Living Off the GRID: Wild Edibles

One of the themes in Tribes of Eden I personally found compelling was the idea of getting closer to nature and living off the land. Readers get their first taste of this when the survivors of the Wallace family, seemingly at their lowest point on the run from the terror of America’s collapse, find nourishment from nature:

“The earth, now in spring’s first flush, fed them. Kiana’s trained eyes found dandelion greens, wild mushrooms, and fiddlehead ferns. Val still had Makena’s pouch of matches slung around her neck. Eron scavenged a pot from a barn, half of which remained standing. Kianna made hot soup for children.”

Soon after (but not before a few more brushes with disaster), the Wallace family finds refuge in the Shire, a remote community that survived the collapse of society because its residents had been living “off-the-grid” for many years. Completely self-sufficient, they had learned how to live off the land, harness solar and wind power, forage medicinal wild plants and make their own clothes and tools.

What makes the Shire sections of the book most compelling is that they are based on the author’s own experience living-off-the-grid for nearly twenty years. Summerhill is a real place and Bill and Jude Thomas did build their own house and live off the land and farm with draft horses and use only wind or solar energy.

I don’t know if I’ll ever have the chance to build my own house and truly live off the land, but as a hobby I do enjoy learning about and foraging for wild edible plants near where I live. And yes, there are numerous wild edibles plants right outside my door in the city of Baltimore.

Last summer I attended an urban foraging class put on by the Baltimore Department of Parks and Recreation featuring Leda Meredith, a foraging expert and author from Brooklyn. In one afternoon she showed us nearly two dozen wild edible plants in Druid Hill Park right in the heart of Baltimore. These ranged from Burdock and Mayapples to Milkweed, Pokeweed, Black Raspberries and Daylilies.

I recorded the whole workshop on my iPhone and edited together clips of each of the different plant species we harvested. Take a look at the first video featuring the Daylily, a true “supermarket” wild edible. And if you want to know what it’s like living “off-the-GRID,” check out Tribes of Eden today!

How To Put The World Back Together Again

Tribes of Eden explores the fundamental experiences that make us human and creates a scenario in which elders help restore humanity after the downfall of society, author William H. Thomas explained today on NPR’s Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast on WYPR.

Thomas will be speaking about Tribes of Eden and signing books this Thursday, 5:30 p.m. at Stadium Place in Baltimore, home to Maryland’s first Green House homes for elders. For more information and to listen to the interview online visit Maryland Morning.

Tribes of Eden Book Club at Pioneer Conference

[This post was originally published on The Green House Project Blog]

By Melissa Honig, The Green House Project
It’s not often that you get the chance to hear the author read excerpts from their book, but that was the case August 7 as Dr. Bill Thomas discussed his latest novel, The Tribes of Eden.   The lucky audience was attendees at the Pioneer Network 2012 National Conference.  The book is set in the near future after the utter collapse of society.  It introduces a new vision of old age to counter ageist views that hinder our efforts to improve care for older adults.

Dr. Thomas had a special message for the culture change group, stating that it is time for them to take the movement one step further.  “We need to become agents of changing our wider culture.”  He believes the novel can be conduit for this broader change.  He challenged the group “to begin framing the work you do to the society as a whole”…it is time to combat declinist and ageist views that do not promote elderhood.

Dr. Thomas is the founder of The Eden Alternative and The Green House Project.

Syracuse Book Festival Features Post-Apocalyptic Tribes of Eden


Local author William H. Thomas, a Harvard-trained physician, award-winning social activist, visionary eldercare reformer, mixed-power farmer, musician, and playwright, brings his vision for a new old age in a public reading and signing of his new book Tribes of Eden at the Syracuse Arts and Crafts Book Fair July 28.

Thomas joins a wealth of local and regional fiction, non-fiction, poetry and children’s books authors and illustrators who will be showcased at the Book Fair and on hand to discuss, read and personally autograph their books. The Book Fair tents will be located at the heart of the festival just off Columbus Circle in the 300 block of Montgomery Street between East Jefferson Street and the entrance to the YMCA.

Available in paperback at, Tribes of Eden uses a post-apocalyptic scenario to show how trust, community and wisdom can overcome even the most tyrannical power and repair a broken world.

Tribes of Eden is inspired by Thomas life’s work as a self-proclaimed “nursing home abolitionist” seeking to change the way society views aging. Thomas is founder of The Eden Alternative, a global nonprofit focused on transforming nursing homes into elder-centered communities, and The Green House Project, a revolutionary model to replace institutional nursing homes with smaller, 10-12 person homes.

“Tribes of Eden is a classic thriller and coming-of-age story that people of all ages can enjoy,” said Thomas. “But the story is inspired by and dedicated to the real tribes of Eden, the thousands of people worldwide who believe that elders deserve a place at the heart of society and the opportunity for continued growth throughout life.”

Set in the near future after the collapse of society, Tribes of Eden follows a mother and her two children as they find refuge in an isolated community in upstate New York hidden from “The GRID,” a totalitarian power that restored order with an iron fist. As The GRID’s virtual new world order begins to threaten the community, a young girl must lead an alliance of the young and old to restore humanity.

Thomas’ publishing company, Sana Publications, has dedicated all proceeds from the novel to The Eden Alternative global non-profit to support education, innovation and development of new models of “person-centered care” that put the needs of people before the needs of institutions.

