Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Pioneers had it made!

We always thought that it was kinda' funny that people think that they NEED electricity. The pioneers had everything that they needed.

One thing that the pioneers didn’t have was power failures! When the pioneer’s fire started flickering, they just poked it a few times and added another log, or more oil to the lamp.

When our lights start to flicker we start to cross our fingers and start saying; “Stay on, stay on, stay on… Oh please stay on. Usually the lights dim and get dark yellow. It’s not really a brown-out like they call it. I’ve seen it a lot, I know! They get yellow, then maybe red, but not brown. Then they come back on and we say; “Oh thank-you, thank-you, thank-you“. Then they dim again and we say; “Oh nooooo“, then we hold our breath. If they come back on we say, “oh good!” with a huge sigh of relief. Then when they start to dim the third time, we curse profusely under our breaths, because we know that the inevitable is about to happen. Then sure enough, the lights go clean out and it gets completely black, and you can hear the refrigerator and freezer coast to a stop, and the fans slowly stop turning. Black, peaceful, silence. It’s almost a relief, because now you don’t have to worry about it any more.

Then, beep… Beeep… Beeeeeep… We have so many power failures that we wisely put uninterruptible power supplies on our computers. All three of them; mine, my wife‘s. and downstairs my mother has a computer. The beep means that you have to turn the computers off. So then we feel our way to the flashlights, all kept in strategic places, for when the power goes off. Woe be unto him that moves the flashlight. Moving a flashlight, whether or not we are in a power failure, is the impetus for a lecture. “The flashlight being in the right place during a power failure could mean the difference between life or death”. At least we like to pretend that they are that important, because we were smart enough to stock up on flashlights. Every time the power goes out, we say Thank-God we were smart enough to stock up on flashlights. We even have a Five Million candlepower flashlight, just in case we need to see clear across the valley. Never mind the fact that we have never needed to see clear across the valley at any time before the power failed. But the old “five Million” is a real comfort to us in a power failure.

The bad thing about a power failure, is that the dog is afraid of thunder. Yes, that same dog that rips out her doggie door in the middle of the night to fly into a gaggle of Coons, to chase them all up trees, and keep them there until I tell her that it is okay, and it is all over. That same dog that bays from her porch at passing Bobcats, Mountain Lion, Bears and the like, is afraid of thunder. That same dog that if it weren’t for her, she knows full well, that any number of animals would slip in the doggie door and eat our faces off while we slept. She is very proud of herself for saving us. She is a dog, and she fails to see the irony in the fact that if we didn’t have a doggie door, we would be safe from those critters anyway! Yep, that same dog is afraid of thunder. At the first far off rumbling of thunder, she will bound up on the bed and curl up on your face, and shiver uncontrollably. When that happens, I usually thank myself for bathing her regularly.

As I’ve probably told you, she is a very smart dog and she has been able to make the connection between thunder, fireworks, house lights flickering, and power failures. Now that we have un-interruptible power supplies that beep, she has been able to connect the beeping sound with all of the above. Now, if anything beeps she is terrified. No, not during the day, she can sleep right through beeping sounds all day long. But, at night when YOU are trying to sleep, she will be curled up on your face shivering. My wife and I always make sure that our cell phones and beepers are plugging into the charger at night, so the low battery beep doesn't happen.

If the power failure goes on for very long, we have a generator, that only I can hook up and make run, so that gives me great importance. We can run the refrigerator and the freezer and still have enough power for lights and microwave cooking. If you turn the refrigerator off you can perk a pot of coffee with the electric percolator. The power usually goes of in the winter time, so we already have a fire in the stoves. The downstairs wood heater has a flat top that is good for cooking, and it also has heat collection coils plumbed to the water heater in the attic. The upstairs heater is also a flat top heater but doesn’t have water heating coils. If we get too much hot water it relieves out the temp valve to the outside. I used to work for the cable TV company, so there is a generator at the cable satellite receiving station. So it keeps the TV on just in case the only power failure is in Benbow. That way the rest of the system can be working. So, I can watch the storm on television with Jim Bernard. I usually mutter something like “I wonder what the poor people are doing tonight?” That usually stops us from envying all of those people with power.

