Sunday, December 12, 2010

Jack London would have loved it-

We're working through a real blizzard here. I'm getting a few pics, but it's tricky; it's very dang cold, and taking a camera out, from the warm house, into the cold (+2°F, currently, with a 30 mph wind, no kidding) - can mean condensation inside the camera, and its lenses, that can take forever to clean up. So, you have to keep the camera inside your coat. Then take gloves off, take the pic quick, get it back inside before it gets to cold, and don't sweat inside the coat in the meantime...

Which is just too hard. So far I've been out twice today; once to feed and water poultry, once to get water from the windmill; both times I've wound up over-dressed and sweating like crazy before I got back into the house.

Not a problem if you've got a house, and a fire, to dry off in- but sweating like that in weather this cold is death, if you can't dry off. Literally. Hypothermia real quick.

Standing, all comfy, in the -40°F wind chill, while I waited for my water jugs to fill, it was making me think about this, and about "margins" for survival. And about what you have to know, to actually survive, outside of "civilization".

You have to know plenty. And extreme weather, like this blizzard, will quickly eliminate non-survivors.

A couple weeks ago during Thanksgiving at Middle Child's, I found myself reading an "Outdoor!" type magazine; lots of extreme rockclimbers, waterfall kayakers, that kind of thing. One of them had tried "growing his own food" the year previously, and come to the adamant opinion, after one season, that it was essentially impossible. Can't be done.

What was obvious to me, was that he'd dived into gardening quite certain that his well established coolness would certainly include knowing how to grow simpleminded stuff, like, tomatoes, for crying out loud. But it didn't. His garden was a total flop.

And his conclusion was not "hm, I guess I'm not as smart as I thought"; but - "nobody can possibly grow food in a garden, since I can't."

Jack London knew this guy very well; and wrote a perfect portrait of him in To Build A Fire.

If you've never read it; now is the time. If you have; re-reading is well worth it.

Be careful who you follow. Self confidence sells well. But may not save your neck.


Beelar said...

Yup. I thought about this kind of thing pretty hard around the time New Orleans just about got knocked off the map. I think it's likely there's been a similar problem ever since there were cities over about 1,000. In a blizzard or a power outage, lasting just a few days, it's relatively easy to support neighbors.

Destroy houses and remove transportation for very long, though, and there are relatively few options. If the weather kills people directly very quickly (like in the deathly cold), you have nearly one choice– try to survive, and revert to a frontier way of dealing with other survivors you encounter. Be ready to either work together or defend yourself (or both).

If the weather doesn't kill people off directly, it gets more complicated- you either have to run away/hide/defend against a starving mob (and groups of brigands), or bite the bullet and lead and teach as many people as you can, in a group which might be able to handle mobs and brigands. Of course, feudal lords often die nastily, so it's hard to say whether this is better than running away. And to make it more complicated, there's no clear line between these options- "running away" probably includes immediate family, then maybe some extended family, then probably a closest friend or two, then what about their friends and family? Where do you or can you stop? How do you keep from taking on so many people that there is insufficient preexisting ability, and everybody starves anyway?

In any case, I'm looking forward to having a place actually on the farm there for next year's blizzards!

knutty knitter said...

Idiotsville wins :) All skills take time and effort, they don't just happen. Even the truly talented have to put in some work here and there.

We have just put in our first large vege garden and have a couple more to go. I don't expect to get more than baby veges this year as we started a bit late but next year should be better and on and up from there. Both of us come from gardening backgrounds though so at least we do know what to expect.
(my tomato indoors has reached triffid status - in all directions, copiously :)

On the other hand, I don't pretend to be an expert in rock climbing and certainly don't state that because I can't do it, neither can anybody else!

Enjoy the snow as each week brings you closer to spring again. And snow is beautiful in its own right.

viv in nz

Greenpa said...

Knutty Viv-

(my tomato indoors has reached triffid status - in all directions, copiously :)

Hadn't thought of the triffid analogy, but yeah! I've got one in the greenhouse, now 36 months old, and it's sending out tentacles all over. Have to whack it back hard. What are you using to get the flowers to set fruit? I've got some "cytokinin" spray, but it seems only mildly effective.

"On the other hand, I don't pretend to be an expert in rock climbing and certainly don't state that because I can't do it, neither can anybody else!"

The attitude seems to be part of basic education here in the US; it was called "teaching self esteem" a decade ago or so, and we're still dealing with the disaster. Clueless people with absolute self-confidence in their omnipotence and immortality.

" snow is beautiful in its own right."

Still working on some pics. I have no trouble appreciating the beauty, it's always a joy. I really could do without the viruses that seem an inescapable part of small school children, though!

Gerry Barker said...

I played with extreme sports, maybe I still do in a weird way. I enjoyed the people. But for all the high tech gear, concepts, etc. I did not see the people grow. I think I have been through everybody's survival course. That does not do it either. Subsistence living in the back country of Wisconsin, Minnesota, South Dakota and Kentucky (the places I have tried) is a matter of practicality. If you don't like (or at least tolerate) weeding, it does not work. This kind of living is a matter of keeping pipes unfrozen, animals doctored and firewood dry. somehow that is not compatible with lightening holes in spoons and internal frame backpacks.
I am awfully glad you publish this Blog. We are followers and frequent readers, it is ultimately practical and right now we don't need "popular", we need practical.

wooden gates said...

when u need someones oppinion you allways need to be sure, that u give it the best info u got.

Melinda Foster said...

Not sure whether I find the would-be gardener's story hilarious or terrifying. I often wonder how many like him are out there, totally dependent on Starbucks and Kroger for sustenance, and on their credit cards for repairmen.

I hadn't read the Jack London piece before, so thank you very much for sharing that.

Anonymous said...

This is eerie...I just read that story last night! It was sobering.

I agree with Gerry Baker...we need practical.

I discovered this blog while reading comments on Casaubon's Book. You have a way with words and a good sense of humor...something else we need!



philippine homes said...

Can't wait to see those photos! Nice bog keep it up!

Deirdre G

Anonymous said...

Thanks for posting this. I'm always looking for ways to keep my 14 year old reading quality literature, and for ways to combat the "I don't need a hat, I only have to walk from the school bus to the door" mentality.