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April 23, 2018

Mudflats Goes Militia in Talkeetna

Friday
13:00, Tesoro Station Mini-Mart, Talkeetna, Alaska

The Tesoro gas station mini-mart in Wasilla does not carry potatoes. As a matter of fact, they do not carry produce of any kind. I am supposed provide dinner tonight for my little corner of the militia encampment. Yes, I’m going back again this year to the Alaska Prepper/Survivalist/Militia Rendezvous, and instead of PB&J like last time, I’ve got steak, and asparagus – but I left the potatoes sitting on the counter at home. After a couple laps up and down the tiny aisles, I have to make a call. The closest thing to baked potatoes in the mini-mart are Funyuns. It’s a subjective decision, but the best I can do. This is survivalism, right? You go to war with the side dish you have, not the side dish you wish you had. Improvise. Be decisive. It’ll be fine.

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13:20

Somewhere in the Woods

I like first words. I always make it a point when attending an event, to pick up on the first sentence that drifts to my ears. Last year, when I pulled up to the Rendezvous in Sutton and opened my car door, the first words I heard were, “That’s a big fucking knife!” First words often set the tone.

This year after we cross Montana Creek in Talkeetna, bounce down a gravel road, turn right at the yellow Gadsden snake flag into the enchanted forest of ferns and horsetail grass and birch trees to the parking area, I hear, “Hey! I’m not the only one who brought a kilt!” The observation comes from Adam, my friend and driver whom I’ve invited to come along. I have a feeling he’s really going to like it. I look around and sure enough, there’s Gunny from last year, minus about a foot of beard, and wearing what is described as a “TactiKilt.”

Last year, I attended the event solo, but this year I’m happy to have a road trip buddy. I’ve known Adam for almost 25 years, and he is hard to peg – he’s kind of a super smart, progressive/conservative, gun-toting, gadget-loving, wilderness ninja medic badass who loves kids. And instead of my sorely out-of-place forest green Subaru hatchback, we pull up in Adam’s giant black beast of a truck with all kinds of lights, and radios, and gear, and a rumbly engine, and which I have just discovered is technically certified as an ambulance.

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Adam and the unlikely ambulance.

I recognize some faces already from last year. Of course there is David Luntz whom I hung out with at the NRA convention in Nashville this year. He’s the commander of the Central Alaska Militia, the guy who invited me last year, and the organizer of this year’s event. And there’s Rick Ford, the commander of the Anchorage Municipal Defense Force whom I noted last year looked like he stepped out of some epic WWII movie saga. He’s in a cowboy hat this time so I have to rethink my analogy. John Root is also here, the commander of the South Central Patriots out of Wasilla. Several of their members will be giving classes tomorrow. And of course there’s Gunny, aka Jon, aka the other kilt-wearing medic. I do not see Andy and his ward Noah, the ammo dog, which makes me sad.

Adam and Jon are introduced:

Medic?
Yup.
You an EMT?
Yeah. You an EMT?
Yeah.
You got a kilt?
Yeah.

They remind me of a couple kids.

I’m 8.
Me too.
You like pizza?
I like pizza.
You wanna go play in the dirt?
Yeah. Play in the dirt.

Adam and Jon are soon trading stories involving pharmaceuticals and medical trauma as they walk the perimeter to get the lay of the land.

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Jon Droska, aka “Gunny” – Senior NCO of the Anchorage Municipal Defense Force, medic, and other kilt guy.

David Luntz arrived the night before and has set up camp. He is currently cursing the Chinese for several reasons, one being the status of his current project – assembling an 85,000-piece barbecue grill he just bought. I point to one of the many tiny bags of hardware, “I thought you said there wouldn’t be any wingnuts at this event!” I give myself a rim shot, and he chuckles and rolls his eyes. He’s invited more media this time, he tells me, and expects the Alaska Dispatch to cover the event. He’s been seeking publicity and making an intentional outreach to the public.

“The media lets us open our events to people who are interested, but have decided not to attend out of fear of what they have been told about the militia. Coverage by the media lets them get a view from a distance, and hopefully encourages people to attend next time or get involved with local groups,” he said.

17:05

Vehicles are pulling in now, and circling the large flagpole as they search for a level spot to camp. Last year the Gadsden flag flew beneath the Stars and Stripes. This time they’ve gone old school with the original flag of the Colonies – stripes and a ring of 13 stars. Across the field at another campsite is the Gadsden flag, the Alaska flag, and the 3%er flag. The “III” is a symbol which refers to the percent of active forces in the field during the American Revolution, which added up to about 3% of colonists- a metaphor of the power of the minority to create change, or scary anti-government rhetoric, depending who you ask. According to current 3%ers those other 3% were actively supported by about 10% of the population, and another 20% of colonists were patriot sympathizers. About a third of the population were loyalists, siding with the King, and the final third were “sheep” who went whichever way the wind blew. “Sheep” is the second-worst insult after “tyrant” in this crowd.

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The current incarnation of the 3%er movement has more to do with active resistance to feared future gun control laws than plotting the takedown of the government, according to the available information. The group falls within the loosely overlapping collection of “Patriot Groups” that have sprung up since the modern militia movement in the 1990s. It’s almost impossible to pigeon hole any of these groups. Even national organizations depend greatly on the character and input of local leadership. Vetting members, and policing their own ranks is an ongoing job and a priority for the militia leaders in the state I’ve talked to at these past two events. It’s all part of trying to shake the “extremist anti-government” label that sticks to militia groups as a whole. This poses a particular challenge to Alaska groups seeking to distance themselves from now-jailed militia leader Schaeffer Cox (arrested in 2011) who is serving a 26-year prison sentence for conspiring to murder federal officials, and a host of firearms offenses. Cox is currently appealing his case to the Ninth Circuit.

18:45

I’m set up in my tent now, a borrowed unit that is enormous and could easily sleep eight. Last year I crashed in the back of the aforementioned Subaru. Now, my digs are palatial by comparison – octagonal and cavernous, with a surreal green glow on the inside. Add a few dozen overstuffed decorative pillows, a hookah and a cat, and this would be a respectable opium den.

