(Continued from Part 1. This concludes the article.)
As I researched this I found a fascinating point of agreement in writings and interviews with disparate sources (former Delta Force, CIA agent, British Paratrooper, and a Mossad agents) all saying that being aware and friendly is the default to avoiding bad outcomes across cultures. Not being intimidating. Not having weapons (in fact sometimes deliberately avoiding firearms and knives). A friendly face blending in while being aware is the ideal default. Regardless of what other steps you decide are prudent friendly unobtrusive awareness is the pre-requisite.
If things continue to deteriorate (while not falling apart) an almost universally accepted strategy is in the subtle power of numbers. Not gang movement but group movement. Going to restaurants or parks or even shopping with multiple families. An outing showing good humor and good manners by all while at the same time offering the safety of numbers and multiple eyes on the horizon. That is not provocative but is protective. We’re not there yet here in the US but we may be headed that way.
Finally, even though signs of danger vary from place to place I will offer this as a possibly universal signal that there is danger: if the children disappear. For months, I didn’t bring my children on outings and I didn’t see other children out. If there had been children and now there are not, the baseline has changed in a major way.
I want to emphasize subtly first because an extra 200 calories a day can make a big difference but won’t put your family too much out of step. If on the other hand you are well fed when all your neighbors are losing weight, I submit that is a dangerous appearance. They’re not stupid. They’ll figure out you have something worth taking and might decide you are holding out. So rather than be worlds away different, be just a little bit better off and an integral part of your community.
In reading about the history of food during WWII (Collingham’s The Taste Of War) one point made was that, with the exception of the Soviets, rural areas avoided hunger more than urban areas, cross-nationally. For no other reason than being close to where the food comes from gave them more opportunities. It gets complicated very quickly but in general rural dwellers were able to supplement themselves and stave off starvation better than city dwellers. Through foraging, gleaning, gardening, and poaching the rural families suffered less starvation on the same rations. This was before the explosion of suburbia in the post-WWII era, now those in the suburbs are in between.
For those of us living in between, there is less opportunity than exists in rural areas but more than exists in urban areas. Instead of simply leaning more on the land, being in the middle means being productive for your family by producing foods (you need a garden) and in producing goods (something you can barter). Don’t get locked into either bushcraft or law, neither will support you alone during a critical change. An experienced generalist, a problem solver, who can do useful things with what he has is our path forward. You need to solve the same problems that everyone else has (water, food) but also offer solutions that average people can’t produce on their own.
Everyone may be able to grow tomatoes, will everyone be able to preserve them? Do you have shelf-stable ingredients that will allow you to do that, such as vinegars and lemon juices? Do you have equipment that will allow it (i.e. pressure canner, canning jars)? Do you have experience? In general, keep those three things in mind: Ingredients, Equipment, and Experience. The first two are less likely to be taxed/liberated than any complete product, and the last cannot be taken from you. All of them make you valuable to the community and give you something to barter.
Things like vinegar, scrap metal, lumber, vermiculite, and wood ash are themselves not very valuable. All of those require processing to make them valuable, try to think of ingredients in that manner. Find things that are valuable to you and that you can make more valuable. Especially valuable are things most people can’t, don’t, or won’t know how to make useful. A bonus is that raw materials are more versatile, you can use them to solve unforeseen problems.
Equipment specializes quickly and this is a blessing and a curse. There are industry-only pieces of equipment that are cost/size prohibitive and dependent on a huge infrastructure. At the other extreme there are the disposable pieces used by average consumers. Neither of those is ideal for those of us trying to get by between. We want something hefty, durable, repairable, and useful to us. An apple peeler/corer is not likely to be stolen or taxed but will be quite useful if you are processing several bushels of apples. Grinding stones, Cider Presses, Post drills, sledgehammers, anvils are examples of useful tools that would not be convenient to steal but are invaluable in the community. My favorite tool in this category is the shingle froe that I use with my kids when camping. It is useful and helps my children be useful but unlike a hatchet isn’t as obviously useful and therefore not likely to be carried off.
