Friday, December 19, 2008

Morningstar Ranch

For the Naked, Nameless, Homeless and Harmless,
Morningstar Ranch Was Home

By Jim Parks
(reposted from December 1, 2008)

Picture this.

A couple of uptight bureaucrats - you know the kind, good gray men with seniority, white shirts and ties, training, civil service status - have come to inspect the dwellings and sanitary facilities at an "open land" commune in sixties California.

As they approach the gate to the 31-acre property in the redwoods situated in the middle of apple orchards near Sonoma County's Russian River, they are met by a committee - most of whom are stark naked.

In fact, one man who never missed these confrontations was a tall black giant, his afro and ebony skin glistening in the California sun, white teeth glittering as he beamed at the officials with a huge grin, a nude white woman under each arm. Tied around his abnormally large male member there was always a pink ribbon done up in a fancy bow.

These confrontations persisted for years and they always began the same way. "Who is in charge here?" the bureaucrat, building inspector, health code enforcement officer or sheriff's department investigator would inquire.

No one seemed to be able to give a clear answer to the question. Now, it was a fair question, but it seemed it was always very difficult to answer.

It was like the scene in the Vietnam war movie "Apocalypse Now," an adaptation of a Joseph Conrad story that had nothing to do with Vietnam and everything to do with authority and power relationships.

"Hey, soldier, do you know who's in command here?"

The reply, cheeky and matter of fact and succinct, "Yeah."

The character had nothing further to say. Just, "Yeah."

They were in the middle of a firefight at a bridge head and he knew who was in charge there.


Vietnam. California. Berkeley. Communes. Universities, the military, corporations, powerful institutions of any kind. You name it.

People just kept on doing things to let the The Man know HE was no longer necessarily the one in charge.

The critics panned it, the politicians and pundits now deride it, but one thing is for certain, the era of free love, peace, social experimentation, alternative lifestyles - all these things that shook the American culture to its roots - just kept challenging that central concept in ways too numerous to define.

Dominance ranking, as the sociologists call it and measure it by such factors as disposable income and leisure time, was sliding and tipping disastrously, rather like an elegant sterling tea service on a gleaming teak table in a salon in a bounding, rolling yacht on an ocean in a snotty blow.

The Man kept asking the same question and he kept getting the same answer.

Do you know who's in charge here?


So this was a daily scene at the socially experimental Morningstar Ranch, a counterculture enclave that flourished near Occidental, California, situated in the apple orchards and redwood groves of Sonoma County's Russian River country, the neighborhood where the apples are grown, Luther Burbank developed the seedless grape, and some of the finest California varietal vintages are produced.

What was really proven? Quite a lot, really. Mostly, it was about power relations - who has it, who doesn't, and why.

Lou Gottlieb owned the ranch after he bought it from John Henry Beecher, grandson of Harriet Beecher Stowe, the abolitionist author of Uncle Tom's Cabin, whom President Abraham Lincoln claimed was "the little lady who started all the trouble."

Mr. Beecher lost his property when he lost his position as a teacher at San Francisco State University because he refused to sign a "loyalty" oath.

After amassing thousands of dollars in fines and court- ordered fees to bulldoze buildings ruled improperly constructed on his own property, Lou Gottlieb deeded the property to God. All this controversy wound up in the U.S. Ninth Circuit District Court of Appeals, which ruled that if God was named owner of real property on a quit claim deed, then there would be no recourse for the collection of property taxes.

Therefore, God has no property rights in the state of California.

It was a typical joke for the wise-cracking Gottlieb, who earned a Ph.D. in musicology at UC Berkeley and fronted the folk song trio, "The Limelighters" playing upright double bass on the weekly television program "Hootenany" after he arranged many of The Kingston Trio's hit songs.

Think "There's Going To Be A Meeting" and "It Takes A Worried Man (To Sing A Worried Song)."

Gottlieb had a concert grand he put in a hen house at the Morningstar Ranch. There, he played Brahms and other classical works. He meditated, did yoga and clowned while his sidekick, another musician named Ramón Sender Barayón, the son of Ramón J. Sender, the exiled Spanish novelist, played it straight.

Sender was literally born amid the sound of machine guns during "Red October," within close proximity of the opening battles of the Spanish Civil War, in 1934. His father, a native of Aragon, was a member of Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista, or P.O.U.M., the Trotskyist militia whose ranks were filled with international volunteers, including such literary luminaries as George Orwell, author of 1984. He worked as a journalist covering the revolution.

