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CALIFORNIA ALBUM

Tehachapi's Mind Trip : Small Town Warily Watches as the New Age Blooms in Its Midst

October 20, 1996|CARLA HALL | TIMES STAFF WRITER

TEHACHAPI, Calif. — Walking into Jacquie Glasner's store, Windows of Light, is an experience for all the senses. Incense burns at the door and wind chimes tinkle overhead. Pink and magenta feathered medicine wheels dangle from the ceiling. Books on New Age spiritualism are crammed onto shelves.

The location of this haven where "the inner child gets to play," as Glasner puts it? Just off the main drag of this Kern County town, past the auto parts store and diners, in the Albertson's supermarket mall next to the Baskin-Robbins ice cream shop.

"This is a mind trip," Glasner says of her store. "And we've got a food trip next door."

Tehachapi would hardly seem a metaphysician's first choice for a spiritual mecca. The largest employers are a cement factory and a state prison nestled in foothills outside the town, and the citizenry leans to family-oriented Christians who think Tarot card reading is the work of the devil.

But the New Age, in every sense of the phrase, has come here to the hills 45 miles east of Bakersfield. By one estimate there are two dozen trained massage therapists in Tehachapi, a city of 7,000 surrounded by communities that add an additional 21,000 to the population. Herbalists and acupuncturists have set up shop. There are even a few folks who believe that a large slab of crystal under the ground in Tehachapi attracts alien spacecraft.

And every Wednesday night, Glasner's store attracts a small "play group" that is part support group therapy, part New Age meditation.

One look at the wide expanses of land, wind-swept mountains and azure skies has been enough to convince some that they are in a zone of higher spiritual energy.

So far everyone seems to be getting along--with some glitches. Most people here simply dismiss the notion that Tehachapi qualifies as some kind of New Age center, some fledgling version of Sedona, Ariz.

"If you took most of the people involved in the New Age community and lumped them together, they would equal maybe one of our churches--and we have 15," says Connie Lux, a devout Christian fundamentalist who has lived in Tehachapi for 26 years and who led a petition drive to keep in place a city ordinance banning fortunetellers.

A lot of them have only the vaguest notions of what New Age beliefs encompass. "It's kind of like what Nancy Reagan and Hillary [Clinton] do, right?" asks City Manager Darrell Daugherty. "The stars and the heavens?"

Still, something odd--no, alternative--is happening.

*

Most of the New Agers and healers come to town for prosaic reasons--family, jobs, an escape from urban ills. But once here they rhapsodize about the color of the sky and the starkness of the nearby mountains.

Acupuncturist Tawney Massie and her husband were fleeing the dreary weather of Washington state and heading for Kernville, a few mountain passes north, when a toxic spill forced them to take a detour off the highway. They wound up tooling through Sand Canyon outside Tehachapi--and decided to stay.

"It's a good place. It's got good energy," says Massie, who has been here a month and plans to set up a healing center.

Muses Glasner: "I do believe in the long range a lot of old souls are coming back and collecting in certain areas."

Well, that's one explanation. More likely, ample land and a relaxed small-town atmosphere seem to have created a certain tolerance of avant-garde practices.

But that tolerance has its limits, and everyone from New Age practitioners and psychics to therapists who simply give massages--no religious strings attached--is aware of it. Even wary.

In a semicircle in the back of Glasner's store, her play group exchanges news of families and books and problems sorted out. They light a strong-smelling thicket of sage to scent the air. But the women--and they are all women--are reluctant to put into the air too many details of their lives for a reporter.

"I keep my private life private," says one woman who has lived here a long time and doesn't want to advertise that she practices meditation.

Even Glasner's store has a nondescript appearance from the outside. "I'm not sure that people just walking by wouldn't think it was anything more than a little gift shop," says Philip Smith, a Xerox customer service engineer--and the mayor in his spare time. "It's not in neon lights: 'Come and see the New Age bookstore, come and see the New Age bookstore.' If they did that, they probably would get a little flack."

Actually, Glasner put some calculation into her store's benign appearance. The more innocuous angel and fairy items are in the front. The more hard-core New Age materials are in the back.

"I do not want to frighten away my mainstreamers," she told New Age Retailer magazine in a recent write-up of her store.

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