When I was a girl, we listened to folk music. We listened to soul, and we listened to the Beatles, but also we listened to a lot of folk music. My mother worked at the Ash Grove. We were Early Hippies. I remember going to some little outdoor festival and wandering around among adults, off on my own as usual, and feeling perfectly safe. I came across a barrel of steamed artichokes. A whole barrel!
We also listened to a lot of Joni Mitchell. “Ladies of the Canyon” struck me as a life goal. This is how it should be. Trimmed with antique luxury. None are thin and all are fat. Sailing seas and climbing banyans, coloring the sunshine hours. This.
Life interfered. We went to the other side of the continent. Then we listened to Jesus Christ Superstar and John Renbourn. And we played a lot of chess and I wrote a song about the seahorse in the aquarium and wandered around at night with the dogs and made cookies at two in the morning, and had my own personal giant pine tree to climb and a decaying root cellar to hide in. This wasn’t that far off. This was very close.
But then everything fell apart again, and I moved back to Los Angeles and lived in the Seacastle Apartments, which were magnificent but were later condemned after an earthquake. Then I became an assistant to a woman who had some of that canyon ladies stuff down, but unfortunately she took to dealing cocaine, and everything again fell apart.
Then I met a guy through the bulletin board in the L.A. Reader. This was what we had before we had the Internet so easily, this strange free-form no charge classified ad section. This was around 1983. We had a scrapbook of all that madness but it got lost too.
We left Los Angeles, my second time doing so but not my last. I washed back up on the shores in 1988, sans boyfriend. I’d tried to find the canyon ladies at a commune, but they turned out to be a cult.
My next effort involved engaging in a hostile takeover of a cooperatively run health food store, after taking to sporadically dating the manager. He was a nice enough guy, but an absolutely terrible manager. He’d threatened to quit a lot, and the board of directors asked me if I wanted to do it. Sure, I said.
Things got predictably dramatic. It was a rather good gig, other than the robberies and horrible floor plan and all the fans of the ex-manager coming in and giving me the hairy eyeball.
I wound up giving up, ex-manager was reinstated and promptly started advertising for a new manager. Then the place failed entirely and he moved to Vancouver with much family money and, last I checked, was happily ensconced up there, busy going to meetings of nonprofits. That’s good.
I met some good ladies there too, but by then I’d gotten into tarantulas. The tarantula society ultimately lured me out to New Mexico. It was a little short on canyon ladies but I did learn a lot of interesting stuff.
Then when I got sick of working full time for the tarantula society for around $500 a month, I took to used book dealing. Even fewer canyon ladies, here in Little Texas. But I did learn a lot about books.
At this point I was pretty much at the end of my rope, and dove into the Internet.
And there you were, all of you. The canyon ladies. I finally found you!
But so far away. Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?
It took awhile. I made a lot of mistakes. The learning curve was steep.
I learned that I could unwittingly be insensitive towards women. I learned about how to see it when male acquaintances were trying to sexually groom me. I learned to stop questioning my gut reactions.
I learned that gender socialization runs so deep that there is no end to the learning, the unlearning, the untangling. For the first six months or so after I Discovered Radical Feminism, I thought that I’d figure this stuff out more or less in..nine months? maybe a year? I was expecting the plateau any time now. That was several years back.
But it never happened. It still never happens. I’m still stumbling around, semi-blindly, making a lot of mistakes. I’m just better at it now. Hey, practice makes perfect, eh?
Some of my family and extended family members worked in early childhood education. They said a few things that I remember. One is that you cannot cure personal damage, all you can do is grow stronger.
Another was that you can’t tell anybody anything, all you can do is give them the experience.
The Internet comes up short with giving people experiences. The telling is important, but women get weary. So many of us have so much, often unspoken, on our backs already. And so many of us are isolated, washing up here online like I did. Still hoping that maybe those canyon ladies are out here somewhere, drawing the sunsets and making each other delicacies, and pouring music down the canyon.
– Miep Rowan O’Brien
Coming up soon: Ann Foland is a Lesbian Crone.