Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Goatwalking: A Guide to Wildland Living

I bought Jim Corbett's book, Goatwalking when it was first published in 1992.  What fascinated me about it was Corbett's contention that you can survive in the desert by walking around with two female goats and drinking their milk.  I have never tried that myself.  It seemed both too easy and at the same time too difficult.  Maybe if I had taken a goatwalking course with him when he was still alive, I could have learned enough about goatwalking to try it on my own.  But I never did.  Still, the possibility exists.

Goatwalking is a form of pastoral nomadism or could be. Who knows.  Corbett did it.  He goatwalked. So it must be possible, perhaps even legal in certain places.  The difficulty with any kind of nomadic existence these days are finding places where you can legally live off the land.
You can generally stay in one place in a national forest for up to ten days before you have to move on.  That would not be difficult with two goats. One person with two goats in the desert could probably roam around BLM (Bureau of Land Management) or National Forest land without applying for permits and paying rent to the government.  But a group of people with two goats per person would probably be a little harder to keep invisible.
In any case, you can legally graze goats on government land for the meager fee of $2.11 per AUM in 2016.  An  AUM is the amount of forage needed to sustain one cow and her calf, one horse, or five sheep or goats for a month. So a family of two adults and maybe a child could pay the government $2.11 per month rent to roam around the desert with 5 goats.  
The only catch is that in order to get a grazing permit, you need to have a base property which the BLM explains as follows:

Any U.S. citizen or validly licensed business can apply for a BLM grazing permit or lease. To do so, one must either:
  • buy or control private property (known as “base property”) that has been legally recognized by the Bureau as having preference for the use of public land grazing privileges,
  • or acquire property that has the capability to serve as base property and then apply to the BLM to transfer the preference for grazing privileges from an existing base property to the acquired property (which would become the new “base property”).
The first alternative happens when base property (a private ranch) is sold or leased to a new individual or business; the buyer or lessee then applies to the BLM for the use of grazing privileges associated with that property.  The second alternative would happen when a rancher wants to transfer existing public land grazing privileges to another party while keeping the private ranch property. 

The catch, it appears is that to be a nomad, you first have to acquire private property. Or you walk your goats without a permit in violation of the law.  More details here: 

Back to the Corbett book.  Besides writing about the practical aspects of living with goats, Corbett also spends a good deal of time, I would say two thirds of the book musing on biblical precedents for pastoral nomadism and the refuge movement that he was involved in. While these topics don't seem particularly relevant to goat walking, they do touch on general issues of the ability of people to move about the world freely.  
The book is available from Amazon. Used copies sell for as little as $0.88 plus $3.99 shipping.
Highly recommended.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Nomadism and Illegibility

The purpose of this post is to point at an essay by Venkatesh Rao entitled On Being an Illegible Person.  Rao is not the originator of the idea of Illegible Person but elaborates on the concept here.  I would probably call the concept of illegible person, invisible person, but I won't quibble over terminology.  The idea behind legibility is that the state wants to force a person into a mode that easily lets the state keep track of that person.  It's similar to the idea behind the military uniform. You can tell the rank of a person at a glance.  In the US military it's on your hat and on your sleeve. There's also markers for years of service, campaigns participated in and special rewards.  Basically, anyone in the military can read anyone else in the military and they are therefore legible.
The illegibility that Rao talks about is illegibility to the state and to other people.  The idea is that other people can't figure out how you make a living and the state doesn't have enough information on you to keep you under control. He works nomadism into the discussion because nomads are traditionally illegible to the state and therefore subject to efforts by the state to make them legible, that is to stop them from being nomads and turning them into settlers .
Read the article.  It's a good one.

