April 17, 2011

Author Q & A: 20/20 version

Melissa Coleman embraces the benefits of hindsight in her memoir of growing up in Maine's back-to-the-land movement of the '60s and '70s.

By Meredith Goad mgoad@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

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Melissa Coleman


• APRIL 26: 7 p.m. at Devaney Doak & Garrett Booksellers, 193 Broadway, Farmington

• APRIL 27: 7 p.m. at The Blue Hill Public Library, 317 West Gage St., Blue Hill

• MAY 6: 3:30 to 5 p.m. at Maine Magazine offices, 75 Market St., Suite 203, Portland

• JUNE 16: 6:30 p.m. at Kennebooks, 149 Port Road, Kennebunk

• JULY 14: 7 p.m. at Witherle Memorial Library, 41 School St., Castine

If you've ever wondered what life was like for the pioneers -- hauling their own water, scratching a hardscrabble living from the earth -- you'll get some idea by reading the new book by Melissa Coleman.

"This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone" (Harper, $25.99) is Coleman's memoir about what it was like growing up during the back-to-the-land movement in Maine in the 1960s and 1970s. Coleman is the daughter of Eliot Coleman, Maine's organic gardening guru and creator of Four Season Farm in Harborside, and his former wife, Sue.

The Colemans moved to Maine as young newlyweds in 1968 and bought land from Helen and Scott Nearing. They named their place Greenwood Farm and built a simple cabin there for $680. Life on the farm was an adventure that came without electricity, running water, telephones or other accoutrements of modern living. Soon Melissa arrived and, following her, two more daughters, Heidi and Clara.

Coleman's absorbing memoir is an unsparing look at what life was really like for this idealistic young family trying to make it entirely on their own in Maine's isolated terrain and harsh climate. The book is also an account of her sister Heidi's death in a farm pond at the tender age of 3, and the devastating impact it had on her family.

Coleman is a freelance writer who specializes in lifestyle topics and now pens columns for Maine magazine and Maine Home and Design. An excerpt of "This Life is In Your Hands" appeared in the April issue of O, the Oprah Magazine. She lives with her husband and twin daughters in Freeport. 

Q: Why did you decide to write this book? Was it something you had wanted to do for a long time? Was it a way of processing what happened to your sister?

A: Both. I'd always known I wanted to write about it. I actually had this moment where I felt like these people were in the TV show "Cheers" or something, where you just feel like you know them so well, and I wanted to share them. I wanted to share these characters with other people. We all were so close back then. There was this camaraderie.

But then I was like no, I can't write about this. And I really resisted it. I realized that I had all this fear about the things that happened. I just got really afraid of writing about it, and really didn't want to go there. That's when our twins were born, and it kind of came up in a big way for me because I think when you have kids, it really reminds you of your own childhood. 

Q: How did your parents react to the idea?

A: It started off that they didn't know that I was writing the book. I just started asking a lot of questions, and I didn't say I was working on the book. I didn't even really know myself, I guess. I just really wanted to know what happened, and I wanted details.

My dad was really cute. He would talk about some of the things he was really proud about from that time. You know, how he was 30 years old and he created the farm and built the house. It's really incredible, the work he did. So I think he felt it helped him kind of reconnect, and he felt a lot of pride about that time in his life that had been tarnished a little bit by how things ended. So it was really good to talk about a lot of the joy and the good things that happened.

(Continued on page 2)

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