Tuesday, January 24, 2017

 Observations from Woodpecker Flats

 rambling and ambling generally forward
eventually getting to the point
and beyond

by Zvi Baranoff

I intend to aim at the truth. I expect to at least flirt and dance around with truth and even occasionally hit the mark. But telling the truth is a dangerous and slippery slope. Once you start, consequences are likely to spin rapidly out of control. Truth is hard to pin down. It is elusive and sometimes goes bump in the night. Fortunately, we are mostly protected from that danger. We have a general common agreement to accept lies and falsehoods as realities which of course allows us to continue on with our days of working (or, at least pretending to work) and consuming - keeping the whole game going. So, we stand in lines, wait our turns, pay our bills, mow our lawns...keep smiling and have a nice day. Who am I to rock the boat?

The board game Monopoly of course is familiar to most folks likely to read my ramblings. In order to play, all the participants have to agree to a set of rules and parameters that make that artificial reality true for the extent that they all agree to play that particular game. It's fun to play for a while. It's nice to just pass Go and collect $200. At some point however we fold up the board, put it away and play something else. It's only a game. 

Sometimes the board is overturned and the funny money is scattered all around. These things may happen when the common agreement to the rules of the game, the common acceptance of certain untruths, break down. In 1967 Yippies tossed dollar bills onto the floor of the New York Stock Exchange from the visitors' gallery and nothing has been the same since. They secured the visitors' gallery.

After the Yippies knocked over the Monopoly Board in 1967

The untruth, distorted truth, fractured truth, lying is endemic in our culture, perhaps even encoded in our DNA. At the very time of creation, the Attribute of Truth questioned God on the wisdom of the creation project. God chose to suppress truth to allow creation to go on as planned.

Truth be told, Henry David Thoreau had a hell of a time getting his book Walden published, and with good reasons. What publisher in his right mind wants to publish a diatribe that urges people to stop consuming? Where's the profit in that? So, I shan't make that mistake. Please, consume to your heart's content. Most important, buy this book! Buy copies for friends and relatives.

What was true then is true now. We really mostly want to be entertained, and if we are deceived along the way, so be it. We love circuses, side shows, barkers, hustlers, hucksters and charlatans in all their modern incarnations. We love television, movies, the Internet, kaleidoscopes and magic lanterns - pretty things, shiny stuff, anything that glows we imbue with shamanistic power and defer our better judgement.

Of course, Thoreau played a bit of slight of hand with his presentation.  Henry David claimed to be a squatter. In truth he was staying with permission on a friend's land. He claimed that it was the story of one year at Walden, but in fact he took two years of hanging out to write the book. And of course he claimed that the book is about Walden and the color of ice and the local wildlife and such, but he really had a far more complicated hidden agenda.

So, following Henry David's lead, this is the simple story of aging Back to Land Hippies living at Woodpecker Flats and the garden and the deer and the rains and the snows. It is not an economic, political or cultural critique. We will seemingly bring an end to poverty, create shelter for the homeless, heal the planet and repeal the Law of Gravity because nothing can hold us down...but, it is only the ramblings of an old man, so please don't take any of it seriously.  The economic and political establishment has nothing to fear from these patterns of words that I draw out here. Stories are just stories. My writing reflects my heartbeat, memories, perceptions, obsessions, visions, delusions and hopes. These words won't shake the foundations of inequality, disrupt oppression nor open the prison gates. Those sorts of changes result from massive cultural shifts taking place well beyond our tiny pocket of rural minimalist existence and my limited powers of persuasion. Take it all with a grain of salt, but if my writing inspires your inner Dadaism, I suppose that would be an artful thing.

