UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

It’s hip to unzip : open land communes and their neighbours in northern California, 1966-1979 Miller, John Stuart


This essay considers the histories of two countercultural, back-to-the-land communes located in northern California: Siskiyou County’s Black Bear Ranch and Sonoma County’s Morning Star Ranch. Both of these communes were highly influenced by the concept of Open Land, according to which anyone may freely live in a given space, particularly those individuals rejected or alienated by urban modernity. I examine the ways in which these communes related to and were shaped by their rural neighbours, as well as the local state, asserting the importance of the surrounding community in effecting events at each commune. I argue that positive relations with neighbours determined the continued viability of these communes, and that these positive relations in turn required a compromise of original founding principles including Open Land. I further uncover the changing perceptions rural people held of hippie communards, and contextualize the back-to-the-land ideal within broader American traditions of frontier settlement and reinvention.

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