Orin Martin Remembers Alan Chadwick
The Inaccuracies of Orin Martin's Oral History
"[Alan Chadwick] had a peculiar force as a teacher. He visited Saratoga once to give a lecture. He was on his best behavior, but still was a terrible old man and terrifying except to stout and free souls."
― Jeff Nichols, as quoted by Paul Lee, "There Is a Garden in the Mind"
Before we quote portions of Orin Martin’s oral history interview and point out the flaws in his demeaning statements about Alan Chadwick, it is worth taking a moment first to briefly analyze the above quote by Jeff Nichols, as this will shed light on our subject. When Jeff says that Alan “was on his best behavior, but still was a terrible old man and terrifying…”, this means that Alan Chadwick could inspire antipathy and fear in certain types of people even though he had done nothing threatening, harsh or impolite. Some individuals simply found him personally intimidating, and so responded inwardly with fear and judgmental antipathy: i.e. “terrible old man and terrifying...”
Jeff then cites an exception to this effect of Alan’s on certain people. He says that “stout and free souls” were immune to this antipathetic, negatively judgmental, and fearful response to Alan. By the word, stout, we can understand Jeff to mean, ‘strong and courageous’. By the word, free, we can understand Jeff to mean, ‘free from psychological phobias.’ The word free can be taken to mean various things, but the meaning suggested here is one that makes the most sense in this context.
So, a translation of the second part of Jeff’s statement could be the following:
‘…although he did nothing outwardly offensive, he inspired antipathy and fear in people who lacked courage and who were subject to personal phobias.’
This is relevant because in Orin Martin’s interview below, he also describes how Alan always exhibited respectful behavior in his presence. He then goes on to characterize Alan as “a terrible person,” and says that, when Alan spoke, “It was a little scary, quite frankly.”
So, just as in the statement by Jeff Nichols above, and despite Alan’s innocuous behavior, Orin Martin expresses judgmental antipathy and fear toward Alan Chadwick. The relevant question here is: Does this reveal more about Alan, or about Orin Martin?
* * *
The UCSC oral history interview with Orin Martin stands out as an example where distorted information about Alan Chadwick has been put forth by a less than credible individual. Martin makes some exceedingly negative claims about Alan that are notably false and fails to divulge that these are anything more than second-hand rumor or innuendo heard from other potentially biased or invalid sources.
In the interest of remaining open to possible mitigating explanations, a set of questions was emailed to Mr. Martin, asking for clarification on the more prominent inconsistencies in his account of Alan’s character. (See text below). To date, we have not received any response from him, even after a secondary follow-up contact. We have thus proceeded on the assumption that he has no interest in modifying or clarifying his prior remarks. Nevertheless, we stand ready to adjust our conclusions if he later provides a persuasive basis to do so.
The denigration of a deceased man’s character is one of the more cowardly forms of misguided egotism. Misguided, because the critic imagines he has thereby elevated himself above the man criticized, which in this case would be a particularly false conclusion, cowardly because a dead man cannot defend himself. Thus the critic enjoys the powerful feeling of asserting his bravado, but with no real fear of retaliation. It is ironic that Orin Martin is now being paid to manage the remnant of the very garden that Alan created at Santa Cruz. Martin’s entire livelihood is dependent upon the work of the person that he presumes to deride.
It is also troubling to any fair-minded reader that Martin’s derision of Alan Chadwick seems to be based upon a false pretense. He never actually worked with Alan in any of his projects, yet he implies that his caustic remarks about Alan’s personality are the result of direct personal interactions. Fairness requires a much higher standard of evidence when questionable content (posted by UCSC as oral “history”) unjustly denigrates a distinguished and reputable person like Alan Chadwick in a grossly unfavorable light.
* * *
Orin Martin admits that, in all of his personal interactions with Alan Chadwick, Alan was very respectful to him. He also states that he never worked with Alan in any of his garden projects. How then would he have knowledge of the negative kind of behavior that he implies he witnessed?
