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Whatever Happened to the Hippies? by Mary Siler AndersonIn 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.” Heart of the Mateel by M.J.M. 1990

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.

Buy the book.

This post written by Anneliese Agren

Atop a table within the Henry Miller Library in Big Sur I found Cosmic Coastal Chronicles written by M.L. Fischer.  A man standing nearby, stepped closer to me, winked, and whispered, “I hear that if you buy one of this author’s books, he will sign it for you.”

I flipped open to page 1 and read, “My old Toyota pick-up droned steadily over undulating hills, past green waves of artichokes, toward Moss Landing and on to Santa Cruz with the promise of surf at Pleasure Point.  A kayak was strapped to the top, mountain bike hung on the back, and surf gear stashed under the camper shell.”

Two sentences that were convincing enough for me to buy this book.  At the register, the Library’s executive director, Magnus Torén, rang up my purchases and then I stepped outside to find that man, as I knew he was the M.L. Fischer who would sign his book for me.

The Library was celebrating the first issue of its literary journal, Ping•Pong, with a release party.  People circulated the Library’s bookstore selecting new reads, like I did, or sat chatting on the sunny deck of the Library, surrounded by a redwood grove.

I found the man reclined in a resin chair on the deck, enjoying redwood-dappled sunshine.  “Will the author sign his work?” I asked, handing over Cosmic Coastal Chronicles.  We introduced ourselves.  On the title page, across from the book flap stamped with Henry Miller Library’s “Libris Pistorum,” Meade wrote in black ball point ink, “Anneliese, Hope you enjoy.  M.L. Fischer.”

I thanked Meade.  We shared stories of our beloved California coast and then Magnus asked everyone who had been standing around drinking wine and conversing about books, art, music and the beautiful warm sunny afternoon in Big Sur, to take seats and enjoy readings by all the talented authors published in Ping•Pong.

Having returned to my Big Sur campsite, reclined in a beach chair with my newly-acquired pug-beagle puppy snuggled atop my lap, I read Meade’s chronicles of his adventures along the west coast.

Meade has lived in many California coast towns and has driven the coast from southern California to Vancouver, B.C.  Meade’s “ride” to roam the Coast Road is either an “old Toyota pick-up” or a Kawasaki 1100cc.

“Many times, during summers and weekends, this sturdy little truck, faded and rusty, has been my home.  The long bed accommodates my long frame.  A mat from a patio lounge fits between the wheel wells.  The built-in carpeted compartments give me storage and shelf space.  My pillow is stuffed against the back of the cab, and a long, thick sleeping bag is rolled and ready.  A battery powered lantern is stowed in a compartment along with a pup tent, mask and snorkel and assorted gear I’ve been too lazy to unload.  A good book is always stuffed under the sleeping bag in case I spend the night in some scenic turn-out along the road.  Naturally, a bottle opener and a cork screw are in the glove box at all times.”

“A road that may take many lifetimes to travel,” writes Meade.  “Sunset found me on the San Luis Obispo coast.  I think of this as the gentle coast, with its wide turn-outs beside rocky little beaches, slapped by perfectly starched little waves.”  (Question to Meade:  What’s a “starched” wave?)

Meade continues, “The view inland is of Hearst Castle and smooth rolling hills, like mounds of melting coffee ice cream.  There are big RVs with smiling retirees for neighbors.  Further north, past Ragged Point at Big Sur, the landscape erupts skyward.”  (Absolutely true!)

“This is a coast of narrow turn-outs, perched on cloud-high cliffs, with people stranger than myself parked in odd busses under the shadow of trees, plotting bizarre cures for mankind’s ills while chanting mantras and smoking copious amounts of pot.”

Meade meets some of these “strange” people at pull-outs when he parks to check out the surf conditions.  Ewing “lived up the road at a scenic turn-out in an old van.”  For income, Ewing “carved pot pipes for the surfers and hippie types.  He made enough from this to buy food and gas and that was pretty much all he wanted beyond just being able to live at Big Sur.”

A friend of Ewing’s who lived a bit further north, Robot, “lived in an old tent in a secret spot right off the highway.”  Robot also made money from carving little stone pipes and “watching cars” (like a parking lot security guard) parked alongside the road at surf spots.  Meade and Robot enjoyed “a friendship that lasted a couple of years, until he (Robot) moved down the beach to a place I’ve yet to locate.  He shared secrets of Big Sur and the delightful stories of his life and adventures, and I, more often than not, provided the beer, some epoxy from town and sometimes a “loan” of five or ten bucks.”

Meade’s coastal adventures include colorful characters, such as Ewing and Robot, and scenic descriptions of the coastscape, “A flock of birds argued enthusiastically in the tree above me, while the world of man was reduced to a thin line of cars passing far below.”  One of my favorite lines, “The comfortable patch of tall grass under the sprawling Live Oak, upon the ridge, above the rugged, always dynamic coast of Big Sur provides more nature than a hundred nature shows, with their carefully selected images.”

When not riding in his old Toyota or atop his Kawasaki, Meade takes to the water in a kayak at Elkhorn Slough, “A sudden darkness under the bridge of Highway One and I was officially out of the harbor and in the slough.”  Here Meade enjoys a brief respite from light pollution, “Then the magic began.  Suddenly there was almost no artificial light, only the distant house lights of rural south Monterey County.  The moon, low in the east, cast a broad avenue of ghostly white that led me ever onward.”

Or Meade’s ride becomes a surfboard, “My favorite surfing spot in Pacifica, in fact, my favorite in the Bay Area, was Rockaway Beach.  The beach is less than a half-mile wide, between two rocky points.  A channel through the reef at the south end leads to a line-up that you can paddle around.  You can slip into position without getting in the way of someone taking off on a wave.  The place breaks from two to three foot waves, until it closes out, which can be double overhead at times.”

Meade contributes his philosophic insights, such as, “As humans, we seem to need to find a reason, a greater purpose for everything, a natural law that causes it all to make sense to us.  I’m beginning to suspect that there really isn’t anything like that out there, that the order we discover is a product of our own minds.  Even the wonderful concept of ecology may be rooted in our persistent need for order and reason.”

In one night at my Big Sur campsite, I read through Meade’s Cosmic Coastal Chronicles.  Foxes visited, sniffing outside my tent, scaring the puppy to settle within my sleeping bag.  Absolutely original as a local’s guide book to travel on Highways 1 and 101, M.L. Fischer’s Cosmic Coastal Chronicles may also be compared to Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and John Steinbeck’s, Travels with Charley.  The next morning I hit the Coast Road south for a trot down to Nacimiento-Fergusson Road.

Now, as a re-read, Meade’s chronicles snapped me out of my winter hibernation (a doldrums as it were), and I’m re-inspired to hit the Coast Road in search of my own cosmic coastal adventures.  As Meade describes, “Each of these trips adds to the growing collage, the ongoing coastal trip.”

May the road rise to meet you too.

Magic Bus

Used to be that psychedelic magic buses drove the Coast Highway.  They’ve long disappeared now.   A few are still around, parked long ago under the tree canopy of the redwood and oak forests.  Aging and decaying.  Now dusty, dirty, and grey, their faded swirls of paint across the nose, sides, and top.

I’ve seen one between Briceland and Thorn Junction on the road out to Shelter Cove.  Another was up in La Honda, like an extinct species, for La Honda used to house many of these buses.

But this bus before me, in the photo above, was all green.  A green, mid-size bus.  A driver, a passenger.  Lots of bikes on back.

It’d be nice to have a bus this size, an electric bus one of several, providing bus service all-along the California coast.

Read the rest of this entry »

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