Retirement and Surviving TEOTWAWKI, by Pat M.

All over the Internet are articles on surviving really hard times that are expected.  I note with some humor that most of these articles are talking to about 28-46 years old age groups, at least under-50 somethings.   I have seen nothing directed to the under 26 year-old or much over the 50 year-old.  Considering that we have a problem with what has been termed as an aging society retiring, what about us folks that can no longer throw on a 70 lb pack and hike 20 miles into the wilderness, or no longer have a sufficient income to prepare a TEOTWAWKI retreat?  Since we fall into the aging and retired category, I am going to focus on what we have done in preparation. 

Since I am 70 and my wife is over 60, and our sole steady money income is SS, our ability to put together a truly sustainable lifestyle is very limited.  Because of our age, planning for 20-30 years down the road is unrealistic.  As we age, our vitality for projects like we have taken on is reduced so every major project takes more time to accomplish.  We have currently taken on just about all we can handle.  Oh to be 40 again and all that energy to be put to creative endeavors and self-sufficiency.  

We did sell our house in an expensive area at the height of the housing bubble (which we had predicted would crash soon) and used the proceeds to buy the least expensive one acre plot in a working class neighborhood that we could find in another state.  Very low population density in the area, nearest large city of 85,000 is 30 miles from us.  For $62,000 we got one acre, only partially fenced, a well, a septic system, a single wide 1974 trailer, and a 1½ car garage, well house and a large lean-to wood shed.  We used up another segment of the house sale to put in another deeper well (original was 15 feet), upgrade the septic system, and fence in about 2/3 of the property.  Since the trailer would be prohibitively expensive to heat with wood due to coding requirements, we installed a wood heater in the garage for emergency-keep-warm circumstances and to make it possible to work on projects during the winter.  The trailer is heated with an electric forced air system and we have a back up propane space heater with a years worth of propane in the tank.  Because our well burps up water with large quantities of iron and sulfur, we got a relatively expensive large ceramic water filter for drinking. 

The area we live in has a multitude of mini climates and it can freeze at night anytime from June to September, and does every year.  The ground is poor, being composed of 35 feet of volcanic ash, which is okay for bitter brush and pine trees, lousy for vegetable gardens.  When we moved here, we were told by the “experts” that growing a garden and supplying food was impossible and not to bother.  In my life I have found that when experts make absolute statements, it probably isn’t true, or only partially true.  Being rather cynical in our old age, we decided to try anyway.  First year was a disaster, got a few fresh snacks for our effort.  We started composting heavily, trucked in about 20 pick up loads of horse manure and the second year was a bit better. That year we put in a small greenhouse as a supplement and to extend the growing season a bit on both ends and by the third year, we supplied almost our entire non-meat diet for the summer,  bought a freezer and put up enough to last the winter, sold, gave away and bartered food.  Not bad for a 1,500 sq ft garden area.  The second year we made a place for chickens in the lean-to wood shed and started to provide enough eggs for our use and enough to sell to pay for their feed.  The third year I constructed rabbit hutches and we started to supply some of our own meat. 

I will admit right off that growing a vegetable garden in this area is tough.  We’ve had a rather steep learning curve on how to do it because of the abysmal growing conditions.  Needless to say, the growing season is comparatively short here, so we can’t grow much that takes over 100 days to maturity nor highly temperature sensitive plants outside of a greenhouse, like winter squash, soybeans, pole beans, tomatoes etc.  But it can be done. 

Through all of this development, my wife has also contributed with cooking most meals from scratch from our own produced food whenever possible, and she has been writing a gardening column for the local paper for three years now. We both belong to the local Grange and a local political action group fighting with the county government over some of its nonsense.  She regularly gifts and barters food and we are trying to provide a lifeboat for her son if things get really bad.  We are a tad busy.  And I thought when we retired we would indulge ourselves in our hobbies and just have a good time.  Hah! 

Our food supply is not 100% self sufficient and probability never will be.  Just too much work for our aging bodies to take on.  In the last six years, we have also stockpiled enough food to last us about a year on a minimum diet.  If everything suddenly shuts down, we can make it for a year or so if we are very careful.  If the electricity is shut off for an extended time we insured at least drinking water by the purchase of an Amish water dipper for the well and found a used generator for the short term to keep the water and refrigeration going as long as I can feed it gas.

In anticipation of things getting really tough, and my conservative inclinations included, I could not bear the thought of throwing away rabbit hides.  So I dried them until I could take the time to learn to tan hides.  I also found some other folks in the area that raise rabbits in far greater amounts than we do and got their hides they saved (for the same reason) in the freezer for a very reasonable amount of money.  I now have a stack of rabbit hides worked and tanned pelts to make clothing and such for the winter projects, hopefully to barter and trade and some for our own use.  Hunter friends have promised whatever hides they can come up with for this years hunting season to convert to buckskin for clothing and other uses.  I’ve already gotten half of an antelope hide which I tanned out as a pelt.  Not sure what to do with it yet. 

Our efforts have not gone unnoticed in the area and quite a number of other retired folks have taken on some similar projects, mostly at a reduced level from ours.   We are in contact with other retired folks doing much the same as we are, scattered around the country that live where they don’t have to deal with our lousy growing conditions.  They also recognize their limitations but are doing the best they can.  We all bemoan the lack of some younger people to help out with the heavy work that needs to be done to increase viability.  Our observations are that the younger people that are interested in this kind of living are few and far between and have little interest in some kind of cooperative endeavor to keep us all alive in the event of a TEOTWAWKI situation. 

So, you might ask; why at our age are we doing this?  Good question.  If our living situations become as bad as I see it potentially happening, there is going to have to be some older folks around that have seen and understand the consequences of the massive changes in the world that have taken place in the last 50+ years and pass that on to the younger folks.   Older folks are also needed to pass down long lost skills on how to live without much outside help (and maybe without electricity and running water), like how to fix things, or make work-a-rounds for impossible to find parts or devices.  My observations say there is not much interest in this from the younger folks, so I will hopefully be around to teach the small amount of it that I know when the SHTF