Reductio ad Absurdum

Reductio ad Absurdum  is a form of argument which attempts to disprove a statement by showing it inevitably leads to a ridiculous, absurd, or impractical conclusion.  That's what I tried to do in the previous post, showing that the idea that people now living settled lives should give nomadism a try leads to the ridiculous situation where everyone is on the move and nobody is maintaining all the systems that make it possible for 7.4 billion to stay alive.
Let's look at some maps.  I like to have graphics in my posts.
I like the color scheme on this map.  The writing on this map is too small to make out, but I think what this map is trying to show is population density on a per country basis.  The darker the color, the more people total live in that country.  Not surprisingly, Mongolia, that lightest of blue country sandwiched between black hued Russia and China has the very low population density that makes it possible to carry on a nomadic lifestyle.
Here's another map, probably a better one than the one above, even though I don't like the colors as much.  This one seems to show population density more by region than by nation state.  In this case, it's the gray areas where nomadism is historically prevalent.  So if you intend to go nomadic then maybe you should look at some of the gray areas of the world to do it providing of course that they let you in.  If an area is red, forget it.  Every square inch of the red regions already has a bunch of people on it and they don't need you.
Getting back to the reductio ad absurdum notion, we have concluded that nomadism is not for everyone, mostly because of practical constraints.  

Friday, December 2, 2016

Nomadic Scope - How Many People Can Go Mobile?

I should point out that I am mobile only part of the time.  Most of the time I live in a house where I pay rent. My advocacy for going mobile is mostly based on theoretical musings and much less so by actual practice.
The truth is that nomads were always a fringe group and will probably continue to be so.  The reason is that nomadism is an adaptation to marginal environments where you have to move on a regular basis to find food.  In places where food is plentiful, you can just stay put.

In the modern city, you don't even have to leave home to find food.  Someone brings it to you.  What makes this possible is the miracle of petroleum powered transport.
But even before there was petroleum, people didn't roam around to collect food that was coming into season.  They stayed on farms and planted stuff.
While this sort of living was hard, it produced more food than nomadic lifestyles could.  Farming also meant that sedentary farmers controlled the land and kept nomadic travelers off it.  Farming also produced surplus food, making cities and population explosions possible.
So if everyone went nomadic, especially the farmers, there wouldn't be enough food to keep the whole population alive.  Not likely to be a popular idea.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Tiny Homes on the Move

Tiny Homes on the Move. Good book from Shelter Publications. If you're interested in how other people have managed to turn a car, truck, bus or boat into a home, there's lots of pictures for you here to inspire you. It's not a how-to book.  It's more like an idea book.  Plus in a lot of cases it has links to websites where you can get more info.  Standard Shelter Pub large size paperback with color photos throughout.
The idea of this book is that you don't use your transportation to carry your home around with you.  The idea is that your transportation is your home.  Your mobile home, your home on wheels.  Just don't run out of gas.
This is distinctly different from carrying a tent in the trunk of your car and pitching it at a campsite. You don't really think of the tent as your home.  You have no home. You are homeless, mobile, nomadic.

Nomadic Spec Sheet - Light is Essential

Going nomadic means taking all your stuff with you on the road.  How much stuff you can take with you depends on what sort of transportation you have.  But regardless, you will have less stuff than someone living in a house or apartment.  Going nomadic means travelling light.  Everything has to be light, your shelter, your clothes, your food, your entertainment.  Light is essential.
More detailed spec sheets for shelter, clothes, food and transport to follow.

Slim Pickins Climate Change Strategy

Way back, a long time ago Stanley Kubrick made a movie called Dr. Strangelove.  In the movie, the character played by Slim Pickins jumps up on an A-bomb that is stuck in the bomb bay of his airplane and starts whacking it with his hat to break it loose.  He succeeds and rides it down to earth like he's on a bucking bronco.
I thought of this image the other day when I was looking at Trump's climate policy and the people who will be instrumental in dealing with climate change. Trump's approach of course is, What Climate Change?  Doesn't matter really.  Whether politicians publicly acknowledge climate change or not, global temperatures rise inexorably year after year because CO2 emissions go up every year.  So, like Slim Pickins, it looks like we're going to ride this sucker all the way to the ground.
If you want to see the video clip on youtube, click here. Enjoy.

Climate Refugees - Why Go Nomadic

Under the heading of Why Go Nomadic? in the previous post, I suggested that looking at moving out of areas in the US that will be hit by deteriorating climate might be a good strategy.  Migrate Early and Beat the Rush, you might say.  The picture above of Syrian Refugees heading down a road on foot might give you an idea of what waiting too long might look like.

