An anthropologist with deep roots in the Lompoc-Santa Ynez Valley area who spent many years working and exploring outdoors, Larry Spanne probably knows this part of the country as well as anyone. I met him years ago while he was employed at Vandenberg Air Force Base to help protect native rock art and other cultural resources on the base. I was impressed by his knowledge and his kindness. In this interview he spoke of boyhood memories, local history, his love of the land, and making peace with the past.
This interview took place on December 22, 2014 at the Hollister Ranch in Gaviota, California.
LS: My name is Laurence Walter Spanne. I was born September 1, 1940, in Lompoc…before they had a hospital. I was born in a place called Mrs. Van Clief’s boarding home ‘cause that’s where a lot of the women went to give birth. My father was also born there, in fact.
CCW: How far back did your family live in Lompoc?
LS: My father’s family, the Spanne family, came there in the 1880s, so it was six to eight years after the town was established. They came in and set up a blacksmith shop. My grandfather’s brother John set up the shop and then later my grandfather and his other brother came and joined him there. My mother’s family was there in 1875, the year after the Lompoc Land colony was formed, and they lived out of town; they had a ranch, San Pasqual Canyon. My Spanne grandfather’s house was in Lompoc. He was a businessman. And then his brother had a ranch out on what is now Vandenberg. Bear Creek and Honda Canyon. So they were kinda spread all over the place.
CCW: What was your mother’s maiden name?
LS: Salzman, which is German. Like salt. They were salt procurers, I guess, at one point. My great-grandfather Salzman, Heinrich Wilhelm Salzman, he came around the horn of South America and to the gold fields of California. Actually, he’d come from New Jersey. He went to work in the gold fields. I assume he was a Placer miner, he mined the streams initially. Then bought a mine in Sonora, California. It was called the Austrian Mine. It produced quite a bit of gold, a hard rock mine, an underground mine. He took that over and worked that for a number of years. This was around 1856, 1858, somewhere like that. He was as stone mason by trade. I just recently found out where he most probably came from: a little village in Germany called Oberehe, near the old capital of Bonn, in the Eifel Mountains.
Anyway, he came from there. After he was in the gold fields he must have made a little bit of money and he moved to the Los Angeles area and started plastering hotels and cisterns, things like that. He came up to Santa Barbara and did the same thing there, some of the old hotels. And finally I think in 1875 he bought 500 acres in San Pasqual Canyon. That’s where my parents lived. It changed hands, went back and forth. Anyway, he kept bees, had an orchard, he farmed, and bred draft horses there. He didn’t live very long. He had six children, he became ill, I think it was tuberculosis probably. He went to San Francisco to some sort of German-affiliated hospital and passed away up there. My grandfather, who was one of the younger children, lived with his five brothers and sisters and mother, and she remarried. They didn’t like the guy, and the kids ran him off. “He was mean,” is what they used to say. So after that they sold the ranch and moved to Santa Barbara. She lived there until she passed away in the early 1900s, then all the kids settled around Santa Barbara. Then my grandfather, Otto Salzman, married my grandmother, Ada Erway, who had come across country in wagons…that’s what they did for a living, they drove wagons, hauled the mail, hauled supplies. And they reacquired the land in San Pasqual Canyon, so they moved back there. They lived there up through my childhood, until they passed away. Then part of the ranch was lost again, and my parents reacquired it, so it kept going back and forth. We still have 120 acres there. It’s a very nice, well-watered canyon, lots of oaks.
CCW: I’ve seen the Spanne building in Lompoc. I assume that’s your family.
LS: That was my dad’s family. The business people lived in town.
CCW: And your house is now the historical society?
LS: Around the time that Vandenberg replaced Camp Cooke a lot of the big old houses were being demolished, so the fledgling historical society approached my grandparents’ heirs and asked if they’d be willing to sell the house for the historical society, and they finally agreed on some price, ‘cause most of the family thought it would be a good idea to preserve it, and that’s how it came to be.
CCW: It’s a nice little historical society. I’ve met Myra.
LS: Yes, Myra Manfrina. And originally it was the Calverts, Earl and Ann Calvert, who owned the theater and had the drive-in. They were kind of the main force behind the historical society at the beginning, and Myra kind of took it over from there and is still at it. I spent much of my childhood in that house.
CCW: You have such deep roots in that town and this part of the world. What do you remember? Any vignettes from childhood?
LS: My particular nuclear family lived out of town, out in the valley right along the Santa Ynez River. So it would flood oftentimes in the rainy season, and we were a few miles away from my Salzman grandparents, and a few miles away from my aunts and uncles and grandparents in town, so the Spanne House in Lompoc was always a focal point, getting together in that house. Holidays and family occasions.