We don’t need the generator we have wood heat and oil lamps for long term failures, and we could cook the food from the freezer and refrigerator if it looked like the power would be off a long time, like it was in 1964, during the aftermath of the flood.

I've recently been reading that you can keep grain and cereal products preserved indefinitely in plastic five gallon buckets that have been purged of all of the oxygen with a nitrogen bottle. I have everything but the grain, so I might put forty or fifty gallons of grain up. But, my wife reminds me that I still have the stash I put away for the first gulf war, 9-11, the second gulf war, and there was something else I hoarded grain for but we can’t remember. She says that I’m like the dog, if it weren’t for the men of the world causing all of these problems, that we wouldn't need to protect ourselves from them.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, the lights flickered tonight.


Eel River Ernie said...

Among my fondest memories are the nights spent as a youngster on our ranch outside of Weaverville without power. I always thought of it as just part of life, when it snowed heavy and the power went out we lit lanterns and candles to see by and since we had propane for cooking and wood and oil for heating we were just fine. That was just the way life was. Usually it meant a day off of school unless the snowplow arrived early.

Ernie, you are the greatest at invoking wonderful memories, thanks - ERE

ross sherburn said...

i think it was in 1967?we were out of power in weaverville for several weeks.

Anonymous said...

I know well of which you speak. We spent many winter nights in our Willow Creek house with nary an electrical device to keep us company. Not even a battery radio. The fire was well stoked, the oil lanterns were lit and we played board games, read or actually spoke to one another.

I really don't know how our species survived back then.

ben said...

Well, my favorite newfangled invention for power failures is the LED headlamp. How did we ever live without them? Of course, everyone in the hills with their off the grid systems are smugly chuckling at this whole post.

ross sherburn said...

upon moving to weaverville,one of the first things my dad did was install a wood stove.we never suffered any!!all the free wood you could hall from the trin-co mill,and it was only about a quarter mile from the house!BTW,we had a wood furnace in the basement in the garberville house.sometimes in the death of winter,we'd have to open the doors&windows because it got so hot in the house! LOL

ross sherburn said...

as i sit here typing this,there is a pellet stove running just a few feet from me.guess we are a little more modern now? but the dang thing sure doesn't run for free!!!

Ernie Branscomb said...

"Of course, everyone in the hills with their off the grid systems are smugly chuckling at this whole post."

Tell them to go ahead and laugh. I can remember my first electric light switch, my first flush toilet, my first furnace system, and all of the other modern conveniences. I can go back to the old way in a heartbeat. I probably know more about “Roughing it” than most of them. And, at the end of it all, my power is cheaper, more reliable, and takes less time. Just about any of the hill people would trade me for my light-switch in a heartbeat, if they could.

USelaine said...

Laundry. Laundry is the hardest thing without power, if you want clean clothes. I'm not a romantic about that.

ross sherburn said...

ernie,thought i'd get a little flack,because of us flat landers having a pellet stove???

Smugly Chucklesworth said...

It is fun for me to hear that the quiet simplicity I experience everyday is a way that others remember nostalgically. I have no doubt that you would make a better pioneer than I, Ernie.
The recent back to the land movement is based upon relearning the old ways and deep respect for the accumulated wisdom of those who had "roughed it" before. Our libraries of old timey books and the Mother Earth News and the Whole Earth Catalog were chock full of simple living wisdom and practical information.
My grandfather never could understand why I would want to live simply and without many of the amenities that he had worked hard to obtain. He was quite amused by my alfalfa sprouts, and suggested I return in the spring and have all I could graze in the back 40.
You older locals may have more respect than you think.
Speaking for many "hill people":
Love your blog.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Dear Smugly.

I may have come across as being a little harsh, and you bested me with your gentle disposition. I bow to your better manners. But not, kicking, scratching, and biting would I go back to the days when all of your time was taken up with mere existence. But thank-you for reminding me that manners are important.

I agree that the old-timers knew how to get out of the land what they needed. One of the things that I admired the most about them, was that knowledge that they had. The knowledge to make a good life, with what there was available. A lot of the old-timers had little education, but were filled with the wisdom of the land. Their language was rife with colloquial expressions, but to people that knew how to speak their language, a world of the knowledge of country living was open to you. One of the reasons that I hate to see someone else’s language be corrected, is because of the fact that the old-timers would just not talk if anyone corrected them. I would be fascinated by their wise tales, but it would all end as soon as someone would start correcting their language. Or making fun of what they called things. The sad part for me is people have no idea the knowledge that they have missed out on.

