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Be prepared (or not)

Over at the Cabal forums we’ve been discussing a couple of related issues: being as prepared as possible before moving ahead with plans; and why people make choices to live in seemingly crazy places — like that one that’s now disappearing in lava in Hawaii.

I took not the hard-hard line, but also not the softline on being prepared for what you’re getting into. Sometimes you just have to take a leap, but such leaps are best taken once you’ve thought things out and learned what you can learn.

That pulled me back to a moment I’d prefer not to confess.


I was going to spend the winter in the Desert Hermitage (you know all about that if you read Joel). This was when there were no permanent structures there and even the two full-time residents lived in an aging fifth-wheel with a barely functioning solar power system.

Where was I going to sleep over that winter and into the spring? In a tent. I’d brought a three-room tent and possessions to last for months.

That it was a $79 tent should have told me something.

But it did not.

That said marvel of outdoor engineering was pitched on a ridgetop should have told me something.

It did not.

That the elevation was above a mile should have told me something.

But no.

“Are you sure?” asked the person now known as Landlady.

“No problem,” sez I. “It’s the Southwest. How bad can it be?”


I was in the tent on one of those “breezy” days Joel writes of with such shuddersome hatred. Still arranging my worldly goods.

The refreshing desert zephyr has been pulling at the tent stakes, stressing the nylon around them. The entire structure is leaning toward what would eventually become Boot Hill. It creaks. It groans. It bows. It flaps faster than the lips of a gossip columnist. Then it begins to shred.

I’ve been there about a week.

Running along the ridge to the then-not-quite-plaza, I yell to Landlady, “I need help! The tent is coming apart!”

“Oh,” she replies, strictly casual, “It only feels like that. You want to spend a few hours in the fifth-wheel until this dies down?”

“No, no! I mean it. It’s coming apart!”

So everybody on the homestead goes rushing down there to salvage my supplies before the tent sails away to Utah.


Now what?

I’m not sure where I slept for the next few nights. I recall Landlady and T moving their son out of the tiny trailer called Serenity and moving him into the fifth-wheel so I could have a refuge. But something had to be done.

Aha, an ad!

Off Landlady and T take me to a town two hours away, were we find just the cutest little self-contained trailer you would ever want to see. It’s elderly, but someone has redone the interior in plywood. It has atmosphere.

“And,” deftly deceives the seller, “all the electrical works.” It did, too. They’d replaced this and that I never had a moment’s trouble with it.

Seller just didn’t mention the plumbing. For months after we brought the thing home I couldn’t move without being hit by a gush from a decoupled pipe. Or the faucets would fall off. Or the fancy-schmancy trailer toilet quit flushing. Or something froze and burst. I spent more time getting sticker shock in trailer supply stores … oh, you don’t want to know.

Did I ever mention the night I managed to melt a metal water valve under the trailer, in the snow, trying to defrost it with a propane heater? It actually dripped metal. It dripped.

Freezing and bursting was very big that winter in the Desert Hermitage, as it was for many years thereafter. Not only did I have to fight explosive plumbing flaws for months, but the temperature got down around minus 8F.

I had heat. But trailers are just one skinny metal layer thick with single-pane glass with aging seals. Oh, that was not fun. It was pretty with the frost patterns on the inside of the windows. But not fun.

That Joel eventually inherited that trailer (his Interim Lair) and spent a full winter in it without heat and without enough fresh food for healthy nourishment, fills me with such awe, and such complete conviction of Joel’s insanity perseverance, that I shudder. It’s a wonder he didn’t die.


But this isn’t Joel’s story — which continues to be vastly more impressive than mine. This is my story — and it’s pathetic, isn’t it?

And all this happened when I was already reputed to be some goddess of self-sufficiency.

I’ve never been a goddess of self-sufficiency. As I keep trying to tell people, I don’t believe civilization existed before the microwave oven and if I got locked out in my backyard overnight, I’d die. These are only slight exaggerations. Nevertheless, I should have known better.

Down in the desert I learned a lot. It’s fun for me now to read Joel’s blog and recognize the people he mentions and know from what precise vantage point some photo is taken. There are many times I want to be in one of those vast, empty landscape photos, remembering the pleasant but arduous hikes up the mesas and down the canyons and washes.

After that winter, I eventually did move down there (into only marginally better accommodations, though generously given) and stuck it out until life drew me back to the NorthWET. I helped build concrete walls and offered antihistamine to a snake-bit dog so she’d survive the long ride to the vet’s office. So I didn’t run screaming like a spoiled girlie after my winter of discontent (which, if you stretch it a little could be construed as a pun). But I’d never go back to a place like that.

I had to try it out to learn. I’m glad I did it. Still, when I think how I went down there with such untested travelog expectations … well, as I say, I am extremely reluctant to confess it.

This week Massad Ayoob confessed to a recent negligent discharge. During a class. He must not have been real wild about discussing that. But his confessional is informative and helpful.

I offer this much less dramatic confession in the same spirit — though mine I fear is far less instructive.


  1. jed
    jed May 27, 2018 7:43 am

    I had an ND once. Nothing bad happened, because I was following Cooper’s rules, close to 100%. A friend had told me the trigger on his revolver was very light. I didn’t realize just how light. Still, I placed my finger on the trigger bow before I was ready. I didn’t actually “pull” the trigger in any meaningful sense. That pistol gave a whole new meaning to “touch off a round”.

    I’ll give you full credit for taking on the high desert adventure. I joke about moving into a yurt, but I think I wouldn’t try that out where Joel lives.

