Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Hard Times

Part 1 -- Pyramids in Argentina
Part 2 -- Bricks without straw
Part 3 -- Still Thinking
Part 4 -- Health
Part 5 -- Food for Thought
Part 6 — Alternatives

If hard times are on the horizon, and you have the time and resources to prepare now, it would be prudent to do so. One simple step is to make a list of the things you use every day from soap to toilet paper, pens and paper to socks and shoes. Every time you pick up something this week, think about where it came from and how it came into your hand. Think about whether it would be easy or difficult to get by without it. It is not a question of whether you like or enjoy the thing, but how essential it is to helping you and your family get through the day.

After you have a list of frequently used and important items, consider how hard it would be to make those things or to make alternatives to those things. Let's take shoes for example. Can you make a decent pair of shoes? I'm pretty sure I can't. I could possibly tan a deer hide and make some passable mocassins if I had to, but they are not as usable as Redwing boots or New Balance running shoes. I would be wise to make sure I had sufficient footwear available to get me through difficult or lean times. Now is the time to buy and accumulate sturdy, comfortable boots and shoes, as well as any similar items. If the lack of boots would cause a hardship, buy boots. Of course, where you live, boots may not be necessary. You may need five-gallon buckets of mosquito repellant and sunscreen, or a parka, or bicycle tires or eyeglasses, nails, or glue. Everybody's list will be different. You have to make it yourself and not depend on somebody else. I have stacks of disposable BIC butane lighters, mostly the small ones, still in the blister packs, because I live in the country and I often need to start fires and I hate matches.

While you are accumulating these necessities, study your list of frequently used items for things that might be useful for barter — things that you could acquire in surplus and that are easy to store long-term. What you want are supplies you can trade for something you might run out of or just not have when you need it. Add to the barter list some things you rarely or never use yourself or that might be luxuries in hard times. For example, I might consider buying a few half-pints or pints of hard liquor which will store indefinitely in the odd corner — especially since I no longer drink. Tobacco products might be good as well for those of us who are non-tobacco users. Get extra needles, thread, buttons, pencils, paper, nails, screws, wire, cordage, fishing tackle, and ammunition, all of which can be stacked up somewhere dry and secure for use by yourself or in trade. Next time you are in your favorite discount store consider picking up a couple of cheap hammers, cutting tools, or other small handy tools to use in barter.

Consider alternative uses for items you now throw away such as junk mail, telephone books, coffee cans, cardboard and other packaging materials.

For preserving food in difficult times, freezing is great but nothing beats canning. It's not hard to learn. There are lots of resources on the Web or in the bookstores to get you started. If you garden or have access to substantial quantities of vegetables, fruits, or even meat, you cannot afford not to can. I recommend a pressure cooker as the safest, most reliable method. For a small initial investment you will be able to fill your pantry with your own jars of home-canned tomatoes, beans, peaches, or other foods. All you have to do is replace your flats. Buy lots and lots of flats, which take up next to no room, store indefinitely and are worth their weight in gold if you are trying to avoid going hungry. My mother would occasionally re-use flats, but I think that's a little risky if you have to depend on your stash. I suppose, though, if you sterilize them well, and if they seal, they are just as good as new ones.

My view is that you just can't have too many good knives and good big knives no matter what — and there are other tools that you might think about acquiring for your own specific location, situation, and environment. I have a little, light chainsaw, several axes, cultivators, shovels, hoes, forks, and mattocks, as well as the means to keep them sharp and well-maintained. If you have wooden handles on your tools, get some kind of preservative such as boiled linseed oil to keep them from splintering or rotting. I am kind of partial to Johnson's Paste Wax which I also use on my traditional firearms — the ones with blue steel and wood. Have a selection of files and whetstones, lubricants and preservatives to go with the tools you will need.

I suggest making sure you have a Bible or two. In fact, I recommend acquiring a good supply of books of various kinds, including ones containing practical information, books of religion and philosophy, history, and fiction. E-books are fine, but I have my favorites and my most useful ones in hardcopy. The power may go out or my harddrive might crash or I might drop my smartphone in the toilet. Hardcopy books need only the usual wireless optic connection to provide us with information, entertainment, insight, and inspiration.

Along with books, it is a good idea to have a supply of games, music, and DVD's. As I said earlier, I don't expect the world to go completely Mad Max, Eli, or Postman on us. We are in a period of financial turmoil and potential monetary collapse, not a total breakdown of civilization.

Let me digress a moment, when I say "I expect" this or that, I don't mean I think something will necessarily happen, especially in detail. Rather I think it has a reasonable probability of occurring such that it would be wise to prepare for it. I'm not making predictions. People who look at the current situation and extrapolate — which is what I am doing — are frequently wrong because unforeseen events take place. New technologies do emerge, often almost overnight, or so it seems. The Yellowstone Caldera may blow, and I won't have to worry about anything. Still, I think my overall expectations are moderately probable.

I expect things to get tight.
I expect the dollar to fall and prices to go very high.
I expect to stay home. A lot.
I expect fuel to become expensive.
I expect electricity to be mostly available, though the grid may become less reliable, but I also expect electric power to become much more costly.

Give those expectations, cable and satellite services may become luxuries some of us will give up. I've already given them up. I still watch broadcast television for the local news and weather — though not every day. I might total an hour a week in the summer, a little more in the winter. National news is mostly propaganda or misdirection. Most of the crap on television is, well, crap — there being occasional exceptions on the Discovery Channel or the History Channel.

In the coming hard times, we will need to feed our bodies, but we should not neglect our souls. I can watch Ride the High Country, The Magnificent Seven, True Grit, Last of the Mohicans, or LOTR repeatedly for years and enjoy them every time, and have it cost only a small amount of juice to a TV, portable DVD player, or laptop. Make sure you have music in an MP3 player or CD's or something. Have a musical instrument or two, even if you don't play. You may have time to finally learn a few guitar chords or to blow the blues harp.

What’s the point in surviving if it’s no fun?

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