In this interview, Orin Martin is specifically asked if he had "personal interactions" with Chadwick that he could talk about. In answer, he makes several derogatory statements about Alan adding that “he was often psychologically cruel.” The interviewer then follows up on that statement, asking, “Can you remember any examples of that kind of cruelty?” At this point, after clearing his throat, Martin offers only accusations that Alan “was seriously misogynist...” In both of these answers, Orin Martin responds in a misleading way that erroneously implies he is speaking from his own experience of “examples” of “personal interactions.”
But as he himself admits, he never worked with Alan Chadwick anywhere, so there appears to be no substantive context for any significant personal interactions. It is more likely that Orin Martin’s negative characterizations of Alan were obtained by second-hand means other than by personal experience. This being the case, one does not need to look very far for the probable source of these harsh opinions.
Later in the interview, Martin is asked to name his mentors during the time of his apprenticeship at UC Santa Cruz. He replies that Steve Kaffka and Pierre Ott taught him all of his start up knowledge at the agronomy project there. Since Pierre Ott did not know Alan Chadwick at the time, that suggests Steve Kaffka as the primary source for shaping Orin Martin’s opinion of Alan’s character.
In 1971, Kaffka had involved himself in a political intrigue at UCSC that resulted in the firing of Alan Chadwick from the university. This dismissal occurred as the result of some dubious and unsubstantiated claims made about Chadwick from sources that so far have remained unknown. The administrator who actually fired Alan, Elizabeth Penaat, later cited reasons for the termination that are highly questionable. The respected biographer, Bernard Taper, recorded an interview with her in the early 1980’s where he addresses this subject. A description we obtained of the tape recording of that interview says:
“But then she seems to be saying his dismissal was her call. She drafted a letter and took it to the Dean. All she says otherwise is: "Alan was destroying everything he created" and "there was a mutiny of students" led, she says, by Steve Kaffka. (Some dispute about building a set of stone steps.) [ed. note: This was the so-called Roman Road]
*… She says that Alan had no students left. He drove them all away and alienated them. Bernard Taper then disagrees and says he has a list of over 100 young people who were students of Alan who thought the world of him. She is surprised and uncomprehending. She thought there would only be a meager handful.”
It was clear at the time of these events that Steve Kaffka was spearheading the so-called “mutiny” against Alan Chadwick, so confirmation of that fact by Elizabeth Penaat in this interview is no surprise. There is no direct evidence that it was also Kaffka who provided the false testimony to the effect that Alan had driven away and alienated all his students and that he “was destroying everything he created.” The truth is that, of the approximately twenty-five apprentices that Alan had gathered at that time, Steve Kaffka had managed to draw about half of them into his “mutiny.” In Kaffka’s own oral history interview in 2007, he admits that he attended a series of meetings with Elizabeth Penaat about the future of the garden and farm project at that time. So if Kaffka was involved in these misrepresentations, those meetings certainly would have been an opportunity for him to say whatever he wanted to her.
In any case, Steve Kaffka would have had ample reason to try to justify his behavior in this affair by providing overly negative characterizations of Alan Chadwick to newly arriving students like Orin Martin. Psychologically, this would serve to deflect any self-recriminations he may have felt and also counter various criticisms from other people who had been supporters of Alan over the years.
If a man divorces his wife, because he falls in love with another woman, and is later asked to describe the character of his ex-wife, there is a high likelihood that his characterization of her will be strongly negative. This is because he typically feels the need to justify his actions, both to himself and to the world. For this reason a responsible biographer, if he were writing the life-story of the first wife, would place little value on the testimony of her former husband. Serious historical biography likewise depends on first-person accounts of events described by unbiased observers.
This background information demonstrates a strong context for bias on the part of Kaffka and, by extension, for Orin Martin too. Such one-sided commentary is out of place in any truly objective historical record. These events, if they are worth reporting, should be balanced by input from unbiased observers who experienced them first-hand and should be presented within a context that weighs them fairly in relation to Alan Chadwick’s positive contributions as well. They should not be used merely as a forum for character assault, as Orin Martin does here. For this reason, his comments should be regarded as irrelevant by any readers who value the truth.
Furthermore, a number of the statements that Martin makes are clearly false. Dennis Tamura worked with Alan Chadwick for about three years, and others worked longer, sometimes far longer. There is no evidence that Alan forced these individuals “off the deep end,” as Martin unjustly suggests. This flippant statement only misleads the interviewer—and subsequent readers—into thinking that Alan was some kind of subversive misanthropist, rather than the brilliant but temperamental genius that he truly was.
