Our Lives

Our Lives: Recalling the magical summer of ’72

CorrespondentMay 31, 2014 


John Valentine.

JULI LEONARD — jleonard@newsobserver.com

Strawberry moon rising.

The June full moon is nearly upon us. That same moon, in the summer of 1972, changed my life. Just another suburban kid from Jersey, I wasn’t sure what I wanted, but I found it that summer with a bunch of friends, and we all celebrated into that crazy, special, psychedelic night.

With a live band, long jams and group dancing, we serenaded the full moon rise. We were as loud and free and liberated as we could be. That is, until the sheriffs showed up with a noise complaint. But that story is for another campfire, brothers and sisters.

Six (or eight?) of us recent college grads had gone looking for a place in the country. We wanted to try new things, experiment and challenge society’s stereotypes. We knew we could do anything. We’d already closed down a traffic circle, occupied a library and stopped the war, right? Sound familiar?

We found our alternative homestead, with a friendly landlord, a half-mile off a dirt road, over a creek, on 60 acres with a four-bedroom, no-heat, no-plumbing farm house for $30 a month rent, total. That first month, we never slept. We pooled our money, tools, record albums (hey, four copies of Crosby, Stills and Nash!), cars, even clothing and started a mammoth garden. We discovered okra. Of course, we had chickens, a pond and a basketball hoop. But no air conditioning.

We opened a joint checking account and called ourselves 1975 Farm, after the Jefferson Airplane anthem with the lyric, “In 1975 all the People rose from the countryside.” Not that we were going anywhere; we were having too much fun.

One industrious friend made potters’ wheels out of rear car axles, built a 30-foot-high meditation tree house and fashioned solar panels out of aluminum foil. We engineered an exquisite outdoor solar shower out of recycled black 55-gallon oil drums. You’ve heard of a three-dog winter night? How about a four-shower summer day?

It seemed like overnight I became an expert with a circular saw, chain saw, rototiller and crowbar. I even thought folks liked my lentil stew when it was my night to cook. Someone always was sitting on the front porch sewing colorful patches on their jeans. We tie-dyed everything within sight; we were crafty. Ever hear of macramé?

We spent quiet hours watching the night sky under blankets, looking for clues. I learned the patterns of the sun and the seasons. I was in nature for lengths of time.

We all had part-time jobs, mostly working in natural foods restaurants. We brought home so much food we had to buy a second used refrigerator. On the weekends we fed dozens of curious drop-in visitors and friends from town. Friends of friends showed up with backpacks and sleeping bags.

We were living the counterculture dream. We promised one another we would never work full-time jobs or go to grad school. At lengthy house meetings we talked endlessly about who we were, what we were doing. Dirty dishes, flat tires, fixing the driveway were frequent themes. The men all learned how to make whole wheat bread and yogurt. The women learned how to do their own oil changes.

The women had an intense, supportive, sharing, consciousness-raising women’s group. At their urging, the men tried to talk together about their feelings, too. Much shorter meetings, I will say that much. As I remember it, “You never return the socket wrenches” and “I think we have too many dogs” and “Are you sleeping with my girlfriend?” came up.

Myself, I loved finding about-to-be-torn-down old houses in the city and hauling out all the windows and barn board my VW van could carry. I converted a collapsed 15-by-20-foot chicken coop into a bedroom, added a sleeping loft, wood stove and electricity. No two windows or skylights were alike. A well-thumbed Whole Earth Catalog was my bible. I added on a porch made out of an old door for a rocking chair, a cat door and window box for a mini greenhouse. Why not?

Of course it couldn’t last forever, whatever that means. We still see one another, our kids ask us for more details, the rest of the story. After a few years half the group went to California, more folks moved in. A baby was born upstairs. The driveway got tons of new gravel, a peach tree grew out of the old compost pile. Kudzu engulfed the sheds. Most of us did go on to grad school and get full-time jobs. We moved away. But with some very fond memories.

On the June full moon, I’m always back there, dancing in the glow and chanting for rain.

Strawberry moon forever.

Valentine: johnvalentine732@gmail.com

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