Navarro in the 70s: The Hippie ‘Renaissance’

For those of us lucky enough to live here in The Valley one of the enjoyable pieces of reminiscence among friends and neighbors is the “who was the first hippie” discussion. The first settler, the first Italian, German, Finn, Arkie, post-World War II City Person, Mexican question framed the discussion.

The “hippie” category is perhaps the most difficult, partly because several generations after the fact no one exactly remembers who was the first, partly because it’s a serious problem defining “hippie,” a less precise descriptor of the human species than an “Ite” or an Okie. Were Dobbins and Shapiro, Lance B. Fent, David and Linda Norfleet, “Cap’n” Rainbow, Richard and Ginger Kossow, and so on “hippies”? Were communards like Bear Wallow and Rainbow by definition “hippies”? Needs some research and a social sciences doctoral dissertation.

Who was Navarro’s first Hippie? My consort and I arrived in Navarro in early 1971. I had slightly long hair, wore a red bandana to keep the sweat out of my eyes, drove an old Mercedes-Benz. We also flew at our house down on the Highway a red, black and green flag she had made to identify her campsite at the fabled Woodstock Music Festival a couple of summers previous. The neighbors interpreted it as the Vietnamese NLF flag from that wartime.

The only Hippie types from Mill Creek north were Tom and Fran Grange and daughter Megan living in Christine Woods at Bub Schwend’s companion’s Georgie Bassett’s tumbledown shack. Fran was San Francisco Irish Catholic and Victorian flash/funk dresser housewife, Tom an earnest guy from Nowhere Iowa outside of Des Moines, favored short hair, spoke economically in “yups” and nopes,” and did piece work in the few vineyards around the Valley. In Navarro itself, the Hippie population was 0.

Soon though, date unremembered, some long-hair types purchased Mrs. Barnes’s house, corner of The Highway and the dump road. This was Martin Miller, his brother, Jerry and his wife and daughter. Martin was from the East Bay suburbs, as was his brother, wore his hair long to the shoulders, Beatle-like, and “psychedelic” tee shirts and iconic bell-bottom levis, just like John, Paul, Ringo and George.

I fell in with this crowd early on because of the Ping Pong table in the basement of the house. Under the front steps was a door into the cellar. In the evenings it was always cool in summer, cold in winter or cold down there. But just right for a vigorous game or two of Pong. The table was a few feet inside the entrance and also just fit between the fieldstone walls and under the floor joists holding up the other three stories of the house. It was incredible fun in a doubles game maneuvering between your partner and the stone walls to make those killer shots. When you included the opponents’ moves, kind of like a four-partner dance in a jail cell.

After settling in Mrs. Barnes’s Martin took up a County vocational training program in upholstery, turned his skill into a successful business, first in Comptche, his next Valley residence, then in Fort Bragg where his store flourished for almost forty years, and in retirement kind of still does at a shop by his home up Mill Creek near MacKerricher Park, Cleone. Hippie entrepreneur?

Possibly the first real “hippies” to arrive in The Village, about 1975, were Hayes and Linda Brennan and their three children, Kira, Mari and Eamon. Hayes was educated white collar Irish from the Chicago North Side who lived in an imaginatively created autobiographical world that publicly intimated his roots were in the Mick Ghetto near the Black and Polack ones, South Side Chicago, the Back of the Yards, Studs Lonigan territory.

He also inhabited a mystic Celtic dreamworld that enabled him to befriend anyone anywhere on the globe, even getting mugged at midnight in the San Juan, Costa Rica slums or at The Berlin Wall when it came down in ‘89, so long as his counterpart was a romantic/heroic personality living in his own myth.

Such as discovering, according to Hayes, the only Native American soldier awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor during the Korean War. Hayes found this specimen hitch-hiking along 101 on the Marin side of the Golden Gate one rainy January day, persuaded his prize he’d be welcome in the Valley, and delivered him to us at Floodgate that evening right in the middle of a 49er playoff game. First things first, we were polite but no one was really interested in Hayes’s specimen.

