*Know your Skills and Limits!*
By: Mystic
27 November 204

Not too long ago I watched a show on PBS called "Frontier House". For those who haven’t heard about it before, they choose three "average" families and set them into an 1883 frontier village in Montana. The "experiment" was to see if these families could live, as the pioneers would have back then. Everything they did had to be historically correct…from gardening and cooking to tending livestock and cutting firewood. They even wore clothing that would have been available back then. Before leaving the hotel to start their journey, they were dressed in period clothing and had classes on how things were done back in 1883.

The original broadcast was April 2002…I just happened to catch this rerun. The families lived in Frontier Village from June 2001 through December 2001. You can find the entire story and view their video diaries at www.pbs.org. Search their site for "Frontier House".

During the months they were in Frontier Village, they not only had to live day-to-day, but they also had to store enough preps to survive the harsh Montana winter. Preps not only for themselves, but also for any livestock kept over the winter as well. At the end of their time there, they would be judged by six historians as to how they had lived thus far, what they were eating, how they kept their homes, the construction of all outbuildings and if they had enough supplies to make it through the winter.

What I saw was the very last episode of the show/experiment. As I watched, I made quite a number of notes.

  1. One woman stated, "I hate washing greasy dishes with a greasy rag. That’s why you find so many abandoned cabins with dirty dishes stacked up". It would seem that she didn’t know you could boil water in your pan over the fire and add some wood ashes to make soap to clean it out.
  2. The children of the one family had a very hard time dealing with killing their pig for food. They didn’t understand that their hamburgers from McD’s came from slaughtered cows and that the purpose of raising the pig was to feed the family.
  3. Another family didn’t know the difference between hay and straw when taking their second cutting for the livestock. The entire second and any subsequent cutting were of straw alone.
  4. The family which cut the most firewood, 3-4 cords, still would not have enough for the winter, while another family had a small pile of wood and though it was sufficient.
  5. The girls in one family were quite proud that they "only worked when they wanted to".
  6. Only one woman took the time to pickle most of their garden harvest while another woman made her family do without to make sure they would have enough put back for winter.
  7. One family did a great job of making the bed frame for the children, yet the parents somehow managed to bring in an actual mattress and box spring and slept on that for over a month and a half.

Some of the folks were very inventive. The teen girls made their own mascara from charcoal and grease while one of the men made wire mesh for his henhouse by hooking wire to nails.

After a large group picnic and a few days of judging, the family all went home. They would receive letters in the mail stating what the outcome of the judging was.

Family #1 was a young couple with no children. They had the best chance of surviving the winter even though their 3-4 cords of wood would not have lasted long enough. Being as they were young, it was determined they could hunt and cut firewood with little problem during the winter.

Family #2 was a couple with two children, one boy and one girl. They had a fair chance of surviving as they had raised a decent garden, pickled food and had livestock as well as feed for them. However, it was determined that the family would certainly be taxed, as their relationship was not the best. Being shut in a 10’x20’ cabin for the winter would take its toll on all of them. Not long after arriving home, they did split and live separately.

Family #3 was a couple with 3 children and their niece. They had the least chance of surviving the winter. They barely had any firewood on hand, they cut straw for the livestock, and they didn’t have much food put back for the family. This is also the family that smuggled in the mattress and box spring. When questioned about their preps, they decided that the woman and children would all be spending the winter with a relative and he alone would take care of the cabin and animals. When they received their letter stating that they had the least chance of surviving the winter, he walked over to the freezer and pulled out three squirrels frozen in plastic bags. Tossing them on the kitchen counter, he commented, "We could have survived just fine. We know how to hunt. The boys shot these when we got home".

I’ve thought about this quite a bit. Many of us have plans to bug out to different areas. But how many of us truly know what to expect once we get there. How many times have you bugged out to your bug out location? How much time have you actually spent there? During which seasons? What plants and seeds, if any, will grow there? What animals are in the area for hunting? What would it take to actually live there? Could you do it? I mean realistically…could you live there? For three months? Six months? One year?? Indefinitely??? What, if any, problems do you foresee with your vehicle in that area?

In my travels, I learned much along the way. But I also did research beforehand. I knew before leaving that Wyoming was hot and dry…Serger warned me about it. And after spending two weeks there…I learned even more. It’s definitely not someplace I can see myself living. However, I failed to do proper research on Washington and the information I was given was inaccurate at best. I definitely should have checked with Myrtlemaye or Forester. I lived there for several months and personally don’t see a reason to ever go back. Personal experiences play a role in the decisions one makes.

I didn’t realize northern California had farms and very high mountains. Heck, I thought it was all pretty well populated with smaller towns every few miles…till the RV broke down in the middle of nowhere. As you can tell, I didn’t research it, as I hadn’t planned on being there.

I’ve been to my one bug out location once…for the night. It’s simply a short-term location. It has water, shelter and cover. It has animals if you don’t mind eating horse. Will crops grow? No way! At least not anything I have. Everything I’ve planted at home has died...including plants bought here. Seeds I brought from the northeast haven’t even sprouted here in the southwest…and that was even with using potting soil. I did get mushrooms to grow once. Not sure how and they haven’t grown since.

My point being…what works in one location may very well not work in another. If you’re bugging out to a higher altitude, do you have seeds that will grow up there? What are you going to do about dealing with altitude sickness for the first few days? How about a pressure cooker for cooking? Climbing a hill in the eastern/coastal humidity is very different from climbing a hill in the western dryness. Even with PA’s humidity, it doesn’t much compare to WA’s near-constant rain and dampness. Parts on the RV did rust. Gasoline is also different at different elevations. If you’re living in a mild climate and bug out to a harsh climate, are you actually truly prepared to deal with it? Even a matter of going 100 miles can make a big difference. If you’re in a dry ao, do you know how to build a fire in the rain?

Your skills and limits dictate where you should bug out to as well as where you should live. If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the south/southwest as well as other arid states. Hate the rain? Stay off the coasts. Absolutely can’t stand cold? Forget living in the north or in the desert. Yes, temps in the desert do get down to freezing. Not sure what desert plants are edible? Either research it and learn them or stay out of the desert. Not sure how to cook at an altitude of 6000’ or higher? Now’s the time to learn how or don’t bug out to higher elevations. Not sure what seeds will grow in your area? Ask your neighbors, nursery staff, Dept of Agriculture or check out books on your ao from the local library. Crops still won’t grow? Find out why! There’s no region where hunting will feed the entire local populace. You will need to raise your food at some point. If you can’t, you won’t survive. If you have to have cut firewood brought in because you don’t have the energy to cut it yourself, how will you manage to cut it when they can no longer deliver? If you’re moving to a new location, check it out. Talk to locals about what grows, what the seasons are like, where to get this, that and the other. And certainly heed their advice. Also check out their local newspapers online.

The families in the show didn’t seem to know much of the information we Rubies seem to take for granted. They were inventive enough to make mascara yet couldn’t make soap to wash dishes. Know your skills. Know your limits. If you haven’t done it, it doesn’t work!

Ok, I’m off to figure out why everything I plant keeps dying.

All materials at this site not otherwise credited are Copyright © 1996 - 2004 Trip Williams. All rights reserved. May be reproduced for personal use only. Use of any material contained herein is subject to stated terms or written permission.