Neil Reichline


photo by Judy Keenan

photo by Norma 1977

I love people's stories. I knew Winter (Karen) Dellenbach and Bill Garaway from the L.A. draft resistance, as well as Billy Spire and Mark Schneider, who were just high school kids back then. But even though those LA folks and more from the LA resistance moved up to the Institute, later the Land, at about the same time Norma and I moved up north (1971) we came by a different route and landed at Struggle Mountain. I'd met David Harris in 1966 at a National Student Association conference at the University of Wisconsin. He'd gone to Mississippi and I'd gone to Georgia as civil rights workers. He was the newly elected student body president at Stanford and I was the newly elected editor of the UCLA Daily Bruin. We hit it off right away and with a bunch of other kids from California delegations we started the radical caucus at the convention. We converted a dorm room into our headquarters and turned stiff, suit wearing student body types from the midwest and east coast on to the Jefferson Airplane, Janice Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix (all of whom they hadn't heard yet), weed, and the ideas of the Resistance. The first time I came to Struggle was in 1967 to make a film about David before he went to jail. After he got out he and Joan decided to move down to Woodside. I'd told him that Norma and I were thinking of leaving LA. He invited us to take his house at Struggle and we moved up a short time later. That's the starting point for me. So much more happened after that. The little memory cells are chirping "me first, me first" and the remembrances are flooding my old brain. The memories are visceral. They have smell and touch and color. Neil

Added January 4, 2008 - It's impossible to tell my story, even if it's in pictures, without including Norma. How far back did we go and where did we come from? Here's a picture that probably answers both questions.

Neil and Norma at their high school prom, 1964

photo by Iris Moore

Though I'd been to Struggle for two days in 1969 while making my Resistance film on David Harris, I didn't really remember how far up the mountain it was or how to get there. So, two years later, after David asked us if we wanted to live in his place at Struggle, I brought Norma up to see the place and promptly got lost. I turned off Page Mill wa-a-a-ay too soon and came across a house that looked something like what I remembered. The doors to the place were wide open, so we went in. The entry went into a kitchen, which I somewhat remembered. There was nobody there but on the counter was a corn bread, still warm, with a couple of slices taken out. Well, some of you know how crazy Norma was about corn bread. And we were starving from the drive up from LA. So we helped ourselves to a taste and went to explore the rest of the house. It immediately became apparent that we were in the wrong place and we high tailed it out of there, laughing uncontrollaby by the time we got to the car, spewing corn bread crumbs everywhere.

We climbed into bed on our first night at Struggle Mountain. We held each other close and listened to the new sounds coming from everything around us. We fell asleep quickly, exhausted from the move up. Sometime later that night we both were awakened by the sound of voices coming from the bath. It was Bill Garaway and two others who I don't remember, in the bath after a day of carousing around on acid. I thought that right then and there Norma was going to pack up her bags and drive back to LA. After all, she was, like me, a straight kid from the Valley, where there were boundaries, after all. I wasn't sure how she'd react. Ultimately, of course, she reacted wonderfully, like she always did over all those years. But that first night, back in bed, I held her tightly, not wanting to lose her, or this new home. I was so excited to be there.

Early on in our years at Struggle Norma invited a new teacher friend up one winter day. After a late afternoon meal they went for a walk across the road. They were bundled up because it was cold. In fact, there were still patches of snow on the ground from a small snowfall. The afternoon quickly turned into evening, then night time and the two hadn't returned. I thought it was a little odd that Norma hadn't come back but it was the night of a lunar eclipse and I thought that she and her friend may have walked to the treehouse to visit Winter, or to the Land for some pre-eclipse partying around. I wasn't worried. Those were pre-cell phone days, of course. There was no way to check, save for trudging off into the chilled night myself. So I just settled in for a nice night around the fire with the folks at Strug.

About nine o'clock I get a telephone call from Norma's friend's husband. In a smooth Latin voice he introduces himself and asks if his wife is there. I tell him no, that they went out on a walk and haven't returned yet. He says his wife would never be out walking at night and asked me if I was worried or not. I told him that I wasn't worried at all and that I was sure they would show up. I'm not sure if he was convinced but we hung up and I went on with my evening wondering if I could stay up until the eclipse, which was supposed to occur at 3 a.m. or so.

