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.
“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.
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.