Or here, people in Bangladesh waiting for food handouts where the river is about 5 feet above flood.
More on the threat of climate change in an article by The Guardian. The upshot of the article is that while politicians like Trump may declare climate change as a hoax, military people who will have to deal with refugees are taking it seriously.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Why Go Nomadic - Climate Change

Strictly speaking, moving on from where you live because, let's say your house is under water or because drought makes it impossible for you to get water does not make you a nomad, but rather a climate refugee. But if you go nomadic before things go to bad, you can move ahead of disaster instead of clinging to your homestead as long as possible.
With these thoughts in mind, here is the latest on the California drought and repeat disaster areas in the US.

Here in the SF East Bay of California, we are still in an extreme drought although it has been raining quite a bit lately.  This is the fifth year of the drought.  Hardly anyone talks about it any more because quite frankly, the topic gets boring after a while and does not really affect most people in Urban Areas in any life-threatening way.  At most, for people in cities, drought is a lifestyle issue, causing inconveniences such as not getting water in a restaurant unless you ask for it, or not flushing after you pee.  But out in the Central Valley where food is raised, lack of water is an issue and impacts livelihoods of people.  So far, big ag businesses have drilled deeper and deeper to suck irrigation water out of the ground with ever longer straws, but when they can't do that any more, towns will start going empty.  
Of course, the drought might end at any time and things will be fine again and Californians will be able to water their lawns guilt free.  But if they don't, migrating out of the area early might be a good strategy.  

The map above shows places where people have filed for disaster relief more than once since 1998.  That seems to average out to once every ten years.  You can't blame people for sticking around in a place where disaster strikes once, but if it strikes twice and you've filed for disaster relief twice, you might be inclined to see a trend.  Time to move?
Apparently, more people don't move out of disaster prone areas because  they can get disaster relief and insurance.  FEMA is starting to think about whether people should be cut off from federal relief aid after some number of claims because they are simply supporting bad habits.
More on this topic here. Time to move?

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Nomadic Living, Is it Time to Give it a Try?

Here in the US, the election is over, Donald Trump is said to have won, barring some sort of challenge to his legitimacy.  With every passing day, his presidency becomes more of a sure thing.
If past elections are any indication, his presidency will not alter my life in any significant way.  I see the present election as yet another signal that industrial society is heading into decline, not that Trump will be a cause of decline, but rather that he will be presiding over an accelerating rate of decline, a decline that he has little power to slow but perhaps some ability to accelerate.
I do not claim to have any psychic powers or analytical skills that allow me to predict the future, but I do have the ability to look at the present and compare it to the past and see how things have changed.  I also have access to other people's predictions of what the future will be like and I favor the pessimists.
What does any of this have to do with nomadism?  Simply put, the Trump election when seen as a signal of accelerating decline of industrial civilization means that it might be a good time to look at nomadic lifestyles.  I feel that our future will not look like the past and will start sliding into chaos.  Entropy will accelerate whereas in the past it has been held at bay. It takes energy to hold entropy at bay and the energy available to us is declining.
Aside from societal decline, the end of the stable climate we have had since the end of the last ice age is also at hand.  Rising sea levels will start flooding coastal cities before the end of the century.  Droughts, rising temperatures, extreme floods and storms will make agriculture less of a sure thing.  The state will no longer be able to guarantee food to all of its people. Do you sit and wait to be flooded out, dried out, devastated by storms and starved or do you get rid of your excess stuff and go mobile, ever ready to move on to a cooler, drier/wetter, calmer place?
Nomadism, the ability to improve one's quality of life by changing one's location will be a good strategy for minimizing the impact of societal and climate decline on one's personal life.  The individual has very little ability to affect large scale events, but the individual has the ability to walk away from events. The nomad, not being tied to stationary possessions will have few obstacles to walking away.
The nomad, more than the settled person also has the ability to avoid the worst aspects of state governments.  The nomad lives for the most part outside the reach of the state, away from the state, immune to the state, going within reach of the state only briefly to harvest some of its product by means of trade and then sliding out of its reach again.

