Far Past Our Father's Land: Stories from the Greater Depression

Sharon December 9th, 2008

The Horses
Barely a twelvemonth after
The seven days war that put the world to sleep,
Late in the evening the strange horses came.
By then we had made our covenant with silence,
But in the first few days it was so still
We listened to our breathing and were afraid.
On the second day
The radios failed; we turned the knobs; no answer.
On the third day a warship passed us, heading north,
Dead bodies piled on the deck. On the sixth day
A plane plunged over us into the sea. Thereafter
Nothing. The radios dumb;
And still they stand in corners of our kitchens,
And stand, perhaps, turned on, in a million rooms
All over the world. But now if they should speak,
If on a sudden they should speak again,
If on the stroke of noon a voice should speak,
We would not listen, we would not let it bring
That old bad world that swallowed its children quick
At one great gulp. We would not have it again.
Sometimes we think of the nations lying asleep,
Curled blindly in impenetrable sorrow,
And then the thought confounds us with its strangeness.
The tractors lie about our fields; at evening
They look like dank sea-monsters couched and waiting.
We leave them where they are and let them rust:
‘They’ll molder away and be like other loam.’
We make our oxen drag our rusty plows,
Long laid aside. We have gone back
Far past our fathers’ land.
And then, that evening
Late in the summer the strange horses came.
We heard a distant tapping on the road,
A deepening drumming; it stopped, went on again
And at the corner changed to hollow thunder.
We saw the heads
Like a wild wave charging and were afraid.
We had sold our horses in our fathers’ time
To buy new tractors. Now they were strange to us
As fabulous steeds set on an ancient shield.
Or illustrations in a book of knights.
We did not dare go near them. Yet they waited,
Stubborn and shy, as if they had been sent
By an old command to find our whereabouts
And that long-lost archaic companionship.
In the first moment we had never a thought
That they were creatures to be owned and used.
Among them were some half a dozen colts
Dropped in some wilderness of the broken world,
Yet new as if they had come from their own Eden.
Since then they have pulled our plows and borne our loads
But that free servitude still can pierce our hearts.
Our life is changed; their coming our beginning. -Edwin Muir

Many of you will remember this poem from the Post-Apocalyptic Novel discussion in September.  I wanted to run it again for another reason – although it deserves to be run simply because it is such a lovely narrative. 

Aaron and I have been talking since last year about the need to do concerted, documentary work about the crisis that we’re presently facing.  As we think ahead to the days when current events are part of a narrative account, we have to face the fact that the stories of governments and policy setters are likely to overwhelm the most immediate and urgent experiences of the Long Emergency – we are likely to hear stories through official voices, while the quietest voices, the ones that hurt the most, and those who do the hardest ground work response, go unaccounted.  Oh, some of those stories will make it into the narrative as well, and someday our grandkids will come around and take histories of those days.  But the truest stories are the most immediate ones, as they happen.

In the first Great Depression, the WPA set writers and photographers to work capturing ordinary experiences, and writers and thinkers told the stories of the hard days behind them.  The results are the astounding photographs of Dorthea Lange, works like _Let Us Now Praise Famous Men_ by James Agee and Walker Evans, the collected accounts of thousands of writers.  And perhaps we will see an effort like that today.  But one of the consequences of relocalization, of a narrowing of our spaces and a reconnecting with localities mean that so many crises occur in distant places and so many solutions are being made in disparate locations, at the local level that it would be easy to miss both the stories of hardship and the ways people are trying to address this crisis.  More importantly, I think that most people do not yet view our present situation as of a piece, one unified crisis, drawing together the intertwined chains of our energy, ecological and economic situation.  Only those who see the whole can begin to document the whole.

Aaron and I conceived the idea of documenting our present disaster – economic, ecological, energy.  We wanted to tell stories from our neighborhoods and around the world.  But we can’t afford to travel around the world, can’t afford to go and see every tragedy, or every person struggling to hold back the tide.  So we need help.  We need your stories, and the stories of people you know.  We’re working on a website where people can post tales, photographs, suggestions for people we might actually travel to meet – places where times are particularly hard or places where there are particularly remarkable answers.  And if we can’t go, maybe some of you live near there – maybe you can snap pictures or talk to people or tell the story through your own eyes.  The wonder of the internet is that we may well be able to tell this story mostly from our own places.

We’re interested in everything from what it is like at your food pantry to how your neighbors are handling the threat of job losses.  We want to know what things look like i your world, what you are doing, and what those around you are doing to get by, or to improve things.

We hope to make a book out of it eventually, and perhaps some documentary videos as well.  We’re calling the book and project “Far Past Our Father’s Land” both because we believe that the land and our agricultural practices lie at the heart of the world’s present crisis, and because we believe that wherever this journey takes us, it will be far away from the things we know, the places that are as familiar as our world, our parents’ world.  We are headed both forward and back, into territory partly known and partly unknown.  It will be easier territory to navigate, or if not easier, more truthful, if we have each other’s stories as a guide.

I don’t want to wait to hear what you’ve seen until the website is ready.  So tell us your stories – what are you seeing in your daily life?  Are you struggling?  Do you know people who are?  What about solutions, support networks, acts of resistance and courage?  Tell us what you know that we should know!

In the introduction to “Let Us Now Praise Famous Men” James Agee tells us that he doesn’t want to soothe us, that he expects the experience of reading to be like the experience of cranking up crashing music, and ramming your body against a speaker.   Doing so, he writes,

“You won’t hear it nicely. If it hurts you, be glad of it. As near as you will ever get, you are inside the music; not only inside it, you are it; your body is no longer your shape and substance, it is the shape and substance of the music.”

I’m no Agee, and my goals aren’t quite the same.  But I fear the loss of the truth as events turn to history.  And while it does hurt to know what is real, getting at the shape and substance of the present is work worth doing. 

Please, tell us what you see.


62 Responses to “Far Past Our Father's Land: Stories from the Greater Depression”

  1. Shamba says:

    Well, all our blogs ought to help with many of these kinds of stories, In any case, here’s the way I’ve been feeling and seeing the world the past 3-6 months.

    My mother was a child of the 1930s Depression and she passed away at the end of September 2008. She was in an Alzheimer’s care unit that was very good but she was down to about one year of money left in that place. She died unexpectedly but I was always hoping that God would take her before she ran out of money because I was afraid the state of Arizona would be in bad enough shape that they might not be able to give her any monetary support because of the worsening economy. I feel like it’s a personal sign from God that Mom went just before another Depression is coming on!

    I’m very aware of the generational idea that one generation passes away that has experienced the big downturn every 80 years or so before another big downturn comes for another generation.

    There are stores with liquidation signs all around where I usually do ordinary shopping so I’m reminded all the time that retail stores are having trouble. I can easily imagine about every other retail space in my general neighborhood being empty in a few months or a year.

    I’m not hurting for food or anything like that. I own my house and I’m far from not affording what utilities I use, so far. I get a retirement from a state government but who knows if that won’t be affected in some way in coming years.
    I’m old enough tostill be in very good health but also to be concerned about what the coming years will mean for my own old age.

    I was concerned about what was coming in the events of economic trouble, financial trouble, peak oil, and peak everything else but I didn’t feel like I was truly involved in these any crisis until about six months ago when it became visible in front of my eyes everyday. Local news broadcasts were suddenly full of food banks really badly needing help, a local church posted flyers in the neighborhood about Prayer Vigils for the Economic State of the USA, more stuff on the newspaper front page about local needs because of a worsening economy.

    I don’t know if this is what you were looking for, Sharon, but that’s my immediate reaction to such a great idea as collecting these stories about our predicament these days.


  2. Shaunta says:

    I live in a mining town. With copper at something like $1.40 right now, and the cost of getting a pound of copper out of the ground at about $2.29–well, you can imagine the tension in the air around here right now.

    Mining is cyclical, so no one expects mines to stay open forever. Ours has been open for the last eight or nine years this time, so it’s time for it to close anyway. That’s the sentiment, with a sort of resignment to the idea that it’s about time to pack it in and move on to the next job somewhere else.

    The Nevada state prison is in our little rural town, which will keep some people employed and employ some of the laid off mine workers. But I expect the population of my town to plummet when the mine closes. Last time, in the late 90s, the school population halved.

