Friday, November 25, 2016

The Price Of Freedom: Shoveling Your Lawn

Editor’s Note: This post is being published simultaneously on the Money Daily and Accidental Farmer blogs.

Greetings from Camp Alpha

Here’s something I thought I’d never say: “I just finished shoveling my lawn.”

Well, turns out, I did, the day after a two-day snow storm which, by most accounts, was the second, third, or fifth-worse November winter storm around these parts.

Yep, that's what a lawn driveway looks like.
What made the storm so severe was not the amount of snow that fell, but the winds, which howled for the better part of two-and-a-half days at a sustained 20-30 mph, with frequent gusts of 40 mph or higher.

Those who live in hurricane or twister areas may scoff at those numbers, but anything over forty miles per hour here in upstate New York know that those kinds of numbers are not a trifling matter. And, when you’re essentially living off the grid in a camper or (like me) a motorhome, a storm like that can be downright challenging.

But, those are the choices we make. Thankfully, I had secured the motorhome sufficiently and provided for enough emergency measures that I was barely impacted, if, by barely, one means no electricity. Since I’m on solar power for the most part and I haven’t yet gotten around to augmenting my battery backup to a higher level, I was pretty much electricity-free by Sunday evening.

The storm began gathering momentum just after noon on Saturday, when the winds began picking up. I spent most of the afternoon putting away loose items in the yard and covering up wood and other building materials with tarps. By the time the sun was going down, I had just about everything secured for what I figured might be some strong winds and maybe a half foot of snow.

Sunday wasn’t so bad, though the winds kept blowing and it snowed the better part of the day, though accumulation was light. I was actually laughing over the forecasters who had predicted a major event, but, when the winds kept howling into the night, I thought maybe they were on to something.

By Monday morning, most of upstate New York was blanketed with at least six inches of snow, When light came, I could see that there was plenty of snow, along with drifts approaching a couple of feet high. My antenna and solar panels had been blown over, so I ventured out and righted them, though the effort was pretty much for naught. No sun meant no power and no power meant no TV or lights. Fortunately, I had plenty of batteries, candles and lanterns and a solar-and-hand-cranked emergency radio-flashlight made the evening tolerable and even enjoyable.

The radio was a constant companion throughout the day on Monday, and it should be mentioned that heat was being supplied by two Mr. Heater portable propane units, one the Portable Buddy, as it is known, in the bedroom, and the Big Buddy, which packs essentially twice the heating punch, in the main ling area. For the entirety of the storm, a couple of 20-pound propane tanks attached by hoses to my heaters kept the motorhome right around a comfortable 67-72 degrees with little effort on my part. (That’s why, at Thanksgiving dinner, when we were called upon to recite the things we were thankful for, I made particular note of propane.)

The snow and high winds persisted throughout Monday into the evening, but by Tuesday morning, the snow had ceased, though the winds were still a bit gusty, having diminished to about a steady 15 mph with gusts up to 30-35. That’s when I made the decision to dg out. I had parked the van Saturday night close to the motorhome, maybe a mistake on this prepper’s part, but keeping essentials - like food and tools - close by was my decision.

So, since out here in flyover country, some of us don’t actually believe we need driveways, I had about 60 feet of lawn to clear, and the best way I knew how to do that was with my own hands and a shovel. It wasn’t nearly as imposing a task as I imagined. Sure, I could have bought a snow-blower and done what most of you do on your driveways, or hired a plow truck to come and clear the area in a matter of minutes, but, in an hour-and-a-half I had carved out a nice, winding path from the road to my appointed parking spot. An added benefit was the nice workout for my aging but still-able body which the shoveling provided. I’m telling you fellows out there in thermal world, don’t challenge me to arm-wrestling or other feats of strength. You’ll lose, and likely, very badly. The van fired up without incident and I was able to make my way back to civilization, without the need of snowshoes, an ATV or any kind of four-wheel-drive vehicle.

But I thought about shoveling my lawn, and how odd that was, took a picture and posted it here. My point is that whatever choices we make, we’re always left with consequences, some known, others unknown, some seen, some unforeseen. In my endless pursuit of freedom, my choices freed me from a number of civilized evils which most of you will know as monthly utility bills, monthly cable bills and, recently, a regularly-ghastly cellular phone bill, for what ostensibly all of you out there in the real world consider essential comforts. Seriously, I’ll trade a constant internet connection and Facebook updates for the serenity of a slowly flowing stream, chirping birds and the occasional deer or rabbit any damn day. Wi-fi is my friend, and it’s widely available at no cost.

I’m here to tell you that none of it, from dedicated internet service to electricity supplied by some faceless power company, to piped-in gas heat or pumped-in oil heat are entirely necessary. Sure, if you want to pay continuously for everything that keeps you alive (I forgot to mention running water, which I also do not currently have) and well, go right ahead. For almost all of my life I’ve done the same. By this time next year, I’ll have a more solar panels and more battery backup, a wood stove, an addition onto the motorhome which I’ll build myself, and running water courtesy of the clouds above, some 55-gallon holding barrels, gutters and pipes.

As many of you are surely aware, all of the creature comforts of our modern world can get expensive, so, as I got to my retirement years (what a joke, and a topic for another time), I thought I’d see just what living without all the niceties and essentials of civilized society would be like, and the result is not so bad. In fact, it’s downright liberating. Having to make do without what everybody just takes for granted gives one a feeling of self-reliance, but more importantly, freedom.

To know that one could survive - and I might add, survive quite well - without the monthly money-grubbing gatekeepers, is a joy and a liberty I wish everyone could experience. It’s been made even more possible by technology (seriously, our pioneer ancestors didn’t have solar panels and propane heaters and stoves, nor did they have well-built motorhomes, mobile homes, campers, computers and other gee-whiz gadgets.). Technology has made life off the grid not only possible, but actually very, very enjoyable and rewarding.

That is, if you don’t mind shoveling your lawn every now and then.

Happy Thanksgiving,

—Fearless Rick