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We Were There: Triple OG Hippies Reminisce

Nikki and Swami relax in Goa
Nikki and William (Swami) in Anjuna, Goa, 1994.


We Were There: Triple OG Hippies Reminisce

Emerald Triangle legends Nikki and Swami look back on the days of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.

Some of you may remember an ‘80s joke: “Anyone who says they can remember the ‘60s wasn’t there.” I was never so sure about that, because we always talked about “acid flashbacks.” And for sure, my most vivid memories of that time are from the acid trips I took and from when I was super stoned on pot—the everyday psychedelic—which was most of the time.

I was born in the right place at the right time. Granted I was only 12 in 1967, but I was already fascinated by the hippie influx into San Francisco, my hometown. I wrote in my journal at the time about how it was a conscious decision: Would I become a nun or a hippie? Catholic school had instilled in me a spiritual nature. However, when I smoked my first joint at 14 years old in 1969, within a week it was clear: The hippie path won.

Two weeks later, I was buying weed in bulk Mexican blocks and selling it in “lids”—old-fashioned, roll-over plastic sandwich bags with approximately an ounce of weed. Much of the weight was seeds and stems, and I sold them for $10- $12 each. Mostly, I did this to get my own weed for free and to have enough to share. While William (now Swami) was driving around offering joints to hitchhikers, I was a hitchhiker offering joints to those who picked me up—and it often turned into a full day’s adventure.

I almost feel guilty describing the old days, when the pill was a new invention which afforded incredible liberties; when acid was given away at wild, free concerts in Golden Gate Park every weekend; and when huge Victorian flats were populated by lively hippie communes. It was a time of freedom of expression, a time to question authority. And of course, a time to smoke a whole lot of weed.

Swami William in July 1967 (L) and in 1971 (R).

Before Swami Met Nikki

I [Swami] smoked my first joint on the second floor of a house on Dayton Street, in the student ghetto at the University of  Wisconsin in Madison, in the spring of 1967, listening to “Mysterious Mountain” by Alan Hovhaness. During that Summer of Love, I drove to San Francisco in a 1965 blue Volkswagen 1300 with three friends. We all stayed in a house two blocks from Haight Street and the first thing we did was smoke a joint on Hippie Hill. We’re still friends to this day.

At the end of that infamous summer, we literally tripped down to Big Sur before driving back to Madison for a final year in grad school. I switched from European History to the Art Department. The University was surging with political protests against the Vietnam War, and I was arrested for protesting on Election Day. Strangely enough, the arrest came up 50 years later when I applied for a cannabis cultivation license in California. I had to submit fingerprints to the state and county, and the subsequent FBI search discovered the bust. In the end, the state license people had a good laugh about it.

I started doing light shows, photography and making films at Madison before I dropped out of school and moved to San Francisco the following summer, in 1968. Then, in 1969, I got a job at KQED in the Special Projects Film Department, but after working on films about Fidel Castro, Merce Cunningham Dance Troupe and Krishnamurti, I dropped out again to focus on art and photography.

OG Hippies
William (pre-Swami) in Indian Himalayas, 1970. PHOTO David Macmillan

Hippie Daze

Our tribe had a light show in late ’68-’69 called LSD (Light Sound Dimension). We were like a mini commune and shared a house while we did light show gigs.  We also functioned as a “Holding Company” for some dealers on the other side of town, which means they left their weed with us for safekeeping. We warehoused up to thirty kilos of Mexican weed at a time. Because the light show had 18 slide projectors in boxes and numerous slide tray boxes, we could load and unload bricks of Mexican in and out of the house without arousing suspicion. At least that’s what we told ourselves.

We never made any money from holding it. We could roll up as many joints as we pleased, which soon got out of hand, so the arrangement didn’t last long. Each morning we’d get in the car and “trip around the city.” That meant driving over to North Beach for a morning cappuccino, then heading out to Big Beach, cruising through the Park, and then maybe bopping over the Golden Gate Bridge to hit a coffee house in Sausalito. All the while we were picking up hitchhikers and getting them stoned as we took them where they wanted to go.

For a brief while we had a studio on Haight Street, where I had a darkroom in the back. We installed the light show in what was left of the Straight Theater, on the corner of Haight and Cole. We performed the show at the Family Dog on the Great Highway and at Fillmore West during rock shows, as well as other groovy venues.

In 1970, a friend from college invited me to be a cameraman for a film called Sunseed that he was making about various spiritual teachers popular at the time with the hippie generation. It was to be the beginning of a long trip, taking us through Israel, Iran, Afghanistan, India and Nepal, including encounters with many profound spiritual teachers. I returned in 1971, doing the overland journey from Europe to India, also known as “the hippie trail.”