Elaine, I remember my mother doing laundry on a washboard. Thanks for reminding me of far we have come.

Ross, at least you know how much better wood heat is than any other form. I have central heating and air conditioning with a programmable thermostat. We build a fire when we feel like it and don’t build one when we don’t feel like it. Cutting wood and burning it is fun under those conditions.

ross sherburn said...

ernie,we have all that fancy ac/heating stuff also!but its sure nice to warm your buns on a real fire at times!

Anonymous said...

Along the lines of looking back...I found this at the Arcata Eye:

Warren Dowling: From farmer to tree hugger – "I am an 89-year-old senior citizen. During my lifetime there have been changes in my world beyond description. I started life as the ninth of 10 children born on a farm where my father was a sharecropper. In fact, my generation was the last to live on farms that were tilled by draft animals; during the next generation the tractors took over...." I think you would enjoy his perspective on all the changes he has witnessed Ernie.

Ernie Branscomb said...

Thank-you Anon.

I think that the changes in my life are somewhat similar in nature. It bothers me that the interconnectivity (if I’m allowed such a word) of the world is not understood enough.

Each and every critter, mankind, and nature all have to work together in order for things to stay the same. But, the world has never stayed the same, and it has been a dynamic system from the very beginning. What we need is REAL scientists trying to work out what is REALLY happening to our world. Scientists that we can trust to be objective. Most scientific research is carried of and funded by groups with an agenda., and their results can’t be trusted.

The more that you find out about how the world works, the more you began to understand that man is really not needed on this world for it to go on. We may be the dinosaur of this era.

olmanriver said...

Couldn't agree with you more Ernie!

MC said...

Mr Chucklesworth would like to amend his comments by saying that he is very much aware that his is no pioneer life, struggling everyday all day long to make ends meet. Tho I love the simplicity of my life, I didnt clear the land, blaze the road, build the house, or try and raise a family on nothing. Those remarks may resemble some back to the landers, but we have it soft. There is a parked car and town is not so far, I can use a generator, I dont have to store all my food for winter,etc.
The real pioneer life was brutal, Anne Dillard's depiction of the early days of creating (whiteman) towns in the Bellingham area is a very accurate depiction of the way it was in the 1850's on. Nothing romantic about how hard life was, the book is the Living.

olmanriver said...

Is is a Y2K foodstash you are forgetting? If it makes you feel any better, I had to get rid of my pre 1984 Jupiter effect spirulina stash recently. The Jupiter effect was a lineup of planets that was supposed to bring about earthquakes and such.
I dont know how long spirulina lasts but I didnt want to die from my own apolcalyptic foodstash. People would have found me with a strange green ring on my lips.

Indie said...

This was great fun to read, the post and all the comments. I'm interested in the Annie Dillard book Chucklesworth mentioned. I've read dozens of books like that, a fascination that began with the Little House books of Ingalls Wilder. Most recently: The Diary of Mattie Spencer.

I longed for the simple life but after a winter in the hills newly single with two babies (1 and 3), I was exhausted.

I battled mudslides, bears, wet wood, injuries, storms, fallen trees blocking the road, etc. If I had to use the bathroom, I had to bring both babies with me, bundling up against the rain and cold to hike across the slippery wet leaves to the outhouse.

There were incredible moments, like waking up with my little boys, wrapped in blankets and gazing out the window together at the beautiful green hills, with fog nestled in the creases, and a family of wild turkeys passing through.

But after a couple of months, I was so exhausted that I rented a house in Garberville with a miraculous heater that turned on at the flick of a switch and a bounteous grocery store a few blocks away!

That kind of life is not for single parents of small children; a partner is a must.

omr said...

You were brave Indie.
The best info for storing your provisions in plastic buckets is...

omr said...


Ernie Branscomb said...

OMR, I made your bucket URL into a link so all anyone has to do is click on it. Thanks.

The next time I see you, ask me how to do a "link" and I will show you.

how to store buckets of food

Carol said...

