IN October 2007, Mr. Wells bought this land — a 40-acre parcel — for $8,000 in cash, adding a 20-acre tract for $5,000 a year and a half later. It took nine days and $1,600 to build the shell of his one-room house, the first structure in a compound that now includes four shipping containers under a soaring arched roof planted on a lacy framework of metal trusses, all of which he made himself. He gave it all a fancy moniker, the Southwest Texas Alternative Energy and Sustainable Living Field Laboratory, but you can call it the Field Lab for short.
By the following summer, he had started a blog detailing his daily struggles and small triumphs, planting guy wires for the wind turbines or extracting a scorpion from the composting toilet. In its own quiet way, the diary is as compelling as the notebooks of some of the great 19th-century adventurers — more Joshua Slocum, say, than Barbara Kingsolver.