The notion of living outside the control of any state may seem impossible to someone living under the control of a state, paying taxes, being pressed into military service, being kept in line by the state's police and military.
And yet, as James Scott, in his book, The Art of Not Being Governed points out, people do manage to live outside the control of states. As one reviewer on Amazon put it, "Scott argues that many "primitive" tribal peoples actually made a conscious decision to adopt a "simpler" lifestyle in order to avoid the burdens of living under organized states. For much of history, the "civilized" state collected taxes and enslaved people, but didn't do much to help people. Tribal societies, Scott argues, adopted a nomadic lifestyle, planted root crops that were more difficult to find, and unlearned literacy all in an attempt to separate themselves from a certain political way of life they found oppressive."
I haven't read the book yet, but intend to.  My own experience with spending time in remote areas is that the reach of the state is long, but it is not infinite.  The less money the state has, the shorter its reach becomes. The farther you go from the centers of power, the less likely you are to be molested by agents of the state.
But avoiding the state does not mean that you have to leave society.  Society, companionship, family, clan, tribe, these are all possible ways of living with other people that don't require a state and its nasty practices.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Dead Trees in the Sierra Nevada

The last time we had been in Kings Canyon was two years ago.  We didn't see any recently dead trees then, but this year there were lots of them. I believe this is year 5 of the California drought.


  • D0 (Abnormally Dry)
  • D1 (Moderate Drought)
  • D2 (Severe Drought)
  • D3 (Extreme Drought)

  • D4 (Exceptional Drought)
The dead trees, as you can see still have their leaves on them which means that they haven't been dead for long. In theory, these trees shouldn't be dead since they are growing right next to a river, but they are dead.  So maybe they died more of heat stress than of drought.  There is also the phenomenon of bark beetles which attack living trees which have been stressed by drought.  The bark beetles finish off the trees that haven't been completely killed by the drought.
These pictures were taken in a national park so the dead trees don't all get cut down, but outside the park and especially around people's houses, the cutting down of trees is mandatory since they pose a fire hazard.
 Here's a whole cluster of dead trees.
 And another.  It seems like overall, about 10 per cent of the trees at the bottom of the valley were dead. The dead trees are mostly Ponderosa pines since that is what there is most of but also cedars and sugar pines.

 The toll of dead trees seemed higher on south facing slopes and conversely lower on more shaded north facing slopes.

 This patch of forest was hit by fire at some point.  The dead trees here no longer have their needles and some regrowth in the understory has already started.
And another shot of an area where fire had gone through and deciduous shrubs and trees have filled in.
Hard to say how long the drought will last, but every year of no rain will mean more dead trees and large areas of the Sierra Nevada will be covered in dead trees and dead trees will be susceptible to fires.  The Sierra Nevada will move more toward a brown look from a green look, maybe like this part of the canyon where a fire moved through last year.
The look is lovely in a brown sort of way and it may be the way that the drought is pushing the Sierra Nevada. New trees are already coming up in burnt over areas but whether they can grow to maturity is a matter of whether the drought ends before all the trees have died.  Once all the trees in an area are dead they can only repopulate slowly by seeds brought in from outside the dead area and that only if climate conditions revert back to wetter conditions.

Camping al fresco

We went camping in Kings Canyon recently. The weather forecast was for no rain all week so we never bothered setting up the yurt.
The yurt parts lay in a pile next to a tree all week.
So our sleeping quarters were totally al fresco.  We laid down some rugs on the perimeter of our bedding so we wouldn't have to drag forest floor debris into our beds, but other than that slept out in the open.  No mosquitoes so no need for netting.  The air was also very dry so no dew at night and the trees may have helped to keep the dew at bay. The last morning of our stay it was 31 degrees F. But we were toasty thanks to warm bedding.  A tent doesn't really do all that much to keep you warm.
 Our reading room right next to the south fork of the Kings River.
 Our kitchen. Bear box in the background.  Anything that smelled edible had to go in the box.
One night there were a few drops of rain so we rigged some tarps.  But it never rained so we never got to see how good our rigging job actually was. The tarps did keep the drafts down so even though they were open at both ends, they did even out the sleeping temperatures a little.
And on the last day we packed the yurt back on top of the car.  The only downside to not having set up the yurt was that although we didn't need it for shelter from the weather, it is still useful as a changing room and as a place to hang up spare clothes and keep our stuff organized.