Nikki in Malvinas in 1971 (L) and in Santa Cruz, 1979 (R).

Paths Collide

It was in late 1969 when I (Nikki) first met Swami. We were in Washington Square Park in the North Beach section of San Francisco. Swami was hanging with a group of decidedly cool, older hippies (in their mid-twenties). The guys all wore bell bottoms and beads and sported long hair, and the girls were so beautiful, bedecked in flowing Indian dresses with no bras and flowers in their hair.

I was a young flower child. My eyes were huge and my curiosity was at its peak. I became friends with the group who were all so kind to me, teaching me about their unusual lifestyle and which drugs to take, how to cast an astrology chart, and what the posters on their walls of mysterious Hindu gods and goddesses were all about. Catholic school had not prepared me for any of that!

It wasn’t until 1980, after Swami and I had both traveled separately overland to India on the hippie trail and lived in other parts of the globe, that we became a couple. In 1985, we got married in San Francisco City Hall on Valentine’s Day.

Times had changed significantly by then, and while we held onto our hippie ethics, I spent my days working at the San Francisco Chronicle while Swami continued with his art and also worked construction for extra income.

Of course, we were always slinging lids on the side and some coke and psychedelics too, but pot was always our mainstay. In the 80’s it was mostly cheap Mexican, although some tasty Thai and even some homegrown from Northern California was available when we were lucky.

OG Hippies
Nikki at the Kumbha Mela Festival in Hardwar, India, 1998.

Ex-Pats in India and Mendocino

By the end of the ‘80s, the time had come to drop out again. Enough of that straight stuff! Off we went to live in India for several years, exploring and photographing ancient temples and living in small villages, while naturally smoking lots of charras, as they call hashish there.

We spent summers in the Himalayas where cannabis grows like a weed. The seeds are used in cooking for protein, plus the sticky charras is produced. In the winters, we migrated south to the beaches of Goa to join the throngs of ex-pats and smugglers where we rented a large house. We partied and danced to trance music all night under the palm trees, living the “hippie raj” life to the max.

But by the end of 1996, I felt the urge to return to San Francisco. Swami felt called to retreat to the Himalayan cottage for study and meditation. Even after our parting, we remained the best of friends

Back in the City, the whole dealing world had changed significantly by then. No more cheap Mexican—everyone wanted $400 ounces of “the kind” from the Emerald Triangle. It seemed outrageous to me, coming from the land of $10 tolas (10-gram rolled sticks of charras) in India. But people wanted it, so I supplied it, scoring from my new friends up North.

It’s a long story, but that lead me to meeting Tim Blake, the founder of The Emerald Cup. Tim had a piece of funky land right on Hwy 101 where I could throw weekend psychedelic trance parties, like we did in Goa. This venue soon became known as the infamous AREA 101. Before long, I was living in Mendocino, helping Tim with his grows.

OG Hippies
Lids in the old days. PHOTO Bob Zorn

Planting Roots in the Emerald Triangle

William was ordained Swami Chaitanya in 1998 at the Kumbha Mela festival in India. His new vows of renunciation as a Swami included celibacy, eating restrictions, giving up earthly possessions and wearing one color. Although our love for one another persevered, those vows would change our relationship forever.

Around 2002, I paid him a visit in India. When we went to see our old spiritual teacher, Swami Chidananda, it became clear that it was time for Swami to move back to California. Swami Chidananda instructed him to “help Nikki” create my dream of a sanctuary in the hills of Northern California. And doing such didn’t mean Swami had to give up his spirituality or vows. In fact, Chidananda encouraged him to pass on the teachings to even more people as an American Swami.

Swami and I were ready to build a future together, while also remaining true to our own authentic selves. It was a beautiful, exciting next step.

Within two months of returning, we discovered our beautiful ranch in the hills of Mendocino, and we began the largest creative project of our lives: being stewards of a sacred piece of land. Along with installing giant stone statues weighing a ton each and building temples and sacred geometry structures, by 2004 we had our first cannabis garden growing on the land.

Nikki and Swami at their ranch in Mendocino, the home of Swami Select.

It’s been a long, strange journey indeed. Here we are, now legal in a business that was illicit for generations. It’s a challenge, after so many years of being the outlaws. We miss connecting directly with our customers—seeing their faces and shooting the shit. We miss enjoying those lazy summer afternoons after hours of working in the garden all day. Now, instead of heading for the hammock or a shady tree, I’m at my desk, working on permits and bills. We miss the luxury of enjoying free time.

But, it’s worth it to get the best medicine in the world out to deserving customers and patients. Meanwhile, we continue to maintain our hippie ethos, and who knows—we may just drop out again soon!

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