The characters and events described here are fictitious and any similarities to any other persons or events, real or fictitious, are sheer coincidence. Eventually these stories will be edited and prepared for publishing.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Hippie Kids in Santa Fe

The Free School, Taos, New Mexico

Growing Up As a Hippie Kid in New Mexico

Being a hippie-kid growing up in New Mexico was different. The first communes to spring up in New Mexico were near Taos. High on the Rio Grand Plateau, Taos was far from society in the early seventies. A visually stunning place, close to sharply rising mountains and a deep gorge running across a wide valley. New Mexico was still a wild place back then: The were still beaver living along the rivers, and fresh water to drink from the streams that ran out of the mountains.

The immigrant hippies got along pretty well with the local Spanish and Indian communities. Land was cheap, there was very little law enforcement in the area, and people could do what they wanted, mostly. The boy was in enrolled in the preschool program with the Taos unified School District. In the morning he would walk up a frozen, muddy, rutted driveway that led about a quarter of a mile from the highway to the round, one-room adobe house and wait for the bus to take him to kindergarten. He was one of only a few gringo kids on the bus and was often ridiculed by the other kids. The bus driver would listen to the radio has he drove the big yellow bus down the highway. “Bye, Bye, miss American Pie. Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry…..” It was a long ride to school and the boy became bored. A light rain started to fall and as the drops collected on the windshield the driver turned on his windshield wipers. The wipers made a scrunching sound as they went back and forth...the boy followed them with his eyes and then his head. Another little boy noticed what he was doing and started to smile—he tapped the bus driver’s shoulder and pointed at the boy; together they laughed and the bus driver switched the wipers into high speed. The boy increased the speed of his head to match the speed of the wipers, just for the amusement of his audience. The other boy and the bus driver laughed at the expense of the stupid gringo kid, but he didn't mind. Happy to amuse his audience and enjoying the attention he continued his charade.

The Rio Grande River flowed from north to south through a deep gash in the high plains New Mexico. Wild scragily sagebrush was the dominant plant life; here and there, a lonely pinon or cedar tree fought for survival. At home, the boy would play in the behind the house in the sagebrush with his dog, Tesuque.  He loved his dog and they played for hours in the sage-brush: the boy loved the dog and the dog loved him back, just as much. Here he would learn the call of the coyotes that lived nearby along the canyon’s rim.

With dirt floors, no running water, and a single wood-fueled stove, life in the adobe house was rather rustic. The Taos Mountains rose sharply in the distance, and with old, rusting farm equipment lying haphazardly about, this was a surreal and beautiful place in time and space. The moon and stars turned over a wide valley rimmed with mountains. He would bath in water collected from the rain barrel, heating it on the wood-stove in a metal wash pan. One day, the boy didn’t want to bath, because it was very cold; the house hadn’t warmed up yet and they didn’t have much hot water. His mother told him he must wash himself anyway. In the cold winter air, he cried as he washed himself. The biting wind raised goose-bumps all of his little body and he squealed as his mother rinsed him off with cold water from the rain barrel. He quickly wrapped himself with a towel and stood near the stove as he dried off. The freezing boy stood so close to the stove trying to get warm that he burned the end of his penis on the scalding surface of the hot metal stove. The extreme pain brought back images of the wasp in the tangerine tree back in California, and the boy screamed in agony...

A community of hippies had sprung up in the area called Pillar Hill, just twenty miles from Taos. The boy had a crush on a girl that lived in the big farm house closer to the highway. Her family was raising chickens and she showed him how to hold the little chicks without hurting them. Sometimes she and he and some of the other kids would go over the hill to Buffalo Bob’s house. He would tell them stories as he smoked hand-rolled cigarettes and drank dark coffee, which he boiled on the wood stove in his small, converted box-car house. On the fourth of July all the grown-ups started to pass out sparklers. There had been plenty of rain and there was little danger of fire. Buffalo Bob told the children to stand back as he casually lit a quarter stick of dynamite and tossed it into the clearing. The deafening blast attracted people from all over the commune and the party went into full swing. The boy was trying to talk the neighbor girl into going into the woodshed with him, “…you show me yours and I’ll show you mine…” he said. They were just on their way for a good game of doctor, but her big sister came and glared at him as she led her sibling away by the hand. Some drunken hippie had left a six pack of beer in the shade by the woodshed. After a quick look around to make sure no one was watching him, the boy grabbed it and went around to the back of the decrepit structure. He rounded up a few other kids—they sat in the shade behind the wood shed as they all shared their first beer together. No one liked the taste of the brew, but they forced it down none the less. As they all started to feel the effects of the alcohol, they started to exaggerate their drunkenness and mimic the grown-ups by stumbling around and falling into each other. The grown-ups never missed the six pack…they had plenty of beer.

