Wednesday, September 29, 2021

Question about tire gardening

Another reader posed the following question: "I have been following your tire garden adventure since the beginning and have been really impressed with how well it worked for you on your previous property. I would like to try them out where I live (outside of Houston, TX), but my only concern is if the black tires will soak up the sun and get too hot for the roots. I would be curious to know if any of your readers in the southern U.S. have tried tire gardening and if it was successful for them. Thanks!"

Unquestionably the black color of the tires played a factor in our garden's success at our last home. In North Idaho, extending the growing season by even a little bit – by having raised beds to capture heat – is an advantage.

However the opposite is true in hot climates such as Texas. The first solution to come to mind is to paint the outside of the tires white, to reflect sunlight.

Has anyone in southern climates gardened in tires? If so, please let us know your experiences (good and bad) with this resource.

Monday, September 27, 2021

Pasture requirements

A reader just sent in a question as follows: "I know it is just fall, but I am one those that plans ahead. Say in the spring I wanted just 4 cows, how much pasture minimum am I looking at?"

There is no cut-and-dried answer to this question because there are so many variables involved. Climate, latitude, rainfall, quality of vegetation, etc., all factor in. Pasture requirements differ between, say, Louisiana, Nevada, Wisconsin, and Maine.

Since I'm having a very busy week and don't have time to do this question justice – despite its importance – I thought I would let readers chime in with their advice and experience.

So let's hear your answers, folks. How much minimum pasture should this woman consider for four cows?

Saturday, September 25, 2021

Lucky shot

A couple evenings ago, we leashed up Mr. Darcy and took him on his evening walk. As always, a nearby field was full of deer. Some watched, some grazed, some ran off as we walked by on the road.

But one mama had a hungry youngster who wasn't going to let the presence of a dog disturb his dinner.

Then the mother's tail elevated (an alarm signal)...

...and moments later Baby had his dinner interrupted as they bounded away. I'm glad I had my camera with me.

Friday, September 24, 2021

A tree in a million

Not long after we moved here to our new home, we noticed a huge, barren tree on a nearby property. Of course it was barren; it was December. We have more deciduous trees around here than we had in our old location, so we didn't give it much thought except to note how large and majestic it is (perhaps 80 feet high).

But as spring and then summer progressed, and the tree filled out in leafy abundance, we were mystified by what species it is. It's juuuust far enough off the road that we can't make out the leaves, but it didn't have the appearance of an oak or a maple. What could it be?

It dwarfs the tiny century-old farmhouse nearby.

The property is unoccupied at the moment, so we can't ask the owners what kind of tree it is. Nor do we feel comfortable trespassing to key out the leaves.

Then, mid-summer, we were fortunate enough to meet the people who had lived there for something like 16 years. We chatted for a bit, then we asked what kind of tree dominated the parcel.

"It's an American elm," we were told.

An elm! In North Idaho!

Elms are native to the eastern half of America, so I'd never seen one before. This particular species of elm, as I'm sure you know, is highly susceptible to the fungal invasion called Dutch elm disease, which tragically killed off so many stately trees (by some estimates, as many as 75%) during the 20th century. To have a tree of this majesty and girth, especially after such a widespread die-off and so far out of its native range, makes it a vanishingly rare treasure. A tree in a million.

Elms, I understand, love water (another reason they're not common in the dry west), and this particular tree has its roots near a spring. Doubtless it was planted about the time the house was built.

Someday I hope to collect some seeds and try my hand at growing our own little elms.

In the meanwhile, we'll enjoy this magnificent matriarch from afar.

Thursday, September 23, 2021

Chatty refrigerators

As is well known, I have no use for a lot of modern technology, particularly anything involving the "Internet of Things."

I really don't want my toilet talking to my garden hose talking to my chest freezer talking to my rocking chair talking to my lamps talking to my credit card talking to my automobile talking to my carpeting talking to my windows talking to my doorbell talking to my vacuum cleaner talking to my oven talking to my mattress talking to my ... well, you get the idea.

Which is why the following tweet made me chuckle. Chuckle in relief, that is, that we don't own this particular model of refrigerator:

Yes, you're reading that correctly. This guy's fridge sent a scolding email that his refrigerator had been opened too many times that month.

