Living The Good Life 2: From City to Mountain Paradise

March 14th, 2012 by David Leland Hyde Leave a reply »

Living the Good Life, Part Two

(Continued from the previous blog post, “Living The Good Life 1.”)

Rough Rock Lower Lawn, Maples, Fall, Shoulder of Grizzly Ridge, Northern Sierra Nevada, California, copyright 2011 by David Leland Hyde.

Back to the Land movement leaders, Helen and Scott Nearing in Living the good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, share a living philosophy based on self-reliance and living a simple life sustained by farming the land. Ardis and Philip Hyde studied many such books and ways of life and found Helen and Scott Nearing’s model most relevant to the Hyde’s home lifestyle, including daily pace and schedule, food preservation and organic gardening. In the previous blog post, “Living The Good Life 1,” Nancy Presser and David Leland Hyde wrote about how Helen and Scott Nearing led the Back to the Land movement of the 1950s and how Ardis and Philip Hyde in turn implemented the Nearings’ philosophy.

While delving into the first chapter of Living the good Life: How to Live Sanely and Simply in a Troubled World, Nancy found that Helen and Scott Nearing were writing for someone just like her, a city person that had ideas of living a simpler life. Helen Nearing wrote, “…A couple, of any age from twenty to fifty, with a minimum of health, intelligence and capital, can adapt themselves to country living, learn its crafts, overcome its difficulties, and build up a life pattern rich in simple values and productive of personal and social good.” Nancy wondered about Ardis and Philip Hyde. Were they from the city or the country? Why did they choose to adapt to their own situation, Helen and Scott Nearing’s lifestyle and philosophy?

David explained that his mother, Ardis, grew up in the suburbs of Sacramento, California, when Sacramento was a small town that couldn’t even be called a city. About 15 miles from downtown, in the rural countryside lay the Van Maren Ranch. The Van Maren Ranch House sat in the center of the Van Maren Ranch on a small hill that was later removed and is now a shopping center in the town called Citrus Heights, California. Ardis visited the ranch often with her family. David’s grandmother, Ardis’ mother, Elsie Van Maren King, had grown up on the ranch with her three sisters and no brothers. The four Van Maren girls learned to do all of the chores that boys usually do, and when Ardis came along, and later her brothers, grandma taught her all the ranch chores that boys usually did too. David’s mother from a young age was very competent around animals, farm equipment and anything outdoors. Ardis’ father, Clinton S. King Jr., loved the outdoors and loved to go camping. All of the Kings grew to love camping in the Sierra, except grandmother, who went along, but never liked it much.

David’s father, Philip, was born in San Francisco in 1921, but by 1925, the Hyde family moved to San Rafael. In those days Marin County was rural countryside. The Hydes lived in a house in the woods near the train station at the end of the train line in San Rafael. At age four to five little Philip learned to love to play in the woods. When Philip’s older brother Paul died and the family moved back to San Francisco, Philip joined the Boy Scouts and continued the outdoor adventures that he loved. Leland Hyde took his wife Jessie, Philip and his newborn little brother Davy and their older sister Betty camping also. At age 16, Philip first backpacked in Yosemite National Park with the Boy Scouts. After the second year’s annual backpack in Yosemite, Philip wrote “Home” across a map of Yosemite Valley. Philip considered the mountains his spiritual home from this time forward. David discussed in Guy Tal’s interview of him, how during World War II while stationed in flat Kansas, Philip used to ride two days on the train to Denver, Colorado just to get a glimpse of mountains.”

Philip and Ardis Hyde were both from the city, but both had an affinity to the country. Both had roots in camping, farming and wilderness. They both developed a love for the outdoors and even though their experience was somewhat limited then compared to later, they felt at home enough in nature’s company to seek more of it. Many people of all walks of life with much less experience easily learn to thrive in the country, but some connection to nature and the value of being close to nature, lends them the desire that carries them on to further learning and becoming accustomed to country life.

After their marriage in June 1947 at the Claremont Hotel in Berkeley, California, Philip and Ardis Hyde began taking steps to achieve their dream of living in or near the mountains where they could cultivate a bit of land and sow a garden. Helen and Scott Nearing, for example, considered many places to live: the United States, abroad or in a commune. They settled on Vermont because, as they wrote:

Aesthetically, we enjoy the procession of the seasons. In any other part of the country we would have missed the perpetual surprises and delights to which New England weather treats its devotee… The land that has four well-defined seasons cannot lack beauty, or pall with monotony. Physically, we believe the changing weather cycle is good for health and adds a zest to life… Geographically, we found New England in closer contact with the Old World, from which we did not wish to sever connections.

