Consider yourself forewarned. As you’ll second-guess using vanilla and raspberry flavoring after learning just exactly where it came from thanks to National Geographic Channel’s new docuseries Live Free or Die, debuting Tuesday, Sept. 30 at 10pm ET/PT. That said, NGC has found itself a winner by following five unusual Americans who are participating in a lifestyle trend known as human rewilding (the undoing of domestication, people who are living almost completely off the land).
Living a minimalistic existence never looked so unappealing — at least to this suburbanite — as is the case for this handful of beaver- and rat-eating naturalists who are genuinely committed to living off the land. You’ll marvel, and at times maybe even applaud, their simplistic ways and ingenious survival skills, but it’s doubtful you’ll be taking up their lifestyle anytime soon — no electricity, no refrigeration and no stops at the local grocery store. The five individuals featured live in remote parts of our country — growing food, foraging and eating roadkill to survive. Cameras show no mercy when detailing the gutting and skinning processes of their kill, which is a normal part of meal prep for this crew. While extremely educational, the bloody pelts, bone twisting and cracking, and sawing off of little beaver feet is — well — a bit gag-inducing and must-turn-away-TV, at times, but it’s just a part of their lives.
The first “rewilder” you’ll meet is Colbert, who is primed to be the series’ standout. Not only does he educate us (and vividly show us) that the mustard-colored jelly in a beaver’s castor gland — which he masterfully guts — is used for vanilla, raspberry and strawberry flavoring (Ah, no thanks on the strawberry topping!), but his personal history proves to be equally as surprising. Twenty years ago Colbert moved to the Georgia Swamp where he built a cabin and now lives off a $2,000 a year budget, as a professional trapper. Prior to his swamp move, he had a fancy home that he shared with his wife and two daughters, while he worked as a financial adviser. After getting divorced and filing for bankruptcy he decided to forgo life’s amenities and, instead, live as cheaply as possible. Now, his only “luxury” item is store-bought coffee. He’s definitely a skilled hunter and trapper. “Hunting naked is an incredible, intense, sensual experience,” Colbert tells, but thankfully, we didn’t see a lot of that in episode one.
Tony and Amelia live in the Blue Ridge Mountains. Tony’s kind-of a wide-eyed kid who is mesmerized by his Cindy Brady-looking, survivalist wife, Amelia. These two have a smaller shack than Colbert, and appear to struggle more sustaining their food supply. Tony was a suburbanite raised with video games, who worked at a Starbucks, before opting not to deal with the financial and social pressures of the real world. He’s definitely the weak link in this duo. Amelia, however, is totally BA. She’s a skilled butcher — and man, can that girl seriously skin a cat. Their discussion over whether or not their bobcat roadkill is edible is simply priceless.
Gabriel is a 28-year-old who shares his nomadic lifestyle between the mountains and the sea. For the majority of the year he lives with his wife, Luna, in a cabin with no running water by the coast, but for three months every year he leaves for the mountains to live off the land. Gabriel’s been studying earth-based skills and learning from different native people around the world. “Being in the wilderness to me is like being alive,” he tells. We learn from Gabriel that the eye sockets of a fish actually have fresh water in them (something to consider when lost at sea and nearing dehydration). We also learn some of his tricks to hunting using homemade traps. I’m pretty sure I dry heaved while watching Gabriel eat a shish-kabobbed rat, tail and all. Let me know how you do watching that one.
Thorn appears to be the most desperate of the five profiled in the series, but surprisingly happy. His hut is made of twigs and leaves and looks like even a gentle breeze could blow that thing down; and when it’s 1 degrees outside, it’s 1 degree inside — not much for providing warmth. For the past two years Thorn’s lived in the Blue Ridge Mountains, located eight miles from the nearest town. Prior to relying on the forest for his daily survival, Thorn spent his days as a schoolteacher. Thorn’s distinct facial tattoo tells of his commitment to the land and his love for trapping. Thorn’s also got a 5-year-old daughter who apparently spends part of her time living with him in the woods. (Now here’s a tip for parents – give your kids a glimpse at Thorn’s life next time they complain about not having the newest video system or latest game release. Living the minimalistic life is always an option.) Cameras follow Thorn as he struggles to find any type of protein. He tells cameras that he’s “eaten some pretty sketchy stuff when I needed it,” and it’s not at all surprising seeing the harsh winter landscape he faces. But Thorn doesn’t feel like he’s living in poverty. “I feel like I’m wealthy. I feel like I’m rich. Look at that view.”
And it’s a view — and a lifestyle — you need to check out.
Watch Live Free or Die on National Geographic Channel Tuesdays at 10pm.
Live Free or Die episode guide:
Live Free or Die: Rise of the Wild (premieres Tuesday, Sept. 30 at 10pm ET/PT)
Live Free or Die: Trial by Fire (premieres Tuesday, Oct. 7 at 10pm ET/PT)
Live Free or Die: Blood, Sweat & Tears (premieres Tuesday, Oct. 14 at 10pm ET/PT)
Credit: National Geographic Television/Ben Cannon
Credit: National Geographic Television/Ryan Wakeman
Credit: National Geographic Television/Lindsay Coooper