Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Final Thought...

Just one last thought on the theme of the last post, and then I'm putting this puppy to bed for 2008. A song from my youth, which just came up on my 'pooter's playlist while I was washing dishes...

I don't want
To work away
Doin' just what they all say;
"Work hard, boy, you'll find
One day you'll have a job like mine."
'Cause I know
For sure
Nobody should be that poor.


;-)

The retreater's life isn't for everybody, it's true. But that's not to say it isn't a great life.

I hope you had a good 2008. I wish you a better and more freedom-filled 2009. Blessings and peace be upon you.

And so to bed; a good book beckons me. The dogs say hi.

The One True Path

I've been spending more of my 'pooter time surfing previously unfamiliar "survival" and "prepper" forums. They come in various flavors - some concentrate on where to buy the best camo backpacks and wind-up radios, some on guns, some on (what I consider) more serious considerations like how to cook storable food so a child would actually want to eat it. But they all seem to make the same basic assumption, that the one true path to freedom (or possibly survival, if TEOTWAWKI happens next week) is them forty acres, them stored preps, them stacked arms.

Of course, as a devotee of the acres, preps and arms, I'm not going to knock it. I'm living the dream, Myrtle, and the dream works. But...

The way I live would absolutely not be for everyone. I'm never going to be one of those keyboard commandos who insist that if you're not getting ready to head for the hills, you're not serious about finding freedom. But there are folks who say such things (note carefully where and how they live) and people who are arguably more honest with themselves find these folks quite off-putting.

I don't blame them. One of the amusing contradictions of the freedom movement is the common assumption that you are somehow obligated to turn your life upside-down in the quest for freedom. Who gets to make that rule? Ask yourself that, you who enjoy a nightlife and restaurant food that can come right to your door, the next time some internet Captain Liberty starts telling you what you should or should not be doing with your life. The whole point of the exercise is that it's your life, remember?

For Many, Many Years, Boys and Girls, ...

... I have loved me some Dave Barry.

His Year in Review columns have become a classic feature of his approximately 1,473-year-long record of being consistently hilarious.

Abroad, Fidel Castro steps down after 49 years as president of Cuba, explaining that he wants to spend more time decomposing. In selecting his successor, the Cuban National Assembly, after conducting an exhaustive nationwide search, selects Fidel's brother, Ra├║l, who narrowly edges out Dennis Kucinich.

In sports, the undefeated New England Patriots lose the Super Bowl to the New York Giants in a stunning upset that confounds the experts, not to mention Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, which had $38 billion on the Pats to win.
...
In economic news, the price of gasoline tops $4 a gallon, meaning the cost of filling up an average car is now $50, or, for Hummer owners, $17,500. Congress, responding to the financial pain of the American people, goes into partisan gridlock faster than ever before, with Republicans demanding that the oil companies immediately start drilling everywhere, including cemeteries, and Democrats calling for a massive effort to develop alternative energy sources such as wind, the sun, tides, comets, Al Gore and dragon breath, using technology expected to be perfected sometime this millennium. It soon becomes clear that Congress will not actually do anything, so Americans start buying less gasoline.
...
Barack Obama, having secured North and South America, flies to Germany without using an airplane and gives a major speech -- speaking English and German simultaneously -- to 200,000 mesmerized Germans, who immediately elect him chancellor, prompting France to surrender.

Meanwhile John McCain, at a strategy session at a golf resort, tells his top aides to prepare a list of potential running mates, stressing that he wants somebody ''who is completely, brutally honest.'' Unfortunately, because of noise from a lawn mower, the aides think McCain said he wants somebody ''who has competed in a beauty contest.'' This will lead to trouble down the road.
...
The [Olympic] games themselves are dominated by swimmer Michael Phelps, who wins eight gold medals, thus putting himself on a sounder financial footing than the U.S. Treasury. China wins the gold-medal count, although critics charge that some of China's 11-year-old female gymnasts are under the minimum age of 16. Chinese officials refute this charge by noting, correctly, that they have tanks.
...
As the crisis worsens, an angry Congress, determined to get some answers, holds hearings and determines that whoever is responsible for this mess, it is definitely not Congress. Meanwhile all the cable-TV financial experts agree that since they totally failed to predict this disaster, they will stop pretending they have a clue what the markets are going to do and henceforth confine themselves to topics they can discuss knowledgeably, such as what time it is.

Just kidding! They'd get that wrong, too.
...
In non-economic news, a Las Vegas jury convicts O.J. Simpson on 12 counts of being an unbelievable idiot. He faces more than 60 years in jail, which could end his relentless quest to find the killer of the people he stabbed to death in 1994.


As you can see it's rather long. But worth every second of reading pleasure.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Agua!

I had thought that the reason my lair has no running water since the Big Freeze was because of a patch of pipe I foolishly left unburied, after digging it up a few months ago for a new junction. Laziness, like stupidity, brings its own reward. However earlier today it became clear that this was not the case; I warmed that pipe until lead would have melted in it, let alone water. But still no water flowed.

So I went back and did what I should have been doing in the first place. Last winter the outflow pipe on the cistern froze, and left us without water for days until my landlord and I dug it up and wrapped it with heat tape and insulation, then built an insulated box over it. Well, I reasoned, if that was where the water froze again clearly all that insulation was of little value, but there was still the heat tape. Now, heat tape takes electricity and lots of it, more than the system can provide during a winter night. So I can only run it during the day, but that's okay; several hours of it should thaw the pipe, if indeed the pipe is frozen.

And sure enough! About three hours after I plugged it in, my kitchen faucet began to trickle. It trickled for maybe ten minutes, and then it began to flow. Running water again! Happy day!

Now I must remember to let the water drip, so that there will always be a little flow. And on cold mornings, after the solar panels start to produce, I'll plug in that heat tape. Also I've already reburied that section of pipe, just in case.

Winter habits will return. And I'll start getting them all right, just in time for spring.

Hail, Knight of Disgusting Practices...

Okay, so I get up from my 'pooter, where I had just posted an entry rhapsodizing on the wonders of dog companionship. I go outside to take care of some chores, made possible by slowly rising temperatures.

I may have mentioned that over the past several days I've been beset by numerous winter-related issues. The water is frozen, and so is the sewage. Since certain physiological processes will go on regardless of the infrastructure's capacity for dealing with them, a couple of days ago I set up the "Plan B" chair in the barn, over a plastic-lined bucket. An unpleasant alternative, but I consoled myself that human civilization plugged along nicely for millennia before indoor plumbing. This morning was the first time I had occasion to avail myself of the (COLD!) alternate facility, after which I didn't give it a thought.

Well, I had to go into the barn for some tool, and the first thing that caught my eye was that bucket, lying on its side with the plastic bag next to it. Empty. Licked clean.

The dogs are often hurt by my refusal to allow them to lick me on the face. Sorry, buckoes, but that's not negotiable. I know all too well where that tongue has been.

Peace is a pack of dogs...

Peace is a pack of dogs asleep together in your home.

I look upon these half-wild beasts, entrusted to my care by their owner, and I wonder at their love and trust. Each such a unique individual, each capable of such power and violence. But stroke a cheek or rub an ear, and each opens his eyes and gazes at you with utter, unrestrained devotion. The privilege of it is intimidating at times.

Ghost, he with the legs of a greyhound and the hide that blends so beautifully with the terrain. He disappears into the brush, preferring to find his own way, but is always nevertheless a part of the hike. I used to worry about losing him when we turned some unannounced corner, but soon learned my concern was unwarranted. I may seldom know where he is, but he always knows where I am. His speed on the trail is beyond compare, and his owner always used to joke that he walked five times as far as any of the other dogs, while covering the same ground. Our forward scout, is Ghost.

Magnus, alpha dog extraordinaire. I once saw him take down a Rottweiler that got uppity with him, in the blink of an eye. It happened so fast I actually missed it, though I was looking right at it. One second the Rotty was standing there in all his ugly, menacing glory. The next he was on his back, with a Labrador’s enormous jaws hovering at his throat. ‘Do you feel lucky, punk?’ That was years ago, and Magnus is growing old and much more likely to leave the derring-do to the other dogs. But he still takes no bullshit.

Fritz the Terrible, a German Shepherd who when younger so desperately wanted to be head dog and was constantly being put in his place. Though enormously powerful, he was a buffoon and a bit of a coward. Grown older now, he’s much less the jackass he used to be. To be gazed at with those clear, brown eyes is to know a deadly creature that absolutely loves you.

I watch them, curled or sprawled in their places in the lair or loping happily on the trail, and I know my purpose. How can it be, though – any one of these animals could have my throat out before I could reach for a weapon, and yet any one would die in my defense. All I do to deserve it is feed them and assure them that they’re loved. It’s all they want from me, yet it seems hardly adequate.

The Only Gun Shop in Detroit...

... and in my old neighborhood, to boot! I was blog-crawling this morning, after going for a nice walk with the dogs, and came on this piece.

Interesting. I haven't been back there in over 25 years, and that time I wore Kevlar and a cocked'n'locked .45. Sorry, baby, wrong color. I've very little nostalgia for the East Side, or for Detroit in general. But for some reason this story warmed my heart.

A Gun Column Recommendation

David Codrea, of War on Guns blogging fame, has a regular column called the Cleveland Gun Rights Examiner, which I understand is about to go nationwide. The second link takes you to the current column; scroll down for older ones. They're all good.

David is a passionate spokesman for gun rights and an excellent writer. I've been following his column since its inception, and recommend it very highly if you're a reader of such things. If you have friends or acquaintances who have a hard time understanding a gun-owner's point of view, you might steer them that way: It can do no harm, and might open an eye or two.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Small Towns and Junk Food

Okay, so I finally got the trip into town that I've been promising myself for two weeks. Well, a piece of it anyway. I still have some business that can only be finished in the bigger town about 70 miles away, and I've got to sneak to do that. But I can catch a ride with a neighbor and at least get some fuel and groceries.

