The Union Creek Journal

A Chronicle of Survival

Archive for the category “2014 November”

November 27, 2014: Giving Thanks

We celebrated Thanksgiving today.  The holiday seemed to come upon us suddenly.  We’ve been extraordinarily busy here.  The snow that I mentioned in my first entry continued off and on over the last three weeks.  We’ve received a total of about fourteen inches since the second of November.  We moved the snow by hand.  Fuel conservation is at the top of our minds.  So, we left the tractors in the shed and broke out the shovels and scoops.  I would say, on average, we’ve moved snow about every third day since the beginning of the month.  My back is sore and I’m pretty sure I’ve lost weight.  That’s not all bad.  I probably had a couple pounds to spare and my back will, hopefully, get used to this kind of labor.  I can hear my dear, departed granddad now, “Quit your belly-aching and get back to work.”

We left the driveway from the road to the farm un-cleared.  That gives us one more natural barrier for anyone that decides we look like a good target for looting.  Fourteen inches of snow will slow pretty much any vehicle to a crawl.  The un-cleared driveway also gives the appearance that no one is living here.  That little bit of camouflage could be the difference between being attacked and having potential attackers pass on by.  With fourteen inches of snow on the roads, we’re not expecting attacks right now but desperation can drive people to do things that they wouldn’t normally consider. 

Leaving the driveway un-cleared saved us some work but we still had to clear paths between the houses and around the yard to get to the livestock, the out houses and the wood shed.  We’ve also had to clear the ice out of the stock tanks and fill them with fresh water twice a day.  I sure wish I had thought of installing solar or LP-powered heaters for the tanks.  Can’t think of everything, I guess.  Maybe we can run some extension cords from the big cabin and the shop out to the stock tanks.  Both of those buildings have PV systems with excess capacity and AC inverters.  We have AC-powered heaters for the stock tanks left over from before the crash.  

There are electrical outlets near each of the tanks, but those were grid-powered so they’re pretty much useless now.

If you’ve never had to take care of livestock during a Nebraska winter, you probably can’t imagine how helpful a tank heater is.  There are several different types of tank heaters but we’ve always used the electrical type that hangs on the side of the tank.  Usually, even in the coldest weather, the heater produces enough warmth to keep a hole open in the ice large enough for even larger livestock, like cattle and horses, to drink.  The alternatives are to chip enough ice out of the tank – which may be frozen solid – to create a drinking area or to “bucket-water” the livestock by filling buckets with fresh water, allowing the livestock to drink and then dumping out any excess water before it freezes.  Neither method is nearly as efficient as the tank heater.  With a bit of a shortage of buckets, we’ve been chipping ice out of each of the three stock tanks every morning and every evening.  Until you’ve done it yourself … you can only imagine how much fun it is … or not.  Fortunately, the waterers in the hen house usually don’t freeze unless the temperature drops below zero.  The house is small enough that the body heat generated by the chickens keeps it relatively warm.

We have much to be thankful for.  While we are living in conditions that are somewhat less comfortable and convenient than they were a few months ago, the Pilgrims who started the tradition of Thanksgiving certainly had it much worse than we do.  Many of them had starved to death or frozen to death the winter before.  Ironically, I guess, many of the world’s citizens may find themselves in exactly the same circumstances this winter well over 200 years later.  Here at the farm, we have shelter, we have heat and we have plenty of food and fresh water.  So far, we’ve had safety and good health.  We have most of our family with us. 

We’ll continue to pray for those who aren’t here.

We rolled out all the usual fixings for our family’s Thanksgiving meal, with the exception of fresh cranberry salad.  We have some of the canned stuff but it doesn’t come close to the fresh cranberry salad my mother-in-law used to make.

