A Burned Down House

34 thoughts on “A Burned Down House”

  1. I find the comments here interesting. Everyone wants to be able to relocate…to the same place they currently are…. There’s a lot one can say about that, but I don’t know that any of it would be helpful.

    1. People tend to live where they live for a reason. Family, employment, weather, culture. I’ve lived all over the planet when I was younger, but San Francisco is my sweet spot. I’m willing to relocate, but don’t have a strong enough reason to just now.

      1. And there’s the rub. “A strong enough reason” usually only arrives when it’s too late to avoid the abuse. But it is what it is. One thing about prepping: you’re (primarily) built to survive where you are so it can take a lot to get you out of there. Nothing really wrong with that, but it can be dangerous if you don’t have the foresight to see the dam breaking and recognize the danger that is coming your way.

        Side note: I don’t really see you having this issue. But I think a lot of people develop a fortress mentality in their preparation, not a flexible option mentality.

  2. Once upon a time there was a small but well managed house on beautiful land, well-tended by the people who lived there. Multiple generations in the same house, but they had worked hard to maintain balance and take care of each other and the property. It was a beautiful place, and anyone would want to live there.

    People who had no respect for anything came and killed them and took the house, burned it down, build different places, strip-mined the land of its “resources” and refused to live at peace even with themselves.

    This is the place we’re living, the good ol’ USA. Every word a lie. It’s never been liberty and justice for all. It’s been genocide, selfishness, greed, slavery, and war. All couched in breast-beating, proud language about Destiny and how the native people didn’t “deserve” the land, or slavery was “of its time” or natural resources are just there to be devoured by the machine of progress. Because of course it’s progress to steal, kill, and destroy. Every place is infected with lies and corruption.

    How can we build this country into the place it claimed to be, without as much horror as went into tearing down what came before? Is it possible? Is there a way out of this trap our ancestors put us in? As long as land is merely a resource, might makes right and there is no respect or acknowledgement of what was done and continues today, I don’t think there is a path ahead but destruction, for this nation and all nations that live in purposeful ignorance of atrocities, continued policies and broken promises, where greed and arrogance is the highest good and nothing is sacred.

    I don’t disagree with anything you’re saying. And I believe there is a way out, a way forward that’s better. But looking at the big picture, it’s really hard for me to see how it can be, without a lot of pain and a lot of change at every level of structure and consciousness.

    1. You’re not completely wrong, but you have a romanticized view of Native American culture and a cynical, simplistic view of American history.

    2. “…Once upon a time there was a small but well managed house on beautiful land, well-tended by the people who lived there. Multiple generations in the same house, but they had worked hard to maintain balance and take care of each other and the property. It was a beautiful place, and anyone would want to live there.

      People who had no respect for anything came and killed them and took the house, burned it down, build different places, strip-mined the land of its “resources” and refused to live at peace even with themselves…”

      Wouldn’t it be quicker to just say,”I hate White people”?

  3. I can’t think of a time when there wasn’t a lot of strife. There will always be disputing factions. The whole point of a democracy is to have a structure that allows disputing factions to try to dominate other factions or resist being dominated with as little violence as possible – that’s stressful but generally not fatal. Sixty percent will dominate 40% albeit with a lot of resentment. Fifty one percent will always be in a tug-of-war with forty nine percent, with the two percent swing factor changing sides frequently enough.

    It’s possible it seems more intense in California because the state has long thought of itself as representing the future of the country, but for some time now much of the rest of the country has not been following California, so we’re upset. On a couple of trips out of state last year people did not seem as worked up as they do here, though you have to be a bit amused at how they view CA as a zoo.

    When you consider that historically past strife may have been about invasion, conquest, genocide, slavery, etc., what we are all riled up about today is really pretty tame stuff.

  4. This too shall pass. Something similar happened in 1919 after the Spanish Flu killed 700,000 Americans in 1918: Red Summer. Chicago hit hardest but many cities had rioting/arson. Then there were the riots after Martin Luther King’s assassination in 1968 and the Democratic convention riots that same year. Hard-line, law-and-order types elected at the national level in ’20, ’68, and ’72. Entire neighborhoods in affected cites abandoned at the local level.

    The virus epidemic + unusually divisive political squabbling is stressing society. It’ll sort itself out. Most people just want to get on with their lives.

  5. Hearing you talk about the decay setting in around your childhood home and the lack of action to remedy it is something that resonates with me at the moment.

    I have taken part ownership of the family home past the parents living there since 1969 and now having both passed. It’s gone from the best house on the street to the worst and feels victim to (one of) the 3Ds – Death, Divorce, Destitution.

    Since my brother and his wife have lived there the house has badly gone down hill as they won’t agree to work being done and do not keep up basic maintenance.

    I suspect the ‘storm’ we are in at the moment has a long way to play out with as yet unforeseen circumstances. As with this storm and any other for that matter I guess the things that matter are liquidity and access to capital. With that we have opportunity.

  6. Johnny,

    You’re one of the most interesting people I’ve ever corresponded with. When will get together in person?