I spend so much time by myself in the boonies that even a trip to this little burg, population a couple of thousand, kinda gives me a case of sensory overload. There are cars on the road. They're moving. Panic! Not really, but there are a lot of things going on all around me, and my eyes don't know what to follow. It's weird.

Anyway, one of the things you have to get used to when dealing with this little town is that it's really screwed up, services-wise. If somebody wants to close up and go home for the day, he bloody well does. Even if he runs the only restaurant in town. Seriously - it's really like that. I went to the service station and asked where I might buy some kerosene. He didn't know. I bought some propane at the well-digging company - which is where you go to buy propane unless you get it at the chainsaw repair place: Don't try buying it at the propane company because they're swear at you and drive you away, I'm not making this up - and he says sure! You want kerosene, go to the airport! That's where they sell it. Ask for five gallons of jet fuel, they'll fix you right up. And sonuvagun, when he said that I was reminded that the airport was indeed where my landlord had last filled that five-gallon jug of kerosene I just emptied. Jet fuel. This is a wonderful place.

I went to the only supermarket in town to stock up on groceries, and it occurred to me as I was filling a shopping cart that my standards had really changed. I'm buying stuff like bread, margarine, canned veggies, fresh veggies - and I'm thinking of it as junk food. Luxuries - the sort of things you eat when you can eat anything you want. I've got 100 pounds of rice, sure, and a fellow can live on rice - sort of. All these groceries in this cart, which I would once have considered the most basic of staples - luxuries. Junk food. A pound of hamburger is a big treat. I'm gonna fry myself a hamburger later this evening, and then make a big pot of my favorite spaghetti sauce with meat and onions and green pepper. Luxury.

The only supermarket in town. They were out of eggs. According to the guy at the hardware store - who also didn't have any kerosene - they've been out of eggs for two days. Like he should talk - try buying a 2X4 at the local hardware store. Good luck.

I love this place.

Excuse Me While I Rant

I recently encountered a commenter who, seeing a reference to a child-support-related lawsuit in an earlier post and knowing nothing whatever about me or any of the circumstances or even whether the charge is true, accused me of child abandonment. I don’t remember the last time I honestly wondered whether you really could slice someone from crotch to sternum, but if that person had been present I’d have considered conducting the experiment. That this person claims to be an attorney does nothing to raise my estimation of his or her worth.

No, I’m not going to go into the circumstances. It’s long ago and far away, none of your business, and anyway far too long a story for this sort of format. Let it suffice for me to say that any residual guilt I feel over the whole thing is – at most – sharply attenuated. Oh … Also that my only child has been grown and gone for years, and that before moving out on her own she lived with me, not with her mother. That’s all I have to say about it, and even that's too much.

That’s not all I have to say about attorneys, but I’ll keep it short. The principal skill of a lawyer, it seems to me, is the ability to weave simple falsehoods out of complex truths. It doesn’t matter – to many lawyers it literally doesn’t matter – which side of an argument he’s on. Truth and justice are meaningless concepts. The only thing that matters is whether you can twist the law, or failing that whether you can twist mere rhetoric, to advance the interests of the side you represent.

I don’t care that sometimes this is used to further the interests of the innocent. The concept and practice of it is simply contemptible. As far as I’ve ever been able to determine from my reading of such things, it always has been.

What sort of person seeks such a life? What sort of person would make such an accusation of a stranger, just for the sake of a little Internet snark? It is appalling.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Microclimates

Neighbors have often remarked that we've sure got'em, and I can attest that it's true.

Yesterday I woke to below-zero temperatures, that never got above freezing all day. Meanwhile my weekender neighbors have all their grandkids with them, and the snow was melting off their ridge so fast they had to hurry with their sledding. All told, probably less than a mile away.

So I've got frozen water pipes, frozen sewage, and batteries committing seppuku from the cold, and from the looks of it there ain't none of it ever gonna thaw. If I ever meet Al Gore, I'm gonna demand to know what he did with my share of global warming.

Friday, December 26, 2008

I'm Dreaming of a White...

Day after Christmas. Ah, well. Never paid much attention to Christmas, anyway.

It started snowing around a quarter to eight this morning, and basically never stopped. We've had dustings, maybe an inch or two, and it always melted off without much delay. But today it snowed and snowed. Not like up north, to be sure, but six or eight inches is a pretty good dump for the desert.

The weekender neighbors were due this morning, and I called them and gave them an update. Fortunately they were bringing their 4X4 so it wasn't a problem for them to get in. Ghost teleported into the meadow to greet them when they came by around noon, and I haven't seen him since. Looks like he's back to normal and I get to sleep alone for a couple of nights.

So the older boys and I just spent the day in the lair snoozing and reading, respectively. Around five I took them out to the pantry for Snacky Time. The solar panels are completely covered with snow, of course, so after the dogs were done I went to the power shed to fire up the generator. Lord it was cold, and the generator didn't want to start. No surprise there. But it did finally kick over, as it always does. I headed back to the lair and barely had my gloves off when - disaster! The engine made a horrible noise and died. I've heard that noise before. It's the squeal of death.

Sure enough, the engine was locked down hard. I know the oil was okay, because I topped off the level before trying to start the generator. But it was so cold it flowed into the crankcase like honey. Probably that didn't help, but it shouldn't have caused the problem. The thing's six years old, which is old for a consumer-grade generator. I guess its time had just come.

Fortunately there's a back-up, all tested and charged. It's a lot younger, and - glorious day! - has an electric starter. But I'm not at all sure of the condition of its governor. But once I got everything hooked up right the system started taking a good charge, so I guess that's all right. Trouble is, now there's no back-up. A good replacement is going to cost like Gehenna, but I mustn't delay saving my pennies.

Sure wish I had a wind generator - then I wouldn't be so dependent on these gasoline-powered monstrosities. Someday...

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Get-Together in the Boondocks

So I was invited to meet some neighbors this afternoon and pop a few caps. D&L would be there, and J&H, and maybe a couple of others. We met at J&H's hacienda, then convoyed a few hundred yards to the very nice range our cop neighbor had built. The "couple of others" turned out to be Dave the UPS driver - who I expect pretty much everybody in the nearby little town knows - and his wife.

D the UPS D does a lot of delivery business with J&H, who run a business out of their house. He'd planned a series of surprises for her, starting with a horseback ride in the boonies. She didn't know why he was dragging her to the back of beyond and he wouldn't tell her until they got to J&H's, where they've got a bunch of well-trained horses. She was happy as a well-fed elf as she mounted one of H's beautiful little mares. H had the mean-ass stallion that she rides on endurance races, and together they went off down the wash. We wouldn't see them again for a couple of hours.

The rest of us were pretty much done shooting when they met us at the range, where she got her next surprise, a cute little S&W LadySmith revolver. Again she was the picture of delight, blazing away at our resident JBT's reactive targets. Altogether a sweet scene. I've known D the UPS D for a couple of years now, and a nicer fellow never lived. It was very pleasant to be able to play a part in his gifts to his wife.

So I spent a pleasant afternoon away from the ridge today. The weather cooperated, and a lovely time was had by all. I'm tired and hungry, and looking with dismay at all the clean-up I've got to do. A little disorder goes a long way in the lair, I'm afraid, and I've got guns to clean.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Snacky Time

The boys' original owner had a tradition, which they hold in complete approval. First: Nobody gets locked in Gitmo without getting a treat. Second: Sundown is Snacky Time! Currently "Snackies" consists of one can of dog food, shared between the three of them. Since two of the boys are the size of Orange County and the third is by no means small, you can imagine how long the actual consumption phase of Snacky Time lasts. But they insist on it.

Sometimes I get busy - as when I was proofing the last entry - and forget. The boys do not forget. So I'm typing away, reading, typing, reading...you know the routine. And Ghost starts looking at me very expectantly. Ghost starts whining at me for no apparent reason. Fritz steps down from the couch and bumps my elbow. Magnus gets up and gives me the eye.

Oh. Sorry, guys. Just let me finish this, and then "Who wants snackies?"

Do not stand between the dogs and the door while asking this question.

Stir Crazy

Not a very good day, I'm afraid. I had things I needed to do, and didn't feel like doing any of them. Snow this morning, then the sky cleared and it's been mostly sunny but cold and windy. I picked up an old generator somebody was throwing out, needed to get it out of the truck. Pretty clearly just going to end up as a parts machine; I think the compression's shot and there's no practical way to fix that on these little 2-strokes. But it did start with a little effort, so I used up the last of the gasoline in it putting juice into the batteries and running the bread maker and the well pump. I confess with the weather the way it's been my personal hygiene has not been the best; not a lot of water gone from the cistern since the last fill-up but I like to keep it full. Even if the old thing never starts again you take free energy when you can get it: Now I've got full batteries, cistern and breadbox, which is better than when I woke up, and it didn't cost anything in fuel. Took care of some trash issues, moved some stuff out of the weather, then all I wanted to do was sit and read. Too damned cold for spending a lot of time outdoors. The boys put up with a couple of hours of this and then threw a little riot, demanding a good walk. So we went down the back slope, across the wash, and played hide and seek in the high brush where the wash makes a big loop. Ghost was still going strong, but after a while the older dogs started edging toward home. Now they're all sacked out and content again, and I confess it made me feel better too. I've been doing too damned much sitting around inside, and it's affecting my mood.

