CANYON: The Story of the Last Rustic Community in Metropolitan America by John Van der Zee

CANYON: The Story of the Last Rustic Community in Metropolitan America

Email this review


To the old residents of Canyon, a tiny and decrepit community nestled behind the Oakland hills, the newcomers who began arriving in the mid-'60's were ""a bunch of hippies playing pioneer."" Van der Zee (The Plum Explosion, 1967; Blood Brotherhood, 1970) was a sometime resident of the isolated ravine where houses were built of automobile hulks, eucalyptus poles, and plywood domes. He found it beguiling despite the lack of roads, sewers, windows, doors, electricity, and running water. Not so the county health and housing inspectors who cited sanitation and fire hazards and endless violations of sacrosanct building codes. A takeover by MUD (the East Bay Municipal Utilities District) loomed and the whole area was projected for a public park. But the citizens, young and old, rallied to save their unorthodox haven: they raised money to outbid MUD for the property, rebuilt a general store and post office, and with the help of a civil engineer designed an optimal, ecologically balanced sewage system. Inevitably, their cheerful disregard of permits, ordinances, and the bureaucratic mire -- ""Doing it the way you're not supposed to""-- brought down the wrath of the government's hirelings on their unkempt but imaginative heads. The existence of the community was (and still is) precarious and Van der Zee, who is rooting for them all the way, details their struggles against eviction notices and legal harassment. At stake, says the author, is the ""frontier anarchist belief in the liberating power of land"" and the citizens of Canyon are fighting a noble rearguard action against the heavy-handed edicts of the regulators. For those who appreciate that ""open unbuttoned feeling"" this is a pleasant and exemplary story of how some people struggled to preserve their wholesome, rugged individualism bareassed in the pine trees.

Pub Date: Feb. 23rd, 1971
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich