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An American Family's Struggle to Carve Out a Homestead in California's Redwood Mountains

by David Colfax & Micki Colfax

Pub Date: July 17th, 1992
ISBN: 0-446-51489-6

 When, in 1973, the Colfaxes bought 47 isolated acres in California's Redwood Mountains, they had no inkling of the challenges their rough homestead would pose. Here, they tell the fascinating story of their sojourn into ``rural self-reliance.'' Hounded out of academia because of David's radical political beliefs, the authors sought something different for themselves and their sons. With a worn-out chain saw and The Whole Earth Catalog in hand, they cleared the land and built ``Shining Moon Ranch,'' a home that would not have electricity, a telephone, or running water for years to come. Though they became well known in the 1980's for ``homeschooling'' three of their sons into Harvard, the Colfaxes' tale is one of privation and setbacks, with money a major concern. In 1975, after their firewood business proved only moderately successful, David took a teaching job in Canada. But the family hated the move and returned to California to try truck-gardening and raising livestock. Sheep, goats, pigs, chickens, turkeys, and rabbits turned out to be hard work and unpredictable charges for the boys, but eventually paid off in 4-H and county-fair prizes, and in a profitable goat-breeding venture. Here, anecdotes of the farming life are filled with mishaps (baby Garth ``helps'' by washing 50 newborn chicks with Ivory soap); false starts (in 1983, two-thirds of the goats inexplicably miscarry); dangers (the makeshift water pump catches fire and sets half the ranch ablaze); and privations (the family lives without electricity until 1984). The boys, subjected to intense media coverage (60 Minutes, The Tonight Show, etc.), have gone on to Fulbrights and high honors at Harvard, while David, who was elected to the county school board in 1985, suffered a near-fatal heart attack in 1990 while chasing a bear. The Colfaxes have quite a story to tell and do it justice in the telling. (Eight-page photo insert--not seen.)