Anyway I've got to arrange a trip to town this weekend. I poured the last of the kerosene into the heater and lamp this afternoon, opting to use it up in order to hoard my propane. I can heat with propane but also need it for cooking and heating water. Trouble is I've been so niggardly with all my fuel for the past couple of weeks that I'm cold all the time. That's affecting my mood, too. No doubt about it: Cops or no cops, paranoia or common sense, I really do want to spend a day in town this weekend. Gorge on fuel, work on my pantry stock, maybe catch a movie and eat popcorn. It's about a seventy-mile trip each way, and for safety I need to move while it's dark. What I really want is a blizzard: That would cover my movements nicely.

Heh. Nope, no paranoia here. Everything's perfectly normal. Except I'm going stir crazy! Narf!

Monday, December 22, 2008

Another Wintry Day

Took the boys for a nice walk through the wash this morning, while the weather couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to do. And as has happened a few times over the past couple of weeks, it's a good thing I got it out of the way because right after that the weather socked in good. Wind, cold, heavy overcast. Now all my boys are sacked around me, not a peep from them except when they got a whiff of horse a while ago. It drove poor Ghost crazy, because with the wind he couldn't find them. I didn't know what was going on until I saw the pair of tracks down the middle of the wash; just the neighbors out for a ride. Just as well the boys didn't find them, because last time they went down among the horses and I thought the lady's mare was going to spill her.

Last night I got to wanting something quick to eat, but there just wasn't anything in the lair but ingredients. Wintry days are good for baking, so I decided to whip up a couple of batches of crackers so there'd be something to knosh on when that mood struck me. This is a really simple recipe, about the same as hardtack but without all that "bake it till it's inedible" business. It's just two cups of flour, one teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of baking soda, two tablespoons of butter, and 2/3 cup of milk. Stir it together, quickly knead it into a ball and roll it out really thin on your floured board, 1/2 of the batch at a time. Lay it out on an ungreased baking sheet, score it into squares and poke it with a fork. Bake it at 400 degrees till it's brown. Don't let it get too done, or you've got hardtack. Once it's cool, break it up and store it in a breadbox and you've got snacks for days. Really good dipped in honey.

Remarkable Quote...

...From a remarkable article. I was reminded of this today, and re-read it with the same appreciation. This ol' fellow gets it.

Never despair. Keep the faith. Despite Big Brother's awesome and growing power, in the still, dark and secret places of the soul, ordinary men and women retain hopes, dreams and high ethics. Out of that fathomless, still pool of the soul, freedom will emerge again, some day.


From the November 10 Vancouver Sun, A Voice From the Grave's Edge.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Neighbors in the Boonies

I've mentioned that I have good relationships with three of the five sets of neighbors who live within walking distance. One of those three has been kind of problematic for me, I admit. Not his fault, he's a helluva nice guy. I just had a bit of trouble warming up to him because he talks a lot. Also visiting is an issue because they've got horses and I rarely go anywhere without the dogs. Dogs, horses, bad mojo; especially my dogs, who think large animals are for chasing. Again, totally not his fault.

But he knows I'm gathering materials for Joel's Secret Lair, The Final Edition. He and his wife just recently finished their desert house (and did a very nice job), and found himself with some extra windows which he offered to sell me at a good price. A couple of weeks ago I went over and paid his wife for the windows - he was off in the city on some business - but due to transport considerations couldn't pick them up right then. This morning I trekked over - locking up the boys in Gitmo first - to let him know I really did plan to get them out of his yard in the near future. He invited me in and wanted to show me his new baby - a brand-new heavy-barrel Bushmaster AR15. Not an inexpensive rifle. Now, see, this is guy bonding stuff; he's been trying to be friends with me for some time and I've been kind of keeping him at arm's length because - well, you know. I'm a hermit. He talks too much. What can I say? But he's really making an effort, and unless I want to be a complete jackass I really need to respond. Besides, when a guy wants to talk guns we've found some common ground.

Anyway, he asks me about the pistol I habitually carry, a 1911 .45. He's never shot one before. I say how about you come back to my place right now, we'll go down to the range and you can empty a couple of magazines and see if you like it. Meanwhile, if you don't mind, maybe we could put these windows in the back of your pickup and we can kill the proverbial brace of birds. He thinks this is a fine idea, so that's just what we do.

After the pistol I show him a real battle rifle and we squeeze off a few rounds just so he can say he has. We spend another hour or so standing around my yard talking guns. Meanwhile he gets used to the dogs, who though rather large and intimidating at first are really sweethearts and total suckers for anybody who'll scratch their ears.

All in all, a couple of morning hours well-spent. I feel better about the whole thing, since I really have been feeling bad about not responding very positively about his overtures. We might not end up big bosom buddies, but for sure we understand each other better and are likely to be more mutual help in the future.

Boys and their toys, neh?

Friday, December 19, 2008

I wish to congratulate...

...Our selfless public servants in the United States Congress for so heroically standing athwart the tides of mere opinion and economic chaos (which they caused, and then made so catastrophically worse) by Upholding The Law in not voting down their "automatic" $4,700 pay raises.

Yes, I can imagine how hard that must have been. It would have been simpler, easier, more "politically correct" to pass a measure freezing their salaries for one lousy year. But that's not the kind of Americans they are - no, they stood as a body and declared, loudly and courageously, "The law is the law!"

The law, from ancient and honorable tradition dating back several years, states that these pay increases are automatic - and occur immediately after the election when hopefully no one will notice. This grand tradition could have been betrayed by the passage of yet another act. But That Would Be Wrong!

Kudos, I say, to these brave men and women who, after bankrupting the nation and throwing millions of Americans out of work, still had the cojones to stand up for what's right, to take one for the team, for the nation, For The Children.

Thank you.

A little more on freedom lit

A friend said elsewhere,

IMO, the best lib-fic book I've read is Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson.


And I hadn't even thought about that one. Cryptonomicon, in case you haven't read it, is another massive tome but an absolute delight. Subversive in every syllable, amazing characters, hilarious when it isn't being horrifying. I don't normally think of this book as "freedom literature," because it doesn't read like it. You won't find a single bit of preachifying anywhere here, even though some of the dialogue gets pretty deep into the (to me) arcane realms of net design, anonymous money and of course cryptology.

Also, I was principally discussing amateur writers and first novels. Neal Stephenson is no amateur. Still, Cryptonomicon is a textbook on how freedom lit should be done.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

"Can we bring you anything?"

I was sitting in the lair this morning, moodily watching snow swirl outside my window while even the dogs crossed their legs and refused to go outside, when my cell phone rang. A neighbor a few miles away said, "We're going to town in a little while. Can we bring you anything?" Damn nice, and timely too - I'd just been going over my staples and making a grocery list for my trip to the big town this weekend, and remembered to my horror that I was nearly out of eggs. I really appreciated their thinking of me.

So a few hours later the boys and I trekked over to the neighbors to pick up and pay for my eggs, and I got a nice shot of "told you so." The male half of this pair had built a beautiful little octagonal building for a new generator he was going to install. While I was admiring his work a couple of months ago I told him that in my (not entirely uneducated) opinion he was going to burn the machine up because this building, cute as it was, had virtually no built-in circulation. He responded by putting in these wimpy little vents, top and bottom. I said, not enough. He didn't believe me.

So the electrician comes to wire up the (large and elaborate, by local standards) generator, and tells him, "wow, this thing ain't gonna last ten hours with the ventilation you got here." And when I came over this afternoon he was cutting big holes in his delightful little building and running ducting for forced-air cooling. Hey, when the genny's running you've got lots of power for fans, so why not?

I didn't tell him I told him so.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

When you find a mouse's head in your bed...

Are the cats running out of polite ways to make a point, and are now acting more in sorrow than anger? Are they trying to share? Or was that just where the head happened to be when they lost interest?

These are the things I worry about. They might form alliances with the dogs, and I have to sleep sometimes...

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

So what are the compensations, Joel?

I started this blog to talk about my adventures as a desert hermit, and so far all I've done is bitch about the weather and the infrastructure. That wasn't what I wanted to say at all.

This morning I claimed there are compensations. So I should probably enumerate some. Let's see:

1: Neighbors! That's a weird one for a hermit to start with, but I'm gonna go with it. I have five neighbors or sets of neighbors within five miles, and I've formed good, mutually-beneficial friendships with three of them. (One other guy's a cop, and even though he seems a perfectly nice person I don't associate with people who have more power to hassle me than I would ever consider reciprocating. The fifth neighbor is a lady who makes me look like a social butterfly. She doesn't want visitors, and everybody respects that.) In the city, I had thousands of neighbors in the same physical radius, but not as many friends.

2: Gunz! In the city, if I decided to take a stroll with an open-holster .45 and a slung M1A with a pouch of magazines, fifty thousand upstanding citizens would simultaneously lose sphincter control and SWAT teams would be mobilized from as far away as Oahu. Here, people would say, "Oh! Here comes Joel!" True story: Last Sunday my landlady and I hiked over to visit our weekender neighbors. I didn't happen to be wearing a holster when she suggested this, so rather than put one on (and because it's still a new toy) I slung my new carbine. Now, this carbine is ... not exactly commercially produced. It is in fact the most aggressively ugly, simply the most evil looking firearm I've ever seen, and I'm proud to be its papa. We walk to the neighbors' house, Nice City Lady opens the door, and ... gives me a big hug. Try that in Peoria.

3: The terrain & the scenery. OMFG. There are no words.

4: The quiet. Be still and listen to the sounds around you, right now. I'll bet I can guess what you hear. Underlying everything there's a surf noise, generated by hundreds of engines and thousands of tires. Probably a jet or two. Sirens. Strangers' voices. In the city it's never never quiet. Right now - I stopped typing for a second so the keyboard stopped clicking - I hear wind. I hear Magnus digging mud out from between his toes. Between wind gusts I can hear the second hand on the clock above my head. If I hear an auto engine, I go investigate. Sometimes a jet flies high overhead. Sometimes there are coyotes. But if there are loud noises, chances are I'm making them. You can hear yourself think.

