A Beaver Killed in a Snare

Subsistence Trapping, or the Art of Making Up Your Own Mind

Who Makes Up Your Mind?

As we mature and increase our self-awareness, we can realize that much of what we believe was once what someone else believed, fed to us with the spoon of trust, whether intentionally, inadvertently, or even maliciously.

When I was young, my mother made sure I thought of trapping as barbaric, cruel, and unnecessary while we happily ate meat at almost every meal. For many years, I blindly went with that point of view, even espousing it to others. Once I started hunting, the role that trapping could play in resource acquisition became more obvious, and I began to question my longstanding beliefs.

As a child, I spent much of my time in the woods of upstate New York. I somehow came to have a copy of Tom Brown’s Field Guide to Wilderness Survival, and I wore that book out. I built dozens of survival shelters, tools, and traps, squirreling away knowledge in case I ever needed it. I considered trapping a last-ditch effort not to die of starvation, though. What I didn’t know at the time is that New York was, and still is, one of the great states for trapping, and that trapping was an important part of my heritage as well as a legitimate method for securing dinner! Opportunity missed due to closed mind. Again.

From the NYS Dept. of Conservation Website:

Trappers in New York have a long and proud heritage. After all, New York State was explored and settled largely due to the fur trade. New York State has an abundance of furbearing animals whose populations are thriving and secure. For nearly ten thousand New Yorkers, trapping remains a vitally important activity, affecting both their lifestyle and livelihood.

Without getting political, trapping was a powerful influence on the westward exploration of North America by Europeans. Without a resource to chase, not much got done back then, just like today. Like most everything, though, it was taken too far. The North American beaver was nearly extirpated from the entire continent at one time. That Wikipedia page, by the way, details some very interesting history of North American settlement.

A Beaver Killed in a Snare

A Snared Beaver Provides Me With Fur, Meat, and Lure to Use in Trapping

Time Is Not on Your Side

Time, especially in a survival situation, is precious. You need it for building a shelter, finding and purifying water, and gathering wood for your fire. Or, maybe to build a strong relationship with your spouse and children.

You also need it for finding food. Food becomes energy, and energy is critical. Without calories, especially in colder climes and times, you will be unable to make use of your time to complete the other tasks required to keep you alive. If he was still with us, you could ask Christopher McCandless, who grew too weak to find or even digest food and died in the Alaskan bush.

A hunter might sit all day waiting for game to come by, for just a chance to take a shot. Even if game does come by, he might miss, or, worse yet, wound an animal and have it run off. A fisherman might spend all day and not get a bite, or get plenty of bites but be unable to land a single fish.

These activities require time and energy that can’t be reclaimed. It’s a bet, and if the result is failure, you could lose everything. Hunting and fishing are single-point-of-failure (SPOF) scenarios. I am not a fan of that exclusive approach. Trapping, by virtue of setting many traps, allows for strong redundancy, the best way to improve the robustness of a system plagued with SPOF problems.

A Dozen Snares Coiled Together

A Dozen Heavy-Duty Snares Will Fit Easily in a Survival Pack

Hedging Your Bets

From a subsistence point of view, trapping can provide the highest ROI of any year-round food-gathering endeavor in temperate climates. If you happen to be stranded on a tropical island, you might do better picking fruit or coconuts, at least until you need protein.

Trapping is a way to amplify the effect of your time and energy. Like dozens of hunters as patient as the bedrock, traps will wait. Traps can harvest game for you any time of day or night. When well-placed and expertly set, the right kind of trap delivers a quick, humane death to your quarry, food to your plate, and much more. Traps can be commercially manufactured or made from naturally available materials.

The Fur Industry

I considered titling this section, “How to Take Advantage of People and Animals,” but thought that might make my opinion too obvious. I guess I did it anyway, because it needed to be done.

From time to time, I place an ad on Craigslist for nuisance wildlife control services. Basically, I trade access to property that I can trap for the service of removing the animals that are giving people trouble. Sometimes, landowners get my name from someone I’ve worked with or even place an ad themselves looking for someone to help remove a problem animal or animals. Beavers flood fields, orchards, homes, and driveways. Coyotes eat pets and livestock. You get the idea.

Almost without exception, everyone wants to trade “the value of the fur” for my time, energy, fuel, and expertise. This tells how poorly educated and/or unaware of reality the public is about trapping. The screenshot below from Trapping Today summer 2016 fur price update should set the record straight.

The Truth About Fur Prices

The Value of Fur Must Be Found Somewhere Besides in the Dollars

Keep in mind that we are not talking about “whole round” critters here, or even “green” or “raw” furs, but large, prime, “put up” pelts of high quality without significant flaws. The amount of time, money, equipment, and knowledge that goes into producing a fur for which you can “command” $8 is ridiculous. I won’t go into it all here, but suffice it to say nobody I know of is coming close to breaking even selling to the fur market.

Commercial Trapping Equipment

I’m probably going to get a bunch of shit for this comment, but it’s my website and you don’t have to like it. Trappers are fools. Despite receiving prices far below production cost for the furs they sell, they continue to serve the fur industry hand and foot. They seem to think that the solution is to TRAP MORE FUR rather than withhold inventory until a reasonable price is offered.

What was once a flourishing industry that supported trappers with reasonable prices for fur has become a predator. In turn, trap and equipment makers have become an industry that plays on the idea that trappers need more equipment, so the market can be more flooded and the price of fur can be further degraded, increasing profit margins for fur dealers.

The trapper is paying (and getting played by) both sides to ply his trade (or hobby, as the “costs money to participate” model is often called.)

A Few Dozen Conibears

Body-Gripping Traps Kill Almost Instantly, are Compact, and Reusable

Quit Your Bitching, Winslow

You might be thinking to yourself, “Winslow, you need to stop complaining and get out of this time and money suck if it’s as bad as you say.”