At home Hayes was the self-appointed patriarch and lawgiver in the family. Linda was also educated middle class, but a central Michigan Calvinist background, strict but fair. Also one of the best friends I ever made in Anderson Valley. Linda had also taught heroically at the AV Middle School for a generation as the family principle income producer. Our agenda was evenings in the living room around the stove arguing about solving the problems of education in America’s rural communities or reflecting on the remarkable cast of characters who made up the whole community and what exactly made each of us tick. Philosophical fun.

At home Linda did the cooking, house cleaning, raised the kids while Hayes was planning his next adventure of Supermanish valor and danger out in the Rest of The World.

Hayes and Linda lived in the austere Mill Doctor’s house up the dump road from The Counts School, a pleasant place in summer with its huge front porch looking down on the dump road and its travelers. No insulation though; in winter, except where a wood stove resided, all on the main floor, it was chilly to cold everywhere in the house from November til May. But then it was a more “civilized” domain than where he and Linda were living back in the sixties on a real commune in San Mateo County south of San Francisco.

It was a tribe of long-haired City People, living on an eighteen hundred acre cattle ranch, grass lands and redwoods, abandoned mill site, Hippies scattered here and there living in tipis, hogans and yurts, singles, pairs, whole families, at least twenty in number. Once in the early eighties, Hayes and I did a daylong tour of wealthy, semi-literate, generous trust baby Jimmy Wicket’s tax dodge ranch, Star Hill, overlooking Pescadero and the ocean. Only one inhabitant left, an older guy, actually from the beatnik era, Bob Tillotson living in an elegant soddy built into the sidehill in the redwoods. Bob was a soft-spoken old bachelor, pony-tailed and contemplative, originally from somewhere in Nebraska, migrated to San Francisco, lived with the Beats in North Beach before ending up in the commune, and now its last survivor.

Highlight of the visit was to inspect Hayes’ old home, where Kira and Mari were born. There wasn’t much left. The two fire-scarred hollow old-growth redwood stumps were still there, but the ridgepole and roofing were gone, as was much of the plywood siding. We did find some rotting roof shakes in the cavity separating the stumps, some decayed clothing and a small packing crate Hayes claimed made a good crib for Marie after she was born.

Hayes’s penchant for befriending anyone anywhere did have its positive side. Early on he brought back to Navarro some remarkable Dutch friends, Rein and Marijke, who with their two boys were among the most extraordinary world travelers out of their Volkswagen van I have ever met. Even though that life was part of my life ambitions, due to the responsibilities of running a vineyard while also holding a paying job, I had to do my traveling vicariously via their stories. Rein and Marijke’s lifestyle enabled them to come and go to our town once a year or so and stay for weeks if not months. Wonderful dinner companions with stories of their adventures in Corsica, Hong Kong or India.

One trip they brought another remarkable Dutchman, Peter van der Stap, the world traveler extraordinaire. Peter was the scion of a wealthy parent owning a paint factory who also expected Pieter to be the heir to the business. No way.

Peter came to Navarro with Rein and Marijke one trip, then later returned on his own to stay. He moved into the Navarro cottage across from Joe Pedro’s Garage now occupied by luthier maker David Dart. In a year or so I realized Peter was here in town to stay, probably hiding out from his father’s ambitions for him, so I renamed the cottage, his home the Dutch Embassy to the Independent State of Navarro. (Some of us later created the myth about Navarro being the “Deep End” because of all the deep thinkers living there.)

Peter and I became best friends because of his interest in visiting and knowing the whole world via travel and his excitingly imaginative connection with and understanding of why the cultures and their denizens he visited were so different from one another. As a site locator for professional TV advertisement film crews, he got to search locations in Lapland or under the volcano Kilimanjaro in Kenya, say, where he might remain on the job for weeks while getting to know the locals and hear their stories.

None of that kind of employment in Anderson Valley, but within a year Peter found odd jobs from home repair to fence building to support himself with. And thereby got to know and enjoy all sorts of local people from the Deep End to Yorkville. By the late eighties, ten years after the Embassy had opened, I suddenly realized Peter knew more people and interesting places around the Valley than I did, thus continually energizing our speculative reflections about who we all were up and down Highway 128.

Eventually Peter moved back to Holland, outside Amsterdam in Naarden, a walled city a mile across, lived with a talented professional television documentary producer, Ellen Meijerse, and continued his life as a gentleman observer of the world. I made visits to Peter there several times. It was remarkable how much I would learn in a single day loitering from here to there inside the star-shaped half mile square city walls, talking with the Dutch locals, the priest, the bookseller, a sheep farmer, about the nature of the world.

