Now that I’ve ended up moving south to New Mexico, I hope to honor this place and the people who have been here for thousands of years by humbly learning how they’ve lived in harmony with the natural world and cultivated crops to nourish themselves. They know this land, its climate, its species, and its interrelationships; they know how to lead the sort of healthy, sustainable life here that I’m seeking to lead myself.
At the same time, I recognize that I am emphatically not an heir to the region’s ancient cultures. I was raised elsewhere with a radically different worldview. I’ve only recently relocated here, and more recently still begun to learn about this place’s rich and complicated history, including its agricultural traditions.
Given my status as a newcomer, not to mention my rather naive “back-to-the-land” project, I think it’s fair to say that the cultural forebears I’ve ended up emulating these days are twentieth-century hippies.
Ah, the hippies...
While the housewives of Betty Friedan’s studies were suffering from a “problem with no name” in the 1950s, by the end of the 1960s counterculturalists had plenty of names for society’s problems: consumerism, capitalism, industrialism, militarism. Hippies renounced the flashy lifestyle that the era’s Mad Men were selling, left behind suburban America’s cookie cutter houses and gleaming appliances, and hit the road in search of a fresh start. Their mission: a life not of mindless consumption but of substance and meaning. Authenticity. Community. Sustainability. Within a few short years of their westward migration, communes had sprouted up across the mountains and deserts from here to the Pacific.
Reading the first-hand accounts of those who took part in this great hippie wave, I sometimes feel a deep sense of self-recognition. Take Art Kopecky’s introduction to his memoir about living in a commune outside Taos in the 1970s:
Once when I was about twenty years old, I was in midtown Manhattan about 5 p.m., surrounded by a gigantic flood of people as the office towers disgorged their occupants. “How precarious is our civilization, how precarious these people’s lives,” I thought. They get everything they need with money, and if that money stops flowing into their account, they are almost immediately desperate, truly desperate. Our society is almost hysterically, continually trying to grow when it is already too big, to keep the money flowing, finding something for all the people to do.
These thoughts, among other things, propelled me to step onto and into the near pristine, wide-open spaces of northern New Mexico. (“A New Buffalo Vision,” Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest p 95)
Yes, I can relate to this sentiment about modern society’s superficiality and unsustainability, as well as this motivation to rediscover a simpler, stabler way of living. In this sense, at least, I can accept that I’ve become a bit of a hippie myself.