I couldn’t agree more, and I’m going to share how I’ve done that right now.

I trap things we can eat.

There are plenty of trappers who are solely interested in the products that can be sold. The poor fur market has forced trappers to become very resourceful in order to afford the activity. Skulls, scent glands, claws, even bones and urine can be sold if you know where to find the market. I, on the other hand, simply choose to trap what I can use myself.

So far, we’ve eaten beaver, muskrat, possum, and raccoon. We aren’t alone, either. While it isn’t common fare, I know others (mostly through trapping forums) who eat them, too. Also on the list to be tried: bobcat, cougar, porcupine, coyote, and fox. Note that you can’t trap cougars in Idaho, but if you spend enough time in the woods trapping and hunting other beasts, I am assured you will come across one.

The animals we’ve eaten also contributed fur that I will tan when we have enough to do one large, efficient batch. I’m not too concerned with maximizing “profit” but will most likely sell the valuable parts when I get enough of them. No reason to waste anything.

I Don’t Want to Eat Raccoons

I hear you, and I’m not advocating that you start trapping or anything else. I am, in fact doing just the opposite. I’m asking how you came to think how you think and do what you do, and if that’s all serving you well.

So, is it?


How Cheap Enslaves Us — And Our Way Out

When the last tree has been cut down, the last fish caught, the last river poisoned, only then will we realize that we cannot eat money.

Native American Saying

Why the Obsession with Cheap?

Becca and I and a couple of friends — let’s say Fred and Wilma — were discussing sustainable living ideas over dinner. Permaculture, animal husbandry, power generation, hunting, gardening, and more all came up. Thinking now about our conversation, it is clear how indoctrinated into the cult of “how cheaply can I do this” we all are.

Should I buy organic? Should I drive a fuel-efficient car or a powerful SUV? Which octane of fuel should I put in my car, and is ethanol in my fuel a good deal? Should I add solar power to my home energy system? Should I keep chickens? The list goes on, almost everything we “need” gets tested based on money first.

In the quest to optimize for enjoyment of life, Becca and I have put much of what we do to a version of this test. Is [thing or activity] at least as valuable to us as the part of our life it took to earn it (often expressed as money)? For example, do we want a big, expensive house? No, we don’t, because the time spent earning that house is more valuable to us than the house itself.

We're totally happy with the HPMDU as a house.We're totally happy with the HPMDU as a house.

We’re totally happy with the HPMDU as a house.

When Economic Questions Don’t Come First

What I found interesting, though, was that we set those calculations aside when we care about something. Fred brought up the intrinsic value of homegrown broccoli. Even if it costs more to grow it yourself (even while paying yourself zero dollars for labor), there is no broccoli that can compete with the broccoli you cut from your garden just minutes ago. I like broccoli, and I love homegrown broccoli, but I have not been inspired to put in the effort to grow my own when I can purchase very good organic broccoli for a few dollars a pound or less any day of the year. Fred cares about homegrown broccoli more than I do, for me it’s an economic question and for him it isn’t.

Our positions flip-flop when it comes to electricity. Fred pointed out that his cost for electricity is under 6 cents a kWh. There is no way to economically justify home power generation, with the possible exception of microhydro if you’re lucky enough to have access to that resource. Yet I happily spent $1/rated watt on solar panels, buy expensive batteries and inverters (which can fail and require replacement), and spend hours installing the equipment so I can make tiny amounts of power. It feels like a good deal to me, though any accountant would tell derisive stories about my folly at dinner parties.

Chickens and turkeys, too, fail the purely economic test. When the cost of the chicks (or eggs and incubation equipment), feed, housing, water, other equipment, time to care for them/opportunity cost (do not underestimate it!), losses to predation, disease, and other stupid shit, processing, and so on, you are better off buying the most expensive organic free-range roaster you can find. If you are doing it for egg production, the economics are a bit rosier, but still upside down unless you get lucky and/or don’t value your time. And yet, all four of us agreed — we will all have chickens as often as possible.

Chickens are a dubious affair.

Chickens are a dubious affair.

Made in USA is a big thing for me. The economics are often not good on this, either. Somehow, even with all the efficiencies gained from not having to ship raw materials and finished products around the world, pay import/export taxes, and so on, US manufacturing is unable to compete price-wise on most goods. Since the majority of companies seem to put profit before product quality or worker’s quality of life here in the US as elsewhere, there is little real reason to seek out USA made unless you just want to spend more. Still, I persist in seeking out products made here, imagining that I’m doing something to support the US economy. Or, at least, trying to.

What’s the Difference?

Why would we raise chickens, collect energy from the sun, grow our own broccoli, buy USA made goods, or make any choices that don’t maximize our buying power? I argue that we all know there is something much more important than money. But what?

Our world is ruled by the “laws” of economics. Small farmers go out of business and lose their land because mega-farms out-compete them. We can’t “afford” to grow our own poultry because organic cooperatives leverage massive buying power to produce chickens so cheaply. Many of us can’t even sell our own time (AKA life) for a living wage any more because industry buys foreign labor in bulk, too.

I sense that most of our readers are in agreement with me up to this point. It is a fairly common perspective that large corporations would rather have a dollar than a save a drowning child, but unless you’re that drowning child, what does it really matter, right?

It matters because the real costs of all this cheapness are anything but cheap. Once you have contracted out every last need — food, water, shelter, and so on — you are left with nothing to leverage. All you’ve got is money, but you have never been in control of what happens to that. The difference is control over your destiny.

Hey – I’m Totally Secure in My Destiny!