One of the party's founders later served as his literary agent in America after they had both reached New York.

One of Spain's great modern novelists, Sr. Sender wrote the novel Mr. Witt Among The Rebels, for which he won the prestigious Spanish National Prize for Literature in 1936. He was nominated for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1970 for the body of his other work, including some which have been translated. They are Pro Patria, Seven Red Sundays Counterattack In Spain, Chronicle Of Dawn, The Sphere, Dark Wedding, and The Affable Hangman.

The Stalinist government of the Soviet Union controlled the funds and the supplies of the Republican effort to resist the Fascist forces commanded by Generalissimo Francisco Franco. During that conflict, the P.O.U.M. brigades found it increasingly difficult to find the means to resist the fascists. At one point, the Stalinists actually attacked the P.O.U.M. troops, though they were on the same side.

One night at the height of the war, a death squad jerked Ramon's mother Amparo out of a jail cell and frog marched her to a cemetery in her home town of Zamora in the province of Castile. There, paid fascist firing squad of assassins cut her down where she stood before a wall and buried her in a squalid grave after the local priest refused her absolution.

Sender, Sr., was able to get his two children, Ramón and Andrea, out of Spain. They eventually arrived in New York in 1939, stateless, homeless refugees because the senior Sender was on the run in Mexico, dodging the Stalinist operatives who were still hunting down and killing supporters of Leon Trotsky, as they had killed Trotsky himself in Mexico City in 1940.

Indeed, he considered the truth of the demise of his wife so sensitive that he took the secret to the grave in 1982 when he succumbed to a heart attack after a long career publishing his novels and teaching in various universities. It was only through meticulous research that Ramon Sender Barayón, his son, was able to piece together the truth of his mother's execution. He wrote "A Death In Zamora" and published it to respectable reviews in 2003.

Today, forty years after the open land experiment at Morningstar Ranch with Lou Gottlieb and such leading lights of the hippie movement as the Diggers, Sender sits in a bay window in a house high on a crazy hill on a sunny San Francisco street where fog comes pouring over a mountain on certain days. He roughs the tangled fur of his wiggly little dog, "Ricky Ricardo."

Asked how to lead and govern several hundred free spirits through gentle suggestion at the height of the psychedelic revolution, the Summer of Love, he readily responds, with no hesitation, "Buy a cow."

Buy a cow?

"Buy a cow."

Why buy a cow?

Near exasperation, Ramón Sender Barayón peers over the top of his half lens reading glasses and speaks very slowly, with the voice of experience, with exaggerated patience.

Because twice a day that cow needs to be milked. Everyone will come to watch or to get some milk or to socialize - or whatever. All you need to do to get their attention is to make sure the cow is doing fine, that everyone gets some milk, and you can communicate with them with no problem.

Here sits one of the earlist experimenters with electronic keyboards, or MOOG synthesizers, one of the organizers of the San Francisco Trips Festival of 1966, a joint venture composed of himself, Stewart Brand, Lou Gottlieb, Phil Graham, The Grateful Dead, Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, Big Brother and the Holding Company and many other bands as well as the signature light shows that later became the standard for rock concerts - all staged at the ILWU Longshoreman's Hall, all staged over a three-day period in January of 1966.

He is very obviously a Spaniard. You can see it in the flowing gray hair, the bushy eyebrows, the heavy beard, the exaggerated gestures when he speaks.

He insists that if I ever suddenly find myself situated on prime property in a garden state suddenly overrun by the homeless, helpless, naked and nameless, I should buy a cow.

It's the first lesson, he told me.

Well, it's a start.

Indeed, all good stories have a beginning. The middle of this story is another thing entirely. Some would say the demise of the ranch through the intervention of the bureaucracy and the court orders to bulldoze the property was the end of the story.

But that's not true.

The end, obviously, is nowhere in sight.

At least, not from where Ramón Sender Barayón and Señor Ricky Ricardo sit looking out that bay window on that crazy hill in San Francisco.

The people who lived at Morningstar Ranch scattered like seeds before a whirlwind. Many of them perished on the streets from where they had come. There are many horror stories involving the retribution of gang wars, political assassination, drug overdoses and outright death by exposure and disease.

Others have thrived in places far and wide, most of them "on the land" at other communes in the west.

