Local news and information covering the unique towns and islands of East Penobscot and Blue Hill Bays, Maine.
On the Penobscot Bay Press Website week of December 5, 2003.
Hay Bright book raises questions....
Photo by David Walsh
Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life enlivens local history
by Sharon Bray
CAPE ROSIER—Reading Jean Hay Bright’s book, Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life, for some readers, will bring up distant memories, strong feelings, and some sense of truth, justice and resolution for unfinished dreams and continuing hopes. The book is about people, land, animals and life on 22 acres of Cape Rosier sold to Hay Bright and her first husband in 1972 by back-to-the-land celebrities Helen and Scott Nearing. The Nearings wrote and published many books, including Living the Good Life. Organic gardening expert and author Eliot Coleman and his family were Hay Bright’s other neighbors.
Unlike many young people who moved to Maine in the 1960s and ’70s, Jean and her first husband did not come with a trust fund behind them nor land and a summer house owned by parents. They came from a working family community in the mid-west with energy, intelligence and a strong will to make a new, self-reliant life.
Parts of the book are almost “how to” on raising and harvesting chickens, goats and vegetables. Other parts deal with birth, death and ghosts believed to haunt the Cape. And all of it is about the events that shaped Hay Bright’s life as writer and farmer, events many readers who are now in middle age can relate to from their own lives.
Some chapters can be read independently, but the book uses flashbacks and subplots the reader might miss by jumping around looking for passages about familiar events. Besides its structural complexity, the book is intensely personal.
“Some parts were very hard to write,” Hay Bright said in an interview November 6, involving “many, many drafts” and revisions. She needed enough detail to tell the story but not too much. She left out “reams of material.” And for all that, she says she could never know everything about the Nearings.
“We had some wonderful times down there and some not so wonderful.”
Thirty years later, she is once again living on a farm, trying to make a living off the land. But now she has other financial resources. As her contemporaries approach retirement, Hay Bright sees some of them choosing a homestead life style similar to the Cape Rosier good life.
Research for the book began with the first letter she had written to her mother back home in Ohio. Her mother had saved all the letters and gave them back to Hay Bright. She wrote to her mother twice most months with notable gaps during extremely busy, stressful times (up to six weeks). Pretty much a running stream in letters with Mom responding with questions that helped fill in gaps.
Her mother “loved it,” said Hay Bright. She read the book in three days. Other relatives have been somewhat shocked at what they never knew about their “little Jeanie.”
Early drafts of Meanwhile… had more letter text. Editor and husband David Bright told her it needed more narrative.
Sometimes she was “amazed to read” her own accounts, “how much we ate… how much we canned,” like two gallons of milk a day. But they were doing hard, vigorous physical labor.
Those letters helped Hay Bright recall details of what have become family stories—one about hunters, descriptions of eccentric visitors and the NBC television visit.
She also used parts of some of her own journals, especially to describe feelings and relationships. Not as copious as the letters, Hay Bright’s journal writing was part of her thought process. “When I really need to analyze something...writing process helps me do that.” Thus she has sporadic journal entries, written “at the most intense times in my life” all the way back to her earliest writing days.
Stories in Meanwhile… are interwoven as threads binding community members and describing the community dynamic.
“We were not exactly what the Nearings had hoped for.” Deliberately or not, the Nearings chose two families of “strong-headed, independents” who would not fit into a follower-guru structure. “I still wonder, why us?” She’s not so sure Helen meant it otherwise and is quite sure forces beyond individual control influenced their lives.
The book came from the printers September 17, 2003, the anniversary of Helen’s death.
In addition to direct orders from Brightberry Press, Meanwhile, Next Door to the Good Life is available at area bookstores.
Jean Hay Bright—
Jean Hay grew up in Ohio. She married in 1966, and her young husband served two tours of duty in Vietnam. The couple moved to Maine in 1972 and divorced in 1979.
From 1975 to 1985 Hay worked as reporter and later bureau chief for the Bangor Daily News. For the next eight years she operated a commercial organic farm in Blue Hill while continuing her environmental and political activities.
In 1992, Hay Bright volunteered as media coordinator for Jonathan Carter, Green Party candidate for Maine’s second district, followed by a stint as a legislative officer for Maine’s first district congressman, Democrat Tom Andrews.
Twice she was the first to declare candidacy in major primaries—the 1994 Democratic primary for Maine’s second district seat at the U.S. House of Representatives and the 1996 Democratic primary for the U.S. Senate.
She wrote her first book, Proud to Be a Card-Carrying, Flag-Waving, Patriotic American Liberal, published by Brightberry Press, to help retire campaign debts. The book is dedicated to Helen Nearing. A professor in one of her University of Maine classes encouraged her to publish A Tale of Dirty Tricks So Bizarre—Susan Collins v Public Record, about the 1996 U.S. Senate race in Maine. The book came out in July 2002.
Hay Bright completed her interrupted formal education with a Bachelor of University Studies with honors in 1998. She decided not to major in journalism when the university insisted she take a class she should have taught on writing editorials.
Hay Bright has also worked as a freelance writer for Penobscot Bay Press, as managing editor of The Enterprise in Bucksport, and as marketing manager for a small publisher and for Johnny’s Selected Seeds.
Hay Bright and her husband, David, live in Dixmont. Currently she is working to increase production on their Brightberry Farm and looking forward to the time when David, a writer and computer installation specialist, can join her as a full-time farmer.
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