Alternative title: Come The Revolution.
True confession time. I feel like I know you all well enough that I can come clean and you won’t judge me too harshly. That you won’t think I’m totally nuts after you read this. That maybe you’ll admit to your own closet “come the revolution” thoughts. And then I’ll show you pictures of my new bunker. Just kidding. If I had a bunker, I wouldn’t tell you. Wink.
The truth is, I’m a closet prepper. As in, I spend time thinking about how to prepare for “When The S#!^ Hits The Fan”, commonly abbreviated as WTSHTF in online discussions on the matter. I have a folder titled SHTF on my computer. It contains interesting documents like how to make a waterwheel pump, or snare and trapping advice, or the LDS Preparedness Manual, Handbook 2.
There was a BBC television series called Coupling. (It’s fabulous by the way. Like NBC’s Friends, but much funnier. Most of it takes place in pubs, and its classic British humor in a modern-day setting. Highly recommended). In the second episode, one of the characters, Sally, utters the words “…come the revolution”. It’s not said in an “end of the world” context, but a friend of mine picked up on it, and started to say “come the revolution” whenever she meant WTSHTF. It stuck. We use it around the house when discussing such things as what type of grain mill to buy (one that can be converted to manual operation in a pinch, of course) or the idea of putting in a shallow hand-pumped well.
These ideas go way back with me. I had a somewhat difficult childhood. My parents split when I was 4. I did quite a bit of parenting of my mother when I was way too young for that kind of responsibility. My father and I, who had a wonderful relationship when I was young, became increasingly disappointed in each other as I hit puberty, and that lasted a long time. There was alcoholism with both parents. My mother passed away when I was 13.
In high school, I was a square peg in a round hole. Smart, bored, awkward, desperately wanting to be popular but having no idea how to achieve it, outwardly self-assured while inwardly uncertain. (Wait – is that not every teenager you’ve ever met?) I’m also a natural introvert, and so was much happier with my head in a book or walking in the woods than I was partying or playing sports with my friends. None of this was permanently detrimental. But it was deeply formative.
When I was young, I wanted to run away to a cabin in the mountains. I wanted to catch fish and live off the land and build a fire to cook on. Mostly, I wanted to avoid having to deal with people who were going to disappoint me. I wanted to feel more in control. I loved science and outer space, and that love lead me to reading science fiction books. And some of these books were in what is now called the “apocalyptic literature” genre. Z for Zacharia. Lucifer’s Hammer. The Postman. Most recently Dies the Fire. While I didn’t REALLY want the world to be destroyed, I did love the idea of testing my wits against physical problems like how to purify water and find food. And the idea of fewer people definitely appealed to me.
Bits of these books have stayed with me. The idea of stockpiling reference books (for rebuilding) and spices (for trade) from Lucifer’s Hammer. And don’t forget about the importance of having a few extra tooth brushes around (from The Postman). In my early teens, I learned some fundamental camping skills. In my early 20’s I taught myself how to backpack using The Backpacker’s Handbook. Thankfully, I was then living in a town with both an EMS and an REI store, and so could ask lots of questions. I started to learn how to cook, using my Mother’s copy of The Joy Of Cooking. I started to make bread. Homemade bread is definitely the gateway to all things preparedness. I started to garden, organically. I started to compost. Eventually I got chickens. I also went back to school and got a degree in biology. I started to understand the systems that underlie the natural world, and how they were connected to each other, and to us.
When I was working for a small outdoor education non-profit, I put together a class called “Primitive Living Skills”. We had guest speakers who showed us how to make cordage and start a friction fire and build a shelter out of whatever was available. I did this because it was hands on and I thought our students would find it interesting. But I also had ulterior motives. I wanted to learn these skills myself. Later, I did the same thing with an edible and medicinal wild herb class. I bought a book called “98.6 degrees. The Art Keeping Your Ass Alive“.
I learned how to preserve the food I grew, in ways that included, or did not include, electricity (don’t forget to stock pile the salt and vinegar). I learned how to identify and prepare edible weeds (lambs quarter anyone?). I learned to knit, and load and shoot a gun safely, and butcher a rabbit, and make cheese, and brew wine and beer, and make soap, and grow and use medicinal herbs. I read about Findhorn, and books by the Rodale Institute, and Helen and Scott Nearing. I read a book on how to compost my own poop. I have a good working knowledge of nutrition, and how to maintain a healthy diet on limited food stores (get ready to combine your beans and corn folks). The book The Survivors Club helped me realize the importance of being aware of your surroundings and taking action rather than waiting for someone else to tell you what to do in an emergency. The list goes on.