Friday, September 9, 2016

How to Keep Your Yurt from Blowing Away, Part 2

The information in this post comes from Peter Andrews' book Nomadic Tents of the Middle East. See previous post for a review of that book.
The nature of tents is that they are sufficiently light so they can be transported by whatever means are available.  That used to be pack animals, but now among the remaining nomads it could be a truck as well. But the light weight of a tent makes it vulnerable to wind.  If the tent is not sufficiently staked down, it may well be blown away.  In the case of my twelve foot yurt, I put stakes into the ground around the perimeter of the yurt and tied lines to them that ran up to the edge of the roof.
In the case of the Iranian nomads in Andrews' book they drive a stake into the ground in the center of their tent and run lines from the perimeter of the crown down to the stake.  While this arrangement helps to keep the tent anchored in a storm, it also has structural functions.
Perspective drawing of Iranian yurt. The stake to which the crown is anchored is visible just above the center of the door. 
Unlike the more familiar Mongolian yurts with their trellis walls and conical roofs, the frame of this yurt is made up of arched poles whose upper ends are set into mortises in the crown giving this tent a dome shape.  Bands wrapped around the arched poles keep their spacing consistent.  Once the frame is erected, lines are run around the crown and are then pulled down and anchored to the stake in the center of the tent.  The tension of the anchor rope flattens the roof and puts the frame under compression, making it stiffer and making the upper ends of the poles come into the crown from the side in the horizontal plane.  The stake is probably used primarily to force the tent into its proper shape.  Nevertheless, the anchor rope must also help to keep the tent in place in a storm.
Photo of the anchor rope running from the crown down to the center stake. The stake is driven into the ground to a depth of about 3 feet.

Details of stake, mallet and alternative method of anchoring the crown.
In places where the ground is too hard to drive a stake into, the anchor rope is run around a pile of rocks that act as the anchor.
This scheme of anchoring a yurt would probably not work as well for a yurt with trellis walls because the trellis sits on the ground and unlike the poles of this Iranian tent are not pushed into the ground which is what keeps them from shifting sideways.  In any case, the central anchor is probably something to consider for the would-be yurt builder.
By the way, these illustrations show the degree of detail Andrews' book contains.  For this particular tent, Andrews has several more pages of detail on everything from crown construction, to cover tailoring to tools used in the construction of the frame.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Nomadic Tent Types in the Middle East, a Book Review

I bought this book thinking that it might be about Black Tents. It isn't.  It's mostly about Yurts. Was I disappointed? Yes, at first.  Am I still disappointed? No.  Did this book cost a lot of money? Yes, something like $160 on Amazon. Is it worth the price? Yes.
But let's move on beyond my initial disappointment and the high cost. Let's examine mundane particulars.
The book is not one book but two physical objects which the author has named volumes.
Volume 1 is Text, all text, no pictures.
Volume 2 is pictures mostly, photos and illustrations with some small amount of text.
The choice of separating pictures from the text seemed odd to me. Imagine a magazine or newspaper that came in parts, one part with all the text and the other with all the photos.  See what I mean? Hard to imagine.  But Professor Andrews must have had his reasons for proceeding in this manner.
And here's a picture of the spines of the two volumes back to back. No scale provided, but they add up to a stack of paper just a tad over 1-5/8 inches thick.
If you have just a casual interest in the tents of nomads, you probably wouldn't buy this book.  But if you have an interest in actually building yurts, you might want to buy this book because this book is about as detailed an account of yurts as you are likely to find anywhere.  The author, an academic who started out as an architect describes and illustrates each of the yurt types in sufficient detail that someone with some handy skills could reproduce any of the tents covered in the two volumes.  For each yurt, this author describes pretty much all of what you would want to know about it, dimensions of the whole thing and all its parts, setup and teardown procedures, weight, how many camels it takes to carry, arrangement of furniture, tools used to make the parts and where they used to be used.
There are cheaper books on how to build yurts, but if you want to build an exact replica of a particular yurt type, there is probably no better place to go than this.
Some more notes about confusion.  These two volumes of Nomad Tent Types are part 1 of a two part series.  Part 1 which this is, is framed tents, roughly, yurts.  Part 2, I think will be black tents, which had a target publication date of 1999 but as far as I know, is still in the works.  It was part 2 which I had wanted to buy and part 1 is what I got.  But still a good resource.
If you want more reviews, go to Peter Andrews' website.  And this review I found particularly well written.  All in all, the book is a valuable work, given that nomads are getting urbanized and many have stopped making their traditional tents.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Thermal Improvisation

One of the problems when on the road is how to keep stuff warm or cold.  It's really not much different than keeping ourselves warm, that is by wrapping ourselves in insulating materials.
Keeping water hot by wrapping a water bottle in a towel.  