Sender continues to chronicle all that in an evolving e-book he calls "Home Free Home."

Very interesting reading, it may be found in "The Digger Archives" at:

The Diggers were an almost mythical commune of people who tended to the needs of the burned out hippies during the Summer of Love. They gleaned produce and scored fish and meat from vendors who were willing to share. They printed instant newspapers on an old multilith in the back of a newspaper delivery van and distributed them to people hungry for information.

And they gardened.

Morningstar was one of the places where they maintained thriving gardens, the produce of which they hauled into San Francisco to feed starving hippies from everywhere who had arrived without a clue as to what they would do next, where their next meal was coming from, or where to go when their luck ran out.

What were some of the lessons learned?

First of all, what of the revolutionary idea propagated by Lou Gottlieb, an ex-member of the American Communist Party, that all should work in harmony in "removing the Territorial Imperative from the human heart"?

Lou Gottlieb called it LATWNID, or "land access to which no one is denied."

Ramón Sender remembers events this way. There were many fits and starts, legal hassles and emotional public meetings. "Anyway, the fact is that from the first get-go we terrified a whole lot of people."


Because, according to one popular definition of the concept by Robert Ardrey, the playwright turned anthropologist, who proposed the notion of human territorial aggression in "The Territorial Imperative," published in the 1960s, humans, like animals, are compelled by instinct to possess and defend territory they believe belongs exclusively to them...Territory enhances an animal's prestige and improves chances for survival. It was his idea that this dynamic drives human aggression.

Gottlieb sought an experimental solution to this thing of human aggression. He saw it as a problem, and that generated a lot of fear, according to his sidekick, Ramón Sender.

The fears all that generated in the minds of the neighbors fell along several well-worn lines.

First, they saw the free land movement "...corrupting our children, which I would rephrase (as) 'offering the younger generation an alternative to the Consensus Reality rat race.'"

Secondly, hippies running around naked, gardening, meditating and making babies they saw as "lowering real estate values."

Parenthetically, according to Sender, "...actually it's the value of the dollar decreasing..."

Neighbors perceived "an increase of crime in the area, including mostly burglary and trespassing."

They suspected "Cultivation of illegal substances such as marijuana, and probably some of the more paranoid thought we were cooking meth."

They feared "The spread of sexually transmitted diseases into the population, along with hepatitis. "'Dirty Hippies' was considered one word."

What lesson did Ramon Sender learn when Gottlieb deeded the property to God?

No one knows who instigated the move. A woman friend of his interrupted his morning meditation to tell him about Lou's problems with the law, the magnitude of his legal fees and court costs.

It wouldn't have been a bad idea to deed Morningstar to God.

Within a few weeks, that's what Lou Gottlieb did.

Later, he learned that John Henry Beecher had already deeded the property to The Goddess "because he was a member of the Catholic lay order of the Third Order of St. Dominic which occasionally met on the property. "They consecrated the ranch to the Holy Mother and named it after her, 'Morning Star.'"

Many people had seen a mysterious vision, the figure of the "Divine Mother," strolling through the trees from time to time, he recalls.

Ironically, that may have offered a legal avenue to certification as a tax-exempt and religious enclave community, according to Sender.

"...Lou discovered unfortunately too late to help with the appeal of the deed to God, that under Islamic law, it is possible to deed real property to Allah. It's caled a 'waqf.'...Whether Islamic law could have any standing in an American court would be interesting to research, but it seems to me that it could be argued that, under the First Amendment, Lou could, if he converted to Islam, make a waqf of Morning Star to Allah."

Finally, did the ultimate defeat of the community because of non-compliance with building codes spell success for the principles of freedom?

"Or do you mean 'spell defeat for the principles of freedom'? I think that's you intended to say," said Ramón. "ABSOLUTELY NOT! Okay, so Morning Star was a disaster in the sense that it could never have become a viable community, at least at that time and place, because it was too close to neighbors and too anarchistic in its basic Digger philosophical thrust to have ever organized itself into a self-supporting enterprise. I personally viewed Morning Star as an alternate society shrine where people came to be healed, just like at Lourdes. Other than live-in staff, there only should've been been visitors who stayed as long as necessary and then moved on, taking their healing and the message with them. And many did just that."

Many a young man or woman who had abandoned their lives somewhere in America and come to the Haight to see what would happen wound up totally zonked on psychdelics or other drugs and were basically wandering around stray and at loose ends, incapable of caring for themselves.