5: The chance to ... I don't know, be yourself. There are no dress codes. Nobody cares if I dress at all. (I know a guy who wears a dress - don't ask.) A few miles away there's a very nice gay couple, I meet them sometimes when there's a building project going on, and everybody treats them with as much respect and consideration as anybody else gets. It just doesn't matter. I know another lady who used to be a guy, and it shows. Weirdest human being I've ever encountered. She's pagan, and into S&M. I don't know anybody who dates her, but otherwise it just doesn't matter. Treat people with respect here, and you get respect. And that's all that matters.

6: The chance to follow a thought. The last real novel I wrote took me two years to write and edit. The last one, I finished in three months. Do the math.

Yeah, the weather can get on my nerves. But this is a great place to live.

My very own controversy! Yes!

A couple of old freinds from The Mental Militia, from which I'm probably drawing all my readers at present, queued up to mildly take me to task for some things I said about freedom-oriented literature. And they're right in what they say, of course. It is in the eye of the beholder.

In the best political tradition, please allow me to revise and extend my remarks.

Not all bad freedom literature finds small audiences. Atlas Shrugged has been an international best-seller since the invention of rock. Atlas Shrugged is also, by any conventional measure of such things, a very bad novel. Absurd, wooden characters that barely rate "one-dimensional". Dialogue that, to this day, inspires some of the funniest parodies on the tubz. Lectures that are actually...lectures! And that go on and on and endlessly...well, John Galt's radio address is just legend. Of course Ayn Rand's whole purpose in the novel was to teach her philosophy. And of course Ayn Rand became rich and famous. So much for my original thesis. Nevertheless, as literature, Atlas Shrugged stinks.

Next case, John Ross's Unintended Consequences. In terms of reading enjoyment, this book makes Atlas Shrugged look like a light weekend read. I own a copy, and mostly use it for breaking walnuts. You could cut 500 pages from this book and it would be a better novel. And even after you've removed all the quasi-historical preaching, you're still stuck with unbelievable characters and an unlikely plot. The dialogue's better, though. Yet here again, Ross made his career on this book. I don't know what its actual sales have been, but it's certainly become part of the canon for gun-owning freedomistas; he must have sold a shitload of them.

So in detail, my theory doesn't actually hold up all that well. You can preach and still sell books. Of course, you can fall from an airplane and live to fly again, too - but that's not the way to bet.

Most of us freedom-livers who write fiction, myself included, are really hoping only to entertain and encourage those who believe as we do. I've written two books that could be called "freedom lit," and the first one wasn't even originally intended to become a book - I serialized it on TMM for the entertainment of my friends. It shows, too - it's got some real clunky parts and continuity issues. Neither it nor its sequel have sold well at all outside my larger circle of friends, nor did I ever expect them to. So when I talk about such things, understand that I understand that the pot is calling the kettle black here. Like anyone who writes, I write because I like to - and I write about the things I like to think about. Obviously I don't really knock it.

It's just...well, let's try to keep it entertaining, okay?

Making it up as you go along

I occasionally read someone talking about moving “off the grid,” and rhapsodizing about how nice it’ll be not to worry about outages, brownouts, and generally not being at someone else’s mercy for power.

I always smile…benevolently. Yeah, that’s how I smile. It’s, uh, benevolent. And I ask, below my breath “You sure you’re up for this, son?” I have to do it quietly, because all the dogs would hear is “Want some cheese?”

Here’s a typical morning for me. The big dogs are contentedly snoring away, having sorted out the other couch between them. Ghost has crawled under my blankets and is squashing me against the wall, but that’s okay because … well, I should have named him “Body Heat.” Between him and the pile of blankets I’m warm as toast, but it won’t last. The boys know when I’m awake, and when Uncle Joel wakes up it’s time to go outside.

Okey dokey. Struggle out from under the blankets and hop to the door. Stand aside for the stampede. Now I’ve got a couple of minutes alone to take care of some necessary business. Two-legged once more and with my bladder no longer punishing me for sloth, I light the lamp on the table. I don’t even try the electric light; the back-up lights will work because they’re on separate batteries not controlled by that ungrateful wretch of a Ferrari-priced controller, but I might need that juice later. If the controller’s still working it won’t for long, because the batteries are getting old and they really hate cold. Look up at the clock, and it’s quarter after five. Not so bad.

The dogs clamor to come in, but I ignore them because I’m about to go out. Light the kerosene heater; even though it’s the back-up, because propane is getting a little low and I also use that for cooking and hot water. The refrigerator also runs on propane, but it’s turned off for the winter. Check the inside thermometer; and it’s almost fifty. Small lair, lots of dogs, never gets very cold inside. And it’s free. See? Won’t need much heat today; yesterday the weather was worse than it’s supposed to be today and I didn’t run the heater all day.

Coat and gloves. Always, always service the generator when it’s light. That way you can just stumble outside in the dark and get it running instead of having to fumble around with oil levels and filling the gas tank. Starting a 2-stroke generator with a pull starter can be a trial when it’s cold because the oil flows like honey and impedes the engine’s working parts. The back-up back-up generator, ironically enough, has an electric starter but it got relegated to secondary status when the governor crapped out and what I replaced it with is … well, kind of kludged together and I don’t trust it. So use the one that works right. It’s not too cold today; the generator putts on the second pull and starts on the third. Go into the power shed and convince the controller to boot back up.

The dog’s water bucket still has ice chunks that never thawed yesterday, but the water surrounding them is not frozen so it’s not necessary to break it up with the broomhandle you keep nearby for the purpose. Heavy cloud cover this morning, so the temp never dropped much below thirty. Now I can go inside.

Get the coffee going, boot up the ‘pooter and roll my first ciggie of the day. Glance over at the heater, which should be glowing red by now; it’s not. Try to light it again; it won’t. Check the reservoir using the flashlight that never leaves your belt; it’s empty. Damn! I didn’t use it yesterday, but yesterday I sure should have checked the kerosene level after the landlady used it. My bad. Light the propane heater; it works fine.

The generator’s tone abruptly rises in the middle of the last paragraph: the controller has decided the batteries are full, the lying bastard. The voltage fluctuates momentarily and the computer blinks out. Hope I didn’t lose too much of my precious typing. Go outside and turn off the generator. Come inside and boot the ‘pooter back up. Re-type half of the last paragraph. Could have been worse.

Oatmeal for breakfast this morning. The breadbox is nearly empty; I last made bread for the neighbors’ get-together on Saturday and that left me short because the weather’s been lousy since then and there’s not enough power for the bread maker. I’ve gotten spoiled since getting the bread maker; today I’m gonna have to do it the old-fashioned way. If I want bread I have to make it myself; the nearest store-bought loaf is fifteen miles away and wouldn’t Deputy Dawg love to meet me driving into town in broad daylight? My papers are not in order. Besides, that shit costs money; may as well smoke pre-rolled cigarettes as eat it.

There are compensations: Mine tastes a lot better.

There are always compensations. I hear my single theoretical reader asking, “What are you bitching about? You picked this, didn’t you? Now you’re going to whine about it?” And yes I am whining, because that’s what I do when forced outside by the demands of our ‘off-the-grid’ system at 5:30 in the morning. I get over it every time, because I really did pick this. Like I said, there are lots of compensations.

But mornings, sometimes, when I’m fighting with the generator, negotiating with the power controller, wondering if my water heater froze solid (again), I think about all those times when I grumbled over the need to fiddle with the thermostat in my nice, big, professionally-insulated house.

See, the beauty of all those “modern conveniences” is that they’re so damned…convenient. So very convenient that you get to thinking of them as necessities of life. They’re not, of course. In fact, none of what I outlined just now is necessary for life; hell, it isn’t even that cold today. But when you live with them all your life you think of them as necessities. Just remember that, if you’re planning your own “off-the-grid” gulch. It can be a pain in the ass. Oh, there are compensations; yes, there are. But sometimes you have to think to remember what they are.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Oh, the weather outside is frightful...

I just looked at the weather forecast, and it looks like I'm going to have to get pro-active about fuel by Thursday or risk short supplies. The sky is iron-gray with heavy overcast and apparently intends to stay that way, which makes the solar collector tower an expensive monument to impressive-looking but useless technology. That's the least of issues, because I've got a back-up generator, a back-up back-up generator, and lots of gasoline and oil. I've got enough propane for at least three weeks of normal winter use, but that's a thinner margin than I like. Where I really fell down is in the matter of kerosene, which runs my lamps and back-up heater. I'm down to maybe 1.5 gallons and what's in the reservoirs, and that's just dumb. Only a few days supply with heavy use, not that I plan to use them heavily but "planning" isn't what back-ups are for. Sheesh.

The problem isn't the bad weather. This is important if you've ever thought of living in the boonies. The problems start when the weather turns nice. That's when all this snow will melt, all that moisture will go into the ground, and the roads will stop being merely slippery and become positively impassible for a while. Not a problem if you planned ahead and don't need to go anywhere. Not so great if you planned badly. My planning is beginning to look not so exemplary.

Looks like I need to plan an expedition to town while I still can. I really hate that, but this 'paranoid recluse' thing can be taken to extremes.

What is it about freedom lit?

Freedom literature sucks, more often than not. I'm actually stating this rather mildly; the sentence would probably be more accurate if you dropped the last four words.

The "freedom movement" has a lot of sub-sets. There's the Libertarians (big- and little-L). There's the "left-libertarians" - the agorists and mutualists and what have you. There's roughly as many flavors of anarchist as there are anarchists. They despise the "minarchists," in all their multitudinous flavors. There's the pitiful remains of the militia movement. There's the sovereignty movement types. There are all sorts of Christian groups that usually concentrate on RealID and its parallels with the Mark of the Beast. Lots and lots of sub-sets.

