In the late 1960's, New Age communes began springing up in the American Southwest with names like Drop City, New Buffalo, Lama Foundation, Morning Star, Reality Construction Company, and the Hog Farm. In the summer of 1969, Roberta Prie, a recent college graduate, secured a grant to visit these communities and photograph them. When she and her partner David arrived at Libre in the Huerfano Valley of Southern Colorado, they were so taken with what they found that they wanted to participate instead of observe. The following spring they married, dropped out of graduate school in upstate New York, packed their belongings into a 1947 Chrystler Windsor Coupe, and moved to Libre, leaving family and academia behind.
Huerfano is Price's captivating memoir of the seven years she spent in the Huerfano (“Orphan") Valley when it was a petrie dish of countercultural experiments. She and David joined with fellow baby boomers in learning to mix cement, strip logs, weave rugs, tan leather, grow marijuana, build houses, fix cars, give birth, and make cheese, beer, and furniture as well as poetry, art, music, and love. They built a house around a boulder high on a ridge overlooking the valley and make ends meet any way they could, growing their own food, selling homemade goods, and hiring themselves out as day laborers. Over time their collective ranks swelled to more than three hundred, only to diminish again as, for many participants, the dream of a life of unbridled possibility gradually yielded to the hard realities of a life of voluntary poverty.
Price tells her story with a clear, distinctive voice, documenting her experiences with photos as well as words. Placing her story in the larger context of the times, she describes her participation in the antiwar movement, the advent of the women's movement, and her encounters with such icons as Ken Kesey, Gary Snyder, Abbie Hoffman, Stewart Brand, Allen Ginsburg, and Baba Ram Dass.
At once comic, poignant, and above all honest, Huerfano recaptures the sense of affirmation and experimentation that fueled the counter-culture without lapsing into nostalgic sentimentality on the one hand or cynicism on the other.
Praise for Huerfano:
“A wonderful memoir of learning, doing, sharing, and loving—The sunshine of this book is in the telling: humorous, resonant, occasionally pained, but always life- embracing."—ForeWord (selected as one of the top ten university press books of the year)
“For many people a road not taken that is fascinating to read about—Libre was no utopia, but its members were committed and it felt more like family than the nuclear kind—Sweet children, with a sweet, sweet dream.”—Los Angeles Times Book Review
“I like this book. I like its attention to detail, its honesty, and the author's clear distinctive voice—More than a tale of communes and hippies, Huerfano is a classic coming-of-age story, in which a young woman learns life's lessons, one by one.”—The Santa Fe New Mexican
“Roberta Price's book captures the moral fervor, the enormous amount of work, the sexual explorations, and the personal growth curve of one very smart, very attractive, highly educated woman who ‘threw it all away’ (as her parents might have said) to found an alternative community in the mountains of Colorado—This is a very very good book and deserves a wide audience.”—Peter Coyote, actor and author of Sleeping Where I Fall: A Chronicle
“A Splendid book that beautifully captures the spirit of the moment, and it does so in the best possible way—by recollecting and working through the specific details so often lost to memory and history. Huerfano is a virtual archive of data—an early edition of The Whole Earth Catalog come to life with a compelling narrative and vivid characters.”—Nick Bromell, author of Tomorrow Never Knows: Rock and Psychedelics in the 1960s
“An impressive and important book. There is a paucity of good literature on the commune movement of the ‘60s and ‘70s, and much stereotypic misrepresentation of the counterculture. What Price’s memoire reminds us is that the counterculture was intensely political, although the politics were personal as well as national.”—Alexander Bloom, coeditor of "Takin' It to the Streets": A Sixties Reader