The Union Creek Journal

A Chronicle of Survival

April 21, 2015: Attitude Adjustment

Today was a hot shower day.  It’s amazing what a hot shower does for one’s outlook on life.  Yesterday was a difficult day, I have to admit.  I was seriously questioning my ability to lead this group in the right direction.  Prior to writing this entry in my journal, I drafted my proposal for our guiding principles.  Combined with a hot shower, that accomplishment has me in a much better place this evening.

We take hot showers two times a week.  It’s all about conserving our resources.  Hot showers require propane.  Our refrigerators run on propane.  Our stoves run on propane.  We can heat with propane if we need to.  Propane is a precious, non-renewable resource much like the fuel for our vehicles.  Water and the electricity to pump it are renewable resources, so we can take cool showers as often as we like.  There’s no substitute for a hot shower, though, when you’ve been working outside all day.  Cool water just doesn’t cut through the sweat like hot water.  You’re also usually left with a soap residue that just won’t rinse off with cool water.

With a couple days’ work, we could rig up rocket stove water heaters for the houses like we did for the stock tanks last winter.  That would reduce our reliance on propane for hot water.

Add that to the to-do list.

Most of our cooking was done on or in the wood cook stoves throughout the winter.  It had the added benefit of warming the house while the meal was prepared.  Now that spring is here and the days are warmer, we’ve started cooking with propane again.  That probably needs to be re-assessed.  Maybe we can do more cooking outside.  We have two solar ovens.  I don’t think we’ve even pulled them out of storage since the crash.

Not unlike the world before the crash, we still need to change the way we think about utilizing non-renewable resources.

I was never what one would have called a “tree-hugger” before the crash, but I was concerned with conservation.  As a hunter, I was concerned with conserving habitat for game.  That became a serious challenge as crop prices rose over the last few years before the crash.  Farms that had previously provided areas of refuge for game were bulldozed and planted entirely to crops.  Once the crops were out, the cover was gone.  Pheasants all but disappeared from this part of the state in 2011 or 2012.  There were a few game reserves – commercial hunting enterprises – still left at that point in time, but even a number of those were ultimately sold as the price of corn and soybeans skyrocketed.

Of course, as we built our house and cabins here on the farm, we kept renewable resources front and center in our minds.  Passive solar design.  Solar electricity.  We did what we could with what was available at the time.  Guess we should have installed electric stoves.  Our PV system has the capacity to power a 220 volt oven.  We just made an error in judgment when we installed propane stoves.  I suppose we figured the wood cook stoves were always there as a backup, but cooking with wood in 100 degree summer temperatures isn’t much fun.

We now face a whole new level of thought when it comes to conservation.  It’s one thing to conserve resources when you can’t see the end of the resource from where you are.  It’s yet another thing entirely to walk over to your propane tank, look at the gauge and know that you only have X amount of propane left to last you … perhaps forever.

We’ll definitely be cooking with wood outdoors this summer.  Good thing I bought that campfire cooking tripod off of Craigslist before the crash.  Not that we couldn’t make something, but it’s one less task on the to-do list.

The to-do list is always a mile long and that doesn’t even include the regular daily chores required just to subsist.  In the last few days, I’ve added the rocket stove water heaters and the exploration of alternative fuel sources for our vehicles to the to-do list.  Those two items, alone, are a pretty tall order.  And, of course, as we add more wood-powered “appliances” to our homes, the need to harvest wood increases.  That makes me think that perhaps we need to add re-forestation to the to-do list.  It’s a never-ending cycle.  Solve one problem and it raises another.

It’s funny how a lot of these projects end up as the kids’ responsibility.  D.J.’s natural inventiveness, when guided and channeled with occasional advice, has been a God-send.  Before the crash, their biggest worries were tests in school and how to save up enough money to buy a video game or some other gadget.  Now, they’re tasked with building rocket stoves and studying up on renewable fuels.

Quite the change.

Speaking of changes, tomorrow I will meet with several members of the community to present my value proposition, so to speak.  I’m also going to advocate that we move everyone in closer together.  None of us wants to live on top of the other, but we need to pull the net in tighter to be able to defend ourselves better.  My sense is that we share a unified vision and core values and that those will draw us together.  My hope is that the vision and values will override our natural tendency toward “selfish survival” and draw us in the direction of “shared survival”.

We have a number of strong individualists among our numbers – myself among them.  What if the group decides that the best thing for the community involves us leaving our farm?  I’m sure nearly everyone’s initial response will be similar to my response to that suggestion.  “No way!”  Some will be more willing to leave their homes than others.  Those who are living closer to the edge, so to speak, will be more easily convinced than those who were well-prepared and are living in relative luxury.

Housing – or rather, the lack of housing – will be a very practical issue.  I’m sure it will come up tomorrow.  One idea that came to me the other day, was the implement dealer that bought up a bunch of FEMA trailers after the flood in 2011.  I don’t know that they ever sold a single trailer.  Those trailers may still be sitting there … or they may have been hauled off … or they may be filled with squatters.  Alternatively, we’ve gotten pretty good at building cabins.  The foundations will be the biggest challenge if we decide to go that route.  We have a few bags of concrete left – maybe enough for one more small cabin.  Beyond that, unless someone else stockpiled concrete, we’re looking at foundation-less homes.

Maybe someone else will have a better idea.  Our only other alternative, in my mind, is to remain as we are and be prepared to mobilize support to the outer edges of the community on a moment’s notice.  That option is viable, but more problematic as far as I can see.

Maybe it’s time for an attitude adjustment on that front too.


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10 thoughts on “April 21, 2015: Attitude Adjustment

  1. Another good entry, but again Dave puts himself in a catch 22 situation for no reason, IMO. All he has to do is explain the problem of people living on the outer edge of the community and the added risk it puts them and others. What they choose to do would be at their own risk then. As far as needed supplies, fuel, concrete etc. they have horses and people can go out in small groups and scrounge, salvage what they can to help the community, It shouldn’t fall on Dave or anyone else to think and do for everyone else. The way Dave is thinking / talking the others seem helpless almost. Time to accept the new normal, life will be tougher for all!

  2. A website called solar1234 dot com has plans on gasifiers and methane set ups and how to distil ethanol if u need to research for the story. They are not complex systems, most are 100 year old tech, and on a farm would have all the fuel they would need for the final product. Methane powered hot water tank and you’ve got all the hot showers you’ll ever need. Propane powered appliances could be converted to methane, like RV refrigerators. They’ve been doing this in China and the third world for a long time.

  3. Charles on said:

    You can run propane powered appliances on methane gas, and the left over liquid is said to make an excellent fertilizer. Digester’s can be made as simply as two barrels one that fits inside the other.

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  8. Tom1 on said:

    Wonder if DJ has the ability to rig a wood fuel gas generator for some the the vehicles?

    Also, regarding hot water, why not pump water in 55 gal drums painted black and allow those to heat passively for more regular hot water? During the warmer months, this can be very effective strategy and, if the tanks are elevated, gravity can feed the water to an improvised shower head.

  9. Jack on said:

    If the owner could afford it, it was quite common in colonial times in Southern homes for the kitchen to be detached from the main house for exactly this reason.

    No fun at all on a 100 deg F Virginia day to cook on a fireplace inside, let alone have the heat coupled into the living quarters.

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