    We aren’t starving up here in the mountains yet. But people are bunkering down in anticipation of big lay-offs. The mine has already laid off all of it’s temporary workers (they have a program for giving work to people just out of high school for lower pay while they learn to mine.)

    When the mine closes, things will move fast. The price of houses will fall through the floor. With a greatly reduced population, less service jobs will be needed. Some of the newer business that popped up since the mine has been open, mostly clothing stores, will close. There will be teacher lay offs because there will be far fewer students, although the school district will likely try to hold on to the teachers through the end of the school year.

    We don’t own a house. By the time we got here, the price of houses had tripled with the housing boom. They’ve come down soon, but no one would buy here now with visions of a closed mine dancing in their heads. We’re saving as much as we can so we can buy when the market crashes to Earth.

  3. nika says:

    Having JUST been laid off last Wednesday – I have a bit of time to devote to this. I do have 3 little kids so this will be a labor of love and passion that fits in between finding a way out of our own double unemployment.

    In addition to being a scientist, I am a pro photographer http://www.nikaboyce.com (and, of course a PO food self-sufficiency type person).

    I have been thinking about just such a project from the photographic side (esp after learning about the Fist Depression photography projects – too few women did that!)

    I would like to work with those of you in my region (MA and northern CT – further afield and it becomes more difficult for me $$ wise considering I dont have any right now) to document your efforts to prepare and also if you have access to people who are coping with living through this demand destruction (alternative living arrangements, lost house, etc etc – but only if they are interested in be photographed – I am not in a mental space where I want to be too “street” about this.. I feel too raw about it myself).

    You can see shots of our self-sufficiency efforts at these links..


    If you are interested in teaming up with me, let me know! This will then be a part of this project and my own work. you can reach me at my Peak Oil blog at http://www.peaknix.com or at this address nika dot boyce at gmail dot com

  4. Lisa Z says:

    I would like to help with this project. I don’t have much to report now, but I will keep my eyes and ears open for stories that might fit what you’re looking for.

    I can say that a couple of weeks ago when the pastor in church stated that 10% of Minnesotans can’t afford to feed their families right now, I got tears in my eyes. That number is already that bad!

    My husband works in the public schools so I think we’ll all know when/if the schools are closing and/or laying off teachers, etc. Since he works in music, those in his field may go sooner but we’re hoping none of that comes to pass.

    I can tell he is getting more stressed and worried about it, though. His job is getting more stressful every year as it is. He teaches band and general music at an elementary school of 700 kids. There are a total of 17 languages spoken in his school alone, in a small city in Central Minnesota of all places! Now I think that is great, but it sure brings a lot of challenges. We can’t continue doing things the same way we’ve been doing them and expect good results. A whole new paradigm has come to America–both economic and social–and the stress of the change and lack of support for the schools really gets to him.

  5. You might see if Phelan over at A Homesteading Neophyte would be willing to summarize her story. (She also writes at Women Not Dabbling in Normal) She’s fighting foreclosure on her homestead/farm.

  6. Raven says:

    OK, this is the third time I’ve tried to post this. Have you ever tried typing while a 13-month old tries to help you, Sharon? :)

    Shaunta, I grew up in a copper mining town too. I know what you mean. Back home everyone keeps waiting to hear the mine is going to close when electricity goes up. A lot of service stuff has come in there as well– Home Depot, Linens N Things, etc. that will go away as soon as people have no disposable income to spend there, and those jobs will leave too.

    Where I live now is a government town, so unless folks work for the government they work in service or small business but I have been noticing there’s an awful lot of tiny casinos, pawn shops etc. that I think would go away as the economy gets worse. There will be a brief surge as people try to gamble or sell their way out of money problems but then they won’t have any money or stuff anymore and those places will fold. My husband works in the one big local industry other than government, a cement plant. Cement has been very stable traditionally, but the company recently had to lay off 2/3 of another plant, which was very unexpected. My husband and I had been feeling secure about his job for a few years anyway, but now we’re making contingency plans. Would we stay or go if he lost his job? I’ve put in so much work on the garden here and we have a woodstove and are close to family, so I think we’d stay. The mortgage holder on our house is my husband’s grandmother, so we won’t get kicked out. Utilities will be the trick. We’ve got some savings, and several skills to barter, but I think in a long-term situation I’d have to try to get work as an RN somewhere and let DH watch the kids. Not a good prospect; usually nursing staff is cut first in a budget crunch.

    Things I’ve noticed around here are 1) a lot more yard sales– a whole lot of yard sales– the kind that are selling everything from inside a house, including furniture and sometimes non-perishable food. It’s cold here, and not yard sale season, but they haven’t stopped. 2) A lot more houses for sale, and sitting on the market for a long time. I know this isn’t news for the rest of the country, but the housing market stayed ok here for longer. Everyone I talk to not only knows we’re going into a Depression, but they have an increasing sense of dread that it will be an unusual Depression. Most of them also have no idea what to do. I have been steering them toward tuna and rice.

  7. nika says:

    Kate: Thanks for that heads up! I just visited her site – I wish I could help her :-( I hope I am not in the same place soon.

  8. I think this is a great idea. People need to hear what’s really going on instead of the usual sound bites from the spin doctors.

    I will put my thinking cap on and write something up for you. I’m fortunate in that I just moved back to an area that was already depressed and has been for years. The salt of the earth people here already live a very frugal existence and don’t squander away much. I don’t sense that there will be many changes in this area, unless our town of 50 people will strike it “rich” with oil, like the other towns around the northwestern part of rural North Dakota do.

  9. Michelle says:

    This is a good idea and I’ve been thinking about keeping a journal about our lives during this time, but haven’t started it yet.

    I’m an expert in a dying field. I worked in international business. Part of the huge global economic boom that is now flattening the world economy. Oddly enough though, I worked for manufacturers, not companies that outsourced their production. So my work actually fueled the domestic and international economies jointly. Which is kind of interesting (to me anyway).

    I quit my job when my daughter contracted RSV and stopped gaining weight and ceased sleeping. I was no longer competent to drive let alone make decisions about shipping hazardous materials across the globe, so I stepped down.

    I knew about Peak Oil, but was not aware that the point of impact was the same time as I quit my job. My timing was terrible. I should’ve continued to work as I learned by finally catching up with the financial news while nursing my daughter on the couch. Fortunately, we were able to time the stock market losses and took proactive action before the markets started yo-yoing. We also started a fledgling food stockpile as a hedge against inflation and general economic chaos.

    The pivotal moment was my husband and I sitting at the kitchen table trying to figure out what to do. We wanted to yank all our retirement out of the market, which was a huge counterculture rebellion. It felt dangerous and possibly stupid. The pundits scolded us daily to leave our money in the market, but a few like Suze Orman were honest enough to say now was not the time to enter the market. (And eventually the advice became, take out money you need now.) My husband was afraid.

    It’s a big thing to go against the primary paradigm all by yourself. How could we know what to do when all these pundits were experts– how could we be right and they be wrong? At least my international business background had given me a lot of experience in swimming upstream. I am well used to being the lone voice in the woods and fighting my way through the status quo to get things done.

    It came down to, what did we believe? What were the facts and how did they interact with our beliefs? And if we believed the economy was in trouble, how could we not work to protect our money?

    We were ridiculed for what we did. On one message board I was even called stupid. Everyone knows money is made over the long term and that you have to ride out the ups and downs of the market. They lost money, we did not. We paid off debt, they did not. We stored food, they did not.

    So that’s where we are. Not so stupid as it turns out. I am working part-time as a tutor and interviewed for a full-time job last week. The interview was surreal. Sales are UP! Everything is GREAT! I felt like I was lying in my interview by pretending to agree with them.

    The agenda now is to work while we can. Continue to store food, continue to pay debt, learn to grow what food we can etc… We still have some retirement in the market that we can’t take out, but have completely ceased contributions and are instead putting money into preparing for what is coming.


  10. curiousalexa says:

    A question that frequently arises is How to know when something is a problem, and not just paranoia? I fear in the case of the environment/climate change, it’ll be when it’s too late to reverse. In the economy, it’s when you know someone who got laid off.

