Reality check in ‘This Life is in Your Hands’
June 2, 2011
ASPEN – When I picked up the copy of Melissa Coleman’s “This Life Is In Your Hands” that had been left for me in the front office of The Aspen Times, something seemed instantly wrong. The book was worn – bent, cracked, much handled and used – yet I knew it was newly published. I checked the label on the cover: on-sale date was April 12, 2011, it said.
I started reading Coleman’s book Tuesday evening, by mid-morning Wednesday had finished half of its 321 pages, and now it’s hard to picture a copy that is spit-shine new, the gloss still on the cover (and even tougher to imagine that there is an e-reader version). Coleman’s story is a memoir about old ways, about using things – the land, your body, your neighbors – and getting the most possible out of them.
Coleman, a former Aspenite, tells of her parents, Eliot and Sue, well-bred New Jersey suburbanites who heard the call of the ’60s. Their response was not to head to Greenwich Village and drop acid, but to head further out of the mainstream. Inspired by Helen and Scott Nearing’s 1954 book, “Living the Good Life,” the Colemans went north, eventually buying from the Nearings, for $2,000, a remote piece of land halfway up the Maine coast. Devoted and capable back-to-the-landers, the Colemans created a thriving farm, and an independent way of life that gained notice in the New York media.
In its description of day-to-day, living-off-the-land survival, “This Life Is In Your Hands” has much in common with “Little House on the Prairie” – if Laura Ingalls Wilder were into nutrition, agricultural science and counter-culture views. But Coleman’s tale is not all peace, love and oneness with the land. Sue has bouts of depression and periods of disconnect from reality. Eliot’s boundless energy turns into a restlessness and ambition that takes him away from his principles. Coleman pins much of this on the vegetarian diet.
And there is the death of her baby sister, Heidi – an accident, yes, but in Coleman’s cautionary tale, beautifully balanced between the ominous and the ideal, the tragedy is the product of the life the Colemans chose to lead.
Melissa Coleman appears in a book event at 5:30 p.m. Thursday at the Aspen Center for Environmental Studies.