Two ‘native daughters of Maine’ to speak about their books at Camden library

Posted April 25, 2011, at 8 p.m.

CAMDEN, Maine — Two “native daughters of Maine” will speak about their recently published books and the resonance between them at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 3, at the Camden Public Library.

Caitlin Shetterly and Melissa Coleman are two children of the back-to-the-land movement who have written memoirs about family, tough journeys and love. Coleman’s book,”This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone,” published in April, is the story of her parents, Eliot and Sue, and their move to Maine to start a farm near Helen and Scott Nearing in the 1970s. In many ways the book is a prologue to Caitlin Shetterly’s book, “Made for You and Me: Going West, Going Broke, Finding Home,” published in March. The event is co-sponsored by the Owl and Turtle Bookstore and the Camden Public Library. The bookstore will have copies of both books on hand at the library for purchase and signing.

Newlyweds Caitlin Shetterly and her husband, Dan Davis, two hardworking freelancers, began their lives together in 2008 by pursuing a lifelong, shared dream of leaving Maine and going West. At first, California was the land of plenty. Quickly, though, the recession landed, and a surprise pregnancy that was also surprisingly rough made Caitlin too sick to work. By December, every job Dan had lined up had been canceled, and though he pounded the pavement, from shop to shop and from bar to bar, he could not find any work at all. By March 2009, every cent of the couple’s savings had been spent.

So, a year after they’d set out with big plans, Caitlin and Dan packed up again, this time with a baby on board, to make their way home to move in with Caitlin’s mother. As they drove, Caitlin blogged about their situation and created audio diaries for NPR’s Weekend Edition — and received an astounding response. From all across the country, listeners offered help, opening their hearts and their homes. And when the young family arrived back in rural Maine and squeezed into Caitlin’s mother’s small saltbox house, Caitlin learned that the bonds of family run deeper than any tug to roam, and that, with love, she and Dan could hold their dreams in sight, wherever they were.

As a freelance writer, Coleman focuses on lifestyle, health and travel. She’s a columnist for Maine and Maine Home and Design magazines and serves on the board of the Telling Room, a Portland writing center for kids. She lives in Freeport with her husband and twin daughters. “This Life Is in Your Hands: One Dream, Sixty Acres, and a Family Undone” is her first book.

Set on a rugged coastal homestead during the 1970s, “This Life Is in Your Hands” introduces a young writer driven by the need to uncover the truth of a childhood tragedy and connect anew with the beauty and vitality of the back-to-the-land ideal that shaped her early years. In the fall of 1968, Melissa Coleman’s parents, Eliot and Sue — a handsome, idealistic young couple from well-to-do families — pack a few essentials into their VW bus and abandon the complications of modern existence to carve a farm from the woods. They move to a remote peninsula on the coast of Maine and become disciples of Helen and Scott Nearing, authors of the homesteading bible “Living the Good Life.” On 60 acres of sandy, intractable land they begin to forge a new existence, subsisting on the crops they grow and building a home with their own hands.

While they establish a happy family and achieve their visionary goals, the pursuit of a purer, simpler life comes at a price. Winters are long and lean, summers frenetic with the work of the harvest and the distraction of the many young farm apprentices threatens the Colemans’ marriage. Then, one summer day when Melissa is 7, her 3-year-old sister, Heidi, wanders off and drowns in the pond where she liked to play. In the wake of the accident, ideals give way to human frailty, divorce and a mother’s breakdown — and ultimately young Melissa is abandoned to the care of neighbors. What really happened, and who, if anyone, is to blame? “This Life Is in Your Hands” is the search to understand a complicated past; a true story, both tragic and redemptive, it tells of the quest to make a good life, the role of fate and the power of forgiveness.

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