Posts Tagged ‘survival’

Doomsday Preppers: Dan Rojas

The other half of ‘Total Destruction!’ takes a look at Dan Rojas, of Tampa, Florida, which the show claims is the ‘lightning capital’ of the US&A. Yikes. So…just another reason to stay out of the Sunshine State?
© NatGeo/Sharp Entertainment
Since he lives in the lightning capital, Dan’s prepping fear is for a Mega-Lightning Storm, one that could knock out the grid for an inconveniently long time. Hey, I’ll say this—that’s much more reasonable than an EMP doing the same thing, and given the intensification we’re seeing in changing climatic patterns, probably more likely.
A bit later in the segment, Dan says he believes such a megastorm could “create a modern-day Dark Age.” Unfortunately for us, that term is firmly rooted in our culture’s Myth of Progress, and it’s pretty fallacious. Recognize that the term ‘Dark Age’ only arose during the Renaissance, essentially cooked up by the PR spin-doctors of the day to convince the people into believing they were living through an extraordinary time of cultural rebirth and innovation, totally worlds away from those dirty, backwards ‘Dark Ages’. I think Michael Crichton said it best:

“If a benighted medieval world has proven a durable misconception, it may be because it confirms a cherished contemporary belief—that our species always moves forward to ever better and more enlightened ways of life. This belief is utter fantasy, but it dies hard. It is especially difficult for modern people to conceive that our modern, scientific age might not be an improvement over the prescientific period.”

Anyway, to prepare for an eventual grid-down scenario, Dan is making some solid choices to give his family a major step up on most folks. Although it’s given barely more than a mention, it looks like their entire backyard has been converted to a massive aquaponics system. Additionally, Dan and Denise have incorporated exercise routines into their day-to-day work—which is something that seems to be sorely lacking in most Preppers’ plans.

Because it’s not enough to spend more time showing the audience helpful innovations, instead the producers inject a bit of DRAMA and have the family do a lightning storm ‘bug-in’ drill—this amounts to running around, locking animals in cages, and—quite literally—trying to herd a cat. Whatever, it’s all for ratings.

Thankfully, we get down to the meat of the segment fairly quickly, and get to watch Dan put together a totally awesome The-Sun-Provides-For-Everything ‘survival station’. They start out with a visit to the local pawn shop to track down a pre-flatscreen television, containing a precious giant fresnel lens. Back at home, Dan (genius backyard scientist that he is) bolts together a frame to hold the lens, adds sun-tracking capability (solar-powered, of course), and right off the bat, starts a fire in second.

From here, they pretty much just go nuts, using the abundant, free energy from our nearest star to make potable water (boiling pond water), cook chicken (using a parabolic mirror and cast-iron skillet, instead of the fresnel’s direct beam death-ray), and even melt zinc metal to cast a shiny, intimidating hunting knife. Basically, there’s nothing you can’t do with solar.
Just don’t call it ‘cool’. *rimshot*

I’ve poked around through Dan’s youtube channel, and he’s doing some pretty wild stuff; definitely worth checking out. It’s nice to see folks putting this how-to/diy kind of info out there, so that everyday people will see what’s possible in off-grid tech. I’m just waiting for the day when Dan’s niche isn’t considered ‘alternative tech’, but just ‘tech’.

Doomsday Preppers: Kevin Barber

Like I said, ‘We Are the Marauders’ thankfully only referred to the previous numbskull. The other half of the episode consists of an update from a previous family profiled at the end of Season Two. And even better, this is a family that’s doing great things!
That’s right, Kevin Barber is back!

and, might I say, rocking a sweet suntan!

Last time we saw them, the Barbers had just packed up their suburban Kansas lives into a shipping container and moved to Costa Rica, where they set up a chicken coop and proceeded to eat a dozen kinds of fruit right off the trees.

They’re still required to have a single-issue preparedness motivator, so Kevin’s is still US&A Economic Collapse, but unlike pretty much every other person who talks into the camera on this show, Kevin doesn’t sound scared, paranoid, or like he’s spoiling for a fight, post-collapse. Instead, there’s just calm, levelheaded, healthy confidence. I wonder why that is? Could it be—just maybe—that Kevin seems to have peace of mind because his family’s survival plan takes a form that actually addresses his feared disaster? He’s not focused on hoarding guns, bullets, and purchased foodbuckets, or buttoning up in a concrete bunker—the Type I strategy held up by most would-be preppers as the one-size-fits-all ‘solution’ to every collapse contingency; such thinking is painfully inside-the-Box and as such only serves to play into the hand of the capitalist/consumerist system that bred the collapse in the first place. I have to believe the aura of fear that most preppers fairly radiate can only result from the realization that deep down, they know these ‘solutions’ are only temporary stop-gap measures: kicking the can, if you will, another six months or so further down the road (hmm, much like the US&A’s current infuriating pattern of debt-ceiling limit raising).
On the other hand we have Kevin Barber – who, instead of stumbling forward blind and unthinking, has hit the brakes on his suburban American daydream life long enough to take a good look at it, see what needs fixing, and make concrete changes to his way of life.

