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’Nuthin’s Happenin’ Here’

Immigrants have been coming to California for centuries, enduring journeys of thousands of miles by walking months or years through dangers and deprivations you and I can scarcely comprehend.

“Americans” were living in a land later dubbed the Golden State centuries ago. There were Mexicans, Spaniards and Indians of various tribes. Probably few were aware of the arrival of Russians on western Sonoma soil where they planted a flag, built a fort and went home.

Two hundred years ago your ancestors left Ohio and Tennessee, hiked 2500 miles and arrived exhausted. Think of the Donner Party. No one gave much thought to welcoming the survivors or hosting a big parade. 

Mid-19th century, gold was unearthed in eastern California and created a wave of newcomers who toiled endlessly, got rich occasionally and in the process began building small towns and large cities. Those miners were rarely considered heroes.

In the 1930s, driven by weather disruptions, many farmers, workers and families from Arkansas and Oklahoma fled the aptly named Dust Bowl for (hopefully) better lives. Californians did not much welcome them. Read John Steinbeck.

In the 1970s, college educated immigrants came to California following an arduous four to five days travel in their V8 powered vehicles, pausing only long enough to dine at restaurants and sleep in motels. 

Unlike their predecessors the newcomers had little interest in quietly settling in, finding jobs and raising families. Far from it. The invaders were hippies. The goal was to pretend to be part of a vast agrarian network on a mission to cram love and harmony down the throats of locals everywhere from Lone Pine to Laytonville.

Following an entire summer and part of the next winter building flimsy shacks, growing stunted crops and eating brown rice, the hippies cut their hair, tossed aside the rainbow garb, bought button-down shirts and ties, while their “old ladies” found modest skirts and blouses, and together they snagged employment sinecures in Mendocino County schools and government offices.

Bye-bye to all that Back to the Land malarkey, Hello pensions and guaranteed raises. These hardy survivors today boast of their courage and perseverance and their fierce resistance to the Establishment. 

This is a long introduction to the ridiculous self-promoting nonsense now on display at the Grace Hudson Museum, dead in the middle of Ukiah. 

The program is “Something’s Happening Here” a reference to a song about noble protesters victimized by Blue Meanie soldiers from the Establishment. It celebrates the so-called Back to the Land fad, as if the hippies were returning to their farming roots. 

You know: harvesting glass from Toledo hillsides, planting rubber trees in the rich soils of northern Akron and knitting shoelaces in Portsmouth. Here in 2023 we are supposed to gather, gape and marvel at their accomplishments, which by my calculations add up to Zero.

The best thing about the exhibit? It’s small. You can easily be in and out in 10 minutes. It’s confined to one large room with a lot of paintings. A few of them are good. 

But I’d not allow a single one of these Adventures in Painting inside my home, though I might agree to a few nailed on an exterior wall of the garage. The rest might patch a roof. (Your tastes may differ.)

That’s about it. There’s a poem stenciled on a wall with no author credited, which I completely understand. In the middle of the room, a talent-free tailor has dressed a pair of mannequins in shabby costumes indistinguishable from rags left behind at a Sundays in the Park gathering, waiting for Monday cleanup crews to arrive. 

Go see Something’s Happening for yourself. Tell me I’m wrong.

Upon leaving the display head straight to your car. Avoid the dull, desolate mystery garden adjacent the museum, where the weeds are high, the stream bed dry, and visitors rarely inspect. This is Ukiah after all; there are lots of other vacant lots to stare at on the drive home.

Thinking back to the awesome displays of fabulous art, courageous deeds and world-shaping visions, we are puzzled at the absence of plaques dedicated to other immigrants from the era, all better known than any of the hippie relics honored by the museum.

Many newcomers of distinction arrived in Mendolalaland in the 1960s and ‘70s. But where are photos and narrative histories of Jim Jones and his murdered flock? 

Why no poems or descriptions of torture techniques authored by Leonard Lake and Charles Ng? What about the impact of Charlie Manson and his clan? Treefrog Johnson? Nothing about kidnapper/Palace Hotel night clerk Kenneth Parnell or his victims, two little kids named Timmy White and Steven Stayner?

Something’s Happening Here is just another vanity project assembled to the everlasting glory of an overly celebrated bunch of self-promoting narcissists, few deserving recognition beyond a short obituary.

(Tom Hine is a former stringy-haired, flea-bearing hippie who arrived in Ukiah in the 1970s to the regret of everyone involved. Among his crimes: Woodstock. Hitchhiking. Paisley. Headband. Marijuana. Bellbottoms.)

One Comment

  1. Steve August 4, 2023

    “For What It’s Worth” was the Buffalo Springfield song in question, but author Stephen Stills revealed it was actually about young partying teens being hassled by LAPD cops for staying out too late on then-groovy Sunset Blvd, c.1966. But he wasn’t opposed when it was soon adopted by more politically-minded listeners, eventually including himself.

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