Sunday, May 25, 2008

Stuffing the Stovepipe

I've always loved the expression "Idaho Stovepipers." These are the half-mad, wild men and women who don Army surplus gear and horde canned goods in the badlands of extreme northwest Idaho.

They're waiting for the Apocalypse. Too bad for you, if you're not prepared.

I have no idea how many Idaho natives or immigrants may fit that description, but whatever the case, the basic tenet of stovepipism may be spreading into the cultural mainstream.

A recent AP story contends that with "Energy fears looming, new survivalists prepare."

Writer Samantha Gross describes the conversion of grandmother Kathleen Breault from modern consumer to homesteader:

"Breault cut her driving time in half. She switched to a diet of locally grown foods near her upstate New York home and lost 70 pounds. She sliced up her credit cards, banished her television and swore off plane travel. She began relying on a wood-burning stove.

"'I was panic-stricken,' the 50-year-old recalled, her voice shaking. 'Devastated. Depressed. Afraid. Vulnerable. Weak. Alone. Just terrible.'"


There's something more here than anti-government paranoia and a taste for cammo, although Gross documents those sentiments as well.

If I'm not mistaken, the Crunchy Con/post-soccermom/Dangerous Book for Boys/bike commuter/Wendell Berry ethic is riding a perfect storm of high gas prices, climate change and global terror.

Will there be enough room in the Stovepipe when we're all up there at the compound?

What are y'all doing at home to hedge against the End of Days?

13 comments:

Anonymous said...

http://www.lifeaftertheoilcrash.net

There are lots of these sites and more coming.

Dan & Margaret said...

Well..... we've stopped towing the car with the RV when we have nearby events ;-) Gets us over 8mpg... when we have a tailwind.

Matt Mullenix said...

Wherever the economy goes from here, I see this as a good opportunity for many to ponder to implications of scarcity---an almost alien concept to middle-class Americans of my generation and younger.

From our perspective in Baton Rouge, the weeks and months following the 2005 hurricane season offered many similar lessons, as limited local supplies of food, gas, housing and other staples had to be redistributed to a half-million new residents and transients.

We had gas lines and food lines and camps of newly-homeless people popping up everywhere. Most of us had friends (and strangers) from New Orleans living with us, putting a crimp on household utilities and personal comforts.

But the lesson I took away from that year was not how to get by on less, but how to be more generous with what we had. The largely un-celebrated positive force throughout the whole course of that ordeal was the basic goodness and generosity of local people, taking care of their own.

The "lessons-learned" phase of hurricane recovery is still ongoing, at least in Louisiana. What we hear about most are ways in which government can better serve us after future disasters---or rather how it might screw things up less completely. An effort to understand how neighbors helped each other and themselves, and how government might promote and encourage that kind of community response seems lacking.

As the nation's economy shrinks and its attention remains fixed outside our own borders, look for more frequent local crises and less-competent (if that's possible) government remedies.

As you get reacquainted with your electric generator and contemplate digging a root celar, look to your neighbors and friends for your best source of support in times of widespread scarcity.

And pick up a copy of Cannery Row!

Heather said...

Moved last week from a half-acre in sprawlburbia to 26 acres of pastures, woods, fields. Chickens soon, sheep this fall. Turkey and deer already on-scene.

We were able to eat something from our garden every day for six months of the year, and most days the rest of the year just growing on a half acre. The possibilities for this place are rather more.

I don't see fear as a motivator here. It was time to do what we've always wanted to do. Perhaps some anticiPA ... shun.

"Lord, I flinch and pray,
send Thy necessity."

I remember my husband, pondering self-sufficiency years ago, wondering aloud how come "It makes so much sense when Ed Abbey says it, and is so tinfoil-hat when the survivalists rant about the very same thing?"

Still wondering.

Matt Mullenix said...

Heather, your husband's point is very well taken. I think the same about Wendell Berry as he does about Abbey.

What Berry presents in all his products is a lifestyle so basic (and once-familiar) that today we need a Michael Pollan to explain it to us. We need one of our own to demystify basic self-reliance and community development, so alien are these ideas today.

And Pollan is accused of promoting a "boutique" lifestyle! Maybe for many who read him and try to emulate his personal journey, that's all it is: a sort of hobby writ large, or an affectation.