And it seemed like the rest of the world was catching on to these ideas as well. Canning blogs like Food in Jars are all the rage. Backyard Chickens is probably now its own genre of literature. The back-to-the lander’s from the hippie commune ’70’s shake their head as stuff they were doing 40 years ago becomes popular again. We call it urban homesteading. We call it self-sufficiency. We call it reducing our carbon footprint. But lets face it, it’s also about preparedness. Prepared: adjective : made at an earlier time for later use : made ready in advance: ready for something : in a suitable condition for some purpose or activity: willing to do something.
What I’ve come to understand, from casually bringing it up with various friends and acquaintances, is that I’m not the only one who thinks about these skills as not only personally gratifying and globally impactful, but darned useful, Come The Revolution. Friends quietly admit that yes, they do think, in these uncertain times, that bad stuff could happen. And that it doesn’t hurt to have skills, and a plan, and some food stores, and a gun.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist. I don’t think that the government is going to be overthrown or that the economic situation is going to completely collapse or that some foretold Mayan story is going to bring on the end-of-days on December 21, 2012 (woops – missed that one). I have zero interest in the Book of Revelations.
But a global flu pandemic or some other disease outbreak? I believe that is absolutely possible. The flu pandemic of 1918 is estimated to have killed 3-6% of the entire globe’s population over a period of about two years, some of my relatives included. And this was in an era when most people lived within a few miles of where they were born for their entire lives. They DID NOT TRAVEL. Now we hop on a plane and are in India half a day later. After seeing the PBS Frontline episode “Hunting the Nightmare Bacteria” I wanted to double my food stores and never leave the house again.
Climate change and natural disasters are other possibilities. Think about the situation after the earthquake in Haiti, or Hurricane Katrina or Super Storm Sandy, or most recently, Typhoon Haiyan, and the number of people killed or displaced and the massive, yet always too slow, relief effort (text now to send $10 to the Red Cross…again). Then imagine that on a global scale because sea levels have risen and pretty much the entire country of Bangladesh (population 154 million – about half of the population of the United States) is under water, not to mention Florida…well, we’re going to have a problem. How about Japan’s Fukushima (caused by an earthquake, a tsunami, and poor human planning – yeah, lets put the back up generators in the basement – that’s a great idea) or the tsunami in Sumatra (caused by an earthquake and poor human planning), or the possibility of Mt. Saint Helens or another of Washington’s volcanos erupting again…well, I don’t need to waste my time on conspiracy theories. There is enough to worry about.
There is this great scene in Lucifer’s Hammer. There’s an enclave that is well defended and safe, and some of our heroes are holed up there. And there are many refugees that come knocking on the gates asking to be let in. And they are asked “what skills do you have”? And if the skills are not relevant to the new world order (sorry, being a lawyer or a CPA or a stock broker is now kind of low on the priority list) they were given some food and turned away. And I think about that. Whether I find myself on the inside or the outside of the gate.
What would we do if things got bad quickly? Where would my husband and I meet up if we were separated and could not go back to the farm? (We do have a spot.) How would we avoid masses of refugees flooding out of large cities? (If you are in a large city and something seriously bad happens, do not, I repeat, do NOT wait around for help to arrive. Get out if you can. In this new era of “just in time” inventory, the shelves will be empty in a few days. Disease spreads quickly in large population centers when water and electricity run out. Gangs of people are scary and destructive and unpredictable. Seriously, if there is any way to do it, leave, immediately).
How would the 86% of the U.S. population who drinks coffee every day survive the first few days of chaos after a disaster, trying to assess their situation and make good decisions while suffering an extreme caffeine withdrawal headache? How would the raw food diet people survive without avocados shipped in from Southern California? How would I survive without chocolate. Or the internet! OK, I’m poking fun here, but you get the idea.
