Magic, mysticism and miracles in everyday life….
My family and I lived at Olema Ranch, CA, in the late sixties and early seventies, one of the communes of “The Free Family.” There were communal houses and land scattered over Northern California: Olema Ranch in West Marin, the ‘intentional community’ Black Bear Ranch on the California/Oregon border, The Red House in Forest Knolls, and the Clipper Street House in San Francisco, to list just a few. The Free Family was a loose tribe of people going “back to the land,” as described in Peter Coyote’s critically acclaimed memoir, ‘Sleeping Where I Fall.’ Many of the people I shared my life with back then were shifting the paradigm by studying acupuncture, herbal medicine and sustainable farming.
I lived at Olema Ranch with my father, J.P. Pickens, my mom Mary Ann, my sister KayAnne and my brother Paul (nicknamed ‘Owl’ by Peter Coyote) for a couple of years, starting when I was twelve. My parents, actually my father, built a room in the large barn, and he filled it with his collection of stuff, things he’d find in his travels around the Bay Area. All kinds of things, he always had a plan to incorporate the objects he brought back into works of art. A renowned banjo player, he also built his own banjos and he collected banjo parts to repair his instruments.
Just recently, KayAnne was here in the Bay Area for Peter Coyote’s 70th birthday bash, and a couple of days after the party we went for a drive to west Marin to look at our childhood home in Lagunitas, where we lived before we were enfolded into the ‘Family.’
After we drove up Alta Road, next to the Lagunitas Grocery and inspected our former home and the changes made to it since we lived there (for the umpteenth time!), we decided to continue driving out to the Point Reyes area, it was a nice day, maybe we’d drive all the way out to the beach. As we drove past the overgrown, nearly-hidden driveway up to the ranch, we looked at each other and KayAnne said, “Why don’t we walk up to the Ranch?” So, we parked the car by the driveway, and we walked the familiar road three-quarters of a mile up to the Ranch.
I had not been back to the Ranch for 40 years, but I wasn’t surprised to see that all of the buildings – the main house, outbuildings and barns – were completely torn down, in most places as if they never existed. Only fencing outlined the area were the barn had been. The land is now part of the Point Reyes National Seashore.
All that was left of a vibrant community of people were memories whispering in the wind.
While we were walking about, we poked around in the mud just to see if any small items from our childhood were to be found. We found some shards of pottery here and there, an unbroken small brown bottle in the mud by the creek, and what looked like an ancient Native American hide scraper, among other small things.
I walked up toward the hill, past the fencing of the former barn. I was thinking of my father (he died when I was sixteen), the memories crowding my mind, while I kept a sharp lookout for anything stuck in the earth.
Looking down, I glimpsed a small something, white, half hidden in the ground about six feet from the end of where the barn would have been. I pulled it out, and went over to where KayAnne was.
She immediately exclaimed, “That’s an Earl Scruggs fifth string tuning peg, for a five-string banjo!” We just stared at it, in awe and slight shock.
Although many musicians spent time at Olema Ranch, our father was the only banjo player who lived and played there……..