January 12, 2015: Life Skills
Our family meeting went about like I expected. Even my family members seem like they’re walking on eggshells around me these days.
Several people have told me over the years that I’m intimidating. I’ve never really believed them. I’m not particularly big – just average height and weight. I don’t walk around with a chip on my shoulder. I try not to walk around with a scowl on my face. I don’t get it. Why would I be intimidating? Whatever it is, my whole family is acting a little bit intimidated. I suppose it could be seeing me take down a 6’ 3” former linebacker, but that was really no feat. He was slow, starved and weak.
We gathered in the big cabin just before 7:30 a.m. Most of the morning chores were done by this time. I brought up the subject of looters and the possibility that they could have followed the Gunters … or might still be on their trail.
Everyone agreed with me that we needed to make some additional preparations in the likely event that looters showed up here. Maybe they were just afraid that I’d crack their skull if they didn’t. In my mind, it’s a logical fact; looters are going to show up some time. Right now, it’s just a matter of when, not if.
The family discussed some specific preparations and tactics. My son, D.J., had some really good booby-trap ideas. I know I’m going to sound like nothing more than a proud papa, but that kid’s brain is truly a wonder. The way it works and the speed at which it works … OK, I’ll stop. Let’s just say that we all agreed to implement every single one of his ideas.
I know I agreed to stop gushing about my son … I lied. If you don’t want to hear it, just skip this part. He’s one of the very few bright spots in my life these days so I’m going to brag.
Before the crash, D.J. knew that he was going to be a robotics engineer from the time that he was about six or seven years old. My wife’s brother, Philip, – the one that lived/lives in Cape Cod – was a robotics engineer. He programmed autonomous submarines for the Navy – a pretty bright guy in his own right.
Up until a couple years ago, the outlook for robotics engineering jobs was pretty good and Miriam and I encouraged D.J.’s pursuit of the profession in every way that we could. I helped coach his robotics team at school. We gave him robotics kits for his birthday and Christmas. The boy knew what he wanted and we did everything we could to help him develop his skills.
Of course, after June of last year, the prospects for becoming a robotics engineer were pretty limited. D.J. went through a period of time where he was pretty down. I don’t know if it was the fact that the entire world had pretty much fallen off a cliff shortly after his fourteenth birthday or that there was virtually no way that he would realize his life’s ambition or … a bit of both, but he really struggled for several weeks – well into August.
Around the first of September, though, he made a pretty remarkable turn. Since then, he’s really come into his own. I think he’s finding his niche here in our little group and that’s giving him the idea that, while his original ambition in life may never be realized, he has a new role to fill and it’s one that’s important and that he’s very good at.
Since September, he’s come up with all kinds of ways to make our lives easier. When you’re in survival mode, making life easier really builds morale. I’m not sure he realizes the positive impact of his efforts on everyone else but he obviously enjoys what he’s doing and that’s had an amazing impact on his own outlook.
For example, he removed the solar panels from the roofs of the cabins, put them on poles made from scrap tubing we had laying around and rigged up photo-sensors that actuate DC motors – powered by batteries charged by the solar panels themselves – that rotate the poles to follow the sun. Can you say, “perpetual motion machine”? Practically speaking, our PV systems now generate about 20-25% more power than they did when they were hard-mounted to the roofs of the cabins. He even thought to tap grease Zerks into the receiver poles so they could be greased to turn more easily. He pulled the grease Zerks from some of the old farm machinery parked in the trees to the south of the house.
Another example: Do you remember me complaining about having to chip ice out of the livestock water tanks? After having to do that chore once himself, D.J. rigged up rocket stove water heaters for each of the tanks. Just a few sticks fed into the feed-chute every hour keep the entire tank ice-free. We’ve assigned the task of keeping the feed chutes full to the yard guard on duty. It gets them up and moving every hour reducing the risk of them being overcome by sleep.
Did I mention that D.J.’s mind is pretty amazing?
When we started talking about looter defenses, he was really quiet for about fifteen minutes while everyone else tossed out ideas. I noticed that he started sketching something in a notebook. When he finished, he tossed the notebook on the table and said, “I think a few of these, placed strategically near logical points of ingress, would serve as a significant deterrent.”
Yes, he actually talks like that. How many fourteen year-olds do you know that use the phrase “logical points of ingress”? It’s funny, when he’s creating or informing, his vocabulary up-shifts a couple gears and the phrases like “logical points of ingress” come out.
The pictures that he had drawn showed several views of a PVC-pipe-based booby trap that utilized pepper spray canisters. We had purchased a couple cases of four ounce cans of pepper spray a couple years ago. The original intent was to provide them to any members of our group who wanted to carry less-than-lethal means of defense. The way things are now, everyone carries a sidearm pretty much 100% of the time. The cases of pepper spray had been sitting in the back of a dusty storage bin since we bought them.
