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May 3, 2012 4:31 PM   Subscribe

"There are growing number of people who have decided to live light on the earth to not be a part of problem anymore. I spent the last few years with four of them striving for harmony with nature in the most pristine corners of United States." Photos by Eric Valli, but they don't have captions. Check out his other photo sets on the site.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (82 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Isn't this like being Amish, with a Native-American appearance twist?
posted by Malice at 4:35 PM on May 3, 2012


I've seen this around (same photographer as the bee collectors previously) and simply have trouble believing shots like this one aren't staged. I mean the blonde women isn't even wearing shoes for god's sake. They're walking around some burned down forest, and what precisely are they equipped for? Presumably the are within walking distance (barefoot) of a convenience store? Amazing photos either way.
posted by 2bucksplus at 4:39 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I'm pretty sure this one is just a screen cap from one of the Final Fantasy games.
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:42 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I mean the blonde women isn't even wearing shoes for god's sake.

You mean http://www.lynxvilden.com/p/contact.html?
posted by cybrcamper at 4:50 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Oops...
posted by cybrcamper at 4:52 PM on May 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


The problem with ideas like this is that they are not scalable. You're not really living "light on the earth" if you're out by yourself in the woods in a way which will never be available to the other seven billion of us. You see this all the time rather higher up the economic scale with rich people building "eco" houses out in the middle of their hundred-acre spread. There's nothing remotely "eco" about that lifestyle, whether you're on the grid or off it.

The real eco living, the lightest possible living on the earth available to modern people, is kind of boring, but it's real: apartments in cities. Your average New Yorker uses a tiny fraction of the heating oil, gasoline, water, landfill space, and other resources used by your average Las Vegasite. If 20 million New Yorkers decided to all live in "harmony with nature" like these people, it would be a shocking disaster.
posted by Fnarf at 4:54 PM on May 3, 2012 [55 favorites]


I mean the blonde women isn't even wearing shoes for god's sake.

I think maybe we didn't always wear shoes.
posted by Cosine at 4:54 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would be really interested to find out how these folks are living.

On preview: I see from cybrcamper's link that at least one of these groups of subjects don't seem to be living full time like this, disappointing. Kinda like SCA for stone age fetishists.
posted by calamari kid at 4:56 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


"I'm a level five vegan. I don't eat anything that casts a shadow."
posted by The Card Cheat at 4:57 PM on May 3, 2012 [16 favorites]


we didn't always wear shoes.

We didn't always wear party dresses or eat ice cream or have public universities or land on the moon or post on Metafilter, either. What's yer point? You want to live like the Stone Age? Great, cool experiment, test yourself, whatever. Prescription for life? No thanks.
posted by Fnarf at 4:58 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you have an aluminum canoe, you're not exactly living a "leave only footprints" lifestyle, no matter if you wear shoes or not. (And if you have firewood and you have dead animals, your are a couple days out from a pair of shoes.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:04 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Living Wild 2012 Schedule

The beginner classes run $600 and there are 4 of those. Based upon the 2007 photo I would guess there are around ~10 participants in the class. So let's put that at a little under $20k. (Assuming that the classes aren't always full + payments to use the land)

The Immersion class runs $1000, and looks to have about 10-11 participants as well. So let's say that's another $10k. She has an invitation class as well that she does for free in the late summer.

~$30k of income from training people on how to be a caveman.

Not that I'm knocking it, I'm just always curious about the underlying economy of "sustainable" retreats that make most of their income from people on vacation.
posted by wcfields at 5:05 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


You're not really living "light on the earth" if you're out by yourself in the woods in a way which will never be available to the other seven billion of us.

That doesn't really make sense. Are you not really a spiritual person if you're not doing it the way everyone else on Earth could? What about fitness? Does it not count if it's not for everyone?

And quit being so defensive, no one's trying to make you go off the grid.
posted by bongo_x at 5:06 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


There are some videos of Lynx and her survival camp here and here.
posted by jessamyn at 5:07 PM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


What's yer point?

His/her point is that not wearing shoes is not evidence that the photo must be staged.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:08 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Don't be so critical. It's really really really hard to live with nothing in the wilderness. To do it for a year? I doubt very few could do it. No metal, no knives. It's not something people just do, unless your born into a long tradition of it, and even they have shortened lives. This is dangerous difficult stuff.

The real eco living, the lightest possible living on the earth available to modern people, is kind of boring, but it's real: apartments in cities.

You may be right. I was watching Mary Beard's new BBC series "Meet the Romans" and she said that's how the Roman's lived, stacked up in 7 or 8 story apartment buildings in tiny rooms with no facilities: no water, no heat, no sewage - it was basically a crash pad and you did everything else in public facilities. She also said Italy could not support the needs of Rome, it required an Empire of resources, so Rome sucked in food, material and people from around the known world.
posted by stbalbach at 5:09 PM on May 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


What's yer point?

