We may soon depend on all of what we have learned over the years. Putting all of the threads of knowledge together into a tapestry of self-sufficiency, and survival capabilities, is part of the lifelong quest for our family’s security. We learn from many sources and experiences such as: family, church, friends, teachers, teammates, co-workers, reading books and SurvivalBlog, and hopefully from our mistakes.
Preparedness Skills from our Grandmas and Grandpas
The foundation for preparedness begins with my childhood in Michigan. We lived in Lansing where my great-grandmother was next door and my grandmother lived next door to her. My father was born in great-grandma’s house after the family moved to the city during the early 1900s. My sisters and I spent weekends and summers alternately at my mom’s family dairy farm, which was just outside of the city, and at my dad’s family cabin “up north”. These were the richest times of my life. We knew all of our grandparents and some of our great-grandparents very well. My great-great-grandfather still lived in the old log cabin when I was born in 1956. We have been fortunate to have had five generations alive consistently from then until now. The wealth of love and knowledge you gain from your extended family is irreplaceable.
The “old timers” told stories of hardship during the great depression and the dust bowl era (we live an area that was the largest prairie east of the Mississippi.) Memories of crop failures with tales of early and late frosts were passed down. There were also hunting and fishing stories passed down as we learned to hunt and fish with older family members. There were bigger than life lumberjack stories and stories from Prohibition and the World Wars. I learned to safely handle and accurately shoot a .22 rifle with peep sights when I was six or seven years old. I walked the roads with my grandpa squirrel hunting. We ice fished on local lakes and went to Tip-Up Town USA every year. All of this adds to ones persona and the early experience helps awaken the necessary “survivalist” traits.
On a working dairy farm you rapidly learn about life (and death). Animal husbandry and caring for the land lead to sustainability. Animals do become food and harvesting the crops sometimes seems little reward for the hard work. The milking must be done every day and chores do not wait. As a kid I learned to drive tractors and pick-ups to and from the fields. We mowed, bailed and then stacked the hay in the mow. Alfalfa, oats and corn were the field crops. Pigs, chickens, and sheep were raised along with the dairy cows and we cleaned the barns and spread manure.
Knowledge is passed down from generation to generation such as when to plant, where to plant, when to harvest, and how to raise the animals. There were many topics of conversations at the Sunday breakfast table. Many things are debated and discussed after chores and before Church. Most times the conversations continued outside the Church after the sermon. It was the only time you saw the other farmers. When you are a little guy you tended to be quiet, pay attention and learn.
Grandpa was a farmer and Grandma was a one room school teacher. Grandma also taught vacation bible school during the summer break. Us kids learned how to tend good gardens and helped preserve the food we raised. We took care of the barn animals while the uncles milked. We hauled water to the bull pen and helped milk as we got older. Survival skill sets from the farm come from being part of a close knit community with a solid work ethic. There are strong religious underpinnings with good people engaged in caring for one another as well as the animals and the land.
Preparedness from “Roughing It”
The log cabin “up north” had a well-house for getting water and an outhouse for getting rid of water. There was a wood fired cook stove for heat and kerosene lamps to play cards under. There was a red checkered oilcloth on the table with cane chairs around it. The place was originally homesteaded by my great-great-grandfather in the late 1800s (a few electric lights were added at some point.) We used to go up on Friday night after Dad or Grandpa got out of work. The next morning started with an awakening trip to the outhouse and then fetching a bucket of water from the well house and kindling for the wood stove. On a cold morning you stepped lively until the fire was going.
Once the stove was hot, Grandma would cook buttermilk pancakes on a griddle that my great-grandmother had used in the lumber camp. Eggs and bacon sizzled in a cast iron skillet. Clothes were washed on a washboard in a wash tub and then hung out to dry. You took a bath in the river. During the summer we would fish morning and evening and water ski on the nice days. The family summer vacation was spent camping in a tent along the river or at a state park. The old cabin was also used for small game hunting in the early fall and deer camp in the late fall / winter. We would take walks in the woods and look for morels and other edible things like may apples, hickory nuts or raspberries and huckleberries. Animal tracks were learned and followed with hopes of a glimpse. Life was considered sacred unless needed for food and being a part of nature became obvious. A leave no trace and waste nothing ethic was being born.
Opportunities for further wilderness and pioneering skill development were provided by Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts. My mom and dad were actively involved in Scouting when I was growing up. Teamwork and sharing responsibilities for the group were learned. Outdoor cooking and keeping things sanitary were heavily emphasized. Food poisoning is no joke – we had one patrol that damn near killed us with their meal. We learned to wash our hands and boil the crap out of everything. Hiking and backpacking skills were beginning to be developed in the Scouts. We day hiked a 20 miler once a year on the Johnny Appleseed Trail – the Scouts version of the death march. You had to carry a full pack if you wanted the patch. We also hiked the Pokagon Trail in northern Indiana and learned to camp in the winter.
