Lately, I keep running into the concept of “Community” in whatever I read and the interactions I have with various town residents. One of them, who had spent time at the Standing Rock encampment last year, told me the one aspect that impressed her the most was the creation of a supportive community which included so many people from diverse backgrounds. Others, who are looking towards an uncertain future when our governmental and economic structures might break down, conclude that only the nurturing of a local, self-sustaining community will guarantee our physical, moral and spiritual survival.
None of this is new to Taos. The past Pueblo and Hispano communities created such an environment although it was perhaps easier in a world without modern distractions and afflictions. Local environmental activist, Miguel Santistevan recently told an audience at the Red Willow Farm “Seed Exchange” gathering, “In the old days, we had a sense of community. We sang our own songs, told our own stories, raised our own food. There was an overall feeling of togetherness.”
When he said this, I remembered I had once experienced the same thing.
From 1970-1984, I lived at the Brotherhood of the Spirit (later renamed the Renaissance Community.) It was the largest and longest lasting commune in the Northeast (1968-1988). Although it had its share of controversy and challenges, in the early days, it encapsulated Santistevan’s vision. The Brotherhood banned drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, unusual for communes the late ‘60s, and had an uncompromising work ethic. There were no hippies lying around stoned in the dirt while a handful did all the chores. If you didn’t help out, you were forced to leave. And like the Taos communities of old, we too sang our own songs, told our own stories and raised our own food. Seeing how many of us grew up in cities with little spiritual nourishment from family or religious institutions, it was a novel experience.
Unfortunately, we were too young to appreciate what we had and this insular sense of community was eventually lost. The lessons, however, were not. For me, the two overriding guidelines for creating and sustaining community are simple: Everyone contributes. Everyone is taken care of.
In our commune, everyone, no matter what their situation, contributed. A paraplegic confined to a wheelchair helped prepare meals. Single moms with multiple children organized our nursery so other parents could work. Anyone could split firewood, can vegetables or fix a broken table. Nobody sat on their butt while others worked. For this reason, I’m not a big fan of beggars, especially those who are young and healthy.
Likewise, everyone was taken care of. Nobody went for want of food, clothing, medical attention or shelter. We shared and looked after each other, not perfectly but to the best of our ability. Selfishness was considered “un-spiritual.”
In our modern era, there is so much mobility that the ability to sink roots and create a foundation is lost. Taos is exceptional as one of the oldest sedentary communities in the United States. I hope we build on this as we Taoseños envision the future.
I assume we all agree nobody wants Taos to become another Vail or Aspen. There are enough playgrounds for the rich elite and we do not need to sacrifice our souls to become another. I expect Taos Ski Valley to thrive but in such a way that honors the values of the county it resides in. While tourism is necessary, it should include eco-tourism so Americans flock to Taos to add self-sufficiency to their enjoyment of the local cuisine and physical beauty of the land.
The preservation of our acequias and traditional water rights are paramount. They are the lifeblood of our community. Once gone, they might never return. It is not possible for me to see the ditches flow and not feel a sense of joy and gratitude. Likewise, the development and fostering of sustainable food farming cannot be ignored. While I comprehend how difficult it is, I honor those in Taos who have dedicated their brains and muscle into making it a reality. You can’t eat money.
Lastly, we will see more people moving to Taos from elsewhere in the nation. I trust they will do as so many of their forebears have and contribute their energy to the Taos area. Tutor kids, clean out the ditches, get involved in community activities and get to know your friends and neighbors. In short, help us build a viable community for the future.
Brown is an artist, writer and former public school teacher living in Arroyo Seco.