Remembering Bill Coperthwaite

When my wife and I got married my friend, John Saltmarsh, gave us two hand carved wooden spoons and a book called “The Handmade Life.” The spoons were carved by the book’s author, Bill Coperthwaite.

Ten years later, as 2013 was coming to a close, I found out from John that Bill had died in a car accident not far from his home in Maine.

Bill’s book occupies a special place in my heart, and on my bookshelf. I keep it in a small pile of books in our living room, books that I go back to often for advice, for grounding, and for inspiration. Bill was a pioneer in popular education and homesteading, living close to the land and thinking always about how to build more resilient and connected communities.

In his obituary for Bill, his longtime collaborator Peter Forbes wrote that he “embodied a philosophy that he called democratic living which was about enabling every human being to have agency and control over their lives in order to create together a better community.” His book is full of examples of this – democratic axes, democratic chairs, carefully designed so anyone who needed one could make them. Bill was also the person credited with bringing Yurts to America. Bill wrote in his book, “My central concern is encouragement, encouraging people to seek, experiment, to plan, to create, and to dream. If enough people do this we will find a better way.”

And this was Bill’s impact on my life, and continues to be. An encouragement to live more closely to my values, to work towards more democratic communities and structures, and to engage my hands, my heart and my head making a better way.

Not long after our wedding we had the good fortune to visit Peter Forbes at the Center for Whole Communities in Vermont, where Bill was doing a spoon-carving workshop. My wife and I spent the day perched on a tall hillside looking out over the Mad River, carving spoons from small blocks of wood and discussing how we were going to shape this new life we were making together.

We never saw Bill again after that, but we think of him every time we hold those spoons in our hands.

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