By the late 1960s everyone spread out in a kind of freak diaspora, moving farther away from concentrated urban nodes. There was the prevailing sense of a quest, a furtive search for the right place, the other place, for Kesey's cool place, as personified by the cross-country pilgrimages of so many who abandoned the cities and went looking for an ideal matrix of nature and culture, a place that lay somewhere over the hills or through the woods, a place that hippie chronicler Robert Houriet called "infinite sky."

Hoards of young people headed for the country, longing for immersion in the Tao of natural living. They came as refugees from the cities, from Haight-Ashbury and the East Village. They squatted, appropriated, liberated ground in the hinterlands. "In short, we are learning how to be alive again," wrote one urban refugee, who dropped out of college and headed west with nothing more than his knapsack and a dog-eared copy of the I-Ching. These were the children of both Dr. Spock and Dr. Seuss who, like Peter Pan, refused to grow up. "For us, everything is possible," wrote Raymond Mungo, after abandoning a life of radical activism and retreating to a commune in Vermont. "If the heart is willing, what ecstatic adventure is too risky?"

Once the multitudes had left the cities, how would they survive? No one was quite sure, but the answer was sure to come in a spontaneous rush of effervescence. Again, it was the group mind, the Oneness, springing outward and seeding a whole new trip, the wilderness trip. What everyone shared in common was boundless faith mixed with a willingness to relearn everything, to embrace poverty and live as voluntary peasants. Inspired by Thoreau, they made little encampments with tents and tepees or in temporary sheds made from boughs and leaves. They weren't afraid. Some lived in converted trucks or vans. By 1969 there were thousands of rural communes sprouting up around the world, as many as eight thousand in North America alone.


Top: The Domes of Drop City, Colorado, 1969 (photo: Clark Richert)

Middle Left: "Patchs", painted bus (photo: Jane Lidz)

Middle right: woman chopping wood: (photo: Irwin Klein)

Lower left: hand-built cabin at Wheeler's Ranch commune, California (photo: Bill Wheeler)

Lower right: Fern on rocks with guitar, Devil's Lake, Wisconsin, 1972 (photo: Paul Dembski)


Chapter 1 - Enchanted Loom
Chapter 2 - Infinity Machines
Chapter 3 - Crash Pads
Chapter 4 - Soft City
Chapter 5 - Unsettlers
Chapter 6 - Magic Circles
Chapter 7 - Frontier Mystics


© 2009 Alastair Gordon
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