“We Gotta Get Outa This Place…. Girl, There’s a Better Life for Me n’ You… ” The Animals
In 1971 I was living in an A-frame cabin in Rist Canyon in the mountains outside Fort Collins, with about fifteen other people, when my boyfriend and I decided to migrate to Minnesota and take up a life together.
The whole thing emerges now as a kind of tie-dyed, torn-bandana bouquet of eventfulness.
First of all, the canyon was very beautiful–pine trees, rocks, sky, and creeks. Ether instead of oxygen.
The cabin had burned down once and been rebuilt. It was owned by the then director of the creative writing program at CSU who was making babies with his wife and having an affair with a graduate student. The A-frame really wasn’t habitable, but I lived on the second floor with a boyfriend we’ll call Joe.
I met Joe one day when I was visiting friends up the Davis Canyon Road off Rist Canyon; they lived in a seedy little trailer house barely anchored to a hill in the pines. I thought I had put the emergency brake on in my father’s Chevy II station wagon to keep from sliding back downhill, but as I got out, it began to roll back.
Joe, who has always said that he had been sitting in a glade on a prayer rug from Mello Yello, a little hippie store still in business here, jumped out of the trees stark naked, grinned at me, leapt into the vehicle and slammed on the brake, saving the day.
Later that night, I made his day on the floor of the back bedroom.
We lived together in that cabin, where I went on duty, no suprise there, as the caretaker chick, the one who insured that we had a full larder and a hot meal every night. Everyone else was wandering around in a 420 trance, grooving on Crosby, Stills and Nash and listening to sultry Buffalo Springfield warning that something was happening here. Where? We wondered. Here? Now?
That winter we were snowed in in the canyon and someone brought us a lunk of venison. I poured red wine over it and put it in the refrigerator for several days. I slow roasted it and everyone gathered around in anticipation. I carved it, and we choked it down; the wine hadn’t helped at all and it tasted like boot leather.
We had lots of cats, and bluejays that ate their food off trays in the trees, nailed there so that the plethora of dogs wouldn’t eat it. The cats went hungry and the bluejays became enormous and frightening. The dogs aimlessly bred, and we gave away the puppies and the kittens. The animals had names like Vishnu, Shanti. We had a rock python we had to find fresh mice for that people would stare at for hours, who stared back. There was a little excitement when he got out one day, but not much.
We did have some sane friends, a couple who lived back up the Davis Ranch road in one of the first solar powered houses ever; he was a Marxist history prof and she was beautiful and a great cook. We congregated there often, talkin’ about the revolution. We all marched against the war, and I got an A from the history prof for demonstrating.
Somewhere in there four of us went off to jail for awhile for growing and selling marijuana. The rest of us congregated under the barred windows of the bull pen on Friday nights, singing Bob Dylan songs. On the day they got out we would have butchered a pig if we had one, but we did get high and dance the night away, around a fire in the outdoor pit.
Unlike everybody else, I had parents who were close by, about three miles down the canyon, and a brother in junior high. My parents weren’t doing well, and I would come home and prop them up and then leave again to my extremely exciting life in the mountains with the host of oddballs and people traveling through, crashing on our living room floor
After a year or so of communal living, read cosseting drifters, ne’er do wells and people who would have died rather than get real jobs, Joe decided that we should set out together for Minnesota, where he had been an undergrad. He had a fellowship in East Asian Studies at the University of Minnesota, his passion then for a reason that escapes me now.
I had been stuck in Fort Collins for years, breaking away once to try a semester at a college on the East Coast and then, mourning my then boyfriend, a commie pinko poet, I came back. He had gone on down the road one day so that I had become available again. While we were still together I had grown out the hair under my arms and my mother had noticed it and called me a bolshevik.
Everyone living in that cabin was to go on to become somebody and do interesting things. One couple is still running an avant garde theatre company in Fort Collins. One of us is in politics in Montana. One is a photographer. We lived hard, played hard. I never did Acid but I drank a lot of wine. Marijuana made me cough and feel depressed, so that I was s.o.l. with respect to drugs.
Somewhat clear-headed and clear-eyed then, I helped Joe look for a vehicle for our odyssey. I tried to talk him out of a rusty little VW bus for sale in someone’s back yard for $500– a huge chunk a change in those days. But he was determined: we were bound for glory.
He and his friend Sam lay underneath it for days, wiring it together.
With trepidation, I packed up a few precious things– my great grandmother’s antique writing desk, my old singer sewing machine with which I made voluminous and loud harem pants and tunics.. I brought along my manuscript of poetry recently marked up by Robert Bly when he was a visiting writer at CSU. We stuffed a few cats and a little dog and her puppy into the bus and set out across the West, breaking down on I8O, on the prairie, sagebrush and Black Angus everywhere.
I remember that I wasn’t helpful, or supportive, just highly irritated that our Conestoga, my chariot to freedom, was such a dud.
Stay tuned: next installment, next Friday.