That's not all. This man's Twitter feed includes other communications he's had with his fridge: the amount of fresh food he's put inside, how much water he's drinking, and other jolly reminders that he's being monitored.

Ever since the Internet of Things arose, I’ve been wary of anything "smart." I cannot for the life of me fathom why anyone would voluntarily purchase something that monitors everything they do and reports it back to some central location. As the saying goes, "There is no Cloud. There’s just someone else's computer."

That's why this meme always amuses me:

M preferred oven:

Writer Joshua A.T. Fairfield equates the Internet of Things with modern-day feudalism, in which we (the peasants) don't own anything, but instead must lease it from their overlords: "In this 21st-century version, companies are using intellectual property law – intended to protect ideas – to control physical objects consumers think they own."

That's why I'm suspicious of smart technology. I don't want some Google overlord telling me what I can and cannot do, locking me out of my home, preventing me from turning on lights, and tracking not just my location, but my heartbeat, tone of voice, and digestive output. Since I'm online, I'm tracked enough anyway; I don't need to spoon-feed Big Tech any more data than it already has.

Look, folks, 2021 is already dystopian enough. Why would anyone make their lives even more so by buying one of these horrible "smart" devices? Do you really want every conversation spied on and every location documented? Do you really want to live in a home that ceases to function if Google is having a bad hair day?

Meanwhile, let me show you my ideal refrigerator:

Yes, really.

Wednesday, September 22, 2021

Riddle me this

Question: How do you photograph wind?

Answer: Watch some weeping willows.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Bugging Out for Dummies

Recently I came across a list of recommended items for a bug-out bag that was so ridiculous, it was just plain funny. The list originated from an unknown place (meaning, it was a link of a link sort of thing) so I can't provide the original source. However I thought it was time for a rational, sensible discussion of the myths of bugging out in general and bug-out bags in particular.

In the prepper world, bug-out bags have achieved a sort of legendary status. There are hundreds of pre-made bug-out bags on the market. Whole books, websites, and blogs are dedicated to what should go into bug-out bags so you'll be equipped to handle everything from fighting off MS-13 gang members to deep-sea fishing (even if you're situated in Nebraska). These bags often have a twinge of zombie-apocalypse mentality associated with them, the idea that we should all be ready, willing, and able to don a 40-pound backpack and slink out of urban areas, dodging those pesky zombies with clever ninja paramilitary maneuvers, until we ultimately end up in dense forests where we'll survive by our wits and our clever miniature tools.

And that seems to be the focus of many bug-out bags: equipping the bearer to survive in the woods for an indefinite period of time. But in reality, bugging out to the woods is just about the stoopidest idea out there.

Yes, there are times we need to rapidly escape our homes – wildfire, floods, earthquakes, or endless other natural disasters come to mind. But in such a case, unless you're willing to cart along granny and your newborn baby on your back, you're not getting away on foot. You're using a vehicle. Nor are you heading for the woods; you're heading for higher ground or inland or the next town over or a friend's house or whatever.

Here's the thing about bugging out on foot that somehow gets glossed over in the literature: Unless you have a place to bug out TO, bugging out – especially on foot – turns you into a refugee. There are few less enviable positions than being a refugee on foot. Just ask the millions of people across the globe who have been displaced due to war or terrorism. Displaced people are subject to hunger, violence, and murder.

Without a realistic destination in mind, and a realistic means to get there, bugging out on foot is not just impractical, it's a dangerous fantasy. Under a heavy backpack, most fit and experienced backpackers can hike between ten and twenty miles a day, depending on terrain and weather. In most cities, that won't even get you out of the suburbs, and presumably you'll be sharing the sidewalks with hordes of panicked and irrational people.

Besides, most of us aren't 25-year-old single men who spend two hours a day at the gym. Most of us have family members (older or younger) we can't leave behind, not to mention an assortment of pets we've be devastated to lose. Will everyone be camping in the woods once you escape the city?

In short, if the situation is so dire that you're forced to evacuate on foot, it's likely you can't walk fast enough to escape the danger, especially while toting a 40-lb. pack. If you have no other evacuation plan, then you're setting yourself up for a desperate and dangerous undertaking.

