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Floods can’t wash away her spirit

Wednesday, November 21st, 2012 | Posted by

Salli Rasberry at her home in Santa Rosa. (BETH SCHLANKER/ The Press Democrat)

By ANDREA GRANAHAN/ West County Correspondent

When Salli Rasberry was 3, she sat on her father’s lap to type on his Underwood typewriter.

“I knew then I was a writer. He used to read to me, and I realized the typewriter made the words,” says Rasberry, now 72. It was a prophetic insight. She eventually became an influential writer for the back-to-the-land movement.

At 19 she left her home in Ohio. “I just never felt I belonged there,” she says.

It was 1959, and she moved to the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood in San Francisco. A lot began happening: the Civil Rights movement, the music scene, the Vietnam War.

“We were so innocent then. We felt like we had just learned we had been lied to. There was no Easter Bunny, no democracy, no American dream. We were angry. I became a flaming radical.”

She had her daughter, Sasha, and started a preschool in a local church. The Haight-Ashbury scene was changing.

“Tour buses and heavy drugs came to the neighborhood, and I knew it was no place to raise a child.”

Rasberry met Ramon Sender, a musician and concert promoter, who told her about Sonoma County. She moved here and taught tie-dying with natural dyes to pay Sasha’s tuition at Redwood School. She moved into a teepee, living off the grid in an intentional community. In 1970, she wrote her first book with professor Robert Greenway, “The Rasberry Exercises,” about how to start your own school. Doubleday tried to buy the rights to it.

“In one week, three of us came out with oversized paperbacks, a new thing then,” she recalls. “Alicia Bay Laurel did ‘Living on the Earth,’ Stewart Brand did ‘The Whole Earth Catalog’ and my book. Overnight the big publishers realized the Bay Area was a hotbed of literacy.”

Rasberry went on to write “The Seven Laws of Money” and “Honest Business” for Random House, and several others for other publishers.

Throughout her literary career she continued to love the land and loved sheep. She wrote a column for the Bodega Bay Navigator called “Woolgathering” about the rhythms of a pastoral life. She married a sheep rancher and for five idyllic years sheared sheep, did spinning, dyed wool and knitted caps she sold at craft fairs. Then floods began to shape her life.

A massive one in January 1982 wiped out her flock.

“My sheep washed out to the ocean,” she says, and the memory is still painful. “We had nothing left.”

Rasberry was still writing, and she went to work as an executive director for the Farallones Institute in Occidental, helping to establish the Center for Seven Generations with the Mott Foundation. She wrote the book “Running a One Person Business.”

She was about to move from Camp Meeker to Monte Rio when another flood hit, the Valentine’s Day flood of 1986, which destroyed the house she was moving to. Instead, she moved to Freestone and became deeply involved with the Sonoma County Land Trust, seeking to protect the rural nature of the county.

Rasberry produced more books: “Living Your Life Out Loud” and “Marketing Without Advertising,” both still in print. She and her husband Michael Eisenbach moved to the Crystal River area of Florida for a while.

“It was beautiful and warm. It was a very different culture.”

Then a home they owned was destroyed in a flood.

“Floods took over the direction of my life,” she says.

Her husband’s brother lived in rural Guatamala, so they relocated there. They invested in building a co-housing retirement community.

“We thought we had our retirement figured out when once again a flood changed everything. It wiped us all out. We were shoveling mud when we decided to return to Sonoma County.”

The couple now lives in Santa Rosa, raising their granddaughter McKinley.

“Once, when I lived in Freestone, I planted a Death Garden, with coffins as raised beds full of sunflowers. I was celebrating death and life. “I’d like to do that again.

“I want my grandkids to have a wonderful life. I want to be with them, to grow flowers and maybe write my memoirs,” she says of life in retirement.

And she keeps a close eye on rising waters.

  • http://Facebook BradPipal

    Strength, Joy Ridge Watershed Activist ….Salli Rasberry 5 stars.

  • wangofango

    is that a photograph?

  • Tom Lynch

    Great piece Andrea and good to see you are well Salli…I continue to keep an eye out on those rising waters in Guernevlle!


    Tom Lynch

  • Ernie Carpenter

    Salli has spirit to go with the history. Steady with hand on the tiller. Go Salli go!

  • sandy Fahrenthold

    Hey Salli, I never knew you were such an interesting person. Ada and Russ would love to hear from
    you. If you ever come back to Fl would love to touch base. Sandy

  • Ormond Otvos

    Well, I knew Salli in 1961 around the young Sasha period, and a little ways after. We lost track, understandably. Saw her again in Freestone, with the coffin garden, lost track again. Glad to hear she’s in Santa Rosa. I’m in Richmond…

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Andrea Granahan is our West County correspondent.
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