His/her point is that not wearing shoes is not evidence that the photo must be staged.


Thanks.
posted by Cosine at 5:09 PM on May 3, 2012


Based on cybrcamper's link, this seems like
the equivalent of running a cowboy dude ranch- sort of very committed playing at living off the grid, perhaps to extreme sport/ endurance levels.
I'd be more convinced that this was a real attempt at an alternative lifestyle if there was more evidence of the people using modern equipment and clothing. E.g. What is the point of making your own bows and arrows here? Unless you are not actually depending on them for hunting?
posted by Bwithh at 5:12 PM on May 3, 2012


My question is what happens when you need to have your teeth fixed?
posted by awfurby at 5:20 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Are you not really a spiritual person

Got it in one!
posted by Fnarf at 5:21 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


That doesn't really make sense. Are you not really a spiritual person if you're not doing it the way everyone else on Earth could? What about fitness? Does it not count if it's not for everyone?

It absolutely makes sense. "Light on the earth" is generally interpreted as a statement about lowering the ecological resources you require for your survival and lifestyle. If you choose a path that requires more resources to sustain your lifestyle than previously, you are mistaken to describe it as lighter on the earth.

This is not to detract from the danger or difficulty, merely the misconception. (Though I would note that while apartment living can be lighter, I rather suspect that NYC apartment living specifically, would be.)

A similar misconception exists around off-grid solar power. Solar power improves the environment (relative to the alternatives) when it is grid tied. But by contrast, solar power that feeds to batteries (instead of to the grid), degrades the environment; solar-battery is a convenience option for when the grid is not available, not a green option for replacing the grid. But it's easy to confuse environmental solar with convenience solar, and marketers of solar garden lights, for example, do this intentionally.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:21 PM on May 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


...I rather suspect that NYC apartment living specifically, wouldn't be...
posted by -harlequin- at 5:22 PM on May 3, 2012


It looks staged because the photos have a unified color palette. The "cave dwellers" in particular look like they're on a movie set. I'm not saying these staged baloney-- I have no opinion-- just that the unreal look is a product of the photographer's choices.

There's also the problem that he just says living "off the grid" which leaves a lot open to interpretation. We make assumptions when so little is said and feel lied to when we learn the truth doesn't match those assumptions.
posted by chairface at 5:26 PM on May 3, 2012


My reaction is the same as to the photos the other day of the middle-aged goths -- as long as these people are having fun and not hurting anyone, more power to them. They aren't changing the world, but I doubt they are claiming to be, either.

And "lighter on the earth" is a slippery slope -- I've talked with people who were fervently describing how their ultra green 5000 square foot second house was a form of living lightly on the planet. Compared to that, I'm not going to nitpick someone's Stone Age clothing choices, you know?
posted by Forktine at 5:27 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I like how the classes to learn to live like our Stone Age ancestors in harmony and communion with the wilderness are $600/skill. Like organic food, low-energy housing, and hybrid cars living "poor" is for the rich.

But I guess even if you're presenting yourself as leader of a spiritual back-to-the-land movement ya still gotta eat and buy basic materials. Running an adult summer camp isn't a bad way to do it. (I mean, if I had a bunch of disposable income I would totally go to these)
posted by schroedinger at 5:27 PM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


I am way more impressed with his Honey Hunters of Nepal (and if they only do this for tourists who pay admission to watch, I don't want to know about it!).
posted by Wordwoman at 5:29 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


This man is a walking Christmas book.
posted by Corduroy at 5:30 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


"Live light on the earth to not be a part of problem anymore" might be the photographer's interpretation. It's not clear the subjects are making this claim.

The claim does cause some skepticism, regardless. Living off the fat of the land is certainly possible for small numbers. One might possibly lead a very rich and abundant life that way. But it doesn't scale, as noted above. As such, the claim seems illusory, if harmless.
posted by 2N2222 at 5:33 PM on May 3, 2012


The problem with ideas like this is that they are not scalable. You're not really living "light on the earth" if you're out by yourself in the woods in a way which will never be available to the other seven billion of us. You see this all the time rather higher up the economic scale with rich people building "eco" houses out in the middle of their hundred-acre spread. There's nothing remotely "eco" about that lifestyle, whether you're on the grid or off it.

The real eco living, the lightest possible living on the earth available to modern people, is kind of boring, but it's real: apartments in cities. Your average New Yorker uses a tiny fraction of the heating oil, gasoline, water, landfill space, and other resources used by your average Las Vegasite. If 20 million New Yorkers decided to all live in "harmony with nature" like these people, it would be a shocking disaster.