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The first night is spent getting settled in, and socializing with early arrivals. People have parked in a large ring around the big open field, setting up tents here and there. Adam and David Luntz and I have made a little mini encampment near the entrance and the sign-in tent. Rick and Jon are 100 yards over. I bust out the steaks and asparagus, and optimistically… the Funyuns. Because the Funyuns were my plan all along… Yeah, that’s it.  Sadly, the Funyuns go over like a sack of concrete, but a quick trip to Talkeetna’s proper grocery store solves the potato problem, and soon we’re having a lovely steak dinner, baked potatoes, grilled asparagus, and a round or three of gin & tonics. This survivalist life is tough.

19:20

There’s a question I wanted to ask during the last militia rendezvous, and never did. So I do now. The second amendment talks about “a well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.” I asked David Luntz over dinner whether he considers Alaska militias to be “well regulated,” and why he doesn’t associate with, or join the Alaska State Defense Force, which is the official militia of the State of Alaska?

“Alaska’s militias are well regulated,” he says. “But what many people do not understand is there are ‘organized’ and ‘unorganized’ sections within the militia.” The organized militia in Alaska, he tells me, consists of the Alaska National Guard, the Alaska Naval Militia, and the Alaska State Defense Force. The unorganized militia is all the other private localized groups. He disagreed with my assumption that he didn’t associate with the organized militias, stating that many militia members have friends and family in the National Guard and the Alaska State Defense Force, and that there is communication with people in the ASDF and an invitation was even extended to some of them to participate in the rendezvous.

“I believe the main cause of concern is the way that the ASDF was managed by previous governors,” he continues. “The National Guard and the ASDF stand ready to serve the governor on a state level, but we’ve seen numerous occasions when the President directs the State’s National Guard to service, so they’re not truly a state entity because in the eyes of many they have been federalized. That leaves the ASDF which has not only conducted joint operations with local city and state agencies, but they also have worked with Federal entities – the military, the FBI, the Department of Homeland Security, and the BATFE (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives). So there is concern that previous governors have surrendered the last line of defense that exclusively protects our state’s sovereignty. You could say that the ‘organized’ militia belongs to the state, and the ‘unorganized’ militia belongs to the people.”

A group soon forms by our tents – the usual suspects, plus Eric the plumber, his significant other and her teenage daughter; Jenny a private school teacher and her 8-year old son; and Ed who owns the property we’ll be using. I’m very glad we’re on private land this time and everybody running around in camo with guns won’t freak out civilian bystanders. We chat about the hot weather, the classes tomorrow, where we’re all from, the history of plumbing. Three of us have a Long Island connection, and we laugh and ask what exit off the Long Island Expressway we’re from, because that’s just what you do. Zaz Hollander, a reporter from the Alaska Dispatch arrives and chats with some of the attendees. Rick and Jon take her on a super “secret squirrel” walk into the woods while they set up for field exercises tomorrow that none of us can know about. It’s trip wires, I think to myself. This isn’t my first time to this rodeo. Last year, Noah the Ammo Dog warned everyone about the trip wires, but they all ignored him and got blown up. What will happen this time?

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Ed explains that the large cluster of about a dozen white canvas tents and teepees set up way on the other end of the clearing are for a group he’s involved with that reenacts life in the 1700s, that uses black powder rifles, gathers local plants, and focuses on learning and honing survival skills. He was happy to let this group use the land, he said. He is very sociable and extraverted, and seems to genuinely like people. Tall and broad-shouldered in jeans and boots, with a gold tooth, and a leather hat that looks well loved, he is an artist by trade, and has lived in Talkeetna for 40 years. David Luntz has brought a huge number of split logs, which he will unload at the tent encampment to say thank you for the use of the land. It’s all very Alaskan.

There is also something else which I am very excited about!

There is not only one outhouse, but four from which to choose! Last year there were exactly zero outhouses, and I was forced to implement “Operation Pee in My Travel Mug” to avoid armed patrols, and pouring rain, and the woods. This time, I feel like I’m at the Waldorf Astoria. The outhouse closest to my tent is stocked with toilet paper, and hand sanitizer (!), and it has a door with a tiny screened window, and there is a note on the bottom of the toilet lid.

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“Close the Lid
– Guardian Spirit”

An outhouse with a guardian spirit! I assure you, my travel mug had no guardian spirit.

After a long drive for many, and setting up camp, everyone is pretty tired and calls it an early night.

22:30

Ahhhh. A cot. A cot in a tent.
There are so many bird songs it’s hard to even distinguish what they are. They sing me to sleep.

SATURDAY

03:00

It’s still light out. Or is it light again? This time of year it’s hard to tell. It never really gets dark – it’s all degrees of twilight. The birds are still singing as I make my way to go visit the Guardian Spirit. I want to make “visiting the Guardian Spirit” a euphemism for going to the bathroom. So far, the Guardian Spirit is my favorite thing.

07:30

Time to get up. Coffee is already made, and breakfast for our encampment, cooked by David, is a yummy steaming slurry of potatoes, and leftover steak strips, and eggs. Coffee is burbling in a metal coffee pot with that glass thing on top so you can watch it burble. And in the cool morning air that smells green, it all tastes as amazingly delicious as all things do outside in the cool morning air. I notice a little can, and see it says “potatoes” on the label.

“Potatoes come in cans?” I ask, which seems immediately ridiculous to say since I’m holding a potato can.

“Yes,” he says looking at me incredulously.

“I didn’t even know that was a thing!”

He shakes his head and smiles, and I feel like there is much of the world I have not seen. But Adam also did not know about potatoes in cans, so I feel maybe slightly less like an out-of-touch urbanite.

Adam eats his breakfast with a titanium spork. For real. Look well, because after the apocalypse the only things left will be cockroaches and Adam’s titanium spork.

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As we ready to attend the first class, I notice several more vehicles have arrived in the night – a couple with two kids from Anchor Point, a guy from Seward, a guy from Homer, a couple from Delta Junction – the total number that day would approach 30, about the same size as last year, but there were new faces, and it strikes me that people have really come from a huge distance to attend the event.