Think I’m crazy? Maybe I’m exaggerating. I assure you, I’m not. Maybe you know someone who lived through the Great Depression, like my grandmother did. Ask that person how much fun that was, and how much control they felt over their own destiny. Here’s an excerpt from the article I just linked:

“You wanted to take a bath, you heat up the water in these big cans,” Martinez says. “It was always a challenge to keep warm — we hugged each other on the floor. We had little beds that open and close. When I think about it, it was horrible. It was horrible. And then the sanitation of the community — garbage was just put in the alley — and did that create a condition? Yes it did: TB [tuberculosis]. I know my sister came down with TB. Sometimes I like to block that out and just say, ‘Thank God you’re here.'”

Or read about what happened in Germany, when the value of the nation’s currency, the Reichsmark, collapsed from 8.9 per US$1 in 1918 to 4.2 trillion per US$1 in 1920. Those who didn’t have the ability to feed, clothe, and shelter themselves without money had nothing but desperate need.

That’s all so last-century. That shit can’t happen anymore, right? Okay, how about 2008?

Great Depression

City Life Breeds Dependence

How much do you trust the system you pay to keep you alive? If you live in a city, it must be a whole lot. Essential resources must be imported constantly, and, for economic reasons once again, from farther and farther away.

Unbelievably, it’s cheaper to ship food from California to New York City than to grow it ninety miles away in upstate New York. That supply line is fragile, and the supply of food within the city would last less than three days if resupply stopped. Suddenly, money would be nearly worthless — what would you pay for the last loaf of bread or can of baked beans within twenty miles? Oh, and there’s no gasoline left, either…

In light of those thoughts, what might the true value of that chicken, the eggs it lays, a stalk of broccoli, or a day’s worth of electricity be? How about the knowledge and experience to reproduce them day after day, season after season, without outside help?

How Can We Balance Autonomy and Economy?

Cooperative preparation. We’re not suggesting that you quit your job and move to the country to live as a Neo-Luddite. Our suggestion is to hedge against risk. While we can’t all be farmers with photovoltaic arrays and wood stoves, we can all learn skills which can make us valuable in a world that doesn’t run the way we’re accustomed to.

We can build relationships with others and create cooperatives to pool knowledge and resources. Who knows, we might even enjoy the time spent learning and doing something beside building a financial house of cards for the benefit of others.

Don’t Come Here When Shit Goes Sideways

I can’t tell you how many times we’ve heard, “I know where I’m going when the Zombie Apocalypse happens.” Well, guess what? Unless you’ve got skills and/or resources with intrinsic value, you’re not coming to our place. If worthless money is your only bargaining chip, it’s going to be a rough moment for you.

What if, instead, you had skills and experience that could directly help yourself and others? You would be in demand! Moreover, you might be able to take care of yourself and your family until you got somewhere safer. This is not just “Zombie Apocalypse” talk, but straight talk about self-reliance, self-empowerment, and self-respect. It wasn’t people who needed everything handed to them that built this country, and it will not be people who have nothing to offer but money who will pave the way forward. How far would Lewis and Clark have gotten with nothing but a fat wallet?

You Can Come to Our Place Now, Though

All of this is why Becca and I are setting up a teaching/learning/doing center for self-reliance skills. You don’t need to be a full-time survivalist to have a great skill set. You’ll be able to come here and immerse yourself in a demanding, realistic environment requiring self-reliance with almost total safety. Will it cost money? It could, but barter and trade is always better.

Our big announcement is that we’re now the owners of ten acres in the panhandle of Idaho that’s close, but not too close, to civilization (including a medical center) where you can join us for a weekend or longer and get hands-on experience on our renewable-energy powered, working homestead.

You might want to come just for the view.

You might want to come just for the view.

This will be a homestead in the true sense. We’ll be starting from scratch and building up all the elements we need to live — which, at their core, are likely shockingly similar to what you require to live, just in a little different color, size, or shape. So, if you come to visit us, you might:

  • Care for livestock
  • Learn how to process and preserve food
  • Build infrastructure like small buildings, solar power set-ups, and water filtration
  • Work in the garden and learn how to efficiently set up your own
  • Learn to build an emergency shelter
  • Hunt, trap, and fish with us
  • Identify and forage for local edibles
  • Condition your body through hard, physical work
  • Do some “circuits” on an obstacle course found in nature
  • Reduce your dependence on money
  • Increase your confidence in any situation
  • Enjoy the outdoors
  • Stop running in circles

Our long-term goal is to open the homestead free of charge to underprivileged kids, especially ones who’ve grown up in cities, who could use a dose of self-confidence and possibility-enhancement. But starting very soon we’ll be offering seminars, workshops, and other opportunities for you to participate in and contribute to this exciting project.

This isn’t about “prepping,” paranoia, or zombies. This is about taking responsibility for your food and your energy use. It’s about living inside nature instead of looking at pictures of it on somebody-else’s Instagram. It’s about becoming aware of the power you have to create your life exactly as you want it to be and living outside what “they” have been telling you all these years. It’s about those secret dreams you have of making the world a better place.

Do We Have a Right to Consume?

This Independence Day, I thought it would be interesting to consider WHY we gave England the boot and HOW those motivations can be related to today’s world. First, let’s take a look at WHAT happened way back in the 1700s.

England had established some colonies in North America, among other places. England governed and protected those colonies and, in exchange, or so she thought, the colonies would produce goods (and profits) that would benefit England rather exclusively. This was a trans-oceanic version of the feudal system that was much loved by royalty and much-loathed by serfs. Just as the serfs found it to be a shitty way to live, some colonists felt the arrangement was unacceptable. They banded together and, long story short, those colonies became a sovereign nation.