When Peter married Ellen, the wedding celebration was held on the front porch of my home here in Navarro. Wife Earlene and I produced the show, ceremony in the garden presided over by Judge Labowitz, followed by cocktails and dinner with musical trio on the front deck, grilled steak and salmon, 24 guests including Peter’s parents all the way from Brabant. In mid-afternoon Earlene and I were worried about the event as it was a foggy, drizzly day in August. The Dutch kept saying, “don’t worry, it’s just like summer in Holland.”

At 4 o’clock, however, the fog began burning off from the west and a micro rainbow formed over the young vines just east of the garden, and the Celebration began. After the liturgy in the garden, we retreated across the front lawn, wine glasses in hand, by sundown onto the deck for the steak, salmon, corn, etc., while the three piece string band played “Stuck in Lodi” and “Amazing Grace” down on the lawn.

At midnight, the last guests were still in the living room continuing the celebration. These included Peter’s brother, his wife and their father and mother, gracious Dutch industrial aristocrats. During their visit the father never mentioned Peter’s abandoning the family business to become the Dutch Ambassador to The Independent Republic, and there he was at the end of the evening, stretched out comfortably on the couch, tie gone, collar open, stroking our ukulele and crooning “Home on the Range.” Another great day in Navarro.

Peter and Ellen’s honeymoon was a camping trip east on US Highway 50, which I had learned over thirty years of transcontinental travel was America’s Highway, where if you spend the night, hang out with the locals you will understand who we are as Americans. Places like Garrison, Utah, Pitkin Colorado, Wachepreague, Virginia, with good local truckstops, restaurants, bars, general stores for groceries, campgrounds on trout streams and rivers instead of Motel Six.

A year later I attended Peter’s funeral in Amsterdam city cemetery. At the end of the six month honeymoon along Highway 50 he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. During the City Calvinist Church formal celebration before his burial, four of us, two Dutch, two Americans, stood to witness Peter as “the best friend I on earth I’ve ever had.” Peter van der Stap, the Dutch Ambassador, radiated this quietly joyous, trustful charisma everyone he encountered in life reciprocated. I was so grateful to be one of his pallbearers.

The headstone on Peter’s grave is a transparent styrene tablet a meter high showing a color photograph of two lane Highway 50 somewhere in Nevada. In the pre dawn light you can see the white centerline, black asphalt and shoulder sloping downgrade for miles, the headlights of a truck approaching from way down there, and the Basin and Range mountain ridge twenty miles off silhouetted by the sun about to rise. It’s also the first thing I see each morning on my bedroom wall as I wake up. The redwood tree I planted at Peter’s grave must be twenty feet tall by now.

Tom English, a “Hippie?” Depends on your definition. Tom was drafted out of high school to Vietnam, was a rifleman in the 1st Air Cavalry Brigade for a year on both sides of Tet. Had some shocking experiences in the field it’s not my place to report. Once mustered out Tom passed through his roots in the East Bay white collar enclaves around Fremont and San Lorenzo and ended up here in Anderson Valley finding work on various vineyards and at City People second homes.

Tom was friends from childhood with the Millers living in Mrs. Barnes’ House, but only moved adjacent to Navarro, living at Wiley (Ingram) Ranch with his companion Rene Vinyard, in the land yacht home he wood-butchered and shingled onto the back of his vintage 16’ Ford flatbed truck. For its space it was as comfortable a home, with kitchen/living space, sleeping area over the cab, as any 500 square foot house. And it was portable.

At Wiley, around 1976, it was anchored on four fifty-five gallon oil drums right where my home’s front deck is now, looking down The Valley. His drill for depositing the home in a permanent site was tedious but well-engineered, and involved six of these oil drums and two twelve foot fir joists. First step was to place two of the drums and a joist a few feet behind the back of the truck and ten feet apart, then unbolt the house from the truck bed and with a come-along carefully skid the house onto the joist.

