New Buffalo by Arthur Kopecky
New Buffalo commune Taos, New Mexico
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Review--Lois Rudnick
University of Massachusetts, Boston

Baby on a tractor.

Arthur Kopecky’s journal of his first five years living at New Buffalo commune (1971-1976) will be of interest to anyone who wants to get a feel for what daily life was like in Taos’s most successful commune. (Founded in 1967, it was still going strong on its tenth anniversary in 1977, a rarity for a commune anywhere in the country.) The world he describes seems a million light years away, which may suggest my mixed reactions of fascination, irritation, boredom, and sympathy. There is much that seems incredibly naïve, aimless, and puerile here, not to speak of the unbearably endless descriptions of women as “ladies” who bring the magic of their domestic and sexual skills to the often chaotic tribal home in which he lives. If you ever wondered how it was possible to endure a situation where the traffic flow of your family members was so constant and ever-changing that it was impossible to keep track of who was living with you at any particular moment, and what it was like to spend one’s days doing a modicum of work on the land and making crafts and a maximum amount of time playing music, dancing, hosting parties and peyote ceremonies, and getting high on drugs and booze, you will find out in Kopecky’s book.

And yet, there is something very winning in the tale Kopecky has to tell. There is a sweetness and a sense of decency and caring (in him, if not in all of his housemates) about his fellow beings, both human and non-human, an increasingly serious interest and attention to the land and how to use it properly for sustainability and survival, and a genuine embrace of diversity of cultures and temperaments that is admirable. Perhaps most compelling from our present moment is the healthy disinterest in devoting one’s life to capital accumulation and labor exploitation. There were also, surprising to me as an historian of the era and movement, amicable exchanges among New Buffalonians and their Hispano neighbors, with whom they bartered machines, advice, and labor. This factor adds complexity to the much better known story of the “hippie-Chicano wars.”

What the book cries out for, however, is an introduction that would place it within a context. Aside from Peter Coyote’s short prefatory reminder about the positive contributions hippies made to the general culture, the book provides no broader historic framework, thus limiting its interest to scholars already in the know or those who want to do the research. My own work including the larger picture: chapter 5 of Utopian Vistas: The Mabel Dodge Luhan House and the American Counterculture (1996) surveys the most prominent of the some thirty communes that dotted the Taos landscape in the late 1960s and early 1970s and examines them in terms of their relationships to the surrounding Anglo, Hispano, and Native communities.


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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