And how does Orin Martin explain the fact that Alan’s apprentices were generally composed of at least one-third women? Is he suggesting that all of those women were somehow masochists, inclined to seek out abuse from the likes of Alan Chadwick? Martin claims that Beth Benjamin was the only exception to Alan’s mistreatment of women, but there were literally dozens of women,—in Santa Cruz, Green Gulch, and Covelo—who were grateful for the opportunity to work with Alan, and who still revere him to this day. See especially the interviews with Nancy Lingemann, Jodi Greenberg Frediani, Mardi Sicular, Louise Washburn, Maria von Brinken, Phyllis Anderson, Barbara Steinberg, and Katherine Cook on this website, as well as the essay by Beth.
As Skip Kimura recently described to me, Alan had a rule against anyone casually browsing on the ripe blackberries in the garden at Covelo. The berries were meant to be collected and distributed in an organized way. The one exception that Alan made to this rule was that pregnant women were allowed into the berry patch at any time they pleased.
How does this square with Orin Martin’s glib generalizations about Alan’s mistreatment of women? Patricia Buttitta was a Zen student at Green Gulch who was very involved in the gardening efforts there. When asked about her treatment by Alan Chadwick, she stated that she felt that Alan treated her better than others simply because she was a woman.
Certainly, from time to time Alan could be harsh to his students if he thought they needed it, but this was true of all his students—both men and women. For the most part, he treated women with a deferential gallantry that was quite gentlemanly. It is probably true that he was rather less sympathetic to women that he considered overbearing or “bossy,” but in that regard he was probably reflective of at least 90% of all men in that era, wherein it would be unfair to single him out for fault on that score.
Finally, Martin goes entirely off base again with another false and very sweeping generalization when he states:
“I just never could cotton to the way he treated people. In one sense, you walked into the Garden and the moment he met you he either thought you were great or you were terrible, and there was nothing you could do either way. You could be one of the chosen ones and mess up, as it were, and you couldn’t alter his opinion. And the same thing on the other side of the— It just was absolutely arbitrary, capricious, and like I said, I thought it to be psychologically cruel in some cases.”
While Alan Chadwick certainly had his faults, this was not one of them. I knew Alan for a long time, and I also personally knew a large number of his other apprentices over the years, but I never witnessed anything at all like what Orin Martin describes here, nor did I ever hear anyone else express this kind of simplistic generalization about Alan’s character. I can only conclude that either Martin has had his head filled with distorted gossip, or that he himself is guilty of fabricating the same.
* * *
It was part of Alan Chadwick’s methodology with his students to nudge them out of their “comfort zone,” that is out of a state of being that instinctively avoids the kind of pain that is necessary to condition oneself for further physical or psychological development and growth. His reason for behaving in this way was not to cause his students unnecessary discomfort, but rather to shake them awake from out of a conventional lazy mindset where work was something to be avoided, and personal tastes were conditioned by manipulative advertising. Alan saw the potential in his students to become authentic, self-directed, independent thinkers who were able to marshal all their forces for the achievement of their goals.
As Ray Dalio writes about human development:
“The organization “Outward Bound” has a concept that is helpful in thinking about the optimal pace of personal evolution. They speak of a comfort zone, a stretch zone and a panic zone. It’s best to spend most of your time in the stretch zone.”
Alan Chadwick’s great virtue was that he consistently kept you in your “stretch zone” physically, mentally, and emotionally, and this tended to produce rapid development of your capacities. Very many were the young people who drifted into the garden, lacking direction in their lives, and disillusioned with the shallowness of traditional values. Within a year or less, on average, these people had become physically fit, enthusiastic and committed individuals who were beginning to form concrete life-goals that they would pursue after finishing up their time in the garden with Alan. If it were appropriate, I could recite many stories of people, whose experience in the garden led to personal transformations of this kind.