So that’s the backstory. Moving on to the present day, the United States has grown in power and prestige. Some believe the USA is the #1 super power in the world. That may be true. What we can say for sure is that many citizens of the US have an exceptionally high standard of living compared to the residents of much of the world. This is familiar ground if you’ve been following along. If not, here’s the short version:

Nearly half the world’s population, 2.8 billion people, survive on less than $2 a day. About 20 percent of the world’s population, 1.2 billion people, live on less than $1 a day. Nearly 1 billion people are illiterate and 1 billion do not have safe water.   – UN.org

SO, how do the story of our independence and the story of global poverty relate? Simply put, our consumption is fueled by their poverty. Were it not for millions of people worldwide working for sub-poverty line wages, living in squalor, and being oppressed and exploited, we could not possibly live how we do.

Further, and this is simple economic theory, for everything we are able to buy it is because someone else has been priced out of the market. Is overconsumption violence against the poor of the world? It could be argued that it is.

If the colonists, our ancestors and people we hold in high regard, wouldn’t stand for it, why should the billions of people living lives worse than serfs stand for it? Is it any wonder the world is at war?

Simply put, every war is a war over resources. While there may be ideologies thrown around, the hard fact is that people who are at risk of dying for lack of food, water, simple hygiene, and basic medical care are scared, and frightened people are easy to sway with a glimmer of hope.

It speaks volumes about their character that so many people suffer peacefully. Would you? How would you handle watching your family starve so that some fabulously affluent society can landfill a third of their food? We are fortunate for the prevalence of peaceful demeanors worldwide.

All the resources we enjoy easy and cheap access to are precious to others. There is nothing wrong with using what we need, but is it possible that we’ve suffered a bit of “need creep?”

This Independence Day, be thankful for what our founding fathers (and the women who rarely get mentioned!) did for us, but remember why they did it – and that we are now the takers, the profiteers, and the exploiters. Perhaps not personally, but we pay others to do what would turn our stomachs to do with our own hands.

If freedom and independence are truly valuable to you, think about how much those who have none must value it.

We Are Getting Weaker

Do you ever wonder what the motivation is for all the crazy things we do? I do, all the time. I have a theory, and I’m just going to come out and say it. The human race is getting weaker. Admitting that, let’s have an honest discussion about it.

Civilized Does Not Have to Mean Impotent

We like to believe that civilization has bred the animal out of us, that we’re programming-based organisms, but anyone who behaves 100% programmatically is a robot. So, unless you’re a robot, you are influenced by instinct to some extent. The more basic the impulse (self-preservation, reproduction), the greater the influence of instinct and lesser the influence of programming, at least when it comes to what we’d like to do, which can be loosely translated as goals.


Harrison Ford Gets the Reference

Weakness is the shortfall between our goals and our ability to achieve them. For example, I’d like to have sex with Scarlett Johanssen, but I have many weaknesses that prevent me from doing so (including a lack of motivation to fix those weaknesses – more on that later.) The ways we perceive ourselves as weak – mentally, physically, and emotionally – define what we’d like to be via negativa. To eliminate those shortfalls is to become strong.


Motivating, but not Motivating Enough.

What Motivates Us?

I spent years as a coach and learned a few things along the way. I discovered that technical knowledge is important. Essential, though, is the ability to motivate. With the exception of the mentally ill, people behave in largely predictable ways. Marketers exploit this, attacking the shame and fear that stem from your weaknesses by promising to alleviate them. Do you strike out with the opposite sex? It must be your skin. Or your gut. Or your breath. Is your marriage a mess? You don’t have to try harder, just read this book…

From mainstream gimmicks (why do we continue to agree to be fooled by “ab lounges” and crash diets?) to organic food to dietary supplements to overprotecting children from every conceivable displeasure to the the extreme – obsessive CrossFitters, citizen militias, even ISIS, we are all aware of and reacting in a predictable way to a sense of weakening – a widening gulf between our goals and our ability to achieve them.

We project, both egotistically and correctly, that others suffer these weaknesses as well. This projection gives us permission to “go with the flow” because, after all, if everyone is a slow-moving, slow-thinking, physically and mentally ineffective, emotionally-broken person, then we’re all still on the same level. It’s a wash, right? I’ve still got a chance.

Sorry, but it doesn’t work that way and – here’s the take-home – we know it.

Resist the Weakening

The crushing sense of helplessness that comes from contemplating our weakness and doing nothing about it is what’s bringing us down. That’s why we love watching people do things that are outside of our comfort zone.

Any social influence I’ve ever enjoyed has come from doing what others can’t or won’t do, further proof that we just need to step up. If seeing someone else succeed feels good, imagine how it would feel to experience it firsthand?

Chase the Leader

If you agree that becoming weaker sucks, then do something about it.

Self-motivation (also known as intrinsic motivation and the only kind worth bothering with) is essential to goal attainment. When 20-year-old Andrew Miller became the youngest person ever to win the 100-mile long Western States Endurance Run this year, he said, “I had a chase mindset all day.” He thought he was in second place!

Intrinsic motivation relies on internal rewards. Enjoyment, satisfaction, a sense of security, instead of extra cookies if you do your workout, for example. Intrinsic rewards are only available by doing something. You can’t buy them, be gifted them, or find them in the back of your sock drawer or between the couch cushions.

Don’t Wait Until It’s Too Late

We retain enough of our survival instincts that we can react defensively to threats. Unfortunately, as we have discussed before, the most imminent and blatant threats are often ignored until it’s too late because we strive to maintain decorum. But the constant, low-level threat, the one caused by our weaknesses and what we know they mean, wears away at us every day and makes us sad.

Stay “safely” in-bounds if you wish, but I urge you to explore the edges of your comfort zone. Identify your weaknesses, get familiar with them, then either conquer or forget them. Living with them is a too-common way to waste your life.

Start with the Biggest, Easiest Win

You’ll have to be brutally honest with yourself for any of this to work. What is wrong with how you’re living? What’s bringing you down? Make as complete a list as you can. Write it down. This is a practical, as in practice, not theoretical, exercise.

