[“Edges 4”. Part of “The Edges” Series. Click on image to enlarge etc. Yes, I was thinking about Microsoft when I drew that etc etc.]
Out here in West Texas, we have a certain type of individual, who are affectionately referred to as “Desert Rats”.
Desert Rats are basically people who choose to live a spartan, alternative, self-sufficient existence out in the desert. Probably the most famous cluster of them around these parts can be found down in Terlingua Ghost Town, in the Chiquaqua Desert, about 100 miles South of where I live, close to Big Bend National Park and the Mexican border. Somebody just made documentary about them.
Terlingua Ghost Town used to be a small mercury mining town of about 2,000 people. Then in the 1940s the ore ran out, and the work dried up overnight. So people left. It became a ghost town, just like hundreds of other former mining towns here in the Southwest. A few decades later people looking to escape the rat-race in the most extreme way possible started moving down there. The utter harshness of the landscape somehow inspired them.
When talking about Terlingua, you never go very long without someone mentioning “The Porch”. They’d be talking about the porch of the Terlingua General Store, the place where people gather daily at sunset to drink beer, play guitar and tell stories. I’ve hung out there a few times. Got chatting to Doctor Doug, one of the local characters. Nice guy. He’s been living in a rusty, yellow, dilapidated school bus for 20 years or so [He gets a mention in the documentary, so click on the link above to see more].
But not all Desert Rats live just in Terlingua- they’re pretty much everywhere round these parts. I’ve met lots of them here in Alpine, for instance.
What you notice is that, their unconventional lifestyle notwithstanding, they’re quite different to the usual alternative Woodstock-college-student-hippie-drippie stereotype. They own guns and hunting knives, and will use them if they have to. Try trespassing on their land with bad intent one day, if you don’t believe me.
The other thing you notice is JUST HOW LITTLE MONEY some of them live on. Heck, I thought I was cutting back when I moved out here, but some of these people are off the scale. It’s not uncommon to see them living on $5-10 thousand per year. Lord knows how they do it; except that barter is a huge part of the equation.
Sure, by mainstream American standards you could argue the Desert Rats are an eccentric, “out there” bunch. But there’s something compelling about them, too. That great American ideal, “Rugged Individualism” is clear to see in their faces. Their lives somehow seem a lot closer to the 19th-Century Western pioneers, than to say, the present-day, Blackberry-addicted commuters of New York and San Francisco.
And you always ask yourself, Why? What makes them take this particular path?
Short Answer: Because they can. They wanted to do it, sometimes for good reasons, sometimes for bad. And so they did, for better or for worse. And yes, though parts of their lives seem incredibly rewarding- especially from a distance- they’ve also paid an equally incredibly high price for the privilege, which isn’t always so obvious at first glance . This incredibly high price is no different than anywhere else, whether we’re talking here in West Texas, or we’re talking a big tech company in Silicon Valley, a startup in Chicago, a Wall Street bank. “Living on The Edges” is invariably a damn expensive business.
this came to mind. ONE THING
Ha ha !
Where is that Rat catcher Tybalt Prince of Cats when you need him ?
Nowhere to be seen.
I`ve been wandering around (Aotearoa) for years and yes, there is a high price to pay
but life without the edges is no life at all.
Just a stultifying, predictable, grey dirge.
Of course those who choose to, pay a different price for freedom using a different currency altogether. Experience
is not cheap, but show me a hollow man who has had any? Or a fulfilled man with none.
The Rat – http://www.myspace.com/jkeedwards
Blog – http://jakeedwards.wordpress.com/
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We have them here in Vietnam as well. I believe we’re called “jungle rats” – those who have fled to the edges because it’s just plain more fun!
If my last comment seemed like blunt u.r.l. promotion please take them out and post it anyway. In fact take them out.
…the void is where the edge becomes reality…
SALEABLE EVEN !
its an achievement beyond the limits of euclidean rhetoric.
Admirable and there’s a hint of jealousy for that lifestyle. I live on little with my family of five but the community of them.. that’s amazing to me.
