July 18th, 2019

Off-grid

For the past couple of years I reported “The Last Frontier,” the cover story of the August 2019 issue of Harper’s Magazine.

It’s a tale of alienation and ingenuity, politics and weed, and the possibilities of a frontier. I researched it by volunteering with an outreach group and by living off-grid myself over a couple of years, off and on, renting space for my small trailer from a family that is home-schooling their five daughters out on the high prairie, and moving with them when they found a better plot. You can read about them and a lot of other outsiders here or here.

People both seek the edges and are pushed there. Most seem to appreciate solitude and are not necessarily eager to sit down with a writer; getting to know them takes time. That was okay with me. I enjoy space and quiet as well, and the chance to lead a different, more independent life than the densely interconnected world of the city. Back in Rolling Nowhere, my first book, I tried to find words to describe the way it felt arriving in Havre, Montana, on a freight train. The vastness of the place, I wrote, was “more than something to see, it was something to feel … something inside me just became more free and expansive—‘opened out,’ I guess I could say.” That’s still how it is for me.

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