Some individuals, on the other hand, become seriously threatened psychologically when anyone prods them out of their “comfort zone.” Their fragile psyches cannot tolerate the tension involved in questioning their previous belief systems or their educationally and family-instilled values. Such people are advised to avoid teachers like Alan Chadwick because their reaction to a teacher like Alan will typically be one of fear.
One wonders if this fear of Alan didn’t contribute something to Orin Martin’s readiness to adopt an unduly harsh, judgmental attitude about Alan’s character, despite the fact that Alan was apparently very respectful to him in their limited interaction. Such a reaction could be the result of any number of psychological factors, and we should, wherever possible, respond with understanding toward people who are constrained in this way. But it is unjustifiable when such a person publishes derogatory distortions as established facts, especially when such published accounts are unnecessarily insulting and defamatory. In that case, their viewpoint becomes morally irresponsible and indicative of their own lack of character. It should certainly be disregarded from the standpoint of objective history.
* * *
The email communication that we sent to Orin Martin is presented below:
My name is Greg Haynes. I am the editor of a website devoted to Alan Chadwick located at www.alan-chadwick.org. I recently reread the oral history interview that you gave to UCSC in July of 2008 and had some questions that I was wondering if you would be willing to answer for me?
- You mention that others worked longer with Alan Chadwick than Dennis Tamura, but that they “went off the deep end psychologically.” Could you be more specific about who you are referring to? Or is this merely a joke you like to tell to emphasize your general impressions of Alan’s temperament? In actual fact, no one worked longer with Alan than Steve Decater—almost ten years. Do you know Steve, and do you consider him psychologically unbalanced?
- You characterize Alan as a “tortured individual” and “a terrible person” who was “often psychologically cruel.” Is this based on things you heard others say about Alan, or did you actually witness acts of his that led you to these conclusions? You apparently never actually worked with Alan in his projects, so I’m wondering where and when you might have observed the behavior that you describe? Do you remember names of people whom you may have seen Alan treating in this way? When you say “often,” do you mean roughly every day, once per week, per month, per year…? How would you quantify “often” and what do you base this on?
- You mention that Alan was “seriously misogynist. He would use terrible language and rail on women …” Again, I’m wondering if this is something you heard from others, or actually witnessed yourself. If the latter, where and when would that have been? Do you remember any of the women involved who were treated like this? Did you ever observe Alan treating men in this way? Were more women treated with terrible language or raillery than men? When you say that Beth Benjamin was the only exception to Alan’s mistreatment of women, how do you know this?
- You say that Alan “didn’t really even want women in the Garden,” and “felt that they had no place in the garden.” Do you draw these conclusions from direct personal experiences? If so, can you be specific about them? Or, if not from personal observation, how do you know how Alan felt or what he wanted?
- You say that Alan would make instant, uninformed, and unfair judgments about people that he would never later modify; and that these were “absolutely arbitrary, capricious” and again, “psychologically cruel.” You seem to have very detailed information about Alan’s treatment of people in this way. Again, I’m wondering if this comes from direct observation or from impressions garnered from others? If from direct experience, could you elaborate on where and when you observed these things and even possibly who they involved?
- You say that you studied under Steve Kaffka and Pierre Ott, and that they were the ones who taught you what you started out knowing (page 43). If any of the very negative impressions of Alan’s character that you have described in your oral history interview were not based on your own experience, but rather came from other people’s opinions, would some of these have come from Steve Kaffka? If so, which ones?
Thanks for your assistance in clarifying these matters.
* * *
The relevant portions of the Orin Martin interview, where he talks about Alan Chadwick, are presented here:
From a UCSC Oral History Interview
Friday, July 11, 2008. This is Sarah Rabkin, and I’m at the
UCSC Science and Engineering Library with Orin Martin.
Impressions of Alan Chadwick (pages 11-15)
Rabkin: Great. Before we move forward from there, I’d like to jump back just briefly to Alan Chadwick. You say you decided, because you ended up finding him mercurial, that you didn’t want to apprentice yourself to him.
Martin: I’m being kind. (laughs)
Rabkin: Did you have some interactions with him that you could talk about?
Martin: Oh, yes. After he left and then ended up in Covelo, California, with the Round Valley Project, a fellow named Dennis Tamura worked with him. I always joke that Dennis owns the world record for longest time working with Chadwick without going off the deep end psychologically. Other people worked longer, but they went off the deep end. He’s a man of even temperament.
