[SUNDAY LECTURE NO. 6] “More Than Numbers: Twelve or Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Watershed” by Freeman House

Freeman House is a former commercial salmon fisher who has been involved with a community-based watershed restoration effort in northern California for more than 25 years. He is a co-founder of the Mattole Salmon Group and the Mattole Restoration Council. His book, Totem Salmon: Life Lessons from Another Species received the best nonfiction award from the San Francisco Bay Area Book Reviewers Association and the American Academy of Arts and Letters’ Harold D. Vursell Memorial Award for quality of prose. He lives with his family in northern California.”

That’s the biographical note for Freeman House on the Lannan Foundation website. We would add that earlier in his life, Freeman edited Innerspace, a mid-1960s independent press magazine for the nascent psychedelic community; presided over the marriage of Abbie and Anita Hoffman at Central Park on June 10, 1967; and was a member of both New York City’s Group Image and the San Francisco Diggers.

This is the sixth lecture in this series. This series ran previously on this site in 2010-11, and is being rerun now because it’s the right thing to do.

This piece was first published in the Spring 2001 edition of Northern Lights. It is also featured in the 2010 anthology Working the Woods, Working the Sea: An Anthology of Northwest Writing, edited by Jerry Gorsline and Finn Wilcox and published by Empty Bowl Press of Port Townsend, Washington.


Twelve or Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Watershed

by Freeman House

(with apologies to Wallace Stevens)


It was evening all afternoon.
It was snowing.
And it was going to snow.
The blackbird sat
In the cedar-limbs.

It’s December again and curdled aluminum cloud cover extends all the way to where it kisses the iron of the ocean horizon. At its mouth, the river runs narrow and clear. If you’ve lived through many winters here, the sight is anomalous; normal December flows are more likely bank to bank, and muddy as corporate virtue. A storm had delivered enough wetness around the time of Hallowe’en to blast open the sand berm that separates the river from the sea all summer and fall. The salmon had been waiting and they came into the river then.

All through November and December the jet stream has been toying with us, diverting Pacific storms either to the north or south. The fish have been trapped in pools downstream, waiting for more rain to provide enough flow to move them up 50 or 60 miles to their preferred spawning habitat. By now many of the gravid hens will have been moved by the pressure of time and fecundity to build their egg nests, called redds, in the gravels in the lower ten miles of the river. Come true winter storms, too much water is likely to move too much cobble and mud through these reaches for the fertile eggs to survive. The redds will be either buried under deep drifts of gravel or washed away entirely.

I have committed the restorationist’s cardinal sin. I have allowed myself a preferred expectation of the way two or more systems will interact. For the last two winters, steady pulses of rain have created flows that were good for the migrating salmon, carrying them all the way upstream before Solstice, but a desultory number of fish had entered the river those years. This year, from all reports, the ocean is full of salmon, more than have been seen in 20 years. So I have allowed myself the fantasy of a terrific return combined with excellent flows.

I know better than to hope for conditions that fit my notion of what’s good. Perhaps as a reaction to my wishful thinking and its certain spirit-dampening consequences, I am suffering from a certain diminution of ardor.


When the blackbird flew out of sight,
It marked the edge
Of one of many circles.

I am suffering from diminished ardor. As I look out the window on the hour-long drive to Cougar Gap [1], I am seeing the glass half-empty. As my eyes wander the rolling landscape, they seek out the raw landslides rather than indulging my usual glass-half-full habit of comparing what I’m seeing with my memory of last year’s patterns of new growth on the lands cut over 40 years ago.

It’s one of the skills you gain in 20 years of watershed restoration work—to see the patterns in the landscape and be able to compare them with a fairly accurate memory of what was there last year. I’ve come to believe that I have restored in myself a pre-Enlightenment neural network that interprets what the eyes see, what the ears hear, what the skin feels in terms of patterns and relationships rather than as isolated phenomena numeralized so that they can be graphed. It’s a skill given little credibility in the world of modern science, but it’s deeply satisfying nonetheless.

Among the raw scars on the landscape to which my eye is drawn today, some are the result of human activities and some are the natural processes of a very wet, earthquake-prone, sandstone geology. Their patterns don’t change that much from year to year; the soil that would allow them to recover rapidly has been washed off the steep slopes and into the river. It’ll take hundreds if not thousands of years for that soil to rebuild itself. It’ll take generations for the mud in the river to be flushed out to sea.

These are patterns with cycles longer than the individual human life. It’s satisfying and useful to be cognizant of them, too. Such knowledge tempers our human tendency to want to fix—read tamper with—everything in sight.
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"Rather than waiting for pie in the future…" (EMMETT GROGAN)


From a piece by San Francisco Digger Emmett Grogan, as printed in the August 1968 issue of The Realist:

[T]he amount of anxiety, fear, trembling, nervousness that I put out, I know determines people’s reactions to me, whether it’s trust, friendliness despite appearance.