Not so long ago, one of the corporate publishing giants that dominate the book business had a successful run with a title that claimed that everything the author needed to know to navigate his universe he learned in kindergarten. Surely it must have been an incredible institution. Myself, I think I may have learned a thing or two in factories and warehouses and offices. I picked up a lesson or two in court houses and jails and prisons and probation offices. There are lessons to be learned in the streets, in squatter communities, in ghettos, in rural enclaves, in the suburbs. There is much to be learned in banks and in underground economies, from outlaw enterprises and nonprofit profiteers and some truely inspirational experiments of both the cooperative and individualistic kind. There is certainly much to learn from a compost pile and watching the patterns of flowing water can shake loose some very useful insights. It is a complex and nuanced universe that I transpire and likely you as well. I am surely still learning my way around.

We see the world around us largely through mythological patterns. What we think we understand of our history is examined through the dominant illusions that we choose to accept. Philosophies, ideologies and religions give us context and form to define and navigate the undefinable and unnavigatable. Truth be told, we are each doing time on Planet Earth and everyone is doing life without parole. No one gets out alive. That is a pretty good bet. Feel free to plan otherwise. Everyone has to do their own time and do it their own way.


Hippies on the Cover
Hippies here too!

I came up during the Vietnam War. Vietnam perculated into the American home through television and the evening news. Where you stood on the War determined which mythologies you chose to live by. Nixon's mythological Silent Majority (later morphed into the Moral Majority) competed toe to toe with the alternative mythologies of a Counter Culture, Woodstock Nation and such. Hair was on Broadway. Peter Max created psychedelic advertisements, 7-Up called itself "The Un-Cola" and the system, in many ways flexible, resourceful and clever, found a way to turn a buck on the whole thing. By the time most people heard of cool and groovy, it wasn't.

The schools, at least in theory, prepared us for adulthood but the only adulthood I could imagine was being shipped off to the Southeast Asian jungles with a likelihood of coming home in a body bag. This did not appeal to me in the least.  Shipped to Vietnam or tripping off to the Woodstock Nation was the binary choice I perceived even before I hit puberty. I decided when I was fairly young that I was going to be a hippie when I grew up! Long hair, nudity, lots of colorful clothing, rock & roll and pot! How's that for a career choice? Frankly, if I had known the how much work is actually involved in being a hippie, I might have charted a different life course. Ah, but I was young.

Push came to shove. People marched in the streets. Police rioted in Chicago and the National Guard shot students dead on a campus in Ohio. Lines drawn with seemingly no good way out. Airplanes were hijacked. Bombs were detonated. Weathermen and Black Panthers were contemplating armed insurrection. And then Abbie Hoffman and Allen Ginsburg and something like a million witches and hippies and crazies and students and workers and such converged on the Pentagon and levitated it and the illusion of power held by the Military-Industrial Complex just faded away for a minute and the Movement ended the Vietnam War. Yes, I know that the levitation took place in 1968 and the Vietnam War ended years later. In 1972, as a middle schooler, I campaigned for George McGovern, the anti-war candidate. Tricky Dick Nixon was re-elected in a landslide in spite of massive political opposition to the War, the ongoing destruction and gore in Asia, growing active acts of resistance on the homefront, the chaotic klaidoscopic images broadcasted on the Nightly News and the doors I knocked on for McGovern. Of course, it is all a matter of perception.

With the Vietnam War over and the draft on hold, the Counter Culture disappeared from the mainstream media. The very strange long-haired Charlie Manson and his pseudo-hippie followers had committed some bizarre crimes and having long hair became really inconvenient and it was much harder to catch a ride hitchhiking. The 60's were over I was told again and again. It had lost all it's marketable charm. It was time to give up such nonsense and dreams, get straight jobs and get on with growing up. I stuck out my thumb and bummed around, sleeping on beaches and in the woods and on the side of the road. Rumour had it that the Counter Culture was still out there somewhere and if anyone could find it, I could! And, of course, I did, and of course there is much to the story that we will skip over for now.

Many calendars later and after the turn of the century and then some, we arrived in Oregon in time for me to cast a vote to legalize marijuana.

