Helen Nearing; Author Who Shunned Urban Life

From Times Staff and Wire Reports

Helen K. Nearing, a writer of about 50 books who inspired thousands of urbanites to head to the country, build their own houses and grow their own food, has died. She was 91.

Mrs. Nearing was killed Sunday when the car she was driving hit a tree.

Among her books were two bestsellers, "Living the Good Life: How to Live Simply and Sanely in a Troubled World" and "Continuing the Good Life." She co-authored both with her husband, Scott, who died in 1983 at the age of 100.

The couple's books, written together or separately, ranged from "Simple Food for the Good Life" to "Education in Soviet Russia."

A new book out by Mrs. Nearing this month, "Light on Aging and Dying," is a collection of quotations about death. The book was inspired by the death of her husband, who starved himself.

In her 91 years, Mrs. Nearing, a lifelong vegetarian, never tasted a hamburger, swallowed an aspirin or used a credit card.

The Nearings fostered a back-to-the-land movement when they abandoned New York City in 1932 for a mountainside homestead in Vermont. They later moved to Harborside, Me., to escape Vermont's burgeoning ski industry.

"We thought: Why be poor in the city, where you have to buy stuff? Let's be poor in the country, where you can grow your own radishes and potatoes," Mrs. Nearing said in 1991.

Their Maine house overlooking Penobscot Bay was frequently visited by admirers who were amazed at how they grew greenhouse lettuce in winter with only sunlight for warmth and provided themselves with more than 90% of their own food.

The Nearings had their own scruples, which some critics felt marred their books with self-righteousness. They questioned the morality of keeping bees for honey, for example, on grounds it "certainly exploits the bees."

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