Greg Dennis: When the hippies took over Vermont

I’m going up the country, babe, don’t you wanna go?
I’m going to some place where I’ve never been before.
I’m going where the water tastes like wine.
We can jump in the water, stay drunk all the time.
— “Going Up the Country,” written by Alan Wilson and made famous by Canned Heat
Yvonne Daley didn’t set out to write about the counterculture. She set out to live it.
She came to Vermont in 1967 when she and her first husband bailed out of graduate school. They soon found themselves living in Goshen, paying $75 a month to rent a 200-year-old farmhouse beneath Hogback Mountain.
Daley grew flowers and vegetables, ran a food co-op, made yogurt and cheese, had goats named Moonbeam, Rainbow and Waterfall, and shared meals, cars, books and music with other newcomers to the Land O Goshen.
Just reading about it made me want to get stoned.
Between 1965 and 1975, an estimated 100,000 Baby Boomers came to Vermont. They came to escape the riot-torn cities and the anger that split the nation during Vietnam, to find utopia in a commune, to live off the land, to create a new progressive political order.
Now Daley has chronicled the invasion that changed Vermont in “Going Up the Country: When the Hippies, Dreamers, Freaks and Radicals Moved to Vermont.” Her new book recounts the renaissance that revived the Green Mountain State, drastically altered its politics, and made it the mixing bowl it is today.
In a talk she gave last week at the Vermont Book Shop, Daley said she spent three years interviewing more than 300 people for the book.
Every one of them had a story.
Many of those stories came out of the communes that sprouted like dandelions in May. They had names like Total Loss Farm, Red Clover Collective, Wooden Shoe, Free State of the Arc, Earth People’s Park, Pie in the Sky and Rockbottom Farm.
I’m gonna leave this city, got to get away.
All this fussing and fighting, man, you know I sure can’t stay.
Now baby, pack your leaving trunk, you know we’ve got to leave today,
Just exactly where we’re going I cannot say.
The broad scope of Daley’s book is captured by chapters covering commune life, higher education (Goddard and Middlebury), the food revolution including the Middlebury co-op, hippie-style entrepreneurship, the flowering of the arts (Bread and Puppet Theater), drugs, political transformation (Bernie Sanders) and the women’s movement.
I wish Daley had also included a chapter on music. It would have been fun to read about those cold winter nights when Peter Isaacson played at Mr. Ups and Road Apple rocked The Alibi.
Much of the fun of this book is in the wacky, synchronistic tales that brought hippies, dreamers, draft dodgers and crunchy outdoors people to a state that in 1965 was most notable for its Republican politics, aging population and dying small towns.
What was it that inspired them to form art collectives, new political parties, women’s groups, men’s groups and food co-ops? “The right to be different is what attracted the counterculture kids to Vermont,” Daley says.
But founding a new way of life in Vermont wasn’t easy. Those kids from the suburbs had little idea how to grow food or cut and cure the right wood. A longtime member of the Quarry Hill commune in Rochester recalls often being hungry because there just wasn’t enough food to go around.
It’s always been hard to make a good living in Vermont, and the Sixties and Seventies were no exception. Turning a favorite song of their parents’ generation on its head, the new arrivals found that “moonlight in Vermont” sometimes meant working two or more jobs to put food on the table.
A lot of local readers will find someone they know in this book. I enjoyed reading about Sas Carey and her many contributions, Woody Jackson’s reference to living in Addison at Snake Mountain commune, and the reminiscences of my old activist colleagues Steve Early and Torie Osborne.
Torie transferred to Middlebury College expecting it to be “an intellectual hotbed of leftist radicalism.” Instead she found a lot of kids content to listen to the Grateful Dead and throw the Frisbee. She added a new dimension, marching into the dean’s office with a group of freshmen women to demand better access to birth control, then helping establish an underground railroad to Canada for students seeking a legal abortion.
Steve Early led the student strike in the wake of Kent State, provided the intellectual heft for those of us who were viscerally opposed to the war, and organized marchers for the Washington, D.C., May Day protests in 1971.
Torie eventually became the executive director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force, among other milestones. Steve has spent decades as an influential union leader, journalist and author.
I came away from Daley’s landmark book with two big lessons:
First, native Vermonters were with few exceptions surprisingly friendly to the long-haired, often unwashed masses that descended upon their state. Many of the new arrivals came here briefly and then left. For those who remained, the help and friendships of native Vermonters were essential.
They offered advice that was sometimes lifesaving. And they helped out in a pinch. Daley recalls that one winter night when she was home and about to give birth, several longtime locals pitched in to plow her out so she could make it to the hospital just in time to deliver.
Second, while the counterculture radically changed Vermont, Vermont also changed the people of the counterculture. They learned the old ways of the farms and woods. They integrated into their local communities, volunteering for church suppers and school boards. In short, they grew up and were profoundly shaped by their adopted home state.
Nancy Edwards, one of many people who crashed at Goddard College along the way, recently moved to Cornwall after years in Old Bennington. She told Daley that Vermont is something of a Buddhist place: “It’s not only nurturing but you learn soon enough that you can’t control outside elements like the weather. You learn to slow down, to think, to accept, to appreciate.”
Gregory Dennis’s column appears here every other Thursday and is archived on his blog at www.gregdennis.wordpress.com. Email: [email protected]. Twitter: @greengregdennis.

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