New Buffalo Summer Solstice Gathering
June 21, 2006
by Iris Claire Keltz
Author and editor of Scrapbook of a Taos Hippie
The long languid lazy days of summer hold an amazing paradox: At the pinnacle of light and warmth the days begin to grow shorter, while on the darkest, often coldest day of winter the light begins to return to earth. The ancients were acutely aware of these celestial cycles as were the counter culture peoples of the sixties, who identified with and emulated indigenous cultures across the globe. This year thousands of revelers gathered at Stonehenge, England on the same day as we gathered at New Buffalo, in Arroyo Hondo, New Mexico to celebrate the longest day of the year in the northern hemisphere. New Buffalo, once a thriving 60’s commune and sanctuary to many, was the perfect place to rekindle dreams of youth and reflect on the blessing of family, friends of long standing and abundant gifts from earth. In the distance, a dramatic shale colored escarpment guides the Hondo River on its course to the Rio Grande. This piece of land is where I witnessed the journey of the sun on its northern and southernmost points. Eyes range unimpeded across the Sangre de Cristo Mountains in the east to the sloping west mesa that will eventually blanket the sun.
‘Welcome Home’, read the sign leaning into the wire fence at the beginning of the long rocky driveway. I return with my 29 year old daughter Minka, who has heard the hippie stories countless times and smiles patiently at her aging mom. New Buffalo was the commune where I lived in the late 60’s, a place where many of us hoped to spend the rest of our lives, to share everything, births, deaths, raising our children, building homes. We would live off the land. Bless the seedlings in the garden, the maturing crops, the birth of new animals. Comfort each other during times of hardship and tragedy. This is true social security. Even imagining that possibility makes me feel secure, less alone, more hopeful, making it easier to resist the fear being hurled at us these days, about terrorists, global warming, climate change, never ending wars and environmental degradation.
The original New Buffalo, 103 acres of sage and pinon, was purchased in the late ‘60’s by Rick Klein, a young poet from Pittsburgh who generously used his inheritance to start a commune and went on to build an organic looking adobe home for himself and his wife on Lama Mountain with western views to eternity.
Like butterflies and grasshoppers, we didn’t pay attention to the passing of time. Some of us didn’t stop to gather nuts or build winter shelters and were caught unprepared to sustain the dreams of youth. Idealistic they were. Practical they were not. We were young, on a chartless course, gloriously ignorant of the pitfalls and perils of communal life where anarchy was the accepted law with powerful personalities ruling the roost. We lost our way or got seduced back into a capitalistic system that offered many rewards. Max Feinstein, one of the original New Buffalo dwellers, commuted between Israel and New Mexico, getting disillusioned in one place and migrating to the other. But even the kibbutzim in Israel, supported by the government, could not stand against a relentless capitalism. These once socialistic communities have become profit making enterprises with expensive guest houses and tourist amenities. You can no longer drop in, find a home and help with the orange harvest as I once did.
But the dream survived the excesses of youth.
We have come from far and wide to be here. Some have not passed this way for a long time. Some never left this mountain valley and some are here for the first time, like a woman I met from Holland. Some could not face our youthful dreams without derision and cynicism. But for those of us who chose to share this moment of hope, we form a circle in the courtyard, like in times past, to hold hands and pray. We call out the names of those who have died and bless this most recent attempt to rekindle an old dream. There are cemeteries in New York filled with landslot, people who once lived together in villages in eastern Europe. Maybe there could be a cemetery at New Buffalo for us, to help future generations remember the dream we tried to do here.
The kitchen is still a place to quench one’s thirst and gather. My daughter helps the women working in the kitchen, just like I did so many years ago. A few hours later, she feels at home and understands something that my words could never convey. Shrieks of joy, laughter and tears, sounds of heatfelt reunions happening all around. Some were young children when they last met. Some barely recognize friends in our newly old bodies but we can still seduce each other with stories, dreams and memories. Graying, bald, overweight men and women, some using canes and walkers rise to the music that still excites us and gets us on our feet. Back then, the message was in the music. You didn’t need a weatherman to know which way the wind blew. The times were changing cause the revolution was comin’ and we were going to get there on our horse with no name. We were and still are stardust, golden and trying to get ourselves back to the garden.
While not exactly lying fallow since the agrarian dream faded, New Buffalo has been through a variety of incarnations- as a private school and a bed and breakfast. Although he was never part of the counter-culture as a young man, the new New Buffalo Bob Fies, has put and put his fortune on the line to refurbish the crumbling buildings and to rekindle a dream because he understands that sustainable creative communities are the best antidote to gluttonous consumerism, alienation and fear that afflict modern American society. If this sounds familiar, it’s because we have been at this juncture before, only this time the stakes are higher. Whether you identify yourself as progressive, liberal, conservative, anarchist, Democrat, Republican, Green or other, there are basically two choices facing humankind- those who are trying to bring on Armageddon, end time, and leave no tree standing and those who understand that all life forms on this planet are sacred and have the right to life. Our Native Americans taught us that every decision and action we take affects seven generations.
We are faced with an “inconvenient truth” Al Gore’s film forces us to face. The frightening reality which we all share calls for nothing less than paradigm shift. No longer can we operate for profit only. No longer victors and victims, empires and subjects, exploiters and slaves. We enter the age of interdependence and sustainability. The resurgence of New Buffalo, and other intentional communities offer us a chance to re-create this movement in the quiet of our older years, through the lens of wisdom that has taken us a lifetime to garner. People still want to live in community and realize that rules protect as well as limit. To those who would scoff and call me naive, I ask you to consider that our youthful folly may be the compost that gives seed to sustainable forms of living together that enable us survive and thrive during the difficult days ahead.
To be or not to be was the ultimate existential question for our friend Hamlet. Those of us gathered here on this solstice might not have the luxury of that choice, for unless we ask ourselves how to be, we all might not be at all.