I was talking to my daughter this morning, bemoaning the fact that I’ve been struggling to come up with blog topics. She mentioned that one of the things that enriched her life the most and has made one of the most long-lasting effects was her exposure to alternative people and lifestyles. For some reason, that had never occurred to me until today, but it started me thinking about her
childhood. She was born on the west coast after her dad and I had hitchhiked across the country. We weren’t really ready to settle down, as we had just started on our journey together, but we recognized the need to settle temporarily. We stayed in Santa Cruz, California for about a year and a half, long enough to acclimate to our new roles as parents. While there, we met all kinds of unique characters.
There was a hippy couple with a baby girl very close in age to our daughter. Jewel and I became new mom companions. We were both young and newly settled there. She was 18 years old with long red hair. Her husband, Rain, was an older guy with long white hair, and their little girl was named Honey Tree. We thought of many alternative names for our daughter but decided that in 1975, we still didn’t know where we would go from there and wanted her to have a more traditional name. We all had long hair then. The women mostly wore long peasant skirts or patched jeans. Somewhere, I might still have a pair of old jeans from back then. Sometimes Jewel and I would meet in San Lorenzo Park with the two girls and just hang out watching the world go by. There was usually a lot to see because everybody used the park.
The only homeless people that I had any real personal contact with were men. I don’t remember any homeless women, although I have a very vague memory of seeing a woman once out in the distance. A lot of people went missing in that area, so I assumed that the women stayed out of sight for their own safety. One of the regulars was a man who had at one time been a nuclear physicist and lost his mind. He had a steady, dependable income making a lot of money for that time. He had a loving family and was part of an active community. He woke up one day and realized what his job was actually doing in the world and just walked away from the whole scene. He now lived off the land, eating foods that were growing wild all around. He showed me rosemary growing wild in the park and in empty lots in town that I could use in my cooking. He was a very sad and brilliant man, eager to share his knowledge and his stories to have some personal connection, but he was tortured about his old life and couldn’t see past that sometimes.
Then, there was “Moses”. I most often saw him in front of the Albertson’s grocery store. He was a very large man who would stand at the big windowed store front with his arms spread out above him, very loudly channeling the “Word of the Lord.” He’d go on for hours at a time, and no one could speak with him during those times. Sometimes little respectful crowds would gather. He was really interesting and cool to listen to. It always made the shopping experience unique to what I’d grown up with. I saw it as street art. When he was in the park, only a very few of us could actually talk with him at all. He was very peaceful and gentle-hearted but also withdrawn. He said it was exhausting having the word of God come through him. He told me that he lost control of his body at those times and was outside of himself not feeling any exhaustion in his arms until afterwards. He also usually lost his voice for a day or two after proselytizing. I think he spoke to me because I had a baby and was obviously safe. He mostly talked about spiritual things and first told me about the book Be Here Now by Ram Dass, formerly known as Richard Alpert (one of the pioneers of psychedelia).
Downtown there was a pedestrian mall where you could find street musicians and artists. I found my favorite Bread Book in a free box in front of a funky bookstore there. I saw Arlo Guthrie playing on a street corner and turned another corner to be confronted by a street performer dressed in full combat gear. There was a lovely café that had a jazz band outdoors right in the front so that they were accessible to everyone walking by. I even sang “Summertime” with that band one time. And, I randomly ran into “Michael,” a homeless man we had picked up hitchhiking before our big adventure a year earlier, while we were still living in Connecticut. It was easy to meet people because everyone just hung out in these public places, sitting in little groups on the sidewalks, on park benches or strolling along.
I learned things from all of the people I met there. Having grown up very shattered and sheltered, I was just starting to learn about life. There were activists, commune dwellers, musicians, artists, healers... In that short 18 or so months, I learned about wild foods, herbal healing, “health foods” and “whole grains”, motherhood, spiritual enlightenment, alternative politics, sexuality and so much more. My mind was not only expanding, it was exploding. I’m sure that it also had a profound effect on a newborn just discovering the world. In our lives were people of all shapes and sizes, all walks of life, all orientations, and that was before she turned one year. I wonder what she still holds with her from that specific time. There are other eventful and colorful times, but this was her earliest. She obviously doesn’t remember details, but the overall vibe of that time and place has helped mold her as it has me. I still grow rosemary because it doesn’t grow wild around here, and I’ve been used to having fresh rosemary since 1975. I practice spirituality rather than an organized religion and still own my copy of Be Here Now. I am comfortable with all people regardless of how they choose to live, and I have an amazing sense of danger when needed.
I think I’ll think about each “era” individually. They are so rich! They deserve separate posts, so I guess this will be a series of posts as I wade through my past travels and think about the life my daughter was surrounded by. So, stay tuned. 😉 Thanks, Jes.
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