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Sunday, December 11,2011

Two books revisit local hippies, Varmits

By Eric Sagonowsky
Photo Credits:
Photo Caption: In this vintage photo that appears in Coonfield's book, Meigs County Varmits compete in a softball game, one of their favorite activities.

Two locally situated books have been published in this year, both unique stories of counterculture, plenty of drugs, and vivid scenery.

"The Free Farm" by Larry Smith (Bottom Dog Press, 2011), is a first-hand novel about a boy who leaves his Ohio Valley hometown to attend school at Ohio University in the midst of the social unrest of the late '60s and early '70s.

"The Varmits: Living With Appalachian Outlaws" (AuthorHouseBooks) written by Ted Coonfield, though non-fiction, is similar, detailing the experiences of a 1970s Ohio University graduate student who lived in Meigs County and commuted to Athens for school. During this time, he came to know members of the notorious Meigs County Varmits, a loose-knit group of long-haired pot-smoking (and growing), hard-drinking country boys who held sway in rural Meigs County during those years.

In Coonfield's journey, we come to know members of this group, whether they're playing softball, smoking pot or chasing women.

Both stories take the reader back to a seminal time in Athens/southeast Ohio history.

"The Free Farm" is a pleasurable read about an OU student who struggles balancing social change, the woman he loves, and the college lifestyle at OU. It gives an eye-level perspective of a student living in a period of opportunism and experimentation. Family issues at home clash with his "adventure in group living," and he develops into an upstanding man who stands for what he loves.

In a review of the book posted on, Laura Treacy Bentley, author of "The Lake Effect," writes, "Smith provides a unique window into Lee's (the main character's) life that is driven by idealism, love of Emerson and Thoreau, and devotion to his beautiful partner, Sharon, who practices Zen, meditates, and can fix cars. Between college life and work, the troubles of his family back home, and the challenges of his new communal family, Lee evolves from a boy who left 'a golden time when the world seemed safe and right' to a man with a global vision who needs to stand for something, embrace his destiny, and know where his real home lies."

Smith, author of several books of poetry, novels and biographies, directs the Firelands Writing Center at Bowling Green State University's Firelands College.

IN THE "VARMITS" BOOK, Coonfield's dual life as a Ph.D. student at OU and adventure-loving country boy makes for a hilarious, satisfying read. The details and anecdotes drive this story, bringing the reader right into the circumstances of his country home and life. Not to mention, some of the characters he meets in Meigs and their antics are unforgettable. The Varmits had it made, and didn't like being told what to do. Many of them still live in the area, and will get a kick out of this book, which also includes a number of photos from those days.

Athens NEWS Editor Terry Smith, who recalls the Meigs County Varmits from his own dissolute college years in mid '70s Athens, provided a book-jacket blurb for Coonfield's book.

"My most distinctive memory of the Varmits," Smith recalled Friday, "came during one of their parties at a farm in Meigs County in, maybe, 1977. I remember a hog was cooking on a spit all day long, and as people got drunker and drunker, they grew impatient with the waiting. Finally, some Varmits just went up and started ripping raw meat right off the carcass. They also had plastic garbage cans filled with grain alcohol punch located at different spots on the grassy hillside. I still remember looking into one of them, and seeing a small tree frog swimming around."

Smith recalled that at the time, the Varmits had a reputation for their wild and wooly ways almost like a genial, rural pickup-truck-driving version of the Hell's Angels but he doesn't ever remember having any negative experiences with them.

If you have an interest in two books that combine local history and the counterculture, "The Varmits: Living With Appalachian Outlaws" and "The Free Farm" are for you.

The "Varmits" book is available for download at and at Little Professor Book Center in Athens, while "The Free Farm" can be ordered at any book outlet or website.


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