At the age of five, the boy met the leader of the Hopi Nation and took part in peyote ceremonies with the Peyote Church. He was the only child in the tipi and his mother the only woman--together they were the only white people. They would stay in the tipi all night long and chant with the elders of the tribe. The boy went before the priest and was blessed--the priest danced and chanted as he threw his magical mixture on the fire and fanned the resulting sweet, pungent smoke over the boy. The boy would stand with his arms slightly spread and receive the sacrament; he knew that he was experiencing something the other children didn't get to experience, and he knew that he was special in some way.... At dawn they would come out of the tipi and  greet the rising sun. They would eat something and the boy would sleep.

Later they moved into an old cabin with no utilities in Holy-Ghost Canyon, a tributary of the Pecos River. A few miles up, the highway ended at the Terrero General Store. The old man who ran the store would only sell a half a pack of cigarettes at a time when the supply truck couldn't make it in. At that time there were still beaver living on the Pecos River; their dams could be found every few miles along the river and the gnawed stumps of trees could be seen along the banks. The only heat in the cabin came from an old-style fireplace and cooking was done on a wood-stove. While most other parents were teaching their kids not to play with matches, she gave her son a box of Diamonds and let him play...she wanted him to know how to build a fire so if something happened to her the boy wouldn't freeze. His older sisters had already left home--a couple of them had gotten married at a young age; the other had simply run off. When the boy would ask for oatmeal his mother would give him a bucket and a hatchet--with these items in hand the boy would make his way down the slippery slope to a nearby stream, break open the thin ice and draw a bucket of water. The crisp mountain air would snap at his cheeks, but he would always linger to break open a blade of river-reed and munch on the frozen wands of ice inside. Then, bucket and hatchet in hand, he would make his way back up the hill through the snow, and his mother would make him some oatmeal. There was a bus that would take the boy to pre-school. He would walk a half-mile down the frozen road to the highway and wait for the bus by the old bridge. This was life in the mighty and rugged Pecos wilderness.

At the top of the mountain road was a place called Cowles. That winter, a woman in Cowles was going to give birth. The woman insisted that the boy's mother should deliver her baby and, although she had never done so before, his mother reluctantly agreed. She went to the library and checked out every book on midwifery she could find. She studied and learned; when the time came she went to Cowles for the birth. There were a couple of other children in Cowles, so the boy played outside with the other them during the long labor. When the actual delivery began, his mother called him into the house--she wanted him to see the birth. The image of the new baby's head emerging from it's mother's vagina was forever imprinted into the boy's mind. His mother used a length of dental-floss to cut the umbilical cord. The placenta was prepared for consumption in the traditional way. It was a practice in the old days to fry it up like any other meat--maybe with some onions and mushrooms. After some discussion it was decided not eat it; the old ways were dying and no one was quite that hungry. The had brought a pair of ice-skates--he went back out to the frozen pond with the other kids and they skated until his mother was ready to go home.

In the summertime the boy and his mother would go to a cave they knew of along the banks of the Pecos River. They would park their car off the highway and pack their gear in on foot. With their shoes in hand and pant-legs rolled up, they waded over the spillway of a wide dam, then made their way north along the banks until they came to their cave, hidden behind a dense patch of river willows and other foliage. The boy would play in the sun and swim in the shallows along the banks of the river, while his mother prepared lunch in the cave. When the afternoon rain storms came, the raindrops would make little short-lived stars in water that swept along with the current. The smell of summer rain mixed together with the sweet aroma of the river willows like a long forgotten memory from a place and time to which one cannot return. Back in the dry cave, mom was getting dinner ready. A large pot of beans sat in the coals of the fire and were almost ready. “Son, move that rock away from the fire a little, it looks like one of those that might explode.” she said to her son. As the boy grasped and started to move the rock, a huge insect speedily crawled out from under it and headed towards the cave wall. Mother and child screamed in horror as the giant creature gambled away. It looked like a gigantic red-ant. They stared at each other in shock. Never had they seen such a creature and the prospect of getting any sleep in the cave that night seemed slim...