The action would raise the front of the cabin enough to slide the other joist sitting on two more barrels resting on top of car jacks. Then after lifting the joist and house with the jacks, Tom drove the truck forward from under the building, slid two more barrels under each end of the joist and lowered the “Tiltin’ Hilton” onto the second set of barrels, level with the first set, of course.

Alternative to using the jacks, Tom might simply lower The Hilton’s girders by digging with shovel and mattock under the drums until the yacht was level. The final homecoming touch was to drag the three foot long portable steps out of the living room to be set on the ground and up to the front door.

Around 1973(?) one of Tom’s seasonal jobs was to work planting redwood seedlings on Masonite Corporation’s logged-over industrial forests. In a year or two Tom’s tree-planting and informal leadership skills on unfamiliar, logged over woods tracts, encouraged the gyppo planting contractor, Gary Womack, to make him the boss of one of the three planter teams, each ten or twelve people, Womack managed. Tom recruited from inside the business and outside a team of men and women that became known all over The Valley as “Red Dog’s Crew.” The other teams being named “Seedy’s Crew (Gary’s son) and “Harold the Bus Driver’s Crew” (story later).

What was “Red Dog?” Tom! Tallish, lean, sinuey, athletic, freckled face, curly red hair not too long. Very Scots/Irish, another of the trail of San Leandro/Fremont youth who escaped white collar suburbia to follow Martin Miller to The Valley in the 1970s.

I joined Red Dog’s Crew in the winter of 1976-7, the beginning of the Great Drought. The job routine went like this: after rain had saturated the Masonite Woodlands, sometime around Thanksgiving, the work began. Typically the jobsite brought the three crews adjacent to one another on ground previously laid out with flagging by the Masonite foresters. Womack planned the work location for each crew, typically 40-60 acres depending on terrain steepness, and provided during the day trucked from the nearby Masonite nursery a steady stream of seedlings, packed in cardboard boxes. Tom’s Red Dog Crew Boss job description was to assure there were always enough seedlings boxes on site to keep the work flowing without pause, to keep individual crew members actual plantings score, and to guide our navigation through often confusing logged-over sidehill terrain.

The payment system was piecework, six and a half cents a tree. The last cent a bonus delivered to us if we worked Womack’s whole planting contract winter. The job locations were sometimes close to home and the Floodgate Bar, Flynn Hills, Bald Hills, sometimes further away such as Mal Pass on the Navarro, up Tramway Gulch west of Perry Gulch, sometimes way away, such as Tank Four Gulch just this side of Keane Summit halfway to Comptche, then back a mile or so on the old railroad right-of-way and up Tank Four half a mile.

The crew arrived on site around 7 AM, always overdressed against the fog, frost or drizzle. We each loaded up the two heavy plastic bags we slung on our shoulders and hips, each with 96 trees or about 24 dollars in wages. The first member of the crew found either the layout boundary flagging Masonite had posted or the last line of trees planted yesterday. His first tree he planted ten feet from the previous day’s line of trees, the second on the tree line and ten feet further up the hill, and so on until one’s two bags of trees were exhausted, approximately half a mile up the slope. We never knew as we climbed deliberately uphill a step at a time what terrain we would face next, sometimes open ground dominated by tan oak, easy. Sometimes it was a crisscross of downed redwood slash, limbs and tops we had to climb through or under, dragging behind us our hoedad planting tool, sometimes navigating the ten foot high slash piles completely surrounding a typical truck landing, no fun at all.

That first year I was on Red Dog’s we created a doctrinal mantra some of us chanted as we climbed our layouts, or later would chorus over a “few beers” at Floodgate: ”Green side up, one tree per hole, follow the line.” Most of us submitted to the mantra, doing our jobs “right,” others not. I remember Garofolo, of the Bruckner Boulevard, Bronx, Garofolos. He just couldn’t stop trying to beat the system, two-three trees per hole, throw a few in an available slash pile, while wasting a considerable part of the work day surreptitiously eye-balling surrounding brush, scrub and slash before each petty crime to make sure a forester or Womack wasn’t prowling about to catch him.

I was lucky on the job, had decent legs from running sheep, a strong instinct for “reading” the post-logging woodland topography, and needed the money. So I found the work fairly easy, educative about logging practices and very profitable. Daily I executed six bags of seedlings between 7 and and about 1:30 PM, still had a lot of daylight left to go home, check the sheep and do other farm-related chores. Seventy-five dollars a day for six hours work was three times more rewarding than the $3.15/hour I made working at Philo Lumber back in 1972.

