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"Almost true freedom."
June 2, 2007 4:00 AM   Subscribe

Off The Grid: Life On The Mesa. A new documentary explores life in 15 square miles of northern New Mexico. With no cops, no official authority, and barely any understanding of who even owns the land, a special environment has arisen. Hippies, rednecks, and other assorted loners exist in either the last outpost of true American freedom or "the largest outdoor insane asylum" - and then they are tested by self-proclaimed revolutionaries with their own idea of how to run things. Check out the official MySpace page for the trailer and some clips.
posted by Sticherbeast (54 comments total) 17 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh hell yes!

Except now there's a film about it. Prepare for a population explosion.
posted by loquacious at 4:40 AM on June 2, 2007


They are what John Stuart Mill called "experiments of living," what Robert Nozick called "a wide and diverse range of communities which people can enter if they are admitted, leave if they wish to, shape according to their wishes."

Um, no they aren't.
posted by MarshallPoe at 4:53 AM on June 2, 2007


15 square miles? Meh. It easy to play at lawlessness when civilization is no more than a maximum of 2 miles away.
posted by DU at 5:02 AM on June 2, 2007


This sounds like the place I grew up, only a bit more structured. We used to get lessons on how to rig wind turbines and hide from the authorities, play in a rusty old APC brought in by a guy called Turbo, and only go to town when we were really sick or when a special delivery was due in.

No, wait, I think I dreamt that. Sorry.
posted by imperium at 5:05 AM on June 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


It's neither liberty nor ecology that drives most of the people living in remote desert communities - it's poverty, with a little bit of mental illness thrown in.

Nutshell: this is what "trailer trash" looks like in the western desert areas of the U.S. A couple hundred dollars a month from some social security disability program goes fairly far if you don't have to pay rent because you live in a shell of a trailer in the middle of the desert on land you don't own. They don't dial 911 because they don't have phones, not because they hate The Man. They don't call for plumbers either, because they haven't got plumbing.

Romanticizing a life of extreme poverty is something that only an editor of Reason magazine could do. For whatever reason, despite the extreme "liberty" of living in the middle of nowhere and Reason magazine's professed desire for such a lifestyle, the Reason magazine editor is still living in Baltimore, with all its evil local ordinances and taxation and cops and running water and electricity. Huh.
posted by jellicle at 6:43 AM on June 2, 2007 [7 favorites]


jellicle - I don't know you or your background, but I can tell you for a fact that there are people doing this by choice. I know a couple of them. I wouldn't romanticize it, but I know it exists. You're right though, many people who are doing this don't have a choice.

I would, however, romanticize a world in which people don't drive themselves into debt. But maybe that's just me.
posted by FlamingBore at 6:48 AM on June 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


Reads like a poor man's burning Man except they're living it everyday with no performance art.

I've always wondered: Why do communities or events like this (experiments in living and "getting away from it all")seem to attract almost no minorities?

Not rhetorical, by the way, jsut fascinated by something I will never ever do.
posted by Freecola at 6:57 AM on June 2, 2007


freecola: i asked myself the same question when i went to a Rainbow gathering last year. A coworker summed it up by recounting her son hiking The Trail after graduating from college. I can't remember her perfect words exactly, but it was something along the lines that people who struggle for the necessities of living just don't feel drawn go "live without" to find themselves. I think it has a lot to do with Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Self-actualization is a cursed luxury most of the world can't afford.
posted by trinarian at 7:56 AM on June 2, 2007


It sounds like Second Life, without the mist-wings and furry nightclubs. I wonder if they have a cornfield.

I can understand "meh", but I don't really understand the arch tone of disgust toward these people. They are obviously drawn there by varying degrees of curiosity, madness, desperation, or determination. All of us just tumble through life even within the orderly confines of our more "civilized" communities anyway, and certain towns and areas wind up acting as dustbins that collect certain kinds of people. Look around at where you are, and contemplate how you ended up there, whether it was deliberate or only felt deliberate, and whether you are well-served by your surroundings to stick there or are only sort of passing through. Without the illusion of a social and economical hierarchy in place to tell people who's crazy, who's trustworthy, and who's downright dangerous (flawed though ours may be), these people are just figuring it out for themselves.