    It’s raining in December today, but I can no longer tell what is normal for NE IL and what I think of as normal, having come from central MN (8 years ago!).

    A friend of mine got a 60 day notice yesterday. He’s the first in our group of friends to be forced into job hunting this year. I keep hoping I’m just paranoid… (but preparing anyway)

  11. Laura says:

    Food storage is very important. Everyone should have at minimum a one-year supply of food stored. Alot of food items are very cheap if purchased in bulk (oats, wheat, rice, dried beans, split peas, navy beans, kidney beans, lentils, etc. popcorn, 50 pound bag of potatoes, onions, cabbage, apples, etc) and if you use those items in most meals, then you will save alot of money and you can use that savings towards expanding your food storage to include other food items.

    I just don’t understand the whole “people are going hungry” situation. Are they really going hungry because they can’t afford food–or is it more due to FUSSINESS and refusing to purchase, prepare, and eat cheap healthy nutritious foods?

  12. Elizabeth says:

    One county over, a coal mine that employs over 300 announced that it is shutting down, not long after a bronze plant in the same county announced its closure. The lumber mills are laying people off and some are shutting down for the winter with hopes of opening again in the Spring.

    We live in a university town, and haven’t noticed too much change here (though our town was on CNN a few weeks ago as one of the best places to find a job right now), aside from companies putting hiring freezes into place, which will be hard for the laid-off miners and loggers looking for work.

    Food prices seem to be rising still, even as gas prices fall, and if the Fall was any indication, it looks to be a bad winter.

    We (my little family) are actually in a better economic position than we ever have been, but we’re trying not to get too used to it. We know it could change at any time and are really trying to plan for that possibility.

  13. Elizabeth says:

    And, um, I don’t think too many people are starving out of fussiness.

  14. MEA says:

    Here, in Trenton NJ, generally the people who are going hungry are those without a place to live, or who live in a place where you can’t cook, or don’t have enough money to scrape together to buy in bulk.

  15. Shelley says:

    Well, in Alaska it’s home heating fuel that is causing a crisis right now. Most homes outside the metropolis are heated by home heating fuel, a kind of deisel. In the villages, those reachable only by plane or barges in the summer, home heating fuel has been running between 8 to 10 DOLLARS a gallon! And these places are COLD….cold beyond your imagination. Last winter people moved in with eachother so they only had to heat one house instead of 2 or 3. Then this summer, a lot of them moved to Anchorage, anticipating that personal budget costs would go down. They are learning that there are a whole lot of unexpected costs to living in an urban area. Some of them have returned home to their villages. The crisis created by this massive and sudden shift in population was that the Anchorage schools became overcrowded.

    Incidentally, we in Alaska are still paying $2.50 or more per gallon for gasoline, our nat. gas bill is going up 20% in January and our electric went up last year 30%.

    They say the arctic is the first place to experience the effects of global warming, such as not enough ice for polar bears. Well, I think we might also be the first place to experience the cost of peak oil. And isn’t it ironic that our main export IS oil? They tell us that the reason our prices are so high is that we don’t have any refineries. Whatever.

    Food costs are still the same and Alaska did not have the same housing bubble that the lower 48 had, so we aren’t seeing a flood of foreclosures. We all have our fingers crossed about a Natural Gass Pipeline building project in the works. But until that acrtually gets going, our economy will be in the tank, since oil price per barrel has fallen by over $100 since summer. Our entire government economy is based on price per barrel.

    But the most interesting story would be the effect on Alaska Natives being displaced by high home heating costs. Do you want pictures and stories form those people?

  16. Cynthia says:

    My father-in-law was laid off in Sept. and still can’t find a job. He’s about 6 years from being able to retire and is thrust back into the job market. A friend was fired from his job last spring (for unrelated reasons) and still can’t find a job. Another friend finished her masters in May and can’t even get a call back for an interview.

    I work freelance and things have been slow lately. I had a part-time job to help me get through the slow times, but THAT company folded in August.

    Stores and restaurants have been closing. “Huge” sales, and “restructuring closeouts” signs are up everywhere… but the actual sale prices are disappointing. Food bills are going up.

    My credit card company sent me a letter saying they were lowering my credit limit (1 month before Christmas) and my other cc company said they were switching from Citibank to Bank of America in March. I carry balances, but pay more than the minimums each month. Our car lease is up next summer and I don’t know if we’ll be able to get financing for a new one.

    It seems the people ’round here have been in denial and just keep on doing things the way they’ve always done…while we were selling our Jeep and getting a subcompact, our neighbors were buying a new SUV… but slowly slowly it seems to be seeping in that things aren’t getting better before they get worse.

  17. BoysMom says:

    We live in a town of about 800, 12 miles from a town of 20,000. The main employer here is the sawmill, and it is still open. The other big employer is the University in the ‘big town’, and they have instituted a hiring freeze. As long as it is only a freeze and they don’t have to lay anyone off, and the sawmill stays open, folks will be okay. The economy here has been bad for a long, long time. In the last 25 years (according to the locals who have been here ever since their great-grandparents came from the Old Country) all the major businesses have closed, leaving only the sawmill and a small gift-plant manufacturer, (http://www.pottingshedcreations.com/) I guess you’d call them. The town hospital is gone, the dentist, the dairy, the brickworks, the hotel, the railroad . . .
    We’ve still got the market, but I don’t know how long the owner will be able to hold out. He charges more than the groceries in the ‘big town’. While gas prices were high this summer it made sense economicly to buy from him. But now they’re back down, it’s cheaper to drive into the ‘big town’. Strangely, gas is always a penny a gallon cheaper here. Minimum wage is what is paid at those jobs–and I suspect an increase could put those two businesses under.
    The food bank said demand was up 25% in October, homelessness was up 15%. People are moving in with relatives or friends. People who’d left–children of locals, are moving back. Better to have a roof over your head then not, even given the lack of jobs around here.
    The umbrella organization for the food bank has a homeless shelter in the ‘big town’. They can’t make their mortgage payment on it. They want to sell our food bank, which is not in debt. This will hurt our town a lot. If they can sell it–they probably can’t: the property is on a flood zone and the building would be condemned if it weren’t the home of the food bank/thrift store. The food bank itself makes enough off the thrift store to meet operating expenses.
    We may not be here much longer: we nearly had an electrical fire due to old wiring in the place, and if the landlady’s sons don’t see fit to rewire it, we’ll be moving on. I hope they’ll rewire, since it’s a decent enough old house, though our heating bills are through the roof, and there aren’t that many people who allow gardens, let alone chickens. My husband’s job with the University is stable–as stable as anything right now, since his department can not function without computer support and he’s it.
    The weather has been wonky: last year there were feet of snow on the ground at this time, we’re told, this year there has been none. It is raining again. This will be bad next summer when there is no snowpack melting to recharge the town’s water resevoir. Water bills are way high here, so no one waters their grass normally except for the school district and the LDS church. (The town engineer screwed up on a cost projection, the town raised water rates to cover the bill, so folks stopped watering.)
    Many people garden. Many people keep livestock. Laundry lines are normal. There are lots of farms around the town. A lot of houses still have wood burning capability (used regularly, too). There are lots of trees–they’re another farm crop. Subsisting is doable. Prospering is a heck of a lot harder. But this town never boomed. It doesn’t have as far to fall.

  18. homebrewlibrarian says:

    There was an article in the paper the other day here in Anchorage about problems that were beginning to nibble around the edges of our local economy. By and large, we haven’t felt much of an impact yet. A few stores have closed; CompUSA, Linens N Things, although Wal-Mart expanded to another super store out in Eagle River not too long ago. But as Shelley mentioned, our entire state government depends on the price of oil. And oil is tanking right now.

    Another article in the paper talked about the increase in ridership of public transit. While it was a wire service article and didn’t mention Anchorage, Anchorage bus ridership has increased rather exponentially over the last few months. During the summer (and even now in the winter) lots of people were biking around. I biked until the snow fell and went back to the bus. While I’m recognizing a lot of regulars on the bus in the morning, the number of people who are there has been increasing. The city increased the frequency of buses on several routes this year because of demand.