Down on their tropical homestead, we see Kevin and his wife setting up rain barrels for water storage, showing off their chicken coop, and compost system. In an extension of their last appearance, they’re now butchering their own chicken by themselves, AND they say some nice words for it before they dispatch it! Awesome.

However, the majority of the segment follows the family as they set up an aquaponics system, which unfortunately is chopped into five-minute snippets and spliced with said previous ‘marauder’ asshat. Blerg, I swear, the decision this season to intercut between segments has resulted in a whittling down of actual material by about half…which means the other half is spent recapping what we’ve just seen five minutes before. Ultimately I’m afraid it’s a chicken-or-egg quandary—is this kind of programming a cause of shorter attention spans, or simply appealing to them?

While they’re working on getting set up, a caption suggests that aquaponics may date back to the Aztec use of floating gardens (the chinampa system), which is a pretty cool idea; I’d never thought of it like that before, but it’s totally valid!
When the time comes for Kevin to dig the pits to put his various fish ponds and algae tanks in, he doesn’t foolishly attempt to do it single-handedly (as you might expect of a deluded, gung-ho, lone-wolf prepper)—he gets the neighbors involved! AND he speaks Spanish while working with them! Imagine that! Building community by coming to together to build a system that can contribute to a local, resilient economy! In other words, Kevin has taken a gigantic step towards true survival, a notion that terrifies Amerikans—he has ‘gone native’. How’s that for progress?!

In the end, this family is too cool. Major thumbs-up. Their ducks look to be all in a row, and they have the groundwork laid for a great life off the grid…now if people in this country would only realize that they could do the same thing, without moving to Costa Rica.

Doomsday Preppers: Jason Johns

The miniseason drags on…with the episode “Whatever It Takes”, which begins with Jason Johns of Alabama. Now, unlike the vast majority of folks profiled on this show, Jason has had actual real-world experience with a life-or-death survival adventure—at age 19 he got lost in the woods. They don’t really go into much detail about how he got out alive and didn’t freeze to death (exposure being THE number one killer in survival incidents), which would’ve been interesting to hear, seeing how he says he only had a knife and a lighter and it was freezing rain!
Anyway, now “almost 20 years later”, he and his eighteen-year-old son Jacob are determined to be “prepared for a solar flare and the civil unrest that follows.”
© NatGeo/Sharp EntertainmentSo, after the usual brief primer on solar flares (and that big one in the 19th century that set the telegraph wires on fire), we hear Jason recite the usual ‘for all its greatness our world is so fragile, if people didn’t have the Juice, they couldn’t get food blahblah’ mantra. And then Jason comes to the part that really freaks me out: “…after two months, people like me will be left, and that’ll be our chance where we get to rebuild society”. *eyetwitch*. And I’m sure they’ll do it the same way that got us to where we are now—by being fruitful and multiplying as soon as possible, because the Earth was made for Man to abuse as he sees fit, ecology be damned!, right?
“The worst part of it is this,” I said, “that the survivors, if there are any, will immediately set about doing it all over again, exactly the same way”, replicating (“rebuilding”) the only world they’ve ever known, not recognizing its inherent unsustainability.

So…apparently Jason has 1,000 meals stored? I dunno, looks like a whole lotta ramen to me. Seriously, the cardboard it’s packaged in has more nutritional value! Ramen can be fine survival food—it helped me survive college (rimshot!)—but you can’t rely on it solely; don’t think of it as the main course. It works best as a meal supplement, something to stretch the healthy survival rations you’ve already got: make a big pot of stew, and then throw a half-brick of ramen in everybody’s bowl. Yummm!

When the narrator tells us that Jason constantly “preaches the gospel of preparedness to his son”,  that should really read, “evangelizes the gospel of his model of preparedness to his son”.

They go on a field trip to the local junkyard for lead wheel weights—because “when the solar flare goes down, with abandoned cars these’ll be everywhere.” Yeah, except that lead wheel weights already are everywhere. Travel by foot or bike instead of car for once, and you’ll see them at intersections, in the gutter, everywhere. Do a good deed and pick them up, and maybe spread less birth defects through the water system (lead is, after all, just really depleted uranium).

