When I used to hear that word, I thought of this kooky old man who buried dozens of school bus shells underground and linked them all into a complicated network of rooms where he and his nonexistent group of end-of-the-world survivors would hunker down, breed, and live in harmony under his dictatorial rule until the air was clean and all the zombies were dead. I thought of an old neighbor of ours who always murmured to no one in particular about how “it would come from the east” and who lived in a midden heap of junk because he never knew what he might need to survive the end times. Survivalists were crazy zealots who were obsessed with civilization as we know it coming to a screeching halt. They were nuts who spent every waking moment worrying over their stash of food, gold, and ammo and who had elaborate plans for dealing with anything from alien invasion to worldwide nuclear war. I have met my fair share of these people, but I’ve also had the opportunity to meet representatives of the other end of the survivalist spectrum.

Boy, was I wrong about what a survivalist was.

Now I have broadened my definition to include normal folks who just want to make it through tough economic or personal times, and people who are fed up with commercialism and want to go back to their roots for health, personal, financial, or other reasons. After reading about families who dug their way out of financial debt, learned how to do things for themselves so they weren’t reliant on so many other people and services, stocked up on food and money for tough times, and who were genuinely happy and content with this lifestyle… I actually have a lot of respect for survivalists. It’s not about ET blasting us to pieces. It’s not about the big, bad government taking a turn for Communism. It’s not about the end of the world. It’s simply being prepared for all the little things that can and will happen in a lifetime: job loss, market inflation, threats to our personal safety, crop failures, food shortages, economic depression/recession, natural disasters, etc.

A few years ago, I had the mindset that everything was perfect. We lived in a great society with a good balance of government and freedom, I thought. Prices were relatively stable, I thought. Food and shelter were two things that I would never lack, I thought. Then I married and had my first child. I think if I had to pinpoint a time when the preparedness bug bit me – that would be it. I never had to worry about another life before. I never had to think about the future much. But then this little boy comes along and my world turns upside down. What if the power goes out, and we lose our ability to heat the house, cook, and use electricity for lights? Even a half a day without power would find us cold and miserable… and with a baby who isn’t as strong as we were. What if my husband lost his job? We’d be stuck paying all of our meager savings, barely scraping by, and we’d probably lose our high-mortgage house, cars, and ability to buy food. What if’s plagued me. I didn’t know what I was doing anymore. I felt lost, like my whole world could come crashing down in a catastrophic way, and it really wouldn’t have been that bad but I had a little life to protect and nurture now. I couldn’t let him down.

That was when I started trying to garden. Oh, it was tough, let me tell you. I had a perfectly black thumb. My first attempt at gardening ended up yielding a few veggies and a metric ton of weeds. I also started learning how to cook from scratch and make things like quilts and clothes. My poor husband was my guinea pig for new recipes, and to his credit – I can’t remember a time when he didn’t eat the food I put on his plate. I taught myself how to sew, knit, crochet, pressure can, dehydrate foods, and plan meals out ahead of time. I found all sorts of websites and forums to teach me how to clean (yes, I had to learn how to clean and keep house) and handle home finances. I quickly discovered that even though I thought I was ready to become a parent, I didn’t have the faintest idea what it meant to be this amalgamation of mom/wife/housekeeper/secretary. (Sometimes I think I’m still way behind the curve, but I’m catching on fast!)

In the process of learning all these great new skills, I started to think about our future. At the time of our first son being born, we were in debt up to our eyeballs and living paycheck to paycheck. We didn’t own anything outright. We would have been totally dependent on family or friends if any hard times hit, which they did, indeed. The list of things I wanted to change started forming in my head. I wanted to be out of debt. I wanted to own our house. I wanted a way to feed my family without relying on the sensitive nature of grocery stores. I wanted safety and security. Don’t we all?

These past few years have really changed me, I think. I went from gagging whenever I touched raw chicken from the supermarket to being able to slaughter, pluck, and prepare a live chicken. I went from growing weeds to tending a bountiful garden. I went from throwing out perfectly good produce because we couldn’t use it in time (yes, it’s shameful… I wasted a lot) to rockin’ the pressure canner like a pro. I transformed from meek little sheeple to confident, prepared Mama. And I’m still growing!

Now, to me, survivalists aren’t defined by any obsession with end times, nor are they all secluded hermits who hoard. They are you and they are me. They love their families, and only want to see them through life’s ups and downs. While my husband and I are taking preparedness a few steps further than the average family, we don’t see our goals and lifestyle as being far-fetched or crazy. As a matter of fact, I feel like I am a more respectable person for wanting to take care of myself instead of relying on the government (which is NOT as benign and reliable as I originally thought) like so many others do these days. And it’s not just me. When I meet someone new and share a few of my goals and hobbies with them, the dominant response is to be impressed. How many people do you know who actually have the knowledge and desire to grow their own food and build their own house? I’m deeply in awe of people like Jackie Clay, who will be able to take her family through just about any disaster because she thought ahead and prepared.

I want to be okay if the economy tanks. I want to have food on the table if my husband loses his job. I want to have a safe, warm place to live even if we don’t have the money for rent. And if nothing bad ever happens? Well then I will have raised my boys in a safe, loving home with lots of good food, responsibility, hard work, and a healthy respect for life. I will have been a good wife and partner. And I will have lived in a manner that made me happy. Maybe to some people I am actually crazy. I guess I can accept that. But you know what? If I get my way, I won’t have the stress of being unprepared to deal with. I won’t have to take money from the government, move back in with family or friends, or wonder where my next meal will come from. I will survive, and perhaps even thrive.

Another survivalist out of the closet. 🙂