Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter 6


"Everyone talks about the weather but no one does anything about it." – Mark Twain

In the year 1815 there was this giant volcano that exploded so bad that all the ash that got up into the air was the straw that broke the camel’s back when added to other factors and caused the “Year Without A Summer” the following year.  Thousands of people all around the world starved to death as a result even though it only dropped the average temperature by about a single degree.  We were already starting to see the same thing happen this go around and what they call a volcanic winter hadn’t even started yet.

Destroying the Midwest was a dumb move on the part of the Coalition of Terror.  The US produces – or should I say normally produces – most of the world’s corn supply and corn is used in an amazing number of products, not just foods.  With the Midwest toast all of that corn was no longer there to harvest and export.  Not only did people not get the corn to eat, they didn’t have it to use in the various industries that it was needed for.  It also meant there was a sudden drop in what passed for commercial animal feed.  And corn was just one such product significantly depleted for the rest of the world’s consumption; wheat was next in line.

Another way their universal stupidity affected the rest of the world is that the US bought a significant portion of the oil extracted and refined in various countries.  With things going caputz in the US there was no longer any need to import all of that overseas oil.  Guess what that meant?  That meant that countries that relied on selling their oil to the US were all of a sudden hard up.  They couldn’t keep their promises to their own people.  China might have made up the difference but most of their large population centers and industries also relied on selling products to the US.  So basically if the US wasn’t buying then everyone else couldn’t sell very much.  Prices dropped … the news said they “plummeted” … and then markets just went stagnant.  Stagflation set in at the lowest levels since before World War II and even lower in some areas.

Lots of people around the world lost their jobs.  All of those “outsourced” jobs for India and places like that?  Gone as the American consumers were no longer consuming.  All of those manufacturing jobs based on American consumption?  Gone as well.  No job gives people a lot of extra time on their hands to be unhappy during.  And unhappy, unoccupied people can get up to all sorts of nasty mischief.

Countries and activitist groups went from complaining North America in genereal – and the US in particular – consumed too much of the world’s resources to now we weren’t consuming enough and weren’t supporting the global market as was our duty.  Buncha jerks.  It is like we are damned if we do and damned if we don’t.  Then again maybe I shouldn’t use that word too lightly.  There’s some that will say that the US is getting just what it deserved … God, Allah, karma, or whatever.  I’d sat through enough sermons and school rallies to have heard it all more than a few times. 

Some complain about the church and state being too separate; some complain about there not being enough separation.  Some complain about too much culture diversity; some about lack of diversity.  Just about everyone has some form of imagined “guilt” whether it is over the color of their skin, their worldview, the pennies in their pockets (how many or how few).  It just all adds to the angst and general lack of focus on personal accountability.  I swear … and folks complain about teenagers.

I was real glad to be out of it and relatively safe up in my mountain cave.  Or at least safe from some of the things I heard about on the radio.  On the other hand, after over two months I realized that the coming dangers for me wouldn’t be much different than for those folks in other areas. 

Food.  I had a decent amount and so did the animals but eventually I would run out of the stuff I had stored.  I’m not what you would call a picky eater – Momma would have fixed that real quick if I had been born that way even if she had to knock it out of me.  I also knew how to catch and cook my own thanks to Daddy.  And I’m not stupid either which was a blessing from both of them.  I needed to be on the look out for ways to replace what I was using.

Up on the mountains it isn’t like it was down in the valleys.  I wasn’t going to exactly be able to plant a garden and expect to get anything from it for a while.  For one thing there wasn’t what you would call a whole lot of clear space to put in a garden.  Then the ground itself was rocky or treed over with big ol’ fir and spruce trees and more trees besides those.  And for a while all any seed would do after being planted would be to get washed away.  And it isn’t exactly easy to get a decent garden going at these altitutdes either.

