New Buffalo: Journals from a Taos Commune by Arthur KopeckyNew Buffalo Commune Taos, New Mexico
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Review--
Communal Societies Magazine

Jason, Kachina, Pepe, Goat John

 by Tim Miller
Department of Religious Studies
University of Kansas

The hundreds of thousands of young people who populated the 60s communes did not, by and large, keep extensive records of their experiences. It is, therefore, enormously welcome to see a published primary document that lets us into the daily life of one of the fabled communes of the era. New Buffalo, located north of Taos, New Mexico, was legendary among the communes of its day, and this extensive diary, while episodic, brings it to life better than any other account so far in recording the Taos scene that figured so prominently in the American counterculture of the 1960s era.

Kopecky provides us with a book of concrete details. He repeatedly tells us who lived there on a given day, who was visiting and where they were from, how many showed up for dinner, and what they ate for dinner. He tells of his own daily activities–building communal buildings, working on machines, and above all farming, the embodiment of his passionate drive for communal self-sufficiency. He tells of other communes, in the Taos area, a bit farther north in southern Colorado, and elsewhere. He records the endless comings and goings of people that gave the communal scene great fluidity. He describes the problem people that the communards, despite their typical inclination to accept all comers into their midst, finally had to deal with. He limns the endemic hassles of the "simple" life–the endless repairs of old vehicles, the struggle to get even enough money to pay the taxes, the privations of a harsh climate with a long winter. Some of his comrades suspect that Kopecky is missing the forest for the trees; of his comrades who add notes to his journal here and there, two accuse his account of lacking feeling and emotion (pp. 43, 52). There is some truth to the criticism, but in the end Kopecky’s journal conveys the nitty-gritty reality of communal life better than any other account I have seen.

It is apparent that Kopecky’s original manuscripts have been edited somewhat, but the editing seems to have been done fairly lightly. Just a slightly heavier editorial hand would have been useful, to reduce redundancies and to smooth out the little errors and idiosyncrasies scattered through the text. But those are quite minor quibbles. The book comes through powerfully, and in the end the uncorrected little lapses and seeming typos contribute to its strong feeling of authenticity.

"It must be hard to write to capture this magic," a fellow sojourner says to Kopecky at one point (p. 20). And so it is. But this first-person voice captures the magic–and the more sordid realities–of the 60s communal enterprise as well as anything that has yet appeared.


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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