Linda Tatelbaum

Carrying Water as a Way of Life: A Homesteader's History
5 1/2" x 8" paperback
128 pages
Photographs by
Bonnie Farmer
ISBN 0-9654428-0-2

Praise for Carrying Water

"Spiked with humor, this engaging, true-grit memoir is graced with homespun yet unsentimental observations. Her strenuous quest for the simple life rings true...a passionate plea for ecological sanity."

—Publishers Weekly

"Sad, noble and beautifully written. It is a book to re-read, one that teaches."

—Colby Magazine

"It sings from the bottom of a dry well to the ridgepole of a handmade house to an endless town meeting to jars and jars and jars: E.B. White with more heart."

—Andy Lacher, owner, Bookstacks Bookstore

"This grand narrative of contemporary New England traces one woman's cycle of dropping out and re-engaging in a tiny Maine community. Essential reading."

—William Carpenter, poet, Speaking Fire at Stones

"The sacrifices made by the '70s counterculturists have rarely been so honestly recorded or the joys so movingly told."

—Agnes Bushnell, editor, The Dissident

"Read Thoreau and the Nearings, but read Carrying Water first, for the plain, complex facts about homesteading."

— Yes! A Journal of Positive Futures

Excerpts from Carrying Water

Table of Contents:

Lesson in Eco-nomics

A Homesteader's History

Carrying Water as a Way of Life
Down to the Wire: Life without Electricity
The Old Well
Power of Choice: The Sun
Beans Are Us
For Love or Money
Sign of the Times: FOR SALE
Lord Love a Swamp
The Rockland That Was
Even Stones Dissolve in the Rain

George's Store
Wheaten Loaf
12 Ways of Looking at Trash
Can't Get There from Here
The Color Orange
The Language of the Trees

Outstanding in Her Swamp

Lesson in Eco-nomics

It's an economic story.

I never would have said so back in the days of rusted red Volkswagen, faded pink trailer parked under milkweed in an overgrown field. To build a house, to plant a garden, to make a life—self-sufficient, simple. I didn't understand, in 1977, how deeply a homesteader's history is rooted in the economic forces that surround her. How deeply anyone's history.

I would have said it was aesthetics, philosophy, botany. I would have called it poetry, back in the kerosene lamp days, the hauling water days. I would have claimed to be putting down roots and bringing forth greens, making a life.

But really, it comes down to making a living: negotiating the complex dynamic between people, land, money, work. Between me, home, income, career.

Making do vs. doing without,
doing-it-yourself vs. hiring out,
growing your own vs. buying it,
working at home vs. "working out"

—which used to mean going off the farm to work, not weight-lifting, though I suppose it amounts to the same thing. Building muscle, discipline, character, endurance.

I still say it's not only about money, this story. It's about saving something besides money. Save time save the planet save face save water save space save the whales save the children save scraps save seeds save energy

save your breath
just do what you can.


My life is involved with jars. Up from the cellar I bring them, empty, to be filled. Down into the cellar I carry them, full. Up from the cellar I bring them, full, to be emptied. I clean them. I carry them down again. They feed me. I feed them.

Jars are transparent. Their being is nothingness, a vessel, a form to be filled with other forms, a colorless shape to contain colorful shapes. One year a jar is red with tomato sauce, the next year yellow with mustard pickle. Purple grape juice, amber apple sauce, pink rhubarb, green beans, brown chutney. From year to year the jar transforms. The same jar emits a different light.

Jars preserve a snapshot of the garden's beauty. Dill flowers and cucumber with floating garlic cloves. Corn and shell beans. Red peppers and green peppers. In jars we see reflected the delight of our summertime eyes, once winter comes and turns our brilliant patch of ground to limitless white.

Then there are the jars of grains, the muted browns and tans of rice and nuts and flour. Big gallon jars hold future breads and cereals, all their elements separated, waiting to be united by my hands. Dried foods, these too dwell in jars. Former juice jars and coffee jars and jelly jars of all sizes and shapes protect shrunken eggplant slices, curled apple rings, brittle spinach from the vapors of the air. There's cider, in gallon jugs that once held vinegar or juice. Dandelion wine, in old wine bottles gathered at parties. Home-brewed beer, in bottles worth more to me than their 5 deposit.

And of course, cartons and cartons of just jars, empty jars that might someday be useful for something. Jars seen at the dump, too good to pass up. Jars cleaned and saved from purchased mayonnaise, mustard, wheat germ. Jars that would look nice with flowers in them. Jars to put nails and screws in. Jars to keep garden seeds in. Jars to capture fireflies in. Jars for honey. Jars to catch the drip from a leaking roof. Jars to give as gifts, filled with herb teas or dried fruit or maple syrup.

And doesn't every woman keep a mental list of who has a jar of hers, whose jar she has? Homestead ecology requires a balance of jars. In them we gather all that we sow. In them we preserve the fruits of our labor. They contain our continuing life.

Passing them through my hands time and time again, I become one with jars. I too am a vessel, a temporary dwelling for the stuff of life. I too am a transparent space existing in the midst of time. My life too is a series of transformations. What is it that fills me, empties me, changes my light? I reflect the universe as it flows through me. I am intimately involved with jars.

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