We have several people in the group with food intolerances.  My wife has a gluten intolerance.  Basically, she can’t eat anything with wheat, barley or rye in it.  My mother becomes ill when she eats food with too much refined sugar or refined flour.  My dad and father-in-law both suffer from some acid reflux when they eat spicy or rich foods.  I can only imagine the suffering of those with food intolerances, or other maladies, in the current conditions … if they didn’t plan ahead.  We are truly fortunate that we were able to stock up on specialized foods, medications and other specialized supplies in advance of the crash.  We’re also fortunate that we don’t have anyone in our family with any truly major medical conditions.  What do you do now if you’re a diabetic?  Finding supplies to treat those kinds of conditions would be very difficult these days.  Prior to the crash my doctor prescribed a cholesterol medication for me.  I managed to refill my prescription a little early each time so I’ve stocked up about a year’s worth of my meds but it’s not like I’m in any immediate danger if I stop taking the pills.  With my current lifestyle, I might not even need the drugs at all.

Eventually, we may run out of specialized foods and medications.  We need to start thinking about what we will do when that happens.  However, for the time being, we’re in good shape.  I’m glad we all agreed to join forces and prepare ourselves several years ago.  That advance preparation allowed us the time and financial resources to acquire some fairly unique food items and figure out how to store them for virtually indefinite periods of time.

Yes, we have much to be thankful for.

We gathered in the large cabin for the Thanksgiving meal.  When we built the cabin, we anticipated using it for family gatherings and built a large open kitchen, dining and living area across the front of the house.  We incorporated a good deal of passive solar design into all of the cabins’ design.  The southern exposure, thermal mass and fifteen bodies warmed the house with little need to burn wood in the Franklin stove.

As the meal preparations wound down, everyone congregated in the kitchen and dining area and joined hands for a prayer.  I was “elected” to give thanks.

“Lord,” I began, “we are eternally grateful for your bountiful gifts; the gift of your son; the gifts of food, shelter, warmth, water, health and safety.  We are thankful for family – for those who are here and for those who are not.  We pray for those who are not here – for their safety, for their well-being.  We pray that you will be their Good Shepherd and watch over them.  We pray for our nation and the rest of the world.  Grant your peace those who are angry.  Give wisdom to those who have been thrust into positions of leadership.  Send aid to those who need it.  Guide those who will work, some day, to rebuild our civilization.  Amen.”

I hadn’t meant for the prayer to bring down the mood of the moment but I think its solemn nature and the gravity of the world’s condition – as well as that of our extended family – sort of settled on everyone as I finished.  There was silence for a moment and then my uncle exclaimed, “Let’s eat!  Kids first.”

We always served our big family meals buffet-style.  Everyone walked along the kitchen counter helping themselves to what they wanted and then found a place at one of the tables.  Usually, parents with younger children went through the line first helping their kids fill their plates.  This year, our youngest child – the younger of my brother’s two daughters, Amy – was eleven.  She was, of course, fully capable of serving herself.  I watched with a bit of fatherly pride as D.J. ushered his two female cousins ahead of him in line.  The adults followed.

The wild turkey that we shot earlier in the year and smoked in our smokehouse was absolutely fantastic.  We should have prepared our turkey like that even before we had to.  My aunt, Laura, made a glaze for the turkey from some of the juice from the peaches we had canned before the crash.  We also had our traditional green bean casserole with beans that had been harvested and canned from our garden this past summer.  Onions from our cellar had been caramelized and scattered over the top of the casserole.  While the onions weren’t quite the same as the crispy ones that came in a can from the store, the casserole was still delicious.

We had yams in a brown sugar sauce.  We grew the yams in our garden and stored them in the cellar.  We made cornbread dressing and mashed potatoes.  My mother-in-law even whipped up a corn starch-based brown gravy from some venison drippings from roasts that we cooked a few days before.

We had several apple and pumpkin pies.  I’m not sure how long our nutmeg and cinnamon will last if we keep making pies like we did today but I’m sure glad we had some stashed away.  There was real whipped cream made fresh that morning from cream separated from the previous day’s milk.  Everyone appreciated our twoGuernseycows as much as ever.  I made a mental note to think about the whipped cream while I was milking at 5:00 in the morning.

Like pretty much any Thanksgiving we have leftovers.  I’m sure tomorrow will be creamed turkey with peas over biscuits or corn bread.  That’s another tradition in our family.  When you stop and think about it, it’s pretty amazing how many of our traditions have remained intact even though the world as we knew it has pretty much come to an end. 

I’m thankful to have a good deal of the old normal as a part of the new normal.

