Scott and Helen Nearing

In 1973, I moved from Boston to central Maine, having been transferred by UPI to cover, among other things, Maine government and politics. I settled in a small, rural Maine town, Mount Vernon, a village of around 300 people. I soon learned that Mount Vernon (and many other similar Maine villages) had become the home of young hippies from all over the country who were searching for a simpler, back-to-the-land lifestyle. At the time I was unaware that most of these young people were following the teachings of Scott and Helen Nearing, whose 1954 book, “Living the Good Life,” was a handbook for simple rural living.

A year later, in 1974, I wrote to Helen Nearing at the Nearings’ home on the coast of Maine, requesting an interview. She invited me over.

This story resulted from that interview.

One thing I remember about that visit, something that didn’t make it into the story: At one point I gave the 69-year-old Helen a ride down the road in my Chevy Nova, which had a bad clutch throwout bearing and made sort of a grinding/screeching noise. When I shifted the car into second, she cocked her head and said, “Hmmmm. Sounds like a bad throwout bearing.”

This story was carried in newspapers around the country, but I found the old clip in the Connellsville, Pa. DAILY COURIER.

Ex-professor, 90, remains highly active with writing


HARBORSIDE, Maine (UPI) – Scott Nearing is 90 and his face is creased with age and from many cold New England winters. His eyes disappear when he smiles.

Nearing and his wife Helen, 69, have homesteaded in New England for more than 40 years, ever since they decided to leave the city and search out a simple life. First in Vermont, and now in Maine, they have grown their own food organically, have built their own buildings out of stone, and have cut their own firewood.

Nearing turned his back on Western civilization years ago, after being fired from teaching jobs at two colleges because of his radical political beliefs. He thinks Western civilization has been on the decline since the late 1800s.

“Western civilization is on the carpet, just like Nixon is now,” he said.

ScottNearing pic

Scott Nearing

Nearing’s day began as usual at 4:30 a.m., and he worked on his latest book until breakfast.  He had spent the morning working around Forest Farm and now was eating homemade soup out of a wooden bowl.

“I’ve been working on this theme since 1926,” he said. “It’s called, ‘Where is Western Civilization Going?’ It’s a social analysis of civilization. Almost no one has analyzed society objectively as far as social organization is concerned. That’s what I’m trying to do.”

Nearing threw a faggot of twigs on the fire in the kitchen woodstove and went out to the woodshed, tugging a wheelbarrow full of saws and axes behind him. The Nearings burn driftwood and dead trees as much as possible, cutting down live trees only when they have to.

Helen led the way to a half-finished stone building at the foot of the hill, across the road from the bay. The building will be a library and garage and will stand in front of the Nearings’ new stone house, to be finished hopefully by next fall.

“I’ve done all the stonework,” Helen said. “If people stop by to help, they hand the stones up to me and I put them in place.”

Finding help hasn’t been hard. In recent years there has been a steady stream of visitors, mostly young people, who have read “Living the Good Life,” a book about homesteading which Scott and Helen wrote in 1954.

“Last year I kept a head count and we had 2,300 visitors,” Helen said. “This past year I stopped counting after 2,500.”

The Nearings have lived in an old frame farmhouse since they came to Maine 22 years ago, and they are looking forward to moving into the new stone house.

“This place isn’t our house,” Nearing said about the farmhouse. “It’s somebody else’s house.”

Helen ran through the snow to the house site and pointed out where the rooms would be.

“I’ll have a room in front, overlooking the water, and Scott’s room will be in the back with an east window,” she said. “He gets up early and he likes to see the sun rise.”

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