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Santa Clarita CA
Today in
S.C.V. History
June 3
1855 - Ship leaves New York harbor bound for Tunis to acquire animals for the United States Camel Corps [story]
Camel Corps

| Thursday, Apr 2, 2020
Above: LifeStraw portable water filter.


Earthquake, fire, epidemic, pandemic are all real disasters. Are you ready? Have you prepared? Take a look at how you’re faring in the middle of this viral pandemic. If you’re still running to the store every other day, you’re not prepared, and you could be opening yourself up to infection.

What if a violent earthquake hit our area? Buildings could topple, freeways could fall and communication with the outside world might be halted. Would you have enough food in your pantry to last at least six months?

I have spent a great deal of my life in rural, backward countries where there were no stores, no Instacart deliveries, no restaurants and frankly, no toilet paper. It would not take much to throw you from the 21st Century to the 2nd Century A.D. in a hurry. How on earth would you survive?

I have learned from the best how to hunt and gather. I even had the opportunity to evacuate a friend from a mountaintop by myself, using a homemade litter built with my bare hands. I can set bones, stop bleeding and build an ice cave during a whiteout at 60 degrees below zero, at 28,000 feet. I lived in that ice cave for three days with a hysterical friend and a Hershey bar.

At home I have multiple tents, stoves, fuel and about a year of dried foods to keep my family well nourished. In addition, I know all of the Native American edible plants, how to harvest and cook them. I know the Native American medicinal plants and how to prep them for medicinal use.

I hear you complaining there is no toilet paper on the shelves. I was in a country for two-and-a-half months where none of the residents even knew what toilet paper was. Not a problem for me. There are leaves that work just fine in a pinch, as well as a soft, fuzzy plant that is actually lovingly named the “Indian toilet paper plant.” It’s soft and fuzzy on the bum. Just make sure you know which leaves you are using. Sycamore might be just fine, but poison oak will cause a whole rash of different problems.


The most important thing you need to know, in case there is a major catastrophe in your area, is how to find shelter. Staying out of the wind, cold, rain and high heat will be your No. 1 challenge. For fun, you should learn how to build a debris shelter. It’s similar to a Native American wikiup, but you can do it faster with forest debris, and just about any debris will do.

After you have shelter, your next priority will be water. You can Google online how to create an “Egyptian well.” Persian wells are very similar but tend to be more elaborate. Once you have mastered this, you are well on your way to being self-sufficient in a pinch.

The next issue you will have to face is finding food. If you know the native edible plants that grow in your region, you are a step ahead of the rest. If not, you should learn them, just to be safe.

The other major food source in the great outdoors is animal protein. This can include anything from crickets to deer. So, without knowledge of native weapons and how to make and use them, you will be resigned to gathering bugs. Know which ones are edible and which are poisonous. If you can make a bow and arrow, a spear to throw, an atlatl or a cage trap, you will be miles ahead of the rest. If you are lucky enough to find some bones left behind by a mountain lion kill, you can gather the bones and make fish hooks out of them. The fiber from the yucca plant can double for fishing line.

broken glass

Fire starter.

You’ll need to learn how to start a fire. You probably didn’t grab a book of matches before you ran out of your crumbling house, so you’ll have to figure out another way. There should be lots of broken glass from all the windows that broke in the disaster, so grab a couple shards of glass. A bit of clear ice would also work. Find some flammable material like little pieces of dried bark or some paper litter. Put it on the ground then arrange the glass over it, with the sun shining through it onto the paper. Within a minute, you will have fire. Light some twigs, some forest litter and arrange your little fire in a ring of rocks, so as not to set the entire forest on fire. Now you can roast your bunny (or crickets) on a stick.


OK, you’ve got your shelter, plenty of water and lots of food to eat. Hopefully you will have mastered the art of cooking edible plants and making venison jerky so you’re not still chasing crickets around.

California bedstraw

California bedstraw.

Now, we’ll need to enlarge your wardrobe and your bedding. The yucca plant can provide you with needles and thread to sew your wardrobe. You’ll have to tan the hides and cure rabbit fur to sew together to create your new vest, shirt and leather pants.

You don’t need to use any chemicals to tan hides. Mother Nature provides everything you need. For your bedding, collect a non-native plant called bedstraw. It was brought to America by the English and Irish who used it for … bed straw. You’ll need to collect a lot of it and pile each batch on top of the previous batch. You’ll be able to press the layers together. Soon, you’ll notice how spongy the layers are. These layers of bedstraw will be your mattress. Once you’ve cured enough bunny fur hides, you can layer them on top of the bedstraw and use the excess to make a bunny blanket.

You might not be living life on the Riviera with room service, but you can survive if you know what to do. I don’t expect that any of you will be this prepared, but you can stock a closet with dehydrated meals that can last for 25 or so years. You could have a little camping stove with excess fuel to boil water. Perhaps a chest tucked away in the garage with some survival supplies would be helpful.

Make sure you have all the medicines the family takes, enough food for a month at least, a flashlight with new batteries, and a radio to get news following a disaster. A clean change of clothing for each family member and a first aid kid are also “musts.” If you are storing water, make sure you change it out every six months or so. A filter and a LifeStraw would also be good things to have.

When the city crumbles, look for me heading into the forest. If you can catch me, I’ll help you catch some crickets for dinner.


Dianne Erskine-Hellrigel is executive director of the Community Hiking Club and the St. Francis Dam National Memorial Foundation. Contact Dianne through communityhikingclub.org or at zuliebear@aol.com.


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  1. SUSAN Waller says:

    I would like to know the name of the fuzzy plant that could replace toilet paper. Thanks

  2. WMSCV says:

    Great article, wonderful information if only people would take it seriously. The only downside in a major disaster is defending it against those who weren’t prepared. In a short lived more localized disaster this would probably not be a concern. Once resources run low or become non-existent people will become agressive and whether individually or in groups they will seek you out and take it from you by force. That weapon you have will be of little use against a mob with equal force. Only recommendation I have is if you are prepared keep it to yourself. Share if you must but don’t become a victim of your own doing. Again thank you for sharing your knowledge and insite.

  3. Anna Riggs says:

    Good article, thank you. As a child in Italy we did not have toilet paper and we made do. We also learned somewhat to live off the land. I would be way ahead of average people now days. Learning some of your suggested skills WILL saves some lives. We, as a modern society have become too complacent, spoiled you might say. We need to be more humble and get to know our land more if we need to survive in an emergency. Thanks again Dianne and hoping that more people read your article.

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