Living the Good Life 6: Search for the Good Life

February 27th, 2018 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Living the Good Life with Ardis and Philip Hyde

Part Six: Ideas From and Review of Chapter One—We Search for the Good Life

(Continued from the blog post, “Living the Good Life 5: Agricultural Influences.“)

“Such is the superiority of rural occupations and pleasures, that commerce, large societies, or crowded cities, may be justly reckoned unnatural. Indeed the very purpose for which we engage in commerce is, that we may one day be enabled to retire to the country, where alone we picture to ourselves days of solid satisfaction and undisturbed happiness. It is evident that such sentiments are natural to the human mind.

~ John Loudon, A Treatise on Forming, Improving and Managing Country Residences, 1806

About This Series: “Living The Good Life”

Lower Lawn, Raspberries, Apple Orchard, Raised Beds, Midsummer, Rough Rock, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, 2015 by David Leland Hyde. After return from Midwest travels.

In 2002, two months before my mother passed on, I interviewed her for possible magazine articles about her locally popular organic gardening, preserving and food preparation. I also wanted to capture the essence of my parent’s philosophy of living. They lived a low impact sustainable lifestyle long before “sustainable” became a word or a trend.

Because Mom passed on suddenly, I only ever made one tape recording of me interviewing her. I regret not having started sooner and filled a cabinet full of tapes of her. After that first recording session on a bleak January day, she gave me her personal copy of Living the Good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World by Helen and Scott Nearing. She first paused to hold the book to her heart, put it in my hands with weight and gravity and said, “This was our Bible.”

This series of blog posts looks at how Ardis and Philip Hyde, while not on the road or on the trail in pursuit of flora, fauna and photographs, adapted and invented their own version of “The Good Life.”

Part Six: Searching for the Good Life—Based on Chapter One

After the Hydes experienced a series of setbacks and mishaps while attempting to make a life and a living in Carmel, they first moved to Casablanca, Morocco, where they worked for an American company that planned and built military bases. Stay tuned for more on Morocco in future blog posts. Working in Morocco with little overhead helped them get ahead financially and rebuilt their confidence as Dad had great success at work mentoring another photographer. Don’t miss the earlier blog post in this series, “Living the Good Life 4: Failure in Carmel.” Also for more about the Hydes’ early career, rising to meet life challenges with mentoring from Ansel Adams and touching briefly on their adventures in Morocco, see the blog posts, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 5,” and “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 6.”

The blog post, “Living the Good Life 4: Failure in Carmel,” ends with Mom and Dad returning to the mountains and finally acquiring land where they could build a home. However, before this became possible, they did a great deal of soul searching, home location research, and made a study of various gardening approaches, building methods and house designs.

In Living the Good Life, Helen and Scott Nearing described how they lost their livelihood in the Great Depression and grew weary of the worsening conditions and limitations of city life. By the time the Back to the Land Movement gained momentum on the West Coast after World War II, the Hydes and their like-minded contemporaries wished to escape the city and “Live in the country, in a decent, simple, kindly way,” as the Nearings put it.

In an interview by the now defunct Darkroom Photography Magazine, more recently republished in the blog post, “Philip Hyde at Home in the Wilds,” Dad disavowed the idea that he and Mom lived “too far” from any cities or even large towns.

“I don’t think it’s isolation, I think it’s insulation,” Dad told the Darkroom Photography interviewer. “We’re insulated from a lot of urban influences that I’m not all that interested in. Don’t get me wrong… I like people… But I guess I like them in small quantities… What’s most important to me is to be able to look out the window and see the changes of the seasons, or the rain pouring down, or the stars at night…”

While livelihood stood out among other considerations in looking for the Good Life for the Nearings, Dad had a sense, even a kind of faith, that if he lived in the wilderness that he wished to defend with photography, prosperity would follow. Mom and Dad made their exodus from the San Francisco Bay Area during the boom just after The War, while the Nearings left New York City during the Great Depression twenty years earlier. The Nearings’ observations at the time apply just as much today, now eight decades later and certainly applied during the cold war when Mom and Dad were settling in the mountains.