I don't think the film is romanticizing poverty or mental illness (though I haven't seen it, of course). I think it is actually a rather important portrait of the kind of territory that used to be common in the west even just a hundred years ago, but is now just an aberration, a hiccup in the fabric of our nation, the likes of which we may never see again. And yeah, the film will probably contribute to its demise due to a flood of attention, but its days were certainly numbered anyhow. Like it or not, these people are (re)living the real American Dream, and as long as they have the space to do it in, I say bully for every last nuttycrackers one of them.
posted by hermitosis at 7:59 AM on June 2, 2007 [5 favorites]


Give me clean running water, electricity and policemen, please.
posted by hojoki at 8:16 AM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Looks like hell, out of Deliverance.
posted by stbalbach at 8:35 AM on June 2, 2007


Leather and feathers?
posted by modernerd at 9:02 AM on June 2, 2007


For me it's not about, first and foremost, whether I want to do it.

I definitely understand the call of freedom, and may never go to such lengths to achieve it, but would defend their right to live like that above all, and I mourn every free space that gets wiped (1, 2, etc).
posted by imperium at 9:08 AM on June 2, 2007


Wolverines!
posted by william_boot at 9:14 AM on June 2, 2007 [3 favorites]


I mourn the natural habitat that gets to be a junkyard.
posted by taosbat at 9:15 AM on June 2, 2007


I mourn the natural habitat that lies under my neighbourhood, buried under feet of concrete and tarmac. Oh, and those absurd B&Q garden sets.
posted by imperium at 9:26 AM on June 2, 2007


I do think this is a kind of experiment in living (as per Mill), and it's certainly something I'm encouraged by. Western modernity really isn't for everybody.
posted by tommorris at 9:29 AM on June 2, 2007


I just watched the trailer again, and man, that is one nightmare of a place. Reminds me of a documentary I saw back in the 90's about a 'community' of homeless who lived near some abandoned Amtrak station here in NYC. All those depicted in the film said they chose that lifestyle. OK. Anyway at least in that situation when there was trouble the cops and hospitals etc., were nearby. Those Mesa folks are truly out there.
posted by hojoki at 9:47 AM on June 2, 2007


I've always thought it really tacky to use a MySpace page to publicize a film, regardless of what marketing people want us to believe about MySpace.

Who I'd like to meet:
REVIEWS
“A look at the American Southwest that will send chills down your spine.” - Michael Lerman, Indiewire

The film would like to meet reviewers? Sigh... guess I'm showing my age.
posted by calhound at 9:48 AM on June 2, 2007


It seems so wonderful. I don't know what could go wrong.


KILL PIGGY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
posted by The Deej at 10:14 AM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


Wow, I really want to see the film. I also really want to avoid living anywhere even close to that.
posted by The Deej at 10:28 AM on June 2, 2007


Taosbat, from the clip it looks to me like they're somewhere near you.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 10:39 AM on June 2, 2007


I know people who sort of do that but without shooting guns everywhere for no reason and burning cars, which seems a lot nicer.
posted by TheOnlyCoolTim at 10:39 AM on June 2, 2007


that one guy regularly takes in teenage runaways. heh.
posted by quonsar at 10:44 AM on June 2, 2007


I know people who shoot guns everywhere for no reason and burn cars, but don't even sort of do that.
posted by hermitosis at 11:00 AM on June 2, 2007 [1 favorite]


I was looking at the mountains in the background but I couldn't be sure of just where they might be, Ethereal Bligh. We have plenty of folks living marginally in Taos county but I'm not aware of this group. Still, "true American freedom" can't be too far...pumping the guns.
posted by taosbat at 11:39 AM on June 2, 2007


I've always wondered: Why do communities or events like this (experiments in living and "getting away from it all") seem to attract almost no minorities?

Because different ethnographic communities have different cultural values. E.g. you won't find many Hispanic folks living like this, because Hispanic cultures have tight familial bonds where the idea of living apart from one's family is anathema. Loners = bad. Multi-generational, blended families all living under one roof = good.