My sense of Berry is like my sense of Abbey, that both are genuine and seem born to the universe of their subjects. Evidently Pollan was not (as many of us today were not) and so his description takes on an almost anthropological perspective. He's a convert now, clearly, and a wonderful writer, but still writing from some remove.

Why not, I wonder, just go to the source?

Thinking a little further, I guess Berry (and probably Abbey) would argue they were no original sources themselves and would point to earlier writers and to the vast majority of everyday people who lived lives like their own before them.

It's comforting to me to think that, while my personal history is more like Pollan's than Berry's, the distance between me and the real thing (any real thing) is not great; it's still well within reach.

I'm also happy to imagine that the current scheme is not necessarily reflective of the future.

Isn't it much more likely, strictly by the numbers, that the future will much more closely resemble the past? Aren't our limitations real, and haven't they been tested to the best of our ability at every historical point?

And haven't they always remained the same, despite us? We're as bound to the weather and the soil (and to each other) as much today as we ever were.

I think we're just getting an early push (thanks to our general literacy and speed of communication) back on to the normal course of human events. The more of us who accept this push, the less "tin hat" the idea will seem.

Maybe someday our current fantasy of life without limits will become a parable, a more recent Icarus.

Steve Bodio said...

As Heather said, I don't see fear as a motivator-- as any regular reader knows, it is more or less how we live and enjoy living-- small, growing things, hunting and gathering. (We eat a lot better than if it were all supermarket, and for LESS money!) We also live in a village with close community ties.

Matt, Pollan has been gardening to some extent all his life and so I don't think he is as much a yuppie as some seem to think-- he is just getting better known as a food writer.

Matt Mullenix said...

Well, Steve, dang it. How am I supposed to make a convenient point with you insisting on accuracy?

Moro Rogers said...

Stocking up on DVDs.^^

Peter said...

a perfect storm of high gas prices, climate change and global terror

High gas prices are the only component of the "perfect storm" that unquestionably exist. We might be experiencing global warming, but no one really knows for sure. Almost all of the claims on either side appear to be based more on politics and emotion as opposed to hard scientific evidence. Not surprising, as the scientific evidence is inconclusive.

As for global terror, let's have a moment of silence to honor all the Americans who've died in domestic terror attacks from September 12, 2001 to today's date, and ... oh wait.

Neutrino Cannon said...

"
High gas prices are the only component of the "perfect storm" that unquestionably exist. We might be experiencing global warming, but no one really knows for sure. Almost all of the claims on either side appear to be based more on politics and emotion as opposed to hard scientific evidence. Not surprising, as the scientific evidence is inconclusive.

As for global terror, let's have a moment of silence to honor all the Americans who've died in domestic terror attacks from September 12, 2001 to today's date, and ... oh wait."


Fair enough, a perfect storm of the widespread perception of high gas prices, global warming, terrorism, and I'll add another one; negligent and compromised national emergency response programs. They may be hard at work to mend what was wrong, hell, for all I know they already have, but there was a long time there where FEMA was a punchline, and consequentially there's a lot of distrust of the same.

-R.A.W.

Peter said...

Fair enough, a perfect storm of the widespread perception of high gas prices, global warming, terrorism, and I'll add another one; negligent and compromised national emergency response programs. They may be hard at work to mend what was wrong, hell, for all I know they already have, but there was a long time there where FEMA was a punchline, and consequentially there's a lot of distrust of the same.

FEMA can rehabilitate its reputation only by performing competently after a Katrina-scale disaster. Which is a pretty bad thing, because there would have to be such a disaster.

In any event, my guess - which is based on nothing solid, really just a hunch - is that the next major crisis to strike America will be something few if any people are predicting. I don't know what it might be, just that it'll catch us largely unaware.

Neutrino Cannon said...


In any event, my guess - which is based on nothing solid, really just a hunch - is that the next major crisis to strike America will be something few if any people are predicting. I don't know what it might be, just that it'll catch us largely unaware.


One could reason upon the grounds that countermeasures are in place for preventable and previously encountered disaster scenarios, that novel ones would have a much better chance of getting us with our pants down.

I think asteroid impacts are sexy, myself.

Moro Rogers said...

"In any event, my guess - which is based on nothing solid, really just a hunch - is that the next major crisis to strike America will be something few if any people are predicting. I don't know what it might be, just that it'll catch us largely unaware."

Yeah. Don't let the universe catch you smiling.