If profit accumulation in the hands of the rich and powerful continued to push the economy toward ever more catastrophic depressions; if the alternative to depression, under the existing social system, was the elimination of the unmarketable surplus through the construction and uses of ever more deadly war equipment, it was only a question of time before those who depended upon the system for livelihood and security would find themselves out in the cold or among the missing. We disapproved of a social order activated by greed and functioning through exploitation, acquisition and accumulation.

The Nearings explored Europe, Asia and much of North America before deciding to remain in the Northeastern U.S. for the seasonal aesthetic beauty of big snow in the winter, budding greenery in the spring, heat and swimming in summer and the “burst of colors in the fall.” Physically they discovered that “the changing weather cycle is good for health and adds a zest to life.” As can be read about more in the blog post, “Living the Good Life 3: The Change of Seasons,” Mom, Dad and myself in my time, all have loved the change of seasons.

The Nearings had a threefold purpose they sought in the ideal life:

  1. “A life based on the values of simplicity, freedom from anxiety or tension, an opportunity to be useful and to live harmoniously.”
  2. To make a living in conditions that “enlarge joy in workmanship, give a sense of achievement… promote integrity and self-respect… assure a large measure of self-sufficiency… and make it easier to guarantee solvency…”
  3. “Leisure during a considerable portion of each day, month or year, which might be devoted to avocational pursuits free from the exacting demands of bread labor, to satisfying and fruitful association with one’s fellows, and to individual and group efforts directed toward social improvement.”

“I’m not really trying to play the money game,” Dad said. “Photography has provided a living, not a bad living at all, but when I left the city… I knew that I was leaving behind the opportunity to make lots of money. I think that when I first chose photography, I knew I was choosing the pleasures of creativity over the consolations of wealth. I define success for myself in terms of lifestyle. Success is freedom and opportunity to do what I want to do.”

For the Nearings the “road from New York City to the wilderness was short in miles but far-reaching in social consequences.”

We were leaping from the economic and social sophistication of a metropolis to a neighborhood in which few of the adults and none of the youngsters had ever visited a large city, in which every house was heated with wood and lighted with kerosene. In the first year of our stay we piled the children of several neighbor families in the back of our truck and took them to get their first glimpse of the ocean, to see their first train, to attend their first movie and treated them to their first ice cream soda.

The Nearings started as “summer folk,” who are disliked by the local population because they “do not intend to stay long or work much.” “Summer residents do no great harm if they occupy abandoned land, or marginal land unfit for agriculture. However, many of them let their pastures go back to woodlots, which is detrimental to the agriculture of the state when the land goes out of production. The more summer people the more demand for factory goods and specialties in stores shipped in from out of state. “Summer folk,” for the most part, obtain their dollars out of state and exchange them for canned goods in the local market rather than growing their own produce.

The social consequences of turning the countryside into a vacationland are far more sinister than the economic results. What is needed in any community are individuals, householders, villagers and townsmen living together and cooperating day in, day out, year after year, with a sufficient output of useful and beautiful products to pay for what they consume and a bit over. This is solvency in the best social sense. Solvency of this nature is difficult or impossible except in an all-year-round community.

Therefore, the Nearings soon became all-year-round residents of Vermont. The Hydes also started as summer residents in the mountains. Their first residence in Plumas County at Lake Almanor was at the Fox Farm, a small community where they knew the Kurtzes and the Kurtzes knew most of the others. The summer of 1948, when Dad worked in the Cheney Mill in Greenville, was Ardis and Philip’s first summer after their marriage in June 1947 and their first summer in the mountains. The next summer they also spent in the wilderness. Ansel Adams helped the Hydes obtain a job at the Parson’s Lodge in Tuolumne Meadows, Yosemite National Park. They were to live in the renowned McCauley Cabin for two months and act as caretakers of the Sierra Club owned Parson’s Lodge for the summer, talking to visitors about the Sierra Club’s work and making photographs. Dad sung the praises of mountain life:

Went out this afternoon in the late low angle light and made more negatives of rocks, trees and Cathedral Peak, a photogenic, but difficult scene. We’re really beginning to realize what we have here in Tuolumne Meadows. We have no clock or watch. We eat when our stomachs announce the time for it and go to bed when it seems like the thing to do. We get up when we’ve had enough sleep. We feel no strain toward getting something completed by a certain span of time—it just takes until it’s done. This is altogether a wonderful way to live. We’re busy now laying plans for making it a permanent way of life. Why strain for security in the city when you can live in the mountains each day to the utmost—never seeking for tomorrow because you’re busy living today? Living is a full-time job—why relegate it to the leisure hours left after a hard day at the office? Why slave for retirement at 65 when all you mean by retirement is freedom to live. You can live now, live today. These Tuolumne days seem to bring out ever more clearly the things hinted at in our Greenville days and these sojourns in the mountains bring us into increasing contact with those who have found ways to live in the wilderness.

The Nearings 20 years earlier in Vermont were also looking for ways to live in the mountains full-time. They laid out their garden to produce a year around crop that more than fed their family. Another piece of the income puzzle turned out to be saving and buying properties in the neighborhood to operate as wood lots for firewood. Land was still very cheap at a handful or two of dollars an acre. The forests were good sources of income for many rural towns.

One piece of property the Nearings bought from Frank Hoard. He had licensed his land to Floyd Hurd and his wife and 11 children to harvest the maple syrup under a share agreement when the sap ran in the spring. The Nearings continued the same share agreement, ended up with half of the maple syrup harvest, and discovered that “maple syrup in Vermont is better than cash. It sells readily and does not depreciate.”

Here was something on which we had not counted. In a syrup season lasting from four to eight weeks, owning only the maple trees, the sugar house and some poor tools, and doing none of the work, we got enough syrup to pay our taxes and insurance, to provide us with all the syrup we could use through the year, plenty to give away to our friends and to sell. We realized that if we worked at sugaring ourselves, syrup would meet our basic cash requirements. We were surprised and delighted to learn that here might be the answer to our problem of making a living amid the boulders scattered over the green hills of Vermont… The possibility of sugaring for a living answered the second question: how to finance the good life. Our next job was to determine the way in which the good life was to be lived.

The passive solar, energy efficient, ahead-of-it’s-time construction of Rough Rock will be featured in “Living The Good Life 9.” The next two blog posts, Parts 7 and 8 in the series, will cover the ins and outs of various plans and designs for Living the Good Life. Part 7 will further examine the similarities and differences in methods and lifestyles between the Hydes and Nearings.

(Read more, “Living the Good Life 7: Nearings’ vs. Hydes’ Design for Living.”)

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  1. Mark says:

    I really like that quote and the concept of insulation vs. isolation. I can relate to that 100% – despite where I live would be considered way too congested to many. There are many times where I wish the insulation was much, much thicker.

  2. Hi Mark, I agree with you and Dad more and more as time goes on. When I was a kid and young man, I always loved the bustle of the city and still do now and then in small doses. However, I doubt I could ever live in a big city again, unless I was only there part-time at most. I like smaller towns like Boulder, CO or Quincy, CA. However, the longer I am aboard this spaceship we call Earth, the more I like the near total peace and quiet of my wilderness home here in the mountains where Dad built it. All I hear in the evening is the creek burbling or roaring, depending on the time of year, the wind in the trees and once in a while a pine cone dropping or a squirrel running across the deck. Your place there in Michigan is beautiful. In your situation, you have the best of both worlds. You are right next to the city, but also in a quiet, peaceful neighborhood that feels wilder than typical suburbs. Your yard in and of itself is so large, beautiful and wild.You are fortunate, as I am, to be around nature so much.

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