“We are stardust, we are golden. We are billion-year old carbon. And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”
“Woodstock” by Joni Mitchell
Naked flower children no longer trek the dusty county road on their way to a cool dip in Lake Roosevelt.
No one at this 240-acre counter-culture community northwest of Reardan remembers the exact year of the last wild drug bash.
Free love gave way to square old monogamy. Doing your own thing evolved, albeit grudgingly, into a system of rules.
Founded in 1963, Tolstoy Farm may be one of the nation’s eldest hippie enclaves, but it has mellowed into middle age. As with most graduates of the Psychedelic ‘60s, the beat goes on - only a lot more slowly.
“There were some very wild times,” says Connie Rollison, 45. She has lived a rustic lifestyle without electricity since arriving here in 1970, a starry-eyed kid from Detroit. “That’s all changed now.”
Tolstoy Farm made headlines in the mid-1960s and early 1970s for drug raids and political protests.
Although it faded from the public eye, the farm amazingly survived. Between 40 and 50 earthy folks live a low-tech existence tucked away in a lush, tree-lined canyon that dips suddenly below the monotonous flat wheat lands of Lincoln County.
A separate 80-acre chunk of the settlement has power. The original 160-acre Tolstoy Farm, however, is proudly “off the grid,” relying on solar power and gravity-fed irrigation systems.
The traditional farming methods make for some delicious crops. Organic Tolstoy Farm vegetables are sold Wednesdays and Saturdays at the Spokane Marketplace.
“This is that ‘60s dream where you can live and create your own little environment and live in harmony with the other creatures that inhabit this place,” says Paul Viden, who is in his 30s. A Boston native, Viden moved into a solar-powered home with a garden in Tolstoy three years ago after a brief career in journalism.
“I don’t feel like I’ve dropped out of anything,” he adds. “This is just where the back-to-the-land movement is in the ‘90s.”
Tolstoy Farm hadn’t flashed into my brain in years. Then one day last week, a reader called to say he picked up a hitchhiker who was headed there. “Could that place still be around?” I wondered.
After getting directions from a red-haired, barefoot vegetable seller named Bright Spirit, I drove to Tolstoy on Sunday in time for their weekly potluck.
On weathered gray picnic tables, I munched tasty vegetarian dishes with 14 members of the community.
If there is one reason for the farm’s longevity it is because founder Huw “Piper” Williams did his homework.
An Edwall farm boy turned peace activist, Williams became a student of Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy’s writings about living in harmony with nature.
Starting a Tolstoy-based community was nothing new. Many well-intentioned groups tried and failed. Williams’ research convinced him that disputes over land ownership invariably led to disintegration.
Williams long ago moved off the farm. But he and the fellow anarchists who bought the land placed it in non-profit corporations that prohibit it from any use other than its current state.
Tolstoy residents may own their homes, but can sell them only for the value of the structural materials. Taxes amount to $15 or $25 a year.
Legions of pilgrims have wandered in and out over the years. Two wooly haired men - Ken Meister, 72, and Stosh Jackowski, 57 - put down deep roots. They came in 1965, lured from back East by the farm’s utopian ideals.
The early years were crazy. Everything from sex to drugs to property to food to clothing was to be shared. One for all. All for one.
Frightened farm people in nearby Davenport and Reardan “thought we were all Communists working directly for Moscow,” chuckles Jackowski.
Human nature being what it is, of course, it didn’t take long before Tolstoy ideals began crumbling like campaign promises. Takers took advantage of givers. Feelings were bruised in this land of peace and love.
Jealousy, on several occasions, sparked dangerous confrontations. One man was slashed in a dispute over a woman. Another spurned lover once grabbed a gun and threatened to shoot.
The biggest blow-out came between permanent residents and transient hippies the former group dubbed “Summer People.” The visitors moved in and squatted in the Hart House, a community building that contained the library. Tensions flared, the story goes, until one night when someone burned the place to the ground.
The Summer People got the message and scattered. Today, the Hart House foundation is a root cellar storing the rich bounty grown in immaculate, weed-free gardens by Jackowski and Meister.
Alas, even anarchists must eventually face the music.
Consensus must be reached at annual and special meetings, where new guidelines are proposed and sometimes hotly debated long into the night.
Some, for example, want the farm to have first crack at homes before they are sold to outsiders. Others favor a screening process to eliminate potential undesirables.
The Republicans are here, there goes the neighborhood.
Can anyone say irony?
“I’ve been watching this for 27 years,” says the former flower child Rollison. “It doesn’t work. We need more concrete - and I hate to use the word - rules.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo
Subscribe to the Morning Review newsletter
Get the day’s top headlines delivered to your inbox every morning by subscribing to our newsletter.