The before photo.

We just got done bringing our dinner to a boil, some mix of rice and lentils.  It is morning. We will be moving around all day but at night when we get back, we would like to spend a minimum amount of time cooking.

So we wrap our hot kettle with dinner inside in a towel.  By evening the contents will be close to done.  Maybe another few minutes of cooking at night will finish it off.
 What gave me the idea of wrapping pots of hot food in a towel is that my grandmother used to make sweet rice that way.  She would bring rice and milk and raisins to a boil in a pot, wrap the pot in a towel, then put the pot in a corner of the couch and pile pillows on top of it. An hour or so later, the rice would be done, all fluffed up and soft.
The key to how cooking works is maintaining temperature.  When we cook food on a stove top, most of the heat goes into the surroundings and little of it into the food.  What cooks food is exposure of food to high temperature for a given period of time.  Once food is up to temperature of boiling, it can be kept at that temperature or near it for some time just by surrounding it with insulation.
And coffee kept warm by wrapping glasses in socks.  

Saturday, September 3, 2016

How to Keep Your Yurt from Blowing Away

Different places have different weather conditions that your yurt has to deal with.  Rain and snow are not much of a problem in the desert, but wind is.  The yurt is strong enough to withstand most winds, but wind is sufficiently strong to shove a yurt sideways.  Hence stakes and tiedowns are advisable.  In some places, people used some sort of anchor to tie the crown of the yurt to the anchor driven into the ground in the center of the yurt.  A ten or twelve foot yurt isn't big enough to allow for an indoor anchor that wouldn't get in the way so all the anchoring was done on the outside.
The twelve foot yurt tied down to stakes driven into the sand every few feet.  We did this after almost getting blown away at our previous location.  But as it turned out, at this location, the wind never came up strong enough  to put these tiedowns to the test. Tiedowns went from the edge of the roof around the tension rope that circles the wall and down to stakes driven into the ground. Stakes were an assortment of one foot lengths of rebar and assorted stakes from other tents.

At this particular location in Death Valley, the ground was covered with a thick layer of crushed rock that was hard to drive any stakes through, so we did the next best thing and tied our anchor ropes around big rocks.  As in the picture above, the tiedowns didn't get a good test,

Friday, August 19, 2016

A Propane Heater for the Yurt

On this particular trip we were in the Mojave Preserve in January.  Elevation of the camp ground was roughly 4000 feet and temperatures at night went below freezing.  These are photos of the propane stove in action.
The stove just to the right of the door and up against the wall.

The stove pipe exits the tent through the wall.  I did not want to make a hole through the roof and the horizontal exit made for some additional stove pipe inside the tent.  A minimum of 4 feet of stove pipe indoors was recommended by the manufacturer. The pipe heats up and radiates heat.  Too short a length of pipe inside the yurt makes for too much heat being lost to the outdoors.

View of the damper control  which controls the flow of  exhaust out the pipe.

View of the stove pipe outside the tent.  The pipe is supported by a length of wood.  The propane tank stays outside.

The pipe exits through a hole cut in the side wall.  Flashing cut from a sheet of aluminum isolates the tent wall from the hot stove pipe. Arrows painted on the pipe in yellow paint help with proper assembly.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

10 Foot Yurt Interiors

Some photos of the interior of the ten foot yurt in action.  Although the twelve foot diameter yurt has only two feet more diameter than the 12 foot diameter yurt, it has 44 percent more floor space.  See previous post for comparison.
The kitchen area is just to the right of the door and butts up right against the sleeping area without any intervening space.

Another view of the cooking are in the direction of the sleeping area.

And a closeup of the heating stove.  It keeps water warm but is not designed for cooking on.