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November 16, 2014: The State of the Union

As I mentioned earlier, the United States – and most of the rest of the civilized world – had been on a downward slide for months … years, really.  In June of this year things really dropped off the edge.

When the federal government couldn’t borrow any more money, federal services and payments stopped.  It didn’t happen all at once but it happened pretty quickly.  In one last commendable act, congress actually established a set of priorities in the hope that the economic crisis would reverse itself and essential services could hold on until the debt could be refinanced.  The Graham-Nelson Act of 2014 essentially laid out the order in which the federal government would stop providing services. 

Foreign aid was one of the first things to go.  Ironically, even though we couldn’t pay the bills at home, the U.S. was still sending millions of dollars a year to other countries that were “less fortunate” than we were.  No one got too upset about shutting down foreign payments.

Next on the list were development projects.  After that, all maintenance came to a halt.  By mid-June the federal faucet for entitlement payments and welfare programs dripped dry.  That was when things really started to get bad.  The inner cities turned into war zones almost over night.  Government buildings – and buildings that looked like government buildings – were burned to the ground.  Government employees were assaulted and, sometimes, killed.  The Internet and other electronic communication means were still running, for the most part, at this point.  When the welfare checks didn’t show up, the recipients of federally-provided smart phones jumped on the Web, looked up their representatives’ home addresses and went knocking on doors.

It was a bad time to be employed by any branch of the government.  The National Guard was called out to quell the riots.  The fiasco began in earnest at this point.  Quite a few Guard units had been deployed to Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, the Sudan and Egypt.  Most of the deployed units still hadn’t been called home at this point.  Of those units that remained in the States, quite a few had a significant portion of their soldiers AWOL when they were called up for duty.  Consequently, it was largely a skeleton crew that showed up to try to stop the rioting.  Let’s just say it didn’t go well.  Casualties were heavy on both sides.  While the Guard troops had the equipment and heavy artillery, the rioters had the numbers.  Blood, quite literally, filled the streets.

So, by late June, pretty much anyone that lived in an urban area was either locked inside their home (if it was still standing, un-burned or un-bombed) or leaving the city like rats from a sinking ship.  The interstates, freeways and major highways were virtual parking lots.  Vehicles ran out of fuel.  Road rage was rampant.  Every day, the local news (still going, amazingly) reported dozens or hundreds of people shot, stabbed, run over, beaten up and generally left for dead on every single major arterial in the state.  Reports over the short-wave indicated that the same thing was happening nation-wide as well as in other countries.

By the beginning of July the federal government declared martial law.  Happy Independence Day, America!  With relatively few troops to enforce it, martial law was more of a desperate gesture than anything else.  The Executive Branch was still grasping at straws – still hoping to hang on to some semblance of civilization.  It didn’t work.  After the rioters overpowered a few of the troops and stole their weapons and equipment, the surviving members of the guard units backed off and got out of Dodge. 

We stopped receiving over-the-air TV signals the second week of July if I recall correctly.  Prior to that, we mainly watched the near-constant news coverage to see if the death and mayhem were moving in our direction.  Generally speaking, the number of lives lost and dollars of property destroyed dropped at a fairly regular rate as one got farther from the larger cities inNebraska– Lincoln and Omaha.  We hadn’t seen any national news for a couple weeks by this point in time, but the pattern seemed to hold out on a national basis as well.  The farther you lived from an urban area, the better your chances were for survival in those first few weeks.

By the time August rolled around, any updates that we received came via our short-wave radio.  While they weren’t distributed by news organizations, they were probably just as reliable – maybe more so.  I’m pretty sure that at least no one on the short-wave was deliberately trying to mislead whoever was listening.  It seemed that the riots and looting had calmed down to a great extent.  The fury was spent and the rioters realized they needed to focus on more productive activities to survive.  Looting began in earnest.  It was rumored that the federal, state and local governments had reached the point where pretty much all services would come to an end in a matter of days or weeks.

Grid-based electricity began to falter in September.  While most of our power is generated by PV systems, we also had grid-based electricity at the farm.  By October, the power grid was down for good.

