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Charles, for example, has advocated for the legalization of same-sex marriage and has worked on issues ranging from mental illness to peace and justice.
Alison’s father, Bronson Clark, was the executive director during the Vietnam War era of the American Friends Service Committee, which worked with conscientious objectors and others who resisted the draft.
So when the chance came to spend the summer at the Harborside homestead of Scott and Helen Nearing — two people Charles and Alison had long admired — it was an opportunity they could not pass up.
It was, in a sense, a homecoming for the couple. Charles served as minister at the Unitarian Universalist churches in Blue Hill and Castine from 1981 to 1989, and two of the couple’s three now-grown children were born in Maine.
The Stephenses also built a cabin — one without running water or electricity — on a piece of land in Blue Hill in the 1980s, and have spent time there in the summer for many years.
“So we were living a sustainable, good life in the summer,” said Alison, referencing the title of the Nearings’ best-known work, the 1954 book “Living the Good Life.”
The chance to spend this summer as stewards of the Nearing Homestead — the couple will be there until Columbus Day — came about because Charles retired from being a full-time minister at the end of June.
Most recently, he had served for 15 years as minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church at Washington Crossing in Titusville, N.J. In between that and his time in Maine, he led the Unitarian church in Concord, N.H., for eight years.
As summer stewards, the couple tend to the garden, mow the lawn, help maintain the buildings that are part of the Nearing Homestead and the associated Good Life Center, and greet visitors who make their way down the winding, single-lane road on Cape Rosier.
Charles said the number of visitors averages about 12 a day — sometimes there might only be two, other days 24. They come from all over — as near as Maine and as far away as Tasmania — and for different reasons.
Some are young couples interested in starting their own homestead and living the good life, while others are more interested in Scott Nearing’s political philosophies.
Charles recalled how four families from South Korea stopped by to visit and said they had read “The Making of a Radical,” Scott Nearing’s self-described “political autobiography.”
Though the Nearings have been dead for many years — Scott died in 1983 at the age of 100, while Helen died in 1995 — the stewards see the ways in which the couple influenced, and continue to influence, people in the world today.
“I’m not sure we appreciated that when we came,” said Alison.
Charles said one visitor told how her grandfather was a contemporary of Scott Nearing’s, and said she thought so much of him that she named her son Scott Nearing.
Official visiting hours at the Nearing Homestead are from 1-5 p.m. Thursday through Monday, though Charles said visitors come as early as 10 a.m. and as late as 6:30 p.m.
While some people might be bothered by that, Charles said he and Alison are “both relative extroverts,” so they’re always glad to meet with visitors.
One thing that is taking some getting used to is squirrels living in the outbuilding that has been converted to include a small living space for the stewards.
“They’re not used to having to share their space with human beings,” said Charles of the squirrels. The couple said their cat is helping keep the squirrels at bay.
The Nearing Homestead overlooks Orr’s Cove — on a clear day, it affords views of Islesboro and the Camden Hills, across Penobscot Bay — and the couple said they have a two-person kayak, but haven’t yet had a chance to use it.
Their work at the homestead keeps them busy, though they acknowledge the Nearings were likely busier in their time here. Helen and Scott hauled stones up from the beach to build their home and the garden wall, and they brought gravel from the beach to use in the cement.
“They were unbelievable workers,” said Alison of the Nearings. She pointed out something Helen had created, a sort of collage of work gloves used by her and Scott, worn threadbare with use.
“I’m not sure I have the ambition to do what they did,” said Charles, even though he describes himself as a “hands-on person” comfortable with work.
The couple are having a house built on the property where they built their summer cabin three decades ago, and that is where they will live when their time at the Nearing Homestead is over.
For the time being, though, they are enjoying their days among the spruce trees and stone walls on Cape Rosier, reading books out of the Nearings’ 4,000-volume library and eating raw vegetables from the garden when they’re not working.
“It’s inspiring to live here — it really is,” said Charles.
Walking among the garden that includes everything from onions to okra, Alison said she and Charles are required to be vegetarians for the summer. Making the shift was not overly hard, however, because the only meat they had been consuming was some chicken and fish.
Other would-be stewards might not adjust as easily to that requirement, or to the prospect of having to walk to a different building just to use the toilet (it’s a composting model) or have access to running water.
“This is a good life,” said Charles, placing emphasis on the word “a.” He added, “It’s not necessarily everybody’s.”
Steve Fuller covers Ellsworth, Mariaville, Otis, Eastbrook, Waltham, Osborn, Aurora, Amherst and Great Pond. A native of Waldo County, he served as editor of Belfast’s Republican Journal prior to joining The Ellsworth American in April of 2012.Website: ellsworthamerican.com