The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Review of the Good Life

The Good LifeThe Good Life: Helen and Scott Nearing's Sixty Years of Self-Sufficient Living --- if you like our website, you should go read this book because it's the real deal.  It took me weeks to figure out what I loved about it, and then it came to me.  Of course --- they lived my dream, and didn't start watering it down as they grew older.  They just kept living it until Scott died at the ripe old age of 100.

Actually, he committed suicide through a six week fast, which doesn't sound quite like the good life to me.  Other parts of their book also put me off --- I can understand being a vegan, but I think it's harsh to call house cats slaves.  The Nearings believed in community, but weren't willing to give a little to get on with their neighbors.  (I haven't read it, but  one of their neighbors wrote Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life, about the difficulties of living next door.)  Personally, I don't think I would have gotten along with the Nearings in real life.

But their book is full of tasty tidbits, like maple syruping and growing blueberries to round out their livelihood.  I was astonished that they were able to grow nearly all of their food in the mountains of Vermont with only three frost free months per year --- and the possibility of frost even during the height of summer.

When it comes right down to it, Mark and I are opinionated idealist loners too (or at least I am.)  That's part of what sent us back to the land.  It's nice to have the space and freedom to be wacky --- and Helen and Scott Nearing certainly had that.

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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.

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It helped the Nearings to have a nest egg to start with.

They went back to nature, with Scott quitting his college teaching job, because they didn't want their taxes supporting a war economy, didn't want to be responsible for killing innocent people. Today, our economy is so much more military, with almost half our federal taxes going to pay for war, past and present, including lifelong treatment of US troops mentally damaged from wars they fought in.

Comment by Errol Sat Feb 7 10:02:23 2009
They did seem to have a lot of good philosophies. You're right, though --- I'm sure the nest egg helped!
Comment by anna Sat Feb 7 12:33:50 2009

I found the Nearings through this book just when I was getting fed up with the city, feeling like I was losing a little more of my soul every day staring at gray-carpet on my cubicle walls, and missing my roots in Appalachia. The Good Life was the catalyst that set things into motion for me, and I'm sure for many hundreds or thousands of others like me.

I'm not a vegan; not even a vegetarian. But I respect what they did and that they proved city "intellectuals" really can survive in the country if they set their minds to it.

Thanks for the info about Scott Nearing's death. I had no idea! Also, thanks for the link to that book from their neighbor. I'll go check it out now.


Comment by Everett Sun Feb 8 20:03:30 2009

I have a friend who is a doctor who deals with people in hospices and my grandfather was in one for a while. A lot of times people reach a point where they feel done with their lives and stop eating- it's called "failure to thrive". Most of them just do it. It takes some balls to do it deliberately.

After a hundred years of doing what he wanted, perhaps he was simply finished.

Comment by Anonymous Mon Feb 9 03:17:09 2009

Anonymous --- that does put Scott's death in a better context. I think that in a way what I was reacting to was the similarities between Helen-Scott and me-Mark (although Mark's only 10 years older than me, not 21) and envisioning how awful my life would be and how cheated I would feel if Mark deliberately died early. But you're right --- there's probably more to the story than Helen told, and if Scott was sick and coming near the end of his life anyway, it makes sense.

Everett --- I agree that the book is inspiring for exactly that reason! It's so wonderful to read about someone who really did it, and enjoyed it!

Comment by anna Mon Feb 9 07:57:06 2009

my Nana died this way, quite intentionally. it was a very liberating decision for her; she had been unhappy and gradually failing for years, unable to walk after a hip replacement surgery (in spite of a ferocious will to walk again and agonizing practice), gradually going blind. she had been a member of the Hemlock Society for decades by then. 88 years old, long years a widow, being taken care of by her son & his wife, and no longer enjoying her life; she simply stopped eating. it was highly intentional; she had made up her mind which option she would choose long before. she lived a bit more than a month after that decision, which gave time for all her loved ones to come visit and say their goodbyes, which was a real gift to the rest of the family. she was happier and stronger in her sense of self in that visit than i had ever seen her. taking control of her death was the last important decision she had to make, and doing it herself meant that fate no longer controlled her; she chose. it was a good death.

my other two grandparents died in pain, in the hospital, of medical things that happened to them. unpleasant for everyone, particularly them. undignified--Nana couldn't tolerate that! :) Nana's self-awareness, her consciousness of where she was on the path of her own mortality, and her command over it, eased that transition for an entire enormous family. whereas the sudden, painful, difficult deaths of my other grandparents left that family feeling deeply lost, bereaved in a different and more difficult way. i would choose Nana's route, if i am destined to be allowed to make that choice myself. i know my father will do the same, and that he'll tell me, and that is some real comfort.

just for comparison's sake. :-D

Comment by yarrow Mon Feb 9 11:45:08 2009
Yarrow --- thanks so much for the comment! It really made the concept make a lot more sense to me. I'm glad your grandmother and the rest of your familyhad such a good experience with it too!
Comment by Anna Mon Feb 9 19:16:11 2009
I agree with Yarrow -- one lives in control of one's life and one lives in control of one's death. Pain and suffering can overtake you when you're older, death just becomes a welcome transition away from the pain.
Comment by J Mon Dec 13 13:39:04 2010
That's a good point, and I think I'm coming around to y'all's point of view. We had a very old hen who had been getting ill and then perking back up over and over for the last few weeks, and she finally stopped eating and drinking and just faded away. And I could understand how she might have made that decision (if a chicken is capable of that kind of deep thought --- not sure there.)
Comment by anna Sat Dec 18 20:43:34 2010

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