The Diggers picked them up, brought them to the ranch, and they spent their first night under a tree sleeping while the condensation dripped on them. In the morning, they found a communal stove in the middle of a meadow where people were preparing some sort of breakfast of oatmeal or soup. As the days went by, they scored canvas or sheet plastic and made a lean-to, then found a way to build a little structure. Some helped out with the gardening. Others went on runs with the Diggers to score food, lumber, anything that could be used to help build the community.

At one point the three septic tanks on the 31-acre place were streaming effluent downhill on the surface of the ground. It all served to madden the public officials and the neighbors. There were issues of public health and safety to consider.

But wasn't that exactly the point, according to Gottlieb and Sender, the two seeming radicals who dared to beg the question?

At some point, faced with their confrontational style, one had to ask oneself, what, exactly is radical and what is conservative?

Every night an estimated 88,000 people bed down on the streets of Los Angeles. They have no home other than the sidewalks, alleys, public parks, vacant houses and homeless shelters.

"If pot's allowed as 'medical marijuana,' then living on the land and building your own simple dwelling should be considered 'medical voluntary poverty' or some-such. And I'd love to find some expert willing to testify to the salubrious effect of not having to pay money to live on some slice of Mother Earth," said Ramón Sender Barayón.

Every so often, he and The Rev. Keenan C. Kelsey. Pastor, Noe Valley Ministry where Ramón retired as the Administrative director of the Ministry and Community Center, submitted a proposal to the San Francisco Mayor and County Board of Supervisors that would allow a triage of homeless by the Social Services Department.

"Proposal: If a person wants to camp out in nature, offer them a 'nature camp' where they can build themselves a lean- to in a hospitable climate (not too cold, not too hot) grow their food, raise some chickens, learn some crafts, and wait for their soul to regenerate. The basic axiom is that Nature is the Greatest Healer."

Where would they do this? On part of the sixteen million acres contolled by the Bureau of Land Management or by The State of California.

"Lumber, livestock, water, gardening equipment and food stamps would be provided."

The triage would be determined by the Department of Social Services's placement in one of three groups.

"Group 1) Willing to be trained and employed. These would remain in the city.

"Group 2) Physically or mentally disabled or drug-addicted, These would be placed in treatment centers, but many of the so-called mentally disabled would benefit by being placed in Group 3.

"Group 3) Unwilling to be trained but willing to 'return to nature' under minimum supervision, following the time-out center therapeutic concepts of R. D. Lang, et. al...Group 3 Program Participants would be encouraged to build their own living quarters - in the 1960s, on the so-called 'open door hippy enclaves,' we found this to be a very important aspect of the rehabilitation program. The participants would be encouraged to create a self-sufficient homestead. The basic model somewhat parallels The Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930's. These TOIN Camps (Time Out In Nature Camps), scattered through isolated areas of the state, would also provide on-site volunteer fire fighting teams during the fire season. "Why don't you take your TOIN (Time Out In Nature)?" could become a catch phrase.

Under the doctrine of LATWIDN, or, that is, Gottlieb's notion of Land Access To Which Is Denied No One, the core idea is to move people onto the huge amount of land that is not in use. Nine-tenths of the nation's population lives on about one tenth of its land mass.

The people of America are now bottled up as never before, according to Ramón Sender Barayón.

At first, people arrived in outlaw fashion by being transported from Europe against their will. Later, the huge amounts of vacant land on the North American continent beckoned when people found it hard to fit in or they were starved out of their villages to make a convenient labor pool in the industrial cities.

Today, the marginal are left to wander the streets until they die.

Image 1 - Credit unknown
Image 2 - Lou Gottlieb, taken by ?
Image 3 - Ramón Sender Barayón, taken by ?
Image 4 - Diggers Free Store Window, taken by ?
Image 5 - Credit Unknown
Image 6 - Credit Unknown
Image 7 - Credit Unknown
Image 8 - "Mujer Pegada, 1985," by Manuel Neri, b. 1930
Image 9 - Ramón Sender Barayón, taken by ?
Image 10 - Credit Unknown
Image 11 - Credit Unknown

If any of these images are your brilliant original work, please e-mail

1 comment:

  1. Jim! An amazing write-up that I just now found courtesy of a New Zealand writer Gerald Davidson. hope this finds you high and happy. Drop me a line at ramonsender[at] Love Always, RS