Remembering Stephen Gaskin

Stephen Gaskin
Stephen Gaskin

Stephen Gaskin passed from this plane of existence two weeks ago. Several people on the Free Family Union list serve posted their remembrances. Here’s mine:

I attended a couple Monday Night Class sessions at the old Playland/Family Dog hall in 1969. Stephen Gaskin was the spiritual guide for this group of 100s that congealed around his psychedelic philosophic meanderings. I was usually stoned and chanting OM was a favorite part of the evening’s activities. <g>

Then in 1970 when I was living with the original group that bought the Ortiviz Farm in the Huerfano Valley, we decided everyone had to go find straight jobs to earn enough to pay off the balloon payment that was coming due. I left in the middle of winter and ended up joining The Caravan in its clockwise circle tour of the USA, ending up back in San Francisco early 1971 at Sutro Park overlooking the breakers of Ocean Beach where Stephen announced that “they” (whoever they were) had decided to leave the City again to find a permanent place to settle down. (Which would end up being The Farm in Summertown, Tennessee.)

My attraction was to the new custom that Stephen had introduced of “four marriage” — the close relationship that he had with Michael, along with Ina May and Margaret offered a semblance of openness to a young queer man like myself at the time. But after 1000s of miles on the road in that caravan of 50+ converted school buses, it became clear that homosexuality had no place in the Caravan’s “four marriages” which seemed all too much like a hip version of wife swapping. So when Stephen announced their return to the road, I decided it was time to find that job which had propelled me out of the bliss of adobe living in the first place.

Before the Caravan left again that spring of 1971, Stephen took everyone to the Zen Center for the ritual chanting of the Diamond Sutra and I will always owe him a debt of gratitude for his introducing Susuki Roshi whose twinkling eyes with secret messages of cosmic harmony still come to me in moments of silent introspection.

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Suzuki Roshi at the San Francisco Zen Center
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Heady Daze

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Recent addition to the Digger Archives. Haven’t figured out where to place this in the site yet. ComCo (most likely) printed this. The reverse side had the following instructions:

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This was March, 1967. Optimism abounding.

Death of Hippie Parade

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This photo just showed up, taken Oct  6 1967 as the Death of Hippie Parade was winding its way through the Haight after starting out from Buena Vista Park and ending up with the coffin containing artifacts of the media-hyped “hippie” culture burned in ritual observance.

I’ve seen various photos of this Digger event, but never one from this perspective. It appears that Linn (aka Freeman) House is in the front row of the marchers. (White shirt, white pants, and likely wearing sneakers.) Freeman arrived in the Haight-Ashbury in the summer of 1967 after Chester Anderson convinced him that the Communication Company would be at his disposal for any printing ventures he wanted to undertake. Freeman left New York where he had been editing Innerspace Magazine, and by the time he arrived in San Francisco, the ComCo Gestetners had been pressed into service for the newly named Free City Collective. The “wonderful machines” that Chester and Claude had originally acquired through their good offices with Ramparts Magazine were set up in the basement of Willard Street where Freeman and David Simpson would go on to edit the Free City News sheets and broadsides over the next six months.

Freeman House, along with Peter Berg and others, became an important catalyst for the Bioregional Movement which had evolved in part out of the Diggers. Freeman was one of the collective group responsible for developing the model of watershed restoration in their work on the Mattole River in northern California.

Even to today, the term “hippie” is disputed by many of those who were at the birth of the Haight-Ashbury counterculture that spread out in the coming months and years after the events of 1966 onwards. On the other hand, there is a group in the Haight who lead walking tours of the neighborhood who are proud to call themselves hippies. The Diggers’ objection to the word was that it was a media-contrived term, slightly derogatory in its etymology, and a handle that “straight” America could use to stigmatize a generation. The purpose of the “Death of Hippie” event was to announce the birth of Free people instead.

New Year’s Wail (1967)

New Year's Wail (1967)

Just received this photo and made a high quality scan. It’s a UPI photo from 1967. The original caption states: “Frisco’s Hippies | For three hours, 2,000 ‘hippies’ had a wild time in Golden Gate Park recently. Folk and rock and roll music was played, poetry and speeches were read in the gathering referred to as a ‘Wail.’ There was wild attire, loud music and no real trouble. Credit (UPI Photo) 2/4/67”

Even though the photo doesn’t mention the Diggers, nor the Hells Angels, nor the exact date of the event, there are several internal clues that lead me to think this was taken at the New Year’s Wail event that the Hells Angels threw in gratitude to the Diggers (for raising bail money for Hairy Henry and Chocolate George at the Death of Money Parade the previous month.) Internal clues: this is obviously not Golden Gate Park, it’s the Panhandle. Also: the term “wail” was a Digger term first used at the New Year’s Wail. There is no evidence the term “wail” was used between the date of that first “Wail” (Jan. 1, 1967) and the date on the caption (Feb 4, 1967). So my conclusion is this is a photo of the event where Chester Anderson was inspired to start The Communication Company. (He always told me that seeing the Hells Angels and Diggers together blew his mind. See Chester’s letter to his archivist written soon after this event.)

One item of interest. Look at the attire of the participants. This is months before the “Summer of Love” and most of the onlookers appear to be wearing typical 1960s college attire. Compare this photo to ones several months later in the Panhandle. The man in “wild attire” with umbrella could be considered a cultural virus in this timeline of change.

What a long strange trip it’s been …

Welcome to the fourth incarnation of the Digger Archives discussion forum, first begun in 1992 at the very beginning of the days of HTML and WWW. This incarnation is a spin-off of the Digger Bread blog, which is now closed—there were actually two spin-offs, the Free Family Union blog, and this, the newly named Digger Feed blog.

Why “Digger Feed?” The group of us who named it are a bunch of punsters and the idea of a blog that refers to the old-time Digger Free Feeds in the Panhandle, and at the same time refers to the idea of a news feed, well the double-entendre was too seductive to pass by. Why “watering hole”? That’s what the Digger Discussion Forums have been over the years. A place for like-minded folks to chat, to mingle, to wrangle, to commiserate, to celebrate.

This blog will be a bit different from other blogs. If a reader wants to simply “comment” on posts (the main messages on this page) just include your email address the first time you add a comment. Ever after, you will be able to comment without needing to get your comment approved.

However, if anyone would like to have the option of becoming an “author” which means the ability to create new posts, you will need to register using a WordPress account. Once you are registered, you can then create new posts, and leave comments to your heart’s desire.

Welcome everyone. Hope the water’s sweet. 🙂