Living Off the Grid in Earthship, New Mexico

One woman’s surreal adventures living off the grid in a New Mexico earthship, preparing for the fall of America.

  • Samara Reigh
    Samara Reigh works on a wall painting in her New Mexico earthship.
  • Earthship In New Mexico
    When you’re living in a city, it’s easy to idealize living off the grid. It’s beautiful, it’s free, it’s radical sustainability. But out here, you learn that the system is impossible to escape.

  • Samara Reigh
  • Earthship In New Mexico

My friends west of the Mississippi are prepared for a crash. They’ve got gardens, goats, chickens, big dogs, good boots, loaded guns, composting toilets, and off-the-grid houses. They talk about it like it’s for certain. They’re not just prepared for the system to crash; they want it to. They say, I love America. I love it so much that I want it to crumble and fall. I love America so much that I want to see it reborn.

My friends east of the Mississippi, in their grad programs and office jobs, acknowledge that the economic situation is perhaps a bit grim. Some of them give me detailed analyses of why and how the financial market will rebound. Most of them say, Yeah it’s probably going down, but I figure I have at least five, ten years, right? Then they ask, If shit hits the fan, I can come stay with you, right?

“Sure,” I say, “but bring a goat.”

Two years ago I was deciding whether to move to New York or New Mexico. A professional clown in Madrid, New Mexico asked me to watch her land for the summer while she was away. I would have to feed her dogs, water her plants, fill in a ditch, and pick tumbleweeds. This was the best job offer I had. I packed my truck with my belongings and my dog and kitten, and I drove west.

The state’s motto is the Land of Enchantment, the locals call it the Land of Entrapment, but to me it’s the land of the free. The gaping sky, obscenely blue, with clouds lumbering across like buffalo. The mesas and volcanoes rising up in the distance, and canyons ripping the land along fault lines. Sagebrush and piñon and rattlesnakes and that one week in summer when all the tarantulas march across the orange parched land. The land is bewitching, dangerous, sexy. She knows what she wants and you’ll gladly give it to her, all your blood and sweat and years. Land of enchantment, land of entrapment, people come here and they fall in love and they never leave.

Madrid is an old coal-mining town with a population of a few hundred. Most people just pull off the road to buy a turquoise bracelet and then keep driving to an actual place. The hills are black and the bar is built on top of a mineshaft. The men dress like cowboys and are somehow sepia-toned, smelling of sage and weed and urine, with matching long beards.

Jennifer Felten Boyance
9/12/2012 2:46:27 PM

I miss the Land of Enchantment!!

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