Our thoughts turned to friends and extended family that lived in more urban areas.  We prayed for their … survival.  Some of them, we knew, were more prepared and resourceful than others.  Others, we suspected, were truly struggling for life – or already gone – by now.  We wished we could have brought each and every one of them back to our sanctuary, but we knew that wasn’t possible.  We were well-equipped and well-supplied for the number of people we had but not for many more.

November 9, 2014: The Farm & Family

Our farm has been in the family since my father’s grandfather homesteaded there in the 1800’s after returning from the Civil War.  The original house was built shortly thereafter and still stands today.  The house isn’t perfect by any means.  Over the years we’ve put a lot of work into it.  It still needs more work.  It is, however, fairly wind and water-proof for a building that’s more than 120 years old.  There is a wood-fired cook stove in the kitchen and a Franklin stove in the parlor that heats the main floor quite nicely.  My parents, my youngest brother – who’s single – and my second-youngest brother and his wife have taken up residence in the original three-bedroom farm house.

The Farm

My second-youngest brother (I’m the oldest of four brothers), Joseph, and his wife had been living in Milwaukee since he graduated from college there in the mid-2000’s.  His wife had a large family in the Milwaukee area and convincing her to move to Nebraska had been almost impossible.  As it turned out, much like when my wife and I moved back to Nebraska from Minneapolis, returning to Nebraska may have saved Joseph and Heather’s life too.

 About five years ago my wife and I built two small cabins about 100 yards due east of the original house.  The cabins are about 20’X24’ with lofts for sleeping.  Each of the cabins was equipped with appliances from salvaged travel trailers.  The refrigerators, stoves and ovens all run off of propane.  Each cabin is equipped with an on-demand propane-fired water heater.  My oldest brother and his two daughters have taken up residence in one.  My uncle and his wife have taken up residence in the other.

Late last year we completed a larger cabin with three bedrooms.  Miriam and I have taken up residence there with our son and my in-laws.  It’s a little close for comfort but, hey, it’s the new normal.

All of the cabins and the original farmhouse have photovoltaic (PV) electrical systems with backup diesel generators.  Water for all four houses is provided by a well.  A solar-powered pump draws the water from the well and fills a cistern located uphill about 150 yards to the north of the houses.  Each of the houses’ water systems is gravity-fed from the cistern.  We also have a small run-off pond for the cistern’s overflow.  The pond typically runs between ¾ of an acre to an acre, depending on rainfall and snow melt, and is stocked with Bluegill and Largemouth Bass.

Septic is handled similarly with a shared tank.  There is a traditional outhouse near the original farmhouse and two more near the cabins.  Both of the more modern outhouses, near the cabins, are built with urine diverters that allow urine to be captured, mixed with gray water from the cabins and then added to compost for use on the garden.  We considered doing something similar with the feces from the outhouses but decided against it as we have plenty of manure available from the farm’s livestock.

Our original farm is comprised of 160 acres of rolling hills.  The soil is rich and rains have historically been adequate to raise corn and soybeans without the aid of an irrigation system.  There is also a small alfalfa field that generally yields three cuttings of hay every year without any irrigation.

About three years ago the neighbors to the east decided to sell out and move into town.  They were getting older and their kids had no interest in the farm – other than the money that its sale would generate.  The whole place had been largely in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) for many years.  The CRP was a voluntary program for agricultural land owners managed by the USDA’s Farm Service Agency.  The CRP began in the 1950’s and encouraged agricultural land owners to convert highly erodible cropland or other environmentally sensitive acreage to vegetative cover, like native grasses and wildlife food and shelter plantings.  Consequently, the nearly 160 acres of tall native grasses, deciduous trees, fir trees and cedars was a haven for wildlife.  At the home site on the neighboring farm were an aging farmhouse and a handful out-buildings in various states of collapse.  There was also a small pond in the southeast corner of the farm, fed by Union Creek, stocked with fish.

When the neighbors decided to sell, they approached us before listing their farm with a broker.  I had hunted on the western edge of their property for several years and had expressed an interest in buying it if they ever decided to sell.  Selling to us saved them the real estate broker’s commission and allowed us to buy the farm at a little below market.  It was a great deal for both families.  The purchase of the adjoining 160 acres to the east gave us a half-section of land well-suited to a small farm, a large garden and plenty of hunting and fishing. 