There's good and bad to this. Family is all well and good, but it's also a social pressure to stay with the family, even if that's not in the best interest of the individual. Even when they can afford it, the WASP-y concept that you "go away to college" is alien to Hispanic culture.
posted by frogan at 11:43 AM on June 2, 2007


This is mental illness theatre. Count me O-U-T.
posted by humannaire at 12:35 PM on June 2, 2007


American freedom

Pumping gun
Foodbank run
Dumping junking burning fun


posted by taosbat at 12:40 PM on June 2, 2007


That place sounds like the "up" side of A Boy and His Dog.

I'm guessing the film will disturb their ecology.
posted by Twang at 12:45 PM on June 2, 2007


Looks like the folks who live out on Taos mesa, easy to find if you do the shortcut from Taos to the wonderful Ojo Caliente mineral springs.
posted by jettloe at 1:01 PM on June 2, 2007


I'm not saying these folks couldn't be there, jettloe; but, if they really do the stuff I saw in the trailer, bang bang bang all day and night & burning stuff and such...well, I guess they'd have to be pretty far over the bridge to avoid upsetting the neighbors. We're kinda' chary of wild fires.
posted by taosbat at 1:11 PM on June 2, 2007


So what? Most of eastern New Mexico looks like that. Drunken bums in rundown trailers. (full disclosure: I'm a NM native, trust me....) Still, I'd like to see this documentary.
posted by metasonix at 1:19 PM on June 2, 2007


You could be right taosbat- just that photo of the girl on myspace looked like someone I gave a lift to couple months ago - but of course it's a big country...they're somewhere out there... :)
posted by jettloe at 1:24 PM on June 2, 2007


And metasonix you're right - not having seen the documentary the first reaction is - well there's a lot of them there folks just like that round here...it doesn't have the exotic sheen as portrayed by the 'white-out' cuts of the trailer...
posted by jettloe at 1:25 PM on June 2, 2007


I watched the trailer again, full screen on my 'better-view' computer, and they're clearly somewhere over the bridge. The film starts with a view approaching the gorge bridge and then it looks to me like they must be northish. But, you know most mesaeños (or whatever) don't live like that. I can't imagine the earthship community putting up with that kind of behavior nearby.
posted by taosbat at 1:50 PM on June 2, 2007


yeah - but who are those guys that live out past the bridge - going left, (I used to live at the little cinder-block house there on the left after the bridge many moons ago), - all dirt road - those folks aren't the Earthship dwellers - they live without running water/electricity...if it's not them it's folks doin' a similar kind of thing.
posted by jettloe at 1:57 PM on June 2, 2007


Most of eastern New Mexico looks like that. Drunken bums in rundown trailers. (full disclosure: I'm a NM native, trust me....)

Hmm. I grew up in Portales and I can't recall any drunken bums in rundown trailers. But I'd expect you'd find some in Clovis, Roswell, or Hobbs.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 1:58 PM on June 2, 2007


Sorry: earthship community
posted by taosbat at 1:58 PM on June 2, 2007


There are still plenty of squatters and folks living under plastic and all that; but, the pace of development is ever-increasing. Recently the three-peaks folks had a running fit when someone wanted to develop his chunk of sage into a real shooting-range. Carson has a store: Poco Loco.
posted by taosbat at 2:15 PM on June 2, 2007



This the pattern I'll follow when I get off the grid. Just like Judith.
posted by sammyo at 2:34 PM on June 2, 2007


Just an observation after living all over the Southwest, New Mexico is about as uncivilized as it gets in our United States.
posted by tgyg at 6:10 PM on June 2, 2007


New Mexico is about as uncivilized as it gets in our United States.

I'm not sure what you mean by that, but it sounds like BS to me.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 7:25 PM on June 2, 2007



I found the prospectus for the film online. (Warning: PDF). The prospectus mentions a fire that killed several dogs, which is referenced elsewhere as having occurred in Taos County.

