EUGENE, Ore. (AP) — When Gary Ruvkun tucks his 4-year-old daughter, Victoria, in bed at night, he often gets a request for a bedtime story.
A Hoedad bedtime story.
So Ruvkun, a professor of genetics at Harvard Medical School, recounts what it was like when he was a young cuss in Oregon, planting trees on steep hillsides in the rain and wind and cold.
"I talk about warming up in a teepee with a hot stove after planting all day, and about our tent blowing down in a big windstorm," he says. "She loves those stories and asks me to retell them. And in the retelling, I remember more and more."
It's been a long time since Ruvkun, 49, has been back to Oregon. But he was heading back, along with his wife and daughter, to attend the Hoedads' 30th anniversary reunion this weekend. As many as 500 people were expected to attend the gathering.
Begun in 1971, the worker-owned Hoedads Reforestation Cooperative grew to more than 300 workers and grossed more than $2 million a year. As many as 13 crews with names such as the Mudsharks, Cheap Thrills and Natural Wonders worked in every state west of the Rockies, camping in remote mountain areas and planting seedlings on forest clear-cuts.
The Hoedads disbanded in 1994, but their influence still ripples today. A bunch of mostly white hippie kids from middle-class upbringings, they served as a model for workplace democracy, helped change old-school reforestation practices, spawned other work cooperatives and provided loans and grants to other alternative enterprises. There's even a Hoedads Foundation that disperses money to social-justice and other progressive groups.
But let just about any former Hoedad bend your ear, and you'll hear that the cooperative's legacy is also very personal.
It was about putting social idealism into action, confounding the stereotype of "lazy hippies," learning personal responsibility and basking in the camaraderie that comes with living in the woods and doing a tough job few others wanted.
"In a way, I think of the Hoedads probably the way my dad thinks of World War II," says Ruvkun. "It had hardship, it was totally different from anything I'd experienced before, and everyone was passionately involved."
For 20 years, Jerry Rust was a Lane County commissioner. But in the late 1960s, he was just another underemployed college grad hanging around Eugene. He'd spent a winter planting trees on Weyerhaeuser land, but the work was hard and the pay — $3.25 an hour — not very good.
In those days, the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management would solicit bids from contractors to plant seedlings in clear-cuts. After that first winter of tree-planting, Rust and a couple of friends hit upon an idea: "Maybe we can make more money if we bid on some of these contracts ourselves."
Rust and two buddies, John Sundquist and John Corbin, dubbed themselves the Triads and won a small government job on Humbug Mountain on the south Oregon coast in October 1970.
The job was a small disaster; Rust figures they barely covered their gas money. But an idea was born, and the Hoedads came into being the next year.
It was a serendipitous intersection of time and place. Eugene was a gathering spot for antiwar activists, hippies and Peace Corps veterans looking for a different way of relating to the world.
"There were so many young people who did not want to work for 'The Man,' who wanted to do something else," Rust recalls. "These were superintelligent, idealistic kids, including a lot of refugees from the East Coast."
Rust says he remembers looking out at all the tree planters on one job site and realizing that every one had a college degree.
He boasts that the Hoedads helped upgrade the art of tree-planting, which required using stock delivered in refrigerated boxes and keeping them cool and moist until just before planting. With 40-pound bags of baby trees on their hips, the Hoedads would use an adz-like tool called a hoedad to break the ground and plant each seedling.
"If you did everything right, you'd get about 90 percent survival," says Rust, the Hoedads' first president. "By the time we hit our stride, that was the industry standard."
Leonard Larson remembers it a little differently. The longtime Siuslaw National Forest employee was a reforestation inspector back in the Hoedads' heyday. Like many Forest Service employees, Larson didn't immediately know what to make of the crews of hippies who'd come into the woods to plant trees.
"We'd come pretty near to pulling our hair out, they were so unorthodox," he says. "In the beginning, they had a lot of people who really didn't know what they were doing. … We had some confrontational moments the first year or two.
"But they were trying to do a good job and they ended up doing a pretty good job," says Larson, who hopes to guide a clan of Hoedad veterans to a former job site near Mapleton during this weekend's reunion.
Critics might fault the Hoedads' organization, but rarely their enthusiasm.
"I remember once, after planting all week, three or four of us met over at Max's Tavern and all we wanted to do was sit and talk about tree planting," Rust says. "Then someone else in the bar came over to us and said, 'Don't you Hoedads ever get enough of it?"'
Such zeal probably came in handy in light of the undisputed fact that planting trees on mountainous slopes is hard, back-breaking work. Not everyone could cut it.
Lauri Bouley of Eugene, then Lauri Patterson, says she'll never forget her first tree-planting stint.
"I'm thinking Johnny Appleseed, bumblebees, butterflies and Bambi," she says. "Then we spill out of the crummy (van), I look over the edge and think, 'You're kidding. You can't even walk on that."'
It got worse.
"It started to rain," she says. "My feet were so cold that I put them next to the fire and ended up melting my shoes where the soles came off."
Ruvkun says he remembers a cultural divide between Hoedads who had experience in the woods and those who hadn't.
"Many of them came out of the meditative world, and that doesn't usually involve carrying 80 pounds on your back," he says. "A lot of people washed out."
But Carrie Ann Naumoff, a Eugene school teacher for 14 years, says the shared hardship is what brought so many Hoedads together and taught them something about personal responsibility.
"I don't think I was fully accountable to other people until the day I realized that if I made an excuse and stayed home, it meant my friends would have to work out on the hill a little longer and little harder," she says.
The work was exhausting and dirty, but also the crucible for magical moments. Naumoff recalls a job site near Bonners Ferry, Idaho, where she and other crew members had spent several months planting with only rare opportunities to shower or bathe.
"And then some wonderful person brought a portable sauna up to the middle of the woods," she says. "I remember an idyllic evening after working and sweating all day."
Naumoff planted trees even when she was six months' pregnant, then helped with child care in one of the crew camps. She was among many women among the Hoedads, a male-dominated group that nonetheless took pride in challenging the "males only" ethic of forest work.
Most of the Hoedad crews were coed and at least one, Full Moon Rising, was all-female. Dozens of members found their marriage partners within the Hoedads community.
Hal Hartzell and his wife, Betsy, are former Hoedads who now run a bookstore in Cottage Grove, Ore. Betsy was previously married to Edd Wemple, another early Hoedad who died of a cerebral aneurysm at age 36. Their 320-acre tract of second-growth timberland near Cougar Mountain became a popular Hoedads gathering place, and also served as collateral when the Hoedads needed bonding to bid on some of their first tree-planting contracts.
Hal Hartzell, who's written a book about the Hoedads, says the group's eventual demise was the result of simple economics: A drastic decline in logging in Northwest forests produced a similar drop in reforestation jobs.
Other factors, he says, included the influx of illegal immigrants hired for reforestation jobs. For some Hoedads, the cooperative started feeling more like a labor hall and less like family, and not everyone wanted to work in spin-off work such as trailbuilding and firefighting.
Although the Hoedads finally ran their course, members says their legacy lives on.
"My values haven't changed," Naumoff says. "I still believe in honoring the Earth and in collaborative work. I still have a woodstove and I still won't use pesticides. My politics, if anything, have probably gotten more radical."
— Arizona Daily Sun