CCW: Did you explore the backcountry?
LS: Growing up along the river was neat, because from the time I could walk I could wander off on my own. Today my mother would probably be hung for negligence. But I had my dog, Skippy, and I was pretty much a solitary child for the first five or six years of my life. I had no friends. I had my dog and we’d go places together, and I’d go places with my mom and dad, but I really didn’t know any other kids. The only time I’d see other kids would be when my cousins would come to the Spanne House, but we didn’t know each other very well. I was kind of a lonely kid. I didn’t have any playmates, other than my dog.
Once I started to attend school…I attended Artesia School out in the valley…I had more friends after that. But the first six years of my life were pretty solitary, just being with my parents. I was kind of a shy child because of that. I was socially retarded in a way, except for close family.
CCW: Sometimes those people are the keenest observers. Did you enjoy wandering around outside?
LS: Once when I was about 5 years of age (before I began to attend school), I went to the river with some older children who were visiting from Santa Monica. Their families often visited us in the rainy season so they could fish for steelhead trout and salmon in the Santa Ynez River. On this occasion the water in the river had risen somewhat, but was still fairly shallow. My father had told me that if I saw a V-shaped riffle at the surface of the river, that was a fish moving upstream.
I saw the riffle and gave our little dog Rags the command, "Sic ‘em, Rags!" He jumped into the river, swam toward the riffle, and grabbed the fish, which was much longer than he was, in his mouth. Unfortunately, he swam to the opposite bank where a neighbor boy about my age took the fish and was going to keep it. My older friend intervened and took possession of the fish. I placed it in my little red Radio Flyer Wagon, but it was so big it hung over each end. I towed the wagon to our house and proudly presented the fish to my mother. She prepared and baked the steelhead for our dinner. I was so proud of the catch and Rags! I am still able to taste that fish when I think about it.
I should mention that my dad was kind of a taskmaster. He would say things like “Children should be seen and not heard.” I wasn’t allowed to verbalize much, just listen, be there, but not heard. I always felt that affected me, and my progress in school.
CCW: When do you feel you started to find your voice?
LS: Well, I think high school, of course, you get away to meet groups of people, you have a close knit group of friends. And then your first big break is when you go away to college, you’re not living at home anymore.
CCW: And where did you go to college?
LS: University of California at Santa Barbara. I went to school there three years. I was a geology major. It was pretty much fun, but I was not a very good student. I couldn’t concentrate. Partly it’s ‘cause you’re away from home, there’s all this stuff going on. Finally my advisor, Dr. Webb, said, “You probably need to take a break from school. Either get a job or go in the army.” So I figured I’d go into the army.
CCW: And this was the early 1960s? So Vietnam was not yet…
LS: It was not yet well known. When I got in the army it began dawning on everyone that there was something going on there. They were preparing the troops in basic training for these Asian scenarios. So people began to think, “There’s something happening…”
Fortunately for me, I guess, I had enlisted with certain guarantees that I would go to Europe. I was interested in seeing some of my ancestral homeland, experiencing some of the culture, and I’d been studying German. I knew I had Danish roots too but they didn’t speak Danish much in my family so I didn’t learn that. But I was able to go there and use that as a springboard for exploring Denmark and Germany.
CCW: Much nicer than Southeast Asia at the time.
LS: Through some fluke, I was over there, got married over there, and re-enlisted. The way it worked out, by the time I finished my tour there, I think it was four years. I didn’t have quite enough time left in service to go to Vietnam. I was three or four months short of having enough time for a tour of duty in Vietnam, so they didn’t send me there. It was just by chance.
So that was a good experience for me. I was able to become fluent in German. I came back, went back to UCSB, and decided to change my major to Anthropology. Archaeology and prehistory. The way the program was set up, you did your basic degree in cultural anthropology so you’d have exposure to the whole field, and in grad school I went into archaeology and prehistory.
CCW: Did you have a mentor?
LS: Initially it was Dr. Claude Warren. He’s retired now. He lives over near Las Vegas. But he was there just a short time. And then it was Mike Glassow that I worked with.
CCW: I’m really interested in the affiliation you had with the base as the cultural resources person, and even more than that, some of the artifacts you’ve unearthed, or things you’ve seen, and what that all means to you.
