We returned our loaner bikes to the fence beside the gate leading into the backyard of the B&B, greeted a score of other hikers who were hanging out in their space underneath fruit trees growing beside a split-rail fence, and plopped down onto our air mattresses and sleeping bags. I immediately began nibbling on my cookies and taking occasional swigs of chocolate milk.
Dusk was gradually settling over the landscape, and the resident ants were trying their best to gain access to the top of my air mattress, while large, black crows were sitting in the trees, observing my every action, waiting for a chance to zip in and score a hit on any food that I might have left unattended. As I lay on my down quilt with my feet exposed to the air, I let my mind drift to today’s events. I thought about Yashinka and his desire to visit the Black Bear Ranch Commune on the other side of Etna Summit. I wondered if he would actually meet the residents of the commune and, if so, would they be willing to talk to him.
Communes are nothing new; they’ve been around forever. They flourish whenever a group of like-minded individuals decide to get away from it all, pool their resources, live off the land, live off the grid, grow their own food, and basically live whatever lifestyle they can conjure up that makes them happy. But the Black Bear Commune that Yashinka wanted to visit was, perhaps, a bit different in terms of its origin and its philosophy on lifestyle.
Black Bear, flat out, was started as a hippy commune in 1967, a community of like-minded individuals from the San Francisco Haight-Ashbury district, adjacent to the Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, during the height of the psychedelic revolution of the 1960s and 1970s. It was a wild and tumultuous time, a time of social upheaval, a time of abandonment of what was considered the norm. Rock music, drugs, and the war in Vietnam were the accelerants that fueled the hippy movement – a time of defiance towards government authority, parents, and social norms in general.
It was a time defined by the music of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Barry McGuire, the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, the Mamas & the Papas, and Bob Dylan; the insanity of the times was amplified by LSD drug proponents Timothy Leary, Ken Kesey and his Merry Pranksters, and Owsley Stanley – the King of LSD.
I lived through these times, and experienced them vicariously through the medium of television, radio, and newsprint. I think it worthwhile to recall some of the more poignant events of the 1960s as an insight into the culture that produced the first residents of the Black Bear Ranch Commune because the residents of the commune today are not quite like their predecessors.
As I reviewed the events of the 1960s and 1970s, I was struck with astonishment at the escalation of violence and social upheaval that occurred during those two decades of turmoil – two decades that forever changed the cultural norms of America, for better or for worse, depending on one’s moral compass.
May 6 – Civil Rights Act of 1960 signed by President Eisenhower.
March 15 – Lunch counter sit-ins spread to fifteen cities in five southern states
Nov – JFK elected president.
March 1 – JFK announces creation of the Peace Corps.
April 25 – Bay of Pigs, Cuba - U.S. planned invasion is defeated by Castro.
August 13 – East German border guards begin construction of Berlin Wall.
October 6 – President Kennedy advises Americans to build fallout shelters.
Sept – Timothy Leary promotes LSD research
October 22 – Cuban Missile Crisis – Soviet missile bases in Cuba, Kennedy orders naval blockade.
June 12 – Civil rights leader Medgar Evers assassinated.
August 28 – Martin Luther King’s "I Have a Dream" speech, Washington, D.C. Civil Rights March, two hundred thousand attend.