“I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.” – Henry David Thoreau
GRASS (Group Recycling and Sustainable Solutions) showed the film “Wonder: The Lives of Anna & Harlan Hubbard” in the Chao Auditorium on Feb. 20 as part of their spring film series. Written and produced by local award-winning producer, Morgan Atkinson, and released on Nov. 12, 2012, this humble documentary discusses the simple lives of Kentuckians Anna and Harlan Hubbard, who chose to leave society and become a part of nature.
Their venture resembles that of Thoreau, the 19th century transcendentalist philosopher who retreated into the woods of Walden Pond for two years and wrote about his solitary experience. About 100 years later, in the midst of WWII in 1944, the Hubbards’ made a similar decision, but instead of a social experiment, the couple chose this as their lifestyle for 40 years. They set their homemade shanty-boat adrift on the Ohio River and lived there for eight years before deciding to build their own house in the uninhabited Payne Hollow–still living simply, as they had on the river.
Several changes occurred from the mid-1940s through the 1980s, (and to give some perspective), the Hubbards’ missed the invention of the microwave, computer, VCRs, and personal computers; the Korean War, Cold War, and Vietnam War; Sputnik, the first man on the moon, and the Challenger explosion; Playboy magazine, “The Sound of Music,” the Beatles, and Michael Jackson’s “Thriller;” Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, the Watergate Scandal, and Gorbachev’s Glasnost and Perestroika. Throughout all of this immense change and progress, Anna and Harlan Hubbard happily maintained their simple lifestyle.
This small-budget documentary successfully weaves together old photographs, paintings, wood prints, and film clips of the Ohio River to effectively portray the richness of the Hubbards’ story. With locals Will Oldham (Harlan Hubbard) and Katie Weiber (Anna Hubbard) narrating both Harlan Hubbard’s personal journals and Wendell Berry’s book, “Harlan Hubbard: Life and Work,” audiences are able to easily delve into the almost primitive adventures of the Hubbards’. The narrators’ voices effectively expose the wonder, awe, and love of nature that the Hubbards’ shared and cultivated during their journey.
During Anna and Harlan Hubbard’s secluded life, much of the public thought the couple to be crazy for wanting to live without modern conveniences – who could survive without electricity, cars, radio, or television? Many people, too, were inspired by the Hubbards’ lives and said that they wished to live like them. The Hubbards’, completely uninterested in economic growth, found the heart of life living on the fringe of society, but Harlan Hubbard believed that most people didn’t truly want to give up their own convenient lifestyles. He believed that they instead admired the simplicity of the Hubbards’ life and wished to make their own lives more simple and whole. This documentary helps open the audience’s eyes to the beauty of a solitary lifestyle, and instills in viewers a longing for that same simplicity, joy, and connection with the earth that the Hubbards’ found.
After the movie, viewers were invited to chow down on some delicious pizza and discuss the film with the director, who attended the viewing. The filmmaker shared a bit more about the life of the Hubbards’ and expressed that it was difficult to fit their whole lives into just one hour. Viewers were moved by the film and shared stories of times during which they were able to retreat from society, whether that was going on a seven-day boating trip or hiking parts of the Appalachian Trail. All seemed to agree that these retreats into nature were life-giving experiences, and they plan to do them again.
As busy college students, it seems to be especially difficult to step aside and take time to appreciate nature. The recent warm weather has certainly been a mood-lifter, and it’s hard to not want to enjoy some time in nature. It can be difficult to pull away from our hectic daily lives, but as Anna and Harlan Hubbard know, the reward is great.
Be sure to keep an eye out for next month’s film; you won’t want to miss it!