"Diogenes, on being asked why people give to beggars but not to philosophers, said: 'Because they suppose they might become lame and blind but they never suppose they might take up philosophy.'"
I just finished Possum Living, "How to Live Well Without a Job and (Almost) No Money;" the author's father was a great admirer of Diogenes and the (then) 18-year-old Polly Free sets out with her own lamp of truth, describing how the two of them were getting through the late 1970s -- years of malaise and stagflation -- on practically nothing but their wits and the kind of small-scale agriculture and animal husbandry you can practice in a suburban back yard and basement.
As someone who grew up in a home with ducks in the yard (ahh, duck eggs! Nothing better for baking! I liked them fried; you might not), a good-sized vegetable garden and a beehive, I found the book utterly charming. And it includes descriptions of home winemaking and distillation, for those inclined towards chemical recreation. Not just a period piece, it's at least as full of practical notions as any similar work and refreshingly free of politics or scaremongering. This book is worth owning.
What became of young "Polly," unschooled from 7th grade on? Why, she grew up to become an aerospace engineer (with a degree and a job at NASA) and later, a Nature instructor, and has raised a few kids of her own. Not bad for a "possum," hey? Not bad for anyone!
1. That's a "chreia," by the way, a class of writing well worth Googling.
2. Absolutely true: Mom never "smoked" her bees to calm them and though she owned a beekeeper's veiled hat, after a few years, she didn't bother with it. She and the bees got along just fine, even when she was collecting honey. I have no idea how this arrangement was reached; I can only report what I observed. When my parents moved to a bedroom community near Indianapolis and brought the bees along, the little town sent a code-enforcement honcho over: the bees had to go. "Too dangerous," they said. Yeah, just like roses are dangerous.
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4 weeks ago