I would not have been a very good pioneer woman. I love running water and hot showers. This morning the power went off for a moment while Greg was reading your post, Ernie. I groaned, "Oh-no."

Then the power came back on. I love the modern times!

Greg said...

Personally I prefer having both electricity AND a woodstove. Why not have it all, especially if we are going extinct anyway? Joyeux Noel, Ernie!

Indie said...

Some of my favorite Humboldt memories are when the power went out. As long as there was still heat and the outage didn't last longer than a couple of days, it was kind of a special treat for us.

I love the soft light of candles and oil lamps, and the board games and togetherness.

I especially love the silence, when all the electrical contraptions suddenly stop all the humming and buzzing that we always have to tune out.

One year when I lived in SoHum, Murrish's Market had to give away all their melting ice cream for free. My kids and I ate a whole carton of delicious, soft gushy vanilla. We were just doing our civic duty! :)

spyrock said...

one of the first things i remember when i was laying in the crib looking straight up at the ceiling was a terrible clanking sound. it was one of those rotating black fans that someone had put out to cool me because because it was over 100 degrees in that room. the light fixture was the only thing i remember seeing but i couldn't make out the story it was telling. it just seemed to be an evil light fixture.
nobody at spyrock seem to know that they needed electricity back in the early 1950's. they had those oil lamps some of which i still have. i've got 7 of them from various places. they had this old wind up phonograph with a big megaphone. we didn't even have an electric one. so that was something they had that we didn't.
we didn't have a tv until well in to the howdy doody days. so i still remember the radio days and sitting around one. wild bill hickock was my favorite show with jingles. and we remember one night when they played that orson wells alien invasion show and we thought it was really happening.
they just expanded the power station across the street from my house which is both good and bad. i guess they call it progress.

ben said...

In the really old back to the land days, BM. (before marijuana) you bought your 40 moved a bus or trailer out there and found someone running a portable mill. Cut some trees and he got half... enough trees and there was plenty of lumber for your cabin. More or less free. A handsaw, a hammer and 50 pounds of cheap nails (which you would curse) and you were set. Some ready mix and blocks and you had a foundation. Post and beam walls with board siding covered with a layer of newspaper for insulation then another layer of board and bat and you had inside and outside walls in one stroke and really good looking walls, at that. No sheet rock, no plywood (except maybe the floor but that was usually just planed lumber). The windows were used from Keatings. The cabin often cost less than $500. The lamps were kerosene and the water was heated by a coil in the woodstove with a hot water tank set up high so the water circulated by convection. There could not have been a back to the land movement without two things. One, plastic pipe and two, all the logging that created livable, sunny spaces to build those cabins. In those days, Town Wisdom was that "them hippies couldn't last but a couple years on a piece of dirt no one had ever made a living on". Well, surprise, surprise. First came propane and they had fridges and lights and a gas stove. Pretty soon a neighbor bought a backhoe and came over to put in a septic system and the next addition was a bathroom. Then some little hippie outfit in Briceland started selling solar panels and pretty soon a guy from Arco showed up to find out why a tiny dot on his map was selling huge numbers of panels. Finally, you could go home and flip a switch for lights and chuckle smugly when the power was out in town. Many of those cabins are still in use and really beautiful with their wooden interiors.

Kym said...

Indie, I remember Murrishes having to give away the ice cream. I couldn't take one because I lived so far in the hills the ice cream would have been sweet milk by the time I got home.

Ernie Branscomb said...

"them hippies couldn't last but a couple years on a piece of dirt no one had ever made a living on". Well, surprise, surprise.

Ben, I still can't figure out how they did that. Actually, a lot didn't make it. I think the ones that made it had rich parents or some of them figured out the they could sell their "vergetables". And, some were just plain stuborn and hard working good folks.

Anonymous said...

I don't lord it over the on the grid folks when the power goes out so much as I worry about the older folks and how long I can go without the town's expresso machines working!
Survival in the 21st century.

Anonymous said...

I think there was a lot more of the stubbornness than ever gets acknowledged. I know I lived on less than 4 thousand a year for my first five years here, scrambling for what was free from nature, too proud for welfare, subsisting off my crafts.
But then the cheap rent was subsidized by a septugenarian grower.