The two combined farms were bordered on the north, west and east by gravel roads.  To the south was another half-section farm owned by a farming corporation.  All of the buildings had been removed.  The farming corporation wanted as many acres in crops as possible.  Union Creek divided our property from the corporate farm. 

Given the distance to the closest town and the size and tax revenue basis of the town, the roads near our farm received little maintenance.  Before the crash we were lucky if the county put a load of gravel on the roads every other year.  Snow removal was spotty at best.  Even before government services officially came to a halt, we were quite likely to be snowed in at the farm for a few weeks every winter.  Snow melt and spring rains usually left the roads like a series of washboards.  Four wheel drive vehicles with mud-terrain tires were an absolute must.  Good shocks and suspensions were nearly as important.  Two years ago this past spring, the aging bridge a mile and a half south of our farm washed out and we had to travel several miles to find a bridge that would support the weight of a modern vehicle.  The county never replaced the bridge.

In the past we often complained about these inconveniences associated with living in a relatively remote location.  Now, based upon what we’ve heard over the short-wave radio, our remote location, poorly maintained roads and natural snow and missing bridge barriers appear to be more beneficial than not.

November 2, 2014: The New Normal

I’m looking out the window and the first snow of the season is falling.  The flakes are nearly as large as the tip of my thumb; they’re slushy and coming down hard and fast.  It’s early November and the snow bespeaks the promise of a long, hard winter.  The Farmer’s Almanac on my kitchen table suggests as much – a winter colder and wetter than average.

The New Normal

The one thing the Farmer’s Almanac didn’t predict is probably the single-most important thing in our lives these days – the fact that this will be the first winter in modern history where hundreds of thousands or millions of people could literally freeze to death in their homes.  I know that may sound strange.  Given all of the modern conveniences of the twenty-first century, how in the world could the majority of citizens of the northernUnited Statesbe at risk of freezing to death?

Technically, I suppose it’s not just the citizens of the United States that are at risk.  I’m pretty sure that nearly anyone in the world who lives anywhere in the world where the temperatures drop to freezing or below is at risk as well.  I have to assume, though, as we really don’t have much contact with the world outside of North America.  For that matter, we really don’t have much contact with people, period.  Air travel, automotive travel – travel over any significant distance at all – is pretty much out of the question.  Electronic communication is all but gone too, with the exception of a few short-wave radios and Ham operators.  We’re living in a virtual stone age.  The skeletons of modern conveniences are a constant reminder of what used to be.  The harsh reality is that the world has devolved to a point on par with the early nineteenth century in many ways.

I’m getting ahead of myself.

Allow me to outline some of the background for our current situation.  This is the first time in a long time that I’ve been able to sit down and chronicle some of what has happened over the last several months.  I’m going to try to keep at it … a little bit at a time.  I’ll try to fill in the background as well as describe what happens on a regular basis.  My hope is that somewhere, someday someone will benefit from this.

For now, let’s roll back the calendar to a few months ago, when things were a little more normal …. Normal.  Somewhere from the past I remember a catch phrase, “the new normal”.  I can’t remember who used it or what it described, but we’re definitely operating under a new normal these days.

Normally, we would be living in relative comfort … in relative ease … at least relative to how things are today.  A few months ago we could flip a switch and the lights would come on.  Not too many weeks ago we could change the temperature of our homes’ thermostats and conditioned air would heat or cool our homes to the desired temperature.  We could toss our dishes into the dishwasher, press a button and they were clean a few minutes later.  We threw our dinner in the microwave and a few seconds later we ate hot food.  The dry cleaner cleaned and pressed our clothes.  The lawn guy mowed and fertilized our lawn.  Some homeowners even hired people to put up their Christmas decorations for them.  If something didn’t work like it was supposed to, we could call a repairman who would normally be there to fix whatever was broken in a few hours.  That seemed normal at the time.