They all have one thing in common; they all sit around dreaming about the way the world ought to be and/or the way it'll fall apart, they all write fiction about their dreams, and it all sucks. Okay, that's three things.

Classic examples, recently encountered, here and here.

Even good writers who stoop to fiction somehow fall under this unfortunate spell. I give you Vin Suprynowicz, an awesome writer of angry essays and columns about TPTBs outrages against freedom. Give him a quill and a license to write fiction, and he disgorges The Black Arrow, as self-indulgent an exercise in bad fiction as was ever penned by an otherwise excellent writer. A superhero...uh, hero. Hot chicks. Evil, stupid baddies. Lectures, lectures, lectures. At least TBA has decent grammar and punctuation, mostly.

L. Neil Smith, probably the best-known living Libertarian author, wrote The Probability Broach in 1980ish and a whole bunch of books since then. He's got a regular following among all sorts of freedomistas. And he can't find a publisher. Why can't he find a publisher? Because that "regular following" of his (which includes me) probably doesn't number more than a few thousand people. And I understand why: Good stories, mostly, but yowza howdy does that man ever like to lecture. Talk, talk, talk.

And that's one of the two problems I see, which condemns "freedom lit" to such a ghetto of mediocrity. The first, of course, is obvious: We're a bunch of amateurs. I'd guess that most erotica is probably awful too, and for the same reason. People like to write about what they like to think about. People like to think about sex. But that doesn't mean they know the craft well enough to write a readable story.

But how does that explain writers like Smith, or Suprynowicz, or Royce: Good, professional writers of polemic essays, who fall on their faces with fiction? I think it's just that they can't lay off the polemics. They want to educate. That's great, but education is not the principal purpose of fiction. Fiction must entertain; first, last and always. Otherwise any beneficial message woven into the story will be lost because the only message the reader will get is "this book sucks."

People, there is absolutely no point - you have no right - in complaining that no large audience of readers will appreciate your fiction, if your fiction sucks. I'm sorry it's that way, I really am. But that's the way it is. Reality sucks sometimes, too.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Care Package From the Offspring

The second package was a care package from my daughter. She sent me a couple of funny Darth Vader T-shirts, some crochet stuff (I'm currently wearing the grey beanie hat - very cunning) and ... Oy! Four Pinky and the Brain DVDs! She does love me!

We're getting the first serious snow of the season, which started very early in the morning. I'm stocked up with food, tobacco, and fuel, so I don't care if I'm socked in for a month. I'm gonna sit right here, stay warm, and remember those Saturday mornings when she was just a little tad and we sat together laughing at my all-time favorite cartoon show.

My imaginary reader will just have to take care of himself for a while. Narf!

My New Paladin Press Book (Chapter)

So my landlady showed up yesterday afternoon, bearing coffee and mail! I never get mail. I mean, I get so little mail I don't even have a mailbox. I rarely get E-mail. So imagine my surprise when she brings me not one, but two packages. One is from the publisher of my first writing gig in over a decade (I used to do a lot of this sort of thing, but gave it up because the time/money ratio is...well, it sucks.) But just for laughs I recently got myself roped into an article for a new Paladin Press compilation. Dig this title. You sitting down? Here we go:

The Paladin Book of Dangerously Fun Stuff For Boys Who Never Really Grew Up

Normally for a title that long you need an economics tract, and even then there's a hyphen and most of it is subtitle. But yeah, my chapter is "Constructing Simple Homemade Rockets."

This was the first job I ever did for Paladin, and I have to say they're a joy to work for. They pay promptly, which is good enough in itself. But they also sent me a copy of the book, which nobody ever did for any of my other work-for-hire gigs. That's pretty handsome of them.

I've only scanned it so far (It's a big book) but it looks like a whole bunch of good dirty fun. Check it out if you're into that sort of thing.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

As Individual as the Man who Drives it

I don't mean for this to be a link blog, but this is too damned good not to pass on.

All new for 2012, the Pelosi GTxi SS/Rt Sport Edition is the mandatory American car so advanced it took $100 billion and an entire Congress to design it. We started with same reliable 7-way hybrid ethanol-biodeisel-electric-clean coal-wind-solar-pedal power plant behind the base model Pelosi, but packed it with extra oomph and the sassy styling pizazz that tells the world that 1974 Detroit is back again -- with a vengeance.

We've subsidized the features you want and taxed away the rest. With its advanced Al Gore-designed V-3 under the hood pumping out 22.5 thumping, carbon-neutral ponies of Detroit muscle, you'll never be late for the Disco or the Day Labor Shelter. Engage the pedal drive or strap on the optional jumbo mizzenmast, and the GTxi SS/Rt Sport Edition easily exceeds 2016 CAFE mileage standards. At an estimated 268 MPG, that's a savings of nearly $1800 per week in fuel cost over the 2011 Pelosi.

Cold. Cloudy. This is the Desert?

I'm just whining this morning. Forgive.

"Winter is cold. Winter is wet. Winter is not the time to be preparing for winter."

I wrote that a long time ago, and it remains true. The section of the world I inhabit, though certainly desert, is rarely all that horribly hot. Though it's hardly Minnesota, in winter it can get unpleasantly cold. And windy. And wet.

Hey, I was raised in the Midwest; I'm not shocked by winter. I also left the Midwest, partially because I was sick and tired of winter. And winter weather here affects all the infrastructure. The solar collectors don't like even slight cloud cover. Water lines freeze when it gets really cold. The wind keeps blowing my *&^! water heater pilot out. My current lair is very poorly insulated, so it's rarely really warm. I genuinely dislike winter. But at least I don't have to deal with black ice, heavy snow and the traction issues that plagued my younger years. When you're an amputee, traction is always an issue.

Normally, on cold-water days I cocoon indoors and read and mope. Today's going to be a good day, though. My landlady is coming to visit for the weekend and that's always a treat. She brings goodies - I'm particularly addicted to Trader Joe's house-blend coffee, simply the best coffee for the price on the planet. If you like a dark roast coffee, try this stuff. Anyway, part of my monthly list'o'demands is a can of TJ's coffee, and she always delivers. Her visits mean I get to cook for someone else, which while I'm not sure I'd want to do it every day is still a treat from time to time. She's mostly an "eat it from the package" type, so even simple home cooking is a treat for her and it's nice to be appreciated. And later this evening there's the neighbors' get-together to look forward to. So it'll be a good day, the weather be damned.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Is Uncle Joel Becoming Daddy?

I've mentioned that my employer/landlady has three dogs, and that I'm their nanny. There's Magnus, the gigantic Lab previously noted. There's Fritz, a big, goofy Shepherd. And then there's Ghost, a smaller (maybe 45 pounds) dog of uncertain breed; sort of like a Rhodesian Ridgeback, but without the ridge. All three were spoiled rotten by their owner, my dead best friend. He treated them like retarded five-year-olds, and they played the part. They adored him. They adore his wife. They kinda liked me, but not in any dependent way.

We've been alone here together for going on six months now, and in that time we'd grown closer. They knew I'm the go-to guy, and they mostly obeyed me. But there was still a sense that I was the nanny; I called myself Uncle Joel.

But then recently I had to spend most a week far away in the city, getting work done on my leg. Neighbors made sure the dogs were fed and medicated, but they spent that time alone in their big enclosure, named Gitmo, which we built over a year ago when they started chasing cattle. They'll put up with the enclosure for a half a day or so without distress, but several days were too much. They had pretty much gotten over their anxiety over Daddy's death until this.

So when I came back and let them out of Gitmo, they didn't quite know what to do. At first they were kind of stand-offish, as if I'd betrayed them. But then they came around, and suddenly they wouldn't let me out of their sight, barely out of their touch. Ghost in particular, who had always been by far the most standoffish of the dogs, suddenly became positively clingy. That was two weeks ago, and now he wants to sleep with me under the blankets. Since I sleep on a couch it's problematic, but he's heartbroken when I won't let him in. Uncomfortable.

Now, here's a funny thing. The pack used to be larger; some other purebred dogs, who were more nearly...well, normal...were placed with other families after their owner died. Ghost always resented being one of the lower dogs in a pack, and when they were younger Magnus and Fritz used to push him around pretty badly. He didn't always take that as submissively as was good for him. And about three years ago, he did something unique: He provisionally moved out. I've mentioned my weekender neighbors; they're a very nice older couple who have been building a big, elaborate house about a mile away for the past seven or eight years. About three years ago, he started disappearing every weekend and moving in with them. He didn't ask their opinion about it, but they went along with the joke. And that's the way it's been every weekend for three years: They show up, and Ghost disappears. It's part of the routine.

Well, last weekend, the first full weekend since I came back, they showed up and Ghost stayed put. This was so surprising that I hiked over with all the dogs, just so Ghost could get his weekender neighbor fix. When the other dogs and I came home, Ghost came back too. He disappeared again and spent the day with the neighbors. But I'd forgotten some little business I had with them and went back that evening. Ghost insisted on coming home with me, and wouldn't go back. I just wrote it off as lingering separation anxiety, and expected things to get back to normal by this weekend.

This weekend the neighbors arrived. Ghost became more and more distraught. He went halfway down the ridge in their direction, and turned back to the lair. He whined at me, in that way he has when he wants something from me. He stood in the yard and whined. He came into the lair and whined. He ran down to the meadow, turned back and whined. Finally, while he was in the meadow, I yelled out the window, "Ghost! You wanna go for a walk?" He exploded up the slope and when he got to the yard he started jumping up and down in an ecstasy of excitement. He wanted to go to the neighbors, but he wanted me to take him there. That never happened before.

