GANJA BOOGIE BAND
I was driving my VW van, my seven year old son, Miguel, in the back, as our small, slow moving caravan of school bus, VW beetle and truck, labored up the dusty, dirt, Brown Mountain road to Nogo, Arkansas after a circuitous route, from Santa Fe, New Mexico to Austin, where others joined us to commence our adventure. This was the early contingent of sixteen hippies going to live on 40 acres on the edge of the national forest.
I remember questioning, wondering, my uncertainty about our venture, more than once, asking myself, “what am doing?” It wasn’t just about me, I was bringing my son to something radically outrageous; to an experiment in life, an adventure to which I had no clue, and neither did any one else, as to how we would be living, or what was waiting for us.
I don’t remember if we ever talked about money. I barely had any. There was some kind of trust going on that was moving this along, so, why question what was happening. Did it make any sense? Was it logical? No. Maybe someone assured me that someone amongst the 16 pioneers had money. Was it dangerous with a seven year old son? Danger never crossed my mind. I admit now, there might have been a tinge of fear in me, of this unknown, more than I ever felt before, but also, conversely, a trust of following something, that was calling. The trust obviously was taking precedence.
If others had doubts, it was never expressed. Those last few miles up Brown Mountain, though, maybe were a telling, as the school bus kept overheating and we had to keep stopping so Janga, driver-mechanic, exquisite genius hippie, kept stopping, putting black pepper in the radiator, to stop up the leak. I wasn’t sure; I wondered about black pepper? Was he making soup in the radiator and was going to surprise us?
There were two other children about Miguel’s age, Robin and Jennie, children of Ken and Loreen. These kids also went to the Santa Fe Community School where this odyssey had its genesis. Miguel would have friends.
We were given a blessed gift that first day. Our closest neighbors, two miles from our farm, was MacDonald family. We had to drive on their driveway about fifty feet to get on the road to our place. We were a bit surprised when Claudie and his wife Loreen invited us all into their home, welcoming and letting us know his family was accepting us. The few of us who had bought the property, a year ago, had met the MacDonald’s and had already developed a relationship. They were a trusting, loving people welcoming us the way they did.
From the very beginning, on our day of arrival, we were an odd mixture renouncing city living, fitting no description of anyone seen in those Ozark Mountains till that day. Although, maybe, we reminded some on that mountain of days long gone by when folks were making moonshine and hiding from the revenuers. We later on found out this was real live hillybilly country and many had no affection for the government or its rules. I give that MacDonald family a halo and points wherever those points are collected. And I have to say they may have been a bit more sophisticated than others on the mountain.
Claudie, his wife and two sons, were always friendly, helping us with many of our challenges, including giving us a heads-up, when, after we were there for a year or so, the FBI began checking our mail. Over time the feds spent a lot of money checking on us to make sure we weren’t some kind of radical fringe group with revolutionary intentions. Well, fuckin a, excuse the slang, that we were─but without violence in our intentions and damn certain about our revolutionary intentions, at least there on the mountain. What we were doing, or going to be doing, was revolutionary, that I knew for sure and it was exciting; building all the time.
The MacDonald’s were Arkansas hill folk; Claudie was a lumber man, hauling logs out of the forest. That first day I had a hard time knowing how to relate, but as we sat chatting, feeling comfortable with their welcoming hospitality, looking for something to say, I casually asked, “where’d the name Nogo come from?” He and his wife looked at each other, laughed a bit, and said, “you’ll find out in the winter when it rains, freezes, thaws a time or two, and the Arkansas red clay turns to deep mud. Basically, there is “Nogo, anyplace.”
We all liked that, nogo anyplace. Coming out of urban living we wanted to see what it was like living in the woods and not having agendas that drove the majority culture.
After a bit of time, we thanked them for their hospitality and drove down the road, anxious with anticipation to see what would be our home. The road was far and away the worst road I have ever been on, before and since, but it was passable, at least that day. There was only one building on our property; a 100 year old very worn out, log cabin to begin our adventure. I didn’t have any expectations; knowing there’d be no vinyl covered double wide, but seeing that log cabin sitting alone on the edge of a few acres field, initially left me a bit disappointed. Although I had no expectations, it wasn’t what I expected. The plot, the house, the land around, had been described to us from those who bought the land, but maybe I wasn’t entirely paying attention. I figured, if friends all felt good and right, that was enough for me. It looked stark, barren like something was missing. Maybe that was us. Almost immediately though, I dropped any misgivings that lurked in my mind, knowing I had to be firm and strong for what was ahead.
That first night most slept in the cabin, a few on the bus, Miguel and me in the VW camper which belonged to my girl friend, Belle, from that past winter, who let me temporarily borrow it for this venture, while she remained living in Santa Fe. Actually, she was my expectation, that she would come and join us. That was one of my great disappointments when she didn’t.
It was the beginning of April; we thought Spring was Spring, but not in the foothills of the Ozarks, still with a bit of winter, surprising us with a light snow that first morning. I enjoyed looking out the window of the camper and seeing the snow, a bit uncertain what we would do. Lance knew enough to gather wood and build an outdoor fire that we huddled around trying to keep warm as we cooked our first pot of oatmeal. That morning was one of scores of future mornings, when we ate oatmeal. In time, many of us accustomed ourselves to oatmeal, since sometimes our afternoon lunch was refried oatmeal with soy sauce, and occasionally, in the evening, refried-refried oatmeal, with soy sauce, onions and garlic. We learned to be creative with our oatmeal when food was scarce. Some of our folks, decades later, still won’t eat oatmeal.