    I have yet to hear of any of my friends, coworkers or acquaintances who are on the verge of losing their jobs. Nobody I know is facing the loss of their home or car. I do hear about cost cutting measures but in passing. I do know of a handful of people who are underemployed or unemployed by choice and they have to be vigilant about their expenses. For them, the level of concern is rising but for everyone else, it’s Christmas time and life is joyful.

    Maybe because I’m riding the bus more frequently than during the summer but it seems to me that the level of anger at the downtown transit center is rising. More people arguing, complaining about problems in their lives, children being disciplined loudly. On the bus home from work one day, a woman and her older teen son argued vociferously about money issues. Lots of fingerpointing in both directions. But people want to help each other, too. I’ve overheard several conversations where job seeking information was exchanged. All of it for temporary work, but that may be all there is. Overall, the mood amongst riders on buses is somber.

    I work for state government but my job comes from a federal grant so I know it’s not a forever thing. Looking ahead, my concern for the future grows. I’ll just keep watching and preparing and supporting those around me.

    Kerri in AK

  19. dewey says:

    Laura – Not “everyone,” by any means, can afford to purchase a year of food. Nor are those who feel pinched by food budgets we find higher than frugal necessarily “fussy” or “refusing” to eat the cheap stuff. They were raised, through no fault of their own, in a society where the adults in their lives were discouraged from preparing staple foods at home, so they never learned how to do it. If you try to cook and feed yourself and your kids on staple foods with no idea what you are doing, you can experience all sorts of negative outcomes, from being forced to choke down or discard poorly prepared and unpleasant food, to malnutrition, to acute illness. I have heard of an instance in which, after a natural disaster, food aid that included beans and oil was sent to a remote area. Local people had no clue how to use those foods, but being in no position to refuse any alleged edible, they tried to cook the beans in oil and eat them, with the result that many suffered severe digestive problems and quite a few died (probably there were actually multiple causes involved, but still…).

    I agree completely with Sharon that as the current model, whereby every adult works a full-time corporate job and thereby makes enough money to satisfy all needs with commercial products, becomes less viable, the domestic economy will have to take up the slack. For now, we have a lot of people for whom the domestic economy has not been a viable model, and they have reasonably not devoted their often minimal leisure time to learning domestic skills that did not seem useful. People will have to adjust and learn more of those skills; the reason I am not a doomer is that I am confident people can learn when there is obvious reason for them to do so.

  20. AngieC says:

    Are you interested in what’s going on outside the US? I’m in semi-rural England, just a few miles from the millionaires’ paradise of Sandbanks, but my own neighbours are in danger of having their homes repossesed (foreclosed) and are struggling to put food on their tables, although everyone is putting brave faces on, for now at least. Our gardens (yards) tend to be far smaller than yours and most of us will struggle to grow significant contributions to our own diets. But to set against that, most of our small towns are still walkable, we can hang our washing out, we do have sporadic public transport and can buy locally-produced food without having to drive, always provided we have some money.

    But I wouldn’t want to live in some of our grimmer ex-industrial inner cities, or their overplanned identikit suburbs…

  21. Andrea says:

    In our area, a large over-the-road truck manufacturer has downsized from 5000 workers to 500. Most of those laid off have been out of work for a year or more, unemployment benefits have run out, health insurance has expired and there are simply no jobs to be found in this area.

    There seems to be a real stigma in our county about hiring workers from this particular company; for fear they’ll be recalled and quit their new job? Or because of the wages they had made? Whatever it is, there are a lot of families hurting here.

    What I notice more than anything else are feelings of hopelessness and helplessness. People have forgotten the old ways; cooking from scratch, raising their own food, natural healing, simple entertainment, and most of all, appreciation for what they have.

    So far, my beloved has managed to hold on to his job at said manufacturer, but we never can tell from year to year what will happen. We’ve worked at becoming as self-sufficient as possible and stockpiled food in anticipation of the worst. We count ourselves among the lucky ones and are thankful for it. If bad turns to worst, we’ll survive. Just say prayers for ‘my people’ that they’ll be survivors too.

  22. Linda says:

    I live in a white collar, middle class suburb outside of Chicago. I hadn’t really heard of anyone being laid off or struggling so thought perhaps our community was immune to the crisis for now. That changed last week when I learned from another parent that the school my kids attend was running out of the supplies they keep on hand to feed kids who forget their lunch or think they have hot lunch but don’t that day. So many kids are coming to school without lunch that they run out of food by Wednesday. I think things are so much worse than people are admitting especially when they are relying on school to provide a simple PBJ! I only hope my friends and neighbors get over the shame and the fear they feel and reach out for help. While I may not be able to give money, I can watch their kids while they look for work or give them the clothes my kids have outgrown. I can proof read their resumes, share our dinner and just be a friend and listen. I’ve been reading Sharon’s blog for 2 years and just finished “Depletion and Abundance” and it is truly sad to see what she has been saying come to fruition. Thankfully, in our family we’ve done what we can to be prepared for the crisis. Hopefully, it is enough.

  23. Devin Quince says:

    The Quince’s would be willing to document what is going on here in the Twin Cities.

  24. WNC Observer says:

    Black Mountain Memories

    December 2008

    At Our Community Garden

    It wasn’t too bad a year, in spite of the drought. I produced a bumper crop of Butternut squash, Winter Keeper beets, Bloomsdale spinach, and Georgia Jet sweet potatoes (my first year to try these). The yields for the Early Jersey Wakefield cabbage and the Red Gold potatoes was only fair. All of the sweet corn, carrots, and other brassicas were a great disappointment. Live and learn!

    Situated on the banks of the Swannanoa River (which we pump and distribute to the garden plots) and adjacent to the riding stables (providing us with plenty of horse manure), our Community Garden is almost perfectly located. Administered by the town’s Parks and Recreation Department, the rental fees that we gardeners pay for our plots covers the costs of running the entire project, including the beds (about half of the total) dedicated for food bank production. Students from Warren Wilson College volunteer to work on the food bank plots, with plenty of hand tools and rotary cultivators available on site for all to use. When the crops are ready, the food bank issues vouchers to their clients. The clients then come out to harvest whatever vegetables they need. This does not provide them with all the food that they need, but it does help.

    As for the couple dozen of us renting plots, some are fairly well-to-do, some struggling, and some in-between. It is nice to get to know other gardeners, to talk about new varieties tried, to offer advice about pest problems, and in general to put the “community” in this community garden.

    The Tailgate Market

    Every Saturday morning from May through October, about a dozen people have been congregating on the grounds of a church just north of downtown. Some are organic farmers (including a grower’s co-op), some are small market gardeners, and some are selling home-made jams, baked goods, pottery, flowers, and other products. There were more people here selling things, and a lot more people shopping. This being a small town, one cannot help but run across lots of people that one personally knows, as well as becoming personally acquainted with the sellers through dealing with them week after week.

    Lots of people are patronizing this market, and I suspect that a major reason is because our community is so mountainous and heavily wooded that few people have very much space suitable for home gardening. We are going to be increasingly dependent upon these local growers in the years ahead, I suspect, and we need to patronize and encourage them now if they are to be there for us then. I wonder how many of the other customers are thinking this?

    The Beekeeper’s Club

    This year I took the plunge and went into beekeeping. To start, I attended the New Beekeepers School held by the Buncombe County Beekeepers Club. Over 300 people were in attendance, by far the largest beekeeping school in North Carolina, and probably one of the largest in the nation. Beekeeping is a very important thing here in the mountains of Western North Carolina. We have lots of flowering trees, and thus lots of natural food for the honey bees. It is one of the better food crops to produce on land that is often too marginal to produce much else.

    I was fortunate to be the winner of one of the scholarship hives that the club gave away, courtesy of some local donors. I was thus set up with my initial hive equipment and colony. Before I took delivery of my bees, though, I had to prepare my bee yard. Most importantly of all, I had to set up an electric fence to exclude the black bears. Although I live in town, we do get bears in our yard at least once a year – that I know of, anyway; they are probably here many times at night when I don’t see them. I cannot risk even one bear encounter with my hive, so the electric fence had to go up first.