Class has just started when I arrive and set up my little camp chair. Our instructor is soft-spoken, and seems very nice. He’s keen on his subject, and has an adorable little daughter who looks a little over a year old, with tiny pink shoes. He is an acupuncturist in Wasilla, and knows a great deal about Chinese herbal medicine, and the powers of local plants.

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09:00

Medicinal herb class with Virgil Miller
10 Fun Facts I learned

1) Poplar trees can make “Balm of Gilead” which is good for aches and pains, scrapes, and skin irritations. It is also good cover scent for bear hunting because it is strong and aromatic. It must be pretty damn aromatic because I remember from last year’s camo class that there’s pretty much nothing you can do to keep a bear from smelling you. Everyone nods about the Balm of Gilead, and several people have made it before, including Adam.

2) Chaga is a fungus that grows on trees and is a powerful antioxidant that can be scraped off the bark and grated on a cheese grater to make tea. Everyone also nods with recognition at chaga. I have never heard of chaga in my life! How is this possible?

3) A lot of Native American cultures say if you get hurt, there should be something growing very close to you that will help you. In our case at the moment it is geranium, willow, fireweed, ferns, plantain, and yarrow.

4) Devil’s Club is one of the jewels of the Pacific Northwest, Virgil says. It has similar properties to ginseng. It is an “adaptogenic herb” which means it modulates the system. The roots are the way to go. Avoid the hideous stinging barbed thorns that embed in your skin and cause painful festering blisters that last for days. Last year I remember Camo Guy talking about running through Devil’s Club to get away from someone chasing you. If you are crazy enough to run through Devil’s Club, the people chasing you have to be extraordinarily committed to follow.

5) You can chew plants like fern and put it on your skin if you are injured. Chewing plants in this way is common. But it does pay to know what you are chewing. Finding and chewing up water hemlock is unlikely, which is good because as you might suspect from the name, it can kill you. Also, do not chew up monkshood (also known as wolfbane) because it too will kill you. As a general rule of thumb, don’t eat berries unless you know what they are. Or mushrooms.

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This is water hemlock, also known as “cow bane.”

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This is monkshood, also known as “wolf bane.”

I’m going to add my own piece of advice here, and say don’t eat anything that is something else’s “bane.” If it’s a cow’s bane, chances are it will be your bane also.

6) Plantain and yarrow are good for spider bites.

7) Herbs are plentiful in the summertime. You can preserve them, but they are not as good as if they are fresh. In the wintertime look to the trees. Spruce sap and needles have healing properties.

8) There is a lot of fear of herbal medicine. This is sad, but it’s good that people don’t just go out and eat things willy nilly without knowing what they are doing. But pharmaceutical medicine is made from secondary plant chemicals. They isolate compounds from plants. So it makes little sense to fear plants. Better to understand them.

9) If someone is in pain, willow bark, and poplar buds will do the trick if you chew them. Aspirin comes from willow.

10) Plantain is okay to use for puncture wounds. Chew it up and make a poultice. Don’t use other herbs for puncture wounds! Comfrey, for instance, will heal the skin so fast it will seal infection inside which is not what you want.

After class, we go on an herb walk and see all kinds of things. As a plant/field guide junkie, I am already able to identify a lot of plants on my own, but it’s fun to know how useful they are too. I also quickly identify Devil’s Club using the side of my exposed hand. That’s gonna leave a mark.

John Root, head of the South Central Patriots in Wasilla tells me he uses chaga all the time, and explains to me what it looks like and how to find it. This blows my mind because everyone seems to know about chaga but me. He says he’ll try to find some and let me know if he does.

Next is food preservation class with Clyde. I like Clyde right away. He’s an old live-off-the-land Alaskan type who could probably tell you stories. His wife is there too, sitting in a lawn chair with the rest of the group. She could also tell you stories. They have a cabin somewhere in the bush and you can tell they know their stuff about food preservation.

11:00
Food Preservation Class with Clyde
10 Fun Facts I learned

1) Just about anything can be canned.

2) Don’t fill the jar any more than three quarters. If you can veggies, put butter in them.

3) Square canning jars take up less room and are therefore more efficient and easier to pack and store. Use new lids when you expect to store something for a long time.

4) Some food lends itself to drying, some does not. Meat usually does. Alaska Natives lived on rivers because you can travel farther distances to find “meat of opportunity.” I’m imagining “Meat of Opportunity” as the Special in some trendy urban bistro.

5) If you are living a subsistence lifestyle, it takes about 100 fish to get through a winter. The best salmon to use are chum salmon because they are oily and they don’t get dry when you smoke them. If you use a salt brine before you smoke, you can evaporate the brine and reclaim the salt. Hooligan are also oily and taste pretty good smoked, and do really well for fertilizing the garden.

6) To dry salmon, slice fish right down the backbone. Cut half inch strips into the meat right to the skin but not through it. Then hang it over a pole. Use black spruce for your poles. It is dense, strong, and grows in swamps. First you must strip the wood and knock the bark off. Then throw the fish, flesh side up, over the spruce pole leaving 6-8 inches between each piece. It will take several days to dry your fish.

You're basically going for something like this. (Photo: Alaska Dept of Fish & Game)

You’re basically going for something like this. (Photo: Alaska Dept of Fish & Game)

7) After drying, smoke the fish, but don’t cook it! He repeats – do NOT cook it! It only takes a couple hours of light smoke. Do not over-smoke your fish or you risk changing its molecular structure! Use alder to smoke the fish but you must remove the bark first, which is not easy. Also, do not use green wood or your fish will taste terrible.

8) Natives in Southcentral walked 5-600 miles to Unalakleet for salt. So get lots of salt so you don’t have to do that. Natives also suffered from scurvy, so can rose hips and berries for Vitamin C. Pills work too. Use regular screw cap jars to store pills because they seal tighter than child proof caps.

9) Moose fat goes rancid pretty quickly and should be trimmed. Caribou fat can be left with the meat. Store your finished smoked meat in plastic sand bags from the hardware store, not burlap, which is treated with chemicals. Hang your meat 6 feet up “so you can get the bear without messing up your meat.” I try to envision myself “getting” a bear in either situation. Pretty sure it would involve banging pans together and running.

