Arthur Kopecky author of New Buffalo: Journals from a Taos Commune
New Buffalo Commune  Taos New Mexico
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  • Southwest Book Views, Summer ’04     

    New Buffalo:  Journals from a Taos Commune By Arthur Kopecky

    (University of New Mexico Press. Albuquerque, NM, ISBN 0-8263-3395-8, hard-cover. 294 pp., $24.95, 2004)

    A custom woodworker in Northern California today, Arthur Kopecky recognized that he was in the middle of an historical moment in the American story when he lived at the New Buffalo commune in Taos in the late 1960s and 70s. No matter how mundane a journal entry might seem—shifts in weather, precise ingredients of a meal, a commune guest giving birth—the details themselves build up a picture, a feeling, the excitement and nature of a time when a dollar could fill up your gas tank and hope felt genuine.

    Kopecky, raised in New York City, was a graduate student at Berkeley when he first joined a beachside commune in Bolinas, CA in the late 1960s. In 1971, the commune members piled into two buses and drove in search of a place to garden and farm. In Taos, they found their way to the New Buffalo Commune.

    “Here is a small palace of adobe and great beams, a desert courtyard, and a family of freaks just like us. There were about 20 for dinner last night. This place is really functioning. There are two horses, chickens, turkeys, a metal shop, some machinery, many things that need to be done and the most fantastic housing I have seen yet. This is my idea of a together place.” Kopecky, who adopted the name AnSwei (“On-shway”) Livingproof, writes. He tells us a professor of his gave him the name, but he never explains what it means.)

    New Buffalo was started in 1967 by a group of peyote devotees. By the time AnSwei arrived, peyote church meetings attracted about half the members, acid parties were still happening, and visitors were coming and going in huge numbers. AnSwei becomes engrossed in farming, throwing himself into plowing, planting wheat and oats and animal husbandry.

    He also becomes involved with the corporate and tax details of running New Buffalo, taking on the challenges and politics of local irrigation by becoming a mayordomo of the ditches in the valley, a position that makes him an official of the State of New Mexico.

    Kopecky’s younger self brilliantly recorded everyday details in this experiment in living, including the misunderstandings and occasional violence in the valley between hippies and Hispanic locals, especially about hunting for meat to provide enough stores to last the winter. As the 1970s roll on, the reader senses that the times they are a-changin—casual passersby grow fewer in number and commune members begin to discourage drop-ins.

    The power of the story told in these terse, unemotional journal entries sneaks up on the reader. At first it feels like a non-stop kind of Woodstock with lots of parties, peyote meetings, acid-rock dances and a parade of hippies coming and going. Soon AnSwei writes that he is “limiting my marijuana—quitting beer.” The men, women and children who stick around, putting up with each other as well as iffy plumbing and unbelievably hard physical labor, become successful farmers and true social revolutionaries.

    “New Buffalo is looking very good,” AnSwei proudly records. “Every room is occupied and well kept. The fields green, pastures lush, work areas clean and tools all put away. Twenty-nine of us all together here; a small commune. Only people that we are close with—a very good sign.”

    Wallace Stegner referred to communal living in his novel, Angle of Repose: “I want a society that will protect the wild life without confusing itself with it.” Such is the genius of Kopecky’s lesson at New Buffalo. A second volume of journals, explaining the commune’s inevitable decline, will follow this publication.

    —Georgia Jones-Davis

For more information on Kopecky or New Buffalo, please contact Amanda Sutton, UNM Press publicity at 505-277-0655, 505-277-9270 (fax), or
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