[sixties-l] Back to the woods: 30 years later

From: radtimes (resist@best.com)
Date: Tue Jul 31 2001 - 15:48:51 EDT

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    July 30, 2001

    Back to the woods: 30 years later, hippie Hoedads celebrate the birth of
    their tree-planting cooperative


    The Register-Guard

    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
    East Coast."
    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.
                        Dirty work
    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
    came off."
    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."
                        Life partners
    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
    Hoedads community.
    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
    lives on.
    "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.

                        HOEDADS LINGO
    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
    and rain.
    Slash - Anything on a unit that obstructs planter's effort to make a decent
    planting hole.
    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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