Second week on the job we were located up Redwood Creek, almost all the way to Philbrick Ranch west of Comptche. Clear days, ground fog and frost in the morning, sun burning through around 10, gradually we dropped clothing each trip back to the landing for a new load of trees, down to tee-shirts by noon. Ground was open and easy up Redwood Creek, so after the noon lunch I decided to make one more run up the line to get my six bags planted. I had no vehicle on the jobsite, but as the day usually ended around 2-2:15 PM, I knew I had plenty of time to get the planting done and be back on the landing for the ride to Floodgate.

Around 1:30 I got back to the landing, no one there, no Tom English flatbed, no Cap’n Ted Morrish’s VW bug, nobody, dead silence. I sat on my empty tree sacks, got my breath back and did some calculations. From where we were working up Redwood Creek, back down the Masonite industrial road to Highway 128 was about seven miles. From there another 3.5 miles or three hours to Floodgate. Oh well.

It was a beautiful windless winter day as I started down the truck road above the creek. I was hiking from open ground quite warm into chilly shaded groves of young redwoods. About the third grove the air was now cooling quickly enough a ground fog formed under the trees, though when I walked into their shade the fog immediately around me evaporated but hung a hundred feet ahead and behind me. What a treat.

About twenty minutes, a mile along my journey, as I began thinking about how hungry I would be when I got home, far down the road I heard the soft chug-chug of a VW Bug, a sound I knew cold, having once owned one. Sure enough the sound grew louder and soon Cap’n Ted’s dusty tan vehicle drew in sight, creeping along at a kind of regretful speed.

Before it arrived at my side, the passenger window rolled down, Red Dog handed me a can of Coors and the car kept going. A wordless “sorry.” Ted turned the Bug around and came back, Tom jumped out and held the passenger side door ceremonially open for me, then crawled over my shoulder into the back. I got in, popped the beer can, took a deep swig, offered some to Dog and Ted. They nodded “nope.” Half way down to the Highway on the Masonite Road they told me the story.

The whole Red Dog crew had gathered at Floodgate this Friday. And someone had said, “where’s Brad?” The question circled the bar, ”Did you give him a ride, did you...?” All negatives. So our Boss Tom launched the rescue mission and planned the welcome I got when found up Redwood Creek. Leadership apologies offered and accepted with woodsman stoic dignity.

I planted with Red Dog for the two years of the 1976-7 drought, 18 inches of rain the first year, twelve the second in an area averaging fifty/year. I was on the job up the Middle Fork of the North Fork the day in 1977 when the drought broke. It had rained enough that November to enable the planting season to start. But this particular day around noon it began really to dump, the ground got glassy slippery, we were soaked, chilly, but for the whole Crew it was like coming out of mourning we were so happy, relieved, giddy with laughter, and hugs all around. The Drought was over.

I remember running my tongue over my mustache just to taste the sweet water, some of us, Mickey and Lornie Bloyd, even I, were trotting, then sliding baseball style feet first through skid road puddles just to feel the mud on our pants and skin. Reminded me of kindergarten days.

One form of on-the-job recreation some of us discovered was to team up with a fellow Red Dog and follow the line at similar paces discussing history, religion and the neighbors. One topic I often engaged in was who was the best tree planter on the team, which tested our analytic skills defining what were the elements accurately describing “best.” We knew there was no really true Answer to the Question.

The last day of my tree planting career was at the end of the second drought year. We knew it was the last day; it was raining like hell, thank you. Red Dog had said the day before since it was the end of the season and going to be wet as hell, we could come to work or not as we chose. At 7 AM, I drove out to the landing above the Middle Fork of the North Fork to find two people there, Kathy Bailey and Doug Johnson, that’s all, from the crew of twelve. So we loaded up, did our three runs or $75 on an easy open ridgetop above the creek, planted each tree with pride and care, finished by noon, gossiped a bit on the landing and called it a day. It was obvious to me, we were the best tree planters on Red Dog’s Crew.

Next week: The Iteville Clams, Buzz and Barbara and The Store, and more.

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