Randall Gerard writes back...

Location: Out West

An old-fashioned guy grappling with new-fangled ways.

Monday, April 30, 2007

Expensive energy.. thoughts and ramifications..

I've been thinking a lot lately about what I should do with the rest of my life. Middle age is great for that. I've also been reading a lot about peak oil, both pro and con. If you've never heard the term, here's a good introductory article: http://cumberlandbooks.com/blog/?p=303. Please don't stop reading this, I'm not, nor will I ever be a pessimist, or even a survivalist. Life is good, God is good, and we can do good and be just fine if we reconnect with Him and take our rightful place under heaven as stewards, NOT owners, of this earth.

That being said, I think in the days ahead there will be some bumps in the economy we will need to plan for and navigate. I don't mean 'plan for' the way your typical survivalist type means it. Preparation, the way I define it is mostly mental, with minimal common sense physical and financial preparation thrown in. I don't think anyone should buy an arsenal and ammunition, (as much as I would like to!) build a bunker, or stockpile food and supplies. Think about it. If the worst case actually does happen, how are you going to defend what you have from the desperate majority? And why should they let you live once they own it, if all you have to offer is perishable 'stuff'? The keys to surviving anything, from bad weather to economic collapse, are skills, knowledge and tools. Skills and knowledge can be further divided into broad, basic things that everyone should know something about, and particular skills you can contribute to your community which will hopefully help make you indispensable.

The Basics: Starting a fire without matches. Basic first aid and wellness. Building rudimentary shelter. Hunting, trapping, fishing, foraging, gardening. Basic animal husbandry. Everyone should know basic survival skills, especially how to keep warm and sheltered under adverse circumstances.

The more specialized skills, the ones that hopefully set you apart, spin off of the basics which are all concerned with maintaining the proper body temperature. The various construction trades are examples derived from the basic need for shelter. But the tools and methods and materials now being used may need to be adjusted to a world that is running out of cheap oil. Another example: modern hunting ammunition depends on sophisticated, oil based processes and ingredients. Old-fashioned flint-lock, muzzle-loading rifles do not. Neither does traditional archery, or even more effective, traditional trapping. Find out how your fathers and grand-fathers did things, and add those skills to your repertoire.

Some occupations (specialties) to consider: Blacksmithing. Actually, any kind of metal working that can produce useful items from recycled materials, especially tool-making. Farriers. Folks who can raise and train draft animals. All forms of woodworking, especially if you're skilled with hand tools. Medicine. Not necessarily the high tech, drug pushing variety, but folk remedies, herbal wisdom, nutrition and wellness. The medical professional of the near future may well be an accomplished gardener and teacher more than anything else. Butchers, tanners, leather workers and furriers. Spinners of wool and other fibers, weavers. Shoemakers. This is far from an exhaustive list, but I think you get the idea. I'm not suggesting you quit your day job, at least not at first, but pick something useful and make it your hobby. Learn about it, assemble a 'how to' library, buy the requisite tools, practice, practice, practice.

A word about tools: Keep them simple, durable and portable. That way you can take your trade with you, if you find yourself in an unfriendly place. Unfriendly places may be that way for a variety of reasons, not least of which is climate and the availability of arable land. The ideal situation is to be on debt-free, fertile land that gets rained on regularly, surrounded by friends and family. Not every one can achieve that, which makes my next suggestion absolutely vital. You must network. At the very least, you must know people who are already living where you would like to be and who would be willing to welcome you into their midst. Don't cultivate friends based on what they can offer you, necessarily, but aim for mutually advantageous relationships. You want to be a useful member of a local community, not just an extra mouth to feed.
Physical preparation: I am referring not to stockpiling, but rather good stewardship of your health. A world without cheap energy will be a labor intensive world. If you're not in good physical condition now, consider this article motivation to do something about it. You don't have to buy anything. Walk more, bike more, avoid elevators, do some push-ups and sit-ups at least 3 times a week. Regular, moderate physical exercise, at least 30 minutes a day, will make you a different person in as little as 6 months. Don't forget to eat right. For fat and starch loving Americans, that usually means more fruits and vegetables, less of the killer whites: white flour, white sugar, white rice and white potatoes. Too much starch mixed with too much fat is literally killing us. It's the main reason we suffer so much heart disease, obesity and diabetes. Meat is healthy in moderation (like everything else!) in proportion to how healthy the animal was. Wild game is the best, followed closely by grass fed domestic stock.
Financial preparation: Get out of debt! Start by resolving now to never again borrow for anything. Then, save a small cushion for a rainy day, because the Lord will test you on your resolve! Once you have your cushion, start accelerating re-payment. Start with the smallest payment first, and when it's gone, apply that payment to the next smallest, and so on, until you are free. For most, this will take 5 to 7 years. An alternate plan would be to sell everything and use the money to start over debt free. Many middle-aged Americans have more house(s) then they need. Consider down-sizing, and moving to a smaller house, in a smaller community, on a bigger lot. Eighty acres in the middle of no-where-ville, even if it's marvelously varied and productive land, will only suit you if you're a farmer already; but it's not for everyone. Most of us are several generations removed from the knowledge and skills needed to adequately steward that much! And, if you have no close neighbors, how will you obtain the things you can't produce for yourself? No more cheap energy will mean the rebirth of community and the death of radical individualism. We may as well head that direction now. And, perhaps this is the main thing the Lord would have us learn through these events anyway.
So, how am I going to spend the rest of my life? I'm going to take my own advice. If absolutely nothing happens and the world continues as it now is, I will be healthier, more useful to my fellow men, and better able to provide for my family. And if the modern world does come unraveled... I will be better equipped to help my neighbors rebuild.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Coddled men...

