Americans today constantly have their eyes locked to screens — their phones, tablets, and televisions. Workweeks are getting longer and the retirement age is getting older. There’s an obsession with money and material goods. But there are a handful of people who are rejecting these ways of life. They’re moving away from the cities, living with only the bare necessities, pledging to Live Free or Die.
National Geographic Channel’s new series Live Free or Die examines one of America’s most remote subcultures, following five individuals living in the country’s backwoods and swamps with few of the trappings of modern society. Freed from the constraints of a technology-fueled existence, they are modern-day pioneers who rely only on skill and intuition to harness the natural environment.
These five individuals are participating in a lifestyle trend known as “re-wilding” — a new term that refers to the un-domestication of humans and reverting back to our wild roots. They live almost completely off the land, in simple homes without any electricity or running water. The woods furnish their rugged lifestyle, and wildlife populate their dinner plates, bringing significant challenges that often require quick and innovative solutions in their constant struggle to survive. They are faced with natural obstacles like brutal weather and depleted food sources and must find ways to subsist that don’t violate the strict code they hold themselves to in order to remain self-sufficient. It is this very code, the difficulty of keeping it and the potential to triumph over nature that fuels their desire to remain on these modern-day frontiers.
“There’s a cost sometimes to living this way,” says Thorn, who lives in a self-made hut in the forests of the Blue Ridge Mountains. “But at least I have a lot of time. When I lived in the city, I was a schoolteacher. It was wonderful, but being on someone else’s terms was really difficult and I just wanted to drop out of it. This forest just gave me this unique opportunity to get away from that and actually live free.”
“Doing this work is very freeing. It’s very liberating,” says Tony, who lives off the land on a mountainside in Appalachia. “We’re rulers of our own destiny here.”
Meet the primitive Americans:
Colbert, Georgia swamps
Colbert is a former financial advisor who, after raising two daughters, quit his job and abandoned his mainstream existence, moving to the swamps of Georgia to live a simpler life. An expert woodworker, Colbert built his own home from wood found in the swamp. He hunts, traps and forages for food, herbs and medicinal plants, using only what the swamp provides for his survival.
Gabriel, California coast and mountains
Gabriel lives a nomadic lifestyle between the mountains and the sea of California. At age 10, Gabriel met a man who inspired him to deepen his relationship with nature, which led him to this lifestyle as an adult. For the majority of the year, he lives a simple life with his wife, Luna, in a cabin with no running water by the coast. But for a few months every year, he leaves for the mountains to live off the land.
Thorn, Blue Ridge Mountains
Thorn lives on 120 acres in a remote corner of the Blue Ridge Mountains, relying on the forest for his daily survival. Even his hut was built entirely from materials found in the woods. Two years ago, Thorn quit his job as a schoolteacher to move into the forest. He has a 5-year-old daughter who spends part of her time living with her father in the woods.
Tony and Amelia, Blue Ridge Mountains
Seven years ago, Tony bought a seemingly barely habitable plot of land on a Blue Ridge mountainside and built a home on it with his own two hands. He now lives there with his wife, Amelia, who couldn’t resist him after seeing his house. Raised by unconventional parents, she moved to the mountains 10 years ago. Tony and Amelia are turning their hillside into a garden that meets most of their needs.
The premiere episode, Live Free or Die: Rise of the Wild, dives straight into the world of wild living as five individuals tough out winter in America’s backwoods and swamps. Everyone is in search of food, but the winter weather is making the hunt difficult for some. In the Blue Ridge Mountains, primitive woodsman Thorn struggles to find even a trace of wildlife to turn into a meal. Meanwhile, close by, homesteaders Tony and Amelia battle the cold in their small cabin, making use of any meat they can get their hands on. Down in a river-swamp in southern Georgia, modern frontiersman Colbert shows his expertise when he catches a large beaver near his home. And across the country, in drought-stricken central California, nomadic hunter Gabriel sets his sights on small game and lands a rat, providing him with food to get by.
Live Free or Die premieres Tuesday, Sept. 30, at 10 p.m. ET/PT on National Geographic Channel