Normally, we would drive to work and complain about the traffic … our co-workers … our boss.  Normally, we might talk about how our favorite sports team performed over the weekend or post on a social networking site about what we did with our kids.  We were glued to our smart phones – constantly e-mailing, texting and even occasionally talking.  We had networks in our homes and connected to them wirelessly with our pads, pods and tablets.  We streamed high-definition video over the Web and bragged that we had “cut the cable” and were getting our digital entertainment entirely through the Internet (the connection, ironically, provided by the cable company).  That all seemed pretty normal.

Due process, law and order, a government that protected its citizens – those things were all normal not that long ago.  Sure, we probably complained about some of our elected officials.  We might have griped about how the government was over-spending and raising our taxes.  We listened as the media dug up dirt on each and every political candidate that ran for office until none of them seemed fit to be elected.  We voted for the “least objectionable” candidate because no one that was worth electing was willing to run for office.  We hated lawyers, the IRS and those evil bankers that tricked us into borrowing more money than we could afford to pay back.  We listened to complaints that the rich in this wealthy country weren’t paying their fair share of taxes.  Pretty much normal.

Economic stability, legal tender, buying and selling goods and services in exchange for money, or on credit – that was all pretty normal until relatively recently.  If things were normal, people would soon be fighting over sweaters and small appliances during Black Friday after Thanksgiving.  People in offices and cubicles around the country would be purchasing items online while sitting at work on Cyber Monday.  The Salvation Army’s bell ringers would be out in front of stores and we might toss a few cents or a couple bucks into their red kettles.  Normally.

None of that is normal now.

“What changed?” you may ask.  Then again, if you’re reading this, you may know what changed.  I’m sure you would agree that many things changed.  Our current condition was not the result of a single event like the zombie apocalypses or nuclear attacks that you see in movies.  The world was not subjected to mass terrorist attacks – at least not in the traditional sense.  We did this to ourselves.  In a matter of a few months, we managed to crush thousands of years of advances.  We willingly did to ourselves what our enemies could not.  We brought modern civilization to its knees.  We brought law and order, commerce … normal, everyday life to a screeching halt.

How did we manage that?

As I said, you won’t find many who will agree on a single, specific cause or event.  Pretty much everyone wants to pass the blame to someone else.  Some will say greed.  Others will argue laziness.  Many want to blame it on the rich; others blame it on the poor.  Some think too much government; others believe too little.  If you want my opinion, it was all this and more.  Certainly, it’s easy to point to a time when the world’s economy began its downward slide.  The recession in the United States.  The collapse of the Euro.  The rise and fall of the Asian economies.  All of those events were tracked in charts and graphs and spreadsheets and reported by the mainstream media.  They were all just symptoms, though.  What happened was rooted much more deeply in our cultures and attitudes.

What was truly behind the recession that started in theUnited States in 2007?

Why did the Euro collapse in 2011?

What stimulated the rise and ultimately resulted in the fall of the Asian economies?

What was it?  In a word … humanity.

The history of the world is littered with collapsed societies.  For decades we ignored the possibility that the same thing could happen on a global scale.  As the societies and economies of the world became more closely interwoven we forget the lessons of history in the name of “progressiveness”.  We forgot that when one domino falls the others are not far behind.  In our hubris at the top of the food chain, the human race began to believe in the concept of “too big to fail”.

We really should have seen it coming.  What blinded us to the historical facts related to the rise and fall of cultures and empires?  Did we seriously believe that the global economy was too big to fail?  What a laughable phrase.  Did we really think that we had progressed so far that we couldn’t be brought to our knees?  Historically speaking, it was just as cultures reached their peak, just as they were at their grandest and most sophisticated, that they fell.  They grew soft.  They began to relax.  They began to embrace the “world owes me a living” philosophy.  Everything bad was someone else’s fault.  Everyone deserved a trophy.  Everything needed to be discussed.  Little was actually done.  The bias for action was watered down by the desire to analyze.  Thinking almost entirely replaced doing.  Men became more feminine.  Women strove to be more masculine.  Our lives revolved around our children and our children thought the world revolved around them.  We molly-coddled society’s collective conscious until we unconsciously destroyed our own society.

Too big to fail?  More like destined to fail.  Of course, that’s just my opinion and, once again, I’m getting ahead of myself.  I tend to do that from time to time.