Rarely do you see such terrible logic as in this post - well done!
posted by carfilhiot at 5:36 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The real eco living, the lightest possible living on the earth available to modern people, is kind of boring, but it's real: apartments in cities.

It's more complicated than that:
"In fact, the societal consumption driven by the process of urbanization — our collective desire for iPads, Frappuccinos and the latest fashions — more than outweighs the ecological benefits of local mass transit."
posted by janerica at 5:39 PM on May 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


NYC apartment living specifically, wouldn't be...

Apartment houses require far less heating per unit than single dwellings; that's a fact, not a conjecture, both theoretically (interior apartments only have one side exposed to the cold) and empirically (energy use per person statistics). As a result, NYCers use less than half the kwh hours of even the second-most-efficient city, San Francisco, and a quarter of that in a city like Dallas.

Dense housing enables car-free living, both to shop for food and other necessities and to get to work to earn money to pay for them. "The average city resident consumes only about a quarter as much gasoline as the average Vermonter — and the average Manhattan resident consumes even less, just 90 gallons a year".

New Yorkers emit less than a third of national average of greenhouse gases.

New York City residents generate considerably less garbage than people elsewhere -- the total is larger but that's because 20 million people live there -- more than all the mountain and plains states put together.
posted by Fnarf at 5:40 PM on May 3, 2012 [15 favorites]


Rarely do you see such terrible logic as in this post - well done!

Feel free to point some out if you get a chance.
posted by Fnarf at 5:42 PM on May 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


WonderWoman, I was, too. In fact, it was this photo that led me to his site. It is quite a contrast.
posted by the man of twists and turns at 5:42 PM on May 3, 2012


posted by chairface It looks staged because the photos have a unified color palette. The "cave dwellers" in particular look like they're on a movie set.

Here you go.
posted by mattdidthat at 5:42 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


As such, the claim seems illusory, if harmless.

My motive in nitpicking this sort of claim is that we're faced with myriad ecological problems of great consequence, we generally agree we should be acting more responsibly so as to reduce these problems, but we can't succeed in that if we don't understand the difference between what helps and what hinders.
I think it's genuinely important to know what works. I don't think these misconceptions are harmless when taken in aggregate. But it's also really really hard to know what helps. It's a super tough problem that we've barely begun to scratch. No-one has all the answers, so it's not really decent to make too big a deal about it if someone assumes one way while study reveals the opposite, but at the same time, a bit more actual grappling with the problem and a bit less romanticism about it would be helpful.
posted by -harlequin- at 5:50 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Two local primitive skills instructors have pleaded guilty to operating a commercial venture within the national forest without a permit, and one of them has been banned from national forests in Eastern Washington for a year.
posted by beefetish at 5:51 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


chairface: It looks staged because the photos have a unified color palette. The "cave dwellers" in particular look like they're on a movie set.

Wildly and cheaply available dyes are a new thing. Like, wide-spread access to purple? 1850s. Until very recently, life was pretty beige.
posted by Decimask at 5:51 PM on May 3, 2012


It's more complicated than that:

I think West is agreeing with me in that article (which is excellent): he's saying cities are far more resource-efficient than suburbs or small towns (and have other benefits too).

What worries me is that his critic Joel Kotkin and others have very strong counter-arguments based on what is happening across America (and elsewhere). '“In the last decade, suburbs have produced six times as many jobs,” Kotkin says. And these aren’t just unskilled service jobs. Kotkin says the centers of American innovation are now low-density metropolitan areas like Silicon Valley and Raleigh-­Durham, N.C. “For a supposedly complete theory” of cities, Kotkin says, “this work fails to explain a lot of what’s happening right now.”'

Now that's scary -- because there is nothing remotely energy-efficient or sustainable about places like Silicon Valley.

I know this is pretty far afield of this Stone Age dude ranch out in the woods, but it's my reaction to phrases like "light on the land" and the attendant faux-"green" ideas that get tossed around.
posted by Fnarf at 5:53 PM on May 3, 2012


Two local primitive skills instructors have pleaded guilty to operating a commercial venture within the national forest without a permit, and one of them has been banned from national forests in Eastern Washington for a year.

Oops! I don't recall Ayla ever having to deal with the Forest Service, either.
posted by Forktine at 6:03 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Some of the photos are very nice.

It looks like fun, although personally I get out and enjoy nature without getting all stone age about it. To each their own, of course.

In the linked photo set, the guy with the white beard clearly owns at least three hats.

At the bottom of beefetish's link, it says this: Date: 12-31-1969 | Volume: 12 | Issue: -1

After reading some of lynx's site, I think it's pretty cool that she's following her dream. I think it makes the world more interesting. If she makes some money from teaching others about her interest, I don't see how that would be an ethical problem. I think it's a little disappointing that they were using forest service land illegally, but, for pete's sake, we allow logging, ranching and a ton of other stuff on that land that is much more damaging, and they apparently wouldn't be able to get permits even if they applied. Seems like total misuse of enforcement funds to me.