The boy went to stay with his father for about six months when he was in the third grade. His father was working at the airport, teaching people how to fly small planes. They lived together in a very small room with a faulty gas heater. They would wake in morning feeling sick and dried out from the carbon dioxide and bloody-noses from the toxic air were normal. His father was often gone at night and the boy would amuse himself reading Mad Magazine or watching the tiny black and white TV his father had. They didn’t have a kitchen, so he would eat pretzels and string-cheese and wait for his dad to come home with something more substantial. They slept on the floor on a foam mattress. The boy was happy with his father.

The school in California felt strange and restrictive. The boy was used to the dirt playgrounds of New Mexico—here the school playground was paved over with blacktop. Strange markings in yellow on the asphalt hinted of some complex game the boy knew nothing about. He didn’t have many friends and was always picked last for the kickball team. He preferred to keep to himself rather than endure the taunting and the humiliation involved in dealing with his small minded peers. Around the edge of playground was a tall chain-link fence which generally resembled those you see around prisons. Trees were spaced inside of the chain link fence about 100 feet apart, growing out of square, sunken openings; here was the only organic material that could be found on the playground. During recess, the boy would go and set on the edge of one of these boxes. He would draw in the sand with a stick and think deep thoughts. One day, one of the teachers on playground duty interrupted his meditations to ask what he was doing. “I’m just thinking,” said the boy. “Why aren’t you playing like the other kids?” asked the woman. “I just don’t feel like,” it said the boy. “Well you have to play” said the playground monitor. “I can’t believe it,” said the boy “you are actually going to force me to play?” “Yes,” said the control freak. The boy went over to the monkey bars and started swinging from one end to the other. The teacher watched him for awhile, and he watched her out of the corner of his eye until she got bored and went away. As soon as she was gone he went back to tree, picked up his stick, and continued his musings. Even though he was only eight years old, the irony of being forced to play did not escape him.

His father wanted him in some kind of after-school program, so the boy joined the Cub Scouts--he spent only one day in the program, because he felt the den mother was oppressive. After school, the boy would walk about a mile and a half from his school to the airport and wait for his father to finish with his students in the sky. There was a television in the office of the flight school and he would watch as he did his homework. Of course he had seen Bozo the Clown; Sesame Street; and Captain Kangaroo back home, but his mother didn’t really believe in television and this was his first real introduction to it. He would lie on the carpeted floor, do homework and watch Andy Griffith; I Dream of Jeannie; Bewitched; Hogan’s Heroes; and other classic 70’s TV shows.

When afternoon TV was over and boredom overcame him, he would wander around the hangars and play on old, rusting equipment from some by-gone era of aviation. It was here that his father taught him to ride a bicycle. He bought an old bicycle with a banana-seat for his son, and fastened wood blocks to the peddles so the boy could reach them—he ran behind his son as the bike picked up speed. “Don’t let go, Dad!” the boy was terribly frightened. “I already did,” said his father. Once the boy realized he was riding by himself, he smiled and pedaled harder. For a moment he felt like he was flying like Superman. Then, very suddenly, he started to doubt that he could be doing such a thing. The bike wobbled as his confidence waned, and boy and bike came crashing down. His father came over and helped him get up. He skinned up his knee and it hurt, but he was too excited not to get immediately back on the bicycle. This new found skill promised a freedom of motion he had never experienced before. Once he had mastered this wondrous mode of locomotion he would spend hours riding his bike among the airplanes and hangars around the flight school.

Sometimes his father would take him up in the “Piper Cub” and practice aerobatic stunts. They boy was frightened at first, but he grew to have perfect confidence in has father… “Do it again, Dad, Do it again!” he screamed. Sometimes, father and son would take long trips in an old Luscombe tail-dragger his father had won in a poker game. They would fly over the grape fields of Northern California, touch down at a lonely airfield for a quick Egg McMuffin, and then take off again into the morning sky with coffee cups warming their laps.

The boy loved his father very much but missed the wild freedom of New Mexico...

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Comments (5)
I believe in the beginning there was a type of mutual disbelief and misunderstanding of each-others' cultures and beliefs between the Hippies and the Chicanos. It did eventually become violent.

I am certain there is so much more to this experience... You are touched in a good way - grasshopper
November 24, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterLILBIGMAN
Wow, being on the east coast often makes my childhood look wierd. When I read this article I realize it was more common than I thought. i don't think many can understand the lifestyle of the early hippy imigrants and thier children except those who lived it.
December 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterRiel bilto
WHew!!!! such detail... i cant wait to see what happens next!!
January 20, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterkim rhodes
cool story dave, sounds familiar
January 23, 2009 | Unregistered Commenteramal

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