Saturday, April 2, 2011
Exhausted, I sat playing my guitar. I had retreated to the corner bed platform of my small cabin. The kerosene lamp’s soft light took the edge off the situation as dark night condensed the cabin’s interior.
In front of me Angela stomped a circle around the cabin floor, yelling , cursing and crying, as she named every man who’d ever mistreated her, abused her, abandoned her. Her fury shook the cabin as she shouted at and stomped on faceless men from her recent adolescence. Playing quietly, my fingers released anxiety created by the electric energy of Angela’s rage. While she enacted this dance, this ritual, this cleansing of her fragile psyche, I could only watch and wait.
Eventually the Thorazine would take effect. Angela would come down. The shouting became sobbing. Angela collapsed to a fetal position on the polished oak floor. I moved down to comfort her, fashioning a bed in front of the wood cook stove. I gave her my pillow and tucked an old quilt around her. Stroking her long reddish hair, I felt Angela’s demons finally rest as she went to sleep. Enough for today I said to her. I would drive her home in the morning.
I understood on a deep, non-verbal level, the pain and conflicts coming up for Angela. She could have been any one of us who live near the abyss and explored the narrow edge between the seen and unseen worlds, sometimes with grace, and sometimes, outside it.
Witnessing her meltdown, I remembered that just two days before, I’d learned that Angela had flipped out. The whole community had been celebrating a great growing season at Forgotten Works Commune. We visited, ate, sang, danced, smoked and made love as the September Full Moon surged from behind the mountains and flooded our narrow valley. Angela had made a batch of grass brownies for the full moon celebration. She ate one brownie, and flipped out. She’d freaked out on the August full moon too but came down in a week. This time Angela’s frenetic energy release was draining her commune mates and her husband. Marilyn spoke of the crisis faced by those who lived at Forgotten Works as we were driving down along Graves Creek.
We had spent the afternoon picking blackberries. Plump purple berries dripped from long branches above the low creek. The dry September heat was welcome on our skin as we waded in to gather them. Purple stained our hands and mouths. Looking at the dry grasses along the roadside I listened to what Marilyn was saying. I silently asked the Universe to give me Angela’s energy. I felt I could contain it, use it creatively, and perhaps, help transform it. Then I forgot about the prayer and discussed the situation with Marilyn.
It was on that drive home that we thought of taking Angela down to the Takilma Clinic near Grants Pass. We must have talked to Arthur, leader of Forgotten Works, when I dropped Marilyn off. We decided to try to get Angela to Takilma as soon as possible. Angela was never left alone, for her commune mates feared that, in her out-of-body state, she might seriously hurt herself. During her first episode the month before, she took off on long walks into the woods, up mountain roads in search of her lover. She had come down from her high in a week that time. She didn’t seem to be coming down this time. If she wandered outside the Wolf Creek/Sunny Valley hippy community and its communes--Forgotten Works, The Family of the Mystic Arts, The Muldoons, Cabbage Lane etc, we feared she might be picked up by the State Police. Worse, some paranoid, straight neighbor might shoot her.
Angela agreed to go to the clinic at Takilma. We were all grateful. Soon she would be calmer after getting Thorazine. The clinic was forty or so miles away from Wolf Creek, part of the Magic Forest Farm Commune. It was the only rural hippy health clinic operating in southern Oregon. We called from Wolf Creek’s pay phone to make sure Dr. Jim would be expecting us. The Takilma Clinic doctor had rightfully earned the respect of the southern Oregon counter-culture by doing just what he did with Angela--helping hippies in need.
To get to Takilma that night, we needed a trusty vehicle and driver. Having no telephone, I drove over to ask Marty to help. We’d lived together in San Francisco a few years before. She had an almost new Scout which we could trust to not break down. We wouldn’t be hassled by the State Police either. They often stopped hippy-looking cars to just find something wrong. Then too, they might just wonder where you were going after dark on Coyote Creek Road. African-Americans invited the same dalliance.