10) You will need all kinds of tools. And he definitely has all kinds of tools – saws, shovels, knives, hatchets…  “If you don’t have 3 knives, you’re going light.” You will also need a hatchet, and a shovel to dig a pit for smoking. Get an older folding military shovel because the new ones are crap. A groan of recognition and agreement goes up from the audience; the crappiness of new military folding shovels is not in dispute. “Do not waste your money on wimpy tools!” Nods all around.

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12:00

Lunch Break

I am about to eat an MRE, which stands for “Meal Ready to Eat.” Right off the bat, this is a lie because there’s a whole procedure you have to go through before the meal is actually ready to eat. I’ve been promised my pick of a huge menu of MREs and a tutorial about how to eat them by David Luntz. Adam has also brought an MRE which is some kind of spicy chicken dish. I have selected chicken pesto, which seems like the most promising of the bunch.

First, we should note that it’s amazing we have MREs at all, because they met with a terrible accident that would have annihilated lesser foodstuffs. Their survival, in light of the vehicular destruction they left in their wake, is a testament to the resilience of military food. Here is the story of what happened to them.

Then I explored my own MRE, which was basically like opening a giant food piñata filled with mysterious and sometimes unexplainable things.

And this is me, eating a “bread stick.” Also, Adam’s review of his MRE. “I swear to God my chicken almost tasted poisonous.” Just what every food reviewer waits to say.

I did enjoy the Patriotic Sugar Cookies, despite their unfortunate accident.

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I also enjoyed the toasted corn kernels I got in trade for my cinnamon bun. I thought for a minute I got a prize, but it was just a desiccant. If you are in a situation where you must eat an MRE, I suggest beginning with the toasted corn kernels and patriotic sugar cookies, and only consume the entrée as a last resort. Wait… no. Breadsticks and cheese spread as a last resort.

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Time to get back to class.

13:00

Combat Medicine with Jon Droska, aka Gunny
10 Fun Facts I Learned

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1) The very first thing to do is stop massive hemorrhaging. It doesn’t matter if you can breathe or not if you’re bleeding out. Massive hemorrhaging is stopped with a tourniquet.

2) Do not use cheap knockoff Chinese tourniquets! Make sure you have good ones, because you don’t want to discover that you are using a crappy tourniquet when you are in the field trying to stop a massive hemorrhage.

3) If your artery is torn in half, it can retract up to 4 inches (!) so tie off a tourniquet high on the limb. If you screw this up, the victim can bleed out their entire blood volume into their pelvic girdle with no external symptoms.

4) The thing about a tourniquet is that if it doesn’t hurt, you’re not doing it right. If you feel like you have to pee a little, and the hair on the back of your neck stands up, and you are in dire agony, that means you need to make it a little tighter. Once you put a tourniquet on, never ever take it off. Leave that to the professionals. It is better to lose a limb than bleed to death. I never ever want to need a tourniquet.

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5) After the tourniquet, make sure they have an airway and that they are not asphyxiating on their tongue. If they are not using the airway, breathe for them with mouth-to-mouth, or a breathing gizmo where you squeeze a big balloon attached to a breathing tube.

6) If they have an arterial bleed and they’re spraying you in the face, that’s a good sign that their heart is beating. (Why is this class after lunch?)

7) Hypothermia is a big deal. If you are 3 degrees too cold, your blood will not clot, so the victim must be kept warm. Also if you are 3 degrees too warm, your blood won’t clot. Blood is very particular about when it does and does not clot.

8) A product called “Quick Clot” works well. It is an impregnated gauze that will cause clotting. Hold pressure on the wound and jam a little gauze in and hold pressure.

9) You have to be mentally prepared to stick your finger inside the wound, Gunny says with a look of admonishment. Pretty sure he’s dealt with people who don’t relish the thought of sticking their fingers inside someone’s gaping wound. Pack it with gauze and hold pressure for 3-5 minutes. The surgeon can pull it out later like a clown with the never-ending hankie. I don’t like that analogy because I like neither clowns, nor gaping wounds.

10) They used to use a clotting product that had shrimp shells in it, so if someone was unconscious and you couldn’t ask if they had shellfish allergies, you ended up with someone in anaphylaxis AND a bleeding gunshot wound. That was a bad situation. There is some powder that was used at one point also to stop bleeding but it’s awful, and will “cook your meat.” Also a bad situation.

Intermission: The Goat

There is a goat here. At first I thought the goat noises I was hearing were people in the woods doing some kind of secret communication signal. But then I saw it was a real goat. At first I thought to myself that the reason for the goat must be that someone was going to do a class on how to make cheese. I was excited about that. Then I found out that this was not going to happen, and that things were not going to work out well for the goat. The goat was slated to be the guest of honor at Sunday night’s barbecue, but not as a revered cheesemaker… rather as the main course.

It’s hard for me to be critical of people who raise animals to eat. Factory farming is so awful for the animals and the humans who consume them on so many levels that I think this way must be better, even though it’s more personal. I try to think of chickens crammed in cages, pumped full of hormones and antibiotics, and killed with some chemical death foam. It’s a bad life, and an unhealthy one for the victim and the consumer.

But as I listen to the goat, who is tied to a tree with rope, and as I watch him munching on the fireweed surrounding him in his little circle of access, I can’t help but feel very sad.

I figure I have three options.

1) I can go rogue, and plan some kind of nocturnal stealth operation to free the goat, which believe me is tempting, but would likely be unsuccessful and lead to the goat being dinner for a bear instead of people. Or me being mistaken for a predator and shot. And that would be no fun either.
2) I can ignore the goat and block it out of my mind and try not to think about it.
3) I can go say hello to the goat.

I go with the last option.

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I think that if the goat is spending its last day on earth, it might as well get a little pampering, and attention, and I don’t see anyone else over there. So I make my way up to the goat cautiously. I’d heard stories about goats being jerks, and I’d been butted by one as a child when I tried to hug its kid. So I am unsure what to expect. The goat perks up when I approach, and stops bleating. He comes over and strains against the rope, as I extend my hand. I pet him slowly, and gently on the top of the head. I scratch him between the eyes in that spot that animals can’t reach on their own. He likes that.