Life In The Shire

One of the most interesting things about fiction is that, for the most part, it is really just life— artfully arranged. Almost all of the scenes, incidents and characters we read about in novels can also be found in real life, in fact most of them are based on living people and actual situations. It is the same for “Tribes of Eden.” When I was writing the book I drew heavily from my own life experiences.

The Shire, for example, is really just a compound of the place I lived when I was growing up and the years Jude and I spent on the farm at Summer Hill. Sure some of the features were changed, exaggerated or diminished but the novelist has a right to do that to make the story flow more smoothly. It is true that Jude and I lived “off the GRID” and it is also true that when I was a child I lived close by my older relatives and had close relationships with them.

There is nothing simple about living the simple life and I think the greatest shortcoming we experienced on the farm was the struggle to do without all the modern conveniences and also do without a close network of friends and family to support and be supported by.

The Hobbits of the “Lord of the Rings” had a pretty good handle on things– they understood that living simply requires ample access to the gifts of community.

This video includes some further thoughts on the Shire and the GRID and the conflict that develops between them.

The Magic of Magical Realism

When I am writing fiction, my taste runs toward something called “magical realism.”

The wiki has a good summary of the concept:

Magic realism or magical realism is an aesthetic style or genre of fiction[1] in which magical elements blend with the real world. The story explains these magical elements as real occurrences, presented in a straightforward manner that places the “real” and the “fantastic” in the same stream of thought. It is a film, literary and visual art genre.

I admit to being fascinated with the idea that the most magical things are often those that are the most real and the firmest grip on “reality” often includes things that are just plain magical. I should add that by “magical” I don’t mean warlocks and wands and spells (not that there is anything wrong with all that) but rather events that seem supernatural but exist side by side with perfectly natural happenings.

Perhaps some examples might help. It would be an example of magical realism if:

“a character in the story continues to be alive beyond the normal length of life and this is subtly depicted by the character being present throughout many generations. On the surface the story has no clear magical attributes and everything is conveyed in a real setting, but such a character breaks the rules of our real world. The author may give precise details of the real world such as the date of birth of a reference character and the army recruitment age, but such facts help to define an age for the fantastic character of the story that would turn out to be an abnormal occurrence like someone living for two hundred years.”

I like the friction that occurs when something that seems unreal or impossible exists, side by side and without comment with things that are perfectly normal.

Matthew Strecher defines magic realism as:

“…what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe.” This critical perspective towards magical realism stems from the Western reader’s disassociation with mythology, a root of magical realism more easily understood by non-Western cultures.”

Ahhh. Mythology, that’s the thing. In fact, mythology is the tap root of all magical realism. I think that the great myths all had two intertwined objectives. For example,

A) The city was attacked by an invading army and destroyed which is a truth.
B) “Whom the gods would destroy, they first make mad,” which is a TRUTH.

“Tribes of Eden” blends the ordinary with the extraordinary in an effort to create a mythical story.

I hope you like it.

Just Like in the Tribes of Eden

Another cool case of life mirroring art. Golden Letters would fit right into the Shire. All they need is a young woman and a crazy wild horse.

“Golden Letters is a new programme based in Brenalwood Care Home. Our aim is to create a national and possibly global care home pen pal community, where residents can share stories, make friends and be part of something new. We need residents who are interested in writing and/or recieving letters from their counterparts in other care/nursing homes. the letters can be written by the resident themselves or by a member of their family or the care team. if you interested please go to our facebook page or our website Golden Letters for contact info

Anyone in the real Tribes of Eden interested in sending these guys a note?

An “F” In Penmanship

I recently did an email interview where I was asked “What do you wish people in their 20’s and 30’s knew about life?” The answer was pretty clear to me. The younger we are, the less likely we are to understand what our strengths are, to know matters and what doesn’t matter. There are so many things that we excel in when we are young, and that we think will be important for the rest of our lives, that turn out to have very little to do with the lives we were meant to live. One example, drawn from my own experience has to do with memorization. For no particular reason, I happen to have a talent for memorizing words and numbers. It can now be revealed (for the first time) that my high school locker combination was 07-17-26. That skills was pretty darn helpful to me as a premed and then medical student but, in recent years, hasn’t really done me much good.

As good as I was with memorization, I was terrible— TERRIBLE— with handwriting. I am left-handed and my handwriting was and is, pretty messy. In second grade, that was a very big deal. Check out the video for the whole story. I still have “poor penmanship” but it doesnnnnnnn’t really matter. I sign my name and I write notes in notebooks that only I will ever read. That’s it.

So this is a learning for me. Things that seem to matter a great deal, might actually mattering very little and things that seem not to matter just might become a very big deal. What matters is the willingness to figure that stuff out– to refuse to allow settled preferences and opinions to govern our lives.

Living Off the GRID

For about 18 years Jude and I lived off the GRID on a horse/wind/sun powered farm we called Summer Hill. Living off the GRID for that long teaches you lessons that are hard to forget. We used as little power as we could, we watched the weather and we enjoyed the feeling that came with a windy day (lots of power from the wind generator) and a sunny day (lots of power from the solar panels). The worst were the dark February days when there seemed to be no sun or wind.

I mention this because these experiences helped form the backbone of the “Tribes of Eden” plot line. The Shire, as it is called in the book, is rich in common sense off-the-GRID living and in the letters and emails that have already started coming in from readers, the consensus of which seems to be, “I want to live there!”

Here is another of our continuing series of videos highlighting some “inside” information about the book and the world it envisions.

Hope you like it…