    My hive did OK my first year. I was not sure if I would be able to harvest any honey, but I ended up extracting twenty pints, and still left enough in the hive to get them through the winter. Now I’m keeping my fingers crossed and hope that my hive will winter over OK.

    Our Beekeepers Club did OK, too, increasing its membership to several hundred. Most members are small-scale backyard beekeepers like me. The world needs more of us, for we are the future of beekeeping. In the news the past couple of years has been the mysterious Colony Collapse Disorder. While no one knows exactly what it is or what causes it, it appears to mainly being the case of the bees in a hive simply being overwhelmed by exposure to toxic chemicals, parasites like Varroa mites, and pathogens. There is no proof, but many of us strongly suspect that the large migratory beekeepers, hauling their hundreds of hives from one orchard to another around the country each year, might have a lot to do with this. I can’t help but think that such an unnatural treatment of bees – hauling them from one strange location to another, never giving them time to really settle down in one location, boxing them up in their hive between locations, concentrating them unnaturally in one location, having them feed on a monoculture rather than a variety of nectars, and exposing them to pesticide residues and who knows what else – can’t really be good for the bees. The practices of migratory beekeepers seem to me to create a just about perfect vector for the rapid transmission of parasites and pathogens. Add to this the rising costs of fuel to transport the hives back and forth across the country (and the produce that the bees pollinate), and it is clear that this is an unsustainable model. The backyard beekeeper is a more sustainable model, one more attuned to and harmonious with nature. Bees are distributed across the landscape at low density instead of concentrated, thus retarding the spread of parasites and pathogens. A healthy ecology is a bio-diverse ecology; bees distributed across the landscape can find nectar and pollen throughout the growing season, and are available to pollinate plants throughout the season as well – just as they have naturally co-evolved. Honey, along with the fruit and vegetable crops the bees have pollinated, is produced locally for local consumption, instead of having to be shipped from a distance. It is a better way, and I am glad to have become a part of it.

    Walking to Work

    All my life, I have been wishing that my home and workplace were located close enough together to allow me to walk to work. A couple of years ago, I was finally able to secure a job that made this possible. In 2008 I took the plunge and started commuting on foot.

    It is a distance of 1.7 miles each way, and takes me 45 minutes each morning and evening. It is undoubtedly on the long side as far as walking commutes go; more of a hike than a walk, actually. Nevertheless, I have no doubt that there were plenty of people in previous generations that had to walk farther than that. There are undoubtedly plenty of people around the world having to walk farther even today.

    When I was a child, I routinely walked to school, at least until I got a bicycle. It wasn’t quite as long a walk in those days, but it was still a pretty long walk. Sometimes the school buses pass me on my way in to work, and I wonder why these kids are not able to do what I did when I was their age. I wonder how long it will be until they will have no choice but to walk to school, if they are to go to school at all.

    Mine is not a mainstream commuting option, to say the least! However, I have been pleasantly surprised with the public reaction, at least up to now. Each morning and evening, I am passed by lots of people that I know; they honk or wave and I wave back as they pass. People have learned to discontinue stopping and offering me a ride – I explain that I need the exercise; if I am running a little late and the boss offers me a ride, though, I do confess that I will take him up on it! When I see people in the office or in the store or at church, I always get comments and questions about my walking commute. People are uniformly positive, impressed, and encouraging about it. They often express a wish that they were also able to do what I was doing; I wish they could, too, but realize that many are not so fortunately situated.

    Since I live and work in a small town in the Southern Highlands, our crime rate is low, and I have not felt unsafe during our walk. I do occasionally encounter one person while walking who I am guessing is a Medicaid patient at an assisted living facility along my route; he asks for money, and I give him whatever loose change I might have in my pocket. We’re gradually getting to know each other a little better. I am also good friends with several people along my route, and am gradually getting to know a few other people who live along the way – more so during the warm months than in the winter. Walking, unlike driving or even cycling, is an inherently and intensely communitarian mode of transportation.

    People often express concern about the danger of being run into. My route is not ideal, as there is only a small stretch that has a sidewalk, and much of the route is along a fairly busy street. I do take precautions. I have one of those clip-on LED flashing lights that cyclists use, and my backpack as a reflective strip on it. I also wear a yellow parka in rainy or cold weather, and I carry a flashlight to use when it starts to get dark. I do all that I can to make myself visible and to minimize my risks. So far, I’ve had nothing to worry about.

    Because I live such a short distance, I am not saving all that much gasoline; I figure it adds up to maybe fifty gallons per year. That’s not much, but there is also the wear and tear on the car that is avoided, enabling me to go a lot longer before I need to replace it. We’re actually keeping this second car more for convenience than anything, now, since it is paid for. If I really had to, we could probably get by with just the one car, and that would save us quite a bit more money. I do pack in my lunch since I’m stuck at the office during the day, and save quite a bit of money that way as well.

    This September, I was really thankful that I was able to commute to work on foot. A couple of hurricanes hit the Gulf Coast, and shut down motor fuel supplies throughout the Southeast U.S. Western North Carolina was one of the worst-hit areas. There were several days there when I saw very little traffic on the street, and many people were very worried about where they would get fuel. Scenes from the future? Fortunately, we had filled the gas tanks of both cars before the hurricanes hit, so we had enough fuel in them to last us a couple of months. We would have been hurting, too, if not for the fact that I walked to work. <p?
    A few people, seeing me hiking my route, pack on my back, and hiking staff in hand, have joking called me “the Mountain Man”. Like the old-time Mountain Men, I’d like to think that I am a pioneer of sorts, conducting an experiment, setting an example, and showing people the way they will need to go forward into the future.

  25. Michelle says:

    I’m close-ish to Nika and have contacted her. I think this is a great idea – I’d hate for my grandchildren to have to face the next one with no guidance of how we survive this one!

  26. nika says:

    Michelle: just saw this note – anted to let you know I have not gotten anything from you

  27. Pony says:

    I hope more people will tell more-or-less where they live, as I think it will help to understand if circumstances/climate are similar to our own.

  28. Grandma Misi says:

    Bookends of a frugal day…

    I live on a limited income from Social Security disability. I also live cheaply, but beautifully, by a lake, by caretaking someone else’s home. My food budget is smaller now that heating costs are higher. Every penny counts and is stretched by bulk oatmeal etc.

    Making a sandwich for lunch I scraped the bottom of the bottle for mayo, and spread on what I noticed to be my last two pieces of bread. No more bread until I make some in the next few days… need more flour.
    Started the coffee pot for my one cherished cup a day – shoulda stuck with my trusty old non-electric press… but no, I had to use the electric perk that the house owner bought because she believed I just HAD to have a non-barbaric coffee pot. Needless to say it’s a cheapie and very touchy.

    Went to feed the cat, came back to finish making the sandwich, and the stupid coffee pot (stupid operator?) leaked all over the counter – soaking my two pieces of bread. No sandwich for me. More oatmeal I guess…

    The upside, bookend of the day was I drove to town (rare trip these days) for the first time ever meeting of the “Olympia Action Network” – folks coming together to enrich our community. The organizer voiced a desire to take up the challenge expressed by Barack Obama. What change can we make, what can we contribute to our communities?

    It was a wonderful first meeting. More than 40 folks there. We filled a full year’s worth of calendar with monthly projects that support our community. I’m really excited about this and look forward to meeting new friends and helping with needs in our area.

    To replace my lost sandwich I used up left over rice and beans and made burritos. Made extra for dinner during my trip to town and meeting. Silly me to be so proud of myself, huh?

    How was your day?
    Grandma Misi
    Pacific Northwest

  29. LRH says:

    I am a 55 yo divorced woman attorney employed with the state and living in a TH in the suburbs, with 2 daughters in their mid 20′s, one living an hour away and the other 10 hours away. The price of organic bulk rolled oats has gone up at both organic groceries in a 10 mile radius from $ 0.99/lb in September to $1.69/lb now. If this keeps up…… My best girlfriend was laid off from Verizon a month ago, along with others she says are older and higher up on the salary scale. A divorced male friend had to retire at 55 from the postal service in September to move to FL to take care of his elderly mother after his father passed away and had to cut a deal with his lender to take back his condo for a price. He was lucky, in that he made the deal with Wells Fargo before it crashed. He’s living with his mother and trying to pay it off from his pension benefits to avoid credit rating problems, while spending his days shuttling his mother to myriad medical appointments and dealing with other errands.

