(From the second collection of the Luna City Chronicles, which I hope to bring out early next month, and will be taking orders for as soon as I have a cover completed. The second collection concerns the long-sought-after Mills Treasure, and the movie being shot on location, and features the usual cast of Lunaites, plus a bad-tempered and notoriously unsuccessful treasure hunter, a suspect movie production company, and an old friend of Richard, the runaway celebrity chef, tracking him to his current location.)
The Age of Aquarius Campground and Goat Farm celebrates their 48th anniversary this year at mid-summer – a well-established institution after a rocky beginning during the Summer of Love. And rocky would be the correct term to describe the original property; five forlorn and overgrown acres in a gentle bend of the San Antonio River, a bare quarter-mile from the pleasant little town of Luna City. The property was in the distant past, a part of a generous tract granted by Spain to Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez or Gonzales. Over the last quarter of the 19th century, much of the tract was sold off to various new owners, including the family of Morgan P. Sheffield, a moderately well-to-do gentleman from Philadelphia. Morgan Sheffield was diagnosed with tuberculosis around 1895 and advised to move to a more temperate climate for his health.
While the climate of South Texas proved to be restorative to Mr. Sheffield’s health, the five acres of land was too rocky to farm in a traditional manner and too small to support more than a handful of cows. When the town of Luna City itself was planned, there was some thought given to establishing a hotel and spa on what was undoubtedly a pleasant situation on the banks of the San Antonio River on the outskirts of the proposed town, as attempts to dig a deep well on the site struck a thermal spring of naturally hot water. Unfortunately, that was the last of that run of good luck for nearly seventy years. The San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railroad bypassed Luna City and Mr. Sheffield’s property. The hotel and spa were never built and the hot water well capped. During the 1930s, Mr. Sheffield’s heirs established a small motor court on the property, in the hopes of attracting vacationers; they built a row of small cottages, a combination bathhouse/lavatory built of concrete blocks, and paved areas for travel trailers, in the hopes of enticing travelers on Route 123 between San Antonio and the coast to come and stay for a night or two. However, travelers and campers remained stubbornly un-enticed; the cottages disintegrated through a combination of cheap construction, disuse, and lack of maintenance. The acreage became severely overgrown.
In 1967 the property passed into the ownership of Morgan P. Sheffield’s great-grand-niece, Judith “Judy” Stillwell, a native of Austin, mostly because no one else in the remaining family really wanted it. Judith Stillwell was then a sophomore at the University of Texas at Austin, and the despair of her upright and generally conventional middle-class family. 1968 was the so-called Summer of Love, and all things counter-culture swamped practically every college campus in the land – affecting students like Judy Stillwell and a circle of friends, which included her live-in boyfriend, Sefton Grant. They embraced practically every ‘ism’ going, with near-religious fervor; vegetarianism, pacifism, nudism, paganism, and small-c communism. At the beginning of summer vacation, Judy, Sefton and a group of about forty other devotees – most of them fellow students at UT – conceived a grand plan to establish a New Age commune, where they would all live in harmony with nature. Where to plant their ideal Age of Aquarius? Why of course, the parcel which Judy had inherited, sight unseen, would be perfect. Her family agreed, over considerable misgivings – although they did extract as a condition of their approval and initial monetary support – that she and Sefton marry. Much to the astonishment of the Stillwells, Judy and Sefton acceded to that demand, and were married before a Justice of the Peace within days.
They set out from Austin on the first day of the summer break; a long convoy of rattle-trap student vehicles, loaded down with everything thought necessary to set up their commune. Although students and therefore addled with more than the usual quantity of late Sixties nonsense, there was a substantial streak of practicality, and among some at least, a willingness to engage in hard work. Sefton Grant, the son of a livestock farmer from Noodle, in Jones County typified that minority element. Sefton realized almost at once upon arriving at the site of the new commune – a substantial grove of oak and pecan trees, deeply tangled with wild mustang grape vines – that subsistence farming would purely be out of the question; it would be a project of years to rid the best soil of rocks and improve it with manure and compost. He suggested grazing goats, and raising chickens. This suggestion was discussed and ratified over the period of a week by the commune members, while they worked at setting up living quarters. To several trailers were added the first yurt, which eventually became the Grant family home, a series of tents, and a number of free-form shack/shed/hovels built from scrap lumber, cardboard, construction leftovers, and sheets of plywood. Early on, the members discovered a substantial source of raw materials for their projects at the Karnesville City Dump, some eight miles south of the commune site. The hot well was uncapped, and an old windmill repaired to pump hot water into the only remaining structure from the campground – the lavatory and bathhouse.
But before the end of the year – even before the end of summer – the commune itself began dissolving. Fully a dozen members felt obliged to return to UT and complete their studies there in the fall, although they continued to consider the Age of Aquarius their more or less permanent home and to return there at intervals, especially at the time of the mid-summer solstice. Two male commune members had draft numbers come up, and being no longer students, had to report for military service. Three more, being not yet of legal age, were tracked down and retrieved by their outraged families. The others, all but Judy and Sefton, drifted away before the decade was out, having concluded with some degree of chagrin, that living off the land and in harmony with nature involved too much backbreaking physical labor in the South Texas summer heat. It proved to be much more uncomfortable then it had sounded in long and substance-addled discussions in the Student Union. Only Sefton and Judy remained constant, eventually raising two sons and a daughter and achieving some degree of eccentric comfort in their chosen lifestyle.
They acquired beehives, goats, chickens – Judy being much more inclined than Sefton to consider them as pets – and the manure from the latter slowly improved the patch where they established a thriving truck garden. Judy, who dabbled in various arcane household skills, including weaving, herbal medicines, fortune-telling, and macramé-knotting, worked out recipes for hand-made soaps, and goat-milk cheeses, and established a tiny but thriving business selling them at local markets, along with honey and fresh vegetables in season. In time, they were able to pay to have an electric line run out to the campground, on the grounds that people paying to camp there expected it, although their own home establishment depended on solar panels, a windmill and kerosene lanterns.
And every mid-summer, the long-dispersed commune members return; middle-aged and prosperous, to fill up the campground and reminisce about that long-ago summer with Judy and Sefton, recalling youthful dreams and illusions, to light a bonfire in the grove and dance sky-clad to the Stones, the Doors and Janis.
The Grants’ three children – all now well-grown, also prosperous and utterly conventional – do not come to visit during that week. There are things which once seen, cannot be unseen.