Making a living – part 3

Hand to mouth

William Hunter Duncan lives what you might call a conflicted life.   He is an urban off-gridder in Minneapolis where he has owned a home for 6 years. He has had a variety of odd jobs whilst trying to make money as a writer, and currently works for a large bank.  his specific back-office function is paperwork to foreclose on people’s homes.  Its like the joke about the boy scout who helps an old lady across the road only to find that she did not want to cross the road.  William lives off-grid, and you could say he helps other people get off the grid -whether they want to or not.

It’s an odd place to work for someone who must crave the freedom that you can get from living off-grid. Especially as he nearly lost his house a few years ago, due to lack of funds.  He was saved by the opportunity to run a Halloween store for the autumn, and since then has been in many different lines of work. He gives a mixed review of his new employers, saying that his first impression was of ‘a cattle yard, for documents’ and that he’s ‘up and awake at 5am now, to catch a bus, to get there by seven, to work for less than [he] makes pushing dirt around landscaping with my friend Organic Bob’. Certainly doesn’t sound ideal, however it’s not all bad, in fact it is ‘the most ethnically and race diverse workplace [he has] ever encountered, where none of the thousand (at least) people looks particularly happy, but no one looks necessarily pissed off at the world, either’.

Despite having to live with the constraints of a regular office job he has been able to turn his back yard into a bountiful paradise of fruit and veg, he grows nearly 300 species and most of these are edible or medicinal in some way, and many are probably both. He doesn’t call his methods permaculture saying ‘I think instead of this as a legacy garden, which will provide abundance as long as there is someone to maintain it’. He grows most of the food he needs for the year and soon he will be producing more than he can eat, allowing him to share freely. When he brought some of his produce into the bank it was gladly received by his colleagues, some of whom may have never seen home grown vegetables before, and few of whom would eat them on a regular basis.
Nor has William given up on his writing. It is clearly an essential activity to him because, as he explains, ‘I don’t require anyone’s permission to write, and it’s about the only thing I have ever enjoyed unequivocally, aside from gardening and otherwise engaging with nature. It may be a stretch to say, that is why I’m here, the reason I was born, but it seems as good a reason as any I know’ . Once hoping to use it to pay for the house, his website ( now hosts much of his writing free to read (something that will please the freeconomists) and all he asks for are voluntary donations. Currently up there are two nonfiction books about his experiences, called ‘The Dream That Must Be Interpreted’ and ‘Green Man’. Also up there is one more recent novel ‘Progress Interrupted’ which is being uploaded chapter by chapter, talking about this book he says that he’s ‘fallen in love with the characters of this latest effort, and they are leading me in directions I hadn’t seen when I started’.

Trying to live more freely, whether by going off-grid or some other process, is always going to be daunting in this day and age, as anyone who has done it will tell you. From this perspective Hunter’s story is particularly inspiring. Especially to those who might wish to try the off-grid lifestyle themselves, but are scared to give up their day jobs. It shows you that not every off-grider out there is successfully running a business built around their passions, and that it’s OK to stay in employment. You don’t have to be superman (or Wonder Woman) to experience a little bit of that freedom. As William himself says ‘Liberty too, is a state of mind. We do what we can, with what we have.’

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