YeeHaw is a 12 acre village in Trinidad, California east of 101 and a little uphill from a one hundred year old rock quarry. It is built over the remains of the Trinidad train station. The place is fragrant with the past. There are stumps of redwoods which must measure seventeen or eighteen feet across, some with sprouts which are already large trees, and some, slowly-decaying, jaw-dropping, silencing reminders of what once was. Lining the paths through the forest, in August, are ferns, a wealth of ripe blackberries and cascades of green. The place has the commanding quiet still capable of invoking an intact redwood forest.
It is a truly enchanting place to live, and many people do live there. Some have been there for a long time, like the owner, Charles Garth, who arrived 35 years ago, and Jack Nounan, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran. Charles lets practically anybody stay for three days, sometimes longer if they’re willing to bring something to the community. It is a place of healing too. One woman lived there with her family, was forced to leave for a while for lengthy cancer treatment, then returned to recover. Charles described her to me, as she sat one day in the dappled sunlight, with a rabbit on her lap: “she was transfigured, you know, so peaceful, like the Madonna”.
The County is going to destroy this peaceful village if it can.
I can remember a similar effort, made decades ago, to eradicate the “back-to-the-land” culture that sprang up in Humboldt, when people from more populated areas , exhausted by the ordeals of the Vietnam war, civil rights movement and other stresses of the time, resolved to live by example, bought cheap logged-over land in Humboldt and built homesteads. When the County started tagging their homes, a wave of resistance materialized, calling itself United Stand Humboldt. A public hearing packed the Muni, with eloquent many speeches and standing ovations. The tagging stopped.
Yeehaw has already withstood one onslaught, in 2008. The county framed the attack as a drug raid, despite Yeehaw’s drug-free policy. However, since the code enforcers were violent, pulling guns on a woman and young children, the assault hit the headlines, causing an explosion of outrage, and the they had to back off.
This time the County’s lethal weapons are permit violations.
There are many. Ancient vehicles, some fantastically altered, with quaint roofs, and decks with fruit trees. Almost all the houses are owner-built, or constructed by the villagers, and are works of art. Only one has a permit.
There are materials which the County categorizes as solid waste, but which are actually in the community queue for building or repair materials, garden fences and other practical uses.
Most of the structures on the place are made from recycled materials. One house is sided with scavenged computers cases. There is a stock of the old oaken tongue-and-groove floorboards from the Eureka train station. Some materials have become art objects, such as a collection of old toilets fancifully stacked, and a satellite disc studded with mirrors that also serves from time to time as a solar oven.
Charles has accumulated penalty fines on his violations which he figures have amounted to $62,500. The Planning Department Director, John Ford, has told him he plans to seize the property in payment for the ever-mounting penalties and fines.
In the era of covid, an appalling affordable -housing shortage, and the ravages of climate devastation, this attack on what is essentially a peaceful village is as much of an outrage as the waving guns of 2008. Although the County has made vague promises of temporary housing for the people whose homes it is preparing to bulldoze, in the long run many of them will find the streets. Most of them simply will not discover the kind of employment which allows them to pay the rents which “low-income” housing demands. In the streets, of course, they run vastly greater risks of sickness or misfortune than by living in this rustic, peaceful place. If they stay in the streets, their lifespan will decrease by 25 years on average, for that statistically, is the toll homelessness takes on our citizens.
At Yeehaw there is no such risk. People are dry in the winter. They help each other if there is a shortage. Sanitation is as good as in the city, and the risk of something falling on their heads as small.
The outrage is the destruction of culture. These villagers have it. It was perhaps a richer culture before the 2008 bust, the trauma of which drove many families with children away. But there have been Maypoles for thirty-five years, A couple of them are still standing. There are evening
circles with guitars and singing. There are monthly meetings. There is an eleven-sided community center, one side of which can be lowered to form a stage for theatrical performances. The center contains an assortment of instruments (Yeehaw has electricity), and while I was there a bunch of teenagers and children got together and started jazz improvising.
It is cultural genocide, this savage tearing into an idyllic forest refuge with a giant, relentless excavator, scooping up human dwellings and shoving the rubble into a dumpster. From homes to landfill! It connotes, on the part of the County, an obsessive-compulsive adherence to a rigid framework of complex regulations which allow the it to persecute anyone it wishes to, motivated by profit interests, sadism, and vengeance, directed toward a minimal-carbon-footprint, non-materialistic life-style.
The County should treasure this community and the individuals it houses. It should, in friendly, neighborly fashion, offer help with any repairs it is truly concerned about. Many people go through periods of their lives where they need the quiet of the forest, relaxation from civic demands, sometimes just growing up. Over its thirty-five years Yeehaw has housed lawyers, teachers, artists and many other socially valuable citizens. Jack Nounan, the war veteran, spends his days walking the streets of Eureka, looking for people he can help. When I worked as a Physician Assistant at Open Door, for several decades he brought many a sick or confused person through the door for medical treatment or advice.
He does nothing but good, and where it’s most needed. Charles too. The County is definitely the villain of this piece.
Instead, it should celebrate the contribution Yeehaw makes to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness in Humboldt.