I agree that it's not a way forward for mankind, but it is interesting.
posted by snofoam at 6:05 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


Last August I spent a few weeks living like this.

No, not the deerskin wearing, no shoes, pose in a convenience store way. The other one. The wood fired stove, canoe rowing one.

You see, there's this guy out in Idaho who makes some of finest bone tools on the planet for bookbinders, and he lives like that. Him and his family have been up there since the seventies. He raised three kids that way. A few years ago an utility company came through wanting to put power lines through the area so they could get access to some new developments. He and his neighbors said no, even though they were eventually offered free electricity. The town he lives near at this point consists of only a post office, the commissary and bar both having closed a few years back. Him and his neighbors keep up the road that provides access to their homes. You can tell exactly where the county maintained road ends and theirs begins, because theirs is much, much more rough.

When is comes to grid connection, they got a land line in 2000. They can get access to the internet through that, but if they really want it, they drive forty minutes to the nearest major town. All the electricity comes from a few solar panels on the roof of their house, which they built twenty years ago when the first one they built burned down. They charge batteries off the panels for use elsewhere on the property, most notably at the pump down by the spring where they get all their water. The heat for the house, cooking, and hot water all comes from wood burning ovens. I was there in August and there was a frost at night. They stockpile a vast amount of wood to be able to make it through the winter. The garden is massive. raspberries, serviceberries, black raspberries, apples, greens, garlic, just so many amazing things. It is really, really hard work to keep it all going, even just the daily work is a long list.

It was an amazing way to live for a few weeks, but I couldn't do it full time. It takes a remarkable amount of strength to do that for life, and not just physical.
posted by clockbound at 6:13 PM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


Until very recently, life was pretty beige.

The dye revolution allowed for more delicate colors (like mauve and purple and what-not). Before then, life was more like a coloring book done by a child with only a few crayons. Pilgrims, for instance, wore bright clothing.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:13 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


I think it's pretty cool that she's following her dream. I think it makes the world more interesting.

Oh, I agree. I can't stand any kind of hippie tosh personally, but I think it makes the world a richer place to have it around. And I agree that her use of forest land is not ecologically harmful in any way (I can give you a flaming earful about the mismanagement of our forests anytime you like). She's not hurting anyone, and as an intellectual enterprise, to understand some of the challenges of our forebears, I think it has value.

The reason I go off on "the way forward for mankind" is because that's what drives me. What harlequin said above, basically.
posted by Fnarf at 6:14 PM on May 3, 2012


And "lighter on the earth" is a slippery slope -- I've talked with people who were fervently describing how their ultra green 5000 square foot second house was a form of living lightly on the planet.

That reminds me of this blog I found linked here a couple weeks ago. It's a really interesting and well done blog because he details a lot of the design and construction of his house, along with all costs along the way. But the guy's idea of building "green" involved tearing down an existing house and building a 4600 square foot house, one of the features being a large amount of west-facing glass necessitating an AC system in a climate that doesn't require it. It's hard to see what's green about that.
posted by 6550 at 6:24 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


What is the point of making your own bows and arrows here?

Photo Op.
posted by sammyo at 6:24 PM on May 3, 2012


At the bottom of beefetish's link, it says this: Date: 12-31-1969 | Volume: 12 | Issue: -1

I saw that. Database programming error. The article is from 2011. Not too many handheld GPS units in the forest in 1969!
posted by Fnarf at 6:26 PM on May 3, 2012


That reminds me of this blog

GAAAAHHHH

That's exactly what I don't like.

Granted, as a laboratory for new building techniques it's interesting. I have a friend who's done something similar, in a weird hillside lot that would have been unbuildable twenty years ago. He did a ton of pretty sophisticated stuff, much of which I can't understand, having to do with air circulation, for instance, that in some cases looks wasteful but is actually quite the opposite. It's like a science project -- no, it IS a science project.

It's all very interesting, and it's a lovely house (as is this one, which is twice as big), but it's not a model for seven billion people -- or even the next hundred million here in the US. Oh, yes, they're coming.
posted by Fnarf at 6:32 PM on May 3, 2012


Your average New Yorker uses a tiny fraction of the heating oil, gasoline, water, landfill space, and other resources used by your average Las Vegasite.

Sorry, but NYC living is still laughably unsustainable. Where do you think all the food, water, and electricity is coming from? Sadly we haven't been able to harness the energy of smug yuppies yet, so it all has to be brought in. The real eco-living? Slums in Bangladesh, or subsistence farming in mainland China...
posted by mek at 6:34 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Yeah, the most direct way to a small footprint is to be poor, but NYC being sustainable is a straw man.
posted by -harlequin- at 6:43 PM on May 3, 2012


Sorry, but NYC living is still laughably unsustainable.