Almost every purchase we make for the farm or new animal we take on includes a conversation about sustainability. As in, how long could we feed this animal if we couldn’t get feed from the feed store? (That’s part of why we’ve decided not to raise pigs). Could we maintain this crop if we couldn’t pump water? What can we purchase that will make us less reliant on the grid, or the corporate economic engine? What skills and goods do we have that we could barter? (Alcohol people, alcohol. People will always seek an altered mental state, especially when things get bad and the iPad stops working). We try to keep extra cat and dog food on hand. Enough so that we could hole up for a month or so at least. A lot of the rest would depend on the time of year and how much lead time we had.
But here’s the really cool thing about my evolution as a prepper. It started because I wanted to escape the world. But now, it’s about creating a community of like-minded people around me, that can come together in a crisis and help make the best of a bad situation. I’ve come to understand that while I own guns and would not hesitate to use them if my family was threatened, being holed up with a big pile of ammo, in isolation, trying to keep watch 24/7 until the food runs out, is not my idea of survival after a disaster.
I read this great quote from a Joel Salatin interview the other day, in which he said, “Sometimes we can become so independent we do things we’re not good at or deplore, and then burn out or fail miserably. Part of self-reliance is building a resilient community of hard goods and soft goods (spiritual, emotional, educational) around us, proximate, and relationally-oriented.” And that’s exactly how I’ve come to feel about it. In place of my dysfunctional family and circumstantial friends from high school, I’ve slowly created my own family and community of like-minded people. And that is much more satisfying than being alone in a cabin on top of a mountain somewhere.
Back in 2009, my husband and I traveled through the small town of Rexberg Idaho, population about 25,000. Rexburg is famous for being flooded in 1976 when the earthen dam above the town failed. Most of the town was under water for several days. There is a great museum dedicated to the flood in the Rexburg Tabernacle building, which we toured. The most interesting part? By the time FEMA (or the equivalent of FEMA in 1976) showed up, the local authorities basically said, “Go home. We’ve got this”. Part of the dogma of the LDS religion is preparedness. As a friend of mine once said, “If I had to be stuck in a bunker with a catholic or an LDS person, I’d take the LDS person any day”. While I am not religious in any traditional sense, I’d like to think that I could have a hand in creating this type of resourceful community, should a crisis situation arise. Because I’m building its foundation today. Just don’t ask me to share my stockpile of black tea. No! Mine!
Am I ready for the revolution, should it come? No. Not even close. While we keep quite a bit of food on hand, a lot of it is dependent on electricity. When the power goes out, our well goes out. Which means we don’t have water for ourselves OR our animals (we ARE 1/4 mile from a creek). We don’t own a generator. The rain catchment system I’ve been planning to build for two years? Still not done. Rabbit tractor (which could feed the rabbits for most of the year without store-bought feed)? Not done. Solar panel or wind turbine? Nope. Room to store, without bug invasion, 50 lbs of beans, or rice or oats or wheat? Nope. Combo BBQ grill/smoker/outdoor wood fired oven built? No, and I’ve been carrying around the plans now for about 5 years. A lot of my knowledge is book learning, not field tested. While I know in principle how to start a friction fire, and have seen it done, I’ve never accomplished it myself. (I do have a flint, however, and strike anywhere matches, and a lot of lighters. I tend to pick up matchbooks when I see them for free, and stash them in my purse, or in the car, even though I don’t smoke).
I hope, in some naive way, to have a few days or weeks notice. Time to go buy some fire bricks for the outdoor stove, and print out the important documents I have on my computer, and stock pile more salt (and pepper, and cinnamon, and ginger and other spices that may be hard to come by). Time to consult with my neighbors and figure out how we can pool our resources. Time to call my friend Ed and convince he and his wife to move in with us. (Ed taught wood and machine shop to high school kids for years and has every tool in the world and the knowledge of how to use them – I want to download his brain directly into mine). I’ll never have a bug out bunker, though I would really love to have a root cellar.
I’m also a big believer in the power of attraction. As in, we draw to us the things we focus on. So while I think about this stuff, and do my best to plan accordingly, I don’t focus on it all the time. I focus on my community, and building relationships. And teaching others homesteading skills so they too might become part of a thriving self-sustaining community should the time come.
So, wouldn’t you like to be a prepper too?
Miles Away Farm Blog © 2013, where change is the only constant in life, and all we can do is focus on the positive and try to prepare for what may come next.