In my never-ending search for writings on the Coast Road, I discovered this little book that documents the people who moved to the Mattole and Eel watersheds, the “Mateel,” located in southern Humboldt County (SoHum). Twenty-three individual narratives intertwine to tell the stories of settlement, stereotyping of hippies, rednecks, loggers, straights, and the rowdy bikers, conservation and restoration of anadromous habitat, establishing Sinkyone Wilderness SP, and C.A.M.P.
“Between the years of 1968 and 1977, several hundred people migrated to the remote southern portion of Humboldt County, California,” writes Mary Siler Anderson, the author of Whatever Happened to the Hippies? These people moved into a landscape reshaped by seventy years of logging and two one hundred year floods that further eroded the hillsides, filling the rivers with sediment. “We didn’t know what the land looked like before and so didn’t recognize the signs of ecological distress all around us. We came from cemented-over human-constructed landscapes that lacked life and the wild naturalness of this place was beautiful to us.”
Most of the people did not settle in the small towns, but instead bought 40-, 60-, 80-acre parcels, “which in the beginning could be had for little or no money down. Land was very cheap when we first arrived, because it had all been heavily logged.” If it weren’t for real estate agent Bob McKee no one would have sold land to these long-haired newcomers. Rumor had it that Bob was “giving away land out by the ocean,” which was hyperbole. Land was inexpensive, but not free. Written in the chapter by Rick, Bob “wrote letters to the editor in those days, saying, ‘Why don’t we give these new people a chance because the land’s been logged over and deserted and no one else wants it anymore except these people.’” In another chapter written by Peter, “We negotiated a very good deal, largely because of Bob’s generosity, concern, and genuine interest in having a community center and a school.”
“Smoking marijuana was as common to our lifestyle as love beads and brown rice, only more important,” writes Mary II of the early days of the SoHum marijuana economy and culture. “When pot first began to be grown for sale, we had our Jeremiahs predicting disaster from earning money in this way. The lure of being able to finish your house or replace your broken-down vehicle was just too great.” Earning an income by growing marijuana “was stronger than the will to question what we were doing to our environment by using rat poison and chemical fertilizers that washed into our creeks, … We were beginning to be more like the rest of America, staying in our comfortable houses, watching our color TVs, eating imported food, all things that we couldn’t afford before.”
Growing pot wasn’t the sole income opportunity. David, who had previously worked for the Defense Department as an electrical engineer, moved to the country to build a house and make his own electricity. David and Roger opened Alternative Energy in Briceland, selling hundreds of solar panels to the amazement of their then-supplier, Atlantic Richfield. A competitor came out to meet them, asking if they’d try his solar panels. David and Roger placed an order for 40 panels, to which the guy said that, “as long as he’d been working for that company, he’d never sold 40 panels at once.” David writes, “We have a big wholesale business now and sell solar panels around the world. We’re still selling more solar panels than anybody else.”
Whatever happened to the hippies is a question answered in Mary Siler Anderson’s book. The hippies created new communities and retained some American comforts; they both improved and damaged fish habitat: the conservationists versus the pot growers; and they continue to be active in the community as writers, watershed professionals, and caregivers.
Many still have long hair.
This post written by Anneliese Agren