The Wild Route: Leaving Work and Home for a Forest Life | NBC Left Field


I would find myself sitting at my desk, wishing the day was over so I could home. And then I would wish that it was Friday so I could have the weekend off, and I wished my next vacation was coming up, and I realized that I was very literally wishing away my life. Does life ever feel so crazy, so nuts, that you just want to drop your phone into a toilet and retreat to the woods? Confession: I have, and yet I’m still here. But how off the grid can you really go these days? Well, I went to the woods in North Carolina and spent time with some people who’ve left, and are trying to figure it out. As modern people, we’ve evolved to this extent where we’re not capable of feeding ourselves, clothing ourselves, providing our own water, or even getting rid of our own **** and piss. This place is called Wild Roots. I didn’t name it. We don’t have policies, and we don’t have rules. And this is Todd, a former engineer, who’s been living in this community the longest. Even after eleven years, I get a big thrill every time I go to the stream and just take a drink. It just feels good to me. Harvest season is over. There’s hunters that give us meat. We can it. We did a couple hundred quart jars of meat this year. Erica’s my girlfriend, and her eight-year-old daughter, May… What’re you doing? They spend a lot of time here. Smelling it? Then there’s a guy who goes by the name of Whip. Whipporwill! Say what? Awesome. Makes it magical. He’s kind of another refugee from technology like myself. He was working in cybersecurity. There are other things that come with the bear, like, the claws, or special bones that you can use for different kinds of crafts. That’s a bear skull, covered in a huge amount of maggots. Yeah, I can barely even shake them off. Whoa! My God. I can’t keep quiet for that. I miss some aspects of that kind of logical problem-solving, but I feel fully engaged with the problems I deal with here. Then there’s a young woman named Sparrow. Some people come here, say, “Well, if **** hits the fan, we can survive.” I think that’s pretty cool. I’ve also here because I love how it is here. I think it’s really beautiful, this lifestyle. Now, this lifestyle, of living off the grid, as we often call it, might seem like it’s a relatively new phenomenon, especially as we get more technologically involved. After all, just last year, the average American spent eleven hours, basically half a day, in front of a screen. But in fact, humans have been downshifting, or voluntarily living simply, throughout history to refute the norm. Thoreau went to Walden Pond from moral exploration and a rejection of the Industrial Age. Gandhi took his path as a sociopolitical act. And, you’ve got the Epicureans, the Puritans, the Quakers, the hippies… But, what unites all of these people across time is the viewpoint that mainstream culture distracts from what’s most important. Part of my transition is to be embracing an alternative that I feel deeply joyful about. Wednesday, cloudy. A chance of showers in the morning. I really do feel a deep gratitude for for life, you know? For all the trees around and the birds singing… And that the crops grow — I mean the food — it just grows! Money doesn’t grow on trees, but I don’t need it if the chestnuts grow on trees. And what happens when we shift our priorities? Well, two academics found that people who live in a way that prioritizes intrinsic values, like community, relationships, personal growth — are happier than those who focus on extrinsic ones, like money and status and image. Case in point: Todd. It seemed like the more money I’ve had in my life, the less freedom I’ve had. My level of freedom is higher, and I have a lot of joy. Hope for the mass of humanity? I gave that up a long time ago. And I feel like giving up hope is a lot like taking a great big good dump: you just kind of feel clean and done afterwards. Yep. It’s been raining all morning and now the sun’s coming out. There’s a lot of joy in that. You know, it doesn’t matter what Trump’s doing. He can’t take that away from me. We’re not in this bubble, pretending that society doesn’t exist. We’re like hyper-aware that society exists, and we reap the bounty that we can from the scrap yards, the junkyards, from dumpsters. It looks just like Luna. Pretty similar. She’s from a different region, though. I went to town two days ago. It was my first town trip in like a month and a half or something. This is a sheep head. And I see just one person after another person like this: Like I feel like people are becoming robots, you know? I go to town once every week or so. I get online and just sort of check out the ***ed-up state of the world. Then I get myself a latte because I love my lattes. Soy. My mother and father are still alive. And I don’t want to lose contact with these people, so in order to truly escape, I’d have to give up a lot of things that I like. It’s also the fact that as modern people, we have destroyed the ecosystems to an extent that even if we did know how to live off them, there’s just not much left. We can get into this sort of turning the concepts in on themselves, because we’re still completely dependent on, you know, normal industrial society. But I really miss the people. I had good friends. I’m miss, you know, like knowing what my paycheck was gonna be. It was kinda nice knowing I was gonna have a good chunk of change in the next two weeks. And of course, you know, we’re basically wealthy white people living in an area that hasn’t been utterly demolished. You know, being on the fringes, you get away with a lot more than if my skin was darker than it is, or if I wasn’t as well-educated, or if I didn’t have all my teeth, I know that I would be looked at very differently by the police. And I’m gonna try not to use it to anybody else’s disadvantage, except the police. A graduate degree in engineering seems like a speck of **** compared to time to just—instead of sitting in an office, breathing recycled air, and, you know, going clickety clickety click on a computer — being down there, drinking that water and just being free … To me, that feels like a huge accomplishment.

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