Within a few minutes I have untangled his rope from a willow bush, and am sitting cross-legged on the ground in front of him, nose to nose. I scratch him under the chin on that soft mushy fuzzy spot, and his eyelids start to get heavy. I hold his head in both my hands and stroke his cheeks with my thumbs. His weird rectangular-pupiled goat eyes start to blink slowly, and his eyelids sink shut in some kind of euphoric stupor.

I am sorry he’s going to be dinner, but I try not to shy away from the idea. This weekend is all about survival, and the sometimes unpleasant things we have to do to achieve that. And really, we’ve forgotten that the little pink slab on the Styrofoam package in the store is really just this guy in another form – some cow, some pig, some chicken. We eat livestock, but not our pets, or each other. I can eat chickens, but not monkeys. I can kill a mosquito, but not a moose. It feels better to think of shooting a turkey than clubbing a baby seal. I’m overthinking this minefield of meat ethics.

As much as I rationalize intellectually this whole process, I decide that I will not eat him. I like him too much, and as a former long-time vegetarian who doesn’t feel the need to eat meat at every meal, I decide there’s a vegetable ratatouille MRE with my name on it. God help me.

Chester the goat (yes, I named him) was in bliss. His head lolled to the side, resting its full weight on the palm of my hand, eyes completely closed, accepting the scratching and rubbing. “I’m not going to eat you,” I say.

“Don’t name him!” Adam’s voice booms across the field from the classroom area.

Too late.

I’m sure eyes are rolling at the bleeding heart liberal petting the goat, but I don’t care. There’s some degree of detachment people must have to eat meat. We have to reconcile that in order for us to live, other things must die. We have to harden ourselves if we are going to be meat-eaters. But we risk losing our humanity if we become too hard – if we just look at other living creatures as things – as meat waiting to be processed – and forget that they have thoughts, and feelings, and fears, and the desire to live just like we do.

The group is assembling now for field exercises. I give Chester a kiss on the nose and tell him I’ll see him later. He gives a loud urgent Maaaa-aaaa-aaaa! when I walk away, so I go back and give him one more scratch.

14:00

Field exercises with Rick Ford, and my untimely death

Now it’s time to put together what we have learned. Rick Ford has a large white sheet of paper with circles and arrows and enemy locations on a map of our area drawn with a Sharpie. Someone is injured, and there is a big field to cross to get to her.

He says a bunch of things and everyone nods. He hands out a sheet of paper with all the different hand signals on it.

“I don’t understand” is my favorite because it’s basically this: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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The drawback with that hand signal is that it’s virtually indistinguishable from “dead”   ¯\_(:/)_/¯

which could conceivably cause some kind of  miscommunication.

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“OMG, Pete! We thought you were dead!”
“No, I just didn’t understand.”

Participants are broken up into Alpha Company and Bravo Company, where they do similar drills as last year – moving down the open area in the middle of camp in a “V” formation, and then in a straight line, dropping to the ground at the signal. After everyone has prepped, we head off into the woods. I go with Bravo Company because I went with Bravo Company last time and now I feel like a Bravo Company alum. Bravo is my team. Go Bravo!

We head down the trail, through the thick green stands of alder and spruce and birch. Marc Lester of the Alaska Dispatch News has arrived and is snapping photos of the group. The sun is hot, and shines through the leaves that canopy the trail, making it seem like the inside of a room filled with green stained glass windows. We make our way quietly through the trees, and … BANG! A little explosion. Enemy fire! I knew they were setting up trip wires!

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Rick Ford points to the place of my imminent doom.

Rick Ford explains that at this point we need to find cover, even if it isn’t perfect. The last thing you want to do is to remain standing on the trail in full view.

“Are you participating?” he asks me. I point to my camera and tell him I’m just the combat photographer, and he says, “Well, as a combat photographer, where would you take cover right now?” I look around and think I’d probably dive into that thick patch of ferns and get as flat as possible. He says “You’d go right there,” and points to the exact patch of ferns off to the side of the trail indicating I should go, which I do.

I set off a trip wire and am immediately blown to smithereens by an IED. What the heck!

“Hey! You sent me into a trap!” I am filled with moral outrage and a sense of betrayal from the afterlife.

Rick smiles a mischievous smile. And for the record, Marc Lester, my only journalistic compatriot on the battlefield seems utterly unfazed by my gruesome fate. Basically everyone just leaves my remains where I fell.  I desperately want to quote that thing about not leaving a fallen comrade, and isn’t that some kind of a rule, but… I am DEAD.

The company moves on, including me “in spirit.” They cross the large open field, periodically lying flat in the scrub. Radios are crackling. The casualty is spotted on the far side of the field, first aid is given, and the victim is carried back on a stretcher.

More explosions are heard ahead, and the radio says, “We’re taking heavy enemy fire!”

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After several urgent messages, and a quick consult on the trail, Bravo company leaves one member behind with the wounded party, and the rest forge on ahead to assist with enemy engagement.

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Eventually, the enemy is dispatched, the wounded warrior is recovered, and the hot sweaty troops return to their campsites for dinner and libations. It’s been a long day. Time for bratwurst, potato salad and broccoli slaw. There are MREs left, but unless my only other option is goat, I’m going to pass.

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18:00

Jerry, tomorrow’s Ham Radio teacher’s wife Susan comes over to chat for a little while. They are having martinis in their RV. Now THAT’s the way to camp, I say. About 20 minutes later she is back with a martini for me – olives and all! It feels like Christmas! I point out that olives contain Vitamin C, and therefore prevent scurvy, so martinis are basically a survivalist drink… in case you forgot to can rose hips. I am assimilating my knowledge. I am also tipsy.

Nothing says "hard-core wilderness survival" like a giant ice-cold martini in a margarita glass.

Nothing says “hard-core wilderness survival” like a giant ice-cold martini in a margarita glass.