LS: I went to school at a time when there was a well known anthropologist named Lewis Binford. I didn’t actually have much to do with him but he influenced me in that he was promoting the idea that people had excavated too many things already, and there were all these artifacts in museums and universities that needed to be studied, and we should step back and take a break and not do so much excavation. I took that to heart. I thought I’d rather do surface archaeology, stroll over the landscape and see what I could see, record what I saw and not spend a lot of time excavating. Excavating can tie you down. It can take years to complete a project. I was a little impatient, so I went into cultural resources management, which is more about caretaking the sites, and interpreting them without excavation, and making sure that the different government agencies, like the Air Force I worked for, were doing the right thing in protecting and preserving the resources, excavating only when absolutely necessary. So that’s really what I did. I spent most of my career roaming over Vandenberg and Santa Barbara County and other parts of California just looking for things.
CCW: Are there things that you found that were previously undocumented?
LS: Like here on the ranch, the site back up the canyon here was one that was rumored, and we actually set out and found it.
CCW: “We” being a team from Vandenberg?
LS: This was before Vandenberg. In the early years of grad school I was aware that the Hollister Ranch situation was changing, the Hollisters were giving it up, and the Macco Corporation was presenting some plans to develop the ranch and I got in touch with them and asked if it would be all right if I conduct some surveys here. So myself and a few other students began to come down here in our spare time and just walk the canyons and ridges, and this is one of the things we found. We tried to identify all the main sites on the ranch and turned that over to the Macco Corporation, who said they would do their best to take care of them.
CCW: Did they hire you to do this?
LS: No, we just did it voluntarily. We had a permit to do it.
CCW: So you had heard a rumor about the site up the canyon here?
LS: I don’t remember who first mentioned this particular one. Usually these stories come from hunters or hikers. I think it was someone that contacted the museum in Lompoc.
CCW: So you had a framework for coming out and looking for it. Was it difficult to find?
LS: I think we found it fairly easily, mainly because there weren’t a lot of rock outcroppings to look through, not like a lot of other places where it’s all rock outcroppings. Sometimes I’ve searched for days to find a site that was rumored. But here it was pretty easy. Did I ever send you those slide photographs of the cave when I first found it? I still have those.
CCW: I’d love to see them. We all feel a little protective about that site. The common feeling here is that no one “owns” it but it has to be respected and left undisturbed, and if someone doesn’t understand that I don’t know how to explain it. But I’ve seen it over the course of twenty years and I know it’s fading. I’d love to see the pictures you took earlier.
LS: I had it in my mind to send them. I was looking for some pictures that had Campbell Grant in them too, and I wasn’t able to locate them. I have so many photographs.
CCW: One time we went there with an anthropologist from Hunter-Liggett. Her name was Susan, and she found a charcoal gray dragonfly design that I had never noticed.
LS: Sometimes it takes a fresh set of eyes.
CCW: I don’t know why I find these things so compelling. It’s just evidence of lives lived in this very place, so long ago. And they left so little impact. What are your thoughts?
LS: They didn’t leave many marks on the land. Their minimal organic refuse, the sites they tended to, the rock art, and not much more. Occasional bedrock mortar or something. No, not a lot of impact on the land.
CCW: Do you get a sense of their humanity? It’s hard to understand what the markings mean.
LS: I don’t pretend to understand. I tend to repeat what people more expert in the field have told me. Or people who have interviewed different Native American groups. Sometimes those interpretations are interesting.
CCW: Would a site like the one we’re talking about have been used for ceremonial purposes? Or just shelter? Would it have been only men?
LS: The rock art sites tend to be classified in two ways: as public sites where large groups of people would come and have ceremonies, or take instruction, whatever. And other sites are private sites, smaller, more tucked away, probably would have been tended by only one or a handful of people. And this looks like a private site.
CCW: With a view.
LS: With a fantastic view. When I first looked at that site, it was like the images kind of reflected what you see in the channel: it was like the islands, and a body of water. It’s probably more difficult to see that now. But I think in the photographs that I have this is more apparent.
CCW: I think it’s so important to share that, or archive that, or something.
LS: There was also a little bead found in the shelter. I think the guy who went up there with me one time was from the Lompoc Museum. (Ed Benhart…) It was a purple hinged scallop bead. I don’t know if you know what those are. They’re long, tubular, and they come out of the hinge area of the purple hinge scallop that come out of the channel. So you’ve got this long white tubular bead, and it’s got this little patch of purple, from the purple spot on the hinge of the scallop. That particular type of bead pins down the date that site was used. I believe it’s around 1500 AD. So it was just before the Spaniards came that that site was in use. The bead is a sensitive time marker. It was just lying there in the sand.
We're talking about 1500 AD, let’s assume that’s when the painting was done, so that’s 500 years ago, roughly. I first looked at the site probably in the 1970s, so about forty years ago. In forty years, it’s obvious how that has faded.
CCW: Doesn’t that make you wonder what it looked like 500 years ago?
