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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.
 

"Wisdomkeepers are an old tradition, goes back to the Native Americans. They're elder women who inspire us to dig more deeply into life."

  William Powers, Twelve by Twelve: A One-Room Cabin Off the Grid and Beyond the American Dream, Part 2

Jackie didn't call back. As the days turned into a week, I left several unreturned messages on her voice mail. Meanwhile, when I wasn't visiting my father in the hospital, I asked others in town about this mysterious doctor. She provoked a range of opinions and was called everything from "commie" to "saint." As I eventually learned, Jackie had been a communist in the early 1970s; once, while counter-protesting at a KKK rally in Greensboro, five of her communist friends were shot to death by Klansmen. The police knew who did it, but the good-ol'-boy perpetrators were never prosecuted.

Jackie went on to marry one of her leftist friends, had two daughters, and settled into a life of doctoring; she mostly worked in the state system, attending to African Americans and undocumented Latin Americans in rural clinics. As a mother, she taught her kids symbolic tax resistance as they grew up -- like not paying the telephone tax and taking $10.40 off her 1040 form each year, with a note to the IRS saying it was to protest defense spending -- while leaving her more radical activism behind. She divorced but remained close friends with her ex-husband. When her daughters went away to college, she continued to work full-time but lowered her income to eleven thousand dollars to avoid paying any taxes at all.

Even those who were offended by her admitted she was a child of the South, sprung from local soil, and most people spoke of her with respect, whether deep or grudging. After all, she'd given up all that money, dedicated her life to serving the poor with her doctoring, and survived on the radical edge of how simply one can live in America. She'd also developed a unique blend of science and spirituality, creating a kind of third way that appealed to secular and religious perspectives alike. "Jackie's a wisdomkeeper," one of her friends told me. When I asked what that was, she said, "Wisdomkeepers are an old tradition, goes back to the Native Americans. They're elder women who inspire us to dig more deeply into life."

If Jackie had any wisdom, she was guarding it. You couldn't exactly look her up on Google Maps. Her dirt road didn't show up on any map. More than that, she wasn't living 12 x 12 just as an expression of simplicity. She chose those tiny dimensions, as she chose her tiny salary, for pragmatic reasons: in North Carolina, any structure that's twelve feet by twelve feet or less does not count as a house. It's considered to be a tool shed or gardening shack -- if it's even considered. If you live 12 x 12, you don't pay property tax and don't receive electric lines, sewage, or roads from the state. So I was leaving voice mail messages for someone who, from a certain official point of view, was invisible.

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