SUNDAY

07:30

The breakfast chef is at it again when I emerge from the tent. There are three of us here, and I ask myself… Is this really enough bacon?

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It turns out that the bacon is a gift to the guys across the way, and David brings over a giant plate as they get ready for the day. I follow to see how the gift was received.

And then I get back to camp to find…

08:15

I stop by the neighbors’ encampment to chat with Rick Ford, the commander of the Anchorage Municipal Defense Force. I ask him the question. In what scenario do you see the militias becoming activated in the state, and what exactly would they be doing?

“We always like to start off with the natural disaster,” he says. “Being in Anchorage it will generally be a major earthquake or something like that. We see what happened in Katrina, it was total mass pandemonium… law enforcement was totally overwhelmed. But ultimately, it’ s not about just protecting ourselves, it’s suppose d to be about protecting and educating our community. And I feel real strongly that’s what we’re really all about as a constitutional militia. Militias have always had an autonomous being where they’re in small areas, so even though we get together like this from across the state, ideally you are responsible for yoru own area, and that’s the way militias have always been. Taking care of your own, and taking care of your home area, and knowing your home turf. So if there end up being riots or something there’s a group of people we’ve trained who can handle that. Now, are we going to take the law into our own hands and jump into something like that? We would hope we’d be able to work with law enforcement, and that they would recognize us and what we’re doing and that we’re training as professionals. We do a lot of training outside the stuff we do on our own. And it’s not all “running and gunning.” It’s about being mature and being able to handle situations by diffusing them, you know?”

We talk about how Alaska is so isolated from the rest of the country, and yet we have so many resources. He points out that Alaska which used to be very self-sufficient now gets 80% of what we consume from Outside.

“If something were to happen, and whether it’s Chinese or Russians or whatever… I won’t presume to suppose, but we can all play the ‘what if’ game in our minds. But if something were to happen and shipping lanes were shut down, most Alaskans would be in a really bad way. And that’s part of what was taught here yesterday, how to preserve and can food, smoke meat, and live off the land as much as you can, what herbs to use and all that.” He goes on to talk about his farm in the Copper River Valley, and his experiments with growing everything from medicinal herbs, to heavy grains.

09:00

Ham radio class with Jerry
10  9 Things I Learned

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1) You have to have a license to operate a ham radio. A grumble goes up from the attendees who do not like the idea of licenses and fees to the government, and regulations.

2) The good news is that the test is free and not difficult.

3) There are a lot of hams in the state and many of them are “patriotic, like-minded folks.” I need to ask someone what that means because I hear that all the time.

4) You can use any kind of communication if there is an emergency situation, even if you don’t have a license.

5) He sent a message to his brother in Alabama, and it made several hops along the way but the message, which said “everything is fine,” got there eventually. He got a message back three days later.

6) He was involved in getting information out from the Bundy Ranch last year. Guys on the ground had walkie talkies, and the ham guys sent information out. He was involved in situational updates which basically said, there are this many people on the ground, there is a helicopter today, etc. He was one of those who got the information out to media, or made a call for more people. The same thing happened at Sugar Pine Mine in Oregon. The Oathkeepers came and set up security with a ham radio operator on site and sent info out that was distributed across the country.

“It was folks just like you who said this isn’t right. And they showed up and they camped out, and you see the result. Those guys still have their cattle on the land down there,” he said, referring back to the Bundy Ranch.

There was a LOT more information in the ham radio class, and the attendees were very interested in it. It’s here I have to admit my own failing. I kind of glazed over after a while through no fault of anyone else’s. But to me, the question and answer session was a big jargon salad that went something like this.

Q: Frequency modulation bandwidth?
A: Amperage emergency relay.
Q: Computer based single wave encoding mode?
A: Nooooo, vacuum tube amplitude wave scatter!
Q: But… moon bounce hand-held transponding receivers!
A: Ah, yes. But also RF spectrum microwave inducing satellite frequencies!

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I shook myself out of the bacon coma for the last few comments. I was beginning to doubt David Luntz’s assertion during breakfast that “grease gives you energy.”

7) If you are dealing with an invading force, don’t transmit or receive from the same location. They will call in some shit on your ass that will cover the length of a football field. They’ll just level it. (Dave Luntz)

8) We’ve got grey eagles coming to town. And Apaches. There will be a bunch of those in the air now. (Rick Ford)

9) Rick Ford had a neighbor once who was illegally transmitting on a CB radio. It knocked out all his communications and TV, so he called the FCC and they were there right away. I quite badly wanted to call out, “Hooray for 3-letter government agencies!” just to see what would happen, but I didn’t.

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I did not make it to 10 things, and I hang my head in shame. It takes all kinds of people to handle an emergency, and I’m glad there are technical people who do what they do, and know what they know, so I don’t have to, and can spend my time blogging the apocalypse and gathering herbs.

11:00

Time for something a little more adrenaline-inducing. David Luntz has a giant white flip pad with notes and pasted pictures of intimidating military vehicles.

Armored personnel carriers and how to defend against them
with David Luntz

10 Things I Learned

1) There are 22,000 MRAPs (Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles) in the US being used by the military, and over 2,700 MRAP Cougars in use by the Department of Homeland Security.  They could be taken by an invading force and used against us.

2) All the ones that are being used by the Department of Homeland Security are retrofitted to be used in defense of the police force. But, even though they’ve been retrofitted, they are still battle ready. You could take them to Iraq or Afghanistan and with minimal effort they could be ready to go.

3) When confronted by the enemy, the Iraqi army dropped their materials and ran, and now all of those resources and equipment is in the hands of the enemy. Not saying the police aren’t brave, but if an invading force drops in, people are going to drop their shit and run. So a lot of stuff will fall into enemy hands and be used against the population.

We are going to learn what to do if that happens. We’ve come a long way from medicinal herbal tea!

4) Before we get into that situation, do your homework and learn about these vehicles. Engage in good intelligence preparation. (Nobody said there was going to be homework…)

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4) We don’t know who this invading force might be, but we’re going with Russia since they are close, and doing all kinds of military saber rattling lately.  The most common Russian vehicle is a BTR70, but now there is a BTR80 – a 260hp V8 turbo vehicle with a lot of power. The Russians saw what was going on in Afghanistan and so they have upgraded the armor on the new BTR80 to 12.7mm on the turret. The old BTR70 only had 10mm armor on the turret.