Once you’ve got your list, organize it by severity. Put the most damaging shit at the top. Be fearless. Analyze what’s bringing you down and prioritize.

Now, make a second list with all the same items on it, but prioritized by ease of fixing/least disruption to your life. If you think of new items, add them in the appropriate place to both lists.

You can probably guess the next two steps – cross-reference the lists and make…a third list! The third list is your to-do list. It should only have one item on it at first, the easiest to achieve and most impactful item. Most bang for the buck type thing. You need a win, and this is how you’ll get it.

Get to It

Nothing else to do now. You don’t need try to recruit anyone to help you or share your plans with anyone, just get to it. The possibilities are far too varied for me to try to point you to resources. The exercise of solving this problem for yourself will make you stronger in itself. Once you’ve made some progress, add another item to your to-do list.

On to victory!


Giraffes Solving a Problem – Banner photo By GIRAUD Patrick – Own work, CC BY 2.5

Ruminations on Energy

Living depends on solving each in a series of problems within the framework built by our beliefs, fears, desires, and convictions.

We believe that more autonomy is generally better, fear excessive dependence and the effects of greed, desire freedom and simplicity, and hold personal responsibility in the highest regard. When it comes to basic life needs, there is no reason these ideals cannot be respected.


Ready for a window on the frenetic shitshow in my head? Read on.

It’s not hard to realize that much of what we all consider (and in some cases truly is) necessary revolves around energy manipulation – controlling its form and flow. Much of my time is spent thinking about and working on systems to manipulate energy. From where I’m typing, I can see two solar hot air panels I just built, eight photovoltaic (PV) panels, a sunshade over the deck, a dryer, a two-burner propane stove, and a 100-pound propane cylinder.

The ability to store and release energy in various forms, as needed, is essential to living what is commonly known as a “normal life,” which we are not against in any way. The propane holds energy for us to call forth heat at a moment’s notice. The hot air panels turn light into heat (fairly efficiently) to dry our clothes and potentially heat the HPMDU. The PV system runs everything electrical whenever we need it via batteries and inverters.

The Honeymoon Will End

Early summer in western Washington is a lovely time, featuring a near-perfect mix of sun and rain, so we are in a bit of a honeymoon period. When the skies dry up (any day now) for a couple months, we will have to find water elsewhere, but from now until October, we should have little concern over sufficient supply of electricity or heat (to dry clothes.)

Beyond October, though, it gets interesting. At 48.117° latitude, there will be 16 hours of daylight today, June 29, 2016. On December 21st, 2016, there will be 8 hours 21 minutes of daylight. Half that of today. Of those eight hours, few, if any, will feature full intensity sunshine. Do we quadruple the size of our PV array and battery bank? What about heat in the winter when we need it most? How will we dry clothes when the house is cold and damp because it’s January and raining 6 days a week? What about warm water to bathe or wash dishes? FUCK.

What Is the Scope of the Problem?

I guess the first thing to do is make a list of ways we use energy so we can decide what types of energy would be most useful.

  • Refrigeration
  • Cooking
  • Heating water (bathing, dishes, clothes washing)
  • Home heating
  • Coffee roasting
  • Drying clothes
  • Vacuuming
  • Lighting
  • Air circulation and ventilation (specifically for dehumidification of interior air in winter)
  • Entertainment
  • Computers and internet equipment
  • Charging all the things (phones, emergency radios, etc.)

How Do We Fix It?

First things first, which we have mostly done (and will detail in another post) – reduce energy needs. Every dollar spent on efficiency pays back several dollars in reduced system capacity needed. We calculate that we will need about 6 kilowatt hours (kWh) per day if we include electrical water heating. Without that, our needs in winter might be as low as 3kWh, since we can move the fridger (our ultra-efficient chest freezer-turned-refrigerator) outside. For context, the average American household uses about 30kWh per day.

We don’t quite cover all the energy required to make hot water ourselves right now (it is the sole remaining item that sometimes pulls shore power), so our needs are about 4kWh/day. Refrigeration “costs” are high in the warm weather. Not much we can do about that, but luckily it coincides with plenty of available sun.

Looking over that list, I see two major forms of energy needed: electricity and heat. So how do we make sure we have enough of those two forms of energy when we need them, regardless of the solar (or wind…) resource available?

We could store energy, right? YES! But how? A few possibilities pop to mind…

  • GIANT PV array and battery bank, then run everything on electricity.
    • + Clean
    • + Quiet
    • + Simple to set up
    • ++ Runs on its own once set up
    • – Takes a huge system to make heat
    • — Expensive
    • — Heavy/bulky
    • – Can fail/hard to fix with found materials

I’ve got my eye on some more batteries I found used, but we have all the PV panels we want (they will fill the roof when deployed up there). So, more storage is on the way, but nothing like enough to go for a month or more. I put three minus signs next to expensive and heavy/bulky because those are obstacles we can’t or won’t overcome, AKA “deal-breakers.”

Next possibility:

  • Diesel-, gasoline-, or propane-powered generator
    • + On-demand power
    • – Noisy
    • – Can fail/hard to fix with found materials
    • – Must buy or make (and stockpile) fuel (requires money or one or more complicated subprocesses)
    • – [Recognizable] generators and fuel are good targets for thieves (though thieves make good targets, so maybe this one is a wash?)

Those are the two most common solutions. Neither one works for us, though. One violates limits we cannot control (weight and space limitations) within the confines of other decisions we won’t go back on and the other marries us to input from a functional civilization (fossil fuel system) and makes us targets.