My name is David Johnson.  I’m 50 years old.  My wife of twenty-two years, Miriam, is 44 and our son D.J. is fourteen.  Both my wife and I are born-and-bred Nebraskans.  I know that may conjure up a picture of overalls, pitchforks and hayseed in many people’s minds.  Or, perhaps by the time someone else reads this, Nebraskans will be seen as a part of the collection of hearty stock that rescued humanity from the brink of extinction.  Hopefully.  Nevertheless, I’m aware of the general perception of Nebraskans – particularly by those living in coastal and large urban areas of the U.S.

Prior to the crash I owned a consulting company.  We did work for organizations across the U.S. and in the U.K.  Generally, when I mentioned that I was fromNebraska, people were shocked that I was educated, intelligent and well-spoken.  Occasionally, I took advantage of people’s perception of me as someone who just fell off the turnip truck.  But, hey, if you’re going to stereotype, you’re at risk of making assumptions that can be detrimental to you.

Our son was born in Minnesota but spent most of his life in Nebraska after we moved back to be closer to his grandparents.  As it turns out, moving back to Nebraska may have saved our lives … at least for the time being.  Who knows how long we’ll be able to survive.

Prior to the crash I made my living largely by my wits.  I started out in sales and managed to build up a fairly successful small business.  All of my adult life, I’ve seemed to have an innate ability to quickly see the likely outcomes of actions, or inaction, and quickly develop plans to address the consequences.  That ability helped me build a business with a devoted clientelle.  As it turns out, this was an ability that, thankfully, translated to my personal life as well.

These days, business acumen is of little value and wits of a different sort are much more important.  I think it was Rudyard Kipling that said, “If you can keep your wits about you while those about you are losing theirs … the world will be yours ….”  I’m not looking to take over the world, but I’m really glad that my primary skill set was mostly practical and not academic in nature.  A lot of my fellow consultants were academics that dealt almost exclusively in theory.  My guess is that most of the academics aren’t fairing so well these days.  They may already be dead or among the first to freeze to death in the not-too-distant future.  Frankly, I’m not really too concerned about freezing to death.  My family and I will have heat this winter.  I suspect that a bigger problem will be fending off those who do not have heat and intend to take it by force or trickery.

Through another fortunate set of circumstances, I feel pretty well prepared to fend off anyone looking to take from us by force.  Although I guess you could say that I’m past my physical prime at 50 years of age, I’m in pretty good condition for a 50 year-old.  One of my favorite pastimes, prior to the crash, was participating in events like the Warrior Dash and Tough Mudder that tested strength and endurance.  Although, I was never a top finisher, I never failed to finish a single one.  If you know anything about these events, you know that only a few of the people that start actually finish.

Another advantage that I have is the time I spent in the Army.  While I wasn’t some Special Forces Secret Squirrel or anything like that, I have been in combat.  Yes, that was more than a few years ago.  Some of my training is a little foggy and some of my skills are a little rusty.  Nonetheless, I have the training and the skills.  I also know that I have the ability to do what needs to be done in the heat of battle.  Furthermore, I’m blessed with three other former military men in the little group that’s banded together here on our farm.  We have two other ex-Army members and a former Navy officer.  All-in-all, I think we’re better prepared both strategically and tactically, than pretty much anyone who might try to attack us.  Then again, I’ve also learned never to underestimate an enemy … or a potential enemy.

As you might have guessed, if we’re worried about being attacked, things have gotten pretty ugly.

When the economic house of cards fell, it brought civilization as we know it down with it.  Governments no longer had the funds to maintain infrastructure so they raised taxes on private industry to try to pay for it.  Robbed of its profits, private industry laid off workers by the millions.  Eventually, there wasn’t a currency in the world that was worth the paper it was printed on.  In fact, if you have cash squirreled away right now, the best use for it is as a fire-starter.  At least you’ll be warm for a while.  Secondarily, you may want to consider using your cash as toilet paper.

