How many ways can your childhood be stolen growing up on America’s largest hippy commune?

Besides having no house, no bed, no toys, no electricity or indoor plumbing, no money, not enough food, not getting to call your mom “Mom”, getting punished and spanked by random strangers, getting 3rd world parasites – you also get, drum roll please: no childhood photos! That you’re not even in.

In these communal days, when our parents moved there, they signed a Vow of Poverty and had to give up everything they owned to the commune. All their money, car, tools, furniture, books – everything was was handed over to be communal. Anyone who had a camera, that was taken and given to “The Media Crew”. You could only take photos if you were one of the few people on that crew with a camera. Most people were doing hard and tedious labor, on farming crews sweating in the hot sun out in the fields, building crews, baking, firewood, sucking shit out of hundreds of outhouses, etc, etc. A few lucky people were entrusted to the awesome easy job of taking photos – for the whole commune, since it was a commune and all, and everything was communal. The people who got to take photos used equipment and film the community provided, ate the food the field workers grew, lived in the houses the builders built, shat in the outhouse the shitter truck crew cleaned, sent their kids to the school the commune built and teachers teached at, living completely off the hard labor of their community, while they snapped pictures of people hard at work, kids at play, whatever they wanted. These were our photos, all of our communal photos.

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Old outhouse. Photo by me.

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Swimming hole outhouse, 2013, still in use. Photo: me

I didn’t even know anyone had a camera. I thought only visitors had otherworldly alien technology like cameras. I am not in one of these thousands of communal photos. And that never bothered me much because, well, there was thousands of people, it’s understandable the Camera Crew didn’t get a picture of everyone. But, although not actually in any of them myself, I can completely relate to the pictures, and almost pretend I’m in them – kids on horse wagons going down dirt roads – one of my earliest memories, a mother walking her little kids to The Store for rations exactly like my mother did when the roads were dusty and the trees were only that big, the pictures of the fields and skinny hairy people working in them just like I remember, lines of odd hippy hillbilly traffic at the gate, the noisy soy dairy making tofu, the giant greenhouse vibrating with plant life that I loved, Services where I sat in a meadow trying not to fidget every Sunday morning with hundreds of meditating hippies, the creeks I learned to swim in – these are my precious childhood photos, that the Camera Crew took.

I don’t know if my birth mother had a camera when she arrived and handed over everything. We only have a handful of photos from the communal days that my grandparents and a few visitors took.

My mother wasn’t on the camera crew, she woke us up at 5 in the morning to drag us to The Woodshop to make breakfast for the Building Crew, up to The Gate for long gate duty hours, into the hot fields for farming, over to households infested with lice for nitpicking, to the hot bakery for bread baking, washing households of shitty diapers, stuff like that, no sweet leisurely job like taking photos.

So when the communal structure crumbled and everyone went scrambling, although the shitter truck guys who had to suck up the shit of the camera crew guys during the communal days get nothing tangible in retrospect, all the hard laborers get nothing, people who handed over their entire inheritance get nothing, one of the camera guys wants all the communal photos to be “his” and only his and he wants to hide and “protect” them from the world. While the people he took photos of shedding blood, sweat and tears for him to survive on during those years get nothing, he claims the communal photos as his. The photos he took DURING the COMMUNAL years, not before or after the communal years, but during, while no one else had a camera or the opportunity to take photos of this incredible historic time.

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New Wave Cave’s old outhouse. Photo: me

Yep. So then, hundreds of kids who did not sign the Vow of Poverty or ask to grow up entrusting a tiny handful of people to take their childhood photos for them, get no childhood photos of their extremely unique amazing childhood -even though there’s thousands of them. Even though this man did indeed sign the Vow of Poverty and agree to live communally, he claims the communal photos as his. He says he’s copyrighted them. He threatened and harassed me into deleting them from my Growing Up on a Hippy Commune blog. I cried  a little as I deleted them, feeling it as a very sad loss.

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New Wave Cave. Photo: ME 😛

I’m happy I grew up in communal poverty, but I’m not happy I don’t get to feel like the photos of it are partly mine to treasure and share with the world. It’s actually sickening. Despite all the crazy hardships growing up like that, this – this is just the most ridiculous. Childhood officially stolen.

Sit holed up in a dark cave with your precious photos, hiding them from the world, stroking them, repeating “mine, mine” til they rot.

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Old outhouse. Photo: me

I can tell my growing up on a commune stories without them.

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Tribute I made for the farm, fabric art, donated to auction for Swan Creek Trust Fund. Photo: me

Although I’ve heard he claims photos as his that he didn’t even take, I have erased all the photos he claims as “his” and his name from my blog. When I publish my stories into an actual book, if I use photos, I will license and credit only photos from other photographers, who have not gone on a desperate selfish rampage trying to claim all the communal photos as theirs. I might do some illustrations as well 🙂

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2015 self portrait. Photo: me

Now back to Growing Up on a Hippy Commune, new story coming super super soon. 🙂

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11 thoughts on “How many ways can your childhood be stolen growing up on America’s largest hippy commune?

  1. Bravo, I agree with you. I believed like you about it being communal and we shared everything,. But there a privilege few who they were above the vow and above us little people who truly ran outside the rules.

  2. The camera guy needs a kick in the butt. Technically and legally those pictures are property of the Farm as they were taken during the communal period and should be given to whoever is running the show now

  3. Does he intend to publish them as an expensive coffee table book and keep the proceeds for himself? Seems like the funds from such a project should go to reimburse the people who lost their investments. If your commune was set up as a business, it seems like the investors/members would have a legal right to any remaining assets. You could talk to a lawyer (but be careful, he or she will tell you what you want to hear to get your business). I hired a lawyer to represent my brother and he told me all his great ideas he had to help my brother win his case when he was trying to get my money, but ended up doing little to help him. One of those lawyer rating sites that begins with an A would not let me say anything negative about him.

    Communal jobs should rotate. No one should be doing the crappy or cool jobs all the time. What happens if your car maintenance guru leaves suddenly? And who wants to pump shit all the time?

  4. Hello, fellow child resident of “The Farm.” I too lived there, from age 2-6. I have a few pics from The Farm, but you are correct in that there’s not much of that going on. My mom did artwork for the Spiritual Midwifery (the first one) and my pic is in that book, along with some of her artwork (the ball of tits….If you’ve seen that one, and the monkey too…) Regarding calling adults by first name including our own parents – and the hard ass spankings given to us by other adults….all of that other stuff, I remember. It sucked and I hated it and I think it did a lot to breech the trust I had with my own mother. Looking back, I think I felt unprotected by her in that these other adults were tanning my hide! Not sure if she wasn’t aware of it, or the extent of it or what, but I know I didn’t like her too much for letting that happen. I didn’t realize it happened to other kids too….! Thanks for your comments and I liked seeing your pictures…Have you seen American Commune? I have not yet seen it but would like to.
    Thanks, Valena

  5. Hey Celeste! Boiling with anger for you in against the photographer. Not having concrete images that help you remember your childhood is a crime, so is their hoarding of these pictures.
    I have loved scouring your blog recently– your storytelling is so vibrant and phenomenal and your voice mimics perfectly the thoughts of a child. I’ve been doing this because I’m writing my high school senior thesis in poetry. Your experiences are very inspiring and I would LOVE your permission to quote you, possibly, from the blog posts (I will, of course, put your name on pieces in which your words have been used.) Are you all right with me drawing inspiration from your experiences and quoting you?
    If not I understand!

    Cheyenne :^)

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