The Last Best Summer Ever
When shit hits the fan—World War III, the detonation of a nuclear bomb, whatever crazy shit Trump does—don’t come knocking on Sharon Ross’ door.
“Don’t come to my house,” she warns. “I’m not having it. If you can’t take care of yourself at this point in time—to put some food away for you and your family—what makes you think I should? So don’t come to me. Because you’re going to be greeted with a shotgun or a pistol.”
Sharon Ross doesn’t give the impression of the stereotypical doomsday prepper. An African American woman in her early-50s, Ross has a warm and youthful smile. She checks her smartphone, takes sugar in her tea, and laughs often, even while describing the myriad ways civilization as we know it is veering toward imminent destruction.
I first learned about Ross through her website, Afrovivalist.com, which she created three years ago as a place to educate others—particularly people of color—about prepping and survival skills like foraging, water purification, archery, and handling firearms. She faced swift derision, not only from the African American community, but also from close friends and family. They called her “crazy,” “paranoid,” “koo-koo.” But in light of recent developments, she tells me, people are beginning to think differently.
“It’s changed,” she says. “And a lot of it is due to Mr. Trump. They’ve realized, 'Oh, holy crap, that crazy girl just might be right. I guess I should start preparing.’ I’ve got more and more people going to the website. They’re starting to think, 'Maybe we should get a group together, so we can protect ourselves.’”
Though others are just now beginning to consider the once-unimaginable, Ross has in many ways been preparing for this moment her whole life. Born in Houston, Texas, she and her family moved to the tiny Southern Oregon community of Sams Valley in the early ’70s.
“We were the first Black family to visit and stay,” she says with a laugh. The Ross family lived on 26 acres, where they raised livestock and cultivated crops. In addition to teaching her how to live off the land, Ross’ father also taught her to defend herself against prejudice.
“He wanted to make sure I’d be able to protect myself and my little sister,” she says. “So as soon as the N-word comes out of somebody’s mouth, I had to correct that. Or if they tried to put hands on me or touch me inappropriately, you know, I would end up in a fight. So I grew up beating up boys.”
She laughs again.
Ross moved to Portland 30 years ago for college. She owns a home in North Portland, where she lives with her daughter and three-year-old grandson. When not prepping for the end of the world, Ross has a day job with the State of Oregon. She has always dreamed of living off the grid after retiring, but recent events have given her a greater sense of urgency, beginning with the disastrous response following Hurricane Katrina.
“After seeing that, I thought, 'You know what? I don’t want to be in that situation,’” she says. “So that’s when I really started stepping up my preps. And now that Trump is president, I’m really stepping it up.”
In 2012, Ross purchased her first parcel: Twenty acres of open land in Eastern Washington. She purchased the adjoining two lots in 2016, and this year she’s planning on buying another two. When all is done, she hopes to own 100 acres. Ross plans to keep the first lot for her homestead; the remainder will be subdivided into five-acre lots, which, she says, will soon be home to a community of Earthships.
Introduced in the ’70s by architect and sustainability guru Michael Reynolds, Earthships are passive solar homes, constructed from natural and recycled materials like tires and aluminum cans. They are intended to be self-sustaining, relying only on wind and solar energy. With produce grown in gardens and greenhouses, rainwater harvested through cisterns, and sewage treated and contained on-site, Earthships are designed specifically for off-the-grid living. (Earthship is not a generic term for any little house made of mud and garbage, but a registered trademark owned by Reynolds. If you want to build one for yourself, be prepared to drop some hefty coin.)
Ross and the Earthship Pacific NW group recently visited the Greater World Earthship Community, outside Taos, New Mexico. She had a private consultation with Reynolds, and together they came up with a plan to establish an Earthship Academy on her property, where people would learn how to build their own Earthships. Though they can be found all across the world, from Detroit, Michigan to La Paz, Bolivia, the greatest concentration of Earthships in the Pacific Northwest may be on Ross’ land in Eastern Washington by July 2018—just in time to escape the destruction of our civilization.
But how will doomsday come to the United States of America?
“I think we’ll have an economic collapse first,” Ross tells me. “And that will be within a year or two.” After our economic collapse, hostile nations will take advantage of our compromised situation by knocking out our power grid.
“If they do use nuclear bombs,” she says, “they’re going to set it off above our atmosphere and shut down our grid, because they know our grid is outdated.”
Rather than wait for the inevitable, Ross recommends taking necessary precautions right now, including stocking up on water and food.
“Start accumulating what you can,” she says. “Every time you go into the grocery store, buy a gallon of water for each person in your family or group, buy a couple of cans of food. And if you do that every time you go into the store, you’ll be amazed how much you have by the end of the year.”
You will also need to learn survival skills. Airbnb won’t help you find shelter; Google Maps won’t help you reach safe ground; WebMD won’t help treat your radiation burns. If the current environmental and political climate is any indication of what our future has in store, it’s fair to say that without any preliminary planning or preparation, we’re all fucked.
“People are living their lives as if nothing’s going to happen,” Ross says. “And it just baffles me. Really? You don’t think that all these years that we’ve been bullies to all these other countries, that they won’t retaliate? I feel differently. I think they will, eventually. If you keep poking that bear, the bear’s gonna bite.”