We had left Florida where I had been stripped of my right to vote due to a bad taillight, a traffic stop, a highly questionable search, arrest and conviction for possession of marijuana. I turned 50 in a County Jail in Gainesville, Florida. I sat in a Federal Prison in Jesup, Georgia while state after state liberalized their pot laws and Colorado and Washington State legalized cannabis. I served over three years away and an additional period of Federal probation.

Barb at our temporary office in Eugene, Oregon

The first time we came to Oregon was in 1989. I was one of the editors of Green Action, a nationally distributed alternative publication out of Tempe, Arizona. Lots of folks, myself included, were inspired by the incredible success of the Green Party first in Germany and then spreading worldwide in the 1980's and had great hope that a parallel political and cultural phenomena could sprout in the USA. Independent groups across the country defined themselves as Greens and networking of various sorts was taking place. With the help of some very creative and far sighted folks like Stan Pokras of Philadelphia, we held simultaneous Green meetings in several cities linked by computers with dial up connections. At the same time, a somewhat ambiguous organization calling itself the Committees of Correspondence - a name drawn from  pre-revolutionary American history and totally obscure to anyone but a history buff - saw themselves as the vanguard of a developing Green Party for the United States. They were doing all they could to define the agenda, including a nearly pathological refusal to discuss cannabis and an ideological opposition to using computers for networking. Meanwhile, on another continent, in a country known at the time as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, there was a massive political reevaluation and upheaval taking place called Glasnost, in Russian meaning opening, which was shaking the foundations of Russian Communist Party orthodoxy. I picked up on the moment and published an editorial in Green Action entitled Glasnost for the American Greens with an unrealistic hope that a parallel thawing and opening could result an inclusive Green Party.

The Committees of Correspondence were holding a meeting in Eugene, Oregon with the intention of holding a national conference without remotely approaching on the issues of cannabis in any form - marijuana or hemp - as they hammered out positions on a range of issues for the yet to be political party. We helped organize a Smoke In to coincide with the Greens Conference and marched a Giant Joint directly into the stuffy meeting. The tension ran high while the organizers tried to figure how to keep us off their agenda as we filled their auditorium.

After a period of harried negotiations, they agreed to let a representative speak to the assembly for 15 minutes. Jack Herrer, author of The Emperor Wears No Clothes, stepped to the podium and presented the gatling gun version of the story of everything cannabis.

Glasnost in the USSR lead to a wave of change throughout the Soviet sphere, the fall of the Berlin Wall, the dismantling of the Soviet Union. Ronald Reagan said "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this Wall," and it fell but it was folks in the streets of Berlin that tore down chunks of it, played music all night long and smoked weed on top of what remained as the illusion of the invincibility of the Iron Curtain came to a seemingly instant end. Mr. Gorbachev and Mr. Reagan had become irrelevant to the events unfolding. David Bowie and his song Heroes had more to do with the mood of the day and the temperament in the streets. The folks in the streets gave up fear and the armed border guards chose not to shoot. Coincidentally, Barb and I were pulled over in South Jersey on the way to a marijuana activist meeting in our nation's capitol the very same day. A zealous officer decided it was his duty to search the fellow in the passenger's seat and I was arrested for possession of marijuana at the same time those folks in Berlin were smoking down the Wall. This was not the first arrest for me and not the the most personally traumatic nor politically significant either. This was merely one of millions of personal possession arrests that happen throughout our country. Nine time zones east of us Berliners celebrated a festival of liberty on the global cultural and political fault line that separated the East from the West. Meanwhile, in the USA...

I could not possibly have imagined, when I wrote Glasnost for the American Greens, that out of the liberalizing trends of Glasnost Russia would degenerate into a repressive, demagogic, nationalistic state ruled by Putin, or that in a comic imitation of Stalin's Communism, the COC Greens would follow through with a series of purges and rewrites of internal histories. In 2016, the Green Party, using the computer networking techniques that they disdained twenty-five years earlier, stirs the dust of disinformation, promotes itself as the pro-pot party, and their perennial presidential candidate, in direct conflict with the protestations of Russian Greens, cozies up politically and culturally to the Russian demagogue, all playing at least a minor role leading to the election of Donald Trump, a Putin wannabe, in the American Presidential elections. Truth stranger than any fiction.

