Helen Hoover’s Gift

April 2009


In 1954, successful research metallurgist Helen Hoover decided to get away from it all and move with her husband Adrian to a primitive log cabin on Gunflint Lake in remote northern Minnesota. The Hoovers preferred quiet days and natural life rhythms to the hustle and bustle of 1950’s Chicago. The feeling was so strong that financial security was an afterthought. The couple knew they wanted to live in harmony with nature, so when a cabin came up for sale, they jumped at the opportunity.


The Hoovers were naturalists, but not hunters. They purchased mail-order food and had it delivered to a nearby village for pickup. Remote from society, it was difficult to obtain necessities such as fuel, clothing, supplies, and occasional medical treatment. Cash was needed and the Hoovers no longer had a steady income. The call of nature and the strong sense that the move was the right decision kept the Hoovers from failing. Nature itself was the strongest proponent, as Helen writes, “[the hardships] brought us deep awareness of the strength and courage to be drawn from the steady renewal of the forest.”


During the first year, the Hoovers nearly failed but persisted and persevered. Adrian, formerly a promotional art director, began selling note cards featuring his detailed, realistic nature illustrations. Helen later began writing of the couple’s immersion into nature and the interactions with the animals of the forest. Helen’s first book was published in 1963; nine years after the Hoovers embarked on their new life.


Ms. Hoover went on to write four books over an 11-year period. Her books document both the joys and trials of everyday life in the forest. Since the Hoovers’ social life involved mostly their animal neighbors, much attention is given to deer, mice, birds, squirrels, moose, and many other forest creatures, including a particularly hilarious fisher. Adrian illustrated Helen’s books, bringing her stories to life with amazing realism. Adrian’s images capture the immortal creatures in action, oftentimes engaged in humorous antics.


The most touching of Ms. Hoover’s books is The Gift of the Deer. One particularly cold Christmas Eve, a nearly-starved, blind-in-one-eye deer stumbled into the Hoovers’ clearing. The Hoovers fed the deer and helped him survive the winter. They named the deer Peter Whitetail. Ms. Hoover tells of Peter regaining life and vigor and later visiting the Hoovers’ cabin along with his mate and their offspring. The Hoovers spent four years seeing Peter and his clan regularly, and gleaning valuable lessons from his perseverance and strength to survive.


Helen Hoover (1910-1984) wrote The Long-Shadowed Forest (1963), The Gift of the Deer (1966), A Place in the Woods (1968), and The Years of the Forest (1973).