Americans love freedom.
As Editor of ReadTheSpirit, my own journalistic exploration of off-the-grid communities includes two visits to the vast Burning Man festival, which draws tens of thousands at the end of each summer to the remotest tracts of Western desert. Three of our photos today come from ReadTheSpirit Burning Man trips.
But our main guest this week at ReadTheSpirit is journalist and development expert William Powers, author of the new book, “Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream.” In this terrific new book, Bill Powers explores another community of families building small sustainable homes and using emerging skills like permaculture gardening to support themselves. In his book, Powers takes us not West—but East in the U.S. If you’re already familiar with Western experiments like Burning Man, check out Bill’s book, enjoy our quotes from his work today—and come back for our extended interview with Bill on Wednesday.
Many of our readers may think “off the grid” refers to science fiction or perhaps some crazy cultural fringe. In fact, as I know from meeting scores of off-the-grid activists at Burning Man and other parts of the U.S., it’s a serious, creative, spiritually hopeful movement preparing for a sustainable, low-carbon-footprint future on Planet Earth.
In “Twelve by Twelve,” you’ll not only enjoy Bill’s inspiring Thoreau-like passages on rediscovering the natural world—you’ll also pick up lots of important information about the construction of off-the-grid homes, permaculture farming and the challenges these pioneers face.
To orient you to Bill’s book, here are …
Powers Quotes on Permaculture Gardening,
Living in Off the Grid Homes
and Building Better Communities
Meeting the Main Wisdomkeeper in This Book:
I began asking myself a daunting question: How could humanity transition to gentler, more responsible ways of living by replacing attachment to things with deeper relationships to people, nature and self? Fortunately, I stumbled upon someone with some clues: Dr. Jackie Benton. The first time I met this slight 60-year-old physician, she was stroking a honeybee’s wings in front of her 12-foot by 12-foot, off-the-grid home on No Name Creek in North Carolina. … As a poet and scientist, Jackie slowly revealed to me a philosophy that is neither purely secular nor purely spiritual. People call her a “wisdomkeeper,” a Native American term for women elders who ignite deeper questions in us.
Why Off the Grid Living
Turns People Invisible:
You couldn’t exactly look up Jackie on Google Maps. Her dirt road didn’t show up on any map. More than that, she wasn’t living 12 by 12 just as an expression of simplicity. She chose those tiny dimensions, as she chose her tiny salary, for pragmatic reasons: in North Carolina, any structure that’s 12 by 12 or less does not count as a house. It’s considered to be a tool shed or gardening shack—if it’s even considered. If you live 12 by 12, you don’t pay property taxes and don’t receive electric lines, sewage or roads from the state. …
All the while the 12 by 12, tiny as it was, expanded outward. Outward to her neighbors. Outward to her gardens. Outward to the forest. She talked about her dream: living not only in harmony with nature—having the carbon footprint of a Bangladeshi—but among a variety of social classes and races. … She talked about a New American Dream that stretched beyond these ethnically diverse 30 acres.
Role of Permaculture Gardening in Living Off the Grid:
She led me through her permaculture farm. She pointedly described permaculture as “the things your grandparents knew and your parents forgot,” adding that the word is a conjunction of both permanent agriculture and permanent culture. She said permaculture can be defined as a holistic approach to sustainable landscape, agriculture and home design. Our first conversation consisted of my gawking in amazement and she gently, intelligently explaining the science and poetry of it all. She’d laid out the land in zones.
Role of Wildcrafters in Off the Grid Communities:
I increasingly thought about heroes. My heroes are mostly people you never hear about. They quietly go about creating a durable vision of what it means to be an American and a global citizen. These are the people whose spirits nourished me as I hoed the rows at Jackie’s place … As the world flattens, they give hope. They are what I call wildcrafters, people shaping their inner and outer worlds to the flow of nature, rather than trying to mold the natural world into a shape that is sustainable in the industrial world. Wildcrafters leave a small ecological footprint. They don’t conform to any outward program, manifesto, or organized group, but conform only to what Gandhi called the “still, small voice” within. I consider much of the dispersed “antiglobalization,” prosustainability movement to be connected to wildcrafting. Wildcrafters inhabit the rebel territory beyond the Flat.
ENJOY OUR ENTIRE GREAT SUMMER READING AND VIEWING SERIES: (Our series so far: “Crown of Aleppo,” “Science Vs. Religion,” “Belief,” “Apparition,” “Burma VJ,” “Facets World Cup,” “Mary Mae and the Gospel Truth” “The Lonely Polygamist,” “Rise and Shine,” “Saints,” “Beaches of Agnes,” “Mystically Wired” and “Creative Aging.”)
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