At ages when most of their peers were thinking about retirement and a comfortable life, Evelyn and David Hess moved to a trailer on 21 acres outside Eugene. Trailer living makes it sound relatively normal, but let me point out that there was no toilet or running water. They were basically camping out there, and they stayed for 15 years.
To the Woods (OSU Press) is Evelyn Searle Hess’ memoir of those years. Hess brings a naturalist’s appreciation to the details of the seasons and explains them with both reverence a
nd lighthearted irreverence.
In a chapter about the end of her dog’s life, Hess notes that living so close to nature has helped her accept death. “Compost has brought me closer to the idea of reincarnation than religion ever did,” she quips. Later diagnosed with breast cancer, she has to face her own dogma. “Oh you lie, woman!” she says to herself. “You lie! If you are so mellow and acquiescing and one with Mother Earth … what was that flaming torch you felt when you heard the diagnosis ‘malignant’?”
Hess also writes well about contentedness without being mawkish. One August evening, sweaty from a day’s work, she pops blackberries in her mouth with fingers “stinking of fish fertilizer” while a wrentit trills nearby. In this moment she is “completely and selfishly happy.” We should all be so lucky.