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Scrapbook of a Taos Hippie: Tribal Tales from the Heart of a Cultural Revolutionby Iris Keltz
A family scrapbook--personal accounts, photographs and memorabilia--from the great flowering of the hippie culture. See more details below
A family scrapbook--personal accounts, photographs and memorabilia--from the great flowering of the hippie culture.
Internet Book Watch
- Cinco Puntos Press
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 8.00(w) x 9.90(h) x 0.60(d)
Read an Excerpt
"First Encounters with New Buffalo"
by Iris Keltz
It was 1968, the summer of love and Woodstock. Faisal and I had been married for one year. We were returning to New York City after a three-month migration across America. The highways were filled with young wanderers. Our vehicles identified us. Volkswagen vans and bugs, painstakingly hand-painted with psychedelic landscapes and designs, were popular. So were pickup trucks with funky rooms built in the back. We drove a '56 Chevy station wagon, dubbed Bella Blue, fitted with foam pads and sleeping bags.
After a lifetime in Jerusalem, Faisal was adjusting to life in the States. His English had improved but he still said things like "the fingers of your feet" and "breast socks." In Berkeley, he had had a reunion with Aunt Dina, his mother's sister, who'd left the Middle East twenty years ago. They reminisced in Arabic with unabashed happiness- crying, laughing and occasionally translating for me. He left his aunt's house homesick for Jerusalem. Even watching the war protestors in Berkeley take over a park didn't cheer him, so we decided to take a diversionary detour through the Sonora Desert in Mexico. Big mistake. It was like the inside of an oven. We couldn't drink enough water to urinate. Our fan belt melted and snapped. After waiting in the unbearable heat most of the afternoon for a new fan belt to be installed, we took the next main highway heading north. Interstate 25 took us to Albuquerque, Santa Fe and Taos.
Central Avenue in Albuquerque was hot enough to fry an egg on, so we continued to Santa Fe. The northern New Mexico landscape reminded Faisal of home. Transparent light engulfed expanses of semi-arid desert, home to twisted cedars instead of gnarled olive trees. The New Mexican peaks were higher, more jagged than the round Judean hills. The cool mountain air revived us. While sitting on a park bench in the Santa Fe plaza, someone handed us a newsletter called The Fountain of Light. It contained information on the local counterculture, including crude handdrawn maps to communes in the area. "Let's check out the New Buffalo Commune," I offered as a possibility.
Following the Rio Grande through the gorge, we passed lush orchards and sleepy towns hugging the river. The uninhabited sections were walled in by craggy hillsides with barely any vegetation. Cresting Pilar Hill an hour later, we saw the canyon walls open onto a mountain valley looking like the dawn of creation. The map directed us to the village of Arroyo Hondo, ten miles north of Taos.
My dream of living in a village had been born when Faisal took me to Samour, his village, linked to the outside world by a bus that ran twice a day to Hebron. Chagall might have painted there. The stone and mud homes clustered along the only road, trafficked by camels, donkeys, dogs, chickens, people and one bus. When Faisal returned home after years of wandering, his father slew a sheep and invited everyone to a feast. The old man dreamed his son and new daughter-in-law would stay and raise their unborn babies here.
The rhythms and intimacies of village life were seductive. For a while, I dreamed of settling there and living in the primitive but comfortable stone house, in time becoming a village elder, and sharing the stories. But I was American and doubted I could accept another wife into the family, or wait until the men finished eating, or be kept in a constant state of pregnancy to prove my worth.
As we drove up the rutted New Buffalo driveway my vision was rekindled. This could be my village. But who were the bare-chested women ambling near the parking area? I tried to act blas� as they sauntered by, titties floating freely in the breeze over ankle-length skirts. Two mountain men engrossed in conversation were bent over a pickup truck. The barrel-chested guy with long matted black hair and matching beard scowled, seemed to withdraw inside himself when he saw us. I thought he was going to ask us to leave. The other wild-looking guy in gray coveralls smiled a sly but inviting grin.
"How ya doin? Where you guys from?" He looked like Davy Crockett when he was king of the wild frontier.
"We just drove in from Berkeley where this People's Park thing was happening," I said, trying to sound cool. He was not impressed. City dropouts swarmed like flies around here.
"I'm an Arab from Jerusalem," announced Faisal in his thick Middle Eastern accent. That got their attention. There weren't many Arabs passing through the communes.
