In 1964 when I dropped out of Reed College and went entirely counter-culture accidentally (it was just the way the wind was blowing), Roberta [End Page 191] Price was at Vassar and Art Kopecky was at City College of New York. By 1969 we were all (unbeknownst to each other) heading to the Southwest—a mecca for those seeking communal living, clear skies in desperado land, or just plain adventure, alternative style. Roberta Price and Art Kopecky have produced two volumes that answer questions about those special times when middle-class kids like me gave it all up, embraced poverty, went back to the land—did the thing we called "dropping out." These books are a real find for sixties-o-philes and anyone who thinks there are not enough printed words to give the skinny on what it was like to "be there then." Price gives a passionate and detailed memoir of survival at Libre, a commune in southern Colorado; Kopecky, amazingly enough, kept a gentleman farmer's daily log of the earthy lifestyle at New Buffalo and dusted it off 25 years later to give us his version of "then." Both books are historical, intriguing, and well sprinkled with anecdotes and photos of those "beautiful people" in their long hair and loose clothing, some stern-faced and some with blissed-out visages that annoyed so many diligent types who preferred the mainstream.
Huerfano: A Memoir of Life in the Counterculture, by Roberta Price. University of Massachusetts Press, 2004. 352 pages, cloth, $29.95.
Against scenes of violence toward protestors and the prevailing numbness to Vietnam, Price and her husband shop for a commune, armed with a grant from grad school. She opts for Libre over New Buffalo, where women were eternally in the kitchen; "I went to Vassar, for God's sake," she quips to her husband. With leaders of the social movements like Gary Snyder at his New York apartment suggesting Libre and Baba Ram Dass urging they "follow their hearts," this commune seemed the right choice. Price takes us through her transformation from a timid type blending into her husband's shadow to a mountain woman demanding her rights. Rather than doing dishes, she raises goats and collects horses, as women's lib ricochets through Libre, leaving the men with half the dirty work and women with wood to chop, meetings to attend, and love affairs to stir it all up. Through seven years with no amenities such as running water, electricity, plumbing, or income, we feel the excitement and the glory allowed to those who investigate frontiers. But the reader can sympathize when Price, like most of us who survived, moves on. [End Page 192]
New Buffalo: Journals of a Taos Commune, by Arthur Kopecky. University of New Mexico Press, 2004. 294 pages, cloth, $24.95.
If our apocalyptic society ever regresses to a nineteenth-century rhythm again, New Buffalo will become a much-in-demand manual. It's like finding your grandfather's diary in the attic. A 1960s time capsule in great detail: country-hippie style. Kopecky gives the inside scoop on how labor was divided, what the protocols were, and how communes interacted with townies. The handful of Buffalos (permanent residents) were literally scratching out a living on difficult land, hand to mouth with supplemental income from homemade candles and jewelry. Some of their most annoying pests were human: Kopecky laments, "for a week we've had about twenty people in our circle before dinner." Eventually the Buffalos learned about posting visitors' hours and keeping out narcs, excessive dopers, and mooches. Along with notes on mending tools and who was grinding corn, Kopecky shares his inner dialogues. He writes about Vietnam on a day of excessive bombing: "What if we dropped a similar value of refrigerators and generators and everything poor people can use?" His entries reflect on individual struggles, farming problems, architecture, and the largest commune: Planet Earth. Woven throughout are stories about Pepe, the mythic character who comes and goes like a phantom sidekick; Carol, their princess; and goat John, who provides door-to-door milk delivery in neighboring villages. Kopecky never overlooks...