But I can’t really see ol’ Jason picking up environmental contaminants off the road out of the goodness of his earth-loving heart, because after melting down the weights, we see him spoon out the ‘impurities’ (which are all naturally coated with molten lead) and just throw them out on the ground. Well, that’s just lovely—sloppy and disrespectful!
*For future reference, when melting wheel weights, drop a bit of beeswax into your crucible to attract the impurities, and then skim them off for use them in something that doesn’t require perfect lead—like a round ball for a blackpowder rifle. As for the steel clips that attached the weights to the wheel’s rim, just pick them out (the lead will come off), and take them to your local recycling center.
(And one final note—while the caption informs us that one should only melt lead in a well-ventilated area, smelting outdoors can still be dangerous. The first time I melted down a batch of wheel weights outdoors, I spent the afternoon hovering over the crucible instead of sitting back and watching from a distance. Not only did I have the smell of molten heavy metals in my nose for two days, but I wound up with a killer headache that rivaled the worst hangover ever.)

Once Jason and Jacob melt down their lead, they mold some bullets for…hot damn, a muzzleloader! And not even an inline, but a percussionlock, to boot! (While I have huge love for blackpowder guns, for future reference, in a long-term collapse scenario, reliance on fulminated mercury percussion caps isn’t a sustainable solution—a flintlock, however, could be run indefinitely on naturally-occurring ingredients—just saying).

Next, the duo decide to test out their “worst case scenario” in which “all their food is gone, so it’s time to abandon their home and live off the land.”
That sentence perfectly illustrates the truly unsurvivable nature of Doomsday Prepping, as opposed to preparedness-through-sustainable-living. In the doomsday model of preparedness, families (or perhaps more likely, individuals—because this subculture is infatuated with the idea of the ‘lone wolf’, head-for-the-hills survivorman) have their everyday pantry of food from which they eat and replenish from the grocery store, while down in the basement they have their stash of Doomsday Food, not to be touched until, you guessed it, ‘doomsday.’ (But what if the End Of The World As We Know It isn’t brought on by a single, isolated event, but instead by a prolonged, decades-long steady degradation of the systems of our civilization (which we are likely in the middle of right now)?) Once said event has gone down, only then may the family crack open their purchased foodbuckets of beans, rice, ramen noodles, and freeze-dried chili, which will be steadily depleted until they are empty, because no resupply plan has been considered. (Also loathsome to my ears is the phrase ‘live off the land’, which implies an unsustainable one-sided Taking of resources, instead of a two-way dialogue between land and individual in which the individual also gives back to the land).

Compare this to ‘lifestyle prepping’, in which most of one’s food is produced, harvested, and preserved by the individual and no differentiation is made between Food and Doomsday Food. I don’t have a separate stash of the latter, but I do have a basement larder and a couple of giant Rubbermaid boxes, full of home-canned and -dehydrated fruits and veggies respectively (a combination of homegrown and freegan foraged). When a recipe calls for something, I simply get it from a jar or I rehydrate it. And there’s never a shortage, because I have a good idea of how much I need to get through a year from one harvest to the next—it’s constantly being restocked.

Anyway…father and son go out in the woods where son will hopefully survive the night after learning all of dad’s survival tricks. Somewhere younglin’ makes a quip about how he has to carry all the heavy backpacks, because his dad is SO OLD. Ahh, the Deep South, where 40 is considered to be an ‘Old Man’. :-S
Jason’s big thing is a bugout bag organized around what he calls “the Ten C’s”: Cargo tape (duct tape), ‘Candle-ing device’ (headlamp), a Cutting tool (knife), Combustion device (firestarting kit), a Canvas needle, a Compass, a Cotton bandana, Covering (tarp), a Container (canteen), and Cordage—which he claims is “hard to recreate in nature”. HA! Plus a pistol (of course), but he can’t figure out how to make that start with a C.

Together, they put together a squirrel pole and a twitch-up snare, then build a lean-to (out of live trees??).
Supposedly they catch a rabbit (I’m not convinced it wasn’t provided by the producers), whose meat Jason seems to consider his first priority food—“if we didn’t catch this, we’d have to eat…plants” he says, as a look of disgust crosses his face, as if eating lower on the food-energy pyramid was his absolute last resort.
Dad shows son how to start a fire with flint and steel—which is cool and all, but unless you’re like, really hardcore into 18th century reenacting, just use some kind of ferro rod—the less demand on fine motor skills in a survival situation, the better.

In their score, the experts give them 19 points on water (even though they only have 300 gallons stored?) and a final score of 64 for 10 months. That’s apparently unacceptable for Jason, who instead of taking what he can get and saying ‘Well, there’s always room for improvement’, gets an attitude and talks shit like he has a big chip on his shoulder. Blech.

