The following are questions readers submitted to Helen and Scott Nearing in their regular column on homesteading.
Q: I’d like to know how–in your efforts to avoid the
use of unnecessary electrical and fossil-fueled
machines–you manage to deal with two rather mundane
chores: removing snow between your home and a plowed road,
and mowing grass around the house. (I find the latter act
to be necessary since an unmowed lawn attracts mosquitoes
and, in the summer months, tall dry grass can present a
fire hazard. It seems to me that a scythe and push mower
could be used, but that would take a lot of time that could
be spent on more pressing jobs.)
Our new house is only 50 level feet from the town road, so
it’s easy to shovel a path by hand. And we have no lawn or
meadows to bother with now, just woods behind the house and
a view over the bay in front.
When we lived in our previous home, however, Scott worked
out a way to cut his snow shoveling in half. We were
situated atop an inclined road, a good 250 feet from the
town highway. After snowstorms he simply shoveled this
distance, by hand, in 20-foot units: clearing 20 feet,
and then leaving 20 feet unshoveled. When going down the
hill, the car would reach the unshoveled spaces with
sufficient momentum to carry through the 20 feet of snow.
And, once the trail was broken in that manner, the auto
could get backup again without
There were meadows and a small lawn around our old house.
Scott scythed the high grass and considered it good morning
exercise, and pushing a hand mower around the tiny
handkerchief-sized lawn was no great chore for Helen.
Q: Do you use a chain saw for cutting wood, or have you
found a crosscut adequate for the task? (I hate to own a
fossil-fuel-burning tool if it isn’t necessary! )
We had a chain saw in Vermont and bought a second one in
Maine. In both cases, however, we gave them away because of the fumes, the vibration, and the noise. (And
also because we enjoy handsaws.) We have three bow
saws, ranging from 30″ to 42″ in length. (We’ve found the
42″-frame model to be clumsy unless two people are
operating it.) At least three-quarters of our wood is sawed
with the 30″ bow saw, which is equipped with a thin, highly
tempered Swedish “Sandvik” blade.
Q: Do you feel any moral qualms about destroying a living
creature (a tree) that has a lifespan far greater than our
own, simply to provide yourself with fuel … or do you
cut exclusively standing and fallen deadwood?
When a tree has matured and starts to deteriorate, we clear
it out and thus make room for new growth. We also cut down
dead, ailing, and misshapen trees, and pick up some
driftwood from the beach.
Yes, we do respect the life in a growing tree, and dislike
cutting down such a beautiful being. Once, on a tree in a
public park in Madrid, Spain, we saw a sign on which the
following bit of wisdom was printed:
“I am the warmth of the hearth on cold winter nights. I am
the shade screening you from the summer sun. My fruits and
restoring drinks quench your thirst as you journey onward.
I am the beam that holds your house, the door of your
homestead, the bed on which you lie, and the timber that
builds your boat. I am the handle of your hoe, the wood of
your cradle, and the shell of your coffin.”
Q: My husband and I plan to move to a homestead in
northern Pennsylvania. This will be a new experience for
us, and we’ll be looking for leadership and guidance from
experienced “pioneers” such as yourselves.
Could you supply us with a list–complete with
mailing address and prices (including postage and handling
costs)–of your publications, describing your years of
gardening and homesteading? (I’m sure such information has
probably appeared in MOTHER EARTH NEWS in the
past, but we–and other new readers–would be
grateful for an update! )
Anyone who wants a list of all our available books can
write us for a listing. Please
enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope when you do.
Q: I live in Minnesota, at about the same latitude as your
home in Maine, so I believe our winter weather conditions
are similar. Currently, I’m helping a friend build a log
cabin from scratch, and we’re thinking about using
stone and mortar to build up around the outside of the
cabin. What’s your opinion of this approach?
Why not build originally with field stone and mortar? We
wouldn’t use anything else. Why try to apply a stone
structure to a wooden building? We have built one log
cabin, and felt it was not half as durable as our stone
homes have been.
Q: We are two couples in our early 30’s who agree with
your view that cooperation is one of the keys to the
future. Collectively, we are of moderate means, and we have
several years of survival-skill building behind us. Last
summer we jointly purchased 40 acres of land at a site
which has good soil, available building materials, and an
existing, livable dwelling.
The four of us have spent the better part of a year
working on partnership agreements and such. However, we
don’t know of many joint ventures of this kind that have
succeeded. Could you provide us with some tips on how (and
how not) to successfully maintain a cooperative
Any collective effort will encounter difficulties unless
the people involved are cooperators first and
individuals second. However, most Americans have been
taught, meticulously, to be individuals first and to put
collective activities in a poor second place. (Indeed, we
often consider group action to be the next thing to
Therefore, your proposed collective endeavor has a strike
or two against it from the start. Try to overcome the
handicap by being certain that you have interests in
common–organic gardening, building, music, crafts,
etc.–and a mutually agreed-upon general philosophy
of life. (It’s no secret that religious
experimental communities tend to survive much longer than
Know each other well, too. Living in close proximity with
even the nicest people can result in a surprising
number of hassles and petty irritations, which can be
enough to rupture a relationship.
In short, be careful and consider well what you’re
attempting. And, above all and forever, be considerate and