Gold, silver and other precious metals are also pretty much useless now.  You can’t eat gold.  Silver won’t keep you warm.  Melting them down and drinking them to avoid dehydration has its down side as well.  I had a lot of friends – I wonder how many of them are still around … or how many will make it through the winter – who thought that amassing precious metals was a great strategy to hedge against the economic crisis.  Of course, for precious metals to have any value there has to be a market where you can sell or trade them.  As far as I know, no such market exists today.

Jobs, mutual funds, 401k’s and the stock market are things of the past.  People want food, water and now … heat.  The electrical grid in the U.S. has been completely down for more than a month.  Before that, it was spotty for several months.  Natural gas is still available, to some extent, but most gas furnaces are electronically ignited so they’re pretty much useless.  No one is sure how much natural gas is left.

We’re not exactly getting updates on the evening news.  Information travels by word of mouth mostly over short-wave radio.  It’s a bit like the old game you might have played in grade school.  One child whispers something into the ear of the next child.  The phrase is whispered from child to child until the last child speaks it out loud.  Typically, what the last child says isn’t even close to what the first child said.

If you depended on the government for your well-being prior to the crash, your source of well-being no longer exists.  If you don’t know how to keep warm without a furnace, you’re probably in trouble right about now.  If you don’t know how to treat water to remove bacteria, dehydration will soon be a serious issue for you … if it isn’t already.

Growing up, my family was dirt poor but we didn’t depend on the government for anything.  We lived a life of self-subsistence.  We grew and canned our own produce.  We raised, hunted and butchered our own meat.  We cut and split wood for heat.  My granddad used to say, “Heating with wood warms you twice.  Once when you split it and once when you burn it.”  My childhood was about as close to nineteenth century living as you could get in the mid-to-late twentieth century.  My wife’s family was a little better off but she learned a number of valuable skills as a child as well.

Another bit of good fortune, in many ways, is our farm.  We call it Union Creek Farm for the creek that runs along its southern border.  It’s located in a relatively remote area of Nebraska.  The closest paved road is several miles away.  The house is well-hidden in a tree-covered bowl below the surface of nearby gravel roads – virtually invisible to anyone passing by.

There are also some disadvantages to the remote nature of our farm.  If we are attacked by the roving bands of marauders rumored to be looking for resources, there will be no one to assist us in turning them back.  Fortunately, we anticipated this and have made some preparations.  Maybe I’ll be able to discuss some of those at a later date.  We’ll also be doing more in the near future but we’re certainly not the easiest target in our area.

Several of the farms near us have been deserted.  Many of the neighbors were older folks who left their farms and moved in with their children rather than stay out on their farm alone.  There’s some logic in that.  Defending acres of land as a seventy year-old couple would be extremely difficult.  Then again, you’d most likely have fewer people to defend against in a more remote location.

My in-laws left their farm.  They moved here to join us.  They left their place, about an hour and a half away, to bolster their ability to defend themselves.  Their farm was quite a bit closer to the nearby town than ours is.  Additionally, their nearby town was something of a commercial hub for the surrounding communities whereas the town closest to our farm was more of a bedroom community for a larger town quite some distance away.  So, there was a higher likelihood that they would have seen quite a few more thieves and looters.  As society’s crash came closer, we discussed the idea of moving to our farm with them.  Although, they had lived on their farm since my wife was a young child, they faced the reality that they simply would be unable to defend themselves as the civil unrest that started in the cities spread to the more rural regions.

About six months ago we helped my in-laws pack up their essential belongings as well as the supplies they had stashed in anticipation of the coming crash.  We loaded cattle onto their stock trailer behind my father in-law’s early-80’s Dodge one ton pickup.  We also left some cattle behind as they couldn’t all be loaded into the trailer.  We loaded a restored antique John Deere 720 diesel tractor, a three-bottom plow, a small disk and a four-row planter onto a gooseneck trailer behind my ¾ ton Dodge diesel.  My wife drove the in-law’s newer Chevy pickup with their slide-in camper filled full of supplies and household goods.  My mother in-law drove their older Chevy pickup, pulling an eighteen foot utility trailer loaded with more supplies and household goods.

We all took one last look at the farm where my wife and her parents had spent the better part of their lives, and a good portion of their blood sweat and tears, turned and left forever.

Welcome to the new normal.

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