    I hope all is well,



      1. Johnny, I agree with the post above. You are a very interesting person and I like the way you think and observe your surroundings as well as the way you write about them. You are the type of person with whom I would enjoy having a lengthy conversation. Come down to Mexico City sometime (where I live) and I will show you around.

        1. I love D.F. I should dig up my photos and blog about my adventures there. Romita, Polanco, Condesa, Zocalo, Coyoacan… and the outer areas. Where are you? What have I been missing?

  7. I continue to find a lot of wisdom here.

    I would only add one thing. A thousand generations of human beings, and even many people around planet Earth today, would find our problems to be mere annoyances. And yet this is how we are acting, or how some of us are acting.

    It’s a disgrace. But one that is a long time coming.

  8. Methinks it’s going to be an interesting rest of the year and then some – as in ‘may you live in interesting times’….

  9. Nice analogy! I guess the moral was clear – compromise, hard compromise or risk burning it to the ground and hope that something better emerges from the ashes!

  10. ……and yet most people dig in their heels and remain committed, and even moreso, to Blue Team-Red Team. That’s a 30-year old model.

    As to exit strategies – the one you have seems to be about as good as you can get in Northern California, unless you go full boondock in Humboldt someplace. Certainly far better situated than most. Overlooked Opportunities? Towns and small cities in Flyover jump to mind……though you are still mostly at the mercy of the Supply Chain. Any others you care to share? Or am I limiting my horizon to physical location?

    1. I’ve been mulling my options for years. I’ve looked at many “flyover” locations and love southern Ohio in particular. But the economic geography of living in northern California is tricky. In order to avoid massive debt I need to travel far enough away that it’s no longer a reasonable drive. If I can’t drive then weekend visits for maintenance aren’t an option. Flying out of state seems like a weak link in a chain if the property is meant to be a Plan B location. I could totally cash out of California, but I’m not the only one in the family making this decision and so far moving isn’t a thing… So I’m waiting for 1) a market correction in semi-rural property in California and/or 2) I’m keeping liquid cash on hand for a property purchase elsewhere if need be.

      1. I am not surprised by your comment.

        If you draw a line diagonally across Ohio (from the eastern edge of the Cincinnati outer belt to Youngstown, roughly the path of US62), what’s SE of it is Appalachian Ohio.

        That is my “ancestral” home and I feel at home whenever driving across its rolling wooded and farmed land. Extensive ag hasn’t caught on there because of the hills and hollows, and it’s no surprise that it has a relatively large Amish population at the northern end.

        It’s a mix of German and Scots-Irish heritage, depending on whether the white settlers came downriver from Pittsburgh (more Germans) or across the river from the Virginias and Kentucky (more Scots-Irish).

        It’s beautiful country with good farmland, abundant rain, and four seasons, and much of it is within easy drive of one of the 3Cs. And it’s coal country, too, but Ohio has long had strict restoration standards. There is a long stretch along I-70 east of Columbus that was strip mined up through the 80s and has become farmland and cattle ranch since.

        It’s not unlike California foothills, only with rain and trees and without fires and quakes.

        1. I live not far from this area, a bit to the west, in the glaciated part of the state. We are investing heavily in self reliance, by investing in our land. Out with monoculture commodity crops, and in with specialty fruits that can be easily processed into value-added luxury goods. How to make 40 acres pay? Don’t grow crops, grow a CPG brand.

          There are three readily accessible consumer markets, in Dayton, Cincinnati, and Columbus. There is still, despite national reputation to the contrary, a broad, stable, and wealthy consumer base housed within that triangle. No natural disaster risks. Low cost of housing. Cheap land in-state just to the east. Water is plentiful. Climate mild and variable. In the townships, relatively broad scope for personal activities.

          Because the cost of housing is so low, we can build out our plantation with retained earned income from my primary employment, without taking debt.

          I have a 10 year plan. Could I make a lot more money from my primary employment if we move to a larger and more robust metro area? Certainly. But we wouldn’t be able to do anything else. And that’s the rub. Whats the point of merely working to perpuate ones own existence? A man who is not building is an unsatisfied man (I do not doubt this is true of women as well; I can only speak to my lived experience).

          1. I am older than Johnny, and have begun to come to terms with my physical limitations. I am no longer “building”, having done quite a bit of it over the past few years. The aches and pains don’t wear off and the stupid stuff has more-serious consequences (tripping, falling, etc.).

            All that is to say: kudos to you, but subsistence ag is a younger man’s game. I hope you have a Plan B that allows for hired help when you are unwilling/unable to trim/prune/pick/process, or a business plan that allows you to avoid it altogether.

            One of my hobbies is visiting small farm wineries around the Midwest. There are two types: younger men, usually engineers, who make a mid-career change and/or take over the family farm and convert it to grape-growing and wine-making. Those often become real businesses. Then there are the “early retirees”, for whom it’s more a hobby and pastime. I always wonder where those will end up when the 50-something guy gets tired of it in 10-15 years.

            1. I’m not interested in a back-to-the-land cabin-in-the-woods arrangement. I’m not preoccupied with “self sufficiently.” Subsistence agriculture is brutally hard as you suggest. And I’ve always spent a lot of my time with older people so I know exactly what’s coming. The shift from 50 to 70 is substantial.

