Réduire la techno-sphère, Partie VI]
Suppose your situation is such that you need to effect a swift change of venue. The circumstances that prompt this relocation can be quite varied, but the common and foreseeable ones are:
1. There is no fresh water where you are. The reservoirs are dry and dusty, the artesian wells are either no longer producing or are producing water laced with arsenic and heavy metals, and the few desalination plants bottle their water and sell it at prices you cannot afford. What was once fields and pasture is reverting to sand dunes. Forests have dried out, burned down, and are now a lunar landscape criscrossed by deep ravines eroded by sporadic torrential downpours—too sporadic and too torrential to be of benefit.
2. The place where you live is under a few feet of ocean water mixed with raw sewage—not all the time, but often enough that staying there has become a very bad idea. An onshore wind combined with a high tide and a bit of rain are enough to make contaminated, brackish water spew out of every storm drain. With each passing year and more and more basements are flooded, more and more foundations undermined, more and more buildings condemned. Places further inland flood more rarely but are already too crowded, and will be subject to the same conditions after a slight delay.
3. Your country has been overrun by “refugees” who have looted the shops, occupied many of the public buildings and are busy beating up the men and raping the women (like they are doing in Sweden, which is now the second-rapiest country in the world, Lesotho in South Africa is the rapiest). There are large sections of your city where even the military, never mind the police, fear to venture. But the rest of the city is not the least bit safe. Beardless men and women without proper headdress are attacked without warning. Property crimes and home invasions by “refugees” are not persecuted for fear of giving them an excuse to start a riot.
4. Your country has gone full-retard fascist. Your best option is to work a soul-destroying corporate job while slowly sinking deeper and deeper into debt, hoping against hope that you will make it all the way to retirement, even as you watch your colleagues being replaced by machines, illegal immigrants and underpaid foreign contractors. Your second-best choice is to subsist on meager social benefits, most of which go to pay for drugs, which you need in order to hold on to what remains of your sanity while the pressure of perverse government incentives destroys your family and your children turn feral. Whichever option you choose, you are electronically monitored 24/7 and are absorbed into the prison system for the tiniest transgression, where your best chance to survive is by working as a slave.
5. You are doing fine economically, but you find your environment, both physical and human, increasingly unsatisfactory. Everything you see around you is cheaply slapped together out of industrially produced components, dressed up with a gaudy plastic veneer to make it “look nice.” It all looks computer-generated because, in fact, it is. All the people around you walk around ignoring the real world, which they might as well, since their physical environment is just an older, no longer fashionable version of what they see on the screens of the mobile computing devices to which they are hopelessly addicted. They are obese, emotionally stunted, physically helpless and, as far as you are concerned, might as well not be there. In fact, you'd enjoy seeing them replaced with cages of parakeets, potted plants or nice round rocks in a Zen garden. Their parents and grandparents once got things done by pushing buttons on machines, but now it is the machines that push their buttons and program them to say and feel various things on command. You can't help obsessing over the fact that this is not real life—that real life is somewhere else, and that you must go and find it before you run out of time.
6. Any combination of the above, including all of the above.
Let us further assume that the logistics and the political situation around your relocation have been sorted out: your papers are in order and you have a berth on a ship that will take you to a river port near your destination. From there, a river boat will take you upstream to a spot near your assigned 100 hectares (250 acres) of land, where you, perhaps with a group of like-minded others, will be left with enough supplies to make a fresh start. You slip away in the night with just a change of clothing and a pocketful of mementos, quiet as a cat, never to be heard from again.
Your land is being granted to you by the government in the form of a perpetual, heritable lease, with no commercial rights over it whatsoever, for you and your children to use sustainably in perpetuity, for as long as you physically reside on the land. The terms are not particularly onerous: you are taxed only on home-produced goods that you sell, and one of your sons may be conscripted in case of a national emergency, provided he is not your only or your eldest son, and not a younger son either if he is the family's main provider.
