So maybe I’m a little hippie-ish.
After that initial burst of self-recognition in the opening lines of Kopecky’s memoir, I continued to read and found myself recoiling. Pretty soon I had to conclude that he was pursuing a fantasy in his mind’s eye all those years ago, one that blinded him to the reality of the place he was headed. A couple paragraphs later:
From there we set our sights on the warmer Southwest. One day Pepe said, “Load the tipi,” and our little troop, about ten people, headed south to find adventures in the Land of Enchantment. [...] I was soon running deer trails up and down the sides of the valley through piñon and juniper trees, through desert sage and chamisa, in a landscape that could have existed ten thousand years ago. [...] I had traveled from the canyons of New York City to the canyons of New Mexico, where nature reigns in all its beauty.
In his framing, the Southwest offers a sunny playground for adventures, a perfect wilderness seemingly preserved in an Edenic past. Is the land passively awaiting his discovery and ready to serve his needs? Or does it have a long and rich history already? How will the arrival of wandering outsiders affect the local environment and the people who are in fact already at home here, not counterculturalists but practicing their own age-old cultures?
Sylvia Rodríguez offers a different perspective on that era as someone who grew up in northern New Mexico:
The hippie counterculture arose among boomers during the Vietnam War on the heels of the civil rights movement and concurrently with the Black Power, Chicano, and American Indian movements. [...] The early hippies were communitarians. They were environmentalists, primitive back-to-the-landers, drawn to mysticism, supernaturalism, and Oriental religions, longings all abundantly nourished by hallucinogenic or psychedelic drugs. The whole swirling phantasmagoria came with a rock’n’roll/Ravi Shankar soundtrack.
The Great Taos Hippie Invasion started in the summer of 1967 and went on for about four years. [...] Thousands of mostly white, mostly middle-class, young people began to pour into northern New Mexico, fleeing the corruption of cities and suburbs in search of a pristine altiplano utopia replete with Indians, earthen architecture, and the promise of spiritual awakening. Taoseños reacted to the sudden influx more or less according to socioeconomic position and age. Hippie displays of excess, transgression, and abandon shocked and threatened businessmen like my father. [...] Proper middle-class Hispanos willing to tolerate a few beatniks were aghast at the spectacle of hippie dress, drug abuse, loose morals, poor hygiene, sin verguenza (shameless) violation of sexual norms, and flagrant use of food stamps and free clinics. (“Countercultural Taos: A Memoir,” Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest pp 110-111)
There’s a word we’ve heard before about this place: “invasion.” A “hippie invasion.”
Did these hippies consider that by descending on the West in droves, they were encroaching on others’ lands and waters—even as they criticized their government for its own encroachment on lands and waters around the globe? Did they find it ironic that they idolized the concept of pristine places, then “polluted” them with their very presence, rumbling in on diesel buses armed with foreign drugs and disruptive behavior? Surely some of them must have recognized that their communes were superficially fetishizing indigenous cultures by setting up tepees and taking peyote, whether or not they had any sense of such practices’ context or significance.
Yes, I can recognize a bit of myself in the hippies of fifty years ago: as Rodríguez put it, I’m white, middle-class, and young. I’m an outsider who’s rejecting some elements of the mainstream and attempting to act more or less like a back-to-the-lander in my backyard.
But I hope it’s possible to pursue a “countercultural” life here without all these harmful hippie hypocrisies.