A Widow’s Walk Off-Grid to Self-Reliance:
An inspiring, true story of courage and determination
Mason Marshall Press, 2014
Photos show a normal, though elderly, little house. But Annie Dodds quickly discovered why she was able to lease the place sight-unseen for just $500 per year. It had no electrical service, no plumbing (not even an outhouse), rats in the attic, a tree staving in one wall, and a host of other cold, hot, wet, dry, dirty, inconvenient problems.
It was the kind of place where, on a bad day, you might open your sock drawer, briefly think, “I don’t have any socks that color,” then realize you were looking at a rattlesnake coiled atop your footwear.
But Annie loved it.
A Widow’s Walk tells the story of how she — recently widowed, emotionally devastated, dead broke, middle-aged, and equipped only with her own resourcefulness — followed her Backwoods Home-inspired dream of living independently and off-grid.
Although she kindly credits me as one of her inspirations, she gives me far more credit than I deserve. For sheer guts and persistence, Annie Dodds beats the heck out of me!
Annie’s inconvenient little house was set on 50 acres in Texas. And there she lived, improvising her own water system, cooking and taking showers outdoors, and doing without what most of us would consider the basics for many years.
It’s hard to tell exactly how many years because Annie is more than a bit non-linear about time. Her account (which I gather began as isolated stories on the BHM forums) jumps from year to year, season to season, and incident to incident without much pattern. The editor decided to consider non-linearity a feature rather than a bug — and he’s right that the randomness gives Annie’s tale the quality of being told by someone recalling memories over time by a fireside.
And what memories. Annie’s life in the little house began and remained very tough. She reminds me of my desert-hermit friend Joel. Both went off-grid in middle age, lived on small incomes, had scant experience when they set out, and overcame severe disadvantages (physical for Joel; emotional for Annie).
But Joel, I have to say you’ve got it easy compared with Annie. She never did have indoor plumbing or an electrical system, even a makeshift one. Worse, instead of the friendly, reliable neighbors Joel has at the Desert Hermitage, Annie had to deal with meth heads, thieves, and a fair number of bullies. Of course there were some good people, too. But I get the impression hers was a distinctly bad neighborhood.
And work? Long hours. Low pay. Tough, dangerous, dirty work splitting firewood (for the bundles you see in stores). But with a lot of pride. Also, despite what seems to have been serious emotional fragility, Annie was one tough cookie when it came to physical labor and holding her own against anyone who imposed or trespassed.
She writes of rewards, too: her friendship with a troubled young neighbor boy; her triumphs at scrounging; her engineering of a rainwater catchment system; becoming skilled with firearms; her family of dogs and other critters; and the many satisfactions of walking that 50 acres with its beauty and its wildlife.
This is clearly an amateur-written book. Its non-linear quality is occasionally dizzying. Annie also protects privacy by leaving out some details that it would really help the reader to know. (I understand as well as anybody a writer trying to tell her story while still guarding her own and others’ private lives; that doesn’t make it any less frustrating when important developments are left vague.)
Sure, the book has its flaws. But it’s also unique, inspiring, sometimes heartbreaking, and highly readable. If you want to read a remarkable story about a remarkable woman’s remarkable off-grid life, A Widow’s Walk is one you shouldn’t miss.