The wild life

Two books inspire green living
By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  February 12, 2014

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GET BACK STAY BACK Celebrate the book's release this Thursday, February 13.

A new book from Portland writer Joseph Conway casts an admiring glow on some of Maine’s young farmers and homesteaders, exploring the evolution of the back-to-the-land movement and its modern-day incarnation.

Comprising thoughtfully rendered visual and verbal portraits of second-generation back-to-the-landers as well as personal interviews, Get Back, Stay Back offers 13 case studies of families with similar casts of characters: parents who dropped out of society and went whole-hog toward a life of self-sufficiency in the 1960s and ’70s, and their kids who are figuring out how sustainability, full-time farming, and rustic living make sense in a modern context. Well written in a conversational tone, the book is also beautiful to look at, with pictures by Portland photographer Mark Yaggie (as well as old snapshots dug up from family archives).

Refreshingly, Conway addresses early on and throughout the book the less romantic aspect of rural living: how to make it work, financially. He also points out that “still today, in places like the deep woods of Maine, there are families living in shacks and broken down trailers for whom escaping the stifling contrivances of modern life is not a concern.” Indeed, for many people, the rural life is just that — life.

In several cases, Conway’s subjects seem somewhat more pragmatic than their parents, cognizant of the economic challenges that come with wanting to disengage from an urban, consumerist lifestyle. As Cornville farmer Johanna Burdet puts it: “All the young farmers I know are not like, ‘Ooh, this is a cute idea! I’m going to do this.’ They’re very practical. We have to make a living at this and I need to be smart and I need to figure out what other people are doing.”

GET BACK STAY BACK by Joseph F. Conway | published by Publication Studio Portland + Leisure Labor | $20 | launch party Thursday, February 13 at 7:30pm | Institute of Contemporary Art at the Maine College of Art, 522 Congress St, Portland | Free | getbackstayback.com + josephfconway.com

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Whether you’re a wannabe homesteader or just an enthusiastic nature-lover, Maine writer and naturalist Tom Seymour’s newly revised Wild Plants of Maine is a smart addition to your library. Covering a wide array of wild edibles, Seymour’s guide can help you identify everything from leafy greens to root crops to mushrooms, right out your back door.

Of course the author writes about several native herbs. One of his favorites is wild mint, which grows abundantly along streams, brooks, rivers, lakes, and ponds, and can be used for teas or for flavoring meat and fish. “Every year in late summer...I go on a wild mint foraging expedition,” he writes. “Interestingly, while having never found wild mint that I didn’t like, some locations yield vetter-tasting, more fragrant mint than others. Consequently, I have my favorite wild mint streams.”

Less popular, but just as abundant, is green amaranth, which Seymour notes is “an unwelcome invader from south of the US border.” While the rough, prickly plant doesn’t immediately announce itself as edible, our expert assures us that “young leaves, gathered throughout the summer and cooked for at least fifteen minutes, are a suitable potherb for even the daintiest palate.”

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