How-to: Hurdles for Hobbits

Well, it’s High Summer once again, and you know what that means for we horticulturalists: gardening time! As you might expect, high-quality fencing can really come in handy—for partitioning crops, keeping unwanted critters out, or keeping wanted critters in.
Given the general state of The Mess these days, I feel it’s only appropriate to take a second look at those skill-sets that fell by the wayside in the course of our culture’s drunk-on-fossil-fuels bender of industrialization. Of course, the ‘old’ ways of doing things were—by their comparatively low-impact nature—far more sustainable than the way most do things now, and so are definitely worth checking out.
And so, we’re going to learn how to make WATTLE!

But for starters, what is wattle?

1 a : a fabrication of poles interwoven with slender branches, withes, or reeds and used especially formerly in building.

Believe it or not, ‘wattle’ is one of the oldest building materials known to man. The technique dates solidly back to Neolithic Old Europe, and conceivably could even have been used in the Upper Paleo/Mesolithic (as a very field-expedient fire-reflecting or windbreaking addition to a shelter?).
Although these days, most people’s only exposure to wattle is in a basic history class (where it is paired with ‘-and-daub’, usually in an off-hand reference to medieval peasant building techniques – in the same way that cob or adobe construction might get glossed over as ‘mud bricks’), this valuable skill is luckily still kept alive by village elders in those quaint corners of Britain where petroleum culture never fully caught on or was resisted.

Traditionally in Britain, wattle was built of coppiced hazel and willow, but since I live in the Ohio valley, and strongly believe in using materials native to one’s area, I am very fond of using river-cane (genus Arundinaria). A grasslike relative of bamboo, this wonderfully sustainable resource once choked the banks and bottoms of old Mississippia in the form of nigh-impenetrable ‘canebreaks’, providing a number of valuable materials to the locals. From this one plant can be made such a diverse list of items useful to Mississippian Hobbits like myself: atlatl darts and arrow shafts, musical instruments, drinking straws, needle-cases (and other tube-y containers), bedding, roofing thatch, and our focus today, wattle!

Fresh-cut river-cane

Fresh-cut river-cane

The same quantity of river-cane, with the leaves removed. Stuff an old-time mattress with them!

What you’ll need:
-raw natural materials (hazel, willow, cane, basswood, &c): a big pile of long pieces (~eight foot or so) for the horizontal weaving, and a handful of thicker pieces for uprights (~four foot tall).
-a hammer or post-driver
-a suitable outdoor workspace
-a free hour or two
-an open mind

(Note: While ‘wattle’ is the general name for woven wooden material, our finished unit is known as a ‘hurdle’.)

While most traditional hurdlers will start from a mould-board (a long, slightly-curved piece of wood to hold the stakes), for my quick-and-dirty uses I found that pounding the sharpened uprights about six inches to a foot into the ground works just fine. This leaves about three or four feet above ground for the height of the hurdle. Keep about twelve to eighteen inches between the uprights, and I’ve found that mimicking the slight arc shape of a mould-board works well.
*In my examples, the uprights are either apple wood, or leftover bamboo. If you use something like apple, make sure to orient the stakes opposite to how they grew (the thinner end should be in the ground), as the nubs of pruned-off branches really helps to ‘lock’ each course of material in place.

Note: the benefit of using traditional woods like hazel and willow is that they are very bendable. This ability comes in handy every few rows, when you want to bend the excess length back upon itself to keep the outermost uprights in place. Unfortunately, cane doesn’t lend itself to this tricky maneuver very well, so if you’re doing a cane hurdle you may have to use a row of one of these more flexible materials every now and then.

Once your uprights are in place, there’s really not much to weaving wattle, and pictures are worth a thousand words:

wattle-weaveDIGITAL CAMERA
Basically, just keep alternating weaving your long pieces behind and in front of your uprights, and twisting the ends back upon themselves every few rows. In an hour or two or so, you should wind up with something like this!:

A finished hurdle of apple-wood

Or this!

A finished hurdle of river-cane, with the leaves left on.

Or this!

A finished hurdle of river-cane, with the leaves removed.

As you can see, attractive—or at the least, utilitarian!—wattle hurdles like these can be assembled quite easily with only a little time and effort, and they make great ‘primitive’/’traditional’/’rustic’ accents to a garden plot or small livestock paddock.
However, as easy as they are to make, the one thing required for building them which most folks might have trouble finding would be the raw materials themselves! For those of you in the States who don’t have access to a private woodland, you might start by asking around at your local greenhouse or nursery.

Doomsday Preppers: Kevin Barber

And our last new preppers of the season are the Barber family, of Kansas.
Kevin sets the stage with a description of the typical, supposedly-ideal postwar American lifestyle. They live in the burbs, they work long hours at jobs they hate, they have bills for food/electricity/heating/airconditioning/TV/mobilephones/school/everything, “and that’s the problem.”