Early this morning I followed a Lew Rockwell link to some news article about how scientists have recently discovered that dogs have much more complex emotions than previously believed (by scientists.) Those scientists were pretty clearly never dog owners: It's not that big a surprise.

Christmas Angst

Christmas is not a subject that comes up very often around me. It's so rare, in fact, that I was really blindsided by it this morning. I've nothing against people celebrating Christmas; I remember getting a hell of a kick out of it when I was a little boy. My joy was entirely of a greedy, acquisitive nature, of course, and that's a big part of the problem I have with the holiday. It teaches bad habits.

My reasons for the rejection of Christmas are complex and I'm not going to go into them here. Suffice to say I haven't celebrated it for a very long time. My friends are aware of this, and don't take offense or give me a hard time about it. Sometimes I'm invited to parties; I go if it's too much hassle to beg off (or if there's food involved) but ordinarily I neither give nor accept Christmas gifts.

But my weekender neighbors have me over a barrel. They just did me a helluva good turn - reference an earlier post about repairs to my left leg - and I absolutely, positively will not give offense. They have a get-together planned - for tomorrow! - and we're supposed to exchange "found" gifts. That is, don't go out and buy anything, just look around and exchange something useful for which you've got a spare.

Yike! I worried all the way home. These are well-to-do city folks, and I'm a freakin' cedar rat. What am I gonna give them? A ragged shirt? A sack of beans? A spare poncho liner? I have a few keepsakes that are kinda nice, but a) they're mine and I'm not giving them away, and b) they're of an excessively "strange, violent man" nature - if you take my meaning. They can't have my switchblade with the beautiful pattern-welded steel. I don't think this lady is gonna understand a gift of my spare load-bearing gear. Oy!

So I'm standing in the middle of my lair, frantically looking around. WhathehellamIgonnado? And then my eyes fall upon...my one and only bookshelf.

When I came out here, I divested myself of - well, certainly hundreds of pounds of books. I've no idea how many. I loved them all, even the ones I had just to have them. Certain individuals, I've had reason to regret leaving behind. But they couldn't come, because I didn't have room, and that was that. But some did make the trip with me. Some I won't give away because they're beloved; some are inappropriate to the occasion - Unintended Consequences? Black Arrow? I don't think so. But...there! That one!

The Good Life, by Helen and Scott Nearing, was given to me by a friend when I began my journey. It had been given to him by another friend, under similar circumstances. I read it a couple of times, with interest if not absorbtion. The Nearings were Socialists who moved from the city to a Vermont homestead in 1932. They failed at forming local cooperatives, their principal objective, but succeeded beautifully at learning and practicing a nearly self-sufficient lifestyle. Their work ethic was damned near superhuman; I'm not much interested in emulating them. And their tone gets...well, pretty pedantic, doctrinaire and self-righteous at times. But I can and do admire their successes. Since it's been maybe two years since I read the book, it was time to pass it on. My neighbors are the perfect recipients.

So, you see, it has nothing to do with Christmas at all. It's about friendship. I don't give a damn about the holiday; if they want to have their get-together around a fake tree and exchange once-a-year gifts, that's fine. But this is a gift I'd have cheerfully given them anyway, had I only thought about it. So it works for me. Problem solved.

Paranoia

In the event of something happening to me
There is something I would like you all to see
It's just a photograph of someone that I knew:
Have you seen my wife, Mr. Jones?
Do you know what it's like on the outside?
Don't go talking too loud, you'll cause a landslide
Mr. Jones

Yes, I enjoyed the early Bee Gees. Yes, I'm old enough to have actually enjoyed that song when it was current. Bite me. Disco Bee Gees, not so much.

For some reason, those lyrics from New York Mining Disaster 1941, the shortest and weirdest song of the Brothers Gibb, often enter my mind when I get into a particular mood.

There are people who criticize those of us who have withdrawn from the system rather than continue to "fight" in the political arena. Their complaints are several, but the only one to which I'm not completely deaf is the suggestion that if we think we're safe from The Long Arm, we're wrong. That statement is quite true, as I know from personal experience.

No, I haven't entertained any SWAT teams. But for a while a deputy from the sheriff's department was tasked with the repetitive and no-doubt unpleasant chore of serving me several sets of papers from my ex-wife's vindictive (and apparently abortive - haven't heard from him in quite some time) lawsuit. This was the same deputy who arrested me for driving sans papers and confiscated my beloved 1986 4Runner, so he knows he's not my very favorite person. He also knows I'm armed pretty much - well, always. Further and finally he knows that bodies buried out here tend to stay out here. So...on his first visit he chose not to come alone, but with a beefy and grim fellow who, if he were sold in an on-line catalog, would surely have been labeled "tactical cop." And they had no trouble finding me at all. It's a big county, but sparsely populated. The point of all this is, the cops know where you are if they want you.

Which takes me back to that mood I mentioned. I'm prone to occasional irrational attacks of paranoia. And when I get them, I get...jumpy. There's no particular call for it. The local cops no longer have any official beef with me, and they're not especially given to uncalled-for violent behavior. But when they do have business with me, they have that "You're not going to try to shoot me, are you?" look about them. My mild reputation as a half-crazy hermit probably doesn't help, and then there's the big dogs. But I do know how cops often respond to that fear. And it's one of the things I worry about.

Last night I was reading in my lair when out the window I saw headlights on a ridge, still far away but closing. Probably a neighbor returning home; they'd likely turn off before they got as far as me. Or my weekender neighbors were also due, and they'd drive past me, but I wasn't expecting them for another three or four hours. There was nothing to worry about, see? But I had that mood on me, and I exited the lair and headed for the ridge where I could see what that truck was about and I didn't go back into the warm until I knew the coast was clear.

Irrational behavior, but it does come on me from time to time.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Magnus The Assasin

Yesterday afternoon I saw Magnus, the world's biggest Labrador, laying on his haunches halfway down the slope of the ridge where we live and chowing down on something.

I didn't go to look at what he was eating, because dogs eat sewage and every time I catch them doing that it makes me want to put my hands over my ears and go "La la la." But this morning there were a bunch of ravens paying a helluva lot of attention to that spot where he'd been laying. And when Magnus saw them he went ballistic.

Magnus is about a million in dog years, weighs well over 150 pounds, and if he runs anywhere it's because he's feeling really, really motivated. But he went charging down the slope at those ravens, barking thunderously, and he didn't stop till he had driven the whole murder of them all the way to the meadow. Then he trotted complacently back to the spot and started chewing on something.

Well, I thought, that must be one valuable piece of dung he's got there. Guess I should go see what it is. So I walked down to join him, and found the gory south half of a rabbit just disappearing down Magnus' enormous maw.

Now, it's no secret that Magnus loves him some rabbit. Also, he won't say no to a nice plump rat. But as I said, he's no runner. His technique involves the unusual (and unfortunate) defensive habit young bunnies have of freezing in place rather than running away. Works pretty good for me; I've been known to damn near step on one before seeing it. But I don't have Magnus' supernatural nose. That ol' boy knows where the rodents are, and if they don't run it's 'say hello to Mr. Stomach.' This usually nets him only young rabbits, small enough to eat whole and on the spot. This time it looks like he scored himself an older model.

But they all wind up in the same place. Sorry about you, Thumper.

"Okay, Smart Guy..."

I hear my single imaginary reader say, "This Joel frood claims to live so f*cking far back in the desert that the coyotes need a map and a fill-up to get there. But he's on the Internet, using a computer he's probably got plugged into a wall somewhere. Ergo, he's lying."

My reader thinks he's so damned smart. Actually, though, it's a valid question - or it would be, if he put it in the form of a question. Let's call it a valid issue.

Okay: The first thing you need is electricity, right? Off-grid electricity is absolute simplicity itself. I know some cedar rats who actually use nothing but gasoline-powered generators for electricity. That's right, $699.95 and out the door of any Home Depot, no assembly required. There's a word for these guys, assuming they really need electricity. The word is "idiot." Because some of these guys really do need electricity. You can live without the Internet or a DVD player. Living without a well pump, for any length of time, is a little harder. But they do it year after year, and there's always a big panic when the generator quits. Which it invariably will, because those Home Depot generators with the Chinese engines aren't really all that. You shouldn't have all your eggs in that basket.

I've got (access to) an array of solar panels that feed a bank of 16 deep-cycle batteries, putting 24 volts into a big inverter/controller that cost like a Ferrari to install. There are cheaper ways to do it; there are also better ways. Solar is good out here, but the sun still rises and sets and moves about the sky with the changes of the seasons, and solar isn't very efficient in winter or the monsoon season. Doesn't work at all after dark. Piggybacking it with a wind genny is the best approach, which we'll do one day but right now I'm out here by myself and what the hell. There are some other changes that should be/will be made, but they're outside the scope of this entry.

Okay, says the imaginary reader; so you've got juice. What about the intertubz? How'd you wrangle that? Got a 15-mile-long telephone cord?

Actually this one surprised me, too, because I expected to throw the internet on the same historical trash heap that my television has occupied for years. It wouldn't have been so surprising if I were any sort of technology maven, because it's not new at all. But you actually can get a guy to come out to your place and bolt a big blue satellite dish on the wall of your barn, spend a bunch of time clowning around with a modem, and when he goes away you can surf the web like you were in your parents' basement. It is the damndest thing.

The Pain! The Pain!

Okay, so I'm an old phart. I'm very new to this whole narcissistic "blogging" thing, and don't know what the hell I'm doing. For my single imaginary reader, I add this as an explanation of why my layout sucks so very, very bad at the moment.

I'm working on it, but at my current progress up the learning curve I expect to momentarily lose the ability to type.