    My daughters basically listened to me and neither followed me into law. One is a mechanical engineer and the other in her 3d year of med school, both careers and occupations that will serve important roles in the changing world arriving faster and faster at our doorsteps. The one in med school calls me a doomer though, so I don’t talk to her about that. I just tell her to take out whatever loans are necessary to finish med school, because no one can ever repossess the education or the credential, but I don’t talk to her about the coming crisis or what it will do to the medical profession or her long term career plans. She told me about a classmate who lost her loan commitments at the beginning of this year due the the credit crunch and couldn’t continue her medical education.

    I think my friends and co-workers largely think I’m kind of a nut, but a likable one, in that the pollution of our food system with chemical garbage is one of my long term issues, as well as the peak oil interest I picked up about 5 years ago when I needed a mind diversion and started reading widely and obsessively on the net. I even have a poster in my office, “The Age of Oil,” that only one person has ever commented on — a like thinker who was shocked to see anyone else who shared the concern. I don’t know anyone else who cooks from scratch and uses no processed ingredients, not even canned beans. When my younger daughter got her first shared apt in college and her roommates found out she had never had soup out of a can in her entire life, they asked her what planet she grew up on. :-) If I’m having trouble figuring out how to successfully grow food in my small TH yard and not have it wrecked by the groundhog living under my neighbor’s shed and the rabbits and deer, since I back up to parkland, I can’t imagine what kind of panic will ensue when all the people who are clueless start trying to grow food and find out it’s not easy. I have always had lots of thriving house plants.

    I have been stockpiling non-perishable food since last summer by buying some extras with every shopping trip. The Trader Joes in my area has empty shelves, spot shortages of basics like rice, canned tuna and pasta, more and more often lately.

    I feel like I’m watching a train wreck in process that no one else around me perceives, and no one, even the friend who was just laid off, takes me seriously. When I forward links to articles and blogs, like this one, I don’t think anyone even reads them anymore, if they ever did. The reason my friends view me as a likable nut, I think, is because I’m basically a happy person who appreciates having friends and seeing them brings a smile to my face.

  30. Heather Gray says:

    LRH, I’m curious — what is a “TH” ?

    On the ground hog, it might not be easy to do, but if you can lay in a fence/wall/pavers under the ground that might defeat the animal. That’s a fair bit of digging though, because you have to basically dig a foot deep trench, lay in the wire and/or pavers and then put the dirt back into the rest of the trench. That would be in addition to whatever above-ground fencing you may have.

    Good luck, and I hope some of your friends stop thinking of you as a nut soon!

  31. Maybe if people spent a little more time documenting the steps taken to create the depression, we wouldnt be repeating most of the same mistakes right now. But no, that isnt important. What is important is documenting the daily experiences of a bunch of people who were too dumb to figure it out. Even though this time the crimes were perpetrated RIGHT OUT IN THE OPEN. Everything is right in people’s faces. Yet they still dont care. So why care what happens to them? Who gives a damn about the pedantic, pathetic experiences of people who were stupid enough to drink fluoride, eat aspartame, and sit there with dumb looks as the revolving door between govt and banks and weapons contractors spun faster and faster?

  32. Sharon says:

    You know I sincerely pity people who have complete contempt for most of their fellowmen – and I don’t imagine most of them will do well in the coming years, when we rely more on one another.


  33. Greenpa says:

    Ay-yi-yi. Another little something for you to do in your spare time, eh? :-)

    I think it is highly worth while, and/but the potential for it to become a tar-pit is huge.

    Organizing it so that a newbie and drop in, access something they will find interesting quickly, and become engaged- is going to get harder and harder as the stories mount from hundreds to many thousands.

    I’d vote for retaining ALL the stories- but finding some way to kind of wiki-fy it. Allow people to vote or something? So people could tune in and read the top ten stories today?

    I’m quite sure you’ve already thought about it. what a lot of work! What a good idea.

  34. Judith says:

    Sharon, thanks for giving us a place to tell our stories. I retired a year ago, 6 months before I turned 62. I worked for 32 years in Critical Care in a medium size hospital in Southern California and could not take the 12 hour shift any longer. The unit was moving to a new patient care area, and I was having trouble managing care of my patients related to late shift fatigue. I tried to reposition myself in the hospital, but it seems there was nothing available. I’m sure it had nothing to do with my age. But I was thrilled to leave because the shift assignments were based on a 1970’s type patient and I was morally distressed watching new grads trying to cope and maintain their own sense of worth.
    Now I am faced with looking at my life savings disappear. I know theoretically that this may be just a recession and the stock market will come back in another 6 months. I know that if I remove my money now, I’ll loose hundreds of thousands of dollars and my future will be pretty bleak. I know also if the country does fail, and all of my money really does not come back, my future will be pretty bleak.
    I am angry that I did not realize this lack of control existed. I felt I worked hard and saved diligently for my retirement. I felt retirement was a doable thing. Now I wonder if retirement is a myth.
    I have a 20 year old, and our efforts will always be directed toward his future. We have started a small garden in our Condominium’s back yard. We hang temporary clothes lines up from fence to fence and that has allowed us to reduce our gas bill by half. I cook every meal and am trying to cost out ingredients to find the most cost effective combinations.
    We have budgeted our goals for next year and that includes going without cable, keeping the Internet, using our personal spending money for our entertainment, and going without health insurance which costs us $1,000 a month and will increase 200 percent in April

  35. dewey says:

    Personally, I have complete contempt for people who have complete contempt for most of their fellow men. That’s not a problem for me so long as most people don’t do it, right? :)

  36. Vegan says:


    I don’t think the stock market will come back in six months. If I was in your position, I would take the money out of the stock market now. I know it must be painful to lose thousands of dollars, but it would be more painful to lose it all. We have entered a deflationary spiral, perhaps the greatest of depressions.

    The following website (recommended by Sharon) thoroughly covers our economic predicament with its analysis and excellent articles:


  37. grace says:

    Documenting lives: One of my most treasured books is
    Pie Town Woman by Joan Myers University of New Mexico Press 2001
    Which is somewhat of a memoir as told by
    Doris Caudill who with her husband and children created a homestead in Divide, N.M. near Pie Town. The narrative is illustrated by the black and white photographs of Russell Lee who “worked for the history division of the Farm Security Administration from 1936 to 1942 photographing the effects of the New Deal agricultural policies on people who had suffered through the Depression and Dust Bowl.”
    Whenever I think of this book, two images come to mind: a photograph of Doris in her dugout
    storage celler holding a jar of canned beans and gazing upon it as lovingly as one would a newborn baby. Without electricity or running
    water, she canned from 500 to a thousand quarts of food (some from the garden, some wild) each year.
    The second is a vignette she tells of the time before they had a well and hauled all the water they used by horse and wagon to their homestead. She looked out the door and saw her little girl making mud pies in the yard and was about to go out to scold her as not a drop
    of water could be wasted, but then saw what had really happened….her daughter squated, lifting her dress and peed to perfect the consistency of her mud pie.


  38. Grandma Misi says:

    Thank you Grace!!!! Did anyone else notice the delightful connection between this wonderful “mud pie” story and Sharon’s article today (Dec 10, re disabled children and how we adapt)? I’ve got to read this book you mentioned… and I can’t help wondering if the mud pies were later used as “fertilizer” for their veggie growing gardens?
    Misi, Pacific Northwest

  39. Theresa says:

    I live in Alberta, a few hours south of the (in)famous tarsands. What I see here is denial, denial, denial. While every single new bitumen upgrader in this province has either been cancelled or postponed, most people here are completely oblivious to the coming changes. The decrease in oil/gas prices has people driving their huge pick up trucks faster again, and at least once a month there is a fatal car accident on the highway going up to Ft. McMurray, where the tarsands are.

    There are hundreds of houses for sale in my home town of about 15 thousand people, but WalMart has just expanded and there is still a lot of commercial building going on. The government of my closest city of Edmonton has decided that they should spend billions upon billions of dollars upgrading the roads and highways, yet they are scaling back the millions they had said they would spend on expanding public transit. I envision a future of thousands of bikes traveling on these nearly-new roads.

