The Wisdom and Beauty of Frugal Living

The self-reliant lifestyle can be a joyful, profound exercise in humility and self-awareness.

| August/September 2012

My mentor was a sunburned, 60-year-old, 300-pound Jehovah’s Witness in dark glasses. Tim Posey didn’t look like a tree-hugger. He didn’t talk about self-reliance, loving nature or saving the environment. But in many ways, he was the truest and best conservationist I’ve ever known.

I grew up in an enclave of Army surplus barracks and mobile homes on the Mexican border, a few miles from El Paso, Texas. Technically we lived in the village of Anapra, in southern New Mexico. But our community — and our culture — didn’t really belong to either state or either country. In many ways, the border is its own nation, a country that attracts self-reliant misfits, independent thinkers and many people who are simply stranded on the margins of the North American economy.

Mr. Posey bought 10 acres in that economic — and literal — desert in the 1950s. He drilled a well and buried a network of shallow waterlines, dividing the land into a grid of lots where renters could park their trailers. He dug simple septic tanks with standpipes rising out of the sand. He planted poles and strung power lines.

If you rented a lot in the Posey Trailer Park, you could pull your trailer in, hook up the sewer, electricity and water, and within an hour or so be ready to settle in and watch Gunsmoke.

The great thing about owning a trailer park, Mr. Posey would tell me, was that after you had the water, sewer and power set up, you could pretty much “set back and collect the rent.” But Mr. Posey didn’t rest on his laurels. After the trailer park was operational, Tim Posey built himself an oasis.

The Plenty in Nature

The Posey homestead probably wouldn’t strike most U.S. citizens as a vision of paradise. We lived on dunes dotted with creosote and mesquite bushes, cactus and yucca. Mostly, the land was bare sand. We got only about 7 inches of rain a year — usually in a single deluge in late June or early July. Tim Posey had a half-acre vegetable garden irrigated with well water; a collection of sheds and barns built from scavenged poles and plywood; pens for his goats, chickens, geese and ducks; two long rows of rabbit hutches; and a few paddocks and stalls he rented to horse owners.

9/11/2012 11:10:47 AM

Wonderful article! So many of us had influences from childhood who helped fashion us into the earth-loving people we've become. Mine were aunts and uncles in Virginia who raised the own vegetables, milked their cow, gathered their chicken eggs, etc. It is, for me, the only way to live!

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