Not if one compares it to this near stone age living. A scenario that would lay waste to the environment if the cities suddenly emptied out as the residents sought to eke out a primitive life.

I don't think these misconceptions are harmless when taken in aggregate

I agree. However, it seems we're really nowhere near that point, and unlikely to voluntarily adopt it.
posted by 2N2222 at 6:45 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Stone age fantasy-role-playing? That sounds and looks super fun. And these photos look like great opening shots for a porn movie you might be making.

I love the romance of life before modern times implied by these photos too. But I get antsy when I think about what a magnet this kind of activity must be for those hyper-pretentious unconscionably smug eco-elitist that think they've discovered something we all forgot and if we all just followed them back to Mother Earth it would Heal...

If you want to find the group of people that would most likely press some button that would wipe you, me, your sister and seven billion other people and our civilization out... without a minute's hesitation... here you go. You can see them (or their own self image) here in these shots.

Luckily the majority of these ultra naturist narcissists are idiots. Who else is trying to make a living charging $600 to teach basket weaving skills you can learn for free on the internet? I will really worry if, when I sign up for a weekend of living rough and raw hide in Camp Flint-stone I see a virus bio-engineering skills class listed.

So, in conclusion, I think these people are either posers or potentially very dangerous. Or they are making a porn movie. Or maybe they are the real hipsters?
posted by astrobiophysican at 6:55 PM on May 3, 2012


I don't understand how you got from sentence four to sentence five. Why do you assume these people dislike you. Is it because you dislike them?

I mean don't get me wrong I think there are some issues with the anarcho-primitivist philosophies generally, but I'm not sure at all that these folks and the Zerzanesque folks are occupying the same moral or ethical space. Not saying it's my idea of a good time but if people with $600 want to spend it together living rough and making stone tools, it seems odd of me to care. There's a huge difference learning this stuff from YouTube and learning it from and with other people. I fix people's computers for a job, and work here. I can't say that's any more ethical.
posted by jessamyn at 7:00 PM on May 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


My husband and I gave serious thought to trying out commune living, except that there really aren't any communes proper these days, in terms of property; there are, however, lots and lots of "intentional communities" that are sort of the hippie-flavored version of gated communities. You have to have a hefty amount of cash to join, and then of course need money to sustain yourself out in the middle of nowhere, somehow. We visited The Farm in Tennessee, one of the oldest ones, and they explained they were forced to move to that model by economic necessity in the 80s, even though they'd started out as an actual growing their own food, sharing their resources, commune. "But we don't want to just become a hippie retirement community!" one of them told us, to which I thought: Too late.

It's not really their fault, but it just doesn't work well, much like being a freecycling squatter is not going to work well for most people, or being an actual woods-dwelling hermit. We've either got to reform our grid or just wait for the crash, in which some might survive, but most of us will bite it, because Nature is not kind to the weak, the unskilled, and the unlucky.
posted by emjaybee at 7:07 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


If you want to find the group of people that would most likely press some button that would wipe you, me, your sister and seven billion other people and our civilization out... without a minute's hesitation... here you go.

The thought process that led you to that conclusion says far more about you than it does about them. How did you even get there? Like...what?
posted by jnnla at 7:08 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't think these people are hurting anyone, or thinking about any of us at all. Whether or not this would scale up and the fact that they're living lightly is two completely different things that are barely related.

There seems to be a lot of "oh, they think they're so much better than me" going on.
posted by bongo_x at 7:16 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Sorry, but NYC living is still laughably unsustainable. Where do you think all the food, water, and electricity is coming from?

All the vast acres of vacant land that remain undeveloped because a bunch of people are concentrated into one spot, thus making just about everything much more efficient than it would be otherwise. Make an argument about global population being far too high if you want, but if we're going to have the number of people on the planet that we do, cities like New York are absolutely the best way to do it from an environmental standpoint.
posted by LionIndex at 7:20 PM on May 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


"My question is what happens when you need to have your teeth fixed?"

Hope you have an ice skate?
posted by mr_crash_davis at 7:30 PM on May 3, 2012


To clarify. I will stress again that I agree. This looks fun. And mostly harmless (see below). But as soon as someone starts to take themselves seriously - making claims about 'living light on the earth' - they cross a line into delusion and are very likely danger to themselves and ultimately others.

Again, nothing inherently wrong about 'playing' primitive. But as soon as you imagine yourself as some kind of revolutionary guide... then you are delusional and dangerous. Especially to squirrels.

