school community was honored to be invited to Native American Church Peyote Meetings. In both instances it was to pray for where we were: the first to help the Santa Fe Community School to carry on its mission, the other for Bob Freeman (Tricky) and his Apache Canyon community.
It was an unexpected honor to be the guests of Native American elders and Roadman, as the leader of the meetings were called. I suppose the term “Roadman” is given for the help that person gives to the participants in making their way on the road of life. I found the meetings were a powerful healing medicine.
After living in Los Angeles for 10 years I carried a lot of pain from a five year relationship with Miguel’s mother, Barbara; pain for her two abortions, her almost dying, her alcoholism, her too many children, being too poor. Peyote, new to me in a setting with Native American’s leading a meeting, drinking the tea, doing the prayer, playing the prayer drum, praying for Barbara, feeling something I never felt before for her, her pain, my pain, the anguished unleashing of to many unshed, locked in tears for Barbara’s pain, aborted children’s pain, her born children’s pain. As I broke down in a torrent of tears, The Roadman, threw sage or other herbs on the fire, stood waving a feather over the all night ongoing fire, moving healing smoke onto me. All night long there is prayer going on, prayers for all of us there, for the Santa Fe Community School, for the U.S. government, for the President, that we all will be led by the One God to know what is right. I was thankful to Father-Mother-Peyote and the Native

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Comment by Michael Levin on November 9, 2009 at 11:01am
Shmal, I enjoyed reading this ... twice! You have a talent for taking the reader into the world you are describing.


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