W ith the reading at the Six Gallery in serving as an impetus, Alaska opened up to spiritual wanderers, seekers of the northern lights, tripsters, permaculturists, wildcrafters, greenhousers, seedsmen, backpackers, quartz collectors, kayakers, misfits, highway bums, seasonal workers, dropouts, malcontents, and survivalists.
Motor homes were welcome in public domain lands. Instead of seeking gold, the young people now coming to unconventional Alaskan enclaves like Haines and Sitka were seeking self. In Homer, Alaska—at the tip of the Kenai Peninsula—a new wave of young seekers found the deeply forested region a spiritual haven, far from the mad rush of consumerism and conformity.
Seeking solace in the sea, sky, and mountains of the Kenai Peninsula, particularly the temperate zones, they hoped that subsistence farming and fishing were the way off the treadmill of making money. Curved around Kachemak Bay, Homer—the magnet for the beats in Alaska—was a clannish fishing village centered on a low, treeless spit a long, thin gravel bar jutting out into the water.
Muir had found the Homer Spit—where fishermen caught thousands of Pacific halibut and Pacific lampreys—enchanting when he sketched Kachemak Bay in The spit was surrounded on both sides by the exchanging tidal flows of Cook Inlet and the Gulf of Alaska. Low, wooded mountains rose on one side of the spit; on the other side was a rolling ridge of glistening glaciers. At twilight, Homer glowed in what some people described as a blanketing halo.
Homer, a magnet for vegetarians, may be where seaweed became a popular health food in the s. Bands of seaweed—such as porphyra black seaweed , palmaria ribbon seaweed , and macrocystis giant kelp —became a subsistence food for hitchhikers along Kachemak Bay. Such seaweeds were rich in minerals, vitamins, and carbohydrates.
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Nestled along Kachemak Bay was a huge raft of sea otters. Daily they swam about in these highly productive waters, gorging on shellfish. A subgroup with theatrical ambitions in the Los Angeles area performed a Christmas play in which none of the performers wore shoes: hence the name Barefooters. The members permanently shunned shoes; the men refused to get a haircut until world peace was achieved; the women dressed in long, flowing white gowns and liked to serve apple butter on homemade wheat bread. The Barefooters intended to wear their holy robes until universal love rained down. Love and service were the goals of WKFL.
These cultists, forerunners of the San Francisco hippies, devoted their varied talents to humanitarian endeavors such as helping the poor and homeless and extinguishing forest fires. We learn about the earth through our feet.
‘Prayer is thread holding each day together,’ Brother Isaiah says
We learn to tread lightly on earth and not dally too long in one place. Word spread throughout the Kenai Peninsula that beatniks a term coined in late were arriving en masse, hitchhiking along Highway 1 but looking too bizarre to get rides. Alaskan lumbermen prided themselves on their own libertarian values. But what could they make of long-haired people in biblical garb walking barefoot in the snow without guns? The Barefooters would protect the natural world of Kachemak Bay not as a possession but as a responsibility.
Feet, however, were their fetish. Acquiring three homesteads in the Fox River valley, about a half-hour drive from Homer, the Barefooters established a commune in —when Ginsberg was in Point Barrow on the Pendleton. They named their land Venta. The Barefooters were more freakish than Ginsberg was in the late s, when he wanted to levitate the Pentagon. By the mids he had tens of thousands of followers. I am the new Messiah. When asked why he was the new Christ, Krishna Venta claimed that he had led a convoy of rocket ships from the burning planet of Neophrates to save Earth; even L. Ron Hubbard, whose first scientology writings appeared in , thought he was weird.
Dormitories were built at Venta, along the Kachemak Bay mudflat on the far outskirts of Homer.
The Barefooters became children of the Kenai Peninsula tides. Outside their front doors, glacial erratics dotted the flats. Driftwood and detritus hourly washed up on their beach. Mushrooms grew along the horsetail-fringed shore—not psychedelic ones, for the Barefooters were opposed to using drugs.
Moose browsed around their acreage eating dwarf birch and willows. But being a Barefooter during the winter months was of course dangerous and nonsensical. It was actually the sparks from welding in their shop that brought about the decision to clothe their feet.
Shuttling between Ventura County and the Kenai Peninsula, keeping the Homer contingent well supplied for the hard winter months, Brother Asaiah was treasured by all the Barefooters. He expressed his truth, international, intercultural, and universal, in the last frontier on this earth, in our little town at the end of the road, Homer, Alaska, our cosmic hamlet by the sea. For all their peaceable words, however, the Barefooters had a darker side.
On December 10, , Krishna Venta was murdered in Chatsworth, California, by two disgruntled followers. Claiming that he was embezzling funds and seducing their wives, they strapped on twenty sticks of dynamite and blew up themselves, Krishna Venta, and seven other Barefooters. The explosion also burned more than acres in California. A shock wave touched youth communities such as Santa Monica and Venice Beach: How could such destruction emanate from the seemingly benign Barefooters?
The victims of the explosion had included a seven-year-old girl and a baby; how could this be explained? Alaskan newspapers naturally reported the tragedy, pointing out that the cult had a presence in Homer. After a night of camping, he headed down the western side of the Kenai Peninsula and saw Redoubt Volcano looming across Cook Inlet like a watchtower.
He pulled into Homer and bought a trailer-like home from a local realtor on Lucky Shot Street. For the one-hour ice field trip, Mr.
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The plane soars through mountain passes and careens over a pristine snowfield. The return leg includes spectacular views of coves, braided deltas and islands dotting the bay. Locals describe the Homestead Restaurant at the 8. He and others with him vowed not to wear shoes or cut their hair until world peace had been achieved and world hunger eradicated. They were called Barefooters. Although the group broke up, Brother Asaiah stayed on, becoming a local sage. He dubbed Homer ''the Cosmic Hamlet by the Sea,'' and although he died in , a small cafe, the Cosmic Kitchen Pioneer Avenue; , shows that his legacy lives on in many forms, even in the breakfast burrito.
Just about the only way to get to the head of Kachemak Bay is on horseback. Mark Marette of Trails End Horse Adventures East End Road; is a quick-witted cowboy who gives riding tips as he takes visitors down a steep switchback that leads to the beach, and then past the Russian Orthodox village of Kachemak Selo. The tour continues on to the Fox River Flats.
Turning toward the Homer Hills, the horses follow a narrow path flanked by elderberry bushes that open into a breathtaking site that had been a homestead built by the Barefooters in the 's. It is now abandoned and bald eagle chicks peer down from cottonwood trees and clusters of wildflowers dot the open fields. They are available from May 1 until it snows, usually in October. By road, Homer is miles southwest of Anchorage, which is served by several airlines. Era Aviation , www. You can also rent a car in Anchorage and make the spectacular five-hour drive.
Introduction to Homer - New York Times
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