LS: Exactly. You also wonder whether they retouched some of the things, refreshed it.
CCW: Possibly. Probably. But it also makes me feel concerned that it will completely vanish soon.
LS: It will. They all will. That’s why it’s so important to record them, photographically, digitally. As soon as they can. There are programs now that can retrieve a lot of the faded portions of the paintings. That’s one of my big things. Land management agencies, whoever is responsible for these sites, they should be doing a couple of things: they should be documenting it thoroughly right now, as it exists, with the best images they can. And they should be looking for old photographs like the ones I have that are forty or fifty years old, and they should digitize those old photographs as well.
CCW: Is there resistance to that?
LS: Not really. People don’t think about it.
CCW: A couple of years ago some anthropologist from the state park called about the location of Fernando Librado’s cave in order to document and list it as a historical site. There were a few very suspicious reactions from people who view it as a secret. But it wasn’t like he was gonna put up signs directing people to it. I actually think it’s a way of protecting it.
LS: It’s good that someone is willing to do that. But people are very protective. For good reason, though. My dad took me out there. We looked for it. We were looking farther up the ravine. Then we found it. It looked like he had put floor boards there. There were some cans and things lying around the surface.
CCW: Do you think he spent a lot of time there? Didn’t he live on a ranch?
LS: He lived on a ranch, but the guy that told my dad and I about it–I think it was John Begg, John and Frank Begg, they worked on the ranch, and John Begg knew him personally. I interviewed him, and he told me some stuff about Fernando. I mean, he actually lived in that cave. He was the ranch midwife, medicine man, doctor. He treated people on the ranch, sheared sheep, and did a lot of things.
CCW: So you spoke to someone who actually knew Fernando Librado? Did you record those interviews?
LS: I took notes. I got a lot of notes from different people.
CCW: To quickly get back to the cave near here, you saw it in the 70s, and maybe you have pictures…
LS: Yeah, I’ll get ‘em for you. I get distracted by a lot of things, and I’ve got piles of stuff.
CCW: Well, I’ve already learned a lot. I’m so grateful.
LS: I’ll tell you a thing about my dad. He was an interesting character….he used to just get on his horse and he’d ride all over this part of the county. He’d go everywhere, and he knew everybody. He was a federal trapper, and he was a farrier, and he farmed and ranched, so he just knew a lot of people, and he had access to just about every ranch, for one reason or another. So he used to take me out. I used to go out with him all the time when I was little, until I got old enough to actually do manual labor, and then I stayed at home and did that. But he knew all these interesting old guys, all the old Spanish, Indian, mixed Spanish-Indian, Chumash Indian guys, and he would spend a lot of time just visiting with those old guys. And one guy that lived in Gaviota there, I think his name was Dan Guevarra. And Pacifico, the guy that lived in the adobe at San Julian. Pacifico, Dan Guevarra, Vicente Ortega at Arroyo Hondo, and then there were people over in Lompoc, and all those places. And we’d just go sit and talk with them for hours about stuff. But I wasn’t attuned to the anthropological side at that time. But yeah, he knew ‘em all. And they’d speak Spanish. So that was an interesting side to my childhood. I got to go out to all these places.
CCW: You’re fortunate to have had access to that world. One of the most memorable times I ever had was when you worked at the base and took us to that shining wall above the sea, and did I hallucinate, or was there a painting of a tall ship?
LS: There is a ship.
CCW: Doesn’t that blow your mind? The ramifications of that are so profound.
LS: There’s one there. There’s one at the other site, down near Sudden Ranch, at Jalama. There’s a ship there also.
CCW: As a professional, what do you make of this? Am I reading too much into it? It’s almost like a collision of cultures documented right there.
LS: One could speculate about that. It was obviously a dramatic turn of events for the Chumash. Whether they recorded what they saw, or whether they…I always thought they might be practicing some form of magic, trying to make the image and then manipulate it, and send it away, send them back to where they came from.
CCW: Do you think they were already beginning to realize this was not something they wanted?
LS: Oh, yeah. Oh, sure.
CCW: What do you think are the dates of those paintings?
LS: They’re historic. Probably Mission period. Actually, someone tried to relate the painting down at Jalama, near the Sudden Ranch, to the raids of the pirate Bouchard along the coast. There was actually documentation in the Mission records, I think, there were Indians sent out from the missions to the coast to serve as look-outs to watch for these pirate ships. So someone thought that might have been a representation, a recording of that. It would have been a good look-out place, where the ships came around Point Conception. You know, you can speculate about all these things.
CCW: I remember another site on the base, where everything lines up at the solstice?