This is the Giant Joint that we marched on the Greens. The following Monday we marched it to the local newspaper office. The kids playing on the joint are all grown up by now.

Around the same time that Barb and I were in Eugene helping to turn environmentalists on to weed and such, Dave and his family uprooted themselves from San Diego, California. They sold their inner-city home and purchased Woodpecker Flats, nine acres in Josephine County, Oregon, just north of the California border. Another coincidence. Things happen. They happen all the time and at the same  time. There are tales to tell that will weave their way into the fabric of this story, but not yet.

A little over a quarter century later, we are staying at Woodpecker Flats due to convoluted personal channels that lead to Dave's invitation. We are creating our current mythologies and trying to figure which end is up. The dominant myth of my creation is that of the One Old Man with a Wheelbarrow and a Shovel and how he adapts his environment as his environment alters him. We need the myths and we need to see through them to maneuver our way through this world of illusion.

Many years ago, far away in India, the God Visnu came to Tulsi disguised as her husband. Tulsi made love with the God Visnu. When Tulsi understood the truth and saw through the illusion she chose to disincorporate, leaving her Earthly personage behind. Her body became a river. Her hair became Holy Basil. Two Holy Basil plants, with our encouragement, grew in pots at Woodpecker Flats, in Southern Oregon, far from their natural Indian homeland.

I grapple with the concepts of "natural" and "organic" when I muck about in my garden, the cadence and rhythms of the words and the deeper meanings that we have infused the words with. Natural gardening has an esthetic that I appreciate and is worth encouraging on that basis. Esthetics appeal to me far more than the mythologies based in efficiency and manipulated scarcity of the dominant commercial food pyramid. Gaia worship may be hokey but not nearly the stretch of putting a dollar value on a vegetable or herb garden. I have to think of my gardening primarily as art and secondarily as therapy. Any harvest is luck, fate, the will of the gods.

The "natural" state of things, however, is decay, entropy and inertia. The "natural" state is decay in place. Things fall down, rot, break. Tooth decay, gangrene, piles of unwashed dishes and such are the natural order.  Anything we do to counterbalance this situation is a struggle against nature itself. Natural and organic gardening is anything but "natural". It is the careful manipulation of the elements of nature. It is the imitation of certain aspects of nature. A garden simply would not exist without the intervention of human nature.

The only thing naturally occuring in my garden are the weeds. Everything planted originated from some other corner of the globe. Nothing in the garden (besides the weeds) would grow without nurturing, soil enhancement and water. The natural environment and my natural garden are all together different things.

Beyond the nature of the environment, or more realistically within the nature of the environment, what is "human nature"? We are "naturally" industrious, lazy, honest, sneaky, trusting, manipulative, creative, destructive, etc., all at once. I am pretty sure of it.  Every moment, in our natural environment, it is our nature to make choices, or not. Humans are fairly predictable, except when they aren't. Expect what you will, but if there are people involved, allow for the unexpected to happen. It's only natural.

From the earliest cave drawings to the rhymes and games invented by children, to how we arrange our daily lives, we are artists by nature and by choice. We have the natural artistic ability to create myths and live by them, individually and collectively. In an instant, creating new canvases, painting new landscapes, opening portals to new worlds and cultures, we redefine reality, we levitate buildings, we bring down walls. Life is performance art on a high wire without a safety net. We define the terms of our relationship with the universe...oh yea, and then there is physics, economics, luck, social demands, fate, power relationships, legal statutes, private property and the law of gravity.

So, is this art? Well, I'll tell you the truth...there are many stories to be told from here at Woodpecker Flats and we have only just begun.

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