But there is a problem: your land is quite far north. Nine months out of the year, the temperature there is near or below freezing, and during the coldest 4-5 months it can get as cold as -40ºC. In the dead of winter there are only three hours of sunlight. But during the other three months the temperatures soar to +35ºC and there is 21 hours of sunlight. Another problem is that the land is not easily accessible. There are no roads; nor are there plans to build any. During the summer it is accessible on foot and over water; during the winter it is accessible by ski and sled, over snow-covered land and frozen water. During spring, when trails turn to mud and broken ice rushes down streams and rivers, it is not accessible at all. Nor is it accessible during autumn, when snow falls on ground that isn't frozen yet and forms a heavy, wet slush, and when the ice on waterways is already too think to navigate but not yet thick and solid enough to travel over. But there is also good news: each year, the climate is getting warmer, with the frosts arriving later, the thaws setting in earlier, the growing season getting longer, and more and more deciduous trees taking root in sunny, sheltered spots.
A river boat will drop you off a the water's edge within less than a day's hike of your land. It will be in early summer, after the rivers are clear of ice and the riverbanks are no longer flooded. You will have just enough time to prepare for next winter, so that you can survive it.
What you can take with you is what you and members of your party can carry on their shoulders, ferrying supplies from the river's edge to your plot of land. This basic kit includes:
1. An axe, and spare axe heads
2. A knife, and several knife blades without handles
3. Shovel heads
4. Saw blades
5. A file for keeping all of these sharp
6. A shotgun and a dozen shells
7. Heavy boots, a parka and other cold weather gear
8. Several changes of clothing per person
9. Emergency medical kit
10. A few pots, cups, spoons, forks
12. A samovar
12. Several sacks of grain (rye)
13. Several sacks of potatoes
14. Assorted seed packets
15. Canvas tents
16. A small assortment of tools (such as sewing kit) and supplies (such as tea)
You will also be bringing with you a few animals:
1. Dogs (one of them male) to serve as your security system and to help you hunt and pull sleds
2. Cats (one of them male) to keep the rodent population under control
3. Chickens (one of them male) to provide eggs, meat and to keep the bugs under control
This, plus your body, is all of your initial “hardware” which you will use to bootstrap the entire operation; everything else is “software”—and it has to be downloaded directly to your brain before you begin, with a full back-up in somebody else's brain in case something goes wrong with yours. This is your Naturelike Technology Suite (NTS), and if you use it correctly, your chances of surviving, living a long and happy life, and leaving behind happy, healthy, self-reliant children are much better than in any and all of the typical scenarios outlined above.
The land is neither farmland nor pasture but boreal forest, thick with coniferous trees, mostly pines and firs. There is plenty of animals you will be sharing it with, especially in the summer when the migratory birds make their appearance and lots of other animals come out of hibernation. But your first concern is with bears, who have come out of hibernation some time ago, but are still hungry and very ornery. The local wolves may also take a keen interest in your camp. You will need to impress it upon all of them that this is now your territory as well as theirs, by keeping fires lit at night, never going anywhere without a shotgun, or at least a forked stick, screaming at them and physically threatening them whenever you see them and other such measures. Shooting one alpha male of both the wolf tribe and the bear tribe, using up a few shotgun shells from your precious collection, then tanning the skins and sewing them into hats sends an unmistakable message: there is a new apex predator in these woods; act accordingly. As for the rest, you should try to make peace with them or let your animals handle them. If you leave them alone and sometimes (but only sometimes, on specific occasions) offer them food, they will become semi-tame over time, and will be much easier to catch by setting traps. Of these, back-breaking deadfalls are the most humane.
But your first and primary task is to fell trees—as quickly as possible, propping up the logs in sunny places so that they have a chance to dry out. The time to harvest timber is before thaws set in and the sap starts running, because after that the logs become much heavier and more difficult to work with and move, will not burn as well, and will rot much faster if you build with them. But you have arrived too late to do that, and have to make do with wet, heavy logs. (By the way, this is the exact opposite of what you would do in the tropics. There, you would harvest wood when it is full of sap, to protect it against insects and rot.) Regardless of the time of year, the best time to fell trees is on a full moon.
Your second task is to get food, to avoid depleting your supplies, which are for planting, not for eating. A spring thaw is an excellent time to get moose and reindeer, which can't run away because of the heavy, wet snow. Until the ice breaks, ice fishing also remains a possibility, and you can preserve your supply over the warm months by hot-smoking and drying the meat and the fish. But, again, you arrived too late, and your best chance to catch enough food is by setting traps and building weirs.
