From all appearances we are a typical family in our white trash, low rent neighborhood in the suburbs. Normal for our family of 9 has been living the last twenty-odd years on much more love than money. Scraping by, scrounging, bartering, repairing and repurposing things constantly in order to keep the home fires burning, gas in the tank, peanut butter and jelly on the table. Good times were relishing the pure gold of fat laughing babies, silly kids, and slow paced days when everyone was reasonably content at the same time.
What even our blatant survivalist solar panel/gun collecting/FedEx-bringing-cases-of- MREs- neighbor doesn’t even know is…
Ten years ago we found a parcel of raw land for sale in Central Oregon, in a heavily forested area of lodge pole pine trees, and purchased it at 100 dollars a month on a 10 year land sale contract. Near, but not on, a major highway that could be accessed by six routes from our hometown. Untamed, untouched, unimproved, 200 long miles away, worth every kid whimper and dog sick hour to get us there to pure freedom. The off-grid land is totally secluded, with a nearby canal that supplies sand and recreation, and at the business end, sports an artesian well with fresh drinking water. A place where seven kids and any size dog could run and play and scream and bark as loud as they wanted, without fear of the neighbors complaining or threatening our loud but harmless tribe of six daughters and one very active son.
Over the next few summers our little campground gained a driveway (Each tree pulled out with the truck and a chain or cut down and the roots painstakingly dug up with a discount-store shovel. We gathered huge pumice rocks and mortared them together into an outdoor oven. Handmade log benches ring the fire pit, and a distant forest neighbor sold us a tiny (18 ft.) Travel trailer for $250. Garage sales and off-price surplus stores made it possible to outfit our camp on a free-school-lunch-eligible salary.
Though summer was the busy season for his boat repair job, my husband joined us on the weekends and used a small chainsaw to cut a supply of 12 and 14 ft. poles that kept the kids and I busy making tipis and a very interesting outdoor kitchen shelter. This all happened mostly before I discovered the internet, so I patterned things after what I had seen on Gilligan’s Island and read about in The Mother Earth News back in the 1970s. It was a labor of love and a comedy of errors, but all ours.
Sadly, my husband passed away five years ago and with him the security of having a mechanic and someone to teach the kids more about hunting, fishing and driving. Lessons that began when they were small have prompted a competition between us to gather information and test our survival skills in real life scenarios on many occasions. The world has become a place where even a self-absorbed teenage girl can see the future need for a safe sustainable place away from the city. During our trips to the property, we have become familiar with the lay of the land, exploring all the forest service and BLM roads and trails with in a 20 mile radius. We know the locations of the nearest hiking/ATV/snowmobile trails, truck stops, restrooms, outhouses, creeks, lakes, wells, wetlands, ranches, orchards, trailers, campgrounds, cabins, farms, hunting blinds, country stores, boat landings, public dumpsites, quarries, sawmills, railroad sidings, caves, ghost towns, mining camps and resorts. Escape routes and secure hiding places are entered in our handheld GPS. A mental list is forming of places we may be able to barter our winter salad greens and summer vegetable crops.
Driving into the mountains on our spring and summer vacations has not always been easy. One year an early snowstorm delayed us a week before I could dig the car out enough to get us back to school and work. The master cylinder in our old truck went out one trip while I was driving with 4 of the kids over the Cascade mountain pass, leaving me with no brakes in the middle of nowhere, (no cell phone signal). I coasted to the nearest town, not taking a breath, and thankfully we lived to tell the tale. Reliable, safe transport will always be our biggest hurdle if we need to get to our location in a hurry. We are also all aware of the route from the nearest Amtrak station within a day’s walk of the property. Aside from car repair issues, we have overcome many of the obstacles to living off the grid.
We have discovered that the batteries in our cheap solar garden lights can power our FRS radios and GPS. A bouquet of solar lights in a vase makes a perfect off-grid reading lamp. Our 1,000 watt Honda generator is used only for recharging 18 volt tool batteries and while that is happening, we can enjoy a DVD, crank up some tunes or play on the computer. For emergency backup we have a small inverter I can use with the car battery.