In the late 60’s/early 70’s many hippies and other counter-culture types left San Francisco and East Coast cities to live in the Western mountains and other remote areas. While we may have all had our personal reasons, we were fleeing the toxicity of the times-- the Vietnam War, race riots, unabashed American materialism (the consume-more culture) and the destruction of the environment.
The arrival of hard drugs on Haight Street pushed many pot smokers to leave San Francisco. We pulled together in communal efforts and moved on. Many of us had chosen to live simply as social and economic dropouts. We wanted to know how to survive outside middle class lifestyles. Others who had traveled in the Third World saw that in most places on the planet people lived with much less and seemed just as happy. They returned with many creative living ideas. Land was cheap in rural southern Oregon then, so many alternative culture people migrated there. I had joined a hippy family in San Francisco who had bought farms near Wolf Creek. Before caretaking the tiny cabin, I lived on a commune with them.
The Wolf Creek area sheltered a microcosm of humanity in the early 70’s. Hippies, draft dodgers, ex-LA Bikers, lesbian separatists, gay men, drop-out lefties, feminists, back-to-the-land young people, retired military families, farmers, loggers, miners--just to mention some of the more obvious types you could run into at the Post Office. There were vast differences in beliefs, though almost all practiced a basic survival lifestyle.
The pervasive Wolf Creek outlaw mentality sometimes spawned potentially violent interactions, especially given the philosophical and lifestyle differences. These differences erupted during one of my first mornings in Wolf Creek when camping out on Mrs. Holland’s mining claim with friends. Our burly, redneck neighbors arrived on a bulldozer (tank) and with shot guns. They didn’t want us hippies traipsing through their property on our way to the shack on Mrs. Holland’s gold mining claim. We used the road to get down to the creek, which had a right-of-way, we pointed out. Frank caretook the place for Mrs. Holland who lived in town. We had the right to be there. Frank had a friendly open manner and had lived there awhile so he was able to talk them down. No shots were fired. Later they became our allies.
Back to Angela’s story. During the August full moon we had what we called the first Oregon Women’s Spiritual Festival. She freaked out the first time after that weekend event.
The Festival took place on the 100 acre tree farm where I lived alone in the cabin as the caretaker. That Festival, on the full moon in Aquarius, August 1973, attracted many women from Portland, Eugene, and California as well as southern Oregon. We’d put out the word out in tiny women’s magazines.
The Festival grew out of a women’s spiritual group that had been meeting through the winter around Wolf Creek. Angela, Mar, Cathy, Frannie, Nellie, Marilyn, Sharon, Ruth, Jean, Pan, Sara, Marty, myself......others. This loose alliance of straight and gay women ranging in age from 17 to 50+ met once a week or so. We studied healing, did Tarot together, read poems and tried to listen and help each other through everyday life challenges. We also created some powerful rituals to celebrate certain yearly passages nurtured by a belief in the Goddess. We invoked the power women derive from a feminine, earth-centered religion. In those times, out there in the Siskiyou Mountains, sisterhood was powerful. For many of us, it was necessary.
Located on the edge of the National Forest, my beautiful, tiny cabin perched above a year round creek. While almost all the creeks had gone dry that summer, this clean source of good drinking water still tumbled down through the forested mountain. My cabin served as the reception area for the Festival. Lacking all modern conveniences, my daily life often resembled permanent camping out. Still for me, being there three years helped heal my spirit. I liked living with the seasons, and without electric lights. The silence and the rhythm of daily life suited my personal growth needs just fine. I had the good fortune to belong to a community with favorable conditions for studies of esoteric philosophies, Eastern religions, art, music, dance, poetry and the Goddess.
Friday afternoon women started arriving for the Festival. Our committee didn’t know how many women to expect. We offered workshops in various disciplines that women wanted. Meditation, herbal remedies, yoga, journal writing, Tarot, the Goddess, African dance and drumming, massage, made up part of a longer list. We had child care. You could teach a workshop about something you practiced or studied. Some level of expertise was required but, in sync with the times, we wanted to share what we had learned with each other. This extension of the democratic ideal began with the free universities that sprouted up from Berkeley to Boston.