Funniest Movie Line EVAR

"Pick up your visual scanning!"

Which, when translated, apparently means "look out your windows."

Every single time I hear that line it knocks my attention right out of the movie's climax as I wonder, "Would I want to be under the command of a superior who feels the need to say "Pick up your visual scanning" when he really means "look out your windows?" Even more important, would I want to be a part of a squadron of pilots who had to be told to look out their damned windows?


These are the things I worry about.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Here's where we are now...

Two years and a bit. That’s how long I’ve been out here. I’ve no complaints, even for the bad stuff; I made my bed in full knowledge that I’d have to lie in it. It has worked out better than I had any right to hope, all in all, though sometimes the price has been high.

Here’s where we stand today. I got a call from my closest neighbor, a weekender, asking me to unlock his chain so the propane truck could get in. The dogs and I hiked the mile or so to his place, unlocked the chain and pulled it off the private road to his place, then hiked home again. A couple of hours later the dogs alerted me to the propane truck – right on time for once, which told me I probably knew the identity of the driver. I knew this fellow from when I still had a townie job, so I called the dogs and we hiked back up to my neighbor’s property to say hi. Sure enough it was the guy; we passed some howdies and he gave me the invoice for the propane. I let myself in the neighbor’s house and put it on his counter, bringing the dogs in with me so the propane guy could make his getaway without dogs nipping at his enormous tires. Then I locked up and left, securing the chain at the end of the driveway. Before going home we took a long detour through a wash the dogs like to hike through, and we got back home an energetic hour and a half or so after we left. It’s a cool, hazy day but I was sweating pretty good, so I stripped off my hoody and let the sweat dry before getting cold again and putting it back on. The dogs will be content to snooze for most of the rest of the day, which is good because I just feel like cocooning this cool day away indoors though I really should haul some rocks – and I really must remember to service the generator before evening because there’s no way the solar will fully charge the batteries today no matter what that lying meter says.

That’s pretty much the way it goes with my neighbors around here. If it seems strange that I – a scruffy-looking, bearded hermit with a .45 and a long knife on his belt – should have the keys to a neighbor’s mostly-built million-dollar house, then you don’t live around here. They know damned well their tools and building materials and goodies are safer with me around than not. I watch out for my friends, and they’d do the same for me. Mostly all I get to do for them is be there: I show up if somebody needs another set of arms, or just stand on the ridge and look unfriendly and dangerous when strangers come joyriding around. The sight of a half-naked cedar rat with a peg leg and a rifle always seems to change touristas’ plans in a hurry. I get a kick out of it.

They’ve been known to do far more for me. In fact, this new leg that lets me walk so often and so far without pain is proof of that. The leg I got here with was made almost fifteen years ago. It’s old-fashioned and worn out, and the only feet I could buy were plastic-keeled crap that broke and needed replacing a couple of times a year – just not made for this country. But the neighbors with the big house had a prosthetist friend in the city, and spun me a story about how he does a certain amount of pro bono work every year and could fix me up for free. I bought the story – got some other neighbors to watch the dogs for a few days while this first set of friends took me into the city. They put me up in their condo, and I found out they were lying about the “pro bono” part when the prosthetist wanted to know – in my presence, which was pretty clearly not supposed to happen – how my friend wanted to handle the payments. A more-real version of the story emerged – it seems a coalition of friends got together to finance my repairs. God damn – I wanted to cry.

So now the top half of my old leg is refurbished, and terminates with a titanium peg that’s got a high-tech carbon-fiber wafer foot that can climb hills better than I can. I feel twenty years younger.

When I lived in the city I had a career that made me lots of money and gave me no security or joy at all. I was a contractor, mostly; I designed technical training programs for courses that managers liked to show off and nobody wanted to pay for their tech people to actually take. Being a contractor means that when your courses win awards, your customers go to banquets to which you’re not invited. Being a contractor means always looking for work. Being a contractor sucks. But when you’re working, the money’s good. You give it to your wife, who sinks it into a big house that you lose when the marriage breaks up. When you’re not working, the wife glares at you for not making money. This contributes to the marriage breaking up. After my marriage broke up I didn’t get to live in the big house any more, but I was still privileged to pay for it. I think I finished the process of burning out right about then – work got harder and then almost impossible to find, and I was often broke and hungry. That didn’t change until I accepted that my cold wife of a career was over, and just took whatever work I could find. That new attitude didn’t make me the kind of money I’d made before, but it helped with the hunger problem a lot.

I really hated my life in the city, but prolonged it because the one good thing that came of the marriage was a daughter who was at the time the only person on the planet I was certain I’d have died by fire for. I needed to stay near her till she was grown and out on her own. Virtually the day she made that decision, I left the city forever.

Now I live in the desert. I own almost nothing, I make almost no money. About half of what I do make goes into the contents of a little OSB-clad building, which I check regularly for rat incursions. Sacks and jars and buckets filled with food: That’s the treasure I’m storing up. Probably this obsession with where my next meal’s coming from comes from the hungry years, but I don’t worry about it. If it’s a sign of mental illness, it could have taken a worse form. Nobody ever died from a full pantry.

But I think I’m digressing. What was I going to talk about? Ah, yes! The bad stuff. Well, there’s been some of that.

The reason I’m here, and not somewhere else, is that I made some really good friends a few years ago and they invited me to come stay with them when I was ready to leave the city. I took them up on it, and for over a year life was damned near idyllic. I had a job in town, making enough money. I wrote a novel that was pretty well received by the dozen or so people who read it. I hiked the hills, played with the dogs, helped my friend work on his property. I was as happy as I’ve ever been in my life.

Then one day I came home from work, and my friend was dead. Just like that. Dead. Oh, it wasn’t that big a surprise, really, because he was as unhealthy as any vertical person I ever met. It shouldn’t have been a surprise. But still – he was my best friend. And poof! Like that, he’s gone. I never got to say goodbye.

His dying also raised some practical problems, because his step-son discovered the body before I got home and called the cops. Cops were all over the property when I got there, and they … well, they acted like cops. And I acted like a guy who’d just learned that his best friend had fallen over dead, which is to say I didn’t handle the matter well at all. They demanded ID, which led to their very interested discovery that my license, registration and insurance were – well – pretty much non-existent. Always did have a problem keeping my papers in order. They got a nice old truck out of the deal, not to mention the fine which took me months to pay off, and I was on foot. Twelve miles from the nearest town. It complicated matters.

I borrowed rides to town for work, stayed in town sometimes, got a little motor for a bicycle, learned that the centrifugal clutches on those motors don’t deal with hills well at all. Life was becoming very complex, all over the matter of transportation. Then my ex-wife got upset with me over some personal things and decided to express her displeasure by suing me for back child support payments from those hungry months. And that tore it for me. Screw this.

It was right about then that serendipity took a hand. My friend’s wife had taken a good job in the city, but it just wasn’t working out with the dogs and the property. Somebody needed to watch her property for her, and the dogs – well, the dogs had never lived anywhere but the middle of the desert and couldn’t deal with life in a house. I, on the other hand, couldn’t deal with life anywhere but the middle of the desert. So I worked up my nerve and suggested that instead of my continuing to pay rent to her, she pay me a stipend to take care of the property and dogs for her. It turned out she had been trying to work up the nerve to make the same suggestion.

And that’s how it came to the way things are now. I live alone here, sometimes not seeing another two-legged soul for weeks. She comes up from the city every month or so, bringing me Costco goodies that I squirrel away in the pantry. Every other day or so I check for rats and cackle over my growing hoard. Another friend brings salvaged lumber sometimes, and I pull nails and plan my very own Secret Lair for the spring, in a meadow overlooking a beautiful bend in the big wash. In fact I’ve got to stop typing this, because another friend a few miles away has some windows he wants to sell me cheap and I need to go get them while I’ve got the cash.

With my newly-built leg I’m more suitably mobile than I’ve been in years, and the dogs think that’s fine. Just a couple of days ago, exploring a nearby canyon that’s been one of our favorite spots for longer hikes, I discovered that I could climb steeper grades than I could before. We climbed the sloping wall of the canyon together, up where the hawks nest (and get really pissed-off by trespassers), and discovered a sweet, deep hidey cave in a passage created by enormous tumbled rocks. I may clean that out and wall it off someday; you never know when it might come in handy.

I’m no prophet; I don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Maybe this idyll will last for years, and maybe not. But I’m building my place right here. By next year there’ll be more I can call my own and no one else’s, and if I have to work out transport and get another townie job I can do that. But for now this is where I am, and I like it here.

So if you’re taking a Saturday drive out on some neglected desert paths, among the juniper and the jumbled rocks, look around. If you see a glowering guy on a ridge wearing a beard and a rifle – and maybe not a lot else, depending on the weather – don’t worry too much about it. It’s only me, trying to look mean. But I’m not all that bad.

One Year Later

This is an essay I wrote and posted on The Claire Files (Now The Mental Militia) on November 16, 2007. It commemorated my first year in the desert gulch, and is appropriately entitled "One Year Later."

It’s been almost exactly one year since I joined the ranks of the seriously engulched. Time to sit down and try to type something about it, maybe a few words about Lessons Learned.

The first thing I need to say about it is very simple: I drew the best hand you’ve ever seen. I fell into a situation I don’t in any way deserve, and I’ll always be grateful to the unnamed people who let it happen.

But I could have screwed it all up before the beginning, without ever even knowing I did. Looking back on all the things that led up to it points to the most important lesson of all – be a good neighbor. Enlightened self-interest boils down to a very simple principle: If you want good friends, be a good friend. Look for ways to be of service. Don’t do it because you hope to gain benefit by it, though you will. Do it because it’s the right thing to do. It doesn’t always bring you personal benefit, but I guarantee the benefits far outweigh the costs. Everything – every single benefit I have gained has come from obeying this principle. Every single regret I carry comes from having violated it.