To amuse ourselves without wattage, along with reading, we use the bounty of branches and small trees to carve walking sticks, make log benches, small chairs and plant stands, and log furniture for dolls. We have discovered volcanic pumice rocks carve easily into self-watering planters, ashtrays and candle lanterns. These are used as gifts and/or for Saturday market sales whenever we have a good selection.
For heat we have a tiny wood stove in one of the tipis. We have always been able to keep warm even when night temps have been below freezing. The tipi frame is covered with chicken wire and stucco (ferro cement). Everyone sleeps with a down comforter. Washable duvet covers make everything easier to keep clean. These were purchased for a few dollars each at a Goodwill Outlet store, where clothing and most merchandise is sold by weight.
We have mastered the art of baking awesome biscuits, cupcakes and muffins at high altitude with a solar oven made of Mylar emergency blankets and an old storm window. Yeast bread gets baked (occasionally, as it’s a day-long task) in the outdoor stone oven, after a fire has been built in it. The sun tea jar is always brewing with a tea ball full of home grown Stevia leaves for sweetening. We can covertly cook baked beans and soups in a fire pit underground, and hot rocks cook foil wrapped chicken in our backpack while we work or explore. We also have a couple of propane backpack stoves and the adapter fitting to enable us to re-fill the small green canisters from a larger 20 pound cylinder.
For hygiene, we decided (after trying several options) five-gallon bucket toilets with cheap snap on seats are easier to maintain than the expensive flushable chemical camping toilets; as long as you have a supply of peat moss, saw dust, pine needles, sand or soil to bury waste in the bucket. For washing up, two milk jugs of warm water make a quick easy shower, one for washing, one for rinsing. We leave a line of filled jugs to warm on the sunny side of the gravel floor shower hut, or simmer a few minutes in the big pot while the dish washing water is warming. A fancier shower can be enjoyed with an air pump type garden sprayer tank. We have one handy for guests. Obviously, you will want to use one that has not ever had any chemicals, fertilizer or pesticides in it.
During the school year in suburbia I teach indoor gardening classes, the kids attend school and in our spare time we do our research. We experiment with new Survival Log recipes (a high calorie/protein packed candy/cereal dough we invented made with storage foods that have a hundred delicious variations. (See my master recipe below). We plan new experiments and projects, plant seedlings, dehydrate foods and pack useful items that will be taken on our next trip. I read SurvivalBlog faithfully now and take notes from all the wonderful knowledge shared. We watch Survivor Man type man shows and laugh until we cry as they dramatize the obvious and almost die of hypothermia each day. If we are lucky we pick up a few useful hints that will be tried until true. We wrestle with our conscience whether or not to buy real rabbit fur hats and mittens, because someday our summer at the campground could last into the snowy days of winter. We decided the rabbits would be honored to save us from hypothermia.
We have practiced and studied and experimented and now have the campground well supplied with caches of food, a well hidden root cellar/panic room, durable clothing, weapons, survival tools and gardening, medical and veterinary supplies. Instead of being scared of an uncertain future we are continuing to prepare.
For now, my daughters (now high school and college girls) wear camouflage just for fashion. Not many people outside our family know that each and every one of them can make their own snowshoes, siphon gas, transform volcanic rock into a hydroponic garden, repair a bike, bake bread, shoot a wild turkey, sprout a salad, make a duct tape hammock, milk a goat, service a generator, purify water three different ways, catch fish with a bed sheet, navigate by the sun, disable an intruder, and start a fire 14 ways without a match.
Their Dad would have been so proud…
Addenda: Survival Logs Recipe
1 cup peanut, almond, cashew or other “nut butter”
1/2 to 3/4 cup honey, corn syrup, maple syrup, or homemade sugar syrup
2-3 cups crushed corn flakes, granola, crispy rice cereal, cookie, dry bread, pretzel, cracker or cake crumbs
Optional flavorings—dried milk powder, chopped dried fruits, sunflower seeds, chocolate chips, gumdrops, m&ms, candy sprinkles, chopped nuts, coconut
1 .In a saucepan, heat syrup to boiling, remove from heat.
2. Add nut butter, stir until melted and blend well.
3. Stir in enough cereal or crumbs to form a stiff dry dough
4. Knead in optional flavorings; form into candy bar size logs.
5. Roll in additional crumbs, coconut or sprinkles as desired. Wrap individually in wax paper or foil for travel or hiking food. Makes 10 logs.