"My wife Joyce is Lebanese," said the barrel-chested guy, no longer scowling. "She was born in New Jersey but her parents are from Lebanon. I'm George." His grin came out from behind a cloud.
I looked past the two men to the adobe buildings and courtyard. "Why don't you hang a while and stay for lunch? I'm Justin," said the Davy Crockett look-alike. Life seemed simple here, at first.
Lunch was rice, beans and vegetables. So was dinner. Those in front of the line got more vegetables and those to the back more beans and rice. A macrobiotic diet suited the economics and ideology of the day. No longer were we the meat and potatoes people of America exploiting the land for the love of hamburgers. I was willing to go along with their ideals but not Faisal, who carried his culture with him like a turtle carries his shell. Without asking, he emptied a bag of charcoal, poured on the starter fluid and set up our camp stove in the courtyard. Before you could finish smoking a joint, the succulent odors of shish kabob went wafting through the courtyard. I expected our makeshift kitchen to be shut down, but learned that when one is culturally intact, as in "shish kabob is my native diet," one is invulnerable. Faisal threw on the spices, and doors began opening as more and more people gathered around the stove waiting for a taste.
"Where you guys from?" asked one of the inhabitants.
"I am an Arab from Jerusalem," Faisal proudly answered.
"Groovy. You guys gonna be around for a while? We got an extra teepee."
"Sounds great," I said, accepting their offer unhesitatingly.
The night was cold considering the heat of the day. Carrying sleeping bags and backpacks, we stumbled towards the teepee with a cornucopia of stars lighting the way. Each step felt like the edge of a precipice. Faisal let me know that night that there was no way he'd live on rice, beans, vegetables and oatmeal. We couldn't afford to feed meat to the entire commune, so I agreed to regular town trips for cheeseburgers.
The early morning air carried the sounds of wakening life. The squawking, mooing and bleating of animals mixed with crying babies waiting for their mother's comforting voice. My eyes took a moment to adjust to the windowless yet welcoming kitchen. Two doorways, one to the drumming room, the other to the outhouse, gave the only light . A fire already roared in the cook stove. An unpretentious wooden plank table flanked by two benches sat in the middle of the room. A guy in a remarkably white tunic handed me a tin mug of cowboy coffee and made room on the bench. I hadn't met any of these guys the day before.
"Mmm, this coffee's really strong," I commented. The guy in the white tunic introduced himself as Aquarius Paul and offered to share the recipe.
"Boil some water in a large coffee pot, throw on the grounds and let them settle. Then ya throw on some cold water to help them settle faster. To make another pot just boil more water and throw on more grounds. Continue this for at least a week before starting a fresh pot."
"Thanks," I said. "I'll remember that."
With its ebb and flow of people, life in the kitchen was endlessly fascinating. A woman wearing only an ankle-length drawstring skirt smiled at me as she fed cedar logs to the cook stove. "Can I help you?" I asked.
"Some visitor once built a fire in the oven instead of the wood box and smoked everyone out of the kitchen," she laughed. "My name's Moe and you can cut apples for the pies tonight."
"What's that white stuff oozing from that sack nailed to the beam?"
"You're looking at future cheese. Some of the cow's milk is saved to make cheese and butter. That dripping bundle is separating the curds from the whey." I finally understood what Little Miss Muffet was eating.
"A bunch of us are going pea pickin' this morning. Wanna come?"
Cultivating new attitudes towards modesty, I self-consciously took off my shirt like the other bare-breasted young women. Hidden by ripening peas under a hot sun with sweat dripping between naked breasts, we chattered like a flock of magpies and returned to the kitchen with full buckets. Moe was from Baltimore and had a ten-year-old daughter. She had no plans for their future and that was okay.
The four-seater outhouse near the kitchen was filled with flies and torn newspapers. At any moment, you could be joined for a moment of intimate sharing. Everyone mutually did their business while admiring the colors on the western horizon.
In the kitchen, bare-chested women were making a salad from vegetables that only an hour ago were in the ground. The sound of a gong announced lunch. People held hands in the courtyard for a prayer circle to bless the food. The number of people who appeared for lunch was well out of proportion to the people I had seen working in the kitchen, the gardens or with the animals, but as far as I could tell, no one questioned anyone's right to eat.
During an afternoon siesta, Moe took me to the swimming hole in one of the western fields not under cultivation. It was too hot to garden, too early to milk Chloe-a brown Nubian goat-or start dinner. Languidly, we lay on the muddy embankment next to the sinkhole, getting hot under a blazing sun, listening to the hum of the afternoon.