Bugging out by foot also means going at the speed of the slowest member of your party. How far can your two-year-old walk? How about granny? What will you do with your pets? How will you carry all the gear necessary to keep Junior, Granny, and Rover comfortable?

See what I mean? The logistics of bugging out on foot are next to impossible for the vast, vast majority of us.

Above all, "the woods" as a destination is a really dumb idea. Who owns "the woods"? Here in the west, there is a lot more government-owned land, so you can disappear for long periods of time. In the east, "the woods" are generally under private ownership, and I can't imagine anyone will appreciate your presence.

Additionally, your grand adventure will only last as long as the food in your backpack (assuming bears or raccoons don't clean you out overnight). All this chatter of escaping to the woods never seems to address one logical question: What will you do once you're there? What will you do in the woods?

In a recent SurvivalBlog post entitled "Food: The Ultimate Weapon," the author (an avid backpacker and outdoor guide) describes how the limiting factor for any trip is how much food he could carry. As a guide, he told the hikers under his care, "If you can't eat it or wear it, then leave it."

As a former field biologist, I can attest that wild animals – especially those higher on the food chain – are driven by starvation. Have you ever seen a fat coyote? Me neither (unless they're urban scavengers). Unless you're willing to eat worms, grubs, roadkill, roots, and other gourmet fare, you're toast. And even then you will be – literally – spending every waking hour desperately searching for more worms, grubs, roadkill, and roots.

And that's in the summer months. What if it's winter?

It's certainly possible to live off the land, but it takes years of research, training, and preparation to do so. In 2019, I had the honor of interviewing (by email) a fellow by the name of Britt Ahart. This was a man of intimidating experience in bushcraft, wilderness survival, and primitive living. He came to the attention of the History Channel's reality TV show "Alone" and found himself braving the wilderness of Mongolia and Patagonia for months at a time, living off his wits and survival skills. Believe me, if anyone can bug out to the woods and survive, it's this man.

But for the rest of us, bugging out to the woods is nothing but a fantasy. I know if I read a fiction story in which the main character runs away from the Bad Guy by dashing into the woods, right away I know it's written by someone who has never dashed into the woods. The woods have no shelter. The woods have no food. The woods have no climate control. The protagonist will either be caught by the Bad Guy within minutes, or he'll spend anywhere from hours to days lost and terrified before succumbing to exposure.

In real life, bugging out to the woods is no better. Frankly it's a stoopid idea.

Okay, back to the list of recommended items for a bug-out bag. Some items are fine if you're going on a backpacking trip. Some, as you'll see, make sense in any kind of bag. Yet others are just plain ridiculous, and seem more like an excuse to buy a bunch of cool stuff.

Here's the list:

• Tweezers (yes, this was first on the list; no idea why)
• Money for purchases
• Goldbacks – money that is gold infused (more on this below)
• Pen and pencil, paper/notebook
• Lights, including solar lights
• Freeze-dried foods
• Map of area
• Compass
• Shovel (fold up)
• Spear
• Frog gig (3-pronged spear)
• Foil
• Whistle
• Toilet paper
• Cayenne pepper to stop bleeding
• Pads/gauze to wrap injuries
• Antibiotic ointment
• Cup with retractable handle
• Lifestraw
• Military sewing kit
• Vet wrap
• Poncho
• Glasses
• Sunscreen
• Heat packets for hands/feet/body
• Bandana (for straining water, among other things)
• Heat 32 (possibly a brand of thermal underwear, but it's never defined)
• Magnifying glass
• Fishing gear
• Multi-tool
• Stroller or stroller basket to carry backpack
• Rubber bands
• Candles
• Super Soaker
• Egg carton with lint with wax as fire starters
• Tiger Lady (a hand-held defense tool for close-up defense)
• Long knife with brass knuckles (?)
• Aluminum foil
• Potassium permanganate (presumably for use as a general disinfectant)
• Bell & Howell pen (a combination pen and flashlight)
• Flares
• Tarp
• Windproof lighter
• Signal mirror
• Extra ammo
• Solar backpack

See what I mean? Does this sound like you're going to need if you're escaping an earthquake or an economic collapse? Can we PLEASE get over the idea that we're all Rambos-in-waiting and can bug out to the woods where we'll gig frogs, fish, and spear game?

