July 30, 2001
Back to the woods: 30 years later, hippie Hoedads celebrate the birth of
their tree-planting cooperative
By JEFF WRIGHT
WHEN GARY RUVKUN tucks his 4-year-old daughter, Victoria, in bed at night,
he often gets a request for a bedtime story.
A Hoedad bedtime story.
And so Ruvkun, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, recounts
what it was like when he was a young cuss in Oregon, planting trees on
steep hillsides in the rain and wind and cold.
"I talk about warming up in a teepee with a hot stove after planting all
day, and about our tent blowing down in a big windstorm," he says. "She
loves those stories and asks me to retell them. And in the retelling, I
remember more and more."
It's been a long time since Ruvkun, 49, has been back to Oregon. But he's
leaving Boston and heading to Eugene this week, along with his wife and
daughter, to attend the Hoedads' 30th anniversary reunion. Up to
500 people are expected to attend the gathering.
Begun in 1971, the worker-owned Hoedads Reforestation Cooperative grew to
more than 300 workers and
grossed more than $2 million per year. As many as 13 crews - with names
such as the Mudsharks, Cheap Thrills and Natural Wonders - worked in every
state west of the Rockies, camping in remote mountain
areas and planting seedlings on forest clear-cuts.
The Hoedads disbanded in 1994, but their influence still ripples today. A
bunch of mostly white hippie kids from middle-class upbringings, they
served as a model for workplace democracy, helped change old-school
reforestation practices, spawned other work cooperatives and provided loans
and grants to other alternative enterprises - including the down payment on
the WOW Hall, still one of Eugene's musical venue mainstays.
Today, there's even a Hoedads Foundation - begun with settlement money from
a class-action suit brought against the State Accident Insurance Fund -
that disperses money to social-justice and other progressive groups.
But let most any former Hoedad bend your ear, and you'll hear that the
cooperative's legacy is also very personal.
It was about putting social idealism into action, confounding the
stereotype of "lazy hippies," learning personal responsibility and basking
in the camaraderie that comes with living in the woods and doing a tough
job few others wanted.
"In a way, I think of the Hoedads probably the way my dad thinks of World
War II," says Ruvkun. "It had hardship, it was totally different from
anything I'd experienced before, and everyone was passionately involved."
Idealism in action
For 20 years, Jerry Rust was a Lane County commissioner. But in the late
1960s, he was just another underemployed college grad hanging in Eugene.
He'd spent a winter planting trees on Weyerhaeuser land, But the work was
hard and didn't pay much - $3.25 an hour.
In those days, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would
solicit bids from contractors to plant seedlings in clear-cuts. After that
first winter of tree-planting, Rust and a couple of friends hit upon an
idea: "Maybe we can make more money if we bid on some of these contracts
Rust and two buddies - John Sundquist and John Corbin - dubbed themselves
the Triads and won a small government job on Humbug Mountain in October 1970.
The job was a small disaster and Rust figures they barely covered their gas
money. But an idea was born, and the Hoedads came into being the next year.
It was a serendipitous intersection of time and place. Eugene was a
gathering spot for anti-war activists, hippies and Peace Corps veterans
looking for a different way of relating to the world.
"There were so many young people who did not want to work for 'The Man,'
who wanted to do something else," Rust recalls. "These were
superintelligent, idealistic kids, including a lot of refugees from the
Rust says he remembers looking out at all the tree planters on one job site
and realizing that every one had a college degree.
He boasts that the Hoedads helped upgrade the art of tree-planting, which
required using stock delivered in refrigerated boxes and keeping them cool
and moist until just before planting. With 40-pound bags of baby trees on
their hips, the Hoedads would use an adz-like tool called a hoedag to break
the ground and plant each seedling.
"If you did everything right, you'd get about 90 percent survival," says
Rust, the Hoedads' first president. "By the time we hit our stride, that
was the industry standard."
Leonard Larson remembers it a little differently. The longtime Siuslaw
National Forest employee was a reforestation inspector back in the Hoedads'
heyday. Like many Forest Service employees, Larson didn't immediately know
what to make of the crews of hippies who'd come into the woods to plant trees.
"We'd come pretty near to pulling our hair out, they were so unorthodox,"
he says. "In the beginning, they had a lot of people who really didn't know
what they were doing. ... We had some confrontational moments the first
year or two.
"But they were trying to do a good job and they ended up doing a pretty
good job," says Larson, who hopes to guide Hoedad veterans to a former job
site near Mapleton during this weekend's reunion.
Critics might fault the Hoedads' organization, but rarely their enthusiasm.
"I remember once, after planting all week, three or four of us met over at
Max's Tavern and all we wanted to do was sit and talk about tree planting,"
Rust says. "Then someone else in the bar came over to us and said, 'Don't
you Hoedads ever get enough of it?' "
Such zeal probably came in handy in light of the undisputed fact that
planting trees on mountainous slopes is hard, back-breaking work. Not
everyone could cut it.