LS: That’s the window. We call it the Window Shelter, or Window Cave, where the beam of light comes in at sunset from just above Mt. Tranquillon, the Chumash sacred peak. On the solstice, it beams the light in along the cave wall and points to a sun disk on the wall. It’s thought to be a calendric theme. When that happens in the shelter, they knew it was winter solstice, time to begin the new year and begin the ceremonies. We went up there and re-enacted that a number of times with members of the Santa Ynez Chumash Band.
CCW: So do the Chumash have rights to go there sometimes?
LS: They have access rights at Vandenberg. We’ve worked out some agreements. They still have to apply, notify the air force, make sure there’s nothing hazardous happening.
So I guess what I wanted to say about my father is that he introduced me to the land. He took me out. Some of it was unpleasant, like the live trapping of animals. That was completely unpleasant to me, and I told him so. So I’d often have these conflicts with him. I told him I don’t want to shoot these animals. I can’t do this anymore. He wanted me to shoot them and put them out of their misery. I said, “Dad, I can’t do that anymore.” So I stopped doing that.
The trapping was interesting. We used to go to these trapper conventions all over the West. His district was Central California and his supervisor lived in San Pedro, Long Beach area, Wilmington, actually, southern California. And he’d throw these big trappers’ conventions, and all the trappers and their families would come, and he had a whole city block that was like a jungle. He planted plants there from all over, wherever he went. It was a fun place for kids, ‘cause all the trappers’ kids got to run around, and there was unlimited soft drinks and food. And of course they’d bring bear meat, and lion meat, and donkey meat, and every kind of meat you can imagine, so it was kind of gross.
Anyway, what I was going to tell you, ‘cause this flashed into my mind: we had one of these conventions up in Morro Bay one time, and all the kids were playing there, and one of the trappers names was Elliot, and they just called him Elliot. And his son was Sam Elliot, the actor. And Sam Elliot is about my age. He might have been a couple of years older, but we played together, with all the kids. He was just like a regular kid, a trapper’s son.
So that’s kinda how I got introduced to the whole landscape. I’ve been all over the county, really. And then later in my career in anthropology, I did all this contract work. I’d get called to go out all over the county and look at this or that piece of property, where they were gonna develop a house or... I even did things in the canyons out here, later on after I worked at Vandenberg. I feel that I probably have as good a knowledge of the lay of the land–San Luis, Santa Barbara, and Ventura Counties– as anyone.
CCW: That’s one reason I really wanted to talk to you, Larry. If there’s anyone who really has a sense of this part of the world, it’s you.
LS: Well, I feel really fortunate. In anthropology you study the different types of subsistence systems, and they’re basically foraging or hunter-gathering, living off the land, hunting, fishing, collecting wild plants…which is what I did when I was a kid. And then the next level is horticulture…gardening, orchards, and stuff like that. My mom did all that. Usually the women do the gardens. So I got to do all that. Gardening and orchards. And the next level is kind alike pastoralism: ranching, herding. So I got to do all that with my dad, ‘cause he did a lot of that. And then intensive agriculture: mechanized irrigation agriculture is the fourth big system, and I got to do all that. So I got to experience the whole gamut, the whole range subsistence systems known to humankind when I was a kid, and work at each of them.
What was neat about Lompoc is that you had this collection of people. I’d say they were mainly Italian-Swiss, Swiss Italian, Portuguese, some Anglos, Germans, and Brits thrown in, and the old Spanish guys, and a few Mexican Americans, and they all worked together. It wasn’t a “communal” society…I’m grasping for the word…there’s an anthropological term, and for lack of a better term, I’m gonna say it was “cooperative” farming and ranching. They didn’t all live together, but whenever there was a big thing like a crop that needed harvesting, they all came together and provided the labor, and maybe one family or two families had the combines and the threshing machines but the other people would work, would sow the sacks of beans, or they’d do something else. So they all worked together. And then the labor that the little farmers provided enabled them to get use of the equipment for their own place. So everybody shared everything: the food, equipment, labor. It was all like one big, fairly harmonious community. There were differences, but people didn’t get into the kind of political debates they have today; they kind of kept that to themselves.
CCW: What period of time would you say this was?
LS: I’d say it was the 1940s through the 1970s. And it had been happening before I was around, obviously. But it was the corporate farming and introduction of contract labor and all that that killed it. These smaller farmers couldn’t compete any longer. It wasn’t economically feasible for them to do this anymore. So it got to be these bigger and bigger farms. But it was fun to be part of that and to be part of that community of kids and adults. Round-ups and everything. You can imagine, it was great.
