~by Mark Blackwell (drawing by Joe Lee)
IBack in the last century, when I first landed in Brown County, I was already the recipient of certain arcane knowledge about survival. I garnered some of that knowledge by doing a five-year stint in the Boy Scouts and some of it from growing up in the country.
What one learns from being a Scout is to “Be Prepared.” And growing up in the country means that stuff happens whether you are prepared or not. Generally, you can’t just run over to the hardware store when stuff happens. You have to know how to jerry rig things. I discovered there were other things to learn.
First off, I built a cabin out in the woods. Although farms and forests are both located in rural areas, the skill set is a little different. Keep in mind, I started this project back in the dark ages when there were no cell phones, no internet, and no YouTube. Nowadays, you can get an internet connection that depends on the mood of the satellite, current moon phase, and whether or not a ground squirrel has chewed through your cable.
We do have cellphones, but they may or may not work depending on where you are amongst the hills and hollers. If there is a choice between getting a cell phone or a deep freeze, go for the deep freeze.
Why a deep freeze, you ask? Well, even if you have a cell phone with good reception, you still can’t get a pizza delivered. What you want to do is find a frozen pizza that you can tolerate and stock up. Same goes for canned soups, oatmeal, and anything else that you can heat up on a wood stove because your electricity is going to go out at some point. Where I was living, the power went out two or three times a year—usually not more than two or three days at a time, but generally in the winter.
Another thing you need to do is drive a pickup truck. While I like the idea of a Prius or Corvette, they just ain’t practical. If you’re gonna live in Brown County, you need a pickup. First off, a pickup will identify you as somebody who lives here. Secondly, you need to have room to haul your chainsaw, gas can, shovel, sand, spare can of gas (for when you realize you forgot to refill the other one after you used it), tool box, so you can make repairs to the chain saw, gloves, spotlight, and a blanket to warm up in.
When the electricity goes out, it is usually a symptom of a tree or trees going down and taking the power lines down too. That is a symptom of a blizzard, ice storm, torrential rain, tornado, or any combination thereof. If a tree could fall away from a roadway, it won’t. It will go down across the road taking out as much infrastructure as possible.
Most of the time a tree will go down between wherever you are and wherever you’re going—usually to your home. It is this fact that prompts one to haul around a chain saw and the rest of the paraphernalia. I have had to cut my way home many times. But the good news is that I often came back with a fresh load of firewood.
Because these events occur mainly in the winter, there is snow to deal with. So, while you are cutting up the tree, the snow is falling and probably drifting—hence the need for the shovel to dig your truck out.
When you finally clear the road and arrive back home, home is dark and likely starting to get cold. That’s when you bring into play two other necessities for life in the woods: a wood stove and kerosene lamps.
I like central heat—and I did have a propane furnace—but it was my woodstove that provided security, as well as warmth. I would come in from clearing the road and, of course, the electricity would be out. The furnace won’t work without it, so the cabin was dark and cold. But the lamps lit right up and I could get a fire going in the stove in short order.
Once, I got my fingers thawed out, I could open a can of soup, pour it in a pan, and set it on the wood stove along with a kettle of water for tea. Before too long I would be enjoying a warm meal by lamp light on a frosty evening. The payoff for all this effort and misery is watching the snow fall in the forest, surrounded by a profound quiet, interrupted only by the occasional popping of a hickory log in the stove.
So, there it is. A little bit about the trials and pleasures of living in Brown County. Is it worth it? I sure think so. And maybe next time I will write about surviving suicidal possums and kamikaze deer. And I will tell you how to prepare and enjoy fresh roadkill. Brown County is a fine place to live—you just have to know how to survive.