This week I read The Good Life of Helen K. Nearing by Margaret O. Killinger for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge. I was hoping to read more about Helen's life (as well as her husband, Scott's life) that focused on organic gardening, vegetarianism, pacifism, and hard work as primary components of their 'good life.'
The book ended up revealing more than what I truly needed to know about Helen and Scott's personal life; and some of their decisions that had a negative impact on one another. There were several sections in the book that honestly are not that essential to what I want to know about how they conducted their lives in terms of simple living, organic gardening, and a healthy diet.
Granted, they are part of Helen's life, yet Killinger's inclusion in the book made it awkward - at times - for me to read the information. It was too much information...and not the kind that I wanted to read.
At any rate, there were many things mentioned about how they chose to live their lives which is what did - and still - that I find interesting. Below are some of the points that stood out for me:
=> "They proposed an ethic of simple living based upon production rather than consumption, allowing nature rather than the market economy to set the terms for their choices."
=> Their primary vegan diet, often eaten with wooden chopsticks and out of wooden bowls, became central to their life together.
=> They "touted their organic diet, deeming processed foods such as bleached flour ,white sugar, and polished rice 'poisons' and eschewing 'habit-forming drugs' such as caffeine, cola nut extract, nicotine, and alcohol."
=> Sometimes they followed a mono-diet where they would only eat one item such as apples throughout the day. They also fasted regularly or drank a liquid, fruit juice diet in order to rest their digestive systems.
=> What I liked was reading the description of a typical meal when Helen traveled: "Oranges for breakfast. For lunch ripe olives, nut cheese, whole wheat bread, honey, and apples. Tonight I shall have some oranges and dates."
=> They practiced "wellness" based upon this vegetarian diet in combination with physical fitness and productive professional work.
=> "Nature and this rural aesthetic offered spiritual renewal, as well as home-based moral and social reform. The city was the antithesis of this idyllic world; nature was sacred...around which daily life could be ordered."
=> They avoided debt, bartered when they could, and sought cooperative ventures.
=> They had clearly-defined work schedules - four hours a day devoted to bread labor or basic work, four hours to professional interests, and four hours to responsibilities as citizens.
=> They used simple, second-hand tools, which Nearing meticulously maintained, and they avoided the use of domesticated animals.
=> They were extraordinarily austere and frugal. I liked their philosophy of believing that "a rural lie of voluntary simplicity promised not only self-sufficiency and a reduction of one's economic needs through a spiritual commitment to 'enoughness,' but also a way of life that would be environmentally sensitive and sustainable.
=> Helen kept her mind and spirit active by reading about a range of topics - from world politics to vegetarianism to UFOs.
=> She expressed her spiritual connection to the natural world through yoga, astrology, meditation, Ouija board sessions, and contemplation in their wooden yurts.
=> She believed that heart-shaped rocks had mystical powers. She enjoyed giving children wishing stones.
=> One of the things that I liked was that she published a book called Wise Words on the Good Life: An Anthology of Quotations in 1980. She compiled hundreds of quotations that she had collected. She organized them into chapters on country life, labor, gardening, simple living, solitude, health, building, and old age.
=> Her husband, Scott, said: "Do the thing you believe in. DO it with all your might. And keep at it no matter what. The life we have been living is so far away from the really worthwhile goals of life that we've got to stop fooling around and move toward a new way of living."
As I finished reading the book, I was left with a feeling of wanting to know more about their life in Maine as was briefly described in the book: "...cellar shelves teeming with jarred goods, an outdoor table for shared meals, hand plows, a lush herb garden, meticulous wood piles, and a sun-filled greenhouse."
As a friend of both Helen and Scott, Nancy Berkowitz said in an interview, "There's a whole thing about Helen and Scott. And there is a myth, there's a mythical Helen and Scott, and there's who they really were. And I think people have to figure that out themselves, what part of the myth they're going to take on and what they can read between the lies and see how it really was."
Ultimately it comes down to what Helen wanted she and Scott to be remembered as: "That they tried their best in the circumstances in which they were. They weren't perfect, but they tried to do their best." Do the best that you can [in the place where you are], and be kind."