February 7, 2014
Twenty years ago, Colorado native Gary Duncan was at the peak of his career as a professional builder, cabinet-maker, and architectural designer. But the same career that had rewarded him so well was about to take it all away. Gary plunged into a mysterious state of complete medical disability, which he was unable to explain despite seeing five doctors and having a $10,000 battery of tests performed.
It ultimately took an acupuncturist to correctly diagnose Gary’s Multiple Chemical Sensitivity, triggered by years of exposure to formaldehyde in construction materials.
Gary embarked on a series of lifestyle changes to rid his home and body of chemical toxins. An organic diet, elimination of pesticides, and a thorough housecleaning were all part of his health recovery.
He responded quickly to the new protocol. But many of his worst symptoms remained, including headaches, tinnitus, and pain. Gary was determined to restore his health to one hundred percent. And that’s when he discovered the other piece of the puzzle contributing to his poisoning.
Around this time, Gary met and befriended a man named Roland at a drumming circle. Roland was a building biologist and an electromagnetic field technician from Germany. When Roland visited Gary’s tiny trailer and brought his measuring instruments, the two men discovered that Gary had been living and sleeping in an alarmingly high electrical field—one that was many times higher than even the “extreme concern” level of fifty volts per meter, as set forth in building biology guidelines.
“That’s when the battle began,” Gary explains. “As the unneeded appliances left my life, the remaining ones got shielded. I learned to avoid fluorescent lights, I dumped the CFLs [compact fluorescent lights], and things got dramatically better.”
But the real turning point for Gary came later that winter in 2004.
“A very violent and shattering episode with a berserk, alcoholic landlord ended with me pulling my little travel trailer out of town in the middle of winter to a secluded canyon,” Gary recalls. “On the third morning, as I sat there with my cup of coffee, I had the distinct sensation that something was missing. What was gone was the pain, sinusitis, ringing in the ears, nightmares, despair, and fatigue that had destroyed my life for a decade without reprieve. I had slept like a baby both nights. I was fine.”
In fact, Gary’s unplanned exit from civilization ten years ago confirms what is now known about both Multiple Chemical Sensitivity and Electromagnetic Hypersensitivity. Namely, they are both “functional impairments” (to use the Swedish designation), not innate personal disabilities.
“There is nothing wrong with the patient,” explains Gary. “What’s wrong is the deteriorated environment. Remove me from the mess, and I’m just fine. At 66, I have more energy than when I was 30,” he adds. “And I will remain that way as long as I am away from modern culture.”
To ensure that he and others like him have safe places to live, work, and rebuild their health, Gary founded the Smart Shelter Network in 1996, and later the Land Steward Program.
Gary’s volunteer land stewards—people who have all been poisoned in some way by modern society—collectively manage and protect (with no cost to landowners or government) a huge swath of wild land in the Tabeguache Corridor. The corridor is a triangle of 10,000 square miles of land bounded by Telluride and Aspen, Colorado, and by Moab, Utah. The area encompasses the 800-year-old lands of the nomadic Tabeguache Ute Indians.
In exchange, Gary and his land stewards are able to rebuild their own health and live in safety, far from the toxin of electro-pollution.
“If the land can heal those with environmental illness, then those with E.I. should also heal the land.”
Gary’s land stewards remove invasive weeds with the use of hand-tools that Gary has created for the task. And they monitor and restore the land in other ways as well.
“The wild lands are in deplorable shape from cattle overgrazing, motorized vehicle recreation, camper trash, weeds, and drug labs,” Gary explains. “I decided that if the land can heal those with environmental illness, then those with EI should also heal the land.”
Gary is also deeply concerned about the thirty percent die-off of Colorado forests due to cell phone radiation and power-line EMF—a pattern he says is replicated in Holland, South Africa, and elsewhere around the world.
“The killer,” says Gary, “is our myopic, self-centered obsession with instant communication. This is the disease of the wireless age.”
Gary likens our cultural love affair with wireless technologies to alcoholism, drug dependency, or any other form of addiction.
“Tell a cell phone user they are addicted, that it’s bad for their health, that there are 9,000 professional medical studies that prove it, and not to bring their phones into your presence, or grab the bottle of wine in a paper sack out of the grips of a wino in the park—the results are identical,” Gary remarks. “Anger, denial, venom, refusal, resistance to fact—all at the same time the patient continues to plummet.”
Gary knows the terrain of addiction all too well. He is a recovering alcoholic, who has been clean and sober for 26 years.
“The mechanism and symptoms of addiction are identical in wireless communication dependency and terminal alcoholism,” Gary explains. “My own alcoholism recovery has given me the understanding about why information [on risks of wireless radiation] is of no use to the cell phone crowd.”
But there is one important difference between substance abusers and cell phone addicts.
“The drugs and alcohol are at least confined to the body of the addict,” Gary points out. “When the iPhone maniac logs on, everyone within a city block starts absorbing the radiation. And the texting addiction is constant. That phone is never off, none of them.”
These days, Gary is parked in the desert outside Moab, Utah, in his 86-square-foot “Micro Habitat”—a converted 1972 Nomad trailer that he has retrofitted with a water catchment roof, passive solar design, a high-efficiency propane stove, extra insulation, and even a sound recording studio. His exposure to electro-pollution is limited to his weekly trip into Moab (what he terms “the bowels of digital radiation hell”) for gas, propane, food, and a quick internet connection.
In summers, when Gary is travelling great distances through the Tabeguache area, he lives in his even smaller “Chariot”—a mere 24 square feet, which he converted from an abandoned farmyard trash-hauling trailer.
As far as Gary is concerned, a minimalist lifestyle is the only real solution to problems both personal and planetary.
“The best thing any of us can do for the environment, health, peace, and the economy is to live in smaller spaces,” he tells me. “When we reduce our domicile to less than 100 square feet per person, magic happens in terms of energy efficiency, comfort, function, and most of all junk accumulation.”
The planet is alive—and pissed!
For Gary, electrosensitivity and chemical sensitivity are neither an accident nor an anathema. Rather, he says, they are a gift and a call to arms.
“The planet is indeed alive,” Gary remarks. “And it is now pissed. It warned us fifty years ago to stop the abuse. Our greed wouldn’t listen. So it devised a scenario where we would. And I certainly am.”
If anyone had told Gary Duncan ten years ago that he would be fleeing to the wild lands to live and thrive, he wouldn’t have believed them.
“Back then,” says Gary, “I would have deemed the life I now live to be unfeasible and impossible. But it works and I love it. Bunnies know all of this. That’s why they live in holes and stay out of Moab.”
© Kim Goldberg 2014. All rights reserved.
(Gary Duncan’s story will be included in Kim Goldberg’s forthcoming book REFUGIUM: Wi-Fi Exiles and the Coming Electroplague. Read more people’s stories here.)