Today I am continuing to blog my book: “It’s 4 AM and a Bear Is Standing on Top of Me.” I concluded my last post by proposing to the American Lung Association of Sacramento-Emigrant trails’ (ALASET) Board of Directors that I run a hundred-mile backpack trek across the Sierra Nevada Mountains to raise funds to support the Association’s programs. My friend Steve Crowle and I had come up with the idea while out backpacking. The Board’s first reaction had been, “You want to do what?”
Actually, I had a great Board. Once the members were convinced that this was something I really, really wanted to do, their final response was “OK, go for it!” I called Steve immediately. My job as executive director included a wide range of responsibilities ranging from administration to programs to fundraising. I would have a limited amount of time to devote to the project and I didn’t know anyone else who was crazy enough to take on the challenge. We had two months to pull it off. The clock was ticking.
I had originally talked Steve into replacing me as Executive Director of Sacramento’s Ecology Information Center with a sales pitch that included, “Look, I have this great job where you work 60-hour weeks, have a Board that likes to scream at each other, and has a starting salary of $200 per month. Are you interested?” Minus a screaming Board of Directors, organizing the Trek wouldn’t be all that different.
Steve had a bright, curious mind and was knowledgeable on environmental issues. He also seemed to have unlimited energy and was built like a bear. It had served him well as Executive Director of EIC. In addition to overseeing the Center’s ongoing projects, he had immediately set out to develop a community garden in downtown Sacramento. Initially known as the Terra Firma Garden and later as the Ron Mandela Garden, it would provide inner city residents with a touch of nature for over 30 years— all the way up until the State of California decided to grow buildings on the site.
The downside about Steve was that he existed on the edge. I later learned that one of his friends who he had recruited to volunteer on the Trek frequently flew to Columbia and returned with his cargo hold filled with pot.
A year after the Trek, Steve called me and told me that the FBI had showed up on his doorstep. My immediate thought was that they had tied Steve to the Colombia drug operation or that some of the Terra Firma gardeners were growing marijuana. Steve’s concern was that his radical youth was catching up with him. He had been a little too close to the fire when the Bank of America had been burned down in Santa Barbara in 1970 as a protest against the Vietnam War. “And what were you doing with those matches, Mr. Crowle?” (Steve told me the Santa Barbara story a few years ago before he passed away.)
Actually, the FBI had bigger fish to fry. Apparently one of his gardeners had gone from farming her plot to plotting an assassination. Young Lynette Fromme grew up in Southern California where she was a star performer in a children’s dance group, performing at such venues as the Lawrence Welk Show and the Whitehouse.
At 19, a strong disagreement with her dad sent her scurrying off to Venice Beach where she found comfort from an older man, Charles Manson. She soon found herself one of Manson’s clan, taking care of an aging George Spahn at his ranch where the ‘family’ hung out. It was Spahn who gave Lynette her nickname “Squeaky,” because, as legend has it, she squeaked each time he pinched her butt.
Squeaky missed out on the murderous rampage the family undertook in 1969 killing Sharon Tate among others, but she remained intensely loyal to Charles, defending him to the press and anyone else who would listen. After Manson’s conviction and sentence to a lifetime in prison, she moved to Stockton where two of the people she was living with ended up dead.
Abandoning Stockton, Squeaky moved to Sacramento and rented an apartment with another Manson groupie, Sandra Good. The two of them adopted a new life style and persona as ‘nuns’ in Manson’s latest crusade, saving the earth. Manson even gave them new names with Squeaky becoming ‘Red’ and Sandra becoming ‘Blue.’ It was with her new name, persona, and purpose that Squeaky took up gardening at the Terra Firma Garden. Steve knew her, of course, but knew nothing about her background. He told me that she found him “attractive” because of his intense eyes. If you’ve seen pictures of Manson, you’ll get this.
It was with her new goal of ‘saving the earth’ that she left her apartment on the fateful morning of September 5, 1975 and strolled over to Capitol Park where she got within a few steps of the visiting President Gerald Ford before pointing her Colt 45 at him, creating immediate pandemonium. She later claimed she was “just trying to get the President’s attention.” She did. Three months later she found herself convicted of an attempted assassination and in prison. As for Steve, he informed the FBI that he didn’t have a clue as to who Fromme was or what she was up to other than being a gardener. Like Pangloss, he went back to cultivating his garden. But all of this was in the future. My phone call to Steve went something like the following:
“How would you like to go backpacking and get paid for it?” I asked.
“Give me a hard question,” Steve responded.
“Are you willing to work for minimum wage?” I casually threw in as fine print.
“That,” he replied, “is the question.”
I went on to explain that while the Board members had approved of the concept, they weren’t particularly enthusiastic about spending large sums of money to see if it worked. I could just barely squeeze out the minimum wage of the day for two months to see if we could pull it off. Steve, after ample groaning, allowed that it would supplement what he was earning at the Center and took the job.
Thursday’s Travel Blog: Peggy and I continue our exploration of America’s back roads by leaving Hickison Petroglyph Recreation Area behind and following America’s Loneliest Road across the rest of Nevada and into Utah where we discover Highway 50 is still lonely. And beautiful.
Tuesday’s Blog-a-Book: The clock is ticking as we find a name, route and reluctant sponsor for our backpacking fund raiser. Then it was time to recruit participants. They came out of the woodwork! Among them: A ballerina, a bomb defuser, a witch, and a 70-year-old wood elf.