LS: So I came out of all this, from the sticks. I went to UCSB and mixed with all these kids, a lot of them from wealthy families and communities, so there was kind of a culture clash there, and it disoriented me a little bit. That’s why I went in the army, then came back, and I was a much better, more disciplined student after that. I was able to get good grades and go all the way through grad school. But I did something in 1975 that kind of changed my life. I don’t talk about this a lot. I don’t talk about it ‘cause it’s controversial, and there have been attempts to discredit this thing…
I had started teaching part-time at Hancock, and I was fairly well acquainted with a full-time instructor, and she approached me one day and said, “Larry, I’ve got this thing here and I think you might want to do this. I did it and it was really great for me.” And it was known as the EST training. It’s now Landmark Education, it evolved and changed hands, but it was named after the guy Werner Erhard, Erhard Seminars Training. It cost $500 to do it. So I did that.
I didn’t have any expectations. A lot of people tried to discourage me from doing it, but I did it. I went through it, and it was absolutely the most amazing, meaningful educational experience I have ever had in my life. But it wasn’t really educational in the usual sense; it was more like putting you in a place and situation where you could discover things about yourself, or things would be revealed to you about yourself. It kind of put my life in perspective. My relationship with my father and mother…mainly my father was the big one. Everyone has a big stumbling block in their life, and that was it for me. This whole experience absolutely changed my life and made a lot of my insecurities and confusion evaporate.
CCW: That takes so much courage.
LS: Once I make up my mind to do something, I do it. No one can talk me out of it. So I did this thing. It takes a long time to describe what happened, but it’s life-changing for some people. For other people, nothing happens. They say you take what you get from it.
CCW: They say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear. It sounds like you were kind of at that moment.
LS: Yeah, it was kind of like that. I guess the thing they said to me that was most meaningful, the introductory part of it, was…well, the guy who developed it, Erhard, he was an encyclopedia salesman. And he was driving down the freeway one day, and all of a sudden he realized, “It’s just a great day. Everything’s fantastic. I feel so wonderful.” He had a lot of energy. You ever have those days when everything just feels right? He said it was like that. And the next day it went away. And he thought, “How can I work to get that feeling back?” So he started doing all these things like Zen Buddhism, Gestalt Therapy, hypnosis, even Scientology. He went through this whole long list of self-improvement type stuff. He’d get little bits and pieces of it back, but nothing was completely satisfactory. So he took the essence of each one of his experiences together, and he combined these things into this seminar. He took the stuff that worked best for him and put it all together, and that’s what the seminar was. He distilled it all.
CCW: How long was it?
LS: It was like two full weekends and a day, a week night before, a week night in the middle, and a week night after.
CCW: And where was it?
LS: I did it in Santa Maria, in an old movie theater. There were about three hundred people. So, whatever you want to call this…enlightenment, or whatever…he said, you can get it by taking these courses and going on these multi-year treks, but it might take a lifetime, or you might never get it, but this is the fastest way to get it. He said, of course, some of you may never get it, and some of you may get it during the seminar, and some of you may get it six months after. But I was one of the fortunate ones, ‘cause I got it right in the middle of the seminar.
CCW: Was it like an epiphany?
LS: Yeah, it was kinda like that. It takes too long to describe. But it was about my dad.
CCW: I was going to ask you if you could think of a formative experience in your life that really shaped who you are, and it sounds like this was one.
LS: It was, definitely. The first evening, we sat around at tables, three or four of us at a table, and we did this exercise where each of us was to think about someone we knew really well, not a family member, but a friend or colleague, and think about three traits that describe that person, and then we were to sit there and think about this person. The other persons at the table were to try and tune into our thoughts, the traits and the person we were thinking about. It was amazing how it worked out...(painful for some.) A lot of people had to leave.
CCW: But you pushed forward.
LS: I stuck with it.
CCW: Was your dad still living at this time? So you were able to use this and bring things full circle?
LS: Yes. Unlike any of my other siblings. But I’ll tell you how it was. We created this space for ourselves, mentally, we created a center, except we designed it ourselves, and the center had all the videotapes of our whole life in it, and we could retrieve them and replay them. It had a closet with suits in it. It was called “the closet of abilities”, so I had my cowboy suit in there, my ranger suit, my soldier suit, and mentally you could go in the closet, put on that suit of clothes, and be that person. I never made it as a cowboy, not totally, but I was able to go in this closet, put on my cowboy suit, and just ride the horses. And what this all taught me was, I could have been, I still could be, anything I wanted to be. It’s all in your mind. But my dad had blocked my path in this area.
So, then we got to bring up the most important person in our life on an elevator that came up to our center. And you never knew who was going to show up on the elevator. To me, it was my dad. Large. Larger than life. A larger than life person, nude in the elevator. He was the guy in my life that was holding me back. He did so many things for me, and he showed me so many things, but at the same time, he limited me. Or I was limiting myself because of the way he brought me up.
