Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa

I recently watched a documentary, “Off the Grid: Life on the Mesa,” about the community in the untown of Mesa, New Mexico.

You can watch the trailer for it below or on Youtube.

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It was an interesting film for me. The people that live in this community, and it really does seem to be a community, are people that don’t want anything to do with “normal” society, for whatever reason. The film states that there are about 400 people on the Mesa. A lot of them appear to be veterans who are pretty alienated society because of the trauma of war, addiction issues, and the like. Some people are aging hippies and countercultural types. Others are runaways and those that just cannot fit into society. These are people that don’t want to deal with society anymore and often feel that the only way that they can live free is to opt out of the world. Of course, they create their own world in doing this.

It would be quite easy to watch this film and judge these people as somehow being really odd but I am actually of the opposite mind on this. These people are really “just folks” like you’d encounter anywhere. I’m of the firm opinion that people overestimate the amount of supposed normality in the people we live around in our neighborhoods or that we encounter in day-to-day life. People are weird, strange, and often troubled or unhappy. This is true in the cities as much as it is true in any off the beaten path community. It is easier for people to hide this in cities since we are effectively anonymous from our neighbors and treat other people as strangers. Just about any of the people highlighted in the interviews in “Off the Grid” could be living in your neighborhood, struggling with their issues. It is just that much more obvious when they remove themselves from the seemingly normal struggle of our consensual reality that call our society and congregate as a community of misfits. I felt an overwhelming sense of compassion for the personal difficulties that each of these people discussed during the course of the film. Like I said, they are just folks and their troubles are really no different than anyone else’s except for, in some cases, degree and in their way of attempting to deal with it.

I definitely think it is an interesting film. I did find myself wishing that some of the Burners (Burning Man folks) that I know would go out there and help these folks out with some infrastructure and building issues. The engineer in me kept thinking “You could have some nice decentralized infrastructure and some quality in your building with just a little work” but then I’m a geek.

I do wish that there were more options for people to create alternate communities without having to build everything from scratch on their own. People are so alienated or isolated from others that they feel online in their troubles and oddness. It would be interesting to see attempts to create places where people were encouraged to make places by Mesa but a bit more organized (internally) and maybe slightly less random and crazy but still leaving space for people to experiment with other way of living than what we tacitly allow. Unless you are the kind of person that can find an existing community or gather people and resources to create one from scratch, it is a daunting task to want to engage in an alternative way of living without knowing how to do so or to find like minded people who may feel the same.

I’ve been fascinated with intentional communities or alternative ways of living for most of my life, all the more so as someone on the spiritual fringe of America, but I’ve never wanted to be a lone nut (or nut with a family) building a compound off in woods or joining one of the rare successful communities that often are organized around a specific philosophy or ideal.

As it turns out, you can watch the entire film online at, which was a surprise. Feel free to go give it a watch if this sounds interesting to you.