Journal: March13, 2011

Project 31 ends on the 19th, so I guess I have less than a week left. I haven’t really been keeping track. Life just has fallen into a kind of steady rhythm, and time definitely has taken on a new feel. Or, perhaps, its presence seems to have somehow become diluted. It feels less linear, less like a progression, less defined, more… natural, from lack of a better word. Time feels less significant, less meaningful, not in the sense that it is less valuable, but more in the sense that it seems to have shed more baggage to become more it, and less artificial. I don’t keep track of the date, or day of week anymore. In my world, there’s today, yesterday, the day before that. There’s “about a week ago.” There’s tomorrow. Words like “Sunday” or artificial constructs like “March 13, 2011” still register somewhere (namely on my electronic devices), yet mean little to me, possibly because those words only hold meaning in the context of a larger society, of which I am not entirely a part of. Being physically isolated from the rest of mankind, I might as well be an alien lurking in the woods, observing the human species through a looking glass that is the internet…

Since finishing my kitchen, I haven’t really had any major construction projects. As some of you may have already seen on my Flickr stream, I’ve been putting the new kitchen to good use with new culinary adventures. One night, I made some tonkatsu, or Japanese fried cutlets, which turned out quite nicely — crispy on the outside, soft and juicy on the inside. I used the wood stove to warm up a pan of oil, but used the gas stove to do the actual frying. I’ve also made a couple of batches of cranberry and chocolate chip scones on my wood stove, and those have turned out quite nicely too. In lieu of an oven, I simply placed my flat 11″ cast iron skillet on the stovetop, then covered it with another cast iron 11″ deep dish pan to trap the heat in. Other than taking a little extra time to “bake”, it’s worked out nicely both times I used this method. I might try baking some cookies, biscuits and bread rolls this way too.

My food supply is holding up nicely, though my vegetable selection has narrowed significantly. Just in the past week, I’ve finished the last of the mixed greens, mushrooms, tomatoes, zucchini, and avocados. I lost one zucchini to mold (it was in a box in Hut 2.1), and parts of my tomatoes had started to go moldy, but I just cut those bits off and used the rest. Still remaining in my stockpile are potatoes, onions, red and green cabbage, butternut squash, kabocha squash, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and possibly a carrot or two. I’ve used most of my fresh meat, though I still have a pound of pork tenderloin left, as well as most of the cured/salted meats and more than a dozen eggs. In the grains department, I still have a loaf and a half of bread, one bagel, 15-20 tortillas, and tons of rice, so no shortages there either. All in all, I probably have enough food to last me a few more weeks, and if anything, I may need to start pigging out more before things go bad…

Despite the rain, water flow in the seasonal creek that I wrote about last week has slowed considerably. Upstream where the creek enters my property, there’s probably still a fifth of a gallon per second or so of water, but downstream, that seems to slow to a trickle, possibly because the ground’s soaking up the water as it flows. I suspect the stream really only runs when there’s a large amount of snowmelt, but anything short of sustained torrential rains probably simply get soaked up in the ground instead.

I’ve also started writing a book. It’s not the next Great American Novel, nor is it Walden 2.0, but rather a practical book that bundles all the knowledge I’ve acquired in my land-dwelling adventures so far. The hope is to produce a guidebook for those who want to do something similar to what I’m doing. Since my knowledge is wider than it is deep, it’s not meant to be the ultimate source of truth in any one narrow topic area, but covers a wide range of topics, from buying land, to different approaches to securing food, water, electricity, as well as a survey of various building options. So, the general positioning is, “If you want to live in the woods, here are things you need to think about, and here are some possible solutions.” I’m guessing it’ll be a fairly short book, maybe 100 pages or so, and my current plan is to sell it on Kindle (and possibly Apple iBooks) for $3-5, though there also may be a limited print run, and possibly a free web-based version as well. My knowledge is still admittedly limited, but I figure I know enough to share, and that I could learn more in the process of organizing everything into a book. With an eBook format, I could easily make iterative improvements as I learn more or receive feedback, and try to create a virtuous cycle of sharing, gaining, and re-sharing knowledge.

As I head into the last several days of Project 31, I’m also considering my next steps. I was tentatively considering applying for jobs again, but since the earthquake, I’ve also been strongly considering going to Japan to volunteer in the disaster. To be completely honest, I wish I could be there now. After all, being self-sufficient where there’s no infrastructure is kind of a specialty of mine, so I’m pretty sure I could help without getting in the way. With all those international teams on the ground, I’m sure they could use someone who speaks English and Japanese fluently, especially since the elderly populations in the worst hit rural areas won’t be able to speak even a fragment of English, and I doubt many of the foreign rescuers would speak any Japanese either. On the other hand, it seems logistically difficult to get to the disaster zone with sufficient supplies and without official support (or funding). So I’m telling myself that the recovery effort would be long, and that there’d be plenty to do even if I waited until after the initial rescue and relief phases. That doesn’t make it any easier to sit here idly, though…

15 thoughts on “Journal: March13, 2011

  1. Making biscuits, cornbread & other things associated with the oven by most people were commonly done on stovetops in cast iron skillets w/cast iron lids in earlier days. I quite often make meatloaf & other things on the stovetop in the skillet rather then heating up the oven. The more you use it, the more you will find you can do. If you get a cast iron Dutch oven, it works well for a slo-cooker on a wood stove & the lid fits the same diameter skillet for ‘baking’.