So here’s the deal, I’ll tell you the climax of this thing for me. I was taking a bath in between these two weekends, and these were long weekends, like 8 in the morning. ‘til midnight, or 2 a.m. the next morning, and they wouldn’t let you get up and go to the bathroom, there were prescribed breaks…and that turned out to be some people’s problem. Their problem was that they’d had this teacher in elementary school who wouldn’t let them go to the restroom, and they wet their pants. Honest to God. I was sitting near the front row, and someone behind me wet their pants. I saw this stream running down under the seats, and the guy had taken this set of rules to heart, and it took him right back to elementary school, and that was a big part of his problem. I knew personally that wasn’t my problem; if I had to go to the restroom, I was gonna get up and march to the back of the auditorium, and I was gonna go to the restroom, and no one was gonna stop me. That wasn’t my issue.
Anyway, to get back to my part of it. I’m in the bathtub, and one of the exercises we had done the previous weekend was to get in touch with our body and feel certain things within our body, and for me, there was something in my gut. In my abdomen. Somewhere in there. The idea during the seminar was to just let it go and see where it leads, but I couldn’t during the seminar. I was too inhibited. So there I was relaxing in the bathtub, and I let it go. There was this knot down there. The knot started dissolving, and I started crying. That’s another thing my dad told me, from the time I was four or five years old: “Men don’t cry”.
So I started crying, and Renae comes running in and asks what’s wrong. “Nothing. I’m just crying.” I hadn’t allowed myself to cry for such a long, long time.
So I cried it all out, and then all of a sudden, this thing was still there, but it flipped, and I started seeing this videotape of my whole life from the very beginning, but really fast, and what there was in that videotape was images of all these people who had power and authority to control me. Authoritarian figures is what they were, and my dad was the main one. There were also these other people in my life I had problems with because they were authority figures, and I saw that they themselves were afraid of me, or afraid of anyone who challenged them, and that behind all that power and authority was fear. I saw this in each one of these individuals, and I started laughing. It became comical to me that they had tried to control me, and I didn’t realize it was because there was something about me that made them fearful.
So I saw this movie, and I laughed, and Renae came running in again, what’s going on? “Nothing. I’m just laughing.”
So I did this crying thing, and it flipped over to laughing so easily. It’s so close. It comes from here. Afterwards, I felt so cleansed. I felt so energetic. It was fantastic.
The last part of that was completing your relationships. They call it clearing your past. I went back to each one of these people that I had challenged or who had tried to control me. And I actually had a conversation with each of them. One was a colonel at the base, a base commander. I just cleared my past relationship with him. So I was able to do the same thing with my dad. He was still alive. I was able to give him a big hug and tell him I loved him. I understood that we had differences in the past and that I still loved him. He accepted that.
And then this commander, same thing. I respect you, I understand why you did what you did, so here’s my side of it…
CCW: So that was a real turning point.
LS: Oh yeah. That helped me overcome a lot of my weaknesses and insecurities.
CCW: I’m so glad you were able to do that while your dad was still alive.
LS: It just cleared the way for me to do other things and concentrate on other things. And of course, I was part of a group of people, a lot of my friends had done the same thing. We used to get together for coffee and we’d discuss all the stuff that we’d experienced. It was a lot of fun. And they had follow-up seminars.
I did one on relationships, one on money. The meaning of money. I worked it into my Anthro classes. I knew the anthropological definition of money, what it does. Money is basically a tool. It’s a means to transact certain things. So that’s what I learned about money. It’s a useful tool. But don’t obsess about it. My whole extended family was gathered at the table once and I decided to do this experiment. I took a dollar bill and I held it out in the middle of the table and I lit it on fire. Even though it’s illegal to burn money. It was a one-dollar bill. And people came out of their seats! My sister was swatting at the flame, trying to put it out. And I said, “It’s just a dollar. Don’t burn yourself.”
CCW: It sounds like you draw upon the lessons of this experience even now.
LS: It’s just a part of me. I reflect on it sometimes. It changed my life, literally. It made me realize some things about myself and changed my life.
CCW: Do you have any advice or wisdom you would like to share with others?
LS: A big one is take advantage, not necessarily of this one particular program, which still exists out there, but there are other human potential processes you can go through to deal with those things that might be holding you back. There has to first be an admission that maybe not all is right with you or the situation you’re in.
Anyway, I’m different, and I’m different because of my experiences. I stepped outside of Lompoc, and there were people who took me out into the wider world and showed me some things.
