James Talmage Stevens lives up on a mountain somewhere in Texas, where he has a few years' worth of food, a well he can pump by hand, sturdy walls, and gardens for food. He's prepared for just about anything.
When I first spoke with Stevens, he told me that prepping for an unforeseen disaster is always a spiritual act. Not in the sense of preparing for judgment day, but by virtue of the simple act of investing one's energy in an unknowable outcome, based on faith alone.
"It's all about life," says Stevens. "Preparedness is just a means of thinking about it. It's never too late to start, and you never get finished."
In 1974, Stevens got out of graduate school with an MBA. He says jobs were in short supply so he called his mother and asked for some money. She didn't send him any money, but she mailed along a bunch of old family recipes and information from her and his grandmother. She told him to make it into a book and sell it, so he did.
"I sold 1,100 copies the first day it came out. It was printed on one side with a hole drilled in the corner and a split brad," says Stevens. Today, that book is Making the Best of Basics
, in its 13th edition and 28th printing. It's something of a bible for homesteaders and preppers, in the rustic vein of the Whole Earth Catalog
or the Foxfire
Stevens is quick to point out a couple of fallacies about prepping in general. First of all, "self-sufficiency" is a false idea, because one person by himself can never be sufficient. Everyone needs the help of others, whether they like it or not. Did you build a bunker? Well, did you pour the concrete yourself? Did you mine the rocks? While there's a great strength in taking one's future into one's own hands, there's a limit to how much one person can do.
And, counsels Stevens, "the end of the world" likely doesn't mean a fireball or all-out war. It could be any serious upheaval in life that makes one reevaluate priorities and start from scratch. The world ends for someone a thousand times a day, whether that means graduating from school, losing a family member, facing sickness or injury, getting a new job, or anything else. It's a lie to live with the illusion that we can control what's next, and it's a lie to think we can face it alone.
But still, people try -- and that's the "spirituality" that Stevens was talking about, I think. Doing what's right despite the futile odds. Of course, I discovered that at least one actual faith had been doing this for some time: the Mormons. (Read about the connections between prepping and the Mormon church.)
When I discovered an unofficial Mormon-targeted publication, the LDS Preparedness Manual
, I noticed several epigraphs near the front, useful quotes from influential people.
"In mercy the Lord warns and forewarns. He sees the coming storm, knows the forces operating to produce it, and calls aloud through His prophets, advises, counsels, exhorts, even commands--that we prepare for what is about to befall and take shelter while yet there is time. But we go our several ways, feasting and making merry, consoling conscience with the easy fancy of 'time enough' and in idle hope that the tempest will pass us by, or that, when it begins to gather thick and black about us we can turn back and ﬁnd shelter."
- James E Talmage, The Parables of James E. Talmage, p. 50
I noticed the name of James Talmage, and made the connection to James Talmage Stevens. I emailed him about the connection, asking (indelicately, I'm afraid) if he was a Mormon, and if he was familiar with the LDS Preparedness Manual. He wrote back:
My father named me after Apostle Talmage, hoping I would be erudite. Talmage was one of the smartest man of his day.
He was President of the University of Utah, with several doctorates....
Spirituality is not about religion, but about commitment. Without a spiritual driver (the force within that drives your core beliefs) you cannot achieve great works.
The LDS Preparedness Manual is not an LDS Church publication--not at all!
In fact, it's a knock-off of my book... by a group of maverick Mormons.
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