The New Settler Interviews, Volume I: Boogie at the Brink

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For more than fifteen years, New Settler magazine has been documenting the growth of intentional communities in the forests of Northern California...

Edited by Beth Robinson Bosk

Reviewed by Aaron Shuman

Thursday, November 30 2000, 1:02 PM

For more than fifteen years, New Settler magazine has been documenting the growth of intentional communities in the forests of Northern California, or as publisher Jim Schley argues, "the creation of a new culture, the Mateel, which has become as distinct as...the Amish." Thomas Pynchon straightened the curves of this terrain for fictionalization in Vineland. Now they are gloriously restored, with the reduced authorial footprint and higher-fidelity mapping interviews afford here.

The book could hardly be more timely, since American politics is still trying to sort out exactly what the appearance of environmental direct action tactics in the streets of Seattle, DC, and many pushpins on the map thereafter, means. This book offers clues, as when movement heroes like Headwaters treesitter Julia Butterfly Hill and Earth First!'s Daryl Cherney get air time, but what makes this book invaluable is the window it offers onto the construction of community in the timberlands, a community that has proved capable of sustaining protest movements that are partly responsible for reinvigorating the American Left.

Most of the book's speakers came north as refugees fleeing some aspect of urban life, some as workers following the contours of the drug economy. You'd be surprised how few cite sixties counterculture as their reason for doing so. More significant than any shared ideological principle, as a unifying force among the Mateel, was the challenge of building a new life in an inhospitable place, a trope in which all migrants, past, present, and future, may locate themselves. What Bosk's careful interviewing reveals is an ecology of practice and a respect for it as such. From David Katz's rise as an alternative energy mogul to Michael Huddleston and Steven Day's work as hospice providers; from the reflexively inward pursuits of shakuhachi player Monty Levenson to Huddleston and Day's pursuit of the Bureau of Land Management through bureaucratic loops; from Freeman House's effort to subvert the dominant paradigm by proving the coevolution of salmon and man, to the more familiar practice of those direct action activists who confront it: the picture we get is of a community that values, cultivates, and defends its own internal diversity.

While some may tire of the spiritual beliefs expressed in spots, rest assured that as on a river, there is always something of interest around the next bend in these conversations. Bosk's talent for drawing individuals out, and arranging their words to create a compound sense of place, make this valuable reading for those seeking to understand the collective identities and principles being forged today. And the history they retell--particularly of federal efforts to eradicate marijuana cultivation--suggests that one thing that connects Mendocino to East Oakland to Colombia are the drug wars the United States wages to "save" them.

Boogie at the Brink is Available from the Chelsea Green Publishing Co. 

Copyright © 2000 by Aaron Shuman. All rights reserved.

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