Life on the Edge

A recent issue of Harpers had an article about the large number of marginalized people who live in a remote area of southern Colorado. Disenfranchised? I’m not sure that’s an appropriate word, unless it’s possible to be disenfranchised by choice.These people aren’t asking for handouts, it’s their choice to live off the grid. Undeveloped five acre lots run between three and five thousand dollars, and people can easily disappear into the margins. It’s a tough existence. Homes tend to be rusted trailers, not “the Taos-based earth ships, often expensive, fancifully designed houses that incorporate advanced technologies to recycle water and control indoor climate,” says Ted Conover, who wrote the article. I read his essay two weeks ago while we were camping, and it was on my mind as I walked through the park. It was peaceful, with only one other site occupied, an abnormality for any other state park I know, and I was on high alert, having been warned by the ranger about a mama bear with triplet cubs who had been frequenting the campground. I passed the bathroom building just as a man and a woman emerged, got into a truck and drove away. No large yellow state park pass hung on their vehicle’s rear view mirror. They were carrying towels and the woman had long wet hair, presumably from the shower there. It’s a good deal — a nice clean facility offering three minutes of hot water for fifty cents. Three or four quarters extends your shower to six or eight minutes. The next morning I walked our dog, and parked at the water spigot was an old vehicle, again without a state park permit. Its doors were open and two scruffy looking young men filled an array of pop bottles and what looked like might have been in a previous incarnation, a herbicide sprayer. Like the couple last night, they were only very marginally friendly, which is unusual for campers. The rugged Blue Mountains in the farthest southeast corner of Washington State would be a difficult place to live off the grid and if that’s what they were about, I wish them good fortune. But I don’t envy their lifestyle.

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