Your third task begins once the ground is thawed out enough and dry enough to dig. You need to move out of tents and into a slightly more permanent dwelling before winter. Constructing a log cabin during the first season is out of the question, because there is simply too much else to do, and because you arrived too late to get logs that are free of sap. But you can certainly harvest enough logs to build a dugout bunker that will last a few seasons. This is done by choosing a patch of land with good drainage and digging a trench. At the back of it is a hearth, along the sides are bunk beds. The roof is created using a layer of logs, the cracks between them packed with moss, and insulated by covering it with a thick a layer of dirt and sod. The hearth should have a flue, and a chimney high enough to stick out above the snow, or your fire will keep getting extinguished by meltwater. Two doors with a vestibule between them are an excellent idea. The vestibule will be used to store your supplies of frozen meat. The doors must open in rather than out, or you will be trapped inside by snowdrifts.
Your bunker should be surrounded by a wicker fence, constructed by driving stakes into the ground at intervals and filling the spaces between them with tightly packed twigs or saplings. Make the fence round rather than square, for a 25% increase in the amount of area encompassed for the same length of fence. A round fence also makes it easier for your animals to catch interlopers because there are no corners where they can hide and burrow. Curved fences are also better at resisting wind and snow drifts.
Your fourth task will be to grow food. The land you've cleared by chopping down trees is covered with a thin layer of poor forest soil, acidic because of all the pine and fir needles, and is not immediately useful for planting. But if you dig various things into it, you will be able to use it to grow all of your staples: potatoes, rye, cabbages and turnips. Ashes from the hearth, thoroughly rotted tree trunks and mud dredged out of nearby streams all make useful soil amendments. Potatoes can be planted as chunks containing eyes, or buds, with one or two eyes per chunk, and the rest of the potato can be eaten. Rye can be grown in quite poor soils and is amazingly stubborn and keeps going until it goes to seed. Because of the nearly 24-hour sunlight and warm temperatures everything will grow very fast. Your animals will be kept busy, and well fed, by all the moles, voles and mice that will be trying to eat your produce.
By the time you are done growing and harvesting the food, days will start getting shorter and by sunrise frost will appear on trees and the walls of your tent. It will be time to move inside your bunker and start heating. Before the migratory fowl fly away, be sure to get some geese, or, failing that, ducks, and save their fat for the winter. Goose fat is smeared on any exposed skin when you venture outside in the dead of winter, to avoid frostbite.
Once the temperatures stay reliably below freezing, but before the winter blizzards set in, try to stockpile as many animal carcasses as you can, to gradually hack away at and defrost as the winter wears on. This is the time of year when animals are at their fattest and most complacent, and those that are the oldest and the least likely to survive the winter are ripe for the picking; if you don't get them the wolves will. The fat is particulary important: in a cold climate, it is almost impossible to get enough calories to stay warm while working outside in any other way, and how much winter work you will get done will be directly determined by how much animal fat you can get your hands on.
At the beginning of winter, most of your work outside will involve cutting, splitting and stacking firewood out of the logs you harvested in the springtime, since you do not want to be out swinging an axe when it's -40ºC outside and blowing a blizzard. But once your supply of firewood is laid in, there are other tasks to attend to.
First, you need to get serious about trapping for fur. The parka you brought with you will wear out and will need to be replaced with a fur parka you will need to sew yourself. The animals you trap will be frozen solid by the time you get to them, and can stay that way until springtime. You can gut them and skin them when they thaw out, saving the brain and the liver for tanning the pelt. The pelts will also serve as valuable trade goods—about the only ones you will be able to come up with during the first few seasons—and you will need trade goods in order to barter for the supplies you will need.
Second, if you are close enough to a river or a lake to make it there and back during daylight, you might also attempt some ice fishing, although without skis and a sled (unless you found time to make them already) your range will be quite limited.
Other than that, most of what you will do during the winter is cook, feed yourself, feed the animals, drink tea, tend the all-important fire and sleep a lot. The tea is important because working outside in cold temperatures is extremely dehydrating: the cold air sucks the moisture right out of you. This is why a samovar (which is stoked using pine cones or wood chips) is included in your initial survival kit. Trying to boil enough water in a pot over a hearth is far too slow and rather inefficient. But a bucket hung over the hearth is quite useful for melting snow, to get water for drinking and washing without going anywhere.
Before spring thaw arrives, you will need to get busy harvesting logs—for next winter's firewood as well as for building the log cabin. Once that's done, you will have won, surviving the most difficult first season without starving or dying of exposure, and ready to build your homestead. Once that's done, you will be well on your way to making a perfectly reasonable life for yourself and your family, using the rest of your NTS, which we will describe next.