While living in Pennsylvania (later in life) I started winter backpacking with a few of my buddies. We went in the winter both for the solitude it offered, and to learn the special skill sets required for survival in the cold. There are beautiful views from Seven Springs and other spots along the Laurel Highlands Trail during the winter. This experience then led to the development of technical mountaineering skills. The books Basic Rockcraft, Advanced Rockcraft and Knots for Climbers were memorized along with study of the book Mountaineering: The Freedom of the Hills. Skills were practiced and ingrained.
My first solo backpacking / climbing trip came in the summer of 1980 in the Organ Mountains of southern New Mexico. I later solo climbed most of the 4,000 and 5,000 footers in New England (many in winter). I met a like minded climber on one of those hikes and we made a summit bid on Mt. Rainier in June of 1998. I also began the solo circumnavigation on the Wonderland Trail that year. I set the first tracks both that year and when I completed the circuit in June of 2001. Map and compass skills were required. Primitive camping while carrying everything you need to survive for two weeks is a tough proposition. It was tough in my 30s and 40s. It’s even harder now that I am in my 50s. G.O.O.D. to the deep woods is doable but it would be a hard life.
Responsibility and Teamwork
We learned to be responsible and self-sufficient during our childhood. We learned to play without other kids around and had chores to do for our allowance. I learned to gather the wood and light a fire as soon as I was old enough. You pumped the water and filled the reservoir if you wanted warm water for washing up. You learned to use guns and knives as tools while you learned hunting techniques and cleaned the game for the table. Being a responsible hunter meant taking ethical shots and using what you kill. Catching and cleaning fish, then cooking or smoking them were all part of being a good fisherman. To go along with these survival skills you also need the ability to share knowledge and work as a team.
Most of the skills you learn will help you to fend for yourself one way or another. The only problem is summed up with the statement “no man is an island”. You will need others sooner or later. My sisters and I developed basic teamwork skills while setting up camp. The girls helped mom and I helped dad. We had a “system”. This was carried further in Scouting. Some Patrols set up tents while another set up the kitchen. These valuable lessons were used later in life as I went through boot camp and during service in the military. I served on small boats as part of a search and rescue team in the USCG.
Teamwork helps to overcome the steep learning curve and high risk of being a self-sufficient survivalist. You can do things as a team exponentially quicker and safer than you can by yourself. Your bunkmate becomes your partner in boot camp and later becomes your shipmate. You learn “one hand for yourself and one hand for the boat”. As a team you can survive what would kill you alone. In a bad storm someone has to steer while someone bails out the boat. One person couldn’t do it. Avalanche in the back country is another perfect example – by yourself you are probably dead. Doing things alone is great – but it may cost you your life. Skill and knowledge can’t cover your a** like a buddy. It’s nice to have someone else on the rope with you; they are your only hope.
Teaching everyone at least something you know and learning from everyone something you don’t know can only make the group stronger. If someone gets sick or is tired someone else can step up. CPR is a good example here. In the back country one person can’t help himself. One person helping may bring back the life but it better happen quickly. Two people allow you to send someone for help while rendering aid until you are too tired to continue. Three people allow almost indefinite support. Two can alternate CPR while waiting for the one who left for help to return with the defibrillator. If help is real far away, then it’s done. There is a point of no return. Remote locations usually cross that point which is a distinct disadvantage (unless the SHTF).
Without teamwork you will usually die if something bad happens. Everyone has to be a good shot. Everyone needs to be able to render first aid. The group is only as strong as the weakest link and precious resources are spent covering someone’s a** that’s not up to speed. Teach and learn and cross train. Remember what you did as a kid and don’t sell the kid’s of today short. Teach them the skills they need and allow them to grow into the responsibility. Being part of a team or extended family that functions like a team is fun. The action of being responsible for one another is at the root of any team.
The Prepared Family
The family is the primary source of knowledge. Some survival skills to learn right along with reading, writing and arithmetic are: swimming, knot tying, fire building under all conditions, where to get water and how to make it safe to drink, safe gun handling and accurate shooting, hunting in fields and the woods, fishing in rivers and on lakes, first aid, camping, boating, gardening, making things “homemade”. You can’t start learning or teaching these things too soon.
