Beaver River Station: 2012.
When your family goes back to the 1800s in the Adirondacks, and your early years were spent, in part, roaming the mountains while listening to your father’s tales of living for months in the woods, trapping so rich ladies in New York City could have their furs during the Depression, why would it be a surprise, as I spend two and a half months in my cabin, that many phrases and stories still echo inside the chamber that’s atop my rather awkward, aging body?
No surprise at all.
I gazed over yet another beatific sunset at the community dock called Grassy Point, much like the picture I took in 2010 at the top of this column, one phrase seems to bounce to me more than others…
My father’s generation grew up with few jobs knew a lot about making due. The same is true when you’re off the grid, no where near municipal water, far from six to twelve lane rivers of what Dad used to call “macadam” that weave their web through the country.
We take for granted those paved rivers, we take for granted just “plugging in,” turning on a faucet, going to work without miles of woods, lakes or even hostiles in our way. The closest we come to “hostile” is the jerk who calls to ask why your department hasn’t picked up the recycle bin filled with cats… or the lady in the cubicle next to you who pops her gum and yaps loudly about nothing… the boss who has no idea what it would be like to do your job, yet has the job of criticizing you, giving you raises, telling you how lucky you are to be, “living the dream.”
We know little about actually “making due,” until we have to.
That could come soon.
Probably ten years ago, or longer, when I first picked up my very expensive digital Gateway surf board and climbed up onto wave called “the net” there was a gentleman on the web who claimed to be from the future. The tale he told seemed silly in a world with oceans, lakes, streams. Foreign and odd when water processing can take slimy, disgusting, Cumberland River water in Nashville: a river that still could be referred to as Nashville’s toilet due to dead cows, old refrigerators and worse that citizens secretly dump there, and turn it into drinking water. Nashville no longer dumps all their raw sewage there, but I would recommend no one drink the water straight And the one time I tried to swim in it I damn near flew right back out of what felt like 30 weight motor oil.
Too much of our water in this nation is like that, I have to remind myself, as I look out over a deep blue Adirondack reservoir.
We treat our resources with such disdain, yet technology seems, so far, to be able save what we destroy… though I admit I prefer my well water. Chlorinated water: especially over chlorinated water, while sometimes a necessity, is, to me, a dead, horrific, distasteful thing.
But if we inject poisons deep into the aquifer because our thirst for power is so great, could the vision future futureman painted become a reality? To convince us otherwise fracking concerns are running content-less ads on TV and radio which essentially say, “Trust us, we know what we’re doing.”
Same could be said of the poisoning of nearby Twitchell Lake where I used to live as a teen. Wanting more trout, less bullhead, they poisoned the lake again and again, killing the trout, while bullhead dug in and came back every time. These poisonings were supposedly backed by “good science,” but now Twitchell has even more “trash fish…” Well, that’s what some trout fanatics tend to call anything but trout, and the State has pretty much given up.
While we lived there we “made due.” Buckets filled with bullheads graced our frying pans and, yes, they could be challenging… and delicious.
No, you don’t have to necessarily skin them too, while preparing your feast. Try it.
We chopped holes in the ice in the winter for water for quite a few years.
The question here is, “When does our demand for anything, especially purity: perfection, become so destructive we destroy what we need… maybe even endanger our very existence?”
In Beaver River right now the 86 gallon holding tank that was installed last year isn’t working right. So I make due. To keep my inverter pack up, which I believe isn’t as efficient as it should be, I run my very efficient generators a bit more. Before I had any of that I took water out of Stillwater and boiled it. The upside is all that work gave me exercise I needed.
If I have no stove I can start a fire. If my generators fail I can live with propane lamps or just go to bed sunset, up at sunrise. I’m close to that goal my father recommended over and over again to sleep head teens anyway.
But if the water’s not drinkable no matter what you do to it: if the toxins are so vile no amount of boiling or chlorine will make it safe to drink. If I have plenty of energy but I can’t breath, what’s the point?
Making due does nothing if there are no basics to make due with. If the ground I walk on, the water I might have to swim in to get to the next town, is all tainted, no amount of making due will “make due.”
There are no perfect solutions, no perfect situations, no perfect way to collect energy, this I know. That’s what “making due” is all about. But as our technological abilities grow exponentially beyond anything I imagined as a kid, the dangers of “for the moment” tech solutions grows right along with the advancements. And the dangers of not even considering alternative measures is equally, if not even more, problematic.
If we treated the automobile, energy production and even the wheel like we do solar, wind and geothermal we would probably be just another extinct species. If we treated the invention of the atomic bomb like some say we must treat our aquifer planet Earth would be a wasteland.
As I shift, as I adjust, to my off the grid life, I am reminded: we need to discuss, debate and imagine better, and more. So many solutions un-thought of because we’re so damned use to “this is how it’s been done.”
Nothing has ever always been done just one way. Someone always imagined and then put into practice something better. And that’s what keeps humanity from becoming the very oil we drill for, like extinct vegetation, long past tense species.
The solution to everything in life may not always be, “Just plug it in.”
Inspection is a column that has been written by Ken Carman for over 30 years. Inspection is dedicated to looking at odd angles, under all the rocks and into the unseen cracks and crevasses that constitute the issues and philosophical constructs of our day: places few think, or even dare, to venture.
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