On a winter morning in 2013, six people paddled the body of their close friend across a bay to a wild homestead on the coast of Maine where he would be buried in a hand-dug grave.
Among the paddling mourners were Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow.
A Man Apart is their story—part memoir and part biography—of their longtime friendship with William Coperthwaite (A Handmade Life) whose unusual life and fierce ideals helped others examine and understand their own. It is also a story about the tensions and complexities of mentorship: the opening of one’s life to someone else to learn together, and carrying on in their physical absence. A Man Apart is also a remembrance of the life, and death, of Coperthwaite—a homesteader and social critic in the lineage of Henry David Thoreau and Scott Nearing—and an account of his decades-long experiment in living on a remote stretch of Maine coast.
Plenty of people can put out their ideas for reform. A pitiful few have designed their lives to reflect their ideals as closely as possible. Bill is one of those few uncompromising souls, unblinded by convention, unsocialized, living what some would call an experimental life but proving it real for nearly fifty years. Coperthwaite lived out his ideals about society, education, and design on his Maine homestead, Dickinsons Reach, and over the years challenged and encouraged Peter and Helen to do some of the most important things they have done with their lives.
In A Man Apart the authors explore and reveal the timeless lessons of Coperthwaite’s experiment in intentional living and self-reliance, as well as describe the revelations and tensions of mentorship. Theirs is a story told through the adventure of building a home with him, Coperthwaite’s last concentric yurt—the building form for which he was best known—on a stretch of coast accessible only by boat. While mourning his death and coming to understand the real meaning of his life and how it endures in their own lives, Peter and Helen handcraft a story that reveals the importance of a life that seeks out direct experience, is drawn to beauty and simplicity, creates rather than critiques, and encourages others.
“What is a good life? The models offered by our celebrity culture are mostly shabby and shallow. To find worthier examples you need to look elsewhere—to books, for example, where you can meet Thoreau, Aldo Leopold, Rachel Carson, Gary Snyder, Barbara Kingsolver, and Wendell Berry, among others. To that lineage of American rebels you can now add Bill Coperthwaite. In this eloquent portrait, Peter Forbes and Helen Whybrow document the search for integrity, wide-ranging competence, and high purpose, not only in Coperthwaite’s life, but in their own. This is a wise and beautiful book.”—Scott Russell Sanders
This is a beautifully raw account of loving grief, instructive failure, and steadfast allegiance to an utter planetary necessity: major cultural transformation.”—David James Duncan, author of The River Why and The Brothers K