So then, what if all the people who had that insight were able to begin combining forces, totally neutralizing all negative affect, totally letting it drop into the void, hence transforming all that energy into conversion of consciousness to friendly nature—you’d then have autonomous communities rising as they do in San Francisco which involve kids living together and inviting other people in to join them for an evening or longer—it means the amassing of people together as in giant human Be-ins: not so much to demonstrate their force to others but to demonstrate their tranquility and quietness and presence to others, and to themselves; to reinforce the awareness, to exchange Upaya, skillful means, trade secrets of communication-forming proposals—proposition not opposition—proposals for a new society based on new consciousness, and then putting them into operation on a small scale, mutually, into operation as an example, rather than waiting for pie in the sky, rather than waiting for pie in the future, rather than waiting for Utopia to come through revolution.

Practicing on the basis of what’s known already, so we have the development of free stores in San Francisco, free food in the parks, the Diggers’ extensions of energy, the anonymity of most of the Digger people, the Communication Companies or the Free City news services which mimeograph and print the daily news for the people so they get it fast, etc.

Where there’s going to be a rally, where there’s going to be music, where there’s going to be free food, where you can get sleep, where you can get jobs, where you can go out into the country free so you can straighten your head out or freak out among true friends—so you can decontrol yourself of the city conditioning, calm yourself for a while and return to tribal-mammal origins in the original ecology for which we are fit, which is not the noisy, metallic city, as Leary has pointed out very radically and wisely: “Put all the metal underground, back where it belongs.” If there’s going to be bridges and buildings and machinery, then don’t let that displace the living, organic material which is our natural friendly life form.

Obviously the surface of the planet has got to be replanted back to some sort of living delight, instead of dead vibrations. Get to work. You are the Free City planners.

So there is an autonomous idea of what Utopia is, ecologically, as something to work for, and concretely possible toward that sense. Goodman’s suggestion: applying immediate social welfare ideals and principles—pay people to live in the country—like people on New York welfare. Give them the same money, and say: “You don’t have to live in New York, you can live out of New York.” That’ll depopulate New York, remove the pressure on New York, straighten many heads out, calm everybody down to some extent. Have a healthier life—the “underprivileged,” they’ll get in the groove of being way out in the country and walking with clouds and stars, and talking with trees. And also save all the giant bureaucracy costs of the city.

But the only thing that will allow each of us to create his or her Utopia is praxis—and the pooling of our resources to free each of us to pursue our individual activities and strengthen the autonomous boundaries of our free cities of the now.



Click on image to enlarge.

About this document:
Pretty self-explanatory. Published sometime in the second half of 1966.

Money Is An Unnecessary Evil

It is addicting.

It is a temptation to the weak (most of the violent crimes of our city in some way involve money).

It can be hoarded, blocking the free flow of energy and the giant energy-hoards of Montgomery Street will soon give rise to a sudden and thus explosive release of this trapped energy, causing much pain and chaos.

As part of the city’s campaign to stem the causes of violence the San Francisco Diggers announce a 30 day period beginning now during which all responsible citizens are asked to turn in their money. No questions will be asked.

Bring money to your local Digger for free distribution to all. The Diggers will then liberate its energy according to the style of whoever receives it.


Previously posted Diggers Papers:

About this series:
Arthur Magazine is proud to present scans of essential documents produced by and about the San Francisco Diggers, who were in many ways the epicentral actors in the Haight-Ashbury during the epic, wildly imaginative period from late ’66 through ’67. The Diggers’ ideas and activities are essential counter-cultural history, sure, but they are also especially relevant to the current era, for reasons that should be obvious to the gentle Arthur reader.

These broadsides were handed out on the street; some ended up being posted in windows.

You can be a patron of this series by making a tax-deductible donation to Arthur Magazine via our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas: info here

"Freedom?": Richard Brautigan's first wife, VIRGINIA ASTE, speaks in a new interview


Virginia Aste, Black Rock Cafe, Pahoa, Hawaii, Mother’s Day, 2008. Photo by Susan Kay Anderson

“Freedom?”: Richard Brautigan’s first wife, VIRGINIA ASTE, speaks in a new interview

Interview by Susan Kay Anderson

Edited with Introduction by Mike Daily, with biographical information contributed by John F. Barber, Richard Brautigan scholar

Less-than-revered by his Beat peers (Ginsberg gave him the ungainly nickname “Bunthorne,” Burroughs once observed him—drunk—crawling along the floor of a hotel after a reading event, Ferlinghetti said he “was all the novelist the hippies needed” because “[i]t was a nonliterate age”), Richard Brautigan became internationally famous in the late ’60s for writing simple-yet-surreal poems, short stories and novels that made readers marvel and burst out laughing. Brautigan’s personal life, however, was no laughing matter. Severe alcoholism—drinking a bottle of brandy and two fifths of whiskey a day during binges, according to friend Don Carpenter—and depression over declining book sales led to Brautigan’s suicide in September 1984. He was 49.

