Choosing a Homestead Site


On the prepping and disaster preparation side of things, choosing a location to live could certainly start with finding an excellent short-term survival site, but not necessarily. A place that may give you the perfect view of approaching danger could also be experiencing gale winds enough to drive you out of your mind. Oh, it’s happened.

But it’s a fair question. If the world has gone to hell for one reason or another, there’s no guarantee your place made it through the calamity, no matter how well it was prepped.

Lucifer’s Hammer

There is a brilliant scene in an old sci-fi book, Lucifer’s Hammer (1977), that’s worth a quick summarizing. A comet is about to hit the earth; half of humanity accepts this and the other half denies it. The ones accepting the situation are getting ready. One character in particular really gets serious: he learns how to make his own beef jerky, retrofits his jeep with fuel converters so it can run on anything, and even learns how to make his own ammunition. Sure enough, the hammer slams into the Pacific and it’s time to bug out. The jeep is packed, he goes back inside to get his dog, and when he comes out the first bandit of the new age is aiming his own pistol right at his chest. He takes the keys and high tails it, our hero left empty handed. To protect against a situation like this, we recommend a close-combat knife like this Free Karambit Knife that will make any potential threat reconsider.

Now the person on staff who brought this to all our attention describes it with a whole heap of hand gestures. He read the book when he was seven years old, enthralled with all the preparations, all the imagination that goes into getting ready for disaster, and what could come after. And then the injustice! The outrageousness of all his plans and work being stolen in the critical moment as the tidal wave was on the way. He claims as a seven year old he dropped the book, raised both hands to the sky, and whispered, “Nnnnnnnoooooooooooo!” (he was supposed to be sleeping).

How many lessons are packed into this vignette? Best laid plans… The idea that perfectly decent people will help each other, but there will be bandits when the end of civilization hits. Sometimes you have to survive with only the clothes you have on at the moment. And nature is actually in charge.

Prepping Versus Disaster Prep

It brings to mind one instant distinction between what we call prepping and disaster prep. Disaster prep accommodates the concept of absolute loss of homestead, with pre-packed go bags for every member of the family ready to go, often even separated from the storage bins that are also stocked for disaster. One is for running, the other...staying, so there’s some logic to keeping them in separate places, depending on your setup.

But obviously, most people who get into prepping with some level of seriousness fully accommodate disaster prep. They know as gut-wrenching as it may be, they may have to be ready to leave their prepped out shelter with chemical toilet, long-lasting rations, seed collection for growing food, and all of the other supplies, tools, defenses, communications, and comfort they designed into their space.

So whether you managed to get out with a trunk full of ideal go bags in a gassed up 4x4, or are in bare feet with nothing but pajama pants, if you made it and you're alive, consider it a miracle, and every minute more of breath a gift. And then get busy.

Checkpoint Or Finish Line

Assuming you don’t walk around the corner to find an elevated, stocked, cement bunker with a welcome sign on the secure, explosive-proof entrance just for you, just what are the key differences between finding a good place to hunker down for the night, versus something that might allow you to build a live beyond scrambling desperation?

Any fans of Walking Dead watched them go from fully equipped, futuristic CDC survival bunker/lab, to the farm, then the prison, then gated community, and on. They kept having to come up with new seasons, but that’s not the only reason to depict such nomadic struggle. In a world without law & order, as soon as people begin to build a new life for themselves they begin to acquire things that can be taken.

Which means a homestead should be located in a place that offers some kind of natural defenses. Whether perched high, with a view in all directions, or more like a cave, with a single reinforced entrance to defend, it’s a matter of weighing inconveniences. How far is the homestead site from fresh water and farmable land? Are you in a city? If the water supply still seems to be functioning, what happens when it stops, or someone takes it over and uses it to gain control?

As with picking a survival campsite, the amount of brain power one could spend anticipating, well, just look at the fiction we constantly reference … you could spend a career having fun just thinking about all the possibilities.

Which makes it far too much to make one of those lists we despise.

The List of All Things: Lists of Important Lists

On a side note, we find absolutely zero contradiction in hating little lists that fit on a page, versus spending our lives constantly adjusting our List of All Things. If you need to think about it to see what we mean, that’s okay, we do, still, every day. We have filing cabinets filled with little lists, like how to fix toilets without the proper tools, or build them from scratch. How to plumb a homesite without training. Essays on the Roman Aqueducts. It goes on, and isn’t limited to toilet facilities. But we know those filing cabinets aren’t going to fit on our backs for more than a few steps. So we aren’t here to teach you basic carpentry or engine repair. We don’t like the idea of claiming we are helping you prepare by giving you some boring instruction manual.