Both carry a driver and navigator and a crew of 2-8. They can carry a heavy machine gun, or 30mm cannons. They have firing ports on the sides, and the 80 has one in the front as well. It also has infrared and thermal capability so they can see at night, through smoke, and bad weather. They have a range of 372 miles and can go 50-60mph on the road or 40mph over rough terrain. They swim about 6mph in water. They can climb over a vertical wall ½ meter high.

5) You want to figure out how to stop these vehicles, because even though they are not tanks, they are plenty scary. How do you do this, you ask? Obstacles. You can use existing obstacles like trees, or a river, or mountains; use the terrain to your advantage. You can also use bridges, buildings, or anything manmade.

6) You want to disrupt movement, or steer them and turn them, or fixate them, or block them from a certain area. Remember that you want to steer vehicles where you want them to go, not where they want to go. You need to think ahead of time what’s going to be coming at you and how you can counter it. You do not want to be hasty, because then you will be thinking, “Oh, shit! Here they come, what do we do?” You want to be deliberate and have time to make decisions.

7) To control movement, you can channel vehicles. “Think of making a mousetrap,” he says, “like that old board game, and think of the armored vehicles as the mice.” I immediately think of capturing a Russian personnel carrier under a giant basket using only my wits, a marble, an old boot, a bathtub, and some guy diving into a barrel. That’s right, Ruskies! You didn’t see THAT one coming, did you?

You can also get a bunch of guys with chainsaws and cut down trees and build barriers. You can not only stop a vehicle, but “if that fucker with the big ass gun starts shooting at you, you’d rather be behind obstacles than standing out in the field.” Hey… I only report what I hear.

8) Make friends with people with backhoes, or loaders. You’d much rather be shot at if you’re behind 15 meters of dirt than a cinderblock wall. Also befriend welders, because they can weld hedgehogs, and tetrahedrons, and other big heavy metal things that can mess up vehicles, or stop them in their tracks. Concrete cubes and “jersey barriers” also work. These vehicles don’t’ like being slowed down because then they become targets. They call these vehicles “moving coffins” because they are vulnerable.

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Concrete Jersey Barriers. They have a name!

9) You can dig trenches in the direction the enemy is moving so they drive down into the trench and hit the wall at the bottom. Or you can dig a giant hole, lay camo netting over it and some fresh vegetation. It has to be at least 8×10 feet wide and 20 feet long. Once they are trapped in your hole, they will have to get out of the vehicle eventually. Then you can take them prisoner and come back with a backhoe, and then that vehicle is yours! Never destroy a vehicle unless you have no other choice. If you destroy the vehicle, you can’t use it.

10) In a field, all you need is a lot of rebar and then you can just pound the shit out of it everywhere, like a pincushion. Then you can run barbed wire across it. So when Vladimir is running through your field, he will trip on the barbed wire, and then impale himself (Vlad the Self-Impaler!) Meanwhile, you’re in the trees laying fire on his ass. Vladimir is pretty much fucked.

And in parting, remember you cannot fight the Russians head to head in armed conflict and hope to win. The best you can do is be disruptive, be a pain in the ass, and delay some of their actions until our own military get to the scene.

School’s out, time for shooting

The only thing remaining for the weekend is some shooting and range activities. I’m looking forward to this because we didn’t have time to get to it last year. From my understanding John Root has set things up in the woods and people are to shoot them.  I’m interested to see what that is going to be like.

I’ve got time for a quick interview with Jon Droska who joined up with the Anchorage Municipal Defense Force once he determined “they weren’t a bunch of gun-toting crazy people who wanted to overthrow the government.” He said he finds pleasure in debunking those myths and proving he and his group are not beer-drinking rednecks who hate minorities.

I notice that there is suddenly lots of activity. Vehicles are being hastily packed up and heading out. There is a wildfire in Willow, about halfway between our campsite and Anchorage. Someone has heard on the radio that it is spreading quickly and moving toward the highway. Everyone going south wants to get out before the highway is closed. Unfortunately, it looks like the shooting isn’t going to happen this time either. Tent stakes are pulled, duffel bags are packed and tossed into the backs of pickup trucks, and we are out of there.

I’m disappointed that there won’t be any range activities, but I am also happy because the early departure means…

The goat will live!  I’m almost sure of it because it seems like most people are heading for the hills.

We do too, but we are too late. The fire has jumped the road, and the Parks Highway is closed and will remain so until at least tomorrow morning.

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14:00

Back to Camp 

The family from Anchor Point is there. So is Ed, our host, and John Root and David Luntz. And me. And a box of wine. I remember wise words from my grandmother who said that you should never discuss sex, politics, or religion. That seems like sage advice at this point in time, considering that on the political spectrum I’m probably left of everyone here. Last time I pretty much kept to myself and just observed with limited interaction. I was only there to tell what I saw. This time, I’m familiar to the organizers, and they to me, and it’s been much more of an interactive experience. But this… I grab a red solo cup and head for the wine box.

We talked about Talkeetna, and old-timers in Alaska, and survival in the woods, and jobs we’ve had, and World War II, and those weird bugs with the flamboyant antennae that move around like hovercraft, our families… and THEN we talked about politics and religion. (Sorry, Gram.)

I gathered that there were as many different opinions as there were people sitting around drinking wine, which is true no matter where you go or with whom you drink wine. But everyone was curious, and respectful, and receptive, and kind, and patient with my questions. Imagine a night at the zoo, if all the different animals snuck out of their habitats and convened around a campfire – the baboons looking tentatively at the cassowary, the lion sizing up the rhinoceros, the gazelle asking the elephant, “So explain to me this whole ‘trunk’ thing. What’s that about?”

And then at a certain point, and after a certain amount of wine, they all go back to their enclosures where they are comfortable with their own herd, and tell all the other whatever-they-ares, “I just saw the strangest creature!” And maybe they still think the whole trunk thing is inscrutable and weird, but also maybe they have decided not to eat each other or pick a fight. And really, what better marker is there of a successful campout than that?