Thanks Jessamyn for introducing me to "Zerzan" - at first glance he looks like the archetype I had in mind without knowing him. I will read more about him when I get a chance.

If you are rich (i.e. OECD high income country dweller) and 'go off the grid' you do so for philosophical/ethical/whatever reasons. Surely it makes you proud to become a better person than you were before... and of course, you surely can't help look back at the fools in the rat race and look down on them still suffering and not strong like you. The joke is even Thoreau went into town to get cake.

If you are not rich (i.e. middle or low income country dweller) - you never were on the grid in the first place. Because you are poor. And because everyone else is poor. And because you cut down all the trees to cook all the birds you ate before the environment collapsed and you had to rely on foreign aid. Living off the grid can only seem harmless if you weren't born into being off the grid. If you were not born this way, you spend life doing everything you can to trade up your moccasins for Nike sneakers.

The will to 'go back to nature' is a dangerous rich world chauvinism that is basically an insult to everyone who isn't eating cake. It's horrible and self-destructive delusion. You can't go back because you never left nature. Period. And the footprint of a NYC dweller is literally 'zero' (it falls on pavement) compared to these jokers trampling on the last native plants and chopping down trees to heat themselves.

So, fun weekend get away. Great. Have at it. Surely not worse than driving an ATV through the woods and throwing beer cans around. Way of life? Don't kid yourself. You won't do it so don't argue with me or delude yourself.
posted by astrobiophysican at 7:43 PM on May 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't think these misconceptions are harmless when taken in aggregate

I agree. However, it seems we're really nowhere near that point, and unlikely to voluntarily adopt it.


I think we're far beyond that point - if you ask 100 average people at random about their perceptions of connection between their footprint and a more natural lifestyle, I think you'd see a significant aggregate of people revealing understandings or rules-of-thumb that are more romanticized than accurate. The well-intentioned everyday decisions of all of us, influenced by our understandings (and misunderstandings), are a massive global force.

Today I might not be deciding whether I want to become a caveman, but I might be deciding between a product that uses a chemical and a competing product that uses a nut extract instead. They both work, so I decide to buy the one that will least enlarge my footprint (at least in the areas that I consider more important). Now my intentions are at the mercy of my understanding. My personal interactions with the product I chose will never reveal to me whether I made the choice I intended to.
posted by -harlequin- at 7:53 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Where do you think all the food, water, and electricity is coming from?

Seriously, water? NYC has the most sustainable water supply in the country. There isn't a city of a million people, let alone TWENTY million, with as sustainable a supply. New York City water is world-famous.

Compare NYC's amazing water system to a place like Las Vegas. No, don't -- compare it to THIRTY Las Vegases. You want unsustainable water supply, you need to look at pretty much anyplace that depends on the Colorado River system -- which will probably be contested with pitched gun battles in the coming decades. LV, Phoenix, most of Southern Cal, northwestern Mexico...

Food comes from farms, with virtually no people involved, in comparison to the millions who live in the cities. More land is available for farms when you stop developing all the most fertile land in the region for suburban houses -- which is what most places in the US are doing. Come take a tour with me through the Kent Valley south of Seattle (or the Snohomish and Skagit to the north) if you don't believe me.

"Sustainable" doesn't mean "grow all your own". Unless you are, in fact, going to press astrobiophysicist's button. If you're not going to vaporize the population of the earth, you're going to have to pack them into cities. Fortunately, most of the world's population is desperate to urbanize.
posted by Fnarf at 8:23 PM on May 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


All the vast acres of vacant land that remain undeveloped because a bunch of people are concentrated into one spot

Absolutely, but NYC is a terrible example. Tokyo and Seoul are better, but still overconsumptive. Sao Paolo is more appropriate.
posted by mek at 8:24 PM on May 3, 2012


I think it's a little disappointing that they were using forest service land illegally, but, for pete's sake, we allow logging, ranching and a ton of other stuff on that land that is much more damaging, and they apparently wouldn't be able to get permits even if they applied. Seems like total misuse of enforcement funds to me.

Really, it's an example of how clueless, greedy, or lazy they are. That area has huge, huge ranches, thousands and tens of thousands of acres. It wouldn't take much effort to find someone willing to let you have your Cave Man Weekend™ up a canyon totally on private land. For some people, having naked hippies running around with spears would be kind of an intriguing idea, not a problem at all. You'd need to either pay the landowner with some cash or other goodies (and you'd want to be careful about trespassing, because wandering into a big grow operation would not be good for anyone); there was no need to lie to the Forest Service.

And the footprint of a NYC dweller is literally 'zero' (it falls on pavement) compared to these jokers trampling on the last native plants and chopping down trees to heat themselves.

