Mountaintop Days: A Time for Going

It was May 1966 when I arrived and walked up the mountain to the small cabin that was to become my home. It was a time of rebirth for the earth and for me. I could hear the rustle of the deer, bear, and spirits in the woods. The air, fresh and clean, helped to clear my mind of the pollution and fog created by the times in which I lived and the city that had not by choice been my home, having moved there as a young boy with my parents. It was springtime in the mountains of West Virginia and springtime in the heart of a young man out to save himself and the world. Possibilities were as limitless as the views from the tops of mountains, and the feeling of safety was as sure as the isolation of the cabin itself.

In mid-October 1967, it was time to leave the mountain and the cabin, and time to leave Emily. I left in the early dawn, when all things are new and alive. At night in fall, the temperature could drop to 39 degrees and easily spring back to 70. With the heat of the sun kissing the dew, a fog would form in the valley, creating a mystical feel and helping to conceal the mysteries of the woods. At night, we would have a fire and in the days wade and swim in the stream that ran near the cabin. I have never known a morning that could compare with the feel of the air and the beauty of my surroundings as those mountaintop mornings.

The months of May and October can be similar in the West Virginia Mountains. The difference is one is the beginning and the other an ending, a putting to rest of what had been and would never be again. In the spring, the shades of yellow, green, gold, and red splash the mountainside, promising life to all. In the fall, the same colors are present in equal splendor as if to say I will go out with the same beauty and grace with which I came in. In my young days in those mountains, it was good to feel that the cycle of the mountains and my own life would continue to replenish and repeat. Still today, those ancient hills and mountains have resisted the slaughter of man and time and continue to cycle through life.

The year 1967 was coming to a close as I walked down that trail for the last time, memories of the past year clouding my eyes with mist like the fog that surrounded the mountains. By October 1967, the continued presence of American troops increased further, and 475,000 were serving in Vietnam. The peace rallies were multiplying as the number of protesters against the war increased. Tens of thousands of Vietnam War protesters marched in Washington, D.C., and 40,000 Vietnam War protesters filled Kezar Stadium in San Francisco, and I was ready to continue the struggle with my brothers and sisters of the peace movement.

There were other noteworthy events in 1967. The Monterey International Pop Music Festival in California, which featured 1960’s icons Jimi Hendrix, The Who, Janis Joplin, The Steve Miller Band, Simon & Garfunkel, and the Grateful Dead, was held in June, and Faith Hill was born in September, not that anyone would have noticed at the time. Our faith was of a very different kind.  We had faith that we would make a difference for the better, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, and stop war forever, and oh, what faith we had!

(To be continued)

There’s more in the podcast, including the ever-popular rock-and-roll timeline. Join me on the shores of Rambling Harbor.




Mountaintop Days: The Beginning

I started blogging when my wife was battling cancer and we knew it was terminal. I quit work to be home with her, and to occupy my time I started to write. What time we had to share was more important than any amount of future financial security I might have after she was gone.

That lack of finances and my own weariness combined to find me at another crossroads, and I have decided to do what many have asked me to do in the past: tell you part of my life story. I hope some will now understand where I’m coming from.

Recent world and personal events have led me to this day. Actually, a lifetime has led me to this day in the last week of the eleventh month of the year 2015. But the beginning was sometime in the spring of 1966.

It was May when I first drove the winding roads through the deepest parts of one of the most beautiful states in our country, West Virginia. The Vietnam War was raging, and young men and women were dying. Protesters were marching and going to jail, and some of them were dying as well. It was a time of almost diabolical contrast, from the killing fields of Vietnam to the loving fields of San Francisco. Woodstock was yet to be. United States President Lyndon Johnson was saying that we should stay in Vietnam until communist aggression was stopped there. US troops totaled 190,000, and 20,000 Buddhists marched in demonstrations against the policies of the military government in South Vietnam.

Driving that back-country road with the beauty of spring coming to life, I was feeling far removed from all that was going on in the “outside world.” But I was about as not removed as a person could be. I was, in the words of John Fogerty, “a fortunate one.” I had already refused to take part in the safe life, having publicly burned my draft card. I had refused induction into the Vietnam War, after forcing the Selective Service to reclassify me from “fortunate” (otherwise known as 3-A, that is, a family hardship deferment) [What Hardship? you ask] and a college deferment, to boot, which meant I was never going to Vietnam. Except I was not going to sit silently and watch others die while I took the easy way out.

As I drove that beautiful country road, I thought about the day I was supposed to step forward and accept enlistment but instead stepped backward and said “No, thank you.” I laughed as I remembered the Sergeant’s face, which looked like it was about to explode. Prison, no doubt, was in my future as it was part of my plan to accept no deal “they” would offer, but first I was going to have a little fun and lead them, the FBI, and a few others on a merry chase. There might be more on those adventures in the future, but this is about the wonder and beauty of being alone and the ability to sink into my mind, leaving behind the sounds of the city and the normal rush and noise of the day-to-day world.

To get where I was going there would be a few more miles on paved road, the last few covered on foot, and there was no cabin. That would need to be built before the first cold spell on my mountaintop.

(To be continued)

I might say more about this blog in the podcast, but there will be definitely some rock-and-roll history, music, news, and more on the shores of Rambling Harbor.  Join me there.



The Art and Power of Protest

I once told someone that I was a student at UCLA in the 1960’s, and they responded by saying, in a most complimentary way, “Oh, that den of radicals!” I just smiled.

True nonviolent protest is an art, it is a learning process, and it has a system. Some of the protests I had seen recently had been discouraging. To me, a protest, hunger strike, or boycott has nothing to do with throwing things, setting fires, or looting. I have also been more than discouraged by the way the authorities have handled peaceful protests. Billy clubs, mace, or tasers should not be used on anyone doing nothing but sitting on the ground or locking arms in a circle of solidarity.  Part of the art of peaceful protest is to keep your head when confronted by a big uniform with a big stick. The largest student strike/boycott in American history occurred in May and June, 1970, during the aftermath of the American invasion of Cambodia and the killings of student protesters at Kent State University in Ohio. An estimated four million students at more than 450 universities, colleges, and high schools participated in the student strike.

I had thought that students today had become so apathetic that not only did they not know how to protest, they didn’t care enough to do so, but now there has been an awakening not only of the power of protest but the art of protest.  The series of actions recently at the University of Missouri related to race, workplace benefits, and leadership included a hunger strike by student Jonathan Butler and a boycott by the football team and resulted in the resignation of the president of the University of Missouri, Tim Wolfe, and the chancellor of that flagship Columbia campus, R. Bowen Loftin. These results were infectious. Students at Ithaca College in upstate New York gathered last Wednesday, 11/11, for a major protest on campus, demanding that the school's president, Tom Rochon, resign over a series of racist incidents at the school. According to the Ithaca Journal, about 1,000 students participated in what they called a solidarity walkout, inspired by the student protests over racism at the University of Missouri as well as at Yale University and Smith College. I hope these protests continue to grow and branch out into all the social issues that are facing us, but most of all I hope there will be teachers to show students how to protest peacefully and those in uniform learn how to handle peaceful protests.

Music, of course, has always played a part in protest. Phil Ochs once said "A protest song is a song that's so specific that you cannot mistake it for BS." John Fogerty, in a 2004 protest song titled "Deja Vu (All Over Again)" noted that voices that started as whispers a long time ago became louder and stronger day by day, and I hope this continues to happen.

There’s more on the power and art of protest in the podcast as well as a rock-and-roll timeline and the answer to this question: What song has the Prince of Protest Music, Bob Dylan, not performed since 1976, and why? Join me on the shores of Rambling Harbor.


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