experimentation gone wrong. Among the most critical is T.C. Boyle’s damning account in his 2004 novel Drop City. As Price has written elsewhere, popular writers and many academics still describe the period as “somewhere between a pernicious social virus and an amusing Halloween costume.”
Price’s photos reveal how thoroughly immersed in the American homestead tradition this supposedly subversive counterculture really was. “Further Construction,” her chapter on the communes’ architecture, shows the diverse abodes these young idealists built. They range from the Bessie’s Gypsy Wagon, a wooden mobile home in Redwing, Colorado, that looks like a covered wagon from the Old West, to the “Zome” at Libre, a polyhedral wonder of coziness and 1960s futurism.
In the pictures, young men set vigas in the first homes they have ever built. Local ranchers in cowboy hats, bemused by the neophyte settlers, help them train horses and work the land. Other photos show children eating breakfast under domed ceilings alongside sunset images of impossibly happy first-time farmers relaxing on the bed of a flatbed truck. There’s an appearance by writer Ken Kesey and his “Further” bus, which animated the pages of The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test. Poets Allen Ginbserg and Peter Orlovsky dropped by Libre in 1977, their suntanned visages captured in a pair of snapshots by Price.
The book’s most memorable photo might be of Price herself. Nude, blond, bathed in fading sunlight and clutching stalks of marijuana as tall as she is, she looks poised for anything. The photo almost speaks to a different place and time.
Yes, the Day-Glo paint, the long, unwashed hair, and the geodesic dome houses are dated, to say the least. But it’s hard not to be taken by the youthful optimism of the people who picked up tools they had never used before to build houses from scrap lumber and recycled steel, constructing authentic lives outside mainstream society. “We were coming out of the time in the 1950s, the most affluent and successful time,” Price said. “Most of the people were middle class. We were a generation raised to believe we could do everything.”
Libre is still around. The community celebrated its 40th anniversary in 2008, though it is not as radically self-sufficient as it once was. Price said that one of the young girls raised at Libre recently returned to the commune to marry her boyfriend “just down the hill from the house in which she was born.”
In 1977, Price left Libre after nearly seven years in the valley. “Have you ever been in a relationship and broken up with someone?” she asked. “I was very invested in building a house and a community of people. I was in love with the landscape too. But at a certain point, I realized it was the end of our marriage. I wanted to move on. The Vietnam War was over; Carter was president. I was interested in coming down off the mountain. It was a wonderful experience, and it has formed my life ever since.”
Minka and Little Jeff in front of the Reality Construction Company main building