Dolly Freed was once amongst America's most famous teenagers - and amazing. And to the delight of her fans, one writer has tracked her down:
Dolly Freed was 18 when she wrote the bestselling Possum Living: How to Live Well Without a Job and with (Almost) No Money, in which she expounded upon the independent, sustainable lifestyle she and her father had worked out to suit themselves. They foraged and raised almost all their food and in general applied a cheerful ingenuity that appealed very much to readers of the late 70s, as did the delightful documentary that followed. The Freeds, as she was careful to point out, were not politically motivated - they simply preferred to be their own bosses, to be independent, and to make things. Occupying a unique space somewhere between hippies and 19th century pioneers, the Possum Livers seemed, in increasingly complicated times, to be simply happy.
Needless to say, amidst straitened circumstances and a new emphasis on sustainability, Dolly Freed's philosophy is timely once again, and indeed, she's releasing a new version of Possum Living. One writer, Paige Williams, took it upon herself to track down Freed and discover what her contemporary life is like. "By noon," begins her terrific profile, "Dolly Freed has composted peppers, studied a tadpole under an old Russian field microscope, sniffed and tasted a new supply of homegrown garlic, discussed Gardner's theory of multiple intelligences, demonstrated how to turn an ordinary pressure cooker into a moonshine still, looked up "rose-breasted grosbeak" in Peterson Field Guides, and harvested cherry tomatoes from her garden."
Dolly, she finds, is a former aerospace engineer, now living in Texas and active in environmental education. While she and her father fell out and the idyll of possum living gave way to the realities of wanting college and boyfriends, Dolly never lost her love of nature or of ingenuity. She and her family are "half-possuming," she says. While the book may seem to some a relic of an earlier sort of naivete, anyone who's ever run across a copy at a yard sale or found it online knows that it was, and is, much more: quite apart from its very real practical and philosophical value today, it's a peerless portrait of an intelligent young woman. Dolly is a sharp writer, an autodidact and an 18-year-old of unusual competence and grit. Although some of their lifestyle - and the title - might seem picturesque, in fact there's nothing precious about Possum Living: it's genuine in a way few books are, certainly those geared towards young women today. Dolly's words, from Williams' profile, should be argument enough: "If there's one thing possum living taught me, it's that you need very few physical things to be happy. Water, food, shelter, good heath, security, and liberty-that's it. Everything else is mental."
Finding Dolly Freed [Paige_Williams]
Possum Living Part 1 of 3 [YouTube]