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Living Freedom by Claire Wolfe. Musings about personal freedom and finding it within ourselves.

Want to Comment on a blog post? Look for and click on the blue No Comments or # Comments at the end of each post.

Claire Wolfe

One tough way to go off-grid (book review)

Sunday, April 13th, 2014

A Widow’s Walk Off-Grid to Self-Reliance:
An inspiring, true story of courage and determination

Mason Marshall Press, 2014
$12.95 paperback
$8.95 Kindle


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.

10 Responses to “One tough way to go off-grid (book review)”

  1. Pat Says:

    I had a grandmother who lived her last 10 years with an outhouse, and a hand pump, gas stove and icebox in the kitchen. But she also had electricity (two hanging lightbulbs), and neighbors fairly close by who could help when needed (though she rarely called on them; more often they asked her if she needed anything). That life was one I could handle.

    Annie Dodd’s life I probably could not — or would not — tolerate.

    When this book was mentioned earlier on Living Freedom, I ordered it. I have read it now, and was (am still) overwhelmed by the author’s strength — or not so much strength, but guts and _fight_. Sheer stubbornness, a determination not to be bested by life (human or otherwise), is what I read in her; almost daring herself to be weak.

    To survive is to do all that you can under the circumstances handed you. Dodd was determined to *thrive* in the face of survival mode, and she succeeded even in ways that she never intended. This is an amazing book, and I’m re-reading it now for further understanding and for practical ideas.

  2. Claire Says:

    Pat — Thanks. I think, in a way, you just nailed that book. And Annie’s character. Better than I did.

  3. Roger Says:

    Claire, I am going to buy this book and according to amazon I can get it kindle or paperback. My question is which gives the greater profits to the lady. I know it’s probably only a couple of quid but, maybe it’s just the Welsh scrooge in me, I’d rather her have tge money than some publisher!

  4. Claire Says:

    Roger — Good caring on your part. Thank you. I’m sure the paperback gives her more (besides that, the publisher is actually just another individual who’s been hankering to get into small-scale publishing). But I’m pretty sure with Amazon they’re both getting a much better share of either type of book than if the book had been published by one of the “majors.” So either way …

    With you being in Wales, wouldn’t the Kindle version be a much, much better deal for you? I hate even to think about the shipping to the UK!

  5. Roger Says:

    Oddly enough they’re offering free supersaver delivery. Ok I’ll have to wait a couple of weeks but I’ve got plenty to keep me occupied. I like the fact that it’s a small scale publisher so that’s a bonus. There’s one not too far from us Carningli Books who published all of John Seymours stuff originally, the complete guide to self sufficiency and the fat of the land plus loads of others.
    Just ordered her book on amazon now(even though I loathe amazon lol). It is convenient but they’ve hit business hard here because the profit margins are so small the shops cannot even try to meet the price. At some point the councils are going to have to slash business rates or other than charity shops who are exempt there won’t be any open at all!

  6. Claire Says:

    Thanks for the order. I’m pretty sure I can say thank you from Annie Dodds, too. Free supersaver shipping to Wales? And the book is still shipped from the U.S.? Wow.

    I love Amazon (well love/hate sometimes), but I know the impact its having.

    As to governments lowering fees for business … pardon me while I roll around on the floor laughing …

  7. Anne Dodds Says:

    Claire,for you to take the time to read my book is one of the greatest honors.
    Thank you for your critic.
    I am your number one fan. Your writings have mesmerized me for years.

    It was difficult to write and my poor Editor/Publish has the greatest patience.
    We did this togather,long distance. Emails and phone.
    I am a computer dummy but he devised ways for me too continue writing.

    It took awhile to finish the book.
    It was difficult to re-visit some of the years in my mind.
    I became tougher than a 3 day old taco off grid but emotionally it took years to over come many personal slights/problems.

    I am totally humbled at the books reception,its been great.
    Again,i hubly thank you and all the wonderful folks who take a chance and spend their hard earned money for the book.
    My Editor(one fine human) and I are selling courage—if we help one person to hang one more day–Mission accomplished.

    Sincerely Annie

  8. Claire Says:

    Annie — Thank you for coming by and leaving such a kind comment. I must admit, I was absolutely in awe of you through the entire book. If you’re “selling courage” (and sheer gutsy determination to thrive, as Pat remarked) you’re certainly setting a good example.

    I also agree that your editor is one fine human being. He asked me to take his name out of the review, but you and he both deserve credit.

  9. Anne Dodds Says:

    I do admit The Editor wore out a cattle prod on me—Very kind and patient gentleman, but he did have to lean abit and I am not the only thing he had to do.
    He is a busy man.

    I have had emails/Pm’s and phone calls from folks that have bought our book.
    I have known many of the folks on the BWH forum for years.
    Some folks say it’s just the Net–no many of these great homesteaders,Patriots,preppers and the dreamers that have given me the courage and the hope to go on many years ago when there was no hope.

    I am passing on that courage,because we all come to that point in life I believe.
    I have my orginal 101 Things book of yours—if you knew how many nights by oil lamp I read that book.

    Maybe someday in the by and by we may meet.
    Until then–hit that old pine home made desk-we need something to read.

  10. Anne Dodds Says:

    Dear Pat
    Thank you.
    And the honest from my heart truth,I’d go back this minute if I could.
    I am very stubborn.
    I am a bit of an isolationist and very conservative.
    I am an animal lover–fostering and adopting some of my fosters.

    I have found that the ones I loved/love are flawed–they’re not perfect.
    It has been a difficult journey with my family,but it’ll be ok.

    Again thank you for your beautiful post.

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