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Excerpted from Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream by William Powers. Copyright © 2010 by William Powers. Excerpted by permission of New World LIbrary.  All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. HTML and web pages copyright © by SpiritSite.com.

"Doctor Jackie Benton, she lives in a twelve by twelve house?"

  William Powers, Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream, Part 1

"I know a doctor who makes eleven thousand dollars a year," my mother said.

I looked up, suddenly curious. "She's an acquaintance of mine," my mother continued, passing me a basket of bread across the dinner table. "Lives an hour from here in a twelve-foot by twelve-foot house with no electricity."

I noticed my father's empty seat next to her and felt my chest tighten. He was still in the hospital. We still weren't sure if they'd been able to remove the entire tumor from his colon. I'd come down to North Carolina from New York City, where I'd recently settled after several years in Bolivia, so that I could be with him as he recovered.

My mother went on: "She's a tax resister. As a senior physician she could make three hundred thousand dollars, but she only accepts eleven so as to avoid war taxes. Did you know that fifty cents out of every dollar goes to the Pentagon?"

"Hold on. So this doctor --"

"Jackie Benton."

"-- Doctor Jackie Benton, she lives in a twelve by twelve house? That's physically impossible. That bookcase is twelve by twelve."

"She doesn't have any running water, either. She harvests the rainwater from her roof. Haven't you heard of her? She's a bit of a local celeb."

I stopped eating and looked out the window. The rust-colored sky above my parents' condo hovered exquisitely between orange and red. I could hear the hum of the refrigerator, the rush of cars going by. That distinctive sky momentarily brought me back to Lake Titicaca in Bolivia, beneath a similar red-orange glow, and the echo of a question a shaman had asked me: What's the shape of the world?

Something moved inside me. I looked over at my mom and asked, "Do you have any way of contacting Dr. Benton?"

"I have her mobile number," my mom said. "She keeps it off but does check messages every now and then. People are always trying to reach her. And that's made her even more reclusive."

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