Twelve by twelve: a one-room cabin off the grid & beyond the American dream
3rd June, 2010
William Powers' new book is an interesting but at times tedious account of off-grid living
When environmentalists question our motives for living in a culture of rampant consumerism, off-grid living is sometimes presented as the ultimate alternative.
For this reason, William Powers' book will appeal to many, cataloguing his experiences living near the enigmatic 'No Name Creek'. But once you delve beyond the first few pages, you may feel cheated by the journey that he takes.
Returning to America after a decade of aid and conservation work in Africa and Latin America, Powers takes up the offer of living in a 12 foot by 12 foot cabin with no electricity, running water or indoor plumbing. The cabin, owned by Physician Dr. Jackie Benton, sits in the picturesque woods of rural North Carolina, at No Name Creek.
Having heard that Dr. Benton was forfeiting the vast majority of her salary and living in this spare cabin, Powers decides to visit her. The author initially believes his visit to be a one off, until he receives an invitation to use the cabin for a season while she is away travelling. Documenting his experiences over those 40 days spent at No Name Creek, and the culture shock and disillusionment he felt upon returning to New York, Powers enthuses about the striking setting of No Name Creek, and the profound changes that occurred throughout his time.
Undoubtedly well written, the initial tone captures the mood perfectly as he sets about dissecting his inherent restlessness and disillusionment. But as the book progresses, Powers increasingly skips over the technical details of off-grid living, and instead prefers to analyse his previous actions and beliefs as he responds to the challenges of living off-grid.
While his philosophy and beliefs will not be to everyone's liking, most readers will be able to identify with his broad sentiments as he reflects on the instability of our current lifestyles, globalisation, society, and current environmental issues.
Three in one?
Powers' eloquently written vignettes about his neighbours and other locals make a fascinating read - and I was left wanting more. In many ways the book could have done with fewer of his introspective asides into past activities, and more information on the finer details of off-grid living.
Perhaps by aiming to shoehorn a memoir, an account of No Name Creek, and lengthy commentaries on society and the environment into one book Powers has tried to achieve too much.
A little more insight into, and information on, the actual logistics of living off-grid would have been a welcome way to break up the book, and provided some light-relief from the often taxing personal passages.
George Wigmore is a freelance journalist
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