The Turning Point: Cottage Industry

The Larson-Darnell family turn to the cottage industry for their new lifestyle.

| November/December 1983

Take a peek into a lifestyle that many of us have only dreamed about. 

If you've traveled much, you probably know that folks in nearly every part of the country are apt to claim, "If you don't like our weather, wait five minutes ... it'll change." But in late May of 1983, at least, no place we'd been had come closer to fitting that old saw than Vermont. Over and over, through a very pleasant day of work for a MOTHER EARTH NEWS editor/photographer team, the fickle western wind blew in surprises.

From the deck of the Larson-Darnell home in the mountains outside of South Strafford, we watched clouds as they filed in rank over the southwestern horizon (so low that they seemed almost within reach) . . . dumped a dismal rain . . . and then marched off to the northwest to leave the broadest blue sky imaginable. In the valley below, the change from overcast to sunny accentuated the contrast between the rich green of second growth pine and the brilliant white of birch bark.

It was four years ago, on this same site, that Eric Darnell and Cheslye Larson towed 54 of those 60'-tall, 35-year-old pines up the mountain with an aging Subaru station wagon. Cull trees from their neighbor's timberland (which were offered at a friendly price), the straight poles now make up the load supporting frame of the couple's home and workplace. You see, 1,500 square feet of the bermed, octagonal structure serves as living space for the couple and their daughters, Giselle and Pascale . . . while the remaining 1,500 is divided: In one half Cheslye weaves, sews reproductions of Victorian clothing, and paints . . . in the rest Eric makes boomerangs, refines the design of the Free Flow Stove (which he invented and still holds the rights to), and experiments.

In fact, cottage industry is what Eric and Cheslye's story is about, and a fundamental question probably should be raised right away: Do these people concentrate upon diversified, home-based work in order to live in a quiet, beautiful rural setting . . . or do they live in this calm, wholesome environment to recuperate from the inevitable strains of creativity? Perhaps the answer to that question can be found in a day's glimpse into their lives.

On the morning we arrived, Cheslye was busy painting a batch of boomerangs to sell at a meet in Hanover, New Hampshire on the following weekend. Boomerang exhibitions and competitions are a regular part of the family's intinerary. Eric (who's been throwing since he was 12) is a member of the U.S. team, which has traveled as far as Australia to compete (successfully, by the way). And, though every top-notch "boom" thrower designs his or her own boomerangs, Eric's are widely regarded as some of the best. There are elegant seven-ply maple models, flexible plastic flyers that can practically be tied in knots, boomerangs with adjustable weighting for competition, and even a wing that can be filled with luminescent "light stick" liquid for nighttime throwing.

Boomerangs were stacked on the table saw, fresh from the blade of the band saw on the ancient Shopsmith that Eric got from his father. Between Eric's and Cheslye's work areas is a glassed partition that allows the couple to view the 180-degree panorama outside of the picture windows that ring the business level of their home. The floor there is actually below grade, the rear wall of the building being backed into the hillside and poured in 8" reinforced concrete. Two inches of extruded polystyrene foam wrap around the back of the shop and across the top and front of the attached root cellar. On the morning of MOTHER EARTH NEWS' visit, the sun's angle prevented direct rays from reaching very far into the workshop . . . but, as the year moves closer to the winter solstice, solar energy will enter and be stored in the insulated concrete mass of the walls and slab.

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