Arthur Kopecky author of New Buffalo: Journals from a Taos Commune
New Buffalo Commune, Taos New Mexico
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Reviews New Buffalo

Reviewed by Charles Poling
Su Casa
Women modeling jewelry created at New Buffalo.
  • Su Casa, Albuquerque, NM, Summer ‘04

    Our culture must have hippies on the brain, as the more senior members of the generation who would never trust anyone over 30 begin to double that age. These days it can be hard to get anyone to admit being a hippie—just having had long hair doesn’t count—but a growing list of hippie-lit books suggests a ready audience for idealistic reminiscing. And there’s no denying the ongoing influence of hippie culture, at least in New Mexico (see “building Taos’s hippest houses.” Spring 2004, for more about the hands-on legacy). Here the counterculture flourished and diversified into solar adobe construction, organic foods, alternative medicine, and holistic healing.

    At one point, New Buffalo author Arthur Kopecky, writing as alter ego AnSwei Livingproof, tells the journal he is keeping: “We have a powerful thing going that is bigger than any of us.” That thing isn’t just the Taos commune of New Buffalo, nor its start-and-stop farming and craft ventures, nor even the ill-defined, oft-ridiculed, too-easily-dismissed hipipie trip. It’s the very nature of American democracy and the right to define and own the American dream.

    As the apparent unofficial chronicler of New Buffalo’s history-as-it-happened, Kopecky wrote as if he were keeping the journal for posterity—that’s us, now—at least during the years he lived there, from 1971 to 1976. How he came to this role never comes clear. Was he nominated or self-appointed? Regardless, we find Kopecky recording some five years of events as mundane as what the residents had for dinner, as momentous as learning his girlfriend (and wife-to-be) Sandy is pregnant, and as disruptive as a police drug raid, complete with machine guns.

    Whatever motivated Kopecky to keep these journals, it’s not a private diary. There’s more than a little sloganeering, self-justification of the commune movement, rationalization of the sacrifices, apology for backsliding among members, and preaching of the ideals. That posture, that authorial voice of AnSwei, creates a distance between Kopecky and the events he chronicles. In fact, comments interpolated into his journal pages, often by anonymous co-communards, often criticize Kopecky for his lack of emotional response to the swirling soap-opera scene around him. Yet his sincerity shines through, and his earnest voice lends credibility to the New Buffalo endeavor: these people meant business.

    Well, some of them did, some of the time. Kopecky was continually frustrated at the lackadaisical attitude of some of his peers, the selfishness or self-aggrandizement of others, the lack of commitment among many. At one point, Kopecky writes, “And what should the commune do? To me, for six years I have understood that the business of the little communal group is to achieve production.” Though they rarely had cash—usually raised from selling candles or jewelry, doing odd jobs around Taos, or getting grants from parents and sympathizers—and farming was a brave new world for this band of hippies, a small core of them kept at it till they were actually eating their own crops, drinking their own goat milk, and feeding hay to their minuscule dairy herd.

    The dream was nothing less than Jeffersonian. an ideal of sturdy farmers working their fields; their ties to the earth and each other and their interconnected self-sufficiency would provide both the rationale and nourishment for community-based democracy. New Buffalo makes a plaintively naïve, refreshingly idealistic case for post-corporate capitalism and cooperative self-rule.

    Did it work? If you lived through the 1960s and 1970s, it’s hard not to have an opinion about the hippie movement and communes. New Buffalo isn’t there anymore as a commune. Even within the time span
    of these pages, one can sense the energy of social revolution leaking out the door as everyone ages and gets on with their lives, one way or another: pairing off, having kids, getting married, getting a job. Some die tragically. Others get cranky and claustrophobic in the tight commune scene. Personal rifts deepen into irreconcilable differences. Neighboring communes like the famous Hog Farm and Reality Construction Company likewise erode back into the cultural landscape. People die, people get busted for drugs—the dark side ever shadowing human idealism.

    Frustratingly, New Buffalo ends before the story is done; in the epilogue, Kopecky alludes to a sequel and briefly summarizes how he “quickly changed gears,” moved away with Sandy to form their own nuclear family first in the Midwest, then California. He claims he “always knew that the effort was experimental”—a statement not necessarily born out in the pages of the journals—and implies that leaving the commune was no sellout. “Unlike some radicals, I have great respect for the American scene. If I couldn’t create a country life one way, I’d achieve it the more regular way.” That’s an honest wistful conclusion, the preservation of a New York boy’s personal dream wrapped in eternal American optimism. Right on!
    —Charles Poling


    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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