Conspicuously absent from the above list: Sleeping bag. Tent. A firearm (though, oddly, ammo is on the list). A change of clothes. Mosquito netting. Insect repellent.

You see, I knew this list was hooey the moment I saw Goldbacks, a spear, a frog gig, and a stroller for carrying the backpack. And a Super Soaker? What in tarnation?

Do you honestly think the average person will use a spear and a frog gig in the woods? Do you really think most woody terrain lends itself to a stroller? And what on EARTH do you need with a Super Soaker?

Don and I weren't even sure what Goldbacks were, so he looked them up. According to the website, "The Goldback® is the world's first physical, interchangeable, gold money, that is designed to accommodate even small transactions."

Basically it's make-believe money which contains a small amount of physical gold. Oh please. Someone makes fake money and expects you to be able to buy a burger and fries with it during a panicked bug-out situation?

Now let's examine the issue of destination. Without a destination in mind, bugging out is a really bad idea. Depending on the situation, your destination could be a motel in the next town over, your brother's house in the next state, or your fully equipped self-sufficient mountain homestead deep in the Rockies. Whatever it is, have a destination in mind – and a realistic means of getting there. If your bug-out is located 500 miles away, chances are very good you won't make it on foot (especially with the contents of the bag listed above).

Without a destination, what will you be doing with the contents of your bug-out bag listed above? Gigging for frogs, hoping to spear a deer, and begging a McDonald's restaurant to accept your Goldback® currency?

Maybe I'm being too harsh here. There are endless circumstances under which bugging out by foot may be the only option (and assuming it's not safer to hunker down and stay home). First and most obvious, not everyone has a car. Second, if the roads are impassable (landslides, bridge collapses, etc.), driving isn't an option. However if these dire situations come to pass, then I cannot fathom how a frog gig, a Super Soaker, Goldback® currency, and a spear will help you. Believe me, you'll have your hands full evacuating your children, elderly relatives, and pets to think about where you misplaced your frog gig.

None of this is to imply a bug-out bag isn't a good idea. In fact, it's a very good idea – but my advice is to skip the Super Soakers and frog gigs and concentrate on packing the critical items you'll need for both immediate requirements and long-term negotiation as you pull your life back together.

Let's say, for example, that you're evacuating before a wildfire. You won't be dodging zombies and camping in the wilderness while you trek through the woods to your rural cabin. Instead, you'll be fleeing what is presumably a rural or semi-rural area toward the assistance of other people, where (hopefully) your immediate needs of food, water, and shelter will be addressed. With that in mind, the importance of tents, sleeping bags, camp stoves, dehydrated food, and other camping supplies is significantly lower. The need for a Super Soaker, frog gig, and spear is practically zero.

Instead, your bug-out bag should contain what portable things you need – documentation that might help you get back on your feet and deal with banks, insurance agencies, and other bureaucratic necessities; and personal clothing and sanitation items to allow you some measure of comfort and dignity for a few days.

In other words, an evacuation bag is NOT the typical prepper zombie apocalypse bag pushed by so many survival websites.

Okay, rant over.


UPDATE: Don added the following addendum to this rant:

Not exactly too sure what got this topic at the top of Patrice's rant list (you know ... women of a certain age and all...), but there are obviously a few other reasons to have bug-out bags.

For instance, a travel bag in your vehicle, especially for periods on inclement weather, is a really smart idea; particularly if, like us, you live in the boonies. And there's absolutely nothing wrong with an "every-day carry" bag. And a lot of my friends travel with a "Wow! That's a sweet stream – think I'll stop and drop a line in it" bag.

And if you're the "minute (wo)man" type who expects to be called away on emergencies – like assisting the police or peacefully thwarting the nefarious intentions of  the perpetually snowflake – a bag designed for that purposes is just fine.

But these types of bags are purpose-driven. If you're intention is to bug out to the undefined woods ahead of the Golden Horde like a modern-day Daniel Boone, bear in mind that Mr. Boone usually did his walk-abouts in the company of a pack train.

The members of the Lewis and Clark expedition, all of whom were experienced frontiersmen, nearly starved to death at least a couple of times. Without the no-doubt bemused assistance of several different tribes, history books would likely be referring to that particular endeavor as "the lost expedition of Lewis and Clark."

It all comes down to this. If you've got to run, be running toward something. Have a realistically reachable destination.

