One book this week contains essays about the Southwest’s hippie movement while the second is a novel exploring love in its various permutations.
Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest
Do we need another book about hippies in the Southwest? Apparently, the Museum of New Mexico Press thinks so. In fact, the release of this nonfiction book ties in with an exhibition at the museum in Santa Fe that runs until March.
Edited by Jack Loeffler, also a contributor, and Meredith Davidson, the book offers first-person accounts from those who participated in the great hippie migration — or for some local folks, the great hippie “infestation” — and those who were living here all along.
During the 1960s and ‘70s, waves of escapees from mainstream America became enchanted with the Southwest’s beauty and the ability to live cheaply with like-minded souls who indulged in mind-altering substances. Many sought to bring positive social change and/or even find enlightenment.
This book offers stories from people deep in the movement. Several come off as blow-by-blow narratives, along the lines of, “I did this and then I did that, then I took peyote.” There is a lot of name-dropping.
For me, the best essays are by those who put the counterculture experience in perspective. For instance, actor-activist Peter Coyote chose to return to what he calls its ground level — “To speculate and generalize a bit to recapture something of the pre-LSD, pre-weed, pre-hormonal influences, aspirations and assumptions that were the broth in which my generation was cultured.”
Other interesting accounts are by native Southwesterners. Taos anthropologist Sylvia Rodríguez writes she was open-minded about the influx, but that wasn’t the case for many Hispanos, who were shocked by the overt displays of the hippie lifestyle. She notes, “Even today hippies remain a prominent part of Taos’s social landscape. Taos gradually gentrified and attracted new waves of postmodern hippies, affluent amenity migrants, and retirees.”
Of course, the counterculture, here and elsewhere, spurred change concerning the environment, alternative healing methods, farming, construction, oh, the list goes on and on. That is touched upon in this book.
Those who want to indulge in a look way back when, whether they were there or not, will relish this book and certainly its 88 photographs. (Check out Lisa Law’s photo of a mother and her children taken in Nevada on Page 68.)
“Voices of Counterculture in the Southwest” is a 208-page hardcover that costs $34.95.
The Blue Hour
Author Laura Pritchett allows readers to get up close and personal with Blue Moon Mountain, Colorado, via a series of intertwined short stories featuring the points of view of its residents, who don’t venture very far to find love and/or sex.
At the start of winter, Blue Moon Mountain’s people are troubled when Sy, the town’s veterinarian, steals a neighbor’s gun to commit suicide. His struggles were known, but his death is still unsettling, especially since he had cared for their animals. He leaves behind a wife, who’d lost her love for him, and two children.
In a scene at the novel’s start, Sy watches his wife through a window when he summarizes, “You see she is folding your stained undershirt, and you realize that the most popular story on earth is of falling love, and the next most popular story is falling out.”
Meanwhile, the mountain folk fall in and out of love. A woman rediscovers her yen for sex. A couple experiments with swinging. A discouraged lesbian posts on an online dating site. “‘Looking for woman within 2,000 miles,’ she typed in a once, drunk, laughing with the saddest noise she’d ever heard herself make.”
A farrier agrees to adopt his dying brother-in-law’s daughter despite losing a woman’s love because of it. Her reason? She couldn’t see herself with kids.
Some of the most interesting scenes involve a meth-addicted couple caught in a violent relationship. The woman started using when she was a barrel racer. “At the rodeo I used to fly around the barrels on Alma, my quarter horse. She was beautiful and frankly I was too. I would fly and fly and fly. Now I’m bruised from the needles and not the horse. If I am not cooking on my stove, I am shopping for ingredients.”
Pritchett’s style of writing is graceful and lyrical as she creates a believable community high in the mountains.
I am grateful she includes a map, which shows who lives where and with whom. Because of her subtle approach to storytelling and the large cast of characters, I found myself frequently checking back.
Pritchett, a Coloradan, is the author of several novels, including “Stars Go Blue.”
“The Blue Hour” is a 237-page hardcover published by Counterpoint Press. It costs $25.
Joan Livingston is a writer and a reader living in Ranchos de Taos. For more information, visit joanlivingston.net.