August 2, 2012

The Prepper Next Door

Last week I learned that a good friend is a prepper.  Her family of four believes that our government is going to collapse and there will be martial law. They are preparing to leave on a moment's notice.
Bonnie and I became friends 20 years ago because our children were around the same age and we attended the same church.  She has since left the progressive Protestant mainstream congregation for a more conservative evangelical church.
Bonnie and another friend, Victoria, came to dinner Monday.   I was talking about  reading apocalyptic-fiction all summer.  In addition to some old favorites, “Alas, Babylon,” “On the Beach,” “Failsafe”, and “Lucifer’s Hammer,” I’ve read “The Leftovers” and “The Age of Miracles.”  These types of books have been favorites of mine since I was a child, and was exposed to "The Late Great Planet Earth."
“Alas, Babylon” is one of my favorite books.  Spoiler alert: I love how the library in this fictional central Florida town has greater importance after the grid, even a 1959 Cold War-era grid, disappears.
Turns out my friend and her family are very afraid of disaster.  She  asked Victoria and I if we watched “Doomsday Prepper” or any of those shows.  
Sometimes I do watch, but it is more from the observer's perspective. I've actually been working on a short story about life in Boston after a long-term power outage.  Started this story before all of India went dark for a couple days last week due to failing infrastructure.
That's about as far as I go. I don’t believe I want to survive a nuclear war or a comet smashing into my neighborhood. I will admit to buying a kerosene lantern and a hatchet before Y2K, too influenced by all these books I love.  And our family does have an emergency preparedness kit from the Red Cross as well as a wind-up radio.
My friend and her family are very prepared for any eventuality. She talked about her family’s “bug-out” bags.  They have heavy packs with food, water, medicine, etc., to survive for 72 hours in the wilderness. Even their thirteen-year-old daughter has her own bag.
I asked her where they would go.  She didn’t answer, but referenced friends in Colorado who are doing the same thing.
She told us that they have three generators, a wealth of ammunition (well, this is Indiana, everybody and his brother has red Chevy trucks with gun racks and pole barns full of ammo). She referred to their property as the “compound.”
I asked her what she thought would happen.  She said, “You’ll have to ask my husband, I’m not sure.”  I pressed her a little further.  “Well, he thinks with prices going up that the government is going to collapse and it is going to be every man for himself.”
She also told me that they carry a lot of money with them in the “bugout bags.”  They are also working to amass a year’s worth of food storage, primarily rice and beans.  And water.
What I know from my LDS friends is that there’s an art and a science to food storage.  It must be rotated and you can’t contain water in plastic too long without the plastic eroding. As I understand it, most LDS folks give their supplies to the poor before it expires, and then load up again. 
(If Mitt Romney is our next President, will there be food storage in the White House?   One of our recent presidents built a bowling alley.  But this is a different beast.)
What impressed me the most, or rather distressed me, about my friend is that she seems to lack any hope at all.  I am not often bullish on our country right now; I often wake up not sure what country I live in.  (Yesterday my town experienced huge traffic jams because of the volume of people trying to get to Chik Fil A for Mike Huckabee’s barn dance and chicken fry.  If the public expression of hate disguised as support wasn't enough, we had a Congressman compare yesterday's affirmation of more preventative health measures available to women with the horrors of Pearl Harbor and 9/11.)
In both cases, freedom of speech means that we all get to express our opinions. 
At this point in my life, I want to focus on love, not hate.   If this makes me a damned fool, then so be it.
Maybe I don’t have a survival ethos, though in my faith tradition I don't believe this is the end of it all. I don't want to live out of a bag in the woods.  I believe in preparing for disasters; I've through tornadoes, floods and hurricanes.  But I’m not certain if a nuclear blast hit our town that I would stay inside. 
Living off the grid, I guess we would survive just as our ancestors did. My father lived without electricity until 1946. 
What kind of life is there with a canvas bag, hiding in the woods?

Cross posted from Open Salon, awarded Editor's Pick.