A Community Experiment …Circa 1970s

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, my young hippie wife and I packed our bags and got dropped off at the on-ramp of Interstate 70, where we 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 slice of nirvana became an iconic model for alternative living, aided by being conveniently isolated from the mainstream by the harrowing, snake-like Highway 1 that traverses the great sleeping lady, Mt. Tamalpais, which separates 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, since 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, barn raisers, parades, dances, music, theater 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 don goggles while smashing glass with a sledgehammer in 55-gallon drums. In those days it was the only way the hauler would take it away. The community gardens were influenced by disciples of Rudolf Steiner. These French Intensive Biodynamic gardening techniques took hold, and the result was a year-round harvest to be envied by gardeners and lovers of food, far and wide.

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 t-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 collective intention for real and lasting community, born out of the common need for freedom, self-expression and the web of safety that typical mainstream society could never provide.

As the decades have come and gone, I’ve grown evermore appreciative of this community experience, and am proud to have been a contributing member of what became the spawning grounds for the organic food production movement in northern California. Possibly because the road sign was rarely present, Bolinas, Paradise Valley, a most fertile and magical piece of land, was spared the distraction of curiosity seekers and intruders. The valley became the birthing place for organic farming techniques and production. Naturally raised beef and pork from Neiman Ranch helped blaze the trail for conscious and humanely produced meat that truly impacted the industry.

With the determination to endure, as independently as possible from the countless influences “over the hill,” the capacity to thrive in harmony with the environment grew into a model that paved the way for many other communities. Out of this pioneering spirit grew the vision and action that helped change the larger culture.

This is an excerpt from Faren’s upcoming book, Unicopia, An Evolution of Community Consciousness. It will be available through Schiffer Publishing in 2012.

Faren Dancer is an award-winning designer, builder, educator and activist. His GREEN TALK RADIO show is each Saturday at 4 pm on KTRC (1260 AM). All the archived shows are available at www.unicopia.org. Email: Faren@unicopia.org