To complement the current Kelley House exhibit, “Hippies Use the Back Door,” we excerpt here Tales of Mendocino: The Way We Were, local author Jay Frankston’s 2006 memoir of life here in the late 60s and early 70s. The exhibit runs Fridays through Mondays until November 30.
People came here from everywhere, from the east coast, from Chicago, from L.A. Most were getting away from something like a family that didn’t understand them, a job they could no longer deal with, or perhaps a marriage that didn’t work out. But all were seeking a change, a new life, a soulful reincarnation of sorts.
When they changed their lives, many also changed their names. There was Crazy Wolf and Tiger Lily, Leaping Deer and Laughing Brook. There was Captain Fathom and Colonel Wingnuts. There was Stumbling Buffalo, formerly David the Hairdresser from Miami Beach, and Meridian Green. There was Moonlight and Raven B. (for batshit) Earlygrow, once Harold Chaikin of Flushing, New York. All manifested their new incarnations in the Mendocino fog and sunshine.
Almost everyone we met was a freak of one kind or another. Not a freak in the sense of abnormal or belonging to a circus sideshow, but in being strongly dedicated to a cause or belief and living one’s life accordingly. Some were health and organic food freaks and ate only tofu and grains. And some were mantra and meditation freaks, disciples of Baba Ram Dass or Bubba Free John or Swami Muktananda, all gurus of one kind or another. And some were Jesus freaks and lived in communities like “The Lord’s Land” on Navarro Ridge Road.
If you met someone and spoke a while and found out he was not a Jesus freak or a holistic health freak, you began to think that he was a fairly average person. Then you’d ask him what he did and he’d say, “I’m building an ark…. When the deluge comes, I’m going to be ready.” I forgot to mention the end of the world freaks, and a number of them were waiting for Armageddon. I also forgot those who had been contacted by extraterrestrials and were building a landing platform for flying saucers.
At Big River Farm, a sort of Aquarian age Zen commune, we went on the Solstice or the Equinox for a night in the square outdoor hot tub. I can still see naked bodies climbing in and out, all shadows in the moonlight with steam floating around and a night halo over the whole scene. This was followed by drumming and chanting till all hours of the morning.
When we got together, we gave each other Mendocino hugs, sat face to face, so close we were exposed and vulnerable. In the process we recognized each other’s frailties, anxieties, and humanity. We looked into each other’s eyes and words were not necessary so all we said was, “Far out, brother,” or “Far out, sister.” For we were brothers and sisters, and lived in a common garden.