This is a joke, right? I mean, you do realize that the concrete in the sidewalk comes from somewhere -- there's an industrial process, materials are mined, enormous energy is put into the process, pollution comes out, and then it's driven in big diesel trucks into NYC so you can walk on it; it also has to be replaced every few decades. And that electricity is produced somewhere else, almost certainly using mostly fossil fuels. NYC's water source is "sustainable" in that the city has captured a huge swath of upstate watershed which is reserved for the sole production of water for the city, and then is pumped downstate in a big leaky tunnel -- the city is so profligate with its water that most water use isn't even metered, bizarre as that sounds to people elsewhere.

Really, I agree that people are less harmful the more we are concentrated into small areas, but that doesn't mean that NYC is much more "sustainable" or "green" than somewhere like Phoenix in any meaningful way -- both are examples of living far, far beyond our ecological capacity and rely on the consumption of vast amounts of resources transported from far away.
posted by Forktine at 9:47 PM on May 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


In the photos, these people all look like refugees from an apocalypse. The careworn faces, the vacant stares, the listless stances...it's eerie.
posted by adamdschneider at 9:55 PM on May 3, 2012


Really, it's an example of how clueless, greedy, or lazy they are.

I note that your concerns are clerical in nature, relating to permits and paperwork, rather than their activities in the wilderness.
posted by ryanrs at 10:17 PM on May 3, 2012


I note that your concerns are clerical in nature, relating to permits and paperwork, rather than their activities in the wilderness.

No one, including the Forest Service, was saying that they were ruining the wilderness. The issue was operating a commercial concern on public lands, which is relatively tightly regulated. They were more than welcome to do all of their activities in the national forest -- just not as a business operation. That's the cheesy part, and totally unnecessary since there are such vast tracts of private land all around that could be accessed with even quite minimal effort.

You, all your friends, and all of their friends, are welcome to dress up in skins and run around in almost any national forest in the country. (The hunting and gathering part brings up some very different legal issues, but we'll ignore that for the moment.) Running a business, however, brings you in contact with the government in all kinds of ways, like paying taxes or having insurance; permits for using public land is just one more aspect of that.
posted by Forktine at 10:31 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Really, I agree that people are less harmful the more we are concentrated into small areas, but that doesn't mean that NYC is much more "sustainable" or "green" than somewhere like Phoenix in any meaningful way

If you take the amount of people that live in either place into account it absolutely is. In Phoenix, you have all the same issues that you do in NY - there's still paving that's manufactured by industrial processes, electricity that's produced elsewhere running through power lines made from copper extracted in giant pit mines, and all the supplies are driven in in big diesel trucks that spew pollution, etc.

However, Phoenix sprawls, (17% of the population in 170% of the land area not including the "metro areas") so its per capita use of pavement, delivery trucks, destruction of native habitat, and electrical distribution lines is much greater for each individual living there. Plus, the sprawl means that many (most?) people need to own their own cars to function instead of using mass transit. Sure, in a way, NY and Phoenix are both evil things for the planet, but NY is less bad by a significant amount - you end up with roughly the same amount of pavement for less than one fifth of the amount of people (and how much of that is occupied by shopping center parking lots that don't exist in NY?). Talking about the water supply is being myopic.

NY still has plenty of room for improvement, but it's the model American cities should start moving towards.
posted by LionIndex at 10:32 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


The assertion isn't that New York is "good" for the environment; it's that it's a much better way for millions of people to live than the Phoenix or LA model.
posted by LionIndex at 10:35 PM on May 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Right, but the FPP isn't demanding a justification of Phoenix or Las Vegas. Comparing NYC to even worse cities in the context of this post is just a weak attempt at moving the goalposts; some people appear invested in believing that the average NYC lifestyle is morally superior to what is documented in the FPP. That's revealing, but citations are needed.
posted by mek at 12:44 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Genuine question: would it actually be possible to totally live off the grid as a group in a Western society? I saw these photos elsewhere and my first thought was what do you do if someone dies? If you just buried them and moved on, you'd probably get into a heap of trouble even if foul play was not suspected. Have people negotiated this? Or issues like taxes and education if you have children? I imagine if you kept moving then you might never get tracked down, but as a group that might not always be possible, and if you start having children it would get far more complicated. I can see going without electricity and other components of modern living. But I imagine at some point the bureaucracy would catch up with you in a group settings

I'd love to read something that talked about this in terms of a mobile group, but one that didn't immediately turn to talking about religious cults.

