By Fred Owens
Illabot Creek -- but first a little of politics
These are the major Democratic contenders for the White House in 2020, sorted by age
Bernie Sanders, 77
Joe Biden, 76
Elizabeth Warren, 69
Amy Klobuchar, 58
Kamala Harris, 54
Kirsten Gillibrand, 52
I would vote for any one of them over Trump. If I had to choose today I would pick Amy Klobuchar from Minnesota, the land of sky blue waters and ten thousand lakes. Minnesota has given us two fine leaders as vice-presidents -- Hubert Humphrey and Walter Mondale. Klobuchar follows in their path. She is reasonable, calm and fierce when necessary. But honestly Klobuchar is such a clunky name. I want to call her Amy K. I would love to have a president named Amy. So cheerful, so simple. And we could use a few laughs. All she has to do, to beat Trump, is smile and not say anything stupid. She doesn't need a radical program. Just be human. Her intelligence and dedication are too obvious to mention. Amy K has a special needs child -- she has weathered that storm and she can run the country.
One more thing before we get to the story. I want, no I insist, that the major candidates compete for the nomination in a friendly but competitive spirit. Vigorous debate in a cooperative setting will give us the best candidate to go against Trump. Courtesy is more important than ever. Okay, I've said enough.
I wrote this story about Illabot Creek and incidents that took place in 1971 when I went there to camp, and in 1978 when I returned to that same place. That was more than forty years ago -- Why dwell on the past? Then I realized -- the story isn't about me or Young Dave or any of the others. We're just dust in the wind. The real story is the creek.
Illabot Creek is alive this moment, and has been and will be, flowing from a glacier mountain into the upper reaches of the Skagit River. It is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen. And the water! The water is so fresh and pure, so cold and clear, you can just scoop your hand in it and drink like a deer, and the creek never stops flowing. Right now, this very moment, water is tumbling down the mountain over boulders and coming to the gravel flats where the salmon spawn.
That's where we camped. You have heard me tell stories about Fishtown, where the Skagit River flows in to the Salish Sea. But up river, up that same river, a drop of water melts from a glacier in summer heat and begins to flow downhill and down stream, all the way to the ocean, and it goes on forever.
This story is about Illabot Creek.
I was in Marblemount, Washington, in 70 and 71. By 1972 I was living in Manhattan and selling balloons in Central Park. Then I worked at a mental hospital for teenage children outside of New York -- I did that for nine months, then I hitched down to Texas and partied in Austin for the spring of 1973, then I got in with a gang of hippies wandering around Mexico in an old school bus.
I came back to Marblemount in 1978 with a pregnant wife and two kids. I did not have any fun at that time in my life, but I am glad that I had the children.
By 1979, I realized I could never make a living up river so we moved to LaConner. .... I should write a book ---- oh, I have written a book.
That was the email I sent to Young Dave. He lives somewhere in Oregon and I get a nice greeting from him every New Years with news of his family.
We called him Young Dave because he was only 16 or so during the Commune Days…. when we all lived in a heap up in Marblemount, way up in the Cascades, pitching tents in the forest, cooking over a fire, not bothering to clean up. What I remember about cooperative living is nobody wanted to clean up. The garbage piled up in plastic bags, but there was no take-it-to-the-dump committee. And old cars that barely made it up from Seattle came to die on the very end of Clark Road where the commune settled.
The commune started with the best of intentions in late 1969 when a van load of hippies, following a star, came upon a fairly nice log cabin at the end of Clark Road in Marblemount. Someone --- I know who, but there is no reason to tell here – someone had money from a family fortune and the cabin was bought and occupied.
First thing they did was tear out the plumbing and electricity – they were gonna live off the grid, and that first winter it was fine. People stayed warm and well-fed and played guitars and danced with tambourines. Glenn and Sheri had their baby born naturally by candle light, and fifteen people shared the upstairs sleeping places.
By spring time word got out and people flooded in. Everybody from Los Angeles to Seattle who wanted to live in a commune got on a vehicle of some kind and rode up to Clark Road and by the dawn of July 12, there were easily a hundred hippies camped there – July 12 being a memorable day, the day of Henry David Thoreau’s birthday.
Thoreau, if he had been alive to see one hundred hippies crammed into ten acres of second-growth cedar and alder forest, playing with nature, and pretending to live for free – if he had seen it, he would have fled all the way back to Walden Pond.
But as it was, that day was the high-water mark for the Marblemount Commune. Randy Oliver – more or less the leader – filled a large pipe with an ounce of marijuana and passed it around the one-hundred strong circle. It all went up in smoke.
It was just too crowded. The outhouse overflowed and nobody washed the dishes. Once the food stamps ran out, the lightweights hitched a ride back to Seattle and left their debris and sodden sleeping bags piled in heaps.
