I f you ask nicely, the Zendik Gardens Orchestra might play for you on their instruments made from recycled materials. If you like their Middle Eastern raga rhythms, they might ask you to stay for supper, at which they will serve you an “earth pizza” made from unleavened, sun- baked bread, avocados, onions, and sprouts. Chriseah might dance her cosmic-energy ballet for you, and then you will be shown the printing press on which is published the
Cosmic Revolutionist, a bimonthly journal of anarchic vegetarianism. The Zendik Society, which moved to California from Florida a year and a half ago, is a commune situated on two and one-half acres it owns in the North County hills of Bonsall. It comprises 20 men and women (most are in their early 20s, and there are two preschool children) and draws its name from the Sanskrit word for outlaw or heretic. The Zendik commune practices a stringent philosophy of waste not, want not — a philosophy that will land them in court next Monday.
In the commune’s main dwelling (there are numerous tents, trailers, sheds, and tepees on the property, in addition to the four-bedroom house that serves as the center of activity), Aunya explains how she became involved in the Strange Case of the Criminally Neglected Orange Grove. On January 14, four members of the commune went in search of an abandoned orange grove they had heard about from a friend. The four were Aunya and Chriseah, both 23 years old; and two young men who have since left the commune, Robin and “The Fugitive.” (The Fugitive earned his nickname from his propensity for never staying long in one city.) The four drove their 1960 Ford pickup truck to the abandoned grove on Willow Glen Road in Fallbrook. The grove was nestled in a beautiful green valley. “We saw two rain- bows that day,” says Aunya, “which was a very good sign.” Although the rainbows were a good sign, it was a very bad orange grove. “The weeds were waist-high,” says Aunya. “You could tell it hadn’t been watered because the fruit was all dry and shriveled.” The crew from Zendik planned to use the oranges for juice, which they would freeze, and the pulp for animal feed.
After loading the back of the truck with oranges and securing the load with an old tarpaulin, they drove into downtown Fallbrook, to a health food store called the Alligator Pear. Robin, Aunya, and Chriseah went inside while the Fugitive remained in the truck. When the shoppers returned to the pickup, they found the local sheriff ’s patrol hovering about the truck, questioning the Fugitive. “We had bought this truck for $150 from this kid in town who used to get in a lot of trouble with the police,” Aunya says. “The cops didn’t know that we bought it, though, and they wanted to check up on this kid. So they asked us what we were doing with the truck.” Unfortunately for the Zendikians, the Fugitive was sending out “weird, bust-me vibes,” according to Aunya. This was compounded by the fact that one of the sheriff ’s deputies lifted the tarp in back and discovered what later proved to be 425 pounds of Valencia oranges. The Fugitive was placed in the sheriff ’s prowl car, and the others were commanded to follow the officers to the station.
The four tried to explain their situation — that the fruit was rotting on the vine, turning black, and falling to the weed-strewn ground, shriveled and moldy. In all fairness to the officers, fruit thieves abound in North County. It is not uncommon for avocado thieves to load up a half ton of the fruit in the dark of night and then sell it for a profit: The Zendikians tried to dispel the deputies’ suspicions by pointing out that these oranges were worthless for commercial sale and that the grove was abandoned.
While one deputy weighed the fruit, another threatened the vegetarians with charges of grand larceny and conspiracy and said they were going to be made examples of. Efforts by the sheriffs to locate the property’s owner that afternoon were unsuccessful, though, and the Zendikians were released without so much as a warning — no booking, no fingerprinting, and no citation. The next afternoon a call was received at the commune from the sheriff ’s department, informing the four suspects that since the owner could not be contacted, they were free to retrieve their oranges, which they did. Three days later, however, a small news item appeared in the weekly Fallbrook Enterprise describing their encounter with the sheriffs and which ended with the sentence, “Arrest warrants are forthcoming.” The folks at the commune were stunned. “We didn’t know what was happening,” says Aunya.
Rather than wait for any such arrest warrant, the people at the commune began sending registered letters to a woman identified by a local realtor as the property owner. The woman, Veronica Ann Schmidt of Hawk Street in San Diego, never received the first two letters sent to her and they were returned marked undeliverable. The letters pleaded ignorance of Ms. Schmidt’s ownership and offered to repay her any loss she felt she might have suffered at the hands of the orange pickers. A third letter was not returned, but neither did it elicit any response. Ms. Schmidt has been out of town, and efforts to contact her at home have been unsuccessful.
Next, the Zendik kids went to Bill Sutherland, manager of the John Mielziner food-shipping firm in Fallbrook, and asked his opinion as to the value of the fruit, which they showed him. Sutherland wrote: “Those Valencias are not worth the effort or the cost it was to pick them. The grower should be grateful that they were taken off the trees. Strip- ping the grove of these awful things will only make next year’s crop better.” Still unsure as to their legal status, Aunya contacted an attorney at a legal clinic in Oceanside, who scoffed at their worries and said the matter should be forgotten.
Now the Zendik Society commune felt some- what secure. Not only did they have a legal opinion as to their innocence, but they also had a professional opinion stating that the oranges were commercially worthless. On top of that, the deputies even returned the purloined fruit to the Zendikians. Throughout the entire month of February, life went on as normal — at least, normal for the Zendik folks — and the incident was forgotten. But then on March 4, at about nine in the morning, Aunya received a telephone call from Robin, who by this time was living in Fallbrook. “Robin called and said our case was coming up that morning and for us to get down to court right away,” Aunya says, getting excited as she re-creates the scene. Robin had received a letter from the district attorney’s office informing him that he was scheduled for arraignment on a misdemeanor petty theft charge for his role in the orange episode. Aunya and Chriseah, though, received no such letter. “We didn’t even know they filed charges,” Aunya says. The two young women left the commune and hurried to the municipal court in Vista and pleaded innocent to the charge. (By now, the Fugitive had fled Bonsall for more exotic climes.) The suspected orange thieves were each given their own public defender. (They were each given an individual attorney, it was explained to them, in the event one or more of them decided to turn evidence against the others.) The trial is set for 9:30 a.m. on March 24 in Department Seven of the North County Municipal Court. None of the accused has ever been convicted of a crime.
The defense of the Zendik Three will rest most likely on their contention that it is more a crime to waste edible food than to take it without legal ownership. “I can see why this happened,” says Aunya philosophically. “It probably happened so that we can further the cause against the people who waste the land. That’s the real crime.” The trial comes at an inopportune time for the Zendik commune, because the radical vegetarians are planning to move soon to Reed Valley near Temecula. They are moving, they say, because their neighbors are spraying the crops and poisoning the Zendikians. Once removed to its new location, the Zendik Society will continue to work toward a vegetarian-anarchist revolution and to publish the voice of their cause, the Cosmic Revolutionist.