Saturday, April 16, 2016

The Path and Living the Good Life

Today I listened with great interest to Diane Rehm's interview with the authors of:
The Path: What Chinese Philosophers Can Teach Us About the Good Life
By Michael Puett and Christine Gross-Loh

Fifty years ago I read with equal interest, Helen and Scott Nearing's Living the Good Life.

Are these authors separated by time, two alive and two now dead, talking about the same Good Life?

The Nearing's book told of their lives in Vermont on a piece of land where with the help of friends, the fifty-year old Scott and his wife Helen, twenty-one years younger, built stone buildings, maple sugared, and gardened in what was described as a subsistence lifestyle with leisure afternoons discussing life and politics.

This sounded just great to young people of the early seventies and precipitated a back-to-the-land movement that lasted fifteen years.

The Nearing's model of work and community struck a major chord with children of the sixties.  Intentional communities were springing up in many rural places.  There was one catch for those young people, I among them.

Where the Nearings had Scott's pension from Columbia and Helen's resources of an estimated inherited of one million dollars, most other 'homesteaders' struggled with mixed success to pay off their land purchases and worked long hours to be self-sufficient.

I stopped in at their Harborside, Maine home in the late seventies when Scott was in his late nineties.  I could not help but be awed by the stone buildings, stone-walled garden and greenhouse they created very late in life.  If Living the Good Life inspired me to build a stone and log house, work sixteen hour days growing food, and shovel chicken manure for a neighbor farmer to pay for the land, their activity late in life let me know they didn't have the 'Easy Life'.

The 'accusation' aired occasionally, that Helen's wealth made it all possible is disingenuous.  Do we chide people with intellectual wealth spent well?  Physical strength used well? People with surplus enthusiasm?  None of the places Scott and Helen lived were close to what most middle class people would 'tolerate'.  In total, they did far more good than their contemporaries.

In retrospect, the message was perhaps, 'Find social and political truth on the land'.

Fast forward to now.  I'm 64.  I'm building brick ovens and stone structures.  Yeah, I'm getting older... not 100 yet, but not 22.

The house I built myself in 2007 with the help of friends.
Three ponds were dug by excavator associate.
The Path, is a book about personal engagement in everyday activities that make world change person-to-person, moment to moment.  I agree.  It is closer to what I have tried to do in this brick oven work, as narrow a niche as it seems (and is); in my past work as a storyteller, and in general.  I hope that tone comes through.

In pursuit of my MFA degree, I wrote an essay called Super-Local Activism.  Stay tuned for that essay.

No comments:

Post a Comment