For any and all reading, it took me a while to come up with a subject for this blog because, frankly, I wasn’t sure what to write about. “Write about the chickens,” K. suggested. I debated my research into the best water softener for living on a septic system (still on-going, incidentally). And, sure, there were other ideas that popped up, but nothing seemed really to fit and perhaps that’s because I wasn’t sure WHAT I was writing for. I’m not an expert in anything, but that’s not why people suggested that I start this project. In fact, in the name of bold and unmitigated truth, I’m figuring most everything out as I go along, like everyone else I meet in the world. I raise chickens because I like to, yes. I like the satisfaction of raising, butchering and processing my own meat and having access to a source of eggs that requires comparatively little cost. However, if it was just a hobby and it stood alone as such, there are many others that I could undertake that would ask less of me and my family.
K. said to me yesterday, “You couldn’t do everything you’re interested in if you lived two life times.” Something in that stung. Interest. I concluded the previous entry with, “I’m a hobbyist, a tad organically-inclined, pretty nostalgic, a touch of a survivalist…” and it’s true. As I said, I’m no expert. But beyond my desire to learn self-sustaining skills, there is something that goes much deeper than an interest or a hobby. It’s an approach to life that I heard of listening to my grandfather talk of his childhood, read about in books such as the Foxfire series and see a need for everyday in our modern life: living prepared.
I was fortunate enough to come of age with clothes and a tent strapped to my shoulders at least once a month through the BSA, able to quickly associate “camping” with leaving a vehicle with everything I would be taking with me on my sojourn on my back and walking miles before the “trip” would start. The idea of “camping” with clunky lanterns, flushable loos and RVs still seems perhaps as foreign to me as scalding and plucking dinner does to some of my coworkers. But, it’s a matter of perspective. If you grow up frequently being reminded of how little you need to survive, and just how important that little is when you need it, the rest starts to seem immaterial or for leisure. That’s how I look at most of our world. Computers, cars, canned soda... tremendous inventions and a lot of our everyday life in our country is heavily weighted on them. Some are tools, others are just luxury and that’s fine. But, can you truly trust that it’ll always be there? Consider this equation: The more simple the technology, the easier it is for one person to fix when it breaks, but the more work that person must exert towards the completion of their task. The more complicated the technology, the easier the task may be for the individual to complete, but the individual is all the more at the mercy of the tool to finish that task.
Can you put your faith in that there will always be a gas station or service shop within convenient distance if you break down? What if you have to walk the rest of the way? And what if that happens to be in a bad storm, you’re trying to get home to the kids or you have the kids with you…? A myriad of possibilities in a practical game of what-if. I use my technological multi-tool, the smartphone (which most of my and K.’s family knows outstrips my technological savvy one-hundred-fold) relentlessly as everyone does, but batteries fail. Can you possibly believe that I’ve had to teach grown adults – working in the field of public safety— how to use an ADC road map? K. asked me once about my belief that our history as a species is shrouded by global amnesia, that the Eqyptians may not have built those pyramids and that I do not need to deus ex machina of alien life forms to explain it. We forgot what we once knew, where we came from. She asked me how that could be. I ask everyone reading this to go into the woods and make a meal. Find me the safe fruits to eat, the edible roots and trap your own game. Build me a bow. Stay warm tonight. If you cannot, it’s because we as a collective have forgot ourselves.
There is a place for this in modern life, as I said. My grandfather occasionally told me stories of growing up in Pennsylvania during the depression. He kept everything, nuts and wire, parts to fluorescent lights. It’s how he learned to salvage anything that may have use later; to recycle. This has come around to be en vogue again, but moving past a sense of fashion in the era of “going green”, consider this: what if you can’t afford to have the shop change your oil? Would you continue to drive it past the limitations of the tool and risk damaging your vehicle, or would you learn to do it yourself? What if you lose your job? Can you trust that food stamps, welfare and unemployment will float you through the coming months? Are you ready to provide for your family while you look for work? How will you feed them? Do you put your faith in the fact that when you run low on peanut butter and Pepsi that you’ll always be able to get to the store and pick some up? I don’t.
The lifestyle that it’s taken me far too long to come around to is one of preparedness, nothing more. Nothing extravagant, nothing special. I want to live in a home that has a pantry that my family can draw from for two or three months in case we fall flat on our faces – and count yourself blessed if you haven’t had friends or acquaintances have that fate beset them in the recent years. I want water in my house that I can draw from when the power goes out, that can sustain us for weeks if the local sewage system contaminates our drinking supply because it happens. K. half-jokingly told me yesterday, “I don’t know what end of the world scenario you envision…” referring of course to the Mayan 2012 predictions and my love of the Norse mythos of Ragnarok. The apocalypse that does keep me up at night, the one that drives fear into my heart, is the day that my family suffers because I cannot afford to feed us or am spread too thin just trying to keep food on the table that we lose the roof over our heads. That is why “interest” doesn’t begin to touch upon why I sought out to construct my life as I have.
Now, as for how I go about it, there we have some degree of hobbying. But, moreover, as we move forward into the future, we stand to repeat our failures in memory. The deeper we invest ourselves in technology, the more we lean on it to sustain our every move, the more vital it is that some of us remember how the world turned before because if the power goes out – and it surely will, for nothing remains untouched by change – we have to have some point to fall back on to keep us going as we reset ourselves. Consider it a cultural “restore” option.
I’m not an expert in any one thing and I laugh at the thought of my father’s words to me to “get really, really good at one thing” because it’s just not my nature, though I respect his encouragement to hone a skill to a level of genuine expertise. I’m a varied sort of person and perhaps the best I can hope to achieve in life is to generate conversation, if only about me in the company of others and in my absence. But, if I’ve gotten your attention, if I’ve ever left you talking or wondering just what in the hell I’m up to these days, then maybe part of you won’t be as quick to forget the things I hope I can one day pass on to my children, so that they will at least have those tools to fall back on if they need. And maybe, just maybe, you’ll give some thought yourself about how you can live more prepared for the inevitable “What If” that will come for you.
That being said and being said at length, I hereby promise to return to this project to share about my budding homestead more often and share what I learn with whoever takes an interest in reading here. We’ll talk about my flock (and yes, I name them… Breakfast, Lunch, and Dinner) and investigate life with dairy goats. It’s almost time to expand the gardens, so that will come soon, too, but, I will keep this blog running abreast of where I am in my progress in the effort to gain a true level of preparedness. And we’ll make it fun…. This is America. We love count-downs and the biggest one in recent memory is almost upon us, so let’s have some fun with it: December 21, 2012! Here’s the goal: K. and I will have squared up our recurring debts the best we can while preparing our home as a three-month stand-alone place of shelter.
Ok, that’s it. Thanks for checking in. I’ll be back with you soon.