And speaking of eating each other, the goat did make it out. I like to think that Chester is somewhere eating fireweed, and thinking back fondly of his adventure campout/spa massage weekend, never realizing how close he came to being dinner. And I also like to think that everyone else had a good time too, and that maybe after a couple campfires, and a weekend of eating and drinking together, that we came away having  learned more than how to dress a wound, and mess with the Russians. Maybe we learned something about how to talk.

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You can see an album of my photos from the event HERE.

Comments

comments

Comments
23 Responses to “Mudflats Goes Militia in Talkeetna”
  1. yukonbushgrma says:

    YAYYYY, CHESTER!!!

    Seriously — quite an insight, I must say. Actually, there’s a bunch of stuff on that schedule I would have been interested in too …… especially native plants.

    Best, Gang!

  2. mike from iowa says:

    Out of morbid curiosity,are any Alaska militiamen or women beating a path to Texas to stop Obama’s overthrow of the totalitarian wingnut cabal there? Jade Helm 15 has wingnut Texans acting like there are commies behind every bush.

  3. Jenny says:

    I so enjoyed this post. What a courageous and kind woman you are!

  4. David Luntz says:

    Thank you for joining us.

  5. Alaska Pi says:

    Thank you Jeanne.
    I have no patience with the myths building up around Cliven Bundy – most especially as the Dann sisters had a far greater and valid claim and where were are all the outraged “helpers” for them?
    http://indiancountrytodaymedianetwork.com/2014/06/03/dann-sisters-story-comes-tv-film-american-outrage-155131

    Mr Bundy is a thief and should be regarded as such as opposed to wrapping himself up in the fight-against-tyranny crap he did.

  6. mike from iowa says:

    Ms Jeanne,you should have made a detour to iowa before “roughing it”. I just enjoyed immensely,my first new potatoes of the season. I walked out my garden and dug up about 15 gorgeous Pontiacs(red) and ate three of them for supper-yum. yum. Salt,pepper and sweet creamery butter. I walked by patches of asparagus to get there. Onions are ready to eat as well. If you get persnickety,I have two or three dozen hills of Burbank Russet potatoes-think Micky D’s french fries. They bake the best. Can’t wait for cooler weather and baked taters. You are welcome. 🙂

  7. juneaudream says:

    From the trippin’ you had last year..to the one..this year..very good, informative..and helps..smooth out..some of the misconseptions, and even if not doing that..in all aspects..certainly allows the free-flow..of conversations to happen. We must..all talk to each other. As to..old lids..yes..only good for your mouseproofing the jars..you store dry grains in, dry beans..etc. It is NOT a seal..simply a ‘dust cover’..and helps to remind ones self..of that. Dried fruit..is a good storage item..and the lovely ..summer kicker..is when you have some extra fruit..fresh..and choose to store fruits under a floating mix of vodka..or liq. of your choice..for use in the winter months..as topping..or..for baking fruit cakes..of a dense type. Think that BATHTUB..of a mantini..Jeanne!.. 😉

  8. leota2 says:

    Loved this!

  9. Zyxomma says:

    I’ve been using medicinal herbs since I was a teen. My former hiking partner was studying to become an EMT, and I learned a lot of practical information. I always have needle and thread with me in case the tent rips, and once had to use it to stitch a fellow hiker’s arm. I said, “We have a choice. We can hike out, and you can drive to a hospital, or I can stitch you up here.” She chose the latter, and we enjoyed our weekend at the Delaware Water Gap, one of my favorite National Recreation Areas.

    I’ve never had an MRE, and I’m vegan, so I’ll pass on the bacon and eggs — and the goat. Good for you, Chester, making it out of there alive.

    Lovely article. Never re-use canning lids for canning, they’re only good for storage after they’ve been used.

  10. moose pucky says:

    Well that was a nice huge set of information, some of it useful (Warning: hooligan in the garden attracts dogs and bears.) And glad the goat got some extra time in life. Vladimir is ……!

  11. slipstream says:

    Next year, maybe somebody will remember to bring bacon.

  12. mike from iowa says:

    Cliven Bundy is still stealing from America.. Not something I’d brag about. Otherwise an informative article from Ms Moore,as per usual.

  13. Vera says:

    Awesome look into the militia. But I was distracted by some of the information passed on as Native knowledge. Including the idea that Alaska Native people on a traditional diet suffered from scurvy. Arctic diets have been studied because of the LACK of disease – including scurvy – traditional eaters had. For as much as outside people think raw meat is gross, you can gain a ton of Vitamin C from raw or lightly cooked meat. This method of eating meat from Inupiat and Yup’ik people was no accident. That’s not including the copious amounts of berries and Vitamin C rich plants Native people knew to eat and store. It was only when Western diets were introduced and/or imposed that the major health problems came.

    Traditional Alaska Native knowledge of plants, animals – food and medicine gathering in general – came from many millennia of learning how to live in this land and passing that knowledge down in a daily relationship with the environment. While tidbits of knowledge can be gleaned, as these survivalists claim, without learning it directly from those who practice it as a way of life, it can be outright disrespectful. And MUCH of the information is just wrong or only partly right.

    Pardon my soapbox of the day. 🙂

  14. fishingmamma says:

    This was a great read! thanks for doing this.

    I do have comments about the canning instructions, though. I have been canning food for over 40 years. I learned it from my grandmother If you are just learning to can food, get yourself a Ball Blue Book and pay close attention to the times and the types of canning you are doing. Canning any food using the wrong method will make you sick, and possibly kill you. And never re-use lids for canning. I keep used lids to put on jars for storing grains. Do not re-use them for canning because they are not made for that, and the seal not be airtight, it will become compromised, allowing bacteria into your food. Just an FYI.

    Little known fact – “canning” as we know it was first done by order of Napoleon, he wanted a better way to store food for his armies, so the vintners at that time realized they could use the same type of process for food as they did for wines.

  15. John Root says:

    AWESOME article

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