Over one hundred and fifty women and children, including babies, found their way to the event. Our group ran it as volunteers. The whole thing was more or less free. We did charge something to cover food. I saw Angela and other members of our group in passing. We had specific things to take care of. Still, the whole event had a “come and hang out” feeling. Organic, holistic, relaxed. Most local women returned home at night rather than camp out. Others slept out in sleeping bags under the beautiful night sky.
The Moon Hut offered a soft, comfortable shady place with curtains and pillows for women having their periods. They could hang out near the creek and get massaged. In other workshops intense discussions about women’s control over their bodies, and sexuality , exploded with laughter and rage. All around small groups of women with shared interests lounged in shady places, talking and writing down information they thought they’d use. The African Dance Class, led by Be, found a flat place to practice movements from Senegal and Ghana. Sara, Cathy and other women conga drummers played rhythms that sparked the dancers’ bodies.
My caretaking that summer included another 100 acres below Lower Wolf Creek Road, belonging to artist that showed up occasionally. Hidden in the woods his cabin had electricity but no running water. We used the electric stove to cook on for the event. I brought down my electric guitar, amp and microphone. Singing and playing went on at all hours. I sat in when I had a break.
Below David’s cabin women sunbathed naked on the edge of a secluded swimming hole, occasionally jumping into the clear, cold mountain water. I guess they saw themselves as wood nymphs bathing under boughs of Douglas fir.
No fires, no cook stoves allowed, eating was simple, and communal. Committees of participants took care of fixing meals and cleaning up. We formed orderly lines for a couple meals a day. The rustic back-to-nature ambience included warnings about rattlesnakes, scorpions and poison oak. Smoking anything required much care. Southern Oregon was in the middle of a bad drought that summer and any tiny spark could have ignited a holocaust. Many more women than we’d imagined showed up, including city dwellers who had limited experience in the woods. I had to maintain a state of alert for the entire weekend.
Some participants parked their cars along Lower Wolf Creek Road. Rumors of bare-breasted women walking on the road brought out local straight men hoping to see SOMETHING. We hadn’t planned for Amazons who glorified being nearly naked outdoors, even on the public road. I remember I had to run off some pushy men. Us locals went without clothes regularly but not along the road, though, there were some near wrecks on the hairpin curve near Forgotton Works Commune's lower garden.
Dressed in my bright pink and gold Magician’s jacket, I moved around the Festival to make sure things ran smoothly. Women smiled and hugged new and old friends. Kids played together in playgroups admist a rotating watchful committee from all festival participants. Somehow, all needs got met in this basically supportive environment. Well, it was all women. Saturday passed with workshops, laughter, mealtimes, learning and consciousness raising. Our women’s group had planned a large group ritual for Saturday night after the communal dinner. It was voluntary so only about 50 women participated.
A large circle formed as the full moon rose at sunset. We grounded the energy and Mar invoked the power of the Goddess. We dance snake-like around the circular but flat driveway in front of the cabin. A beautiful altar of flowers, stones and garden produce gathered artfully around a statue of Isis which formed the center of the circle. We sang.....
"May the blessings of the Goddess be upon us,
May her peace abide in us
May her love illuminate our hearts
Now and forever more."
Drumming and dancing raised a cone of energy. This gave way to the passing of the sacrament, magic mushrooms. Cathy, acting as Priestess, presented a beautiful basket filled with liberty caps to women in the circle. I couldn’t take mushrooms since I needed to be totally available for any emergency.
Many women participated in the rite, recalling the ancient mystery tradition at Eleusis, Greece. In Demeter's rites at Eleusis, hallucinogens opened the participants’ minds. It is said that partaking of the sacrament gave them certainty that death was an illusion. At Eleusis, Demeter and Persephone’s secret initiations were shared by men and women. As night came on we evoked Demeter and many other great, ancient Goddesses.
