Interview with Alicia Bay Laurel
Living on The Earth
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.
Review by Skip Stone
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
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
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
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?
When I arrived at Wheeler Ranch (a California
commune) in the early spring of 1969, I was enchanted by the beauty of
the place, the serene and loving nature of the people and the spiritually
appealing nature of voluntary primitivism. I set about learning everything
I could to prepare myself to live there. I realized I was not alone
in needing to learn basic outdoor skills, and decided I would make a manual
for the other new people on the land as I learned what I needed to know
from more experienced members of the community as well as reference books
such as Dick’s Encyclopedia of Practical Formulas, which was published
in the 1890’s.
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?
I’d been thinking about it for awhile.
I got the rights reverted from Random House in 1994, and I had been
working on updating the contents of the book and approaching publishers
and agents since that time. The back to the land movement has only escalated,
with intentional communities growing all over the world. The Y2K
scare brought a lot of people into serious questioning of their way of
life. I also saw evidence of hippie style among people in their teens
What kind of things did you have to change
in the book?
Developments in sustainable technology and
protection of the environment were foremost. I added new recipes
for basic health food items I didn’t have then–amazake, granola, seed
yogurt, sauerkraut, sorbet. I corrected and enlarged upon many of
the practical directions. For example, in addition to the basic soap
recipes in the original book, there is now a beautiful recipe for natural
vegetable oil based soap enhanced with essential oils.
Is the book as relevant today as it was 30
This remains to be seen. Over the years,
I had heard from many people how personally important it was for them.
Erik Frye, who helped revise the new edition, was moved to make a life
study of conservation and sustainable technology after receiving the book
as a gift when he was eight years old. Dove White, who contributed
material to the revised book, was national president of the Junior League,
a very conservative women’s charitable organization, at the time she purchased
a copy of the original book in Manhattan. A year later, book in backpack,
Dove was heading west to start an intentional community in Oregon.
Today she is an environmentalist writer. Several people told me they
carried it around the world. One young woman contacted me over the
web to tell me her mother had named her after me. She was born in
a teepee, of course.
Could you go back to the communal life you
Wouldn’t that be great!! For me, this year
is about driving around telling stories and singing in bookstores and other
gathering places, but there’s no telling what will come after that.
Posted by: skip