Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Absolutely Hard Core

This is Helen (1924 - 1995) and Scott (1883 - 1983) Nearing.
They were out of their minds.
Ostracized from their jobs in academia and the arts for their political opinions, they moved out of town and started farming. They were pretty much the first "back to the landers" in the contemporary sense of the word.
And man, were they intense. No meat. No eggs. No draft animals. No pets. No alcohol. No smoking. Not even bread, as this encouraged too much eating. For entertainment they would play instruments in the evening. Or have "talks", whatever that meant. They had lots of guests who came by and occasionally would lend a hand but just as often, one gleans from reading the Nearings' book "The Good Life", just being a nuisance and in the way.
But they lasted for ever. Scott, it seams, only called it quits after actually consciously starving himself to death at 100.
I imagine that to understand their seemingly unbearably dour approach to living off the land, one has to realize where they came from. The whole "no animals"-policy seems to have been linked to an intense hatred of slavery in all its forms. Though very left-leaning, they seem to have been far too disillusioned, or simply too American, to have any fantasies about the world being saved by a strong, well-meaning state implementing their own practices.
The Nearings were actually truly self-sufficient, growing blueberries (you can actually cultivate new world blueberries, the Nearings did it in old tree stumps) and gathering maple syrup as cash crops. They ate almost exclusively stuff they grew themselves in pretty cold climates (North-Eastern US) and completely without any type of fertilizer from animals. Managing all this deserves a lot of respect.
Their books are mostly still in print, and available from all the usual suspects. They're worth reading, you can just skip the most schoolmarmy bits.
Below is a picture of them with a swede saw. Gotta have pictures of swede saws.


mel said...

I grew up in a little town in VT that the Nearings lived in for awhile (before moving to ME I think). When i was a kid my mom had their cookbook, so I grew up eating their recipes. Once I asked a elderly family member about them (since she remembered them) and she nearly spat. Called them socialists or something- apparently some locals really didn't like them and their "unamerican" ways. Well, I think they are an amazing inspiration. Not that I want to spend the rest of my life eating intentionally bland food- seems masochistic... Hard work non-withstanding

Northmark said...

I agree! They really were inspiring. Cool to hear the reaction of an actual witness - being different is rarely uniformly popular.

I worry sometimes that when I say "times change" and claim we now face different challenges with different answers than the Nearings, I am also saying "I don't want to try that hard."