Somehow, D.J.’s brain had catalogued that pepper spray and never lost track of it. He remembered exactly where it had been stored and how much of it we have on hand. D.J. also remembered that each of the canisters contained enough pepper spray to fill a 2000 square foot area if fully discharged.
Yes, I’m still gushing.
Another five minutes later, D.J. had a picture drawn of a booby trap that utilized some one-inch steel tubing and shotgun shells. This one had the definite potential to be lethal. When I questioned the wisdom of unattended lethal traps – that could be stumbled-upon by friendlies – D.J. passed me another sheet of paper. He had thought of that and designed an electrical actuator powered by a nine-volt battery.
“I have several wireless, battery-powered, network IP cameras that we could mount near these traps,” he explained. “I pulled them from our house in Lincoln when we sold it. We can monitor the cameras on one of my old laptops and actuate the shotgun shell traps from the yard guard desk. We have thousands of feet of com wire in the shop to wire up the actuators.”
That kid thinks of everything.
“How long will the batteries last in this cold?” my oldest brother, Levi, asked.
“The camera batteries are solar-charged and intended for outdoor use, but I’m not one hundred percent sure,” D.J. adjusted his glasses. “I’ll conduct some resiliency tests before we deploy the cameras or shotgun shell traps. Everyone should also be aware that these cameras are only capable of transmitting a signal approximately 300 feet. Accordingly, the shotgun shell traps will definitely be an inner security layer. I should have it all worked out in a couple days.”
“Thanks, D.J.,” I said. “There’s another item that I think we need to address. When I was over at the Gunters’, I noticed a lot of tracks out behind the house – way more than would be normal for just their family. It could be looters or something else entirely.”
There were quite a few stunned looks when I mentioned that I had been over at the Gunters’ house.
“I went over to apologize,” I explained simply, shrugging my shoulders and turning my hands palms-up.
The stunned looks softened and turned to mild surprise.
“What? You don’t think I can apologize?” I was a bit perturbed.
Everyone kind of looked around the room at each other and then, almost in unison, said, “Riiiight.”
That broke some of the tension. We all laughed, I shook my head and waved off their sarcasm.
We discussed my findings and decided to send out a scouting party. With the most on-the-ground military experience, I was elected to lead the party. Terry and Joseph were selected to accompany me. That concerned me a little bit as we were the three best guns in the family. D.J. was a pretty good target shooter, but shooting targets and shooting people were two very different things. Neither Sam, my youngest brother, nor Levi, my oldest, had any military experience. My father-in-law, Anders, had been a Navy officer, but he, of course, had no infantry experience.
“How about we leave Terry here,” I looked over at him, “and I take Sam along, instead?”
My thinking was that this would give Sam some much-needed experience with scouting, tracking and other necessary infantry-type skills.
I tried to get my brothers Sam and Levi interested in firearms and self-defense back before the crash but neither of them had much interest in it. Sam had actually purchased a pistol and gotten his concealed carry permit at my urging – something that surprised me – but hadn’t spent much time shooting it. Levi owned a rifle that he had inherited from an uncle of ours but he was dangerously careless with guns at times. I’d chewed him out more than once, when we’d gone shooting together, for pointing a firearm in my direction.
“It’s not loaded,” was usually his response. I always resisted the urge to crack his skull.
Eventually, I had at least gotten Sam and Levi to the point where they were not a danger to themselves or other friendlies when handling firearms, but they certainly were not my go-to guys when it came to a firefight.
Everyone agreed with my suggested trade. Leaving Terry behind meant that those on the farm would be better prepared and better led in the event that something happened while the scouting party was gone.
After a few more administrative details, we called the meeting. Sam, Joseph and I geared up for the scouting mission. Each of us dressed in camouflaged cold weather gear – the temperature was around 20° – GoreTex-lined boots, gaiters, MOLLE vest, pistol and long gun of choice, ammo load-out, hydration bladders (worn under our coats to keep them from freezing) and a small pack with food.
I stuck with my trusty Glock 20 and added one of the AR-15’s that I had built back before the crash.
When I started adding to our weapon inventory, I found that I could easily save more than $100 per rifle by building – assembling, really; the AR-15 is a bit like Lego’s for adults – our AR-15’s myself rather than purchasing complete, off-the-shelf rifles. In addition to saving quite a bit of money, this had the added benefit of improving my familiarity with the parts and operation of the AR-15. It required a few specialized tools but the expense of the tools was more than made up for by the savings in the cost of the first rifle.