Really gorgeous photos, either way. Quite splendid.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 1:57 AM on May 4, 2012


Also: I highly recommend Tim Moore's 'I believe in Yesterday: A 2,000 year tour through the filth and fury of living history', for the lighter look at what attracts people to living like people did of yore. His description of living as a Roman legionary is one of the funniest things I've ever read.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 2:00 AM on May 4, 2012


apartments in cities

That's no solution. Apartment life is hell. If it's so efficient, why is it so goddamn expensive?
posted by DarkForest at 4:47 AM on May 4, 2012


I mean the blonde women isn't even wearing shoes for god's sake

They choose to eschew shoes.
posted by nzero at 6:34 AM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Comparing NYC to even worse cities in the context of this post is just a weak attempt at moving the goalposts; some people appear invested in believing that the average NYC lifestyle is morally superior to what is documented in the FPP. That's revealing, but citations are needed.

Again, it's the population involved that makes the difference. I'm perfectly fine with people living the way the FPP documents, and I think it's an interesting study and an interesting lifestyle experiment (it's only an experiment for westerners, closer to the normal way of live for New Guinea highlanders or some Amazon tribes). However, the lifestyle documented in the FPP couldn't support anything near the current global population - trying to do so would actually be incredibly devastating. So, it's good for fantasizing and all, but rather meaningless as a statement on how modern society should interact with the environment.
posted by LionIndex at 8:19 AM on May 4, 2012


My question is what happens when you need to have your teeth fixed?
posted by awfurby


Funny, whenever I look at stuff like this, or the whole living on a deserted island for a year like Lucy Irvine did, I think "HEY! 20/20 vision! I don't have that like all of these people do!" Go all primitive and have to have spare glasses hanging around in caches doesn't reeealy work. Yeah, I know if I were in the wilds without my glasses, I wouldn't last too long between falling hazards and predators, so it's the city life for me, out of necessity.
posted by Zack_Replica at 10:59 AM on May 4, 2012 [2 favorites]


Genuine question: would it actually be possible to totally live off the grid as a group in a Western society?

I can't cite since I'm on a phone, but as I recall in Forrest Park in Portland, OR there are probably 10-20 people living in secret there alone. A man and his 12 year old daughter lived there for years before leaving due to being discovered.
posted by wcfields at 11:14 AM on May 4, 2012


She also said Italy could not support the needs of Rome, it required an Empire of resources, so Rome sucked in food, material and people from around the known world.

Sounds strikingly like NYC.
posted by RedEmma at 12:35 PM on May 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


Well, except for the the fact that the massive death rate in Rome meant that is couldn't even have had a stable population without drawing in people from outside. (See also nearly every pre-modern city.) Rome did however produce some of its own food - it had to in days of no refrigerated ships. So there were market gardens around it. It was grain supplies that were a problem and had to be shipped in from overseas. Well, that and the animals in the Colosseum weren't going to be breeding around Italy.
posted by lesbiassparrow at 12:43 PM on May 4, 2012


Some of the other galleries are way cool as well. This one is my favourite.. Who knew there was a thing called Caterpillar fungus?
posted by sneebler at 10:22 PM on May 4, 2012


Photos of some people who refuse to be a part of the problem and live in a pristine part of the U.S. Although I think the photos are still not that radical. It's been a while since some had the chance to live in a sequestered piece of land enjoying it. But the photos are interesting, sort of a clash with two extremes of the two styles (tamed & untamed divergence) that can be experienced in today's world. No one could dare a life like Thoreau's.
posted by Chernobyl at 2:01 AM on May 5, 2012


Are people suggesting that a nomadic lifestyle is somehow ecologicial? Is it better than having farms and cities? If everyone in NYC (all 8 million) moved into the parks and started 'living off the land', would that be a good thing?

It would be an ecological disaster.
posted by eye of newt at 6:53 PM on May 6, 2012


It was grain supplies that were a problem and had to be shipped in from overseas.

My understanding is that they imported much more than grain - livestock, lumber, glass and ceramics, metals, dyes, textiles, spices, oils, ivory, etc. Yes, there was some urban gardening and the ancient equivalent of "truck farming" but there's no way ancient Rome was a self-sufficient metropolis. It prospered not because of self-sufficiency, but because it was an entrepot.
posted by Miko at 7:58 PM on May 6, 2012


I think of reenactors, living history folks, primitive lifestyle folks, and off-the-grid types as really interesting people who, for a wide variety of motivations, are keeping (and in some cases rediscovering or reinventing) skills, attitudes, and ways of living in the world that we might otherwise lose. I think that's an intrinsically good thing even if we never need them again, just as a store of human knowledge, but I think the assumption that we will never need any of them again to be a failure of imagination.

Our modern (Western, affluent) way of life is clearly not the last word in "how humans should live". Many times in the past we've decided that something humans do is no longer needed, and then tens or hundreds of years later, we rediscover it and use it again, though in modified "modern" form. It will happen again, and maybe some of the skills we're seeing in these pictures will be among them.

Plus, fun! At least if you're in to that sort of thing.
posted by feckless at 10:51 AM on May 21, 2012 [1 favorite]


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