Press "Enter" to skip to content

Local Angles

Last week Willits made the front page of the AVA and the obituary section of the New York Times, where the death of Sally Miller Gearhart  was acknowledged. The farewell by Annabelle Williams described Gearhart as “a feminist, lesbian activist and prominent opponent of anti-gay policies whose writings included a classic of lesbian science fiction about a women-only society, much like the one she later founded in Northern California.” 

Excerpts follow:

“Sally Miller Gearhart was born April 15, 1931, in the Appalachian town of Pearisburg, Va., and raised in a conservative Protestant family. Her father, Kyle Montague Gearhart, was a dentist; her mother, Sarah (Miller) Gearhart, was a secretary. Her parents divorced when Sally was young, and she spent much of her childhood with her maternal grandmother, who ran a women’s boardinghouse. It was her first taste of a female-only community and one that stuck with her throughout her life.

 “She attended Sweet Briar College, a women’s college in Virginia, earning a bachelor’s degree in drama and English in 1952. She received a master’s degree in theater and public address at Bowling Green State University in Ohio in 1953 and a doctorate in theater from the University of Illinois in 1956. In 1973 Dr. Gearhart had become one of the first openly lesbian tenure-track professors at a major American university when she was hired at San Francisco State. She taught classes on women and gender studies. 

 “She wrote widely, both fiction and nonfiction, focusing on the environment, religion, feminism and lesbianism. Her writings include scholarly works examining the relationship between Christian churches, including Catholicism, and homosexuality; The Feminist Tarot (1975), which examined tarot card practices from a women’s studies angle; and The Wanderground, Stories of the Hill Women (1978)... about a utopian community of women who communicate psychically with one another. Remaining in print for over two decades, the book was one of the first major instances of lesbian representation in science fiction, a traditionally male genre.

 “Dr. Gearhart created her own Wanderground later in life: a community she called Women’s Land in Willits, a city in redwood forest country about 140 miles north of San Francisco. She considered it the culmination of her lesbian separatist philosophy.

 “Members of the community, which fluctuated in size, lived in cabins in the woods, outside of patriarchal confines, in Dr. Gearhart’s view.”

* * *

Frenchy Cannoli

The Times honored Frenchy Cannoli with an obit August 2, accompanied by a photo of him holding a loaf of his hashish on a plate and smiling. Frenchy smiled so hard and so often that deep grooves had been etched in his cheeks and his mouth looked like it was in parenthesis. Here is some of what Richard Sandomir wrote about him:

“Frenchy Cannoli, a renowned hashish evangelist who spent 18 years as a nomad learning to make the drug from the resin of the cannabis plant in rural parts of Asia, Africa and Mexico, died on July 18 in San Francisco. He was 64.”  The cause was “complications from surgery.”

“Mr. Cannoli — a nom de ganja for the way that he rolled resin like the Italian pastry — blended a true believer’s love of the drug with a connoisseur’s nose for quality and an enthusiast’s zeal for the hashish that comes from cannabis grown in Northern California.

“His hashish earned him respect in cannabis circles, as did his workshops, “Lost Art of the Hashishin,” which taught artisanal producers and home gardeners in the United States, Canada, Spain and the Netherlands how to harvest the resin glands of the cannabis plants, known as trichomes. He wrote widely and left behind two unfinished books, one a history of cannabis concentrates and the other a hash-making manual.

“Mr. Cannoli, who lived in Richmond, Calif., was also helping cannabis producers from Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties — known as the Emerald Triangle — get legally protected geographic designations from the State of California for their products the way that the Champagne, Napa Valley and Bordeaux regions did long ago in the wine industry.

“Mr. Cannoli was born Didier Camilleri on Dec. 13, 1956, to French parents in Nice and grew up there, in Brittany, and in Gabon, where his father worked...

At 17, Didier tried hashish for the first time and was quickly transformed. It brought him joy and a sense of well-being that he had never experienced before (and continued to for the rest of his life).

“On his 18th birthday he left France with a few hundred dollars to start what would become an 18-year pilgrimage to smoke the best hashish he could find and to learn how to cultivate it from those who knew the best traditional techniques.

“Now a hash rambler, Mr. Cannoli sought out cannabis masters in Morocco, Mexico, Thailand, Nepal (where he met Kimberly Hooks, in a restaurant in 1980), Pakistan and India. He spent eight cannabis-growing seasons in the Parvati Valley in northern India, living in a cave or a lean-to.

When Mr. Cannoli’s hashish journeys ended in the early 1990s, he and Ms. Hooks had already had a daughter, Océane, and were living in Japan. He sold leather handbags and Japanese antiques, and worked as a translator of user manuals and other publications. He and Ms. Hooks moved to Walnut Creek, Calif., in 1996 and married a year later. He continued selling handbags for a while and managed a restaurant in Berkeley.

“In 2005, he began to wade into the cannabis industry... In 2015, Mr. Cannoli started his workshops, which thousands of people have attended.”

The obit ended with a quote from Leo Stone, “a boutique cannabis seed breeder in Garberville, Calif.,” who told the Times that when Frenchy opened a jar of hash for him to smell at the Emerald Cup,  ”It was like being punched in the olfactory sense.” 

* * *

Bury the Lines, Already!

Many forest fires ago, on a walk with the editor in Boonville, I was introduced to a retired Berkeley professor, Joe Neilands, who had given a lot of thought to PG&E.  At the time the company was promising to make their power lines safe by cutting down thousands of trees. The professor disapproved. If the company's goal wasn't profit for the shareholders, he said, PG&E would bury the power lines. The idea was so simple and so logical...

Many fierce forest fires later —7/21/21— a headline in the New York Times proclaimed, “PG&E Aims to Curb Wildfire Risk by Burying Many Power Lines.” There was no news hook and no details about their plans, only an announcement by the company that they mean well. A real story will ensue if and when the company develops a detailed plan for burying the lines and submits it to the Public Utilities Commission for review.

The Times story quoted PG&E CEO Patricia K. Poppe: “'We need you to know that we are working night and day to solve this incredible problem...'  She said that the company had planned to make the announcement on underground power lines in a few months but that it had decided to do so now because of the growing public concern about fire safety.” 

The obvious purpose of the announcement was to deflect attention from reports that PG&E equipment had started the Dixie Fire, which was and is still raging in Butte County. People who watch TV in Northern California are bombarded constantly with ads reminding us that PG&E cares about our safety. “If you smell gas, leave the structure...” Last year their strategy was to simply turn off the power of people in areas their algorithms deemed vulnerable. Their ad campaign tried to introduce “PSPS” —short for “Public Safety Power Shutoff”— into the vernacular.  Producers of TV news shows, knowing where the revenue was coming from, directed the on-air talent to use the new four-letter word. 

Reporter Ivan Penn quoted several skeptics who predict that PG&E customers will have to foot the bill. Mayor Sam Liccardo of San Jose, he wrote,  ”questioned the ability to finance such an ambitious undertaking without burdening consumers. 'If we assume that all of PG&E’s ratepayers win the lottery at the same time, PG&E’s right, we can do this,' said Mr. Liccardo, who sought unsuccessfully during PG&E’s bankruptcy to turn the utility into a cooperative rather than a publicly held company.”


  1. Mark Laszlo August 6, 2021

    When everybody rebuilds with underground fallout shelters with filtered air and off-grid renewable home power, we will be safe and free.

  2. George Dorner August 6, 2021

    PSPS? I call them by their name–Shareholder Shutoffs.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *