I don’t know when I’ll be able to post this, as power is off in our little town at the moment and the current PG&E update says they may know something by November 3rd, which is two days away. The big generator will run our electric lights and one of the power-hungry items such as the well, but it’s not big enough to do everything all at once. My Internet and DSL connections are going off and on in response to power surges, so I don’t feel comfortable hooking up at this point. The power to the wash house is shut off, as it’s cold enough that the freezers (which live in the wash house) will keep everything solidly frozen for at least 24 hours if they are not opened. We have a gas stove, so cooking is not a problem, and in a real pinch we could cook things in the big wood stove. But water for flushing toilets is rather important for two families with a total of seven people, so power to run the pump is pretty much a necessity; hence the generator. When the well went out in the early summer of this year, we blessed our ability to haul drinking, washing and flushing water from the big spring, and the fact that we use flood irrigation so the animals had water.
Although I was never a Boy Scout – for fairly obvious reasons – I do appreciate their motto. When you live in the country, you have to depend on yourselves, your family and your neighbors. Pump goes out, you either fix the old one or install a new one (we had to do the latter). If there’s a range fire in your area, you need to consider where you would go to evacuate, or how you can protect your animals. We often get enough snow in the winter that we can’t get up our steep, north-facing gravel road without four-wheel drive and, occasionally, tire chains as well.
Preparation involves the basics of food, water and shelter – for animals as well as people. For example, I keep about three months’ worth of toilet paper, paper towels, cat and dog food as well as plenty of flours, yeast, meats, veggies, fruits and other pantry staples. When we have lots of milk I make butter and freeze it. I generally have one opened container of laundry detergent, cocoa powder, a 25 pound bag of sugar and dish soap, plus a full one for back-up. Much of this is because we can’t just run out to the neighborhood market, but it also comes in handy should we be snowed in. We stockpile hay and grain for the critters as well.
However, there are two other big issues. One is building relationships and the other is skills and knowledge – your own and those of your close family. We like to joke that among the four adults in the family, we can do the difficult today and will tackle the impossible tomorrow, but in fact, there are very few things that at least one of us can’t do. Among the building trades: welding, carpentry, electrical, plumbing and masonry. We have chainsaw wielders, heavy equipment operators, fire fighters, dowsers, mechanics, biologists, chemists, secretaries, techno-geeks, writers, researchers, nurses, herbalists, gardeners, orchardists and animal husbandry experts (including many basic veterinary skills). We can build roads, barns, houses or fences, cut firewood and mill lumber, cook, clean and do laundry (although those last two tend to go to the bottom of the priority list rather frequently). None of this is listed to brag – it’s to illustrate the wide variety of skills that may be necessary when you are thrown back on your own resources.
The second issue is relationships. Country living takes teamwork. No one person can do it all – some jobs are too big for a single person or even a couple, others require the synergy of minds with different perspectives to resolve a knotty problem. It’s those different perspectives that can make trouble as well, as in addition to the perspectives of generational differences, life experience and education, there is not a one of us who could be called meek, mild or weak-willed (and that includes the older, younger and youngest generation!). Of course there are times when we disagree; sometimes we talk it out and sometimes we shout it out. But overall, we manage to work in harmony most of the time. In a small community, relationships with neighbors are also important. Our firefighters are volunteers – when they respond to a call, it’s usually someone they know well. When one of our neighbors spied a cougar sauntering down the road at 10 AM one fine morning, he called around to warn the rest of us. Despite its small size our town has a food bank for those who need help and when a neighbor is burned out or needs expenses for medical care, the town steps up.
Even when you are prepared, however, you can’t be ready for everything. I had two dozen eggs in the incubator when the power went out at about 1 AM this morning. By the time I woke up, those eggs, which were within one day of hatching, were stone cold. That brings us to the last thing you need to be prepared – resilience. Life often hands you lemons or something brown and gooey when you’ve made other plans. After you cuss, cry and get it out of your system, you go back and start over – replant the garden, fix the fence, put in a new pump or collect another batch of eggs for the incubator.