Kevin believes (probably correctly) that the national debt will continue to grow until “called” by our creditors, at which point he believes the “suburban dream will turn into a nightmare.” Pull the wool from over your eyes, folks, and wake up. The nightmare is already here – the System is just really good at covering it up and distracting you from it.

So, after recognizing that our society’s answer for Everything is simply ‘Make a Program and Throw Money At It’ (“Every problem we try to fix with a credit card!”), Kevin’s preparation for an oncoming economic collapse isn’t simply to turn his back on suburbia and go off-grid (like Joe from last week, which would be totally adequate). Instead, he’s pulling up stakes and moving to Costa Rica.

Though really, why Costa Rica? Do they want to be as far from the US as possible without leaving the continent? I feel like pretty much any dictator-free Central American country would have a similar environment and ethic; my third dad just got back from a two-month motorcycle trip through Mexico down to Guatemala, and it sounded just like the Costa Rica Kevin describes.

Kevin explains that they’re heading south (before the economy does) because he’s realized that living at a lower standard of living (a phrase solidly rooted in our culture’s Myth of Progress)— in other words, one somewhere a few rungs below the First-World industrial daydream he lived in the ’burbs—provides more opportunities for one to be self-reliant and therefore have a greater possibility of overall survival. As he says, “the typical Costa Rican doesn’t have as far to fall—they grow their own food, make their own power, and are used to living a simple life.” This is probably true. However, while it’s inspiring to see a suburban family from the West realize that it’s alright to live like the Rest, the bigger issue is all the folks from the ‘developing’/Third world/Global South who have been told that it’s the First World lifestyle they should be aspiring towards. It won’t do much good for all the Kevin Barbers in the world to move to the Costa Ricas of the world, if all the Costa Ricans of the world have been told for the last 50 years that they should want to be Kevin Barbers. Instead, everybody needs to realize that the Kevin Barber way of life just isn’t good for anybody.

Unfortunately, while I guess his idea is okay, I’m not a big fan of how they implement it. Instead of selling off pretty much all their possessions and arriving with suitcases and not much else (making do with the necessities, like the locals), they elect to hire a shipping container to fill up “to jump-start our new life”.
At least they take some solar panels and a generator.

Thankfully, while he still hangs onto a lot of Stuff, Kevin at least realizes that “self-sufficiency isn’t about buying a lot of gear, but having skills.” WORD. I think it’s also about having a certain attitude, but that can come later. He goes on to admit that “despite living in Kansas”, they “don’t know much about growing [their] own food or butchering animals.” Yes, Kevin, because you live in the ’burbs. Joe and Wendy live in Kansas too, and do know about those things—but only because they’re unplugged. Even if you’re not living the self-reliant lifestyle, if you live in the ’burbs or anywhere else within the matrix, you really owe it to yourself to at least become familiar with such things.
Thankfully, the Barbers do just that, and take the opportunity to take some crash-courses in areas they lack.

Joe Fox of Viking Preparedness drops by to teach the kids basic Don’t Get Lost in the Woods skills, and gives them kid-friendly bug-out-bags. They also start taking Spanish lessons. Finally, they get a visit from Marjory Wildcraft (with a name like that, she was pretty much born to teach outdoor skills). She schools them in survival entomophagy (or as non-westerners calls it, eating dinner)—chowing down on mealy worms, crickets, and scorpions. And then she breaks out a live Sister Turkey to butcher. Ms. Wildcraft has Kevin dispatch it, and they skin and butcher it together. Now, from what we’re shown (or not shown, thankfully), it seems they just hold the hen down and slit its throat, which is pretty much the least humane way possible. Yes, you want to bleed the animal, but that shouldn’t be what kills it. Thankfully, when dispatching poultry, you have several methods at your disposal. Regardless of what technique you choose, it always helps to hang the bird by its feet for four or five minutes first, which basically causes the bird to pass out. That way, when you stab/whirl/knock/chop it, there’s much less flapping and screaming.

*Books will tell you to stick an icepick through the roof of the bird’s mouth, but as small as their brains are, I wouldn’t trust myself to stick it right on the first try, and nobody likes a botched lobotomy.
*Alternately, I have a friend who uses a wire loop to hold the bird’s head tight to a board, and she just holds onto the feet and yanks up, cleanly breaking the neck.
*For what it’s worth, I’ve also found that a miniature Louisville Slugger is perfect for knocking chickens on the back of the head.
*Finally, there’s always the archetypal hatchet-and-stump method, which results in lots of flopping around like, well, a chicken with its head cut off. I’ve noticed that this method always results in “postmortem contractions of posterior neck ligaments”. In other words, your decapitated chicken will quickly stiffen up and do its best to imitate a dead therapod:

When dad dispatches the bird, Kevin’s son remarks that “This is sad.” Indeed it is. Nice to see the kid—while he may not be consciously aware of it—is still undomesticated enough to sense a kinship with his sister animal. Without an reciprocal offering or thanking of the Great Spirit, however, it just feels imbalanced.

In the end, the family receives 60 points, which computes out to nine months’ survival. I’m kind of surprised they got such a relatively-high score, considering they don’t seem to be immigrating with much in the way of stored food or water (and we know what sticklers the ‘experts’ are for storing water).
And we finally get to see a post-filming update from the family, with a really funny bit where Kevin starts out all bundled up only to strip off his winter clothes as the camera zooms out to reveal they’ve arrived in the tropics! There’s a dozen different kinds of fruit just waiting to be picked off the tree, they have the chicken coop set up, and the weather is spring-like all year. I was never big on the tropics before (maybe because the last time I was there was the rainy season), but Kevin makes it look really tempting.

Doomsday Preppers: Joe and Wendy

This season’s next-to-last episode finishes up with a look at the Kansas homestead of Joe & Wendy.
© NatGeo/Sharp EntertainmentUnlike the rest of the one-name-only folks on the show (whose full names can be dug up in about five seconds), these guys have a minimal web footprint, and so while I only know their last name through personal correspondence, I’ll be maintaining their privacy in this post. If you really want to get ahold of them, the contact form at their website should get you a pretty quick reply.

I have to admit, when I found the barebones description of this profile a few weeks ago—“Joe is a nonconformist living in the backwoods of Kansas who has given up on modern life”—I was ridiculously excited. Personally, as a similar Kantuckee-backwoods-nonconformist who struggles daily with notions of integrating postpostmodern digital life and Luddite-primitivism, this down-to-earth guy is right up my alley.

Before we even see the family, our ever-dramatic narrator poses a number of very important questions with larger implications, but if I focus on those I’d never get to Joe! Best save them for a later essay in the off-season.

Joe’s purported single-issue in the segment is the “loss of the electrical grid, which will cause the breakdown of society, and change modern life as we know it”; and so we’re supposed to believe that Joe dragged his family out to the country because of a “fear of solar flares” which is some major BS. As Joe told me, “There’s any number of scenarios that could result in disaster – read the handwriting on the wall.”

The truth is, Joe had been ‘living the life’ our culture tells us we’re supposed to aspire to—house on a lake, working six days a week, with lots of ‘fancy toys’ but no time to enjoy oneself. At the same time, Joe began to take an interest in health and “what you put in your body”. This led him to learn about growing his own food and, having been inspired by the late Carla Emery’s Encyclopedia of Country Living (a book which he credits with “making [an off-grid lifestyle] seem possible”), Joe used the fair chunk of change he’d made from almost seventeen years of laying fine wood floors to buy their rural property.

In order to keep their only debt their monthly land payment, they built their 1,000-square-foot strawbale home themselves for $10,000, (something which—even though it’s the first one we’ve seen on this show—NatGeo disappointedly neglected to point out).
Their home has no TV, so I’m sure most of the viewing audience is wondering what the family uses to switch off their brains and medicate themselves with mindless infotoxin every evening? Instead, they have lots of musical instruments, and spend a lot of time jamming!

In general, Joe and his family seek a happy medium between primitive and modern.
Despite their home being super-insulated, the summers in Kansas can still be pretty unbearable, so the house utilizes the ambient ground temperature for cooling, with a neat system I’d never seen before, in which pipes are buried several feet underground, running at a slight angle up to the house. This allows air to cool before small fans pull it inside the house. These fans—and their other handful of small appliances—are all powered by a 480-watt photovoltaic solar array.

Joe and the girls take a bath outdoors, which, if you haven’t tried it, is just about the only way. I’ve never done a cast-iron-tub-with-fire-underneath bath like they do—mostly because of the fine line between taking a bath, and being simmered. However, in the summer I do bathe almost exclusively outdoors. I lay a large piece of plexiglass or a whole windowpane over a tin tub in the north yard, and in a sunny hour or two the water is hot! Laying a full, coiled garden hose in the sun is perfect for rinsing. A 50-gallon plastic drum (what folks normally use for rain barrels) painted flat black on a raised platform makes a dandy shower-tower.

While their bathtub fire is burning, a caption reminds us that wood ash can be also be used as a soil additive, which is true. Also, if you pour water through hardwood ashes, you can make some very potent homemade lye! This comes in handy for making oldtime soap (as Joe and Wendy do), leather, lutefisk, hominy, &c.

