In the fall on a whim I applied for an elk tag. These go into a lottery system, you need to be a resident for two years, have a permanent house you pay taxes on and then pay a good chunk of money for a chance. Odds are something like once every 10 years you get a tag. I got a tag on the first try. With this win of the draw, I cannot apply for a tag for three years after winning a draw, so out I go to hunt an elk. They live on the property, and I verified all the regulations on where and when I can kill an animal. With the tag I got, I can shoot something on my property, so bonus. On a trip into town I made connections with the local hunter support industry and fixed the logistics of what it takes to slaughter and prepare a half ton animal. Since I did not want the hide or head for a trophy I got a good price on the meat. These guys pool resources, and the way it works is ingenious. The butcher gets a pre-pay fee from everyone with a tag, does some math on what the average elk will produce. Then, here is the smart part, you can either keep the meat from your animal (example you get a trophy sized elk) or dip into the "pool" and get already processed animal, roughly a 150Kg pallet of frozen meat products. You can even put in a preference if you want, say sausage meat, ground chunks, stew meat etc. You get a discount if you come back at the end of the season so the first elks shot almost always go into the pool. Don't shoot an animal? There is a pot of "leftovers" that they hand out based on payment and how long you have been a customer, so even if you end up empty handed on your hunt, you still get something. Out-of-Towners will often just get the hide and trophy head, leaving the meat and internals for the pool. With this all set, I went hunting. I knew where the big animals have been walking through the area since I bought the land; I had the house placed in a clear area without game trails to avoid running into big, hungry, angry animals. Last summer I lucked into a small side-by-side, basically a glorified dune buggy, that can go up and down mountains. I already had a trailer from previous work, so I hooked everything up and went looking for game trails. My plan was simple. Find an antler-less elk, shoot it, track it and bring it back. With luck, the animal won't fall off a cliff or run for a week, or I miss, or any of the things that can go wrong. After a week, I got my elk. Shot it right through the rib cage, hit the lungs and only had to chase it for about three hours. Getting the thing off the hillside was a comedy of frustration, but finally got it to town. I had it tested for CWD[https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chronic_wasting_disease] and netted 195Kg of meat. This was my first elk. I've shot and cleaned deer before but this elk was easily twice the size of anything else I've taken myself. I'm glad I paid to get it processed as I would have wasted half the meat not knowing what I was doing as it had been a while since I cleaned a deer, I've been hunting small game animals since I moved here for extra protein, but nothing big. While the animal was being tagged, tested and reported, I sped off to the nearest Costco and got a chest freezer, which thanks to the increased solar farm, I was able to keep running all winter. Some of you may ask why not leave it outside in the -40°C weather? Answer: predators. I'd rather not create an environment welcoming to bears and wolves. And I can start bringing up freezable food like butter and cheeses.
Winter was a lot of stews and pot roasts, assisted with root vegetables from the garden... it was wonderful. I was never hungry or wanting all winter. For the first time up here, I made loaves of sourdough bread in a dutch oven to take advantage of the butter I can now store. I even gained a bit of weight, mostly muscle.
Spring finally came. Our last major snow was late April, and my driveway was mostly impassable until a week of warmer weather the first week of May. Down I go to town and the usual stops. Post office was staffed by all new people, the folks from last year either retired or went part time. Said hellos, grabbed and sorted mail, got some gossip. Exciting stuff. Next stop the bank to sign paperwork. Then a swing by the library. It took me a full 10 minutes to process what I saw, but the emotion was more of "Ah, it happened" than anything else I could have had run through my head. The library is closed, indefinitely. The last librarian got married and the husband got an oil field job so they left. The state could not find anyone that wanted to deal with a rural community library at poverty wages, so they are closed until they can get some people to run the place. Libraries in places like this rarely reopen, so likely gone forever. At least it looks like they are maintaining the building as there are no broken windows or other signs of malfeasance. Maybe some college kid will take the job for the experience before they go to a bigger city, maybe not. Recovering from the shock, I really looked hard at the area this year. Multiple businesses are closed. The open places are on shorter hours. The shelves are stocked, well with what I needed this year at least, the supply chain and shortages seem to be mostly back to normal for household supplies. There are no young people working anywhere in the county. None. Youngest people I see working are maybe mid 30's, more are at least 40. The fast food places are closed or only open during lunch or dinner, and if there is any possible good news in the aftermath of COVID, the end of the fast food era will be its crowning glory. The people running these restaurants are almost always shit humans, the people working there are treated like slaves by managers and customers; if all the fast food places die due to "NOBODY WANTS TO WORK ANYMORE" sorry I mean "NOBODY WANTS TO BE EXPLOITED ANYMORE" then good. I used to joke that fast food managers did not apply, they were picked up after treatment for sociopathy as they walked out of the mental hospitals. I'm not here to argue about the food value of these places, the human and societal cost of working in this terrible industry is enough to condemn it to history. If fast food dies, we are all better off. Interesting to note, small churches are closed but the bigger congregations seem to be holding on. Young people are becoming more and more disgusted with religion, so let's hope COVID kills the faith industry as well. That dream will probably take the Boomer all fucking off to hell first, but a man can dream. In the "big city" I travel to, seeing someone in their 20's working where people in this age bracket typically work is a rarity. Retail and stores are all middle-aged and post-college aged people. The observation fits Census data that any teenager with a brain or ambition runs the fuck away from these rural backwaters; watching census data you can see the median age of the county creep slowly upwards as the olds get older and the young leave. Understaffed restaurants and gas stations have help wanted signs up, offering $10/hr like it is something to brag about. Looking at apartment pricing, good luck getting a place to live at anything under 20/hour. The boys leave for the military, college or the gas fields, the women either get married and stay home, go to college and never come back, or simply leave. It is almost unsettling.