Of course.. my jealousy is useless when all that keeps me from those edges is myself.
Wish I hadn’t just ordered a new set of your cards; I’d order this one. I’ve been a desert rat for 40 years. Lived on solar in a geodesic dome in the 70s.
Desert Rats probably draw a line in the sand to keep others “out there”.
Spot on, Hugh, especially on the “they’ve also paid an equally incredibly high price for the privilege, which isn’t always so obvious at first glance” bit!
Part of the reason why people like that keep on living like desert rats (by far not the main reason though!) is that having paid that price and having tasted the rewards, it’s impossible to go back to ‘normal’, without being broken in spirit in some ways.
Another thing I like about desert rats is that there is no posing involved. Just first hand understanding of sometimes harsh reality, ability not to fool themselves and to much self-respect to bullshit.
I used to like saying – living on the edge takes up less space. But you are right, it is invariably a damn expensive business…
The Desert USA photos you linked to make me nostalgic for that earthy landscape and architecture of the Southwest–West Texas and New Mexico in particular. The church pictured on the site especially appeals to me, looks very much like a Mexican retablo come to life.
I’ve seen those crumbling stone (and other) structures that some have made into homes in Terlingua (or had when I was there some years ago, at least). What a juxtaposition, those makeshift, sometimes crumbling shacks alongside the fully functioning stores, bar and restaurant, etc. just feet away. Terlingua is an interesting place for sure (as are many small towns far from denser civilization are in my view).
I can relate to those who hear, and heed, the call for an off-the-grid life. I think most of us can to some degree. But life on “the edges”/edge, à la Terlingua’s “desert rats,” is, in my estimation, no more and no less expensive than life in the dead-center, or anywhere else.
I’d argue that “though parts of their lives seem incredibly rewarding-especially from a distance- they’ve also paid an equally incredibly high price for the privilege, which isn’t always so obvious at first glance,” likely applies as much to lives lived on the edge as it does to lives at any point along the continuum.
My suspicion: Life on the edge exacts no more a cost for its positive aspects than any other lifestyle does for *its* rewarding components. (And I realize your post isn’t necessarily stating that a life on the edges exerts a *greater* cost than other lifestyles–though that may be your view, I don’t know–just that it exerts a *great* cost; my comment isn’t meant as a disagreement, just a riff off the points in your post.)
In every life, no matter the lifestyle, there is an opportunity cost for every choice and action. We all pay for the positives in our lives by missing out on possibilities that aren’t viable within the context of our current choices, however good and rewarding though they may be.
No lifestyle holds a monopoly on the level of cost, expense, and trade-offs exchanged for rewards; we all (equally, I suspect) sacrifice what might have been for what is every single day. The only difference is in the particular combination of rewards and sacrifices that works best for each of us.
Costs, like rewards, are personal and subjective, and hold no universal value. They can be measured only by their worth to each individual, making the cost of every lifestyle a variable dependent solely on the person paying it, and similarly, the reward, on the person reaping it.
So, from what I can tell, it’s not that life on the edge is any more costly than life in the bulls-eye center (or anywhere else) per se, but that life *in general* is costly, period. All the more reason then to choose wisely and to choose well.
You can’t escape the costs in any case (regardless of where you live life: edges, center, or otherwise), so you may as well love whatever it is you’re paying so dearly for.
[I’ve posted a variation of this comment on my own blog as well . . .]
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Totally agree with Adriana-
“having paid that price and having tasted the rewards, it’s impossible to go back to ‘normal’, without being broken in spirit in some ways.”
These people have got something special, and they consider it worth the price. I think they’re right (they get a lot of flack- plenty of people dismiss it), but doing this is a personal choice not a moral imperative, because of the personal cost.
Finding the edges of Microsoft and Dell is a seriously ambitious enterprise though. I’m impressed.
JAJA, UPYACHKA! UG NE PROIDET, BLYA!
We all pay a price, we all make choices — but only some of us get romanticized. I’m not sure they care (it would be a lot less romantic if they did).
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