Twelve by Twelve

March 8th, 2015

Twelve by Twelve by William Powers front cover

William Powers, a writer and activist living in New York City, travels to rural North Carolina to live in an acquaintance's 12-by-12-foot house with tiny permaculture farm. I was excited to learn how he would go about drastically reducing his carbon footprint and deal with the practical challenges around living without electricity or running water.

As I read further and further into the book, I realized that it wasn't really about the day-to-day practicalities of living off the grid, but about philosophical and spiritual navel-gazing.

As a result, I would tune in and out of the book. Sections about his family's decision to do a moneyless no-buy Christmas, or setting up his own rainwater-supplied outdoor shower at the 12x12, are interspersed with scenes of him and his “soul friend” Leah sitting across from each other citing poetry and speaking in riddles, and wild tangents that flew completely over my head.

I completely support cutting back on modern accouterments and becoming more intimate with nature; simplification makes it easier to appreciate little things like how, as Powers describes, a spider spins its web between two blades of grass instead of between two rocks, allowing the web to sway and flow with the wind instead of being ripped by it. I can also get behind the notion of adjusting to nature instead of adjusting nature to fit us. Just as my interest had been piqued by these more or less tangible notions, Powers would revert to describing every encounter, event, or thought in relation to age-old shamanic teachings about how the earth is round in three different directions, or biking ten miles to the nearest pay-phone to ask Leah what sin is.


I can't say I enjoyed this book, but you can purchase Twelve by Twelve from if you're spiritually and philosophically inclined.