"Did ya notice that cute guy at lunch today? He's the serious type, a real hard worker. Hardly ever smiles. Well, I'm gonna make him smile." Without warning she jumped into the icy pool, swam three strokes across and surfaced on the other embankment. I followed. Drip-drying in the late afternoon breeze, I pulled my new green drawstring skirt over my head.
"Dy-no-mite! What a score you got in the freebox!" Moe shouted joyfully.
As the weeks wore on, the difference between those who meant to settle here and build a life and the transients who came to marvel in this corner of the Aquarian Age became apparent. The struggle between the workers and the party faction was pervasive. Bob, the "Philosoper King" of the New Buffalo kitchen, spearheaded the party crowd. While people worked in the fields and gardens, the renegades crowded into Bob's room for electric Hawaiian Punch and Led Zeppelin, played on the only stereo at the commune with electricity pirated from the power pole. If George asked a visitor to leave because there wasn't enough food or room, Buffalo Bob would counter with an offer of dope, food and a place to crash. Faisal and I ran into Bob at Taystee Freeze one afternoon and offered to buy him a cheeseburger.
"Hey man, thanks. I mean it. I really mean it. You're cool." Translucent skin hung over a skeletal frame. Owlish eyes, almost feverish in their intensity, seemed to stare into nothingness. After that day, he joined us whenever we went to town. We bought him cheeseburgers and he shared his visions of the white light and introduced us to local hippies. I didn't know then that he was dying of tuberculosis.
Between meals the local philosophers, renegades and minstrels held court in the kitchen near the never-empty pot of cowboy coffee. That's where I met Rodney, the handsome cowman, who was as responsible to the cows as Moe was to the goats. Twice a day he brought buckets of fresh milk into the kitchen. One afternoon I went to the barn with him and watched his strong hands rhythmically milk Bessie and listened to his fantastic tales of anti-gravity flying machines, aliens and spy missions. His short hair, Texas drawl and clean clothes added to his credibility. Rodney didn't look or act like a hippie. For national security reasons, he said, he left out critical bits of information when telling his stories so they would remain confusing. He swore that everything he said was true.
One day a bunch of women decided to go currant picking down by the Rio Grande. Even though it was a warm afternoon, we left our shirts on because of passing pick-up trucks driven by the locals who were both shocked and curious about us. Also, there had been recent reports of violence between hippies and Hispanics in other parts of the valley. Thorny branches filled with tiny berries made currant picking painfully slow. Needing to relieve myself, I walked upstream using nearby leaves to wipe myself. Hours later, when the itching started, I discovered I had used poison ivy. I squirmed my way around the commune trying to scratch my private places, privately.
After consulting the bible of herbal cures, Back to Eden, Joyce made a poultice of mud, cedar ashes and dried mint. Generous applications onto the afflicted areas stopped the itching, but not my longing for a warm bath in a private bathroom.
Knowing we would soon head back to New York, Faisal and Joyce decided to cook an Arabic feast together. No one objected when Faisal bought lamb and grilled kabobs with fresh zucchini, tomatoes, peppers and onions. A huge pot of brown rice was his only compromise. We met in the courtyard for an evening prayer circle as the sunset played a symphony of colors. Rose became blood red, mauve, and lavender streaked with gold. There was a temporary truce as the farmers, party people, transients, mothers, children, philosophers, workers and poets held hands to share moments of awe and thanksgiving. George started, "Thank you for this day. Thank you for the snow and for the water to grow the crops. Thank you for the food to feed all the people who come to us." Others chimed in and added their prayers, some for people who were gone. Would they remember Faisal and me when we left? A strong hand squeeze followed by a shout of "Amen, let's eat!" signaled the end of the circle.
A fire was lit in the drumming room. Faisal played his oud, joined by drums, flutes and tambourines. Joyce came forward to dance barefoot around the fire. Long dark hair circled her thin wiry body like wings. The arc of her arms obeyed the ever-changing rhythms. With the mystique of an Arabian princess, she faded into the shadows as other women came forward. Faisal had played his oud almost every night we were there. His music would be missed.
Except for the infernal itch, I was in love with life in New Mexico, but Faisal was not impressed by mud homes lit with kerosene lamps and outhouses filled with flies and torn newspapers. With my visions rekindled, we headed back to our New York City tenement. Even as I squirmed and wiggled in the car seat trying to scratch myself, I knew my love affair with New Mexico was just beginning. I would be back.
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