This Life Is In Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone by Melissa Coleman
In times of overload, I've joked about going to live "off the grid." Don't most of us, just once in a while, fantasize of abandoning the stress and frustration of modern, busy life in favor of something simpler, of getting back to basics? So when I read a book review of this new memoir recently about a family who did just that, I was intrigued. Plus, you know I have a weakness for a good memoir.
In 1968, Eliot and Sue Coleman, a young, idealistic east coast couple, both from white collar, middle class families, decided to shed materialism and modern living, with all its conveniences and pitfalls, and live by the fruits of their own labors, indebted to no one. They were part of a growing movement at the time of "back to the landers" or "homesteaders," people who were choosing to literally go off the grid and live off the land. The Colemans dreamed of a simpler and more fulfilling life, believing that being completely self-sufficient by way of living as completely as possible by the results of their own hard labor would be far more rewarding than living a typical modern life tied to materialism, economy, and unhealthful living. For $2,000 they bought sixty acres of land from Helen and Scott Nearing, natural living gurus at the time, who cultivated quite a following with their books, Living the Good Life and Continuing the Good Life. The young Colemans built a small house on their land with their own hands for $680, with no electricity or running water, and that would be their home for the next ten years.
The author, the Coleman's first child, born in that small cabin shortly after its completion, recounts her early childhood, growing up on that land, far away from modern society, as her parents cultivated what would become a very successful organic farm. Their idyllic life gradually gives way to its own strains and hardships, and finally tragedy, as the Coleman's second daughter, the author's younger sister, drowns in the pond her father dug for irrigation. You know from the beginning of the book that the baby sister drowns; it's just a matter of learning when. Soon after, an already strained marriage comes to a bitter end, and the author's mother retreats into depression. Finally, their "good life" on the farm comes to an end.
If there's any lesson to be had from all of this, it's that life follows you wherever you go.