Jackson, Wes Becoming Native to This Place
1997. ISBN 0300069669
I have a friend, Leland, who gets by on five hundred dollars a year. He lives in a six-by-sixteen-foot shack. He began his journey some twenty-five years ago. In some respects, he’s more important to me than Thoreau, for Thoreau’s tenure at Walden was brief. Leland’s idea is that once we start seeking pleasure, we start doing violence to people and to the landscape.
He says there’s nothing wrong with the experience of pleasure, but when you start seeking pleasure, violence happens. He believes that my intellectual pursuits, for example, are a form of pleasure-seeking, that they create a kind of violence. he even quite growing his beautiful garden because he thought that too was a form of pleasure-seeking; now he just harvests the greens that grow wild in the yard and lives mostly on wheat. Leland took out Social Security because his wife, who lives in the house—he lives in the shack, less than a hundred yards away—felt she needed three hundred dollars a month to live on.
He could get four hundred dollars from Social Security, and she could get two hundred, and because she needed only three hundred, he had three hundred dollars a month piling up in the bank. This money was making him have “creative thoughts,” which he thought might start causing violence. So he scratched his name off Social Security and says he’s a free man again.
There are other ways to think about living in the world, but Leland is important to me because he’s the most bottom-line person I know. He is very careful not to be judgmental of others. Seeing his example has made me pretty impatient with people who say, “We just can’t make it.”