I'm from the San Luis Valley in Colorado (about 70 miles from Taos) and I'm dying to know where this place is. It has kind of a Tres Piedras look, I think.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 9:14 PM on June 2, 2007


Sorry if that tweaks you, Ethereal Bligh, but watching the daily news in Albuquerque is an experience I've never had in any city I've lived in, and I've lived in a lot. And I'm not talking just about what happens in Albuquerque.

I'm not saying New Mexico is way out-of-bounds, I'm saying the people here (as an average) are ... the last bastion of the old west.
posted by tgyg at 11:10 PM on June 2, 2007


I remember reading about that fire, palmcorder_yajna, it was heart-wrenching. I would also mention a dog found chained and frozen to the ground under someone's trailer, but teh Taos News works really hard to make itself irrelevant on the interwebs.

If anyone would like to help me out with this pet peeve. please contact Chris Baker (publish - @ - taosnews.com)

I think I saw a shot of Ute mountain in the trailer that would put them between there & TP.
posted by taosbat at 11:12 PM on June 2, 2007


the last bastion of the old west.
posted by tgyg


UB smilin' RITYE!
posted by taosbat at 11:34 PM on June 2, 2007


Sorry if that tweaks you, Ethereal Bligh, but watching the daily news in Albuquerque is an experience I've never had in any city I've lived in, and I've lived in a lot. And I'm not talking just about what happens in Albuquerque.

Well, "uncivilized" sounded a lot like "third world", which I've heard before and I think is straightforward racist bullshit. Otherwise, it's true that Albuquerque has a lot of crime. Albuquerque has had a lot of crime, a lot of murders, for thirty years. It's not representative of the rest of the state.

Other than that, I don't know what you're referring to. I've probably not lived in as many cities/towns as you have (eight or so for me), and I've only lived in New Mexico and Texas, but I don't see anything unusual here. Except that New Mexico is a little poorer than most of the rest of the US. And that large portions of New Mexico are majority Hispanic.

I think I saw a shot of Ute mountain in the trailer that would put them between there & TP.

That's what I thought I recognized in the trailer. I don't think it's that near Tres Piedras because wouldn't there have been some shots of closer mountains and forests?

At any rate, I think there's a long history of these sorts of little outlaw/counterculture microcommunities in New Mexico. I've been long fascinated by the reclamation/resettlement of Madrid. I can remember back to the 70s and early 80s when it was still mostly squatters in tumbledown mineworker housing. But it's a bustling little community these days, taking some advantage of the tourist trade. And the spillover from Santa Fe has made the real estate far from cheap.
posted by Ethereal Bligh at 12:32 AM on June 3, 2007


According to this rather critical blog entry, the community in the film is not quite as Deliverance-esque as it looks in the trailer. Indeed, it actually has a website.
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 12:33 AM on June 3, 2007


(And as you can see from this map, EB, it's actually not too far from Tres Piedras at all. :Þ)

(I may not know much, but I do know Tres Piedras. God help me.)
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 1:02 AM on June 3, 2007


"Uncivilized" was the word I picked to describe a disregard for the rule of law. I'm sorry your heard racial overtones in that, Ethereal Bligh, none were intended.

I'm not knocking NM, I am romanticizing its wildness (while hoping I'm not in the wrong place at the wrong time.) And the weather is great.
posted by tgyg at 5:08 AM on June 3, 2007


I really thought they would be further north, palmcorder_yajna. There are a fair number of folks in Taos whose idea of utopia is to disclaim any & all responsibilities toward others while heartily demanding that others fulfill their fantasies of what the world owes them: Two Peaks disclaimer.
posted by taosbat at 8:37 AM on June 3, 2007


Why do communities or events like this (experiments in living and "getting away from it all") seem to attract almost no minorities?

Because most minorities don't like scary-ass white dudes with guns. Thank you for another edition of simple answers to simple questions.
posted by jonp72 at 10:37 AM on June 4, 2007


I'm late to the party, but if anyone in the DC area is interested in seeing this film, it'll be playing Friday the 15th at Silverdocs in Silver Spring, MD.
posted by sarahsynonymous at 9:03 PM on June 4, 2007


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