Paper pub. date
June 2015
ISBN 9780870718052 (paperback)
ISBN 9780870718069 (ebook)
6 x 9, 192 pages.

Building a Better Nest

Living Lightly at Home and in the World

Evelyn Searle Hess

For fifteen years, Evelyn Hess and her husband David lived in a tent and trailer, without electricity or running water, on twenty acres of wild land in the foothills of the Oregon Coast Range. When they decided to build a house – a real house at last – they knew it would have to respect the lessons of simple living that they learned in their camping life. They knew they could not do it alone. Building a Better Nest chronicles their adventures as they begin to construct a house of their own, seeking a model for sustainable living not just in their home, but beyond its walls.

What does it mean to build a better nest? Better for whom? Is it better for the individual or family? The planet? Green building and sustainable design are popular buzzwords, but to Hess, sustainable building is not a simple matter of buying and installing the latest recycled flooring products. It is also about cooperative work: working together in employment, in research, in activism, and in life. Hess is concerned with her local watershed, but also with the widening income gap, disappearing species, and peak resources. She actively works to reduce overconsumption and waste. For Hess, these problems are both philosophical and practical.

As Hess and her husband age, the questions of how to live responsibly arise with greater frequency and urgency. With unfailing wit and humor, she looks for answers in such places as neuroscience, Buddhism, and her ancestral legacy. Building a Better Nest will appeal to anyone with an interest in sustainable building, off-grid living, or alternative communities. The questions it asks about the way we live are earnest and important, from an author whose voice is steeped in wisdom and gratitude.


About the author

Evelyn Searle Hess  lives in the foothills of southern Oregon’s Coast Range. At various times a teacher, greenhouse manager, gardener, garden designer, and a native-plant nursery owner, along with being a mother, grandmother, and now great grandmother, she currently weeds, writes, and tries to put up her garden produce before the critters get it. In spare moments she helps husband David with their life project, building a house. Hess’s previous book To the Woods (OSU Press, 2010), won the 2011 WILLA Literary Award for Best Creative Nonfiction.

Read more about this author

"WILLA Award- winning writer Evelyn Searle Hess has given us a beautiful new book.  With the voice of a poet, she shows that it is possible to walk in beauty, even on a muddy trail.  With the creativity of a gardener, she shows how love grows and flowers, even on a winter day.  With the wisdom of an elder, she shows that it is possible for a person, no matter how tested, to live a life she believes in. With all the courage in her great soul, she shows that a person can be both honest and joyous, even in a reeling world." —Kathleen Dean Moore, author of Wild Comfort and Moral Ground

"Reading Evelyn Hess is like sitting with friends around a campfire on a chilly autumn night, hands wrapped around a warm mug of tea, staring into the flames while listening to a good story. Hess' level-headed, open-hearted encounters with the world remind us of our responsibility to be good neighbors to everything in nature. Building a Better Nest is quietly eloquent and plainly wise." —Charles Goodrich, author of The Practice of Home

"With this compelling, philosophical memoir of house-building, Evelyn Searle Hess joins the likes of Charles Goodrich, Michael Pollan, and Henry David Thoreau. Inspiring, informative, and entertaining, Hess’s stories draw the reader into thinking about sustainable living, low-cost and mindful construction practices, and energetic aging. If “ordinary folks,” like the author herself, read Building a Better Nest and take its messages to heart, our society and the planet will be much better off." —Scott Slovic, University of Idaho, author of Seeking Awareness in American Nature Writing and Going Away to Think

"Evelyn Hess’s nests—family history, the house she and her husband are building, their 21 foothill acres, and the greater house of nature—fit one-in-the-other not as neatly as Russian dolls. There are obstacles, cross-purposes, disappointments, small disasters, and she learns from every one. 'I eat my failures,' she attests, and makes compost of them to nourish her way further. She is living an audacious, lifelong, deeply conscious journey into self and place—or better, into self in place. Many of us share her values but lack her gumption.  We are lucky to have her useful and gracefully written first two books." —John Daniel, author of Rogue River Journal and Of Earth: New and Selected Poems

"Hess’s respect and love for the earth is palpable as she recounts her journey of creating a sustainable home, mindful of the impact on her planetary family each step of the way. She indeed builds a better nest as she guides us through a captivating tapestry of familial, cultural, and economic history, from the late 1800s to the present—each story adding to and strengthening the integrity of her own nest. Hers is an empowering example of living with awareness and humility at any age and stage of life." —Mary Christina Wood, author of Nature’s Trust

"Recommended for the reader who desires to be challenged, frustrated and provoked to laugh and cry all from one tale." -- Kory Bowlin, Eugene Weekly


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