  2. Ryo,
    That was the post I was waiting to read. Thank you for sharing you thoughts about time and date, and their irrelevance in the wild, away from the artificial constructs of man.

    You are very clever using a skillet to improvise an oven. Very resourceful. I will second Jim K.’s thoughts on using a dutch oven. You’ll want one without feet to use on the wood burner or propane stove, one with feet to use with coals from a camp fire. A tripod would make it even more versatile over a camp fire.

    We all appreciate your adventure and willingnes to share.
    Good luck, stay the course …

  3. You’ve figured out the method to bake on a stove. I’ve actually taken a class offered by a local historical museum on how to cook and bake on an open hearth. Like EnergyZAR said, the dutch oven would be a good investment. If you’re baking using coals you’ll use the tripod or “spider” as it wasl called. It keeps the pan raised, allowing the heat to reach underneath.

    I’m glad to be following your adventures. Contact the American Red Cross to offer your services. Like you said, you’ll need to have an organization that could put you where your services are most needed. Without some official support it might be impossible for you to enter those danger zones.

    Good luck.

  4. You have come a long way, and learned much.
    That’s what it’s all about.
    Keep on, it gets better all the time.

  5. Have been reading about your adventure since the beginning and have enjoyed your writings. Would buy a Kindle version of your book, not only for the knowledge but to help the cause.Keep up the good work.Thoughts and prayers for those folks in Japan.Hope your ambitions work out.

  6. As I predicted your perception of time has been transformed. I will be heading down to our cabin in a few weeks…but only for a week…I hope to get some more finishing touches completed on our cabin.

  7. Don’t know if you know this, but Dutch Ovens just started becoming popular in Japan too. 🙂

    I’m very impressed with your cooking skills! After you finish this book, you should write a cook book too.

    I’m sure there are tons of organizations out there looking for people like you! We’re here on financial support and a lot of our supporters have been asking how they can contribute financially. We’ve been recommending them to CRASH Japan, a Christian, Japan based, non-profit relief organization. But I’m sure the American Red Cross, World Vision, etc would all love to hear from you. Try calling 3. And dare I suggest you pray? 😉

    Seriously though, life seems surreal, being completely unaffected (physically) by what’s happening elsewhere in the same country, being so close yet so far too…

    You’ll probably have to come out later this year anyway when Takako sets a date…

  8. The book idea is great. You already have a great platform (this blog) and getting a print version available on Amazon requires only that you buy an ISBN. If you use, they may throw that in for you for free, but you’ll have to check on that.

  9. You might try contacting the Menlo Park Rescue Squad. They were actually training with some Japanese Fire Guys when the earthquake struck. Last I heard the Menlo Park squad is going but haven’t left yet.

  10. Looking forward to your book, I enjoy your writing.
    I just recently bought a cast iron dutch oven at Costco for $40, it’s a really nice quality and with a metal knob on the lid instead of a plastic one like the cheaper versions often have. I bought it to try out the dutch-oven bread baking method I found described here, via Mother Earth News.
    I remember my grandma making cornbread in a cast iron dutch oven on top of her wood stove but I was too young to remember much detail (besides how delicious it was!)

    If you need to pig out on cabbage, may I suggest this recipe? My favorite way to eat cabbage and a huge budget stretcher around here.

    1 small cabbage, about 2.5lbs
    2 Tbsp. butter
    1.5 tsp kosher salt
    pepper to taste

    Chop/shred cabbage as if for coleslaw, discarding core. Melt butter and saute cabbage over medium-high heat with salt and pepper until tender. Add salt to taste.
    (you probably already know, but kosher and table salt measure a bit differently, you might need to make some adjustments if you don’t have any right now)
    The recipe says it serves six, but myself and two hungry toddlers usually polish it off in one sitting 🙂

  11. Ryo,

    I’m glad to hear that your family is OK. Best of luck if you go over to help out and keep us informed. In our US societies way, we will loose focus on this tragedy in short order and it will be supplanted with a new news bite.
    I had spent a short time in Misawa, I’ve only seen the rural North but the memories have always stayed with me. Misawa is about as far North as Tokyo is South of Sendai.
    Your Scones look great, but being of lowland Scot decent I stick with only fruit in a scone. (Maybe that is why they turn out so poorly).
    We just went through a very little storm here in the Valley of Oregon but power was knocked out up and down the I-5 corridor. We went without power for 1.5 days. I pulled out the generator and ran it on and off to keep the fridge cooled down and it gave us light during the night. We had supplemental wood heat for the house and the only inconvenience was water – we have a well – and so any water needs to be pumped up. We had what was underpressure in the tank and we had three gallons of emergency water. The sad thing is I have 90 watts of solar panels, charge controller, two large 6v golf cart batteries and a very clean power inverter in my shop but not hooked up. I guess this is a wake up call to hook up the power and get it integrated into my house.
    The point is… yep we need to be prepared.

    Best O Luck to you,


  12. As of today only 1 more day to go..nice work! The longer I am away from the city and things like TV the more I get to like it..and the more out of place I think things are when I DO venture in on excursions.

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