  2. Comrade X
    Comrade X May 27, 2018 10:33 am

    Life is a learning experience, the key is living thru it while learning.

    Moving into a 200 + year old stone house in the Blue Ridge that needed mucho repairs (part of the reason we got it for free) with a outside well & a john that was home to some of the biggest snakes you will never want to see, but we did have electricity, but no money to run anything with the electricity. I think it was the first house in that area that ever had electricity.

    My saving grace was having a better half who knew what was needed to pull her family thru whatever the obstacles we were facing and having the patience to wait for me to grow up.

    There is a reason that people who go back to the earth need to plan ahead we found, breaking ground for a garden with a grubbing hoe on land never before tilled, trying to survive a winter with not enough firewood put up ahead therefore having at a point, finding, cutting, hauling (no truck but a wheel barrow) and chopping almost day to day, being so far out that when your baby comes telling your love one to hold back hoping that the Doc shows up because your local midwife informs you at the very very last moment this was her first delivery too (the Doc made it just in the nick if time), waking up with curtains frozen stiff, etc.

    Going on the road in a covered wagon with a VW on the front, leaving VA for CA (by heading to Florida first) with no plan but to end up on the west coast in 6 months, camping on an island off the NC coast and learning when the wind changes and blows from the coastland the mosquito’s come with that wind, or setting up camp late in the bayou’s not realizing the mosquito’s comes out in force when the sun goes down, or making love in a pickup truck bed but being young and without a thought but what was at hand to wake up with a body covered with bites, for some reason I just don’t like mosquito’s, or making love in a river under a waterfall only to discover later that there are LEECHES!!!

    Lots of lessons, some life threatening some just learning to not be stupid, some even caused by overthinking (maybe more of those than even the under thinking ones).

  3. larryarnold
    larryarnold May 27, 2018 11:33 am

    I learned to camp in the Mojave Desert with a troop of Boy Scouts. My father was scoutmaster.

    One month high winds were predicted, and he called off the campout. There was griping, since it wasn’t as bad as predicted, but Dad was always about safety first.

    Several months later there was a sandstorm like the one predicted. The next day, after school, Dad called a meeting. We went down to the bus station and got a tour of a Greyhound that was caught out on Route 66, and had to be towed in. Sand had blasted away every speck of exterior paint, and frosted all the windows, lights, and exterior mirrors. There was sand inside the engine.

    Mama Nature, she will sneak up on you.

    The ND I remember was as a first LT. in Vietnam, when my unloaded .45 put a hole in the base of a wall locker. I told my sergeant I thought I knew better.

    “You do,” he said. “And that’s when they happen.”

  4. kentmcmanigal
    kentmcmanigal May 27, 2018 3:20 pm

    My only ND (so far) happened when a sliver of wood fell into the sear of my black powder rifle. As soon as I pulled the hammer back to “full cock” and let go, it fell and the rifle fired. Nothing was touching the trigger. THAT was a surprise. Fortunately, it was aimed safely downrange. I cocked it a couple more times with no problem, but as soon as I had it loaded and capped, it repeated the performance. I then took it apart and found (and solved) the problem. Yeah, I shouldn’t have loaded it again before taking it apart.

  5. rochester_veteran
    rochester_veteran May 28, 2018 6:39 am

    After I got out of the service, I headed out west and ended up staying with a family that had a mini ranch just outside of Dolan Springs, Arizona. It was on Pierce Ferry Rd in high desert country amidst the largest Joshua Tree forest in the world. It was ruggedly beautiful there and oh so remote!

  6. Art Eatman
    Art Eatman May 28, 2018 11:08 am

    A major advantage to having been born in 1934: All my “old folks” relatives were wired up for self-sufficiency. While they all were well-educated, farming and ranching and blue-collar skills were part of my upbringing.

    The Great Depression’s lasting influence made us all into do-it-yourself bargain hunters. That has made my life very easy. 🙂

    Nowadays I can be happy using my microwave. 😀

  7. Joel
    Joel May 28, 2018 12:57 pm

    Funny – I was talking to Landlady about that trailer just yesterday.

    I remember the winters, for they were memorable. But the closest I ever came to being driven back to “civilization” was one summer.

    Seemed like every summer we had an epidemic of some different kind of bug. Summer of 2008 (I think) it was these little black weevils. They got in everything ruined my flour, burrowed into my potatoes. It was hot, of course, and before the Monsoon there often is no evening breeze to cool things down so I’d sponge off to get cool enough to sleep. Except that attracted the weevils, that would fly into bed with me and bite. A couple of nights of that, and I was ready to vote for Jerry Brown if it meant I could get some real sleep in a real bed in a real room that wasn’t crawling with bugs. Didn’t think I would ever be able to harden enough to put up with that every night.

    There was a fix, though. They’re attracted to light, so I ran a few inches of water in the bathtub and put a candle on some sort of pedestal in the middle of the water. That did the trick! They left me alone, and next morning the water was thick with dead bugs.

    I agree that a tent on a ridgetop would be hard to adjust to, though. Especially since it wouldn’t last long enough for you to try.

    For all of that, I remember that trailer with fondness. Because even though this wasn’t the right place for you – and you did give it an honest try, I was there for your second sojourn – it’s exactly the right place for me. I’ve never been more content: all the work and the dirt and the heat and the cold (and bugs and snakes and pointy things and wild animals) are just part of the price of admission.

    BTW, Claire: I ran into a young couple today, on the ridgetop right next to Ian’s parcel. Her parents own that piece, and they’re staying in…a tent. I hope for their sake the breeze stays mild.

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