Monday, July 12, 2010

Cold Beer and Hot Showers.

My definition of civilization used to be cold beer and hot showers. As it turns out, it doesn't take a high level of technological knowledge to provide these comfort items.

Beer is easy enough to make, as any home-brewer could tell you. If the grains for beer making become unavailable, there's plenty of other things that ferment: fruit, honey, maple syrup or whatever sweet thing you have in your area. Keeping it cool is easy enough where I live. Half the year it's just a matter of keeping it in the mud room. Keeping it from freezing is the hard part. The rest of the year, I could use the cool water from my well's overflow.

Hot showers are no mystery. The plumbing in my house burst one winter. Until it was fixed, I'd take showers using a solar shower, one of those black plastic bags designed for camp showers. Since it was in the winter, water was heated on the woodstove then poured into the shower bag. The drain in my shower stall was fine, so the shower bag was hung on the old shower head. It worked until I could get all the plumbing up and running again.

So the basics of civilization, as I used to define it, are fairly easily satisfied.

Of course, I want more. It's been theorized that the reason early peoples settled down to farm instead of hunting and gathering was to have a place to make beer. Beer takes time. Having settled down, there was time for other cool things like literature.

My office is filled to overflowing with books. All four walls have floor to ceiling book shelves. They are packed. There are boxes of books stacked on the floor, under my desk, and on top of my desk. That's just one room. Every room in the house has books. My mud room has enough books stored in it to stock a small bookstore. There's a shelf in the living room filled with nothing but books over 100 years old.

We keep adding books. There's something wonderful about a good used bookstore. Treasures are hidden everywhere. Sure, it's pretty easy to get just about any used book on-line. ABE Books is a good resource, along with the big book dealers. However, the cool thing about a physical store is finding things you didn't know you were looking for.

So yeah, civilization for me includes books, lots of book. I just hope to heck my bug-in location is good enough that I won't have to abandon them. That's what happens when civilizations fall. The Chinese used to have a saying that in the course of a long life, a man must be prepared to abandon all his possessions at least twice. Even a quick study of Chinese history will show how true that saying must have been.

The problem with abandoning all your books is that they'll likely be destroyed. Fire is quick. Decay slower but just as sure. As soon a house's roof fails, books are doomed. Beer and showers are physical comforts, but books are comforts for the mind and soul.

I guess I'd best add music to the list. We've become used to living lives with our own personal soundtrack. Now kill the grid and see how much of that goes away. Battery powered music players might last a few days, or even weeks. Alternative energy might be used for music, but there are probably more pressing needs if your system is small.

In a pinch, we can always make our own music. I've gone to the trouble of learning to play acoustic guitar a bit. I've got a couple, one standard sized and a pack guitar, a Washburn Rover. Stocked up on spare strings and even some spare parts. I've a drum made from deer skin and a hollowed out cedar log. Used to carve flutes with a pocket knife. It doesn't take a very high level of civilization to have at least some music.

Okay then, here's my short list of civilization comforts for the body, mind and soul -beer, showers, books, and music. Doesn't sound like too big a deal does it? Historically, these things were often unavailable. To enjoy these things you need to have your basic needs taken care of. It requires a safe place and time to do these things.

It doesn't take a lot of money or energy to provide these basics. Get them now while the getting is good. Prepare to have them even if the grid goes down. Your life and the life or your family will be a lot better for it.



  1. The whole point of advancement was to shut women up and get air conditioning, trust me on this . . .