New Buffalo: Journals from a Taos Commune by Arthur KopeckyNew Buffalo Commune Taos, New Mexico
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Review--
Communities Magazine
Spring 2005

Jason, Pepe, Carol

 by Diana Leafe Christian

I was delighted by the Covington ladies and compelled by Drop City, but New Buffalo: Journals from a Taos Commune won my heart. This true-life story by communard and journal-writer Arthur “Arty” Kopecky consists of diary entries, a few days to a few weeks apart for seven years, about life in this famous 1970s commune. While chronicling the same era and the same kinds of people as Drop City, New Buffalo describes a place several notches more functional than its fictional counterpart.
Yet there are similarities. The New Buffalo property was also owned by a wealthy man who believed in communes, and everyone was welcome. This was a time when we believed that with enough love, freedom, hospitality, food, and sex, drugs, and rock ’n roll, we didn’t need rules or agreements. It would all work out somehow. We would offer unstinting hospitality at no charge to the world; this is how we were changing the world.

Thus New Buffalo—the real-life prototype for the commune in the movie Easy Rider—had a total open-door policy. Any freak from anywhere could visit, stay for dinner, crash in someone’s room, and end up living there for weeks or for years. The population fluctuated widely; turnover was high. There were usually more men than women. People milked goats, collected eggs, raised children, mud-plastered the walls, gathered wood, and conducted the peyote ceremony. There was no criteria for joining, and no joining fee. No monthly dues: anyone could donate any amount any time, nor not. No labor requirements. People who contributed money and labor supported those who didn’t. No one had any ownership in the land, although a few long-term residents would occasionally be elected to the land’s governing board of directors. Decisions weren’t made by consensus or voting, but rather a kind of amorphous vibe-grok among folks there at the time. They enjoyed well-prepared food, freely offered herb, and great dance parties. Men and women coupled and uncoupled casually, though not without heartbreak sometimes. New Buffalo residents drove long distances to trade goods and labor with friends in the network of northern New Mexico/Southern Colorado communes. They did the same with their rural neighbors, whether Land Grant-Spanish or Taos and Zuni people from the local pueblos. These white kids from the city learned to build with adobe, eat chiles and tortillas, make jewelry of silver and turquoise.

Why did I love this book so much? While dismayed by the lack of structure and discipline (but what commune had either in those days?), I was touched by the kindness and heart of Arty Kopecky’s perspective. He reported the daily events of work projects and human interactions matter-of-factly. He was proud of the commune’s ongoing generosity and frequent good will. He admired his fellow residents and was grateful for their labor or financial contributions. He was approving, encouraging. He believed New Buffalo would beneficially impact its visitors, and had hope that it and other communes like would make a difference in our society. When he was disappointed in someone he noted it philosophically. In print, anyway, while he might observe someone’s difficulties or shortcomings, he never made them wrong.
And while New Buffalo doesn’t read like a novel—it has no plot, and the people arrive and depart so much it’s hard to keep them straight—the book does offer the theme of growth and hope. When the author arrived in 1971, the place had barely heated half-finished adobe buildings and leaky roofs, on acres of high desert land which was frigid in winter, parched in summer, and muddy and impassable when it rained. But over seven years the walls got plastered and roofs fixed. Its residents learned to build a greenhouse, water their acres from a local irrigation ditch, plant vegetables and animal pasturage, and raise dairy cows and cattle. They finally raised and grew and traded for most of their own food and had enough to last the winter.

The first book in a series of two, ends in 1976, at a high point in the commune’s physical development. But by this time tension was building between those who did all the agricultural work and those who spent most of their time fasting, praying, and making drums. Some saw New Buffalo’s purpose as primarily spiritual, with attention to physical matters only when needed. Others saw its purpose as agricultural, with growing food being their spiritual practice. And because there were no agreements or vision/purpose statements to fall back on to resolve the dilemma, the group floundered in conflict. The classic dilemma, no?

The Epilogue notes that in the next volume of Arty Kopecky’s journal the conflict escalates and in 1979 he and his new family depart the commune “under rather dramatic circumstances.” From other reading I learned that tension between the two camps got so heated that everyone left New Buffalo, and the current owners of the property operate it as a Bed and Breakfast. I’d love to stay there some day, so I can see where the author and his pioneering compadres learned hard lessons of community, for a few years anyway, so long ago.

Diana Leafe Christian, editor of Communities magazine, is author of Creating a Life Together: Practical Tools to Grow Ecovillages and Intentional Communities (New Society Publishers). She lives at Earthaven Ecovillage in North Carolina.


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

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