Because the real list is in our heads, yours and ours. Most people just have too many normal things to do in their days to bother obsessing about it. We acknowledge and remind ourselves to appreciate: that is a very good thing. This is again one huge reason books and stories, music and art, make it on our List. It is far easier to remember the scene of a father standing and staring at a jar of perfectly delicious home-preserved tomatoes... Having walked with him and his nine year old boy through the ashen wastes of a post apocalypse, we know how empty their stomachs are, and how desperate their bony frames are for any kind of nutrition. But he just can’t trust the tomatoes, the non-industrial kitchen in which they were preserved. The odds of botulism are just too high, and his stomach twists in reprobation as he turns away.

Modern “Homesteading”

Scenes like this make you feel less alone. They make you remember, even if you left all your little lists in a file cabinet rusting under water, with your dead phone on it.

Use your imagination. Even if, like the greenhorn settlers of the Oregon coast, you have to suck it up and rebuild as soon as the first winter is done, all you can do is your best.

As with selecting a survival campsite, the priorities are generally: safety, water, sleep, food, shade, temperature … comfort. But for a homestead, obviously, you’re thinking long term now. The “What happens if…?” exercises going on in your mind must not stop, and they need to incorporate seasons, the future threat of roving armed bands, the possibility of a trade route (meaning accessibility of transportation without forgetting the need for defenses, sweeping views or choke points, etc.). Can you plant a field or create a greenhouse? Will its water be susceptible to enemies? Is it as definsible as the homestead or too open to thieves? Are there other homesteaders in your group, enough to take turns on security detail?

One of our favorite survival setting flicks is admittedly not the greatest production of all time, but we found Dawn of the Dead (2004) hilarious, entertaining, and well-imagined. Why? Because it was set in a shopping mall! Survivors barricaded the entrances, pillaged the shops, including the massively well-equipped sporting goods store, and ate from the stocked refrigerators and freezers of the food court restaurants. We bring it up here to acknowledge that however much we like to think of “homesteading” the way it was in the Laura Ingalls Wilder days, the truth is if Doomsday ever comes, your best option for a homestead is probably going to be whatever was already built that made it through the Event.

Maintaining Flexibility

This is another reason we try to prioritize the List of All Things to start with the most basic things that will help you live. One very good knife or multitool. Ferro Rod & Steel. Footwear that can let you walk through a shopping mall basement flooded with two feet of water, and won’t let that rusty nail penetrate to the bare arch of your foot.

The trick is, the list is in your head, most of it already. We can’t paint every possible picture of what you could face after an earth-changing disaster. Your mind’s eye has to see things for you. Evaluate every place with imagining change. “What happens if…”

And then make a decision. Stay focused. Keep balanced.

And a closing note on that. Balance means, at times, willpower properly applied. Starvation vs. poison. Seeing the first green shoots of your first crop pop up over the top of the soil, telling you that months of hard work and patience hold promise of fresh vegetables for you and your family … only to be willing to abandon it instantly. Yes, always have that go bag ready.

The real interesting thing is, from all the stories we’ve heard, and some of the few more minor experiences we’ve been through ourselves, we believe that finding that kind of balance is natural. Humans are geared for it. We think one reason we are so enthralled by concepts of survival, prepping, and disaster preparation is not because we can be ready for everything. Just the opposite. No matter how much we add to the List or take something off, the real trick is balance, imagination, wits, and heart.

These things apply whether it’s the end of the world or not. 

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ERLE MUTZ - April 28, 2020 Reply

That was a very informative report. I am a WIA Vietnam Marine Combat Vet. I was assigned to the CAP (Combined Action Program) after serving in “G” Co 2Bn 4th Marine Regiment up at the DMZ on a mountain called Con Thien.
While assigned to CAP, we were set up in a village to help the villagers and obtain any kind of info that would help to protect each other as well as the villagers we were living near (and with). WE also had some of the local Vietnamese forces to work with and rely on for information from them and the villagers. THAT did not always happen the way it was intended.
I am very familiar with how your report’s description laid out the plan and what can happen when the plan becomes unusable – from an unplanned interruption from an “enemy force” (be it personnel or weather).
Having a “Plan B” (and so on) can only be a benefit and most civilians will not understand that. Nonetheless – it is something that we all should consider.

Robert Tangeman - April 28, 2020 Reply

We live in sanford fl very close to Lake Mary fl. The combined population is probably around 100,000. people.

Adrien O. - April 28, 2020 Reply

I’m retired, service connected disabled Vet. Retired as a US Army Command Sergeant Major, 29 years prior service. I’m 78years young. I’ve been through Survival Courses. I survived a tour in Vietnam and Desert Storm, and 24 years on parachute hazardous duty status, which I am now drawing disability for. I’m not complaining. Have no regrets.
It should be quite Evident that I need very little advice on survival. But thanks anyway.

Yours: Adrien Belanger CSM E-9 (retired)

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