InsideBay Area.com has an article about a group of communities that formed in the hills near Palo Alto, CA in the late sixties and early seventies with such names as Struggle Mountain, Rancho Diablo, Earth Ranch and most famously, “The Land“. Most of these communes disbanded in the 70s but members reunited this year for the a 30th anniversary party.
War resisters, Vietnam veterans, 15-year-old runaways, lost souls, upper-class refugees looking for something “real” – these were the people who created The Land’s warm embrace and gentle, conscientious lifestyle of simplicity starting in 1971. Singer Joan Baez helped establish the Institute for the Study of Nonviolence there in 1969. She and her husband, David Harris, a celebrated war resister who went to jail for refusing to serve in Vietnam, lived at Struggle Mountain, a commune that still thrives on upper Page Mill Road.
“We were nonconformists. We didn’t want to wear suits and ties. We were against the war, we were against capitalism. Everyone wanted a back-to-nature experience, even though most people came from an upper-class experience,” said Burns. “We’re not living in a community like that anymore. If we had a chance to, I think a lot of people would go back.”
They lived without electricity, cut wood to keep warm, and took water from a pure, sweet-tasting natural spring that flowed from the roots of a Bay tree. The front houses near the main barn did have electricity and running water.
Decisions were made by consensus. Residents operated a “cook house” and baked bread, kept chickens and horses. Food was easily earned though a co-op arrangement with a local market. Artisans painted stained-glass windows for the cabins, which were built from recycled wood. A group of men ran a shop where they struggled to keep their old cars, backhoes and tractors alive. They printed their own newsletter, “Barn Talk.” They sent their children to a nearby school.
Some of the ideas they embraced, such as recycling and using compost to fertilize their gardens, were ahead of their time, said Thyme Siegel, who lived on The Land. “We lived lightly on the earth before it was a concept. We used gray water, we recycled. We thought we were the village of the future,” said Siegel.
As a personal aside, when I was in college, living in a student co-op at Stanford, a former resident of one of these communes spoke to us and was describing how hard it was to get everyone together to make decisions, saying “To them, the revolution meant ‘no meetings'”. I’ll never forget that quote, and it runs through my head every time someone complains about too many meetings.
One of these Palo Alto Hills communities is still around:
The last remaining commune at Struggle Mountain today includes 10 residents, including some boarders who help pay the rent. They eat together less often than they used to, and many have jobs outside the commune, but they still make decisions by consensus. It’s a touchstone for an entire generation and a place for artists and musicians to share their work, said Mark Schneider, a longtime resident.