    No one I know has yet lost their job, but when the inevitable happens they will likely be completely unprepared, because they have not yet begun to scale back their lifestyle, reduce their debt or grow/store any food. Most people still think global warming is a hoax, or some kind of ‘left wing agenda.’

    While I am glad some days that I live in an area of relative monetary prosperity, because it buys me some more time in terms of preparation, most days I am sad because no matter how much food I store, I can’t feed everyone, and at the moment no one is taking any measures to feed themselves. Most others see my husband and myself as eccentric and harmless at best or deluded and fanatical at worst. It is a very strange and surreal existence sometimes.

  40. grace says:

    Misi..as far as I know, Doris is still living in
    your neck of the woods..Cascade Locks, OR.

  41. Malcolm Strachan says:

    I live in a London (England) borough to the West of the city. Here things don’t look as bad as they seem in the USA from the comments I’ve been reading on this and other sites. I became aware that something was amiss in late 2005, when my wife and I found our first peak oil site on the net. After reading about that impending problem we started to use any spare money to buy gold and especially silver as a hedge against a possible complete collapse of the system.

    I must admit that at first we thought that the whole shooting match would unwind pretty fast, which did not turn out to be the case, but we persisted with the buying of PM’s and I started to ride a bicycle to work (13 mile round trip). I figured that either you are part of the problem, or part of the solution. Now heres a thing, I work at Heathrow airport, the busiest in Europe.

    Getting my income from an industry that gobbles up tonnes of oil every day took some justifying in my own eyes, but hey, the kids and us need to eat, and the money is good, so call me mercenary if you like! Life here has changed little, on the surface, since the “credit crunch” (as the press here love to call it) hit. The government is desparately trying to “do something” i.e. save the banks, and force them to return to lending levels at the height of the boom. We are all lead by morons, which doesn’t say much about us either. Scratch a little deeper, however, and there are signs of strain.

    The high street, as the retailers are know here, are in trouble as spending has slumped. Companies are struggling to get money from their debtors, who in turn are struggling to get the banks to renew their lines of credit in turn. The company my wife works for has had to put a hold on the account of their biggest debtor, with a lot of money outstanding.

    We decided to start storing food after I read an article in a national newspaper which quoted a stock market trader as saying that he had collegues who had begun to buy tinned food, that is how bad the markets had become. I figured that someone whose livelyhood depends on knowing the markets, making a comment like that, was worth taking notice of. We have been able to fit about three months worth of food in the tiny spaces available in an English terraced house, part of it in a wooden chest in the living room.

    Looking ahead, 2009 is going to be grim. We have spoken about at least one of us losing our job, and figure that if we can make it through to September, when a large loan is paid off, then we will be in a position to live on only one income, if we are very careful. I don’t believe that most people here have a clue what is heading our way.

    Always, Malcolm.

  42. Wanna says:

    I live in suburban NJ where there were a lot of high tech jobs. Many of my colleagues took out the biggest mortgage they could get to buy the most expensive house they could afford on their income. The kind where there are as many bathrooms as there are bedrooms. And chemicals are poured on the lawns to kill everything except grass.

    The high tech jobs have been steadily declining in the past decade. I was laid off in 2001. Thats when I took some time off and got caught up on current events. I was pretty shocked to learn what was going on. How could humans choose profit over the well being of others? It was clear to me that our lifestyles were unsustainable and we needed to move towards decentralized, sustainable living. But I don’t speak of this to anyone anymore. Its not something people want to hear about.

    Not wanting to put in the grueling hours expected of high paying jobs, and being over qualified for easy, part time jobs, I was pretty much unemployed til 2008. I tried volunteering at several organizations and joined our local master gardeners association so I could learn what I consider to be a valuable life skill.

    I gardened in my front lawn because my backyard drops off into a creek. To optimize their profit, the builders built my house within the wetzone buffer and so my backyard is very steep. Being out front a lot, I got to meet some of my neighbors as they’d walk by. Some of them are asian immigrants and have their own little gardens. I’ve given excess plants and produce to my
    neighbors and a few have given me meals in return.

    My compost bins are the only ones I’ve seen in my neighborhood. The soil under my lawn is like concrete whereas the soil in my garden beds is improving. I’m getting more soil critters, insects and wildlife. I take great delight when I watch the bees gathering pollen or spot goldfinches hanging
    upside down on a flower head thats gone to seed, lady bugs and a preying mantis guarding its territory. I’ve even discovered the eggs of snapping turtles who find my newly dug beds make good nesting grounds.

    I’m landlocked by 3 major roads and surrounded by car dealerships and mega stores. And yet, squirrels, rabbits, birds, ground hogs abound and even a few turtles, frogs, water rats, mice, opposums, raccoons, skunks and deer find shelter in this mostly asphalted neighborhood. But I doubt we are allowed to keep livestock. The homeowners in the adjacent townhomes aren’t even allowed to grow vegetables on their property.

    In 2005, I was briefly employed as a seasonal worker at the local park system at $8.50/hour. We taught children about how the native Lenape Indians lived in this bountiful, forested area before they were forced to leave some 200 years ago. An extended family lived in a longhouse about the size of a large living room. Food was plentiful along the shore.

    In 2006, I returned to my former company as a contractor for a year before getting laid off again. During that time, the fear in the building was quite palpable as layoffs were a regular thing. Smart, hardworking and well networked, I believe most have been successful finding other work up to now.

    Fortunately for me, just before my checking account ran out of money, I was able to get a job at the local Fort that was hiring like crazy because of anticipated retirements in response to an order to relocate the base to Maryland.

    Its difficult to get laid off here so people don’t worry about losing their job. What an awful thought, but as long as there is war and terrorists, we have jobs. The financial concern seems to be timing the bottom of the market so folks can get back in. Most seem to think that everything will return to
    normal once we get out of this recession. They seem unphased by the inequities going on in the rest of the world. Perhaps we feel powerless to do anything about it. Hard to believe, but we’re not even allowed to turn off our computers at the end of the day.

    We are scheduled to move in 2011 which is really bad timing. I’ve spent the past 5 years planting edibles on my tiny property and having to pull up stakes and start over in a new, unfamiliar state, seems foolish during these unstable, uncertain times. But the prospects of finding another decent job locally isn’t good. Plus I live 2 miles outside the base, so my home value will drop and this area will most likely become depressed once the base closes. I don’t know what to do.

    Coincidently, there was a power outage last night. We very rarely get any significant power outages or disasters here. I tried lighting a candle but my smoke alarm went off (which I don’t know how to shut off) so I put the candle out. As I sat in the dark and as the house started to chill, the reality of my unpreparedness sank in. I’m 50 yrs old, live alone, and not in the greatest health. If we were to experience any significant disruption of essential services: power, water, heat, delivery of food, I wouldn’t fare well. The outage only lasted 2 hrs.

    We are densely populated here and dependent on our services and supermarkets. The vast majority are far removed from nature and too busy to slow down. Someone said something about the drug addicts going out of control. What about all the folks dependent on coffee, soda, cigarettes, alcohol, painkillers, anti depressants, high blood pressure meds, insulin, tv, internet, etc. That pretty much encompasses the rest of us. What about the prisoners?

    I keep hoping that Obama will lead us in the direction we need to go to make things right. Because we are a relatively well off area and haven’t had to deal with any large scale hardships, we are generally unprepared and lacking in basic life skills. If significant disruptions happen rapidly, I don’t
    think we will fare well here in NJ. But being the only person who seems to be concerned, I feel like an alarmist or negative when everyone else is going about their business as usual.

    I hope the transition is gradual enough to give us time to adapt. We are known as the garden state. We have natural resources, we just need to collectively wake up and shift together as a community towards sustainable living. But most of us work full time jobs and don’t have any time/energy/money to spare. How do we slow this train down enough to change tracks?

  43. Kathirynne says:

    “I feel like I’m watching a train wreck in process that no one else around me perceives…”

    I feel this way, exactly. Only my feelings of frustration and hoplessness are compounded by the fact that I am a Mormon. (You know, the people who are all about self-sufficiency, preparedness and food storage?? Yeah, only not so much.)