At 10 o'clock I get a knock on the door. It's the husband, from Argentina I quickly find out, and his friend from India. I'm not sure what he's brought the friend for, but I could tell he's very upset. Upon finding out that the girls haven't arrived he threatens to call the police. I talk him out of it by agreeing to walk out into the woods with him to find his wife. Thinking that I might tire him out I take him all around. I walk him to the treehouse, but no one is there. Then we walk to the frontlands but don't see anyone in the house, cabins or long hall. The barn seems dark. Then I lead him to the backlands and the cook shack tepee, where he insists on opening and looking inside every sleeping bag for his wife. (The funny thing is, I don't remember seeing a soul that night, not anyone. Though my memory may be off about this.) The guy is getting more upset every second and begins to freak, yelling at me now. I suggest that we return to Strug, where we'll probably find the two of them waiting.

But they're not there. The hot blooded husband calls the police. While we wait I try to explain to the guy that it's pretty safe here on the mountain. Anyway, I tell him, it's a night of a lunar eclipse, which makes it an unusual night to begin with. I'm going to go with it, I say, let it unfold some more before I get too worried. There could be any explanation on a full moon eclipse night, I add. The Indian guy nods yes, yes, enthusiastically. He understands. The husband just stomps and fumes until the cop arrives.

As soon as I open the door and let in the Palo Alto cop, the husband demands of him that he immediately begin a search in the woods for his wife. Now I'm pretty sure this Palo Alto cop doesn't walk in the woods during the day, much less on a cold night. "I'm not going in those woods at night," the cop says, and tells the guy to calm down. I explain that Norma knows everyone on the mountain, that she's safe with anyone one of them and that even if she's lost, she'd know how to find her way home in the morning. The cop says "fine" and suggests to the guy that we call in the morning if the ladies don't arrive. After the cop leaves, I announce that I'm going to bed, for indeed, the nights drama has left me ready for sleep. It's about 1 a.m. and I know I'm not going to make it to the eclipse. I invite the husband and his Indian friend to make themselves at home and retire to the bedroom.

I don't know when he left, but he wasn't there in the morning. Norma was, with her friend, both soaking in the tub. They indeed did get lost, making a wrong turn on their way back from the tree house. They had walked, just talking away about all manner of things, not paying attention until they had gone below the cliff at the Edge of the World. They ended up on a hillside way below the green water tank down from Struggle. Every time Norma and her friend tried to walk up hill in the darkness they'd get caught in thick bramble bushes. So they decided to stay out there until morning. Butterfly, Norma's still young dog, snuggled between them and kept them warm most of the night. Norma didn't even remember about the eclipse. They were hidden from the moon where they were. As it began to get darker, Norma remembered the adage about it being darkest right before the dawn. She prepared for the day to come. She watched it get darker, then only a little less dark after the eclipse passed. It wasn't until then that she remembered the eclipse. It wasn't time to go yet so both women slept a little before daybreak actually came and they made their way back to Struggle.

The husband picked up Norma's friend, but didn't come in, just honked for her from the lot. I don't think Norma saw her again for many years. When she did she learned that they had quickly moved away. The husband no longer liked the area. A little while after that they divorced. The woman recounted the whole episode with Norma and they laughed and laughed remembering all the things they talked about through the night.

I look back on this and what I remember most is that I was never scared for Norma. She, like the rest of us, was young bodied, self confident and able, even if she didn't know shit about walking in the woods. Fear didn't seem to be a factor yet for us, or anyone we knew on the mountain. Life hadn't yet inflicted any of us with those kind of woes. Neil

My History of the Slideshow

At Struggle I had somehow (I honestly don’t remember) ended up with two Pentax cameras, my first still cameras. They were easy and reliable and I walked in my earliest days on the mountain with them, often to the unfinished tree house and through the woods to the Land. I only mention these cameras because soon after this they became the only things, ever, that were stolen from me in the ensuing ten years on the mountain. Jeffrey Shurtleff had two friends, I think, who came up to an early Struggle Mountain party and whammo, my cameras were gone with them. When I asked Jeffrey he advised me to let go of them, they were probably already sold on the streets by now. So, not only were these my first cameras, and my first ever stolen cameras, they were also my first introduction in real life to one of the mountain’s many adaptive philosophical constructs, the idea of “letting go”. I let go. And found Nikon.

I remember early on that I decided my slide shows would always be to music and in the ensuing years I always did that in various ways. Many times it would accompany live music, with Jody, Michael, Billy, everybody. I’d stand near the projector with the advance button and hit it in time with the music. I’d do the same with music from records and tapes. And a few times I remember putting the slide projector on an automatic five second rotation to a record and just getting stoned. Every once in a while it was a real special show, like the time I got two projectors and programmed them so the images would dissolve one into the other. For any of you who remember that, I thought it was the most magical show of that time.

