This Life is in Your Hands , by Melissa Coleman. Publisher: Harper (April 12, 2011). Memoir. Hardcover, 336 pages.
We are a family of human beings trying to live a happy, healthy and fruitful existence in a world where it is difficult to do so. Our goal is not to prove anything, but is mainly to survive as decently as possible.
–Sue Coleman, The Wall Street Journal, 1970
This Life is in Your Hands is an engrossing memoir about homesteading in the 1970s and its effects on one young family. Home-birthed and raised on 60 acres in rural Maine, Melissa Coleman certainly had a unique childhood. Her parents embraced organic farming and living off the land in what was then a exotic, hippie-ish phenomenon to outsiders. She ran around barefoot, picked berries by the handful and gorged on them until she felt sick, listened to stories on the radio [while her peers watched television] and consumed a completely vegetarian, no refined sugars diet. When her parents first arrived in Cape Rosier, Maine, the untouched land challenged them, especially her father who’d been interested in organic farming for years. They had to start from scratch—creating gardens, keeping goats for milk and planning ahead for long Maine winters. For this young, idealistic couple it seemed like the perfect existence. The homesteading philosophy is to subsist completely off the land and to create nearly everything oneself. As Coleman wrote, it was a “growing subculture of environmentalists, natural foodies, and organic farming advocates.”
Sue and Eliot Coleman chose Maine because of Scott and Helen Nearing who wrote a book called Living the Good Life. They bought land from the Nearings. Eliot and Sue worked nearly 16 hour days. Homesteading required complete dedication and focus. If there wasn’t enough food for the day, the week, the month, to last the winter then they cannot survive. The family enjoyed a plethora of fresh seasonal vegetables and simple meals. They didn’t have an excess of material goods. In This Life is in Your Hands, Coleman clearly shows that the lifestyle embraced needs over wants. When Melissa is four years old, her sister Heidi is born, providing her both a playmate and student. She effectively taught Hannah the way of the land. Melissa attends elementary school which allows her exposure to other children and other lifestyles. But she never revolted against the homesteading way of life.
A third daughter Clara is born but soon after there’s a tragic accident and Heidi drowns in their homemade pond. Already strained, Sue and Eliot’s marriage fell apart. Eliot, who’d traveled abroad to study organic farming, was a true devotee to the lifestyle. Sue needed something else. She felt too much stress and not enough of the familial support which she craved. This Life is in Your Hands explores homesteading, the precursor to today’s organic farming movement, with clarity, thorough research and heart. The family’s heartbreak highlights the stress of this type of living [think the early settlers]. This Life is in Your Hands is a unique, environmentally conscious and tender memoir.
purchase at Amazon: This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone
Melissa Coleman will be at Brookline Booksmith on April 19 at 7pm.