The full moon gave the hillside and valley below a magical, shimmering appearance. A meditation closed the circle. Graced by the moon’s light, women moved about on the meadow and in the trees. No electric lights. Very few flashlights. Low voices....singing, talking. A glimpse of a peaceful tribal way of living. Mothers and children, friends and lovers, relaxed into the August night.
After the main ceremony, Mar, from The Family of the Mystic Arts, whispered I should come with her to a special, secret ritual on a remote part of the hillside. Arriving there I found various members of our women’s spiritual group casting a small circle. Their Wicca coven was meeting to initiate a new member. They said that I should be inside the circle to protect me from any negative energy. Angela too, had been invited. She refused to enter the circle, sat some distance away by herself. I looked at her on the moonlit hillside thinking this was not a wise choice on her part.
Mar, a woman in her forties, had a dramatic personality, and as High Priestess could create a powerful sacred space and ritual experience. I hadn’t taken mushrooms, (as the caretaker), but the moon, the night, the concentration of women’s energy electrified the 6 or 7 of us sitting out on the grassy meadow. We listened intently to the interchange between Priestess and Novice. Sacred items were shown. Promises made. This initiation officialized N.s participation in Wicca, the old goddess religion. She’d now be completing studies in the next year, after which she could officially join this local Coven.
My Magician’s Jacket protected me against the mountains’ chilly night air. The astral realm opened as I gazed from my cabin’s porch to the mountains. I felt content, honoring the ancient earth- centered way of being. The Moon Goddess’s blessings shone over the gathering. At the festival site, the night passed quietly into daylight.
I was surprised to learn a few days after the Spiritual Festival, that Angela had flipped out that seemingly peaceful night. Mar came by with one version of the story. Others, from Forgotten Works Commune, shared theirs. Putting the versions together, what I know is that Angela made love with Rod that night. Perhaps he and Cathy and Angela. Rod was Mar.’s son and Cathy’s partner. Hadn’t he shown up to take Cathy up the mountain, home to Mystic Arts? I remember seeing him, even though men weren’t allowed to be there. I guess Angela went home with them instead of to her husband at Forgotten Works.
I speculate that the fiery, mysterious tantric love force, released by magic mushrooms, created a mythic meeting of those young people on a Siskiyou mountain top. An innocent happening that opened doors of perception not tightly bolted shut. It seems that Angela left her body up on the mountain that night. By the next day, after returning home, she’d become obsessed with Rod, seeking him out, trying to get back to Mystic Arts Commune by walking the 5 or more miles. A part of her still lingered on the mountain.
Her husband tolerated all this, trying to help, even drove her to see Rod who clearly wasn’t in love with her. After this, her concerned commune mates tried to keep her safe at home on their 100 acres. Someone stayed with her day and night. She returned to normal in about a week.
I don’t know what Angela did during the month between the Festival flip out and the freak out that landed her in my cabin on Thorazine. Those September mornings I worked my garden early before it got hot. I played guitar and sang. Wrote a song, made drawings and poems. Fall was coming on. I started getting my winter wood supply together. I went swimming on hot afternoons, visited friends. Days got shorter as the moon swelled to fullness. Until I went blackberry picking with Marilyn, I had no idea that Angela was in crisis.
The morning after Angela slept on my cabin’s floor, she seemed mellow and self-reflective. Many of her relationships with men had been abusive. Her husband, no. But others. She decided to not take any marijuana or hallucinogens for awhile so she could assimilate these experiences. I felt relieved to hear this. I thanked the Universe silently. We hugged as I dropped her off at Forgotton Works. I hugged her husband too. Nearby flowers seemed to wave and smile. It was a new day. I went home and wrote a lyrical song inspired by Angela’s freak out. It was a gift that flowed from my fingers, feelings and voice.