    Many of the people who go to church with me don’t have a clue (or care a fig) about any of the above. They just keep drivin’ their Suburbans to Wal*Mart and back to their McMansions (which are mortgaged to the hilt.)

    In my own life (and on a more positive note), within the past year I have:

    *Moved into a 3-bedroom house with a full basement. I am (little by little) equiping the house to hold as many people as possible. (Food storage with a vengence, adding Hide-a-Beds wherever possible, stocking up on toiletries, blankets, et cetera.)

    *Took Sharon’s Adapting in Place class. Mostly, this class helped me to see what I still had to sort out, but it was very illuminating, even if I didn’t learn the answers to all my questions…

    *Learning to veggie garden. (I plan to expand on my successes in the coming year.)

    *Learned to make jam, bottle tomatoes, and even got brave and tried pressure canning some split pea soup. (I had help from my friend, but, hey, at least I gave it a go!)

    *Reduced my driving to fewer than 10 trips per month. (With the result that a tank of petrol now lasts me about 2 months!)

    *Recommitted to living a really simple life. (Even while raising 4 children on my own…simple – HAH!)

  44. virginia says:

    It is so interesting to read these stories and I look forward to Sharon’s new website for this purpose. Very glad that someone mentioned the book Pie Town Woman. Another worth looking at (again from University of New Mexico Press!) is the outstanding novel Hold Autumn in Your Hand, by George Sessions Perry. It won the National Book Award in 1942.

    Wanna’s experience of setting off the smoke alarm with a candle sounded like something I would accidentally do. Making a mental note to go by the hardware store and pick up one of those oil lamps and some oil.
    Friends in Houston used them in the long weeks last September after Hurricane Ike, and loved having a nice long burning light on the kitchen table so they could at least read or play cards.

    Here in north Texas, I personally know middle class friends laid off from well paying jobs. But my evidence is mostly anecdotal, as the media reports that our local economy isn’t doing too badly compared with other locales. Home mortgage defaults here are fewer than in many places in the US.

    We feel fortunate, but not convinced that we’re seeing the end of this.

  45. Amelia says:

    Malcolm, Angie –

    If you’ve not yet signed on to allotment waiting lists in your area, do so now. Don’t wait; get to know the people at the allotments nearest your homes, find out if there are any local groups lobbying for more spaces to be made available — if you’ve not yet made contact with anyone in the Transition Towns movement, drop a note at the website. There are more people thinking about this than you might believe.

    The Mayor’s plan to make Salt Lake the first city in the US with a comprehensive sustainability plan pushes ahead; we and our neighbors go on with our own work — swapping excess produce from the gardens and help with upgrading our homes. Three of my neighbors are selling chicken and duck eggs from coolers in their back gardens; another keeps bees.

    An unexpected bonus will allow us to cover our son’s next term at university and replace some failing equipment without having to tap credit. Solstice this year will be very low-key: an evergreen wreath, beeswax candles, gifts either handmade or replacements for something that’s worn out (a new shaving brush for my son, a good wooden comb for his girlfriend), and baked goods for the neighbors.

  46. desertgirl says:

    I live near a ghost town in a remote area of West Texas near the Mexican border. People here live unconventional lives in buses, vans, trailers without running water or electricity. Most people have a bare bones sort of existence without many modern conveniences. People collect rain water, use compost toilets, and some are lucky enough to have a few solar panels while other people use candles to light their homes.

    This is a hard scrabble area where people are survivors. I don’t see the current economic conditions affecting people here like in other areas.

  47. Lisa says:

    I live in a coastal town near Wilmington, North Carolina. Life has been getting harder here for a year or more since the housing bubble started to burst. We moved here about three years ago, right after the housing market really started to take off. Before then wooded lots several blocks from the beach sold for $25,000. Within a year they were selling for $200,000. It blew my mind that these tiny little pieces of dirt were so valuable. Who had the money to keep buying them?

    Everyone around here acted like this was going to go on forever. It concerned me that someone had to keep buying the real estate for the market to continue, and I saw how it was starting to trend more towards small-time speculators owning the properties. But everyone was so blissfully happy with their money and what it could buy. They majority of residents here were involved in the housing market in one way or another… real estate, builders, construction workers, mortgage lenders, etc.

    When we reached the peak in housing and the retirees from up North weren’t able to sell their houses and move down here, the money started to dry up. Still most builders kept building and real estate agents kept advertising. Now there are unfinished developments sitting with their OSB rotting, shortages at the food banks, and we have a higher unemployment rate than the rest of the state.

    My husband is a builder and I feel so sad that he cannot continue his dream. We were blessed to not get caught up in the speculation, but we had to take out a mortgage and live in the last house he built. Previously we had mostly lived in the country. We dream of it still, but I think we may have to adapt in place on our ¼ acre lot that we have no hope of selling right now.

    My husband was able to get a job as a town building inspector, so we still have an income. We are much better off than a lot of people we know. One of my friends is a real estate agent and her husband is an investment broker. They have had no money coming in for the last few months. Other friends have had to close their construction businesses. One of my husband’s subcontractors beat up his girlfriend and then tried (unsuccessfully) to kill himself.

    We have a small savings (that wouldn’t touch our mortgage) and no debt, so I feel we would fare better than most here. My parents are retired and have a relatively safe income and stash of cash, and my husband’s mother has a house that is paid off and a large savings in cash. We all get along, so I know we will work together when times get tough. We hunt and fish, my husband and I put in a small garden this year, and I have been busy learning sustainable skills. He thinks I’m a bit crazy with my “doom and gloom” ideas, but he has agreed to some food storage. We can’t have chickens here, but we might get some anyway.

    This area was primarily dependent on fishing, and a few farms, before the housing boom. I pray that we haven’t wasted our resources and that we can pull together as a community when things get tough. There are very few farms left.

  48. Sheri says:

    Yesterday morning I told my beautiful, brilliant, college sophomore that I wanted her to take a year off so we could see what this economy has in store for us. She was crushed. She loves studying anthropology at Syracuse University. Unfortunately, in order for her to pursue her studies we must both incur substantial debt. My daughter fears that if she takes a year off she will lose momentum and never wish to return. I fear that by next year there will be little to which to return. We live on a self-sufficient farm and her education along with my own post-grad studies are my only debts. Asking her to take time off is one of the most difficult decisions I have ever made, particularly because at the moment, where we live in New England, we are not seeing the kind of massive layoffs seen in the mid-west and elsewhere. I myself am a college professor. Education is my life and to tell my child that she must truncate her’s, even temporarily, is making us both feel sick.

    Perhaps I am wrong. Perhaps we will come out of this relatively soon. I doubt it. We are at the point in our economy where Goldman Sachs is suggesting investors purchase CDSs issued on States’ debt. Who ever heard of such a thing? Oh well, we are hearing just about every unimaginable possibility when it comes to gambling with the economy.

    Here’s the kicker – the college where I teach, a 4-year BS granting institution, is part of a national system, EDMC, a subsidiary of Goldman Sachs. Most of the faculty where I work feel confident that we are strong and profitable and that we will continue to exist. I believe that Goldman will try to dump us because our “customer base” is debt driven and our student demographic is generally made up first-generation college students from lower economic groups who find it difficult to get loans. If they cannot find a buyer for the schools, what then? As we have seen, it can all fall down very fast.

    So I have had to make a crushing decision. As a (single) parent I want to protect my daughters. I want to make sure they have a home to live in and food to eat. I do not want them to have debt and I want them to have some sort of next egg from their mother. To do this I want to get out of debt and to sock away as much money as I can (and not necessarily in the bank). If things straighten out then I will go right back to incurring debt to get my child through college. If not we will all be living full time on the farm anyway.

  49. BoysMom says:

    Sheri, can your daughter possibly get a job at a college?
    The reason I ask is my husband works at a University. They will let him take classes for roughly $50 plus lab fees and books depending on the course as long as he is employed full time and takes no more than 2/semester 1/summer. It wouldn’t be as good as going full time from her perspective, but it would be better than not going at all, and she’d be able to pay down her debts while she’s at it.

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