Recently, I received a very thoughtful gift, the gift of a book. The book was two separate works within The Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing’s Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living. The first section of the book is entitled The Good Live Project. In this part of the book, Scott and Helen Nearing decided to move from New York City into rural Vermont during the Great Depression in the 1930s. They began building a homestead and working the land. Scott was in his late forties/early fifties when their adventure begins.
Within in the book they describe how and why they:
- Allotted their time in the most efficient ways
- Constructed stone buildings
- Ate a fully vegetarian diet (It seemed most vegan to me)
- Got the most from their garden
- Believed in a No-Money, take only what you need economy
This was also their personal story. This is a couple who lived as city folk and moved out to the country and started an entirely new way of life. While this is probably the first “back to the land” movement book, I think it is important to point out that large portions of the American population were not “back to the land”, but “never left the land”. My great-grandfather built his barn and home from wood milled from his land. He then made a living as a farmer for years afterward. Although he did not adhere to the strict rules laid down by the Nearings, he lived off the land on the east coast, in the country, a little further South than the places the Nearings called home. And I would bet his political leanings were not aligned with the Nearings, but I do not know. (and I want to avoid any discussion of politics on here, as I hope this blog is useful/informational/entertaining for you no matter how or if you vote)
While this book was inspiring, and helped me to see ways to make my homestead flourish, it also made me a little disillusioned at the idea of homesteading. The design of their life seem too strict and rigid. They were so rigid in their work schedule that if someone stopped by to talk while they were working, they would continue on and/or be mildly annoyed. The person could either stay and help or leave. While this does lead to very productive days, it would leave my day feeling empty, I suppose. Furthermore, they criticized the surrounding farmers who would take time out of their work to talk. The tone of the book seemed to be that either you agree with the Nearings (and I believe it was mostly Scott) or you were a fool. They were very harsh on the native Vermonters for their ways, their thoughts, their drinking, eating and working habits.
I can understand falling into that “I am doing it right, and you’re silly” train of thought. I have done a lot of research on the how’s and why’s of my daily life, and therefore I do things certain ways that may be different or require more work than the mainstream’s habits. When I see folks making different decisions that are easier in the moment, I feel the need to justify to myself (to myself) why the path I chose iss right for me. The balance of doing this while not judging those folks is something I am practicing and learning.
The book includes details on how the couple built their homes and buildings out of foraged stone. This was very instructional, and I believe you could use this to help if you are interested in construction of a stone structure. I am not, so I skipped through much of this.
The Nearings moved from Vermont to Maine when they found the area was becoming a little too built up for their liking. I admire their courage to start over again at an advanced age. Part Two of the book, Continuing the Good Life, begins with this move. For me, the couple became more likable in part two. I’m not sure if it was their advanced age, or maybe they were more settled in their ways, or perhaps I just got more used to their writing style.
In both parts of the book, the Nearings’ diet was discussed. They ate simply, from the land and they at as much of their diet as fresh as they could. The way they discussed the plight of DDT, the disease caused by processed flours and sugars, and the importance of a healthy diet, it seemed like it was something out of a modern day “diet visonary” such as David Wolfe . As far as how well their mostly vegan diet worked, I would have to say pretty darn well. Scott worked hard around his homestead through his 90s and died when he was 100-years old. He died by choice after “fasting for a month and a half“, which, to me, means he starved himself to death.
Along with the simple, mostly vegan diet, he and Helen, who lived until the age of 91, fasted one day a week. He also attributed good health to meaningful work. I fully agree that living your purpose and making a positive difference in world leads to greater personal health.
This book did expand my gardening knowledge. Specifically, how to extend the season and create healthy soils using compost. I have pages ear-marked for easy reference for my gardening needs over the years.
Overall, the book was entertaining and informative. While I didn’t agree with all of their thoughts or ways of doing things, I absolutely learned and had the opportunity to challenge my current opinions. It is definitely worth the time to read this.
The Nearings’ left a legacy at their old Maine homestead. The Good Life Center is still running to this day, 10 years after Helen’s passing and 20 years after Scott’s passing. They are taking applications for interns in the upcoming season.
Helen wrote two more books I would like to explore:
- Simple Food for the Good Life: Random Acts of Cooking and Pithy Quotations
- Loving and Leaving the Good Life