But I was determined to plan ahead and as Mr. Harkins always was on about, planning only does so much good if you don’t act on it.  So … on my trips down the mountain to do a little salvaging here and there I kept my eyes open for plants and pots and things like that.  I also kept my eyes open for wild forage. 

Needless to say the cattails that started growing around the edge of what I called the flood zone were pretty abundant in places for a while, at least until the weather changed.  I ate a lot of them plus saved the fluffy pollen in large jars to help piece out my flour supply.  I collected and ate dandelions whenever I found a decent patch of them that wasn’t covered in slimy mud; then dried and ground the roots and used it to piece out my coffee supply.

I stuffed the fish I caught with wild fennel and I also gathered the seeds and dried them for flavoring and for planting the next spring.  I fixed lambs quarter like spinach and couldn’t seem to get enough of it … I think because it is so high in vitamins and my body was craving every bit I could give it.  I outgrew my babyfat early and hit puberty before a lot of my friends so I had me some nice padding in the right spots that made me look like a girl.  But all the extra work, trekking here and there, and the energy spent on foraging used up a lot of my softness and left me harder and learner.  I wasn’t sure if I liked the look, especially as I had to adjust my clothing so much.  I even made my own suspenders out of some elastic I had. 

I was never vain but honest to pete I still tried to remember I was born a girl … on some days though it wasn’t easy and I decided I needed a lot more than lean fish and foraged greens.  I needed some fat to keep my bones from showing to disadvantage … I also needed fats and oils to cook with since my canned butter wasn’t going to last forever and cows were in short to no supply where I was at.  That left hunting to make up the difference.

Hunting was not a problem and it is a good thing that I’m a natural born carnivore and have no problem digesting proteins that way.  Even after we moved to the city we had a smokehouse though Daddy had to hide it in the shed as he’d made it out of an old refrigerator and some people look down on folks making do with what they have access to.  Well I had to make do as well. What I did was to use native rock to make walls under an overhang – looked like a miniature Alum Cave Bluff before I started – and padlocked the door.  As soon as the meat was smoked I would bring it back to the cave and put it in an alcove I had set up just for that purpose.  I padlocked the door to keep both kinds of animals out; from the sound of the radio it didn’t seem to be much difference between wild beasts and some people.

I wouldn’t say I had a wide variety of animals to hunt but I had more at that elevation than by rights I probably should have.  Animals that could escape the rising waters did though many – both wild and domestic – were lost.  Many simply sought higher elevations but for a lot of them it was just putting off death and drowning might have been preferable to starving.   I had to fight the dogs for the domesticated fowl that I ran across.  I thought long and hard about starting me a chicken coop but there was no way I could have taken care of them for very long and it’s cruel to take responsibility for an animal that you can’t treat right.

I smoked and canned about six medium sized wild pigs; not all for me of course as both Rufus and Beau would need to eat something on down the line.  I didn’t go near the big ones as they were too stinking mean for words.  The big males would tear into each other because there were too many in one location on some days.  For a little while there it was as bad as living around a bunch of prides of lions; man, were they vicious.  I got treed more than once too. 

I was forever trying to shoo them away from my area as whether they were mean or not they would root and turn things over and girdle trees and lots of other stuff to keep themselves fed.  Just like with the birds I thought of trying to domesticate some and pen them up somehow once winter thinned them out but then I rethought it after praying; they were a problem I didn’t need.

Deer were just about as bad though I heard on the radio people were paying high prices for venison what with so much of the farming and food industry in disarray.  Used to be that people would look down on you for eating things like deer and wild pig … no more; you’d just about have to hand them a bib to catch all the saliva leaking out of their mouths at the thought of getting a bite of meat.  You might guess that in addition to the other things I hunted and put up deer meat … and you’d be right. 

Even had I tried, alone I couldn’t have thinned the herds of animals that had moved to the higher elevations to get away from the flood waters.  But it became apparernt that I wasn’t the only one going at it.  Ever so often I would hear shotguns and rifles going