Brautigan began writing Trout Fishing in America in 1961 on a camping trip he took with his first wife, maiden name Virginia Alder, and their one-year-old daughter, Ianthe. Married in 1957 and separated in 1962, they officially divorced in 1970. Before the separation, Virginia Alder had become involved with one of Brautigan’s drinking buddies, Tony Aste, with whom she later had three children (the first in 1965, the second in 1968, the third in 1969). There is no known record that she and Tony Aste ever wed, though she took his last name. Virginia Aste eventually moved to Hawaii in 1975, without Tony, who remained, living in Bodega Bay, California, and then San Francisco, where he died in 1996.

Today, 75-year-old Virginia Aste is a political activist working as a substitute teacher in one of the most violent school districts in Hawaii. Susan Kay Anderson, a fellow educator at the school, recently met Virginia Aste and interviewed her about her early life and travels with Brautigan.

“Virginia Aste is not a ‘little old lady type,'” Anderson reports. “She is almost six feet tall and wears glasses, well-fitting outfits and interesting jewelry. Her gaze never wavers. She laughs easily and speaks in a measured, self-paced, quiet tone. She is quite funny and self-effacing, able to laugh at herself.”

“Much of Brautigan’s past has remained shrouded in mystery for so long as to become mythology,” says John F. Barber, curator of the comprehensive, multi-media online resource Brautigan Bibliography and Archive. “Virginia’s comments and insights [in this new interview] are important because they help us better understand the stories behind Brautigan, his life and his writings.”

Like a Waterfall

Arthur: What were the ’60s like?

Virginia Aste: The ’60s were a lot like the ’50s, a continuation of [the ’50s], except for ‘68 and ‘69. Then, everything changed. For example, I took Lamaze [childbirth classes] for Ianthe’s birth. They didn’t know what I was talking about in the hospital. They gave me some pillows and helped me lie on my side. That was that.

The change came with the music. There were concerts every day—really, really good concerts every two weeks or so. Groups from New York came. The concerts were in Golden Gate Park.

At that time there was the Cow Palace, a big stadium—George Wallace was to speak. All I remember was the atmosphere of hostility and women there. This [Cow Palace] was a place where women burned their bras; where riots happened. It was a feeling of a mob and impeding violence and we just had to leave. We had gotten Ianthe a new raincoat from her dad. Ianthe’s raincoat pocket caught on a car as we were leaving and she started to cry. It was no real riot that time, but it felt like it could’ve been. What we were witnessing was a lot of yelling and Wallace was yelling back. He was ranting. It was an awful ending to an awful day.

For a year, there were free concerts every other week. It was wild. Of course, there were precursors to this, pre-’60s. I purchased a Rudi Gernreich bra—it was see-through—and took off my shirt during a party. We saw how many people could crowd into a phone booth at a time.

In one house where we lived, there was something wrong with the plumbing so the water ran and ran. It was like a waterfall. We turned it stronger and then back again or we just got water.

We moved out of North Beach and out of Haight-Ashbury. There was a lot of alcohol and pot use. There was the Ice Cream Store where bikers and bus drivers took pills—early speed, the chicken egg-producing drug, methedrine, cheaper than heroin. It was the time of the Alphonse Mucha art style on concert posters: big bicycle wheels on bikes, elongated figures riding, and the skulls and roses of the Grateful Dead.

Richard admired the Diggers. Our whole thing was a proletarian idea that you take care of everybody. I remember baking bread in coffee cans. I did. We had everything available to us at the free store. We never had any money. I don’t remember paying for anything for a while. This was the last half of the ’60s.

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The Diggers Papers No. 34: "DIGGERS WELCOME"



Click on each image to enlarge.

About these documents:
Pretty self-explanatory.

Previously posted Diggers Papers:

About this series:
Arthur Magazine is proud to present scans of essential documents produced by and about the San Francisco Diggers, who were in many ways the epicentral actors in the Haight-Ashbury during the epic, wildly imaginative period from late ’66 through ’67. The Diggers’ ideas and activities are essential counter-cultural history, sure, but they are also especially relevant to the current era, for reasons that should be obvious to the gentle Arthur reader.

Most of the documents that we are presenting are broadsides originally published on a Gestetner machine owned and operated in the Haight by the novelist/poet Chester Anderson and his protege/sidekick Claude Hayward, who used the name “Communication Company,” or more commonly, “Com/Co.” According to Claude, these broadsides were then “handed out on the street, page by page, super hot media, because the reader trusted the source, which was another freaky looking hippie who had handed it to him/her.”

You can be a patron of this series by making a tax-deductible donation to Arthur Magazine via our fiscal sponsor, Fractured Atlas: info here