But a few of us were more serious and that included Young Dave and myself and Larry D’Arienzo, Steve Philbrick and one or two dozen steady hands who actually wanted to make a life of it, and not just a game.
The woods caught on fire that summer and we all got hired for fire crews. Kindy Creek was ablaze and Jordan Creek was ablaze, and both fires were close to the commune. Back then you didn’t get trained for fire crew. If you showed up at the fire camp, sober and wearing a decent pair of boots, then they gave you a shovel or a pick and sent you down the trail, earning good wages, fighting fire 12-14 hours a day. With those fires and several others, we made enough money to get through the winter.
My girlfriend and I did not pitch a tent at the commune like so many others did. We rented a house because we were high-class hippies, with hot running water and a roof that did not leak. We lived in the house that first winter, until January of 1971 when it caught fire and burned to the ground due to the idiotic unskilled attendance of – actually it was my fault – for letting damp kindling dry out too close to the wood stove and then leaving the house to visit some friends.
I remember hearing Mike Stafflin chant a Buddhist prayer as we all held our bowls of rice over at the commune – while he chanted I heard the fire sirens calling the volunteers. Someone’s house was on fire I thought and I wondered who could that be, and I found out soon enough it was my rented house. I never did meet the owner. I paid the $50 month rent to Ernie Green who owned the Log Cabin Restaurant.
After the house burned, not Ernie nor anyone else gave me a hard time or asked how it happened. It did happen and that was that.
So we pitched a tent somewhere, but we pitched it in a wrong place and a heavy rain sent a gravel stream into our teepee living room. Then we moved down the valley to the Old Day Creek Road Commune which was more solidly structured in that they didn’t let just anybody live there,
We lasted two months at Old Day Creek Road, but my girlfriend didn’t like it there, so we got another teepee and pitched it by Diobsud Creek on property owned by a dentist from Bellingham. We should have asked his permission, but we thought he wouldn’t mind. He did mind and he asked us to leave.
Now we were stuck. We never thought to ask Gordy Campbell for help. Gordy was a friendly Upper Skagit Indian and he was always drunk. He would take a quart of whiskey and just drain it until he keeled over and passed out. You might find him passed out asleep somewhere with a sweet smile on his face.
We liked him. Everybody did. But we didn’t know that his family owned twenty acres of land on Illabot Creek.
“You can live on our property if you want to,“ Gordy said, like a miracle.
So my girl friend and I cut a path through the bush to the property on the creek, followed by at least fifty other hippies who wanted to camp there too -- leaving all the junked cars that piled up on the end of Clark Road, leaving all the soggy sleeping bags and heaps of garbage and going to Illabot Creek which may have never been occupied by any person on earth – known all the time to the Upper Skagit Indians, but they had other places to live.
That’s a speculation anyway. We pitched our camp there and hoped more fires would start in the woods somewhere so that we could work and make money.
But there were only one or two small fires in the summer of 1971 and we made little money and I broke up with my girlfriend. I was so unhappy about that that I left Illabot Creek and rode all the way down to Taos, New Mexico. I didn’t stay there long. I kept going.
Seven years later I was married to a woman from Oklahoma. She was pregnant, we had a one-year-old boy and we had her son, my stepson, who was 8 years old -- the full catastrophe.
We had been living in a school bus parked in the back yard of my sister’s house in Venice Beach, California. I had a full-time job as a shipping clerk, and when I earned enough money to rent an apartment, we went looking and ran into “no pets and no children.” To this day, because my sister still lives on California Street in Venice Beach, I can walk by the modest bungalow that we might have rented except the landlord said too many children, sorry, no deal. I walk by that bungalow and think how my life would have been different if that landlord had taken my money and let us live there.
But I got mad at this and we headed back to Marblemount – which was an over-reaction to that problem. We went up to Marblemount in June of 1978 and decided to go back to live on Illabot Creek. At least until we could find a place to rent. The other hippies living there didn’t want any newcomers pitching tents. “I can understand that,” I said to them. “But I have never left a junk car at the end of the road. I have never left a pile of beer cans and garbage or soggy wet sleeping bags. I have never stolen from other camps. In short, I have never been the kind of trouble you don’t want. In fact, I don’t want those kind of people either. “
They weren’t quite ready to take my word for it, or my pledge of good conduct, and they said they would think about it and maybe I could live there and maybe not.
“It’s not your property,” I said, “and it’s not for you to say if we can live here. Seven years ago Gordy Campbell said I could come and live on Illabot Creek any time I chose to and until he comes by and says no, I’m planning to camp here.” Which is what we did.
Afterward. Young Dave said I ran this story two years ago. He might be right. Well, read it again! I have published nearly 700 issues of Frog Hospital since 1998. My archives need some ordering. Like if I got them all lined up in a row, from the beginning to the end. Also Young Dave says he was 17, not 16, at the time of the incident at the Marblemount Commune.