Electric My Way

My relatively out-there thoughts on potential methods:

  • Wood-gas powered generator
  • Stirling engine powered generator

What I realized some time ago is that the most resilient systems are those with multiple inputs. Hybrid inputs. We have a small hot water tank in the house that’s heated with electricity. What’s to stop me from adding one or more additional heat exchanger loops out to solar hot water panels, a wood-fired boiler, an engine (water used for cooling heats the water we need hot), or even a well-constructed compost heap? There is nothing technically difficult about any of those possibilities. Maybe in another post we’ll talk about what stops us from giving a shit.

What if I built a large (500+ gallon) insulated water tank that could be easily deconstructed and moved to store a massive amount of heat from any/all those sources? Well, then, I guess my heat problem would be solved.

Regarding electricity, I want so badly for human power to be the answer, but it isn’t. If you needed 1kWh of electricity and had a lossless system for generation and storage, you would have to be a world-class cyclist and pedal for FOUR HOURS at race pace. FUCK THAT. We couldn’t afford the food. Energy cannot be created or destroyed, only changed in form, yo.

The answer I’ve come up with for now is a Stirling or (more likely) steam turbine powered generator running off of biomass heat from the same outdoor boiler that will provide for our domestic hot water and heat the house. I’ve got some fun ideas for fuel sources and automation to work on that will make it an easy system to run that we can ignore most of the time.

What About Cooking?

Cooking is a pain in the ass. There are all kinds of ways to set yourself up for full-time employment as an energy storer, like building a hydrogen generation and storage system or a biomass digester to make methane, but I don’t want those jobs. Those kind of things tie you down, too. Hard to load up in the trailer and drive off with.

So, cooking. Electrical energy is perfect for it, and if I can make one of my generator ideas fly then that will solve it. Otherwise, we’re stuck with propane for the moment. Although, it would be fun to set up a small still and use alcohol as a cooking fuel…

What Do You Think?

I think that’s quite enough of my rantings for one post. Thanks for hanging with me if you did, and I hope this inspires a thought or two for you. I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.


What Price Convenience?

How Much Is Enough?

Today, I “made” $20. To be more accurate, I didn’t spend $20, which is even better, because I won’t be taxed on it. I did three loads of laundry using my own muscle power and power from the sun. It took a lot of the day. In comparison to many incomes, $20 a day isn’t much. Let’s not forget, though, that $20 a day puts me in the “insanely fortunate” bracket worldwide.

To wit: (from UN.org):

Nearly half the world’s population, 2.8 billion people, survive on less than $2 a day. About 20 percent of the world’s population, 1.2 billion people, live on less than $1 a day. Nearly 1 billion people are illiterate and 1 billion do not have safe water.

Side Benefits, or the Whole Point?

SO, as I was saying, I didn’t spend $20 doing laundry today. I did get some upper body endurance training cranking the washing machine I built. I did have a lot of free time to do as I pleased with. I did get to experiment with my solar clothes dryer. I did learn a lot that will help me and others in the future.

Some might say that hand-cranking my washing machine, getting wet, soapy, a little sunburnt (my own fault), having to handle the clothes several times, wring them out (grip strength!), load and dump the water, wait a long time for the clothes to dry because my drying system isn’t working that well yet, and so on is inconvenient.

Maybe it is, but I find sitting in traffic, missing family, getting in car accidents, not having enough free time, being stressed out, making car payments, buying $1200 washing machines, having to call repair people when the washer or dryer breaks, waiting for the installation crew to show up and fuck up your house and still expect a tip, etcetera, etcetera pretty damned inconvenient, too.

Asking the Question

I did one hell of a lot of thinking today, all that I wanted, about what I wanted. My body is tired but my mind is energized. I am delighted to be alive and typing. I don’t find that inconvenient at all.

This is not an “I did something right and you didn’t” piece. It is a call to arms, something to get you thinking about the places you could be more hands-on or brain-on in your life instead of just being “money-on.” I find it ridiculously gratifying. Maybe you will, too.


The house of Jenkins

Your Infrastructure Footprint

We Like to Provide for Ourselves

I spend a lot of time thinking generally about how we can provide for our needs. Shelter, water, food, energy, etc. Then, I pick a particular problem and attack it until I solve it or realize it isn’t possible in the scope of what we’re willing or able to do. For now.

My big, bad, meanie problem right now is how to recycle grey and black water to reduce our total water usage by at least 50%. The solution evades me, at least without a commitment to a large amount of infrastructure.

(We Pay Them, so) They Built Us a World

That’s what I want to talk about right now – infrastructure. I look around our parking spot and see that we have not only a 35.5′ fifth wheel, but a car, truck (both of which are being sold to buy a minivan), another truck to tow the fifth wheel, 8 photovoltaic panels on racks, two hot air panels (that don’t have racks yet), two rain barrels, a propane tank, a dryer and washer, an 8’X8′ deck, and some other shit. I have never had less tolerance for clutter than I do now, and I’ve never had less room to hide it.

Some of the clutter is raw materials that I’m using in projects. That stuff will be integrated into the house or a project or passed on to someone who can use it, so right now that doesn’t bother me too much. Some of the “clutter,” though, is here to stay. We just bought a used dryer and converted it to use solar hot air. We’re going to keep that, though it does have a dedicated place in the HPMDU it will soon occupy. The photovoltaics will go on the roof soon, and the solar hot air panels and hot water panels will be mounted vertically to the outside wall in the future. Our footprint will satisfyingly shrink. Less clutter. More better.

How Bad Is It, Really?

Just when I start to freak out and want to burn it all, I realize that this is most of it for us. With the obvious exception of food that we don’t yet hunt, gather, or grow, and cooking and vehicle fuel we haven’t replaced yet, there isn’t that much else out there that we’re culpable for. We have “insourced” much of our resource collection activities.

We pull much of our water from our roof – I designed it to catch rain and do so at the rate of 87 gallons per inch of rainfall. That’s going better than expected. So there isn’t a water treatment plant out there somewhere with our names on it. We produce our own electricity, so there isn’t some gargantuan coal, nuclear, or hydroelectric plant out there wrecking the world in our name. We do barter and forage as much as possible for food to consume or preserve.

