Terry Silber, 63; gave up city living for her farm in Maine

By Tom Long, Globe Staff, 7/12/2003

Terry S. (Tripp-Brown) Silber, 63, the former art director of The Atlantic Monthly magazine who gave up her career and city life in 1978 to grow closer to the land, died of cancer Sunday on the spread in Sumner, Maine, she called Hedgehog Hill Farm.

Mrs. Silber was the rarest of individuals: A member of the counterculture's back-to-the-earth movement who actually had the grit to make a living off the land. She shared her experiences in ''A Small Farm in Maine,'' an unsentimental look at the rural life that became a must-read for urbanites contemplating a move back to the land.

''She wanted to start this farm so she could educate people in how to take care of the land responsibly,'' Mark Silber, her husband and companion of 35 years, said yesterday.

In a story published in the Globe in 1989, she delivered a progress report on life on the farm. ''In the city, one spends so much time on politics and the presentation of self,'' she said. ''One cannot talk without being clever. Life here is much less self-conscious, more sensual. It's sights, sounds, smells. I'm more interested in the world around me than in my performance in the world. I'm not pressed to perform here.''

Yet she and her husband, a documentary photographer who was trained as a medical anthropologist, did indeed perform. They sought their neighbors' advice on planting such staples as corn and tomatoes, and eventually branched out into raising flowers and creating dried flower arrangements.

The farm became a showplace, visited annually by thousands who bought seedlings and dried flowers or took courses and workshops on gardening, flower arranging, and other earthly arts.

''A lot of people thought our marriage was perfect,'' Mark said yesterday, ''but it was not. She didn't laugh at my jokes enough and she loved all kinds of critters including mice, racoons, and woodchucks, which I can't stand.''

Mrs. Silber was a native of Lewiston, Maine. A graduate of the University of New Hampshire, she was employed by Harvard Magazine before becoming art director at The Atlantic Monthly in 1971.

She bought the 1837 Greek Revival cape farmhouse and 40 acres of land in Maine in 1965 for $5,000.

''I loved the place at first sight,'' she wrote. ''I really expected to use it only as a retreat, a place to get away from the city, occasionally. It was a whimsical purchase.''

She said she eventually began to resent having to return to the city after each weekend. In 1978, she decided she no longer wanted to live in the city.

''This very ordinary piece of lands has become my home, my office, my laboratory,'' she wrote, ''and on it I am able to work, play, study and live, all the while enjoying an environment that is so beautiful, so stimulating, and so seductive that I have become unfit to live elsewhere.''

The Silbers made $498.43 the first year they sold vegetables out of the back of a Chevy truck. But, by trial and error, they eventually learned how to make a living off the land.

Mrs. Silber also managed to take time out to enjoy the simple pleasures. She wrote about the joy of holding a baby bird, nursing a butterfly back to health, and seeing a double-rainbow so vivid she was frightened. ''I have formed a deep bond,'' she wrote, ''not to the house or the business of the community, but to the land itself.''

In addition to her husband, she leaves a son, Jacob of Brighton.

Mrs. Silber's remains will be cremated and placed in a simple wooden container designed and built by her husband and son on Monday. Her ashes will be scattered on the farm, on a hill overlooking the mountains, where her husband said they often went to reflect on nature and ''talk a lot, and be silent a lot.''

A memorial gathering will be held at the farm on Aug. 3 at 2 p.m.

This story ran on page E11 of the Boston Globe on 7/12/2003.
Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.