CCW: So it sounds like you were open to experiences. So maybe it’s about confronting your demons, not hiding from them, being willing to explore yourself and then stepping out into the world.
LS: People around Lompoc used to say he’s different, he’s changed, he left Lompoc for a long time. You know how these small communities are.
CCW: I always thought that was the point. The point was to leave.
LS: Yeah. But most people at that time didn’t leave. It’s like the Mormons in Utah. They want everyone to stay in one place, do the same things they’ve always been doing, from now into the infinite future.
CCW: I wanted to ask you just a couple of things before we wrap up. One is, how do you get through hard times? I’m always interested in what sources of strength people have, how you navigate when things are rough.
LS: Well, I’m not an emotional person, really. I’m more of a thinker. And when times are tough I just figure out what needs to be done, and I do that. I just try to work my way through it. Other people may be kind of emotional around me, but I’m trying to steer a steady path, trying to get to the other side. I’m probably a little bit stoic, maybe thanks to my father for conditioning me and toughening me up, and making a man out of me.
CCW: He probably gave you a lot of gifts as well as challenges.
LS: There were positives there. Probably they could have been conveyed to me in a little easier fashion. Today, the major source of my strength is my family. Renae, my dear spouse, and our two daughters, Autumn and Laurel, as well as the rest of my kin. They keep me grounded and focused on what I need to do, and we have a lot of fun times along the way as well.
CCW: I’m very touched that you talked about your father, though, because I think we can all relate to it. We all have complicated relationships with a parent or someone in our lives. In my case, my father died suddenly when I was 27 years old, and I still have the unresolved stuff in my head, because I never got to have the conversation. At the time of his death, my life was a mess, and he never knew that I turned out okay.
LS: Here’s the interesting thing about this training I took. That would come up very often. My mother died, or my father’s no longer here. You can still have the conversation with them. That’s what the message was. Have the conversation with them, even if they are not physically present.
CCW: That’s good wisdom. Don’t think it’s over just ‘cause they’re gone.
LS: It’s not at end. It goes on.
CCW: That brings me to the last question, Larry. It’s something I’ve been asking everyone because I get so depressed and overwhelmed sometimes when I look at what’s happening with the world, as I suppose any sentient being does. So it's easy to see what discourages us. But where do you find hope?
LS: Personally, I realize I can’t do everything, can’t be involved in everything, so I just do what I can. And I figure if every one of us contributes a little or does what they can, together, the whole will be helped. I don’t get overwhelmed by that stuff. I try to keep informed and be aware, and whenever I have the opportunity I can put some money here or put an effort there or whatever. I can only control what I can do to solve the problem so of course I try to communicate with people, sometimes debate, but I figure things will work out or they won’t. They’ll work out in some fashion. Probably people will get to a point where more and more will be aware, and progress will be made. I mean, progress is being made. We’re impatient. Maybe it’s not fast enough. We don’t see results. We only live seventy or eighty years, so we don’t see much during our lifetime.
I just try to put information out there. I try not to put other people down. I don’t push too hard. If I notice something that’s wrong, I say so.
CCW: Is there anything else we should talk about?
LS: There’s probably a lot. My father was a major negative influence in my life and positive in some ways, but I think I learned more from my aunts and uncles and grandparents than I did from him. He was impatient.
CCW: You’re lucky you had that extended family. In a broad way, what would you say are the lessons they taught you? Or what they modeled for you?
LS: It was that they were unlike him. They liked the outdoors, but for different reasons than he did. He liked the outdoors, but when he was outdoors, there was always some kind of extractive operation involved, like hunting or fishing. There was always a purpose for him to be out there, whereas my aunts and uncles and others, they just appreciated the outdoors for what it was. So I got that sense of appreciation from them. They all had greenhouses, flowers, and fruit trees and stuff, so I liked to hang out with them, ‘cause I’d learn how to do these things and appreciate these things, and with them I didn’t have to be on guard. I could relax. With my father, I always had to be on guard. I never knew what was coming next.
CCW: Hence the knot.
LS: Yes, that helped build up that knot. And it wasn’t just me. It was my siblings as well. The other kids, they had the same experience. My sister maybe less so. But he was a hard man, he was a taskmaster, but he didn’t follow his own lessons. He wasn’t a very good example.
CCW: But you’ve done it so differently.
LS: But he was flawed himself. There were a couple of things I think happened to him early in his life, but he didn’t understand it himself.
CCW: Maybe that’s the most important thing in the end, to view it all with compassion. He probably did the best he could. But you found your own way of being, and you’ve been a completely different kind of dad.
LS: Yeah. I learned lessons from him that were unintended lessons. I learned what not to do, and what not to say, and what not to be.