Book Review of
"Living on The Earth"
and Interview with
Alicia Bay Laurel
by Skip Stone
(author, Hippies From A to Z)
Alicia Bay Laurel is the author of "Living on the Earth" which will be re-released on April 22, 2000 (Earth Day). Alicia will be doing a book tour across America for eight months. Her website Aliciabaylaurel.com, includes her tour schedule and a diary of her trip to many Hippy Havens around the U.S. The interview follows my review of her book. Alicia can be reached at Art Through Action.
The early '70s was a time of great optimism (and despair in true Dickens fashion). Everywhere people were experimenting with alternative lifestyles, leaving the cities and heading back-to-nature. Communes were popping up all over and those returning to the land had to learn fast the art of survival. With impeccable timing and the feeling that a guide to this new/old way of life was needed, Alicia Bay Laurel wrote "Living on The Earth", an invaluable resource for those seeking to live in harmony with Mother Nature.
Published in 1970 by Bookworks, a small outfit in Berkeley, "Living on The Earth" sold out its first run of 10,000 copies in six weeks. It was picked up by Random House and went on to sell 350,000 copies, making it on to the New York Times Bestseller List. This was at a time when The Whole Earth Catalog was dominating the non-fiction category and Abbie Hoffman's "Steal This Book" and John Muir's "How to Keep Your Volkswagen Alive (the first Idiot's guide!) were hits with the hippies.
Alicia's book defied the rules and in so doing created an intimate, often imitated, style. "Living on The Earth" is written and illustrated by Alicia's own hand without the benefit of modern typesetting equipment. This is true to the theme of her book, a how-to-survive in the country manual "for people who would rather chop wood than work behind a desk". It took an earthy Taurus to write a book so full of practical advice. Advice that was scarce among the average urban American family in 1970. I'll bet your parents never taught you how to build a dome or make your own moccasins from soft leather that you tanned yourself!
Fortunately for a new generation of hippies, Alicia has re-edited her book and it is again being published by Random House. It will appear on April 22, 2000, a day that every nature lover knows as Earth Day. It is apropos since "Living on The Earth" is a paean to the Back-to-Nature movement pioneered by Emerson and Thoreau, and emulated by thousands in the '60s and '70s. It is chock full of useful tips on everything from camping to building a dome, making tie-dyes to baking bread and organic gardening to herbal remedies. Although much of this wisdom can be found elsewhere (even on the Internet), it is Alicia's unique hippie style that brings the message home. Hand drawn illustrations on almost every page give the book so charming a personality that it inspired many in the '70s to imitate it.
Do you want to make your own clothes? Can your own food? Build a Kayak? Butcher game? "Living on The Earth" makes it clear that self-sufficiency is hard work and living together in a commune requires facing some difficult realities. Alicia's sage advice ranges from natural childbirth at home "eat some of the placenta", to cremation "pour on kerosene and lots of incense. Burning bodies don't smell so good." In between birth and death, there's a lot of life to be lived, and how we live it is the essence of this book.
If the Hippy Movement achieved anything lasting,
Alicia's book seems to sum it all up. Whether quoting Lao-Tsu, "be like
water", or encouraging us to "discover the serenity of living with the
rhythms of the earth", Alicia shows us that how we live our lives DOES
MAKE A DIFFERENCE! Not just by removing ourselves from the rat race or
not eating at McCorporation, but by tuning into nature and sharing our
lives with other people in a non-technological way. By walking softly upon
the Earth we show our respect for all life and we satisfy our souls each
day lived in balance and freedom. Whether this concept will survive the
21st Century is something we have the power to determine. "Living on
The Earth" has returned just in time to remind us of our connection
to nature and our responsibility to each other and the planet.
What originally inspired you to write "Living
on The Earth," and where did you get your information?
Making a book was not a new endeavor for me. I had already created two illustrated books which were not published--a cookbook for living cheaply in the city, and a book of drawings into which I divided the words of the chapter Solitude from Walden by Thoreau--three to four words per page. Filling notebooks with drawings and words had been my way of life since my mid-teens, and still is today. What was new for me was taking it to a publisher. I started by approaching Stewart Brand founder/editor of The Whole Earth Catalog, a friend of Ramon Sender, with whom I later wrote Being Of The Sun. Stewart offered to review the book in the catalog and suggested I go to Book People, his distributor, to see if their new imprint, The Bookworks, would publish it. They did.
What has inspired you to re-release the book
30 years later?
What kind of things did you have to change
in the book?
Is the book as relevant today as it was 30
Could you go back to the communal life you