Trippin’: Roads, Rails, and Mountain Trails
Episode 35, March–June 1971
Rosie and I lived behind the farmhouse on 97-D until late March, when the landlord started pressuring his renters to reduce the population. At that time, I often did orchard work for a rancher named George Crumb. He told me that I could park my trailer next to a tidy shed that offered a toilet, sink, and shower, which served farm laborers during the harvest season. The site was open and private, adjacent to an ancient almond orchard, and the rent would be twenty-five dollars per month.
A few days after we moved to Crumb's ranch, we found a kitten in the shower room. Something had torn her up pretty bad, and it looked as if she'd used most of her nine lives. With little hope, we made a bed in a cardboard box and nursed her with an eyedropper. That kitten barely moved or ate for five days before showing signs of improvement. Within two weeks, she made a miraculous recovery and became part of our family. A pleasant outcome since we had been preparing for her last rites.
I remembered a time when Russ was reading from The Tibetan Book of the Dead and had to fill in a random name. What I thought he said was Vernap. It cracked me up. Where in the world did he come up with a name like that? Well, this little kitty, who survived her own book of the dead, had earned the right to inherit that name. Russ later informed me that the name I misheard was Fernlap—as if that made any difference!
Charlie took young Vernap under her wing (or paw or flank or whatever), offering her soft fur as a comfy bed. It wasn't uncommon to see Charlie rolled up into a ball with Vernap curled in a donut-shape on top of her.
Girinda, an elderly East Indian gentleman, taught me how to prune trees at Pleasants Valley Ranch. As old as he was, he could prune three trees to my one. His son, Hadjet, drove a Mayflower Moving Company van and stopped by one day to visit his father. He asked me to become his driving partner. “Mayflower will train you for free at their headquarters in St Louis. You’d make good money and possess a big-rig license.”
It didn’t take long to convince me. Hadjet said he'd pick me up on Thursday and our first stop would be St. Louis. I was packed early and ready to leave. After waiting until afternoon, I drove over to Pleasants Valley to find him. When I got there, Girinda said he'd left. What the heck?
When I arrived back home, Rosie told me that Hadjet had stopped by but said he was running late so he couldn’t wait for me. I was disappointed until a few days later when I received word that his rig had jackknifed on an icy Indiana highway. I was glad to hear that Hadjet wasn’t hurt but relieved that we'd gotten our wires crossed. His rig wouldn't be operational for months.
Rosie and I spent three months at the Crumb Ranch, where old mulberry trees provided plenty of fruit for wine and pie. We continued to explore ways to be self-sufficient and that pursuit kept us busy with one project or another. It had been a while since I had to pay rent, but twenty-five bucks a month wasn’t bad. And Farmer Crumb occasionally offered me work.
One day, I was sitting in the orchard, leaning against a beautiful old almond tree. Charlie was laying with her butt against my thigh, staring in a different direction, contemplating canine matters. She often did this when I was off in my thoughts. She’d stay close but always remained respectful of my space.
I thought about the longhairs like myself who were moving out of the cities. Rosie and I had been accumulating knowledge from local farmers, friends, and the Agricultural Extension office. With no guidebook for living off the land, if we wanted to make pickles, plant a garden, or dry apricots, we searched out the how-to wherever the know-how existed.
There was an old marketing adage I’d heard several times: “Find a niche and fill it.” We could write a self-sufficiency book for the back-to-the-land crowd and fill a need.
Yeah, definitely a niche there.
I wandered back to the trailer where Rosie was cooking quesadillas. “Hey, I had a flash, babe. With so many freaks heading to the country, there should be a guidebook for them. Right now, they all have to hustle and research to find out how to live off the land. We could write a guide for homesteaders—a book that tells them how to garden, raise animals, prune fruit trees, make pickles, and all that stuff.”
Rosie smiled and met my enthusiasm. “You mean like a homesteader instruction book?”
“Yeah, a manual. We have a lot of information already. What we don’t have, we can get. If we put it together in an organized way, I bet it would sell.”
“A handbook for back-to-the-landers. Hey, that’s cool. I could write the cooking section.”
“I could write the gardening and animal-raising chapters. And maybe one for orchards with pruning and grafting instructions.”
“And a section for drying and canning and preserving. We could include wine-making. I could write that part too.”
“You could even put in distilling, with a diagram of Albert's still.”
"I can make illustrations, and I’ve got a typewriter at my dad’s. In the gardening section, you could have a chapter on growing pot.”
After lunch, we started an outline, and before we knew it, we had the makings for a book. The project was launched. We would work separately on a chapter, then get together and edit it, line by line. When we felt good about it, Rosie would type it up, leaving room for illustrations. She was a great artist so I was interested in seeing her drawings.
To be continued...
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Trippin': Roads, Rails & Mountain Trails
In book 2 of his Hippie Adventurer Series, Rich takes us on another wild ride during the 1960s as he and his faithful canine companion, Charlie, hitchhike, hop freights, work in an Alaskan gold mining camp, and manage a Sacramento Valley cattle ranch.
A Message from Rich
Trippin’ is my gift to all of you. For me, the ’60s were a heartfelt time of growth, exploration, freedom, and brotherhood. I hope to impart a truthful account of what it was like to live as a hippie in that wacky, magical era. Enjoy the journey!
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If you haven’t read the first book in the Hippie Adventurer Series, the award-winning Groovin’: Horses, Hopes, and Slippery Slopes, you can find it on Amazon and Audible.
1A. Escape from Heavy Caverns