Historic hippie refuge mapped by All Roads Lead to Wells

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All Roads Lead to Wells: Stories of the Hippie Days
By Susan Safyan. Caitlin Press, 304 pp, softcover

You’d think a book devoted solely to a decade or so in the life of Wells, population 245, would have a severely limited market. But you’d be wrong.

What stands out most strongly about these stories from the picturesque Interior town is not their specificity, but their universality. Similar scenes unfolded all over North America during the early and mid 1970s, as disaffected youth, many with little practical experience and even less common sense, flooded out of the cities in an often quixotic search for a rural Garden of Eden. It happened in Tennessee, where Summer of Love survivors convened at the Farm, a rural haven run by LSD guru Stephen Gaskin and his wife Ina May. It happened on the Gulf Islands, where you still stumble upon abandoned Volkswagen buses in the woods and grizzled potters in the markets. And it happened in New Brunswick, where I spent the winter of 1974 trying, and failing, to build a log cabin in the company of a closeted gay playwright and a schizophrenic.

So, yeah, some of these stories feel very familiar, even if I knew none of those involved. Many of you will feel the same.

A bigger factor in the appeal of All Roads Lead to Wells: Stories of the Hippie Days is that the hippie days are coming to a close. Death is creeping up on even the most eternally youthful members of the hippie tribe, and former Wells resident Susan Safyan’s chronology is an early example of something we’re going to see more of: oral histories of a formative and contentious era. If her book proves exemplary, that would be an excellent thing, too. It’s beautifully produced, with a handsome art-nouveau cover from poster artist Bob Masse, dozens of candid photographs, and fascinating reminiscences about how clashing cultures—longhairs versus rednecks—ultimately produced a kind of low-key paradise.

Using real-life stories from her real-life friends, Safyan’s eloquent tribute is as warm as a well-fed airtight stove in a moss-chinked miner’s cabin. It’s nicely done, and not just for aging freaks.

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