Ardis and Philip Hyde kept their sights on the United States as well, though they did go abroad for a one year stint in Casablanca Morocco, French North Africa. See future blog posts for their adventures in 1953-1954 French Morocco. The Hydes found and fell in love with the Sierra Nevada first through childhood camping trips, then through Philip’s teenage backpacks, but later Ardis and Philip together connected to the Northern Sierra through an unlikely series of events. As fate would have it, they were on the train to Sacramento to visit Mom’s family one time and they ran across one of Ardis’ old Principia College friends, Patricia Lindren Kurtz and her new husband Cornell Kurtz on their way to their new home in Plumas County in the heart of the Feather River region. The train at that time traveled on from Sacramento up the Feather River Canyon. The Hydes were looking for good paying jobs for the summer of 1948. Pat Kurtz said she knew the owner of Cheney Mill in Greenville, California and that she could get Philip a good job there. How ideal, a chance to be in the mountains for the summer and a good job. There was even a vacancy in one of the cabins at the Fox Farm where Pat and Cornell Kurtz lived at Lake Almanor. The Hydes moved in for the summer and fell in love with the area. In a letter, Ardis described their first drive from Greenville over to the other end of Indian Valley one day. She wrote, “With Grizzly Ridge above Indian Creek lined by trees, this is by far the most beautiful end of Indian Valley.”

Though they did not realize it fully at the time, Philip and Ardis Hyde had found their mountain paradise. Nonetheless, it took nearly 10 more years and many more twists and turns, including attempts at settling in Carmel, California and in French Morocco, before their dream of owning their own wilderness land became reality. After they carved their dream home and paradise out of the wilderness, people visiting it learned by the Hyde’s example many aspects of what conservation and sustainability experts now teach. For a lively version of the larger discussion on creating a sustainable world and related issues see the blog post, “Art, Earth And Ethics 1.” Watch as the personal story of the Hyde’s home unfolds in upcoming blog posts in this series…

(Read about the Change of Seasons in the next blog post, “Living The Good Life 3.”)



  1. Okay, you’ve got my attention so I will watch as this story unfolds. I think there is a voice inside many of us that would love to have a small piece of land with a garden, chickens and a goat.

  2. Thanks, Monte. I have a hunch you’re right. The key, from what I’ve learned from my parents and my own opposite experience, is to make a life on the land with someone who has the same values as you do. When I read the business book, “Good To Great” what stuck in my mind was the phrase, “The key to any successful organization is to get the right people on the bus and the wrong people off the bus.” This applies to any endeavor, not just business. My parents had a great many rewards in life because they shared everything between them. There were no secrets, no lies, just straight, up-front, clean living with a lot of intimacy and trust and therefore a lot of freedom too. They were a team in the truest sense of all that the word can mean. This made life fun, light, everything easy, a cinch. Not that they didn’t have challenges and issues too, but they lived such a charmed life, as far as I can tell, mainly because their home life was fueled by mutual interests and built on mutual integrity.

  3. pj says:

    It’s always interesting, and insightful, to read about the life behind the photography. That your dad would ride for two days on a train just to glimpse real mountains speaks volumes, though I would say from reading this series of posts that your mother was as great an influence on him as those mountains were.

    Great stuff. As always, I look forward to more.

  4. Thank you for your comment, PJ. You’re right about my mother influencing my father. She was his greatest influence by far.

  5. Hugh Sakols says:

    I remember coming back to the Sierra after living in Idaho for four years. What sealed the deal for me was the smell of mountain misery and Ponderosa Pine that was lacking from the desert. I soon realized the importance of place as an important aspect of photography. It looks like your mom and dad got it too.

  6. Hi Hugh, I appreciate your highlighting the sensory connection we have to our favorite place(s) and how that connection ties into landscape photography. The Sierra Nevada has a unique smell to be found nowhere else, even other places that have Ponderosa Pines or other familiar Sierra flora just don’t seem to smell, look, sound or otherwise feel quite the same. My parents always said when they returned, “There’s no place like home.” It was the homecoming mantra.

  7. Greg Russell says:

    This is a really interesting read, David, and I second what PJ says above…your I’m learning that your mother was a huge influence on your father, and together they seemed to live a very harmonious life.

    There’s something to be said about that.

  8. Hi Greg, They were quite harmonious in many ways, but don’t imagine that they didn’t have their differences or their squabbles. They did agree on the big things, on values and philosophy, but they bickered about little stuff all the time to a level that annoyed their son sometimes. Still, it was in a sense the Camelot of conservation.

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