Does your equipment produce ingredients or finished goods? Can you use that tech without the grid? Each additional layer is an additional layer of complication for us but also an additional layer of protection. This rabbit hole can draw you really far down so don’t lose sight of the fact that even Tudor era blacksmiths got bar stock from blast furnaces. I think a beehive is my favorite piece of equipment that is highly unlikely to be stolen and produces both ingredients and finished goods.
Experience is that thing most needed when it’s not available. If you are doing something you learned from a book it’s going to take you a long time. In my experience, 3-5 times as long as it will take you compared with having even a couple of repetitions under your belt. And you’re going to ruin some things. Just a fact of life. If you take even longer you can decrease the chances of destroying something but sooner or later it catches up with us all. By getting experience now you can halve or third the amount of time it takes you and lessen the cost of the mistake.
A final tie together: can I use my experience and equipment to make ingredients for the community? There is a point this breaks down (almost no one hand forges gun barrels for very good reason) but you should find where that point is (and why) inside your area of knowledge and ability. You and everyone in your community will need ingredients and craftsmen.
Prepare with Hobbies and History
Right now we have an incredible amount of information at our fingertips. Not just articles and videos but also in our ability to get specialized books within days. If all that went away, what would you remember? I want to propose two fields of learning that will be useful for you, long term: 1.) reading around your hobby and 2.) reading about problem-solving. By relating what we learn to those two areas we’ll retain it better and be more able to use it.
You have an area of expertise in your hobby. Any hobby winds up taking up brain space so use that to your advantage. Whatever it is that you find interesting and will be useful to you start working with it. You want experience in use and maintenance of your hobby’s equipment. What do you need to refurbish it? To repair it? What can you make do with? Historically what was used? The answers you find here will be readily available in your memory because you’ve built a body of knowledge. A wonderful bonus is that hobbies also offer a socially acceptable facade, hiding in plain sight your preparations. Whether it is camping, historical re-enactment, blacksmithing, trapping, or beekeeping it’s just a hobby to most while being very useful to us. And it helps us meet like-minded people in the community.
Reading over how other people faced shortages and survived is the other field I want to suggest. You already have an interest in this or you wouldn’t be reading the survival blog. By looking across time and place you’ll find different insights, different shortages, and different solutions. You might learn how bicycles were kept running without rubber in WWII (rope as the tire). Or how some Amish use power tools without being connected to the grid (pneumatics and water power). How different cultures avoided scurvy (cabbage or fruit). How Italy introduced small-scale currency when economic uncertainty hit (farmers’ market committees). You may find crofters and lighthouse keepers as interesting points of research. Importantly, each thing you find will have a home in your head because it’s all part of your body of knowledge about solving universal problems.
Tangible Take away
Bring together hobby thinking/knowledge with history to solve problems. This kind of thinking leads to new advancements with old tech and often starts with tinkering in a hobby community. Early canning methods (rubber gasket and metal lid) have been made relevant again with high-quality long-lasting silicone and space age plastics. Modern aluminum arrows have been married to high-power airguns (actually fairly old tech) to yield impressive power and accuracy. Looking backwards and forwards with an eye to problem-solving is a good for all of us.
A Final Word
Individual self-sufficient homesteads are not the norm historically. Communities with craftsmen are the norm. The best of those craftsmen looked both forward and back, made better products with what was available, and had a vegetable garden. We aren’t going back entirely. We will have the detritus for the lost civilization and the standing bones.
One final piece of tangible advice for those in-between: add a larger canned food cache to your emergency preparedness and donate it to charity as it approaches expiration. Adding another few months to your regular food rotation may not be feasible but most of us living in between can add a separate rotation of store and donate. And it will be the best kind of donation: what we ourselves would use given to someone else who needs to fill those same basic needs.