I used to know a guy from college days, a New York street guy named Billy, who was one of coolest people I’d ever met. Funny, smart, interesting, fast talking, he had a job waiting at one the hippest restaurants in LA, on Melrose Blvd., and he dated and slept with a succession of tall blond blue eyed models, a feat that I have admired him for until this day. At any rate, Billy ended up in Berkeley where he ran and ultimately owned Leopold Records, a store which had the best collection of Rock and Roll, Jazz, and R&B records in the Bay area. As well, they sold used records for cheap. For a while, I’d visit Billy at Leopolds often and every time he’d send me away with a cardboard box full of my choice in new records albums. I always had new music during that time, and great records were inspirations for slideshows.

I remember for a while I had a reel to reel tape deck and started to create soundtracks with various music. I’ve recent found a few tapes from that period but haven’t listened to them yet.

The Kodak slide processing plant, where I spent a good portion of my yearly income, was right down at the bottom of Page Mill Road. I did so much over the counter business that a few of the guys there and I got to know each other on a first name basis. Often, I’d plan my downhill trips so I could stop at Kodak either going uphill or down. They were so convenient that I was able to get back the slides and put together a show within a week or two of an event actually happening.

The Big Daddy Slide Show was the Land Slide Show, presented to the city in defense of the Land in the mid-seventies. I gathered up slides from Dale Oderman and David Chapple and probably others for the show, which accounts for the small number of dupes that I still had and have added to the wiki and Land Reunion Slide Show. I do remember a sound track was constructed for it, as well. (It might be on those reel to reel tapes that I haven’t listened to yet). This show covered a lot of ground and as I remember had an impact on the proceedings. Slowed them suckers down. Gave’m something to chew on. Bought some time.

I saved all of the slides I took over a ten ten-year period on the mountain. I felt attached to them for all time. They came with me to every home, through every lifetime change. I always knew that someday I would open up this treasure of golden memory. When the Reunion was announced I knew almost at once that this was the time and I am forever thankful. I don’t know in my lifetime if I ever would have gotten to this large task without the deadline of the reunion.

In the process of creating quite a few slide shows over the years, I mixed up all of the slides over and over and over. None of the original order remains. So, to put together the Land Reunion Slide Show I simply tried to look through every slide I had. I actually never made it. I still have a few thousand slides that I haven’t looked at yet.

I hired a friend to scan for me. When done professionally and correctly, it’s a very time consuming task and can run as much as $15-$25 a slide when done at the commercial digital houses in LA. I promise, I didn’t spend that much. But my friend Jay Buchsbaum, a consummate professional in photo graphics and retouching, and my mentor in Photoshop, had hit some tough economic times. We made a good trade, as we both helped each other out and I am very grateful. Jay scanned nearly 2000 slides. I think there are about 1600 to 1700 in the Reunion Slide Show. He did a great job.

I was still selecting slides and Jay was still scanning when I started the editing process, which consisted of putting these things in an order and syncing them with music. Just finding music was weeks of work. I knew I wouldn’t be able to finish on time if I tried to do all this at once. So, I put an ad on Craig’s List in LA for an editor. I asked for “Professionals Only, No Beginners”. I got 36 responses from 36 unemployed editors. The great majority were young and their on-line reels consisted of “sizzle reels”, or scenes from what looked like student films, or various versions of cable reality shows. There was only one guy who had an abundance of professional experience, but it was mostly in post-production sound field. Nonetheless, he had some real and classy stuff under his belt, so I called him. Turns out he was the only editor who was the same age as me. I got lucky again.

Editor Val Kuklowsky worked on the Reunion Slide Show for six weeks. After the first two weeks working alone with this giant unorganized jigsaw puzzle of slides he came to my studio and showed me the Rocky Horror Picture Show/Halloween sequence and the google drop down to Struggle Mountain in the Opening sequence and I knew I was in creative hands. Every week down to the last week I would add 100 newly scanned slides into the mix. Every week we’d meet and change things, add things, move things, finesse things. I loved it when he’d show up with movie inserts and with the Nixon Resigns sequence. We’d experiment with different music and didn’t settle on the last music (or the last slides) until late the night before I left for the reunion. It was a great process. One of the nicest I’ve had. Val was fascinated by the community and told me often how much he enjoyed finding the feeling in my photos.

As for me, I am thankful for the entire six months steeped in memory and rediscovery. As a photographer, as an artist, as a human being, I consider the years of Struggle Mountain and the Land, personally, as my best body of work. The credit of course goes to all of you. And the goddess Nikon, of course.

Until we meet again in a darkened room.