I Still Loathe Stuff, But It’s Not so Bad

It looks like a lot of stuff when you pack it all into somebody’s back yard and think about having to drive around with it all, but in reality, it’s a speck of nothing in comparison to what it was a year ago. I guess it’s time to get serious about the food issue, and solve this water recycling problem. I want to get down to 50 gallons/week from our current 100. I’m pretty sure we can produce or procure that almost anywhere.

As far as the vehicle problem goes, it’s biodiesel/vegetable oil or electric. Probably stick with biodiesel for the big truck and go electric for the passenger vehicle. That’s a long-term plan, though. We need at least a year to get everything running super smoothly in the HPMDU first. Maybe the solution to the water problem will come to me soon.

What’s your infrastructure footprint like?


Current Coffees

Welcome, coffee lover! You’ve found our list of currently available coffees.

If you’d like to learn more about solar-roasted coffee, click here. If you’ve tried our coffees and would like to leave feedback, please do so in the comments at the bottom of the page. Thank you so much.


Now roasting to order – dark, light, decaf, Central American, South American, Brazilian, Ethiopian, whatever you like! If you don’t know what you like, give me an idea of what flavors you enjoy and I’ll make up some options for you to try.

I can handle just a bit more demand, so get in touch. huntgatherbrew@gmail.com

– Winslow

Coming soon: a DECAF! Yes, you read that right, you can now enjoy SolaRoast coffee (what do you think of the trade name?) before bed and/or in your favorite coffee-based cocktails/drinks without having to be up all night.

We’re taste-testing them now to be able to put up an accurate appraisal. All of our decaffeinated coffees will be Swiss Water Process (SWP) so you don’t have to worry about carcinogenic solvents in your after-dinner cup.

For more on the mostly-scary decaffeination methods and relief-inducingly different SWP method, visit http://www.coffeeconfidential.org/health/decaffeination/.

Here are the coffees we’ve got for you right now:

a map of central america centered on panama

Panama Boquete Camiseta Estate

3 2 1 batches available SOLD OUT roasted 6/22/16. $9 for one batch, $17 for two, plus actual shipping. Email huntgatherbrew@gmail.com to order.

Delicious, easy-to-enjoy, with good acidity, especially for a central American coffee. Please don’t mistake the term “acidity” for bitterness.

Acidity does NOT mean bitterness in coffee any more than it means bitterness in wine. Acidity provides the structure on which the flavors are arranged, and is the essential difference between coffee and brown water.

a picture of roasted coffee beans from Panama

map of Africa showing Ethiopia

Ethiopia Yirga Cheffe Buufata Konga

2 0 batches available, roasted 6/22/16.$9 for one batch, $17 for two, plus actual shipping. Email huntgatherbrew@gmail.com to order.

The cupping notes below are accurate, but I think they left out CHOCOLATE. At least, that’s what we’re getting with this very young full city roast.

The flavors will develop more fully over the next 2-3 days, and we are excited to see where this goes because it is already one of those coffees that make you consider brewing another pot because it’s over too soon.

a picture of green and roasted coffee beans from Ethiopia

In case you’re interested to know a bit more about where your coffee comes from, I’m sharing the postcard that comes with each coffee order from Sweet Maria’s. The postcard changes regularly, and I enjoy reading the stories or informative passages and seeing the pictures they send. I though you might, too. Visit SweetMarias.com if you want to delve further. Click on the images to enlarge them.

Coffee cooperative workers sorting green coffee beans.

Your Coffee Is Lovingly Crafted From the Bush to the Cup

Picture of first and second grade green coffee beans

Before and After: Careful sorting produces better green coffee beans!

Well, that’s it for today, 6/23/16. The weekend forecast promises much sunshine, so I hope to get more roasting done for next week.


6/20 – The forecast is for enough sun to roast some more tomorrow and probably Wednesday, too, so there will be more caffeine very soon!

6/20 – Sold Out

Roasted 6/19 – Guatemala Antigua Pulcal Inteligente


Sweet Maria’s tasting notes: Clean, complex, honey, caramelized sugar, ripe plum, pineapple, blackberry, Asian pear, elegant acidity. Superb brewed coffee.

Roasted Coffee Beans - Guatemala Antigua Pulcal Inteligente

Guatemala Antigua Pulcal Inteligente

Our experience: We’ve drunk gallons of this coffee. We bought a 20 pound bag of green beans and this is just about the last of it. This coffee loves simple, convenient brewing methods. In a drip coffee maker, it a can’t-miss bean. It can take a small amount of milk or cream, but also shines when drunk black.

Like most coffees, the flavors blossom when slightly cooled. If you let it go all the way to room temperature, do not throw it away – it’s a whole new level of amazing when fully cooled. I would not hesitate to serve this to anyone, even those who profess to “hate coffee.” Who knows, they might be surprised.

Email us at huntgatherbrew@gmail if you want some – first come first served. This is freshly roasted, so it will be drinkable starting 48-72 hours from now and continue to improve for several days beyond that. We often have three or four coffees roasted at once, so we don’t finish them for two weeks or more and they are still terrific. Just don’t grind it all right away!

The forecast is sunny for the next couple days, so expect more and different coffees to come available soon.


Who Will Save Us? Never Them — Only Us

Terrorism Is Here to Stay

…unless we take consistent, effective action. I am tired of the sadness and anxiety that people with hatred in their hearts are causing in the world, and I hope I’m not alone. What puzzles me, though, is how collectively willing we are to continue believing that someone else will solve this problem. We must change this mindset. When did we learn to expect a no-work solution to every problem?

People using rudimentary technology built pyramids, but we cannot defend ourselves on our own soil from a ragtag bunch of assholes with good social media skills? Maybe we aren’t putting the work in.

