Changes Start with... THE SPARK "at the heart of the alternative west country"


A one-room cabin off the grid & beyond the American Dream

written by William Powers

published by New World Library, 2010


Twelve by Twelve is the size (in feet) of the cabin that William Powers spent a season living in at the invitation of it's doctor owner while she was away. The dimensions relate to the North Carolina planning laws whereby any dwelling 12ft sq. or less is not regarded as a house and thereby does not receive any electric or water services. This was not some second home, holiday shack of a city highflier but the permanent home of a successful doctor who chooses simplicity with a need to live in harmony with nature over a well paid job as a physician as her way of reducing her footprint on a planet in crisis.

Back home in the USA from a stint doing overseas aid work, Powers accepts the doctor's invitation to live in the cabin nestled within it's permaculture garden, and while there discovers the inner fulfilment and freedom that radical simplicity can bring in the face of an overwhelming ugliness of a modern world addicted to economic growth at any cost. There, deep in rural North Carolina surrounded by forest and close to a flowing creek he finds a community of organic farmers, craftsmen and eco-developers determined to live a gentler and more meaningful existence and in the process create a ‘softer economy’ that coexists with nature rather than fight against, and in the end annihilate it.

Twelve by Twelve follows the narrative of a long line of current writing espousing the ‘back to nature’ philosophy that when examined, is not ‘back’ at all but rather finding a way to live with nature. Through an appraisal of organic farming, permaculture, farmers markets, slow food and homeschooling taking place in the surrounding community, the author finds pockets of resistance to the homogenised corporate domination of so many aspects of our modern lives.

The book resonated very deeply with me, having recently returned from spending a number of years living in a simple cabin (albeit with electricity and water) on the edge of a National Park in Western Australia, reinforcing my own belief in living a simpler life and giving credence to the old adage ‘less is more’.


Book review by Andy Ballard, Feb 2011

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