              So far my plan has been to find younger people to partner with so we can solve each others problems. They need the security that comes with mortgage free property. I don’t have kids and someone will have to inherit my stuff. But it’s a tricky business. So far… no takers. So I plod along and play it by ear.

              1. Agreed, subsistence agriculture is neither sustainable nor desirable lifestyle. I bucked hay into my late 20’s; my hands remember.

                We are mechanized. We grow specialty fruits that are processed into CPG products. We are able to retain some of the value added by the processing. We build equity in the brand and the distribution. And we hope it becomes an effective way to preserve family land against the threat of encroaching McMansion development, by tying the brand to the source of the raw material input, thereby ensuring the acres are worth more as a plantation than they ever could be as houses.

                I suppose in @Chris B’s typology, I am the former. Though a not an engineer, but a logistician by trade and farmer by inheritance.

                As an aside, I enjoy your work and have been reading for years.

                1. Good for you, Stephen! I came off too critical, and I didn’t mean to be…I responded negatively to a lack of details, instead of engaging/questioning. (I thought about going back to the farm and moving it to a higher value-added position as you’ve done, but my cousin bought it from our grandparents as her home, and she rented out the barn and land.)

                  And to Johnny…yes, 50-70 is the steep slope for most men. 50-60 has been a noticeable enough decline; the aches after over-exertion don’t wait until the next day to make themselves felt. I’ll be hiring the yard work done by the time I reach 70, I suspect.

      2. Thanks for your reply. You have touched on many of these considerations in previous posts, which is a relief in the sense that it confirms I have been looking under ALL the couch cushions as well.

        Come to think about it, I might have even MORE options. I know you have extensive social and business relationships in The City, so that will be home for the foreseeable future. I’m currently in Orange County, but frankly have fewer of those. I suppose ideally I’d find something an hour or two FROM a major metro…..utilize it for occasional fun, games and airline connections, but spend the bulk of my time away. Sort of a reversal of what you have now.

        You point out a lot of ways to make situations work. Thanks again for your thoughtful essays even some wisdom at the GS.

      3. Don’t you have a place in the North Bay you’re renting out? Couldn’t you OMI if you really had to?

        On the topic of Plan Bs, last night as we watched America go up in flames, my spouse and I had another serious talk. Not about a close-by rural “bug out” property but a relocation strategy. When taking our combined non-negotiables (climate, crime, language, culture, family, walkability, immigration status, etc.) into account, the short list became really short:

        1) The Pacific Northwest (several acceptable locations)
        2) Europe (Dublin, Ireland, most likely)

        Has anyone done this calculus in a serious manner and/or made the jump to a different part of the country or even another country?

        1. The Sonoma rental property is my de facto bug out location, but I’m on very good terms with the tenants and wouldn’t owner-move-in evict them. Instead I’d offer them a greatly reduced rent in exchange for me crashing in the garden shed/guest cabin during an emergency. If they weren’t so inclined then we might have to have another kind of conversation. The long term problem with having a country property in Sonoma is that it’s subject to the same earthquake faults as San Francisco and has the added risk of massive forest fires. So I’d be happier with an inexpensive third property elsewhere. But “elsewhere” and “inexpensive” mean another state.

          1. I’ve played this game. What’s in a day’s drive that I can afford? That’s not hell on earth? That won’t go up in flames? Conclusion: Oregon. Problem: I might not be able to get there in an emergency. San Luis Obispo maybe? If prices come down…

            1. “If prices come down.” From your lips to God’s ear. I’m not counting on that… But that’s exactly how the Sonoma property happened post the 2008 crash.

        2. I lived in boston & dc for 10 years before realizing that the economics were completely unrealistic for someone looking to have a family & quality of life on not-fabulous incomes. We’re both very analytical and ran a number of analyses on metro areas, visited many, etc. Ultimately, we were looking for a direct flights back to the east coast, a certain type of neighborhood (typical streetcar bungalows & small apartments on 1/8 acre plots), plus a very strong preference for mild summers, which basically precluded anything south of the ohio river.

          Economic opportunity tends to scale pretty linearly with flights. Places like Chicago & Minneapolis had the most meeting the relevant filters. The preferred quadrant of Chicago has all the same issues as Boston & DC. The type of neighborhoods we liked begin about 8 miles from the loop, just beyond the reaches of frequent public transportation. Minneapolis felt very isolated, very far from anywhere else, and had a reputation for parochialism. We ended up in Milwaukee. It has enough flights per day to each of the east coast. Service to all the major hubs. It’s a little over an hour to O’Hare/inner Chicago suburbs. Obviously, it’s faced its share of rust belt issues, but it’s actually pretty intact. It’s on a nice stretch of lake michigan, and has lots of charming neighborhoods with classic homes at affordable prices.

          I recommend migration. It’s a big country. If you know what you like, it’s easy to find it.

          1. Interesting point you make about the flights. I recall Chiquita citing lack of direct accessibility to CVG as a casual factor in their decision to leave Cincinnati for the better-connected Charlotte. Likewise when NCR left Dayton for Atlanta.

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