Lauri Bouley of Eugene, then Lauri Patterson, says she'll never forget her
first tree-planting stint.
"I'm thinking Johnny Appleseed, bumblebees, butterflies and Bambi," she
says. "Then we spill out of the crummy (van), I look over the edge and
think, 'You're kidding. You can't even walk on that.' "
It got worse. "It started to rain," she says. "My feet were so cold that I
put them next to the fire and ended up melting my shoes where the soles
Ruvkun says he remembers a cultural divide between Hoedads who had
experience in the woods and those who hadn't. "Many of them came out of the
meditative world, and that doesn't usually involve carrying 80 pounds on
your back," he says. "A lot of people washed out."
But Carrie Ann Naumoff, a Eugene School District teacher for 14 years, says
the shared hardship is what brought so many Hoedads together - and taught
them something about personal responsibility.
"I don't think I was fully accountable to other people until the day I
realized that if I made an excuse and stayed home, it meant my friends
would have to work out on the hill a little longer and little harder," she
The work was exhausting and dirty, but also the crucible for magical
moments. Naumoff recalls a job site near Bonners Ferry, Idaho, where she
and other crew members had spent several months planting - with only rare
opportunities to shower or bathe.
"And then some wonderful person brought a portable sauna up to the middle
of the woods," she says. "I remember an idyllic evening after working and
sweating all day."
Naumoff planted trees even when she was six months' pregnant, then helped
with child care in one of the crew camps. She was among many women among
the Hoedads, a male-dominated group that nonetheless took pride in
challenging the "males only" ethic of forest work.
Most of the Hoedad crews were co-ed and at least one, Full Moon Rising, was
all-female. Dozens of members found their marriage partners within the
Hal Hartzell and his wife, Betsy, are former Hoedads who now run a
bookstore in Cottage Grove. Betsy was previously married to Edd Wemple,
another early Hoedad who died of a cerebral aneurysm at 36. Their 320-acre
tract of second-growth timberland near Cougar Mountain became a popular
Hoedads gathering place and also served as collateral when the Hoedads
needed bonding to bid on some of their first tree-planting contracts.
Hal Hartzell, who's written a book about the Hoedads, says the group's
eventual demise was the result of simple economics: A drastic decline in
logging in Northwest forests produced a similar drop in reforestation jobs.
Other factors, he says, included the influx of illegal immigrants hired for
reforestation jobs. For some Hoedads, the cooperative started feeling more
like a labor hall and less like family, and not everyone wanted to work in
spin-off work such as trail building and firefighting.
But while the Hoedads finally ran their course, members say their legacy
"My values haven't changed," Naumoff says.
"I still believe in honoring the Earth and in collaborative work. I still
have a woodstove, and I still won't use pesticides. My politics, if
anything, have probably gotten more radical."
Who: Participants in Hoedads Inc., the Eugene-based tree-planting
cooperative begun in 1971.
When/where: Friday through Sunday. Events include Friday night registration
at Growers Market (former Hoedads office);
Saturday picnic at Emerald Park and party at WOW Hall; possible trip to
logging unit planted by Hoedads in early 1970s; Sunday picnic at Cougar
Reunion information: Visit www.hoedads.com, or call 688-9694 or 942-6143.
For Hoedads history, see Hal Hartzell's "Birth of a Cooperative" book, or
visit the Web site.
Crummy - Vehicle used to transport crews to and from unit, also used as
temporary sleeping quarters. Repository for hoedags, raingear, hard hats,
misplaced socks, orange peels.
Glom - Short for "conglomerate," meaning a temporary crew made up of
members from different crews.
Gravy - Good ground, easily and profitably planted.
Gravy-cruiser - Someone who spends more time in easy-to-plant ground.
Hi-roller - Fast planter, but not necessarily a good planter.
Hoedag - Main tool, similar to adz, used in tree-planting; used to scalp
away vegetation, chop roots, dig planting hole. Not to be confused with
Hoedad, which refers to any crew member.
J-root - An improperly planted seedling where the roots aren't placed with
their tips heading straight down, but curve back up in a J shape.
Lo-roller - Slow planter, but not necessarily a bad planter; often a new
Mudballs - Seedlings that come from nursery with globs of mud entwined in
roots; mudball trees can greatly increase the weight of a planter's bag.
Plastic wonder - Visqueen plastic that can provide hasty shelter from wind
Slash - Anything on a unit that obstructs planter's effort to make a decent
2-0 - A 2-year-old seedling grown from seed in its original bed; usually a
thin, light tree that's easy to plant.
2-1 - Seedling grown for two years and then transplanted from original bed;
usually heavier and hardier than 2-0s.
Unit - Work site.
War zone - Clear-cut.
- "Birth of a Cooperative" by Hal Hartzell
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