As proper homesteaders, the family does its’ best to grow as much of their food as possible—in fact, Joe expects they will be able to produce 100% of their grains this year with their two-acre garden plot of rich, black riverbottom soil. In addition to growing most of their vegetables, they also have an orchard of young trees and berry bushes that will ensure a harvest of fresh fruits. All of this can be stored in the awesome rootcellar (unseen on the broadcast, of course; as he put it, “All the footage they actually used was the worst stuff!”).
In fact, about the only foodstuffs they still buy are things they can’t grow in their climate: bananas, sugar, and coffee. They also keep a nice variety of livestock, including a Jersey cow for milk, fourteen dairy goats (the ultimate survival animal), plus a number of chickens. Between all those critters and meat donations from hunting relatives, the family hasn’t had to buy meat in years (“and we probably wouldn’t eat what’s in the supermarket, anyway,” Joe said).

What the show tries to spin as a ‘bugout drill with no supplies’ is just a nature walk; as Joe explained it, “We’re already bugged out!” If they ever had to ‘bug out’, you can bet things were really bad everywhere. In other words, “It’s beyond prepping once you’re actually living it.”

The idea of a lifestyle that ensures that should a disaster go down, you wouldn’t notice much of a change is one with which I’m fully on-board. Of course, as we see, it requires a radical amount of lifestyle change, more than most fully-domesticated folks are probably willing to try. However, the rewards are infinite; physical and mental health are only the beginning. For what it’s worth, Joe and Wendy’s decision to home-school their girls in their environment is only natural, and probably comes pretty close to the way humans evolved to learn.
Personally, I’d suggest first cultivating ‘off-grid’ as a mindset first, and then as a lifestyle. But for any folks interested in shifting towards this kind of life, Joe suggests the best thing to do (besides taking a workshop with him, of course!) is to jump right in and “just start Doing.”

In their assessment, Practical Preppers point out that Joe has apparently made no preparations for security/defense, which—instead of meaning something like, ‘think about growing a living fence around your land’—as always, really means ‘think about acquiring the skills and tools to facilitate the easy elimination of life’. Although he doesn’t brag and show them off (like all the Type I preppers do), as a self-respecting homesteader Joes does have firearms. However, he explains that they “don’t want to make killing people our life’s focus; we want to be different.”
Right-on/Word./Fucking A, man.

The experts give them 70 points for twelve months’ survival—although Joe told me they were told their score was 78 points during filming. Furthermore, while they did submit a post-filming update, for some reason NatGeo didn’t air it, either. Hey guys, what gives?

Doomsday Preppers: David Lakota

We go from one extreme to the other, leaving Alaska for a visit to Hawaii, and a look at David Lakota. As the show describes him, David is a ‘New Age Spiritual Prepper’. Ohboy.
david-lakotaSo, not unreasonably, David has fears for a mega-tsunami that might hit the island. Hey alright, it’s Hawaii, center of the whole Ring of Fire thing, I get it.

Then there’s something where he talks about how he wants to get away and live “free of violence, pollution, hypocrisy, and the self-destructive nature of people.”
Look close, dear reader. Within that sentence hides a single word that holds the Big Lie of Our culture. Do you see it?

It’s people.

You see, David—like most of the folks in Our culture—is a victim of what has been called ‘the Great Forgetting’. The short version goes something like this: by the time aggressive agricultural (“civilized”) cultures started showing up in the ‘Fertile Crescent’ several thousand years ago, so many years had passed since the pre-agricultural times that folks forgot there ever was such a time: when they looked back on their dirty cities, miserable workers, corrupt officials, and intensifying warfare, they saw only farmers! They naturally assumed that farming and city-dwelling were the natural way for humans to live, and that humans had been born as such only a few thousand years before! They assumed that the wretched way they lived was just the way humans were meant to live, and all the bad stuff was just a result of some unsolvable flaw in ‘human nature’.
Of course, discoveries in the field of archeology have showed us that this notion is completely untrue, so the sooner Our culture can rid itself of this fallacious thinking, the better.
The truth is, not all people live a self-destructive life of violence, pollution, and hypocrisy. It’s not Humanity that needs fixing, it’s just one culture—Ours. /soapbox.

Now, should said Big Wave be forthcoming, how will David learn about it? Does he leave his NOAA weather radio switched on all the time? Does he get text-message alerts from the Pacific Seismographic Institute? Nope! He plans on predicting the wave based on his “mystical connection to the land”. Or, alternately, “in a bad dream” the night before. Ohboy.