Then, the disasters.
The vehicle was older, diesel, and reliable. But things eventually break down, and the truck died. Fortunately, I was in a city when the truck died and could not get the vehicle started again; If I'd been on the property I would have had a rough time. The Side-By-side could make it into town, but then what? Nearest mechanics are all farmers some 30-45 minutes from where I live. So here I am in a city, at a hospital, with a trailer and a dead truck. I made a few calls, and got the truck towed to a shop, they took a look and told me that the repair would be about 4K. Oof. A bit of horse trading, and a fortunate twist of time in town, and the truck lived! Conversing with the two guys that got me running, I asked them what they would give me for the truck, and we came to a bargain; I got more than I paid for it in 2018! Damn, the used vehicle market is something I have never seen before, and probably won't ever again. Turns out buying new is cheaper than used for anything other than a sedan. Used vehicles that can be used in trades? Nope, not going to happen. So, off I go to look for something new. 0% interest deals like the last time I bought new are a thing of the past. I did the hospital nonsense, and used that time to research what is available, what is worth owning, and more importantly, who has shit in stock? Cause, damn! Three years after the cooties and it's still a fucking toss up if shit is available, worth owning, or not insanely overvalued. Consumer goods recovered, but the big ticket stuff seems to be a gamble. To get a vehicle that fits my needs, and that I want to own, I have to travel. In it current state, the truck won't make it. I have to fly to a big city and drive back. Fuck.
I flew for the first time since 2018. Fortunately I was able to drive the now working truck home, ditch the travel trailer, pack a bag and verify with the bank that I can get a loan with "no income." disability payments do not count as income for loan purposes I find out. Decided instead to pay cash unless a dealer finance package was worth taking. I picked a vehicle with local mechanic support within a 90 minute drive, picked a dealer accessible through the shortest flights I could find, verified stock on hand, and picked a second and third choice. Did some math on the closest dealers and warranty centers as well which limited choices. This was really the first "I live in the fucking sticks" situation I'd been in other than medical care since I moved. Everything packed and set, I drove to the shop, sold the truck, the guys gave me a ride to the DMV to register the vehicle, then they gave me a ride to the airport. Airlines are still shit. Small airports moreso. Ever since 9-11 I have been on a list where they double check me for a long time where I was ALWAYS pulled aside by the TSA. Foreign sounding first name and non-WASPy last name and my family history all most likely. Of course flying one way with a ticket bought the week before, with minimal luggage, rang all the bells. Then I got the joy of being a guest of the TSA for over an hour before I was declared harmless; my attempt to leave the country was a topic of conversation. If you ever try to emigrate and get rejected for a VISA serious looking men with three letters embroidered on the backs of their jackets really want to talk to you turns out. My VISA adventure is now a part of my permanent government record, I should do a FOIA and see exactly what is says, really curious now about the OWS stuff that will show up. After this mess, the next time I want to get on a plane is as a corpse. I did not think flying could suck more, but here we are. I wore a mask in the airport, on the plane and in the cab. I got a few looks, but I was not the only one masked up. In my current state, well within acceptable weight and size limits, airline seating is still uncomfortable. My shoulders are too wide for normal seats and I have never been comfortable in an airline seat at least now I am thin and scrappy enough that only my upper back and shoulders get annoyed, I was not in a good spot the whole, thankfully short, flight. The flight attendants seemed off as well, like they are over worked and sick of dealing with people, but that might just be projection. The gut feel was nobody wanted to be in a small regional airport, go figure.
This is when I discovered that the USA held true to form and won the battle against COVID the same way we fought every war for the last fifty years: The policy got in the way of profits and/or companies found more profitable, exploitable revenue streams, the government regs got too expensive, the public got sick of hearing about the problem, so we declared victory and never mention anything about the last few years ever again.
Of all the things I can whinge on about, the vehicle buying process was almost too easy. I had a vehicle picked out, it had the options I need for my life now, and the price was set when I arrived. Within 90 minutes of arriving at the dealership, I was done and out the door. The bad part of new cars? Nothing is fixable any more. If anything breaks or needs a repair, I need to take it to a shop. The vehicle I chose was mainly due to the skill and certifications of the local mechanics' suggestions on what they can and cannot work on. I'd not have chosen this brand or style of vehicle, but with the home options you have to work with what you are presented. I paid cash as I don't care about credit scores and I was not going to pay above a 2.5% interest rate (they offered 6.9%). Do I like the new truck? It's a tool I use to live my life, asking me that is like asking me if I like a hammer or shovel. It serves it purpose, it can tow the trailers, it can make it down the gravel path to the paved roads, has real 4WD, it does what I need it to do, and I can get it serviced relatively locally. I've never been a car guy, kinda hated them most of my life to be honest. I get better mileage, and it burns diesel better and cleaner. And I can get to where I need to go while towing a camper. I need to buy a shell for it, but that can wait; I asked the local guys to be on the lookout for a shell that pops up, if nothing shows up by spring I'll buy one and have it shipped to them.