Later that first day I remember some of us hanging out on the school bus trying to keep warm in numbers, all of us taking turns going in and out of the log cabin trying to make it more homey, which consisted mainly of cleaning up the messes that had been left behind by decades of being used as a cabin during hunting season.
The cold weather lasted a few days, with even a bit more snow that week, but soon, the spring sun began to shine and we were beginning to feel at home and trying to be ourselves, or find ourselves, or know ourselves. So much so, that one afternoon, when the sun was warming us up, Kenny and Lance had on skirts. I had to take a double take. It wasn’t my eyes: They were wearing skirts. I realized then and there we had no dress code. With a smile I mused to myself: “are they both gay? Does it matter to me?” I didn’t believe so, they were both my friends. A few months later when the summer sun began to percolate down on us, some of us reverted to less clothing the better. I was though taken aback a bit when I saw one of the woman walking out of the cabin wearing nothing but a leather belt with a knife in a sheath hanging off her hip. I wondered if she had seen that outfit in a movie or if that’s the way the dressed in West Texas where she and Ken came from, married as high school sweethearts. I wasn’t sure if the knife was for protection, or for utility purposes, but didn’t ask. It just looked odd, but then again —we were quickly going to accustom ourselves to living in the odd.
As the summer heat pressed on, I adopted my own hot weather wear: a brown towel around my waist to above my knees held up with a cloth belt; wore it for two years, in warm weather. Made myself a pair of sandals cut from tire tubes, held on by cord strung through the sides, tied around my ankle. When I suggested sending a picture of me to Men’s Quarterly to help start a trend in simplified clothing for communes, the idea was turned down by our Committee on Commune Privacy. I complied, but thought the simplicity I was seeking might even be adopted in other settings. For me, my summer brown towel, was an acceptance of something of a primitive nature that had come to me, as maybe it had to many. I graduated college a few years previously, worked in L.A. for a few years as a social worker, and now, only a towel. More on our dress wear later on. We were an odd bunch.
I can’t say for sure how any of this story unfolded. We know things happen in the universe; from the creative first atom, to the big bang, to the whole expanding material plane—as best as one can, you try and make your self a part of that happening. Collectively we were an energy with a cause from beyond; trying to be in the now.
It was one of those first days that something in me felt we, I, had to begin our gardening: “Hey, Ken Dubie, it’s springtime, how do you plant potatoes.?” “Come on Coach, let’s go dig up some of the field and get ready to plant taters.”
I don’t know where the gardening thing was bred in me, maybe having Miguel with me I figured I needed to do something productive, like try and provide food. Till the previous summer in New Mexico I had never gardened, but I got the gardening bug and gardened for the two years I was in Nogo, and ever after, till right now. It is one of my passions in life. As I got into gardening more and more during our time there, I realized it was similar to raising or working with children. It reminded me of the year I worked with kids in a Head Start program near Long Beach, California. Taking and caring for the plants and kid all required the same diligence and love. I fell in love with the earth, how it produced when cared for properly, and over the years have been diligent in my gardening.
Ken and I went out to the five-acre field carrying our shovels; found a place he thought would be good and began digging. We didn’t get too far since the clayey soil was impossibly hard to break with shovels; we even tried a pick ax. It was still cold, dreary, and we weren’t sure what we were doing anyway, so left and found a fire someplace to get warm. I don’t know if we ever planted potatoes that spring, but eventually, we had a neighbor man, break up the sod for us with a tractor, so we could begin serious gardening.
In order to get things going we needed everything. Our first meetings were forced upon us by this necessity. We had to discuss what we needed to begin. Supplies for everything. For many weeks, we took turns going to town, once, twice a week trips to Russelville, about 30 miles away, past Hector, with just a store or two, one filling station at the foot of Brown Mountain.
Let there be light. We did need light, after all there was no electricity back there in the forest. Kerosene lanterns, kerosene, tools, nails, food, wood stoves, building supplies, chickens, a milk cow we named Nadine, buckets for milking and hauling water from the spring. Those town trips, and town lists were, in the beginning, endless. We all did our share in helping make things happen. I still don’t know from whose pockets that initial money was coming out of. But I am gracious and thankful.
We fixed up the log cabin as the main collective house, while over the next six months some of us began building our own places, some simple shelters around the five-acre field, to be our vegetable garden, while others, put their shelters off in the woods. The vegetable garden became for me and a few others, a strong focus of time and energy in the community. Growing food: it was after all basic to life; if we were going to make any attempt at self-sufficiency, growing our own was part of that commitment. Whatever else in us that wanted to play, be free and unencumbered by societal convention, there was also something else that we intuitively knew, that growing food was a serious part of our lives. Not everyone took to this in the same way and at times it became a conflict as to how we were each participating in the experiment. But a few were committed; we loved our synergy together; loved each other. Sometimes after a gardening meeting, mostly led by Eloise, Kenny and Lance, me trying to learn from them, others sharing, as we walked out to the garden to do work we had just discussed, I felt so overjoyed with enthusiasm to be part of what was going on, I literally wanted to do cartwheels. But I couldn’t, never did, and will go through life never having done a cartwheel. I probably should have asked Eloise. Maybe I felt silly, a bit childish, wanting to do a cartwheel. Actually doing a cartwheel would have been the fulfillment of a life long dream.