You know that old cliche saying Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime? As I’ve mentioned before, I don’t know that we really are headed for a massive collapse in the near future because I’ve been hearing that for so long that I’ve sort of come to the conclusion that, while it’s certainly within the realm of possibility, it seems more likely that what our world is looking at is a decline from which we aren’t going to recover to our previous baseline of material wealth. But in either case, know-how and tools seem more important to me than actually storing a ton of finished product. Now, I say this as someone who likes filling my pantry with home-canned food from my own garden, but I don’t find it useful to have more than a season or two (or at most a year) worth of food stored up (other than salt; I like having a good back-stock of salt, just in case). What my husband Philip and I do value highly is increasing our know-how.
That popped into my head when I read this comment from JohnnyMac on Frank’s post Brace for Impact:
Our log splitter died and [my brother’s] response was, “We should go out and buy another one.” I diagnosed the problem to a blown gasket where the carburetor joined the engine block. Ordered the $9.30 rebuild kit while he wanted to go out and spend $1,200-.
I’ve known people like this, who replace anything that breaks. That’s so expensive and you don’t learn anything from it! You don’t increase your know-how. My husband didn’t really know much about fixing stuff when we first got married, but he finds satisfaction in learning how to fix things and has greatly increased his know-how over the years. Honestly, I believe he can fix nearly anything now. I felt such admiration and gratitude when my dryer conked out a few months ago and he disassembled it, spent some time online looking at the manual (nearly all user manuals are available online if you don’t have your original), diagnosed the likely problem, and ordered the necessary part. He had it working again within a couple days for under $40. In the mean time, I used drying racks, which I ask for every year for Christmas (I’ve now received six of them).
Here is a little know-how tip for you: Repair Clinic is a valuable resource for diagnosing problems with your appliances and tools and ordering spare parts (disclosure: I have no relationship with this site and receive no compensation from them; this is my honest opinion based on our personal experiences). You can even call them, as my husband often does, and speak to a person about the problem. Now, we happen to live within driving distance of their warehouse, so we order the parts for pick-up, thereby saving on shipping, but I bet even if you have to have the parts shipped, it’s still cheaper than buying new, plus you’ve increased your know-how and kept another item out of our overflowing landfills. It’s a win all around.
Modern Americans are terribly helpless but it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s pretty much indisputable that our material wealth in this country is declining and will probably continue to do so permanently now. So what? Maybe eventually we’ll live like people lived 150 years ago. Again I say, so what? I’m not all that enamored of what post Industrial Revolution life has done to family life, and what could be more valuable than know-how regardless of what the future holds?
If you read prepper sites, you can get super overwhelmed and feel like you can’t possibly do it all – you can’t store up a year of food, ammunition, medical supplies, etc. So what I always tell people is start by making a short list of things you want to learn how to do. Then budget for and acquire the necessary tools to do that thing, learn all you can about it, and then do it. Right now, go ahead and make yourself a list of the three most important things you’d like to learn how to do, and then start on number one right now.
I’ll even tell you mine:
- Continue to improve my food preservation skills, especially focusing on salt-brine lacto-fermentation. Plan: order a fermentation crock and make sauerkraut with some of my home-grown organic cabbage.
- Learn how to cultivate my little orchard so that I actually get a harvest of organic fruit. This is harder than it sounds. Between the Cedar-Apple Rust and the Japanese beetles and all the other critters that eat fruit trees, I could easily never harvest a piece of fruit if I don’t increase my know-how. So far we’ve cut down our cedar trees and put deer fencing around the apple trees:I’ve learned that I can hand pick Japanese beetles by dropping them into a bucket of water and then dumping it in the pond, where the fish immediately eat them. Plan: acquire Tanglefoot and wrapping paper for tree trunks and learn how to apply it. Learn more about pruning peach and apple trees. Prune our semi-dwarf peach tree which is now in its second year:
- Learn how to fish (no kidding). Plan: A friend of my husband’s has offered to come over and look at the fishing poles we found in my in-laws basement, show me how to get them operational and how to catch a few of the catfish in our pond. Then I’ll gut and cook them. Our daughters have caught fish at camp, but I have never caught or gutted a fish before, and because it involves killing a living creature, this is the one I’m most nervous about. But I think it’s a good skill to know.
- Build a root cellar type pantry. Plan: Get industrial metal shelving from someone who wanted to get rid of it but needed it disassembled first. Clean, paint, and install shelving in our basement storage room where the temperature is always quite cool.
- Learn to hunt. Plan: Take hunter’s ed (which he’s wanted to do for three years but never had the time to do) so that he and the guy who plows our driveway can hunt deer on our land this fall.
- Continue to improve his tree-felling skills. He has cut down several small to medium trees on our property and is learning how to fell them where he wants them and then cut them into logs for use as firewood or in the hugelkultur garden beds I’m working on for next summer. Plan: cut down old, blighted apple trees. Cut down larger dead (probably ash) trees. Acquire chainsaw chaps for safety. Inventory and sharpen our axes and hatchets and practice cutting down small trees manually with an axe.
Are there any useful skills you want to learn? What is your plan for learning those skills?
For my further musings on this topic, see my post Helpless.