Rabkin: Dennis is?
Martin: Dennis, yes. Chadwick really respected him. . . So when Dennis was here with us he was still very friendly with Alan, and communicating with him. Over a period of, I don’t know, eighteen months or so, he got the staff at the Farm and Garden, and apprentices at the Farm and Garden together with Chadwick for what Chadwick called “salons,” where he would come down and give a talk and then we’d picnic and talk and this and that.
Rabkin: Chadwick was up at Covelo.
Martin: He had just left Covelo, or was in the process of leaving it. He was in the process and then at the end of that time period he had left Covelo. He had subsequently went to this utopian community in the Shenandoah Valley, which was aborted, lasted about nine months. And then he found out he had prostate cancer, came back here and ended up at Green Gulch [Farm Zen Center] for a year or so, and ended up dying. But at any rate, the relevant thing was that during part of that period he had definitely left Covelo and he was doing a land search for the new piece of land, and he had backers and donors. So we looked at a few pieces of land with him in Sonoma and Napa, these really just incredible multi-thousand-acre things from the valley floor to mountaintop. We’d walk around with him and he had every nook and cranny planned out the first time he saw it. So these were really great experiences, because I got a lot of the benefit of his philosophy and style. He taught a lot with metaphor and story and was enamored with the Greek mythology, and, as he called it, classical horticulture, Northern European market gardening/estate gardening type stuff, as far as plant material and methods. So I got a lot of that without having the day-to-day temper tantrum—
I mean, to be quite frank, he was just a tortured individual and a terrible person in terms of the audience he was dealing with, which were extremely impressionable, eighteen to twenty-one year olds. He was often psychologically cruel. I could see that.
Rabkin: Can you remember any examples of that kind of cruelty?
Martin: (clears throat) Yes— He was seriously misogynist. He would use terrible language and rail on women and felt they had no place in the Garden and doing this type of work and things like that. With the rare exception of Beth Benjamin, who, along with Jim Nelson, who started Camp Joy and is still around in the Boulder Creek area, he liked her, but it was very rare that he would— He didn’t really even want women in the Garden. So things like that— (laughs) He was a very magnetic personality. When you were in the room with him, there was energy. It was a little scary, quite frankly. He would draw these kind of impressionable students in, kind of like they were going to be in the inner circle or something, and then he would just absolutely: “You’re forbidden to come back to the Garden ever again.” It was just like that. I’m sure he had blood chemistry problems. He was up and down on an hourly, daily basis. I mean, all the great things you hear about him are true, also. It’s one of those things where two things can be simultaneously true. I just never could cotton to the way he treated people. In one sense, you walked into the Garden and the moment he met you he either thought you were great or you were terrible, and there was nothing you could do either way. You could be one of the chosen ones and mess up, as it were, and you couldn’t alter his opinion. And the same thing on the other side of the— It just was absolutely arbitrary, capricious, and like I said, I thought it to be psychologically cruel in some cases.
Rabkin: Did you find yourself on one side or the other of that?
Martin: He actually was always very polite to me and liked me. So I didn’t have that specific issue with him myself. Yet, I didn’t know why that was, that he was always very polite, and even deferential, because I was running this place he started, or something like that. So I didn’t have that personal experience.
― jump to page 43
Rabkin: Who were your mentors when you were an apprentice?
Martin: Well, I studied, as it were, under Steve Kaffka and Pierre Ott, as I mentioned. That’s who taught me what I started out knowing.
* * *
"The highest order of mind is accused of folly, as well as the lowest. Nothing is thoroughly approved but mediocrity. The majority has established this, and it fixes its fangs on whatever gets beyond it either way."
― Blaise Pascal
"He didn't scar people . . . well, I wouldn't say he didn't scar people, but it wasn't a permanent thing. He singed people, which, maybe people need to be singed at certain times. They just don't know that their ego's too big or their ego needs some modifying, or they need to change their perspective a little."
— Dennis Tamura, speaking of Alan Chadwick
― This article contributed by Greg Haynes, September, 2013