And don't EVER come as a surprise drop-in to someone else's "retreat." Just sayin'.

Friday, September 17, 2021

Glasses and backups

I am blind as a bat without my eyeglasses.

Yeah yeah, I know bats aren't blind (cut me some slack). The point is, I cannot see clearly beyond about five inches from my face. I've worn glasses since I was ten years old.

In 2013, the last time I had an eye exam, I ordered two pairs of identical glasses from the optical department at Costco. Everyone knows "two is one, one is none," and an extra pair of glasses is critical. I've worn the first pair every day since then, with the spare pair safely tucked away.

Over the last eight years, my poor glasses have become more and more scratched. It's not the lenses themselves that are scratched; it's the supposedly scratch-resistant plastic coating meant to protect the lenses that's torn up. Ironic, right?

I have a high tolerance for dirty or scratched glasses – that comes from a lifetime of wearing lenses – but things were getting pretty dire. I walked around all day with a grey film over my eyes. At one point I brought the glasses back to the optical department at Costco and asked if something could be done. The answer was "no."

So I put up with scratched lenses. Essentially I decided I was going to tough it out until my glasses became unwearable.

Well, that day finally arrived. My glasses were just getting too bad.

Meanwhile Don had watched some YouTube videos on how to improved scratched plastic coatings on eyeglasses. Accordingly, he ordered some polishing compound and a soft Dremel tip in hopes that he could buff the scratches off my glasses and save the older pair.

Armed with these tools, Don tried to buff off the plastic coating from the lenses.

It didn't work. All it did was leave such an opaque smear right on the focal point of the lens that the glasses are now unusable. For the moment.

Further research revealed what's needed is a tiny specialized plastic scraper to remove the plastic coating. The scraper itself, of course, must be plastic as well so it won't scratch the glass lens underneath. For the moment, I've tucked the damaged eyeglasses aside until such time as we obtain the scraper.

Meanwhile I experienced a tremendous joy: new eyeglasses. I removed the spare pair from the case where they'd resided for eight years. I put them on, staggered back and said "Whoa!" That's because I was seeing clearly for the first time in years.

In the next couple months, I'll trot myself into an optometrist's and get a more up-to-date prescription (though I'm confident my eyesight hasn't changed), then order a couple extra pairs of eyeglasses online from Zenni or a similar discount supplier.

Remember: "Two is one, one is none" – especially with something as absolutely vital as eyeglasses.

Thursday, September 16, 2021

The elk are returning

Last winter, we were thrilled to see elk hanging around our little valley.

But then ... they disappeared. We haven't seen them since spring. Neighbors said the herd typically moves higher into the mountains during the summer months.

Now they're slowly trickling back.

The first one I saw was on August 23, when this handsome young lad moseyed up our driveway.

He spent several minutes hanging around near the barn, trying to reach apples over the fence.

Eventually he just hopped the fence so he could glean the fruit that had fallen on the ground.

Then, on September 2, Don and I took Mr. Darcy for his evening walk and saw these two boys in a neighbor's pasture.

We paused in our walk to watch them.

They mostly got along, but there were a few minor skirmishes (mostly pushing and nipping). Breeding season is coming, after all.

Eventually they hopped the fence onto the road where were were walking.

Next thing we knew, they were heading in our directions. Mr. Darcy, to his credit, sat quietly as they approached.

We weren't alarmed, because it was clear these boys were simply looking for the easiest spot to jump the fence into the higher pasture.

One of them found the right spot, and leaped over.

The other seemed less sure where to go; but eventually he, too, found his way over the fence.

We continued our walk, and noticed the large hoofprints of these impressive beasts.

Here's Don's foot, for purposes of comparison.

Mr. Darcy, meanwhile, was very interested in the scents left behind.

We looked up and realized we were being watched.

Our next encounter occurred a week later. I hooked Mr. Darcy onto his leash as we prepared to take him for his evening walk. Next thing I knew, he leaped to the edge of our raised porch to snarl at an elk cow right below. She dashed away. Brave dog, right?

There were actually two ladies in our pasture.

They were part of a herd that moved lower down the valley for the night.

Then early this morning I noticed a small herd on a very distant hillside.

Yes, the elk are on the move. Winter is coming.