So, if I lived near the ocean and was worried about a 300-foot-high tsunami wave, my plan might sound something like ‘live at high elevation, away from the coast’. If I heard about a tsunami warning, and happened to be near the coast, my reaction would be something like ‘grab my pack; get to the highest possible elevation by the fastest possible means’. David’s approach is quite different – because he apparently plans on outrunning the incoming wave with a fifteen-mile-long kayak trip! And with no supplies, to boot!
Now, based on what I know about how this show works, I’m pretty sure David’s profile is probably just ‘minimalist kayaking/hiking/rockclimbing canyon-adventure’, spun as a barefoot bugout…but I wish they would just come out and say so. As hippy-dippy as he seems, I have a hard time believing what we see is anyone’s disaster-escape plan.

And so, David—together with his partner Rachaelle—start their adventure with some sea kayaking, followed by some seaside stick-sparring of which we only see a few snippets. Somehow in the course of that, or landing the kayak, David cuts his foot, and their lack of first aid supplies means Natural Remedy Time! Yay! Rachaelle uses a noni plant to clean up his wound, which hopefully won’t become infected. Believe me, foot infections suck.

They continue moving—barefoot—upwards through the jungle, coming across a little waterfall. Before he whets his whistle, David explains that when doing anything—picking plants, hunting animals, drinking water, &c.—one should first ask permission of Nature, quieting one’s mind to hear the answer and such. Now, I’m totally onboard with that kind of stuff (in my interpretation, animism—because it seems that’s what we’re really talking about—is an underlying core of my Bendu-Jedi philosophy), and David is free to do so, but why does such stuff just sound phony coming from bearded white guys? I touched on this last season in my look at Ed Peden, but such stuff would sound totally authentic coming from an Amerindian, or a Pacific Islander, or pretty much any non-haole, really. Of course, there have been white cultures in history from whom this peaceful, ecocentric sort of thing would sound authentic, but unfortunately it seems they got Kurganized about six thousand years ago.

As I’ve said, they don’t have any supplies or food, so they’re probably getting pretty hungry when Rachaelle comes across some wild berries. Apparently it’s not a species that they’re familiar with, but don’t worry, because David has an incredible method for determining if they’re safe to eat. Now, he doesn’t follow the Army Universal Edibility Test, and he doesn’t carry a Petersen’s Field Guide for tropical plants. His method is as follows:
Option 1) Ask your Intuition, “Is this edible?”
Option 2) Ask Nature, “Is this edible?” Because “your body is an antenna”, or something.
Option 3) Just eat it! Because edible things taste good.


Alright, I’m going to attempt to speak David’s language. Dude, I will now use my mystik Third Eye to channel the essence of the great Atlantean high priest Nur-Ab-Sal to predict that YOU WILL EAT SOMETHING TOXIC AND DIE.

Seriously. Sure, I would bet the first Homo habilis or whoever started learning plants did so through trial and error (“Hey Grog, whatcha eatin’?” “Purple berries.” <Grog dies> “Hey everybody, don’t eat these berries!”), but once they knew, the knowledge was passed on from generation to generation. Injuns and extant hunter-gatherer groups know a whole ton of edible plants, but they don’t learn which ones are safe by just pulling the answer out of the air, they learn by being taught by their elders. So until you’re a member of a functioning tribe, you’re better off with a field guide.

By this point, they’re high up the canyon and getting pretty thirsty (remember: by the time you’re noticeably thirsty, you’re already two percent dehydrated). I guess they had already drunk what little water they collected at the waterfall, because David decides the best hydration source for him is his own urine. Now, this isn’t the first time we’ve seen a prepper drink their own piss, but it is the first time they’ve drunk it straight—usually they’ll run it through a purifier or something first. But not David! He just whips it out, fills up a bottle, and takes a sip. Rachaelle says she’ll pass. At this point I have to wonder how much the producers paid him for this stunt?

Eventually, after some more hiking, scrambling, and free-climbing they reach the top of the canyon cliff. Yay, grungy hippy hug!

The experts tell David to consider storing food at his bugout location. Personally, I think for this kind of contingency it’d probably be best to keep it flexible and not have one set location to be heading for, but that doesn’t mean you can’t hike with at least some food or supplies! I’m all about minimalism and foraging as you go, but even natives would carry some parched maize or jerky or whatever:
“they brought with him in a thing like a bow case, which the principal of them had about his waist, a little of their corn pounded to powder, which put to a little water they ate.” See? Injun cornmeal fannypack. Yum!

The experts also tell David to LEARN PLANTS, and for once, I can’t agree more.

 David gives us a post-filming update, in which he announces that “even more threatening than tsunami, government shutdown, or other natural disaster, is boredom, complacency, and indifference.” And so, with some Thoreauvian quotation (“in wildness is the preservation of the world”) I guess he heads into the wild with his knife, rope, tarp, lighter, and big white dog. Whatever, dude; good luck.