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What would happen if all public services like utilities, fuel, electricity, and food markets were cut off for a month? Of course it will never happen here, like it did in Haiti! But, just as a thought experiment, what if it did? In Berkeley, not having these essentials for a month would mean the mostly rich people simply getting in their cars and driving out on a remote vacation in a hotel, or to some friends’ homes elsewhere, or many would go to their summer cabins. But if our postulated lack of electricity or fuel wasn’t limited to 300 miles—if the disrupting force were wider than that—food would become a real problem in a week or two for the remaining people because it would have to be shipped in from somewhere more distant and there would be no fuel to haul it in. It requires electricity to pump gas out of the underground tanks into the vehicle’s tank.

My spouse called last night and told me she had contacted our realtor, to talk a little more about making an offer on the property we are interested in purchasing. It turns out that it has no public water connection but rather functions on well water; also it has no public sewer connection but uses a cesspool arrangement instead. This would be an absolute deal ender for most people and worries me too. What if the electricity failed? Wouldn’t that mean the water pump would fail and the forced air heating, wouldn’t it fail too? And the electric lights and the TV and computer access etc. These are all things upon which we now have a near absolute dependence. But wait! Back in the city we are already totally dependent upon these things too and have no back-up plan and no realistic way of creating one. If we lived at our new digs it would be relatively easy to create back-up electricity with a power generator or solar cells or perhaps a windmill and a few batteries or all of them linked together. Also, we could install a hand pump to cope with the basic water needs if there was a problem with public electricity or our self created electricity.

The same self sufficiency exists with the septic tank system because in the city if the sewer fails there is little alternative but to wait for the authorities to fix it. We had that problem a couple of months ago and it took the city about a month to dig the trench and correct the obvious problem. But in the wilderness situation if the public utilities failed, such as the sewer service, the septic tank would continue to work for several months without any outside help. So, the seeming disadvantage of not having city services may turn out to be a real advantage if there are serious problems. Also, we would be permitted by the local ordinance to have any animals we wanted except for pigs. So some chickens might be okay right from the start and there already exists a primitive chicken coop on the property. If you have the basics covered, at least in a minimal way, to start with, then getting by the loss of these outside utilities and other necessities shouldn’t be nearly as difficult as it would be in the city.

Our postulated new home would have less than a mile walk to a variety of most of the things we value and a short drive to almost everything else we need. The essentials are the various utilities, which we should make certain to make ourselves self sufficient. The other necessities are a good supermarket, a Trader Joe’s, a good bookstore like Borders, and for me some stress free quiet environment. Also important is good access to a public daily outgoing mail service and a good library. Hard to quantify are random serious long term problems which affect the whole community such as crime rate and natural disaster problems like earthquake and fire.

As beautiful and as expensive as Berkeley is, where I have been all my adult life, it scores very poorly on all of those type of criteria, because earthquake, city fire, criminal problems are almost a certainty on a 100 year basis but remote and uncertain on a daily basis. Whereas, in our Carson City wilderness they are much less likely and if they do happen probably won’t affect the local infrastructure for more than a few days. The seeming problems when seen in this way are actually advantages. On a day-to-day basis they may take more time and effort and cost a little more but in the longer run, in return they are more reliable and more under our personal control.

Some people would see our new property as a big problem because there is a lot of sagebrush and other wild things which the city-bred people see as weeds needing to be cleared away before they could be planted in grass or some other artificial covering. They need those things before they could be comfortable. Seen another way, the way I prefer, the sagebrush is the natural local environment and requires zero maintenance – if left in their natural condition. Having neighbors with horses might seem to some people to be a disadvantage because there is an occasional smell but I grew up with those smells and for me they conjure subliminal pleasant memories.

Berkeley is presently a beautiful city. Many exotic trees have been planted over the last one hundred years in what was previously grassland and are now reaching full maturity but they are subject to a firestorm. There have been several firestorms in this area. The eucalyptus-tree’s species life strategy is to burn violently occasionally and destroy all other species living nearby and Berkeley people in their not very prescient wisdom have allowed an abundance of these un-neighborly trees to flourish.

The last major earthquake was the Loma Prieta quake in 1989 and only the older residents even talk about it, as the students would have been too young to remember it and probably lived elsewhere at that time. The so-called Big One, the 1906 San Francisco quake, is only remembered in photographs and the big one in the East Bay was the Hayward quake back in 1859 so there are very few if any photographs of that event and few people, even those living directly on the fault line, are even aware of it. The geologists tell us that the Hayward fault is past due for its next major rupture and it runs right through the middle of East Bay cities, including Berkeley, for some fifty miles. On the quake maps this fault is presented as a fifty mile long zone a mile wide represented in black. Black indicates expected total devastation. It is flanked with a much wider zone in bright red representing nearly total devastation of everything but well built structures. Several seemingly sane people I know live on the black zone. They say they can’t do anything about a quake, so they don’t worry about it, and they refuse to think about it and resent people bringing the subject to their attention. I say to them, occasionally, they may not be able to do anything about it happening but they don’t have to have their permanent residence in the zone of total devastation. It’s the same attitude with these same people concerning the city engulfing fires and crime. They may not be able to do much about the problems personally but I say they don’t have to live in the known zone-of-disaster either. That attitude needs a cool new word and perhaps zod (zone of disaster) would be appropriate. And a cute bumper sticker phrase:

You may be a clod but you don’t have to live in zod.