A RADICAL STITCH
a nonfiction film
by Susanne Cockrell and Jeanne C. Finley
In the face of wildfire, mining and logging, a radical back-to-the-land community in the Sierra Foothills races to collectively stitch 50 years of innovative sustainability into an epic 100-foot tapestry, one tiny stitch at a time.
The radical San Juan Ridge back-to-the-land community in the Sierra Foothills has survived countless threats during its 50-year history including mining, logging and arson. Established by artists, ecologists and renowned poet Gary Snyder, they now face the most monumental challenge to date – wildfire and drought caused by climate change during a time of national social upheaval. For 14 years three women and hundreds of volunteers have painstakingly documented the community’s struggles and celebrations by stitching an epic 100-foot tapestry. The Radical Stitch examines this community’s complex history, current challenges and its possible futures during this uncertain moment as the community races to complete the tapestry and find a secure, fire-safe home for this stunning record of community activism and land stewardship.
A Radical Stitch creates a cinematic tapestry that intertwines multiple narrative threads through the voice of homesteaders including tapestry project creator Marsha Stone and project artist Jennifer Crosby. The inhabitation of the San Juan Ridge in the 1970’s created a collision of worlds: the counterculture exploring community governance; the still present gold mining industry; the active lumber industry; and the long-established Nisenan People. The film explores this collision and the resulting ethos of activism to protect the environment and health of the South Yuba watershed for all people living on the ridge. Amid current challenges to maintain their land, homes and ideals into the next generation, hundreds of volunteers have stitched their unique culture of activism and community celebrations into the tapestry. This demonstration of their DIY values and collective joy in community projects has been at the foundation of the community’s survival. A Radical Stitch invites us to journey with the San Juan Ridge community as they complete this 14-year project while continuing to fight for their economic and environmental sustainability.
Here in the foothills
we find ourselves in constant battle
with the builders and the destroyers
the loggers and the officials
the old-timers and the new-comers
the hippies we never were...
Who do we fight for?
Perhaps trees and grasses.
Save coyote and hawk
even whale and pelican
who do not live here.
Preserve and protect.
Work for the survival of a clan
that doesn’t need a name.
On and on and on getting caught up in it all
forgetting to listen
to the murmur of these ancient hills.
I never wanted to be a warrior.
from How the Land Shaped Us by poet and homesteader Steve Sanfield
19th century hydraulic mining, Malikoff Diggins, San Juan Ridge, Nevada City, California
We are making something beautiful to describe how the land shaped us when we were a new wave of settlers, how it continues to shape us, and how we, too, shape the land. We honor this place, hoping to redeem some of it’s painful history of exploitation, though we are creating only a glimpse of our wonderful home. It is an offering of thanksgiving for our lives here.
Marsha Stone, on the making of the San Juan Ridge Tapestries