Joseph carried a Glock 17 and another one of our AR-15’s. Sam carried his Springfield XD in .40 S&W and the Mossberg 930 SPX that my dad had used the day that the Gunters showed up.
Joseph and I both carried a 30-round magazine in our long guns and eight spare 30-round magazines in pouches attached to our MOLLE vests. The 930 SPX was ghost-loaded with nine rounds of Federal LE132 00 Buckshot. Sam carried another 48 rounds of the LE132 in pouches attached to his MOLLE vest and six rounds on a side saddle on the gun itself.
Each of us also carried four topped-off spare magazines for his pistol. We hoped to avoid a confrontation but wanted to be prepared if one took place.
Rather than cut through the Gunters’ place, we went straight north from our yard to the road that bordered the north end of the farm. I didn’t want to travel by road and end up in an ambush like the Gunters, but I wanted to pick up the tracks that had led away from the Gunters’ house toward the northwest. The best way to do that was to follow the road about a mile to the west.
Near the northwest corner of the Hanson farm – where the Gunters are now staying – we picked up a set of tracks. Actually, calling it a set of tracks doesn’t do it justice. We found snow trampled flat about ten yards wide. There had been a lot of traffic through the area for some time – I’m guessing almost as long as the Gunters had been on the Hanson farm.
Sam, Joseph and I dropped out of sight into the ditch on the south side of the road. I followed the direction of the packed snow with my binoculars until it went out of sight around a hill.
Squatting down, I looked at Sam and Joseph.
“What do you think?” I asked.
Blank stares. They had no experience with this kind of thing. That was a big part of why I wanted them along on this mission. They needed experience.
“Maybe the boyfriends are going into town,” Joseph suggested.
“All the way to Norfolk?” I raised an eyebrow. “That’s a long haul even on horseback and I don’t see any horse tracks here. Just foot traffic.”
I could tell neither Sam not Joseph had noticed that. Time for a block of field instruction, as my drill instructors used to say.
“Look at the tracks and tell me what you see,” I directed.
My brothers – one fifteen years younger than I, the other thirteen years younger – looked at me like a calf looks at a new gate.
“Who made the tracks,” I urged.
“The Gunter girls’ boyfriends,” Joseph responded quickly.
“How do you know?” I probed.
“Um … the tracks come from the Hanson house,” Sam chimed in.
“Probably,” I agreed. “Have either of you noticed what kind of footwear those boys are wearing?”
Blank stares again.
“Felony flyers,” I said.
I was beginning to think my brothers had turned into deaf-mutes.
“Tennis shoes, loosely-laced and untied,” my patience was growing thin. “Not exactly winter weather wear. Better suited for grabbing old ladies’ purses and holding up convenience stores.”
Joseph and Sam looked at each other with confused looks.
“I thought they were members of Mom and Dad’s church,” Sam still looked confused.
“That’s not what Mrs. … Karla said to me the other day and not what I reported at the meeting this morning,” I corrected. “Little details like that can make the difference between alive and dead these days.”
I think the message got through.
“Karla said that the girls met them through some of the boys at the church,” I purposely quoted Karla as exactly as I could. “That could mean a lot of things.”
“Let’s rewind the tape a bit, though,” I said. “Those boys are wearing tennis shoes. That means they’re not going far in this snow – or, if they are, they’re getting really cold, wet feet. Do they look like the kind of fellows that would be willing to get their feet all wet and cold?”
Joseph and Sam shook their heads.
“I think you’re right,” I encouraged them. “I’m thinking they like to sit as close to the fire and keep as warm and dry as possible. I’m thinking they’d prefer to let the women go out and get wood and water. My best guess is that those two boys have never done an honest day’s work in their lives.”
I could see the light bulb starting to come on behind my brothers’ eyes. Don’t get me wrong. They’re not stupid. They simply have no frame of reference for the kind of situation we’re in. They’ve never had to track a human being before. They’ve never had to keep out of sight to avoid an armed confrontation before. There are a lot of people in the world just like them. Well, maybe fewer these days, but most of the civilized world has never had to concern themselves with … survival.
In some ways, I’ve been preparing for a world like this for most of my life. Most of the time I didn’t realize it, but I was. At the time, I probably complained about a lot of that “training”. At the time, a lot of it probably seemed unnecessary and inefficient. Now, I’m eternally grateful.
“Here’s what I think is going on, guys,” I began.
As I started to speak, I picked up on an odd sound. It was so out of place that I didn’t recognize it at first. Joseph and Sam gave me a strange look when I stopped in mid-sentence and then they picked up on it too.
The sound was coming from our northwest.