This is Episode 25 in the story of the formation, rise and fall of the little education collective that used to exist up here on our mountain. I wrote and posted this account three years ago on my blog and then pulled it off because someone whose name I had not changed, objected. Now I have changed both the name of the little school itself, and the names of everyone who might be negatively impacted, and plan to re-post the story, one episode per day, until all 32 are again on my blog.
As a collective, we were marking time, waiting for the next assault. Approaching the Fall of 1989, we had already seen Karen relinquish her position as Misha’s contract teacher, the Collective vote to remove Misha from the little school, and the assignment of Lynn as Misha’s new contract teacher. We were walking the path from Joe’s house to the school, with only one emergency vehicle being driven in to the school. That was Rosemary’s car because she was physically incapable of walking, either on the path or on the road.
We may have proceeded indefinitely along this course, except that Imika made one more phone call, this one to our good friends down at the county building department, informing them of our failure to have garnered the necessary documentation that affirmed our school was child-safe. The structure itself was built according to code, and the materials met the appropriate standards; the carpenters had simply neglected to let Mendocino County in on their plans.
The debate about how much regulation the municipality should have over rural parts of the state, has been droning on since the powers that be figured out that there was gold in them thar hills, in more ways than what could be grown in the ground. Fortunately for the brave souls, who were independent enough to be able to flourish in areas remote enough to daunt the hardiest of pioneers, the county was simply unable to defray the cost of the necessary agents, needed to scour the countryside for the miscreants who refused to kowtow to what they felt were unreasonable intrusions on the tranquility of their pastoral setting.
Indeed, just maneuvering one’s way back to the little school involved some sophisticated driving, and the faint of heart need not attempt to traverse this road, because it would take more than just heart to survive: it would take skill and daring. The road itself is not that bad-it just seems that way. Much of the opening half-mile or so is relegated to one-way status, which is not an issue most of the time, because the road is not that frequented.
However, if a person is already nervous about driving gnarly, backwoods, dirt roads, and a situation arises that requires backing up because you encounter an approaching vehicle, it is enough to make a person think more than twice before even attempting it in the first place.
Barf Hill is a single-lane, steep portion of the road that climbs precipitously as you drive toward the school.
Certainly one of my most terrifying moments cropped up when I attempted to drive my two-wheel-drive Chevy pickup up this road, during a storm. It had begun drizzling as I left my house, but turned to snow, as I climbed in elevation, while making my way around the back side of Cow Mountain to the two-room school.
On this particular occasion, I was talking animatedly to the boys as we drove conservatively up the hill toward the school. The higher we ascended, the more the road began to announce that traction was an immediate and dire concern for a pickup truck with no four-wheel-drive. What do you do when you are escalating rapidly, and you find that your rear wheels are spinning on the icy road and you have absolutely no control over your sliding vehicle?The only direction is down.
When we finally came to a halt, after what seemed the length of Christmas morning mass, maybe one hundred feet back down Barf Hill, we were in the ditch, which was exactly where I wanted to be. The alternative was to have exited that part of the road which did not feature the luxury of a ditch, to prevent the vehicle from tumbling to the base of the mountain.
I was no longer talking animatedly. I was clutching the steering wheel, white-knuckled, my knees fluttering like two moths, as stable for walking on as those of a newborn horse, trying to take its first halting steps. I don’t know what the boys were thinking. They are a funny breed, small boys. There are times when the phrase “No Fear” applies as never before. Specific incidents on the highway that frightened me speechless, did nothing more than exhilarate them.
As the boys and I exited the now-defunct truck, we had only one practical directional option, and that was up, to see if the nearest neighbor, Carl, was home. At that time, his site was back along this road that led to the school. The same amount of traffic that went by Imika’s house, went by his house. I asked him once if he felt his privacy had been violated the same as Imika’s. Unfortunately I asked him when he was taking a swig of beer, and he had hard times for a moment there as he tried to regain his breath, he was laughing that hard.
Had Carl not been home, back in these pre-cell phone days, we would have had a long walk in store for us, but we were saved from worrying about that as we approached the house. The kids Bobby and Jenny were out playing in the rapidly disappearing white stuff, perfectly happy that it should be snowing, and Carl was getting ready to do some chain-sawing. He had this green monster, four-wheel-drive pickup, that he could drive anywhere. He demonstrated it on the spot, by jumping in, with the kids clambering into the bed of the truck.
Any fear I had that the kids might be in danger from treacherous road conditions, was tempered by the fact that the rain shower had moved on, the snow on the dirt road was already dissipating, and Carl’s truck was a tank. We proceeded to the top of Barf Hill, where the kids spilled out of the back of the truck, to get a front row seat on the action, without compromising their safety.
Carl expertly maneuvered his truck so that he could attach a tow chain to the front of my truck chassis, so as to winch my pickup back onto the road. He was then able to tow me to the top of the hill, so that I could determine whether I wanted to go forward to the school, or turn around and head home, while the heading was good.
And you think a building department employee, with a county-issued vehicle, was going to try and navigate to the back side of Cow Mountain, on the off-chance that there might be a little school that they could go after? We didn’t think so, either, until the official form had been filled out, after the complaint by Imika had been lodged with the building department. At that point we arrived one Tuesday morning, following a Monday, during which nobody had been at the school, to find said document.
The first person to arrive, was greeted by the notice that our school had been red-tagged, and that we needed to contact Mendocino County, to apply for the necessary permits. Meanwhile, the building was declared officially off-limits, and the Laytonville Unified School District lawyers, declared that the District could no longer allow the Bell Springs Collective to be affiliated with the District, if it were going to continue to meet at this site.
It was the proverbial line in the sand. Put up or shut down. It was time to make a final decision.