Gizeh_Cheops_Chephren_Mykerinos_BW_1 (2)

By Berthold Werner (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

We Are Being Used by Both Sides

Based on their actions, politicians see terror attacks as opportunities to forward their agendas and grow their own power, not as problems to be solved. They are hardly better than the perpetrators of the original crimes. No amount of giving up rights or paying more taxes is going to solve this problem, regardless of what they tell you.

Terrorists, both foreign and domestic, couldn’t be winning any more than they are. They require few resources to continue their evil work and are brutally effective at infiltrating each and every one of our daily lives. We let them take away our rights, our freedom, and our peace of mind. We have given them free reign.

Charlie Sheen is not a terrorist.

Not a Terrorist. Probably.

He Was a Nice Guy

Does it seem strange to you that after each of these terrible events, everyone is astonished at first, but after a few days it becomes clear that the asshole had been pegged by everyone who knows him as a problem looking for a place to happen? How many warning signs need to happen before somebody does something more than shrug it off?

WTF, people? Are you waiting for a Facebook alert or what? SAY SOMETHING. Get some fucking gumption. I am not the most socially successful person, it’s true. Know why? Because I don’t let shit slide. People who let shit slide end up as victims in this new world. You cannot live like a deaf, dumb, and blind monkey and think it’s all going to be OK. We no longer live in the time when it’s all going to be OK.

Don’t forget to trust your gut. We are all much more capable of understanding situations than we allow ourselves to be. We have been programmed to be polite and non-confrontational. That’s fine as long as everything is fine… I highly recommend Gavin de Becker’s book The Gift of Fear. Read it. Internalize it. Learn to trust your instincts again.

Book - Gavin de Becker - The Gift of Fear

Give and Get Training

Do you have military or police experience? Please talk to the people around you about how they can protect themseleves. Help them understand what to do to keep themselves safe. Do you have a concealed carry permit? If so, use it. If not, consider making it happen.

If you don’t have any training or experience, get a group of friends together and seek some out. Don’t be afraid to confront your discomfort. Personally, I’d rather be uncomfortable now than when I’m under fire!

Most of All – Pay Attention

Our world is increasingly “doing it for us.” Cars with “smart” cruise control, social media that tells us when our own wedding anniversary is, phones that remember myriad names and numbers and automatically send the annoying people to voicemail. Unless you’re ready to hire a personal security guard, though, nobody is going to pay attention to your surroundings for you.

Get your face out of your fucking phone. Make eye contact with people. Talk to people. Know your surroundings, what fits, and what doesn’t fit. If everything went dark this moment, could you tell me who’s around you and what they’re up to? Encourage others to be more aware. Look up, look around. Going for a run alone in the dark on a wooded trail? Consider not blocking out your hearing with music.

The phone is the most ubiquitous attention-sucking problem right now. I have noticed that people with their face in their phone walking on a sidewalk get a pass – people “courteously” avoid them. Fuck that. I keep right on walking, giving a loud “heads-up!” about three seconds before impact. The look of confusion is priceless. Same goes for texting while driving. Next time you see someone hurtling down the road with their eyes in their lap, give a nice, long horn blast as you pass the other direction. Maybe that shot of fear will help them to put the damned thing down for a second.

Don’t Be a Victim

Once upon a time in this country, we were hungry. We respected resolve and capability instead of victimhood and obedience, we took action instead of laying down to courteously die. It’s time to roll back the clock to a time when we took some responsibility for our own safety.

The first step is to recognize that you are the front line. That is not a figure of speech – if you are the one getting shot at, you are by definition the front line. What do people on the front line do? They pay attention, and they shoot back.

You are your own first responder. You’re already there. Backup is awesome, but you may not have the luxury of time. Be aware, be prepared, and don’t become a victim.

Identify Yourself to Others

Are you willing to pay attention, to speak up, to stand up and do something? Then identify yourself. Does this make you a target? Maybe, but guess what? You already are a target, so nothing has changed except you’ve made a statement of resistance.

Vigilant T and On Patrol Hoodie Images

Click on the picture to go to our teepublic store.

Let others know that you’re watching, that you’re not going to let it slide. I have created a couple designs for shirts that could help those of us who are vigilant identify each other. We set them up for print-on-demand through our teepublic store, which has much higher printing quality and lower prices than the horrible cafe press.

We do get a commission on these – $4 for each purchase. We don’t care if you buy it from us or make it yourself, though. We’re interested in the result. Email us and we’ll send you the graphic file if you want to print it yourself. Or, make up your own, but try to keep the eye graphic so we can all recognize each other.

Let’s fight fire with fire and use social media to spread the word – use the hashtag #onpatrol and/or #vigilant when you post pics or yourself with the T or Hoodie on, when you share information to help keep others safe (pictures, observations, etc.), or when you experience something firsthand that others need to know about.

milky way galaxy

What Thoughts May Come


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Imagine, if you will, a place where your thoughts are free to come and go as they please, where your mind can relax and wander. Somewhere on the continuum between asceticism and luxury is a place where each of us can feel at home.

A place where comfort and freedom exist in balance.

As we approach this place, our creativity and happiness wells up and, as it overflows, this becomes our normal state of mind. Integrity, authenticity, and kindness come naturally here.

I did not realize how far from this place I had always been until I began to live near it. I have been on epic journeys featuring incredible solitude and deprivation and have also lived too large too often. Both extremes were attempts to secure a continuing feeling of happiness and freedom, as most of what I (we all?) do most of the time is.

Now, as I begin to experience the balance I have always sought, I feel space opening up for my thoughts, a sense of calm, and an ability to focus that I’ve never had before.

I’m not sure yet, but it seems that perhaps extremes are not a way to achieve balance?


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