10 years ago we moved back home to Michigan after living all over the USA. I had come home for my Grandpa’s funeral and was returning to New England. Something was wrong and I couldn’t put my finger on it. That’s when the light came on and as I drove it became apparent that I was going the wrong way – both figuratively and literally. We were chasing the so called “American Dream”. Losing my grandfather and returning to the north woods had shown me where home really is. It is with family and God and where your roots are. I had drifted away from the true values I had learned early in life.
I resigned my position, cashed out the 401(k), and bought the homestead from grandma. We planted 24 fruit trees and installed irrigation systems for the gardens. We pruned the grape vines back and tended to the asparagus beds. My wife renewed the old flower beds and I have replaced the split rail fence. We re-roofed everything. The folks put down another well up the field and had another septic system installed for their travel trailer. We had a 100 amp power drop installed and we also buried a power cable from the field to the trailer for a 12 volt system (small scale solar and wind).
I once again could use guns after living in the tyranny of Massachusetts. (I refused to get an Firearms ID card so my guns never left the house in 16 years.) I taught a niece and nephew to shoot with the same .22 that grandpa used to teach me with almost 50 years ago. My nephew, now an 8th grader, got his first deer this past year. No one believed him when he came home and told them. He did it on his own.
Things have now come full circle in our life. My grandma lives with us in her old house through the summer. My sisters are both Grandmas themselves now and they are taking care of our mom and dad. The kids have great-grandparents and a great-great grandmother. My understanding wife of thirty years and I live here on the homestead as stewards of the family heritage. The whole family gets together up here once or twice a year. We know how to provide for and take care of each other. If the SHTF my sisters and the rest of the family will head up here to the homestead and once again adopt the ways of our Great-Great Grandpa and Grandma. Everything we have learned through our lives will serve us well. Skill sets from the north woods and from the farm are derived from living simple, living manual and living with nature as part of nature.
We used to fall to sleep on a feather tick mattress while listening to rain tapping over our heads in the loft of the old log cabin. Bedtime stories were told as we drifted to sleep and the whippoorwills sang into the night. We didn’t think that the day would come that just about all of what we learned from our family and from our life would come into play. Thank God for our tight family and all of the distilled knowledge passed down to us. I now live in a home built over the site of the original log cabin and now we have 7 generations since my great-great grandparents first cleared this piece of land. It looks like we will be talking of another “Great Depression” soon and the complete cycle renews. Do we learn from our mistakes?
Preparedness Skills and Materials
We’re preparing for the future and I hope to teach what I can to as many people as I can before it’s over. We can survive well if we draw on one another’s strengths and knowledge. It starts with the family and moves out to the extended family then to the neighbors and on to town folk and into the blogosphere. Many people have grown up in similar circumstances and have similar experiences. We must practice our learned skills and trades all of the time to stay fresh and perpetuate our way of life. We must keep acquiring new skills and more materials for survival. Preparedness is a constant quest.
Survival trades that I’ve learned:
ASE Certified Master Auto Technician
Journeyman Machinist and Apprentice Welder.
Experience with all aspects of house construction from framing to finish work, including house wiring and plumbing for water, gas and DWV systems.
Professional ditch digger and home brewer of beer.
Survival tools, equipment, and material acquired over the years:
Comprehensive set of Snap-On hand tools, diagnostic equipment and garage.
Several redundant computers and complete wi-fi coverage with satellite internet.
All of the carpentry, plumbing and electrical tools needed to build a house.
All of the tools required to garden both manually and with gas engines.
Fence building tools and supplies.
5,500 watt gas generator.
Wood stove and saws, axes, mauls, wedges.
Stores of food, bits of gold and silver, books and manuals, and lots of lead.
Survival firearms battery:
Auto-Ordinance Model 1911A1 .45 ACP (I qualified Marksman in USCG)
Stag Arms AR-15 with 20” Bull barrel, 5.56 (I qualified Expert in USCG)
Marlin .22 WMR (squirrel / varmint gun)
Mossberg .22 LR (shot this since 1962)
Ruger M77 Mk II .270 Win. (my deer rifle)
Winchester Model 94 .32 Win. Special (got my first deer with Grandpa’s gun)
Mossberg 12 ga. 3 -1/2” Ulti-Mag in Camo (turkey / duck / goose gun)
Winchester Model 1897 12 ga. 2-3/4” (I’ve shot this gun since 1969)
Reloading equipment and supplies (loads for Barnes Bullets)
Survival Quest 2009 (the final pieces I’ll need for grid down and “zombies”):
Ruger M77 Mk II .300 Win Mag with optics
A manual water pump (the old pump is gone)
Wind turbine and photovoltaic panels for water pumping and power generation.
Battery bank and inverter
More kerosene lamps
Night Vision for the AR-15