SHTF Musings From The Past

I love books about real people surviving some serious shit. Usually, these are historical accounts, or fiction because let’s be honest here, modern day man doesn’t have much to survive right now.

The one I just finished reading is a bit of both, fiction gleaned from many historical accounts and interviews. The gal survived a famine in her youth, a typhoid epidemic with 3 small children and no running water, and a civil war which lead to a month living on the side of a mountain in the middle of winter with only what they carried out on their backs.  The book was Snow Flower and the Secret Fan. Obviously,  not written for the prepping crowd. It was sitting in the paperback book section of Goodwill, and at a buck, it represented a lot of entertainment for the money spent. And for this prepper, there were gems embedded in the story that made it even more interesting.

The famine – She mentions that after a wide spread crop failure, there was a famine. Her family survived the winter and spring on rice gruel flavored with dried turnips. Those turnips would have come out of the kitchen garden, which was a large contributor to the table and pantry. I wonder how they dried turnips in nineteenth century China? Hanging in strips outside? Or dried in chunks near a fire? I know how dried carrots can taste, I’m not sure dried turnips would be really tasty. But in a famine…

The Typhoid epidemic – She lives at this point in one of the typical multi-generational houses with her 3 small children and her husband’s family. There is only one water source in town, the river, which is of course spreading the typhoid.  She knows enough about the spreading vectors that she’s able to maintain a really basic quarantine for a couple of months. She locks herself and her children in her room. She only comes out twice a day to boil water, filter it, and make a basic rice gruel.  She didn’t want to eat any of the garden crops because she knew humanure was used to fertilize it. She doesn’t touch anyone else or anything else. Her small family survives unscathed even as the typhoid takes half the house. But can you imagine subsisting on 2 bowls a day of rice gruel? For 2 months? I tried to figure out what she could have been filtering the water with. At most I would think she had some cloth pieces made of cotton or silk.

The Mountain in Winter – This whole substory was intense. Rebels were rebelling and they got close enough to her area that whole towns emptied out with civilians heading literally for the hills to escape the fighting. This was late fall, so of course the snow started falling as soon as they made it to their tree on the mountain. Yes, they lived under a tree, with only an open fire and a few quilts, and did I mention they had to walk for 36 hours non stop to get there? They lived there for most of winter, 11 weeks in all. There weren’t any surprises, they boiled snow, hunted what game the men could find, ate the bag of rice they had carried up the mountain and got really hungry and cold. Can you imagine surviving something like that? Intense.

I love having my thinking juices stirred. I highly recommend the book, for anyone wondering about the life of a woman during Nineteenth century China. Let me spoil it for you though, 90% of her waking life is spent cooking, cleaning and sewing. I like 2 out of those 3, but I think I’d be hard pressed to survive that life.  Yikes.

What about all the other readers out there? Anyone staying warm with a good book? Have you gleaned any interesting survival tips from them?

– Calamity Jane

16 comments… add one
  • Noisynick February 11, 2014, 7:34 am

    Coming from a Poor Italian immigrant background I heard many stories of hard times The USA in 1910 era wasn’t as friendly towards people coming here then as it is today. there weren’t support groups. They slept 10 people in 2 rooms with a shared bathroom for 5 more familys in a tenement where heat was scarce and only cold water was available. My father worked as a farm hand never graduated from the 8th grade. His meager wages went to support his family along with those of his siblings that could find a job. Several of his younger siblings died as children.
    He was always thankful to be here in this country even during bad times. Attitude is what keeps people alive thru hard times.
    The woman in the Novel displayed it as well she was gonna do what she could to survive her attitude and method of handling a bad situation made her successful.
    I find novels like that or true accounts inspiring about what the human spirit can indure and survive……..
    Beats Reality TV and Sit coms

  • gat31 February 11, 2014, 9:27 am

    there is a series of books written by Diana Gabaldon called the Outlander series that l read a long time ago. It too is a great story filled with gems of knowledge on herbal medicine. If you haven’t already, check those out from the library and read them. You would be amazed at the medical things she has in there.

    • Calamity Jane February 13, 2014, 9:47 am

      Oh I love those. They are so long too, one book can last for an entire snowy week.

  • Leon Pantenburg February 11, 2014, 9:36 am

    Civil War soldiers frequently had to adapt and improvise to survive daily life. I ordered by inter-library loan a book named “Three Years with the 92nd Illinois: The Civil War Diary of John M. King.” Here are some of the survival techniques King used to survive harsh weather and horrible conditions:

    • GoneWithTheWind February 11, 2014, 6:25 pm

      My grandmother’s brother fought in the civil war. So I was looking up records from my home state to learn more about his service. I discovered a long list of the soldiers from that area who had died in the civil war and the cause of death. Mostly from illness and gunshot, but the suprise is that out of 100 deaths probably 20-25 were from starvation. I’m guessing they were in POW camps but not sure it didn’t elaborate.

  • Anonymous February 11, 2014, 10:46 am

    My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. I grew up reading it and there’s nothing cooler to a 12 year old than another 12 year old living in a hollowed out tree alone in the woods. A wonderful introduction to primitive living for young adults.

    • Calamity Jane February 13, 2014, 9:55 am

      Oh that one was good. Very similar to the Hatchet books. I’ll be encouraging my boys to read those and My Side.

  • Neal Ninmann February 11, 2014, 12:50 pm

    Survive! is an amazing story about a plane crash survivor’s self-rescue and will to live to save his friends.

  • Neal Ninmann February 11, 2014, 12:53 pm

    Survive! is an amazing true story of self-rescue, survival and the amazing human will to live. You will not be disappointed.

  • j.r. guerra in s. tx. February 11, 2014, 1:43 pm

    THE LONG WALK BY Slawomire Rawicz, a WWII escape from a Russian gulag by walking over 2000 miles to the Indian border. The conditions described of his prison conditions – whoa!

    Quite an adventure.

    • Jarhead Survivor February 11, 2014, 3:44 pm

      Funny you should post this j.r. I just watched the, “The Way Back”, which I think is based on that book.

      I watched it the other night and it’s a pretty good movie.

      • j.r. guerra in s. tx. February 12, 2014, 8:30 am

        That movie I think is based on this book, I saw it too. If you have the chance, read the book as well – resourceful is the word.

  • Pineslayer February 11, 2014, 2:52 pm

    I have been sucked into WWII books as of late. The only lesson I can share is don’t trust the government, ever. Cache some extra gear and supplies, don’t tell anyone except your spouse, and kids when they are old enough.

    For some light reading I am “ripping” through Macbeth. More like a slog.

  • wilson February 11, 2014, 10:14 pm

    The ultimate in winter survival.

    Coming Out of the Ice: An Unexpected Life
    by Victor Herman

    An American survived the Siberian Gulag comes back to Amerika and writes a book about it.

  • mom of 5 February 11, 2014, 10:57 pm

    I was reading out loud to a little one Little House book The Long Winter. It really hit me about how they managed to survive on very little to eat. They ran out of coal and ended up burning sticks made of hay. I’ve only read the first few chapters to her, but I reread the whole book. It really hit home because we’re having an unusually cold and snowy winter.

    • Calamity Jane February 13, 2014, 10:06 am

      I’m looking forward to reading those with my youngsters. I was actually working up near Laura Ingalls Wilder’s South Dakota homestead this winter. It’s a very harsh and unforgiving environment up there.


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