Jim Kerr

What I remember of my experience on The Land

We went from what I knew as the Ortega Park Teachers Laboratory, and also known as Rancho Diablo, to 800 acres of pastureland with a house and barn near the road. The "we" were a number of the staff at the Whole Earth Catalogue, not including Stewart Brand. I had been associated with the Teachers Laboratory, was separated from my wife, and living in the area, including Rancho Diablo. Staff at the Catalogue had moved into Ranch Diablo when the Teachers Laboratory closed. I was working at Portola Institute which was next door to the Catalogue. It was Portola Institute and its director, Dick Raymond, who had helped get the Whole Earth Catalogue started. When the lease at Ranch Diablo was not renewed to the staff of the Catalogue, they looked for another place. Because I had worked at the Teachers Laboratory, now closed, and was living there temporarily, I went with them

The 800 acres was located on Page Mill Road, down about a half a mile from Skyline Boulevard. Joan Baez and Ira Sandperle used the house to do 'peace training seminars'. The pastureland was leased out to a farmer for the grazing of his cattle. We asked Joan and Ira if we could use the land for living accommodations, 'structures' that wouldn't bother either the front house training seminars or the cattle. They said OK. We didn't bother with the owner at that time. This is how the first people moved to the land.

People, individuals and couples, constructed living places. I borrowed a tipi and platform from a staff member at the catalogue (was it Austin?). Some discarded telephone poles, with a little cutting with my chain saw, became supports for the platform. I chose a spot so that the platform that jutted out from the bank of a dry streambed or water run-off gully. There was a nice oak tree next to the platform that gave it shade and cover. My tipi sat on top of the platform and faced north. I had also borrowed the tipi poles from my benefactor. He provided me with an inner 'skirt' which circled the inside of the tipi, about three of four feet high, and as I remember there was a small space between the outer canvass and this skirt. This provided insulation.

We placed out habitations under trees, or in trees, so that would not be very visible to the authorities who might want to bust us. An occasional sheriff's helicopter flew over. We couldn't be seen from the road—too far back. People scrounged lumber and other building materials as they could. They were ingenious. Tree housed were the most admired by me. There was a baby born in one of them.

The community had a central tipi meeting place. This tipi was 20 feet wide. There was a place to cook outside the tipi. There was a community meeting once a week as I recall and the community ate together on daily basis. Food was obtained 'out the back of Safeway' or purchased at the farmer's market in San Francisco. We went together with the commune at Black Mountain (at the corner of Page Mill and the Skyline) to purchase goods at the Farmers' Market. People attended the community meetings as they could. I believe that community totaled about thirty or forty adults and kids—the core group. When the weather was better in the summer months, the community expanded to maybe twice that number. These fair weather people were attracted for many reasons: wanting a sense of community, a free place to be; because we were nude much of the warmer weather. People 'joined' us mutually assenting to our compatibility. As I recall there was no formal admitting people. When it wasn't working, the new person and the community mutually came to that understanding.

On a daily basis I want 'down below' to work. I was one of the few who did this. Since I was older, had a family to support, and had a job that I thought was making a difference to help change society for the better; I was a little separate from the community. After the teacher's laboratory closed I managed a grant from Sam Scripps, a project center for high school aged kids. Later I managed a project, Kids Teaching Kids, funded by the U.S. Office of Education. Portola Institute was the conduit and support for these projects.

Toward the end of my being in this community, I moved from the tipi to a structure way in the back part of the land. I was there for a short time before I met a woman from down below who I began to live with. I'm not sure how long I lived on the land, but it seems like it was a year-and-a half.

Picture of Jim and John Kerr, taken at Alices Restaurant. Alice's is now owned by two of Jims other sons, Jamie, and Andy Kerr.