I believe that the gulchers who will succeed in the time to come will not be the rugged individualists. Gulches are communities – loose-knit communities maybe, but still. Yes, I know, we’ve all read the books about pioneers and people who carved a living from the wilderness and all that. And there’s an element of that in off-grid living, or at least it seems that way to someone like me, raised in cities. There’s a hell of a lot of work involved, and you do quite a bit of it alone. But I think only a rare sort of person takes pleasure in a daily diet of grinding, solitary labor. And while that old saw about many hands making light work isn’t always true, it’s still often true. Only a few days ago we finished the heavy parts of putting up a big pre-fab barn. This part required people to balance on shaky ladders while trying to line up panels weighing hundreds of pounds, eight or nine feet in the air, which they were more-or-less holding up with their other hands. It was an operation the owner and I had dreaded for weeks, wondering how on earth we were going to get it done. But several people showed up and pitched in with a will, and we got it done almost with ease and a good deal of knee-buckling hilarity. We had a ball getting it done. The two of us could – probably – just barely have done it, but there sure wouldn’t have been much laughter involved.

So, lesson one: Cultivate your neighbors. And be a good neighbor.

Lesson two: Choose your parents carefully, and be born rich. If this is no longer an option, be patient and/or realistic in your building goals.

I know of two building projects near where I live, of humbling beauty and complexity. We’re talking large, artistic homes that involve actual architecture. They’d be anybody’s pride, anywhere. The builders have these things in common: They know what they’re doing, they keep at it steadily … and they’ve both been at it for over seven years. And oh, by the way, neither is anywhere near done. Neither is rich, but they both have steady, well-paying jobs and they have sunk all the proceeds into these decade-long projects. Obviously, with these people the journey itself is part of the destination. I admire them for their energy, their tenacity, their artistry and their skill. But I don’t plan to imitate them.

Unless you already have the aforementioned parents, choose your goals carefully. Be realistic with yourself. If you are content with an RV trailer in the woods, that’s cool.

Er…will your spouse be content with that? If you’re currently single, were you ever planning to have a spouse? Guys, that trailer in the woods is emphatically not a babe magnet. I just totally can’t stress this enough.

Lesson three: Winter is cold. Winter is wet. Winter is not the time to be preparing for winter. Please, learn from my mistakes here.

Lesson four: If you need a conventional, high-paying job that provides your sense of identity, well-being and self-esteem, stay in the fucking city. That’s where they keep those.

I’m being completely serious here. If I had a dime for every wannabe who told me he needs to stay in (Chicago, or LA, or Boston, or wherever) because that’s the only place he can work at his profession, I could afford to pay somebody else to set up my goddamn solar power. Lots of people – maybe most people – gain their sense of identity from what they do professionally. I did, for years and years. It took a long and catastrophic bout of unemployment to finally teach me how much of a trap that is. To break out of that trap requires a truly wrenching change in mindset. But if you’re serious about that gulch in your future, if you’re not just spinning cotton candy castles in your mind, you’re probably going to need to achieve that change.

Granted that I may be an extreme case. Those two big projects I mentioned earlier are being accomplished by people who have, or who have access to other people who have, conventional, high-paying jobs in the city. One of those houses is occupied at present, the other is not and will not be until retirement. But you know what? Those people are not exceptions to the rule. When I get together with those people, they do not talk about their jobs. They don’t get their sense of identity from their jobs. They talk about that casita, or that retaining wall, or that goddamn flow valve that failed again and emptied their cistern again. Their goal is longer-term than mine. But they have the same basic goal, and they are totally focused on it. Even when they’re not here, they are here. The job is just a means of income, it’s not who they are.

Which brings me, at last, to my point. If you’re going to move to Hardyville, you may or may not need to change what you do for a living. But I guarantee you need to change the way you think about it. A job is a means to an end; to get money. Money, in turn, is a means to an end; to supply your gulch. How you do that is completely up to you, but I council flexibility.

What do you love? What do you love to do? That’s where your heart is, and it’s where your mind should be as well. You may – you probably will – need to rent your mind to that cubicle or that factory or whatever for periods of time. But don’t sell your mind to it. Don’t do that.

Of course if you’re one of the happy few whose profession is your passion, and it’s portable enough to take to your gulch, forget I said anything and go for it. But you’re probably not.

Lesson five: Living off-paper is highly overrated as a means to a secure and serenely contented life.

This is a terribly important lesson and you should learn it before you take action, not the way I did. I didn’t make a principled decision to abandon the slave number and all that it entails. I fumbled and mumbled and stumbled my way into it. Basically, in the wake of some bad stuff that happened I just got tired and hostile, and stopped filling out forms. You know, like tax forms. After a few years of that it sort of became important not to use the number. For anything.

Now, I know some people who have done the same thing, in a more principled and thoughtful way than I did. I’ve nothing against it, of course. I honor their decision. But before you make the same choice, understand what you’re getting yourself into.

No social security number generally means no driver’s license. I’m told that there are a (very) few states that won’t make an issue of this if you claim it’s against your religion. Haven’t tried it. No driver’s license means no auto insurance, and no vehicle registration. Enjoy your next sight of a cop in your rear-view mirror. I know I do. It means no “government-issued photo ID”, which means … oh, an ungodly number of things. Ever try to cash a paycheck without one? It adds layers of interest to your life.

Technically, no social security number means no employment. At all. In more informal employment situations, you can get around this by giving a false number and nobody’s going to check. These situations tend to be quite low-paying. They’re also drying up as one state after another succumbs to the anti-immigrant frenzy and starts leaning on employers in a concentrated and systematic way to verify “legal status.”

I’ve heard that social security cards no longer carry the little disclaimer about how they’re not to be used for identification. Just as well, I’m afraid.

Bottom line: If it weren’t for the help of friends who still have their papers in order, I’d be sunk. I’d starve. That’s a pretty precarious way to live, and I’m not content with it. Sooner or later I’ll have to take steps to get me one of those photo IDs somehow.

Lesson six: If you are finalizing plans for your gulch … no, long before you finalize your plans, shut up about it!

This is hard, because it’s an exciting time. It’s a new toy, and you want to tell the world. That’s great. Feel free to blather on about it to your gulchmates; they’ll understand. But it is strictly need-to-know information, and very few people need to know. Choose your gulchmates carefully and communicate with them fully. But it’s none of the business of the rest of the world. This may not seem important now; it may not be important now. But remember the wise old saying: You can’t unring a bell. The only substantial security is obscurity. Every uninvolved person you tell about it, knows about it. Your security in the future is that much diminished.

If I need to know where you live, tell me in a secure form. PGP is your friend. If I don’t need to know, then I shouldn’t know. Because I’m your friend, I don’t want to know.

Think security. If that feels silly to you, get used to it. You’ll thank yourself later.

Lesson seven: Domestic animals are your friends. Wild animals are not.

And great flying spaghetti monster, are there ever a lot of them! I’m talking about rats. Did you know they come in several varieties? But they all have this in common: They welcome humans as a massive and bounteous source of delicious food.

I haven’t found a single global solution to the rat problem. My closest neighbors have a pair of cats that are working on it for us, but observation of other neighbors indicates that this success is unusual. Predatory cats are only about halfway up the local food chain and unfortunately tend to end up as food themselves. Also, most domestic cats aren’t particularly enthusiastic predators. They’d much rather lay around all day and have you feed them, so the only way to ensure they’ll do their thing is to exile them to the barn and refuse to feed them regularly. That’s pretty heartless in my opinion, but many disagree. My friends’ cats just happen to really enjoy killing rats, and they are protected in turn by a bunch of large noisy dogs that the local top-tier predators don’t choose to deal with, and that enjoy eating the rats that the cats enjoy killing. So it works out for them. But like I said, unusual.

Rats can chew through damned near anything, and will. Galvanized metal seems to stop them, but don’t think your food is secure just because it’s put away in a cabinet. That assumption can give you quite an unpleasant surprise.

Lesson eight is a corollary of lessons one, five and six. It’s likely that your gulch will be situated near a small town. It’s possible that you’ll work in that town, at least from time to time. It’s certain that you’ll need services from it. Be nice to the townies. If you’re used to cities, chances are that you’re really not experienced with living in a community. What I mean is, you are used to being surrounded by your co-workers, your family, a few close friends or acquaintances, and millions of irrelevant strangers. In a small town, that’s not the way it works. The economy is likely to be service-based: That is, you do stuff for them, and they do stuff for you. If you’re competent at it, and if you go about it with a pleasant attitude, word will get around. If you don’t, well, word will get around. Either way, this will affect the quantity of business and the quality of service that you receive from others. It’s like being nice to the nurses in a hospital: They can make your life easier, or they can make it hell. It absolutely won’t pay you to gain a reputation as an asshole.

In a small community, other peoples’ peccadilloes are always a spectator sport, and sometimes a participatory one. I’m serious here. If you’re an asshole and somebody finds out you’re doing something illegal, they will turn your ass in just for laughs. Or if they decide you’re a nice guy they will cover your ass, just for laughs. Hey, it beats romance novels.

I didn’t mean to turn this into a manifesto, so I’ll wrap it up with lesson nine: Take the time to enjoy yourself.

Between your livelihood, your building projects and maintenance, it’s easy to turn gulching life into a grind. But that’s not the point of the exercise. Hike your territory. Smell the flowers. Feed the hummingbirds. Read a good book in the bright sunshine. Bask in the beauty of your surroundings, and become a part of them. Love life. In the end it’s all you have, and there are so many rewards.

That’s all I’ve got to say. Anybody else want to add to the list, or beat up on some part of it?