When I was a boy my grand-dad offered me a penny for every sparrow and starling I shot with my fancy new Daisy B.B. gun. But why, Grand-dad? Well, he explained, sparrows and starlings are aggressive and drive out more desirable songbirds who like to eat harmful insects. They also like to eat grain, which I need to feed the cows and pigs. They nest in the barn loft and soil the hay, thereby ruining more feed. They are feathered rats and mice, dirty pests, and I don't have time to shoot them, but you do. Whadaya say, grandson? Do ya want to help me farm this place or not? Sure, I said. Will you buy the B.B's grand-dad? He chuckled. That's my boy! he said and he ruffled my hair. You drive a hard bargain, but yes, I'll supply the ammo and I'll give you a penny per bird, deal? Yes sir! I said, I'll get right on it.
That was the first summer job I ever had, but it wouldn't be the last. I was 8 years old that year. Over the next 90 days, I shot almost 11 bucks worth of starlings and sparrows. I remember blowing the summer's earnings at the county fair that fall. A boy could buy lots of fun plus a good belly ache for 11 dollars in 1968. By the way, that works out to about 15 dead birds per day, since I wasn't allowed to shoot 'em on Sunday, and sometimes I'd watch cartoons on Saturday morning. But the rest of the time I hunted. I enjoyed it.
I'm almost afraid to tell that story today. Almost, but not quite. Sometimes I'll be telling it, and too late, I'll notice the look of horror on some one's face when they do the math and realize I shot over a 1,000 birds in one summer. I can't abide those looks; especially not if I'm speaking to a man. That look means the man wearing it is not acquainted with the harder realities of life and death. It means that dirt and sweat and blood are likely foreign substances to him, and he takes his food home wrapped in cellophane or served with sprigs of parsley in restaurants. He leads a sheltered, antiseptic life and he is content to let illegal immigrants butcher his meat.
Well, when I see such a face, something fiercely perverse wells up in me. I can't help it. I back him into a corner so he can't escape and I start giving him the gory details. In low measured tones, I enunciate the art of hunting for hire. My goal back then was to kill one bird for every B.B. I fired, I begin. That meant taking head shots, which also meant lots of clean misses. The misses were frustrating, but, oh, how satisfying it was to watch a beak disintegrate on impact, or a tiny eyeball disappear in a fountain of blood! Then I knew the bird was dead before it hit the ground. Grandad would notice too, and compliment me on my marksmanship. He'd also notice the ones that died hard, the ones with bloody wings, torn with multiple shots, and he'd admonish me to shoot more carefully. But you see, sometimes my target didn't present a head shot, and I'd no choice but try a body shot with my underpowered air rifle. Those were rarely clean kills. Oh, they'd fall alright; but then they'd flop around, and I'd have to pursue them under bushes or into tall grass, filling them with B.B.s as they tried to get away. Sometimes, I'd just put the gun down, catch them and stomp on their heads to save B.B's. Or smack them with a 3 foot stick until they died. One way or another, I say, I was going to get my penny. Then I offer my best wolfish grin.
By this time my squeamish victim is sweating and squirming. He tries a half-hearted smile and a nod to appease me. He thinks I'm a psychopath, and I don't care. I think he's a simpering wuss, so we're even. Just look at him leaning against the wall, about to vomit on his tasseled loafers. I think to myself, this is not the kind of man (I'm using the term generously) I want my daughters to marry. He would not defend her if need be. He would not want to get dirty or risk ruining his manicure. He would faint at the sight of blood. There would be nothing of any substance standing between her and a violent world. If he couldn't solve her problem with a phone call, she would be on her own. I walk away, shaking my head. I can't believe some of the pathetic creatures who pass for men these days.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Oh, the mysteries of God!

You know you're in for interesting times when a good friend calls to say God woke him out of a sound sleep and told him to pray for you, and by the way, are you guys O.K.? Well, I thought we were. And then the truck broke. And I find out my daughter has attracted the attentions of a suicidal stalker... and I'm 850 miles away... and I can't seem to keep the horrors experienced at Virginia Tech out of my head... and today I learned my sister-in-law has stage 4 cancer.
But my daughter called to reassure me that the chaplain and dean of students know of her situation... and her older brother and two other good friends are escorting her from place to place... and the truck was easily and inexpensively fixed... and my son called to minister to me in my anxiety and discouragement... and he sounds so.. mature! And my sister-in-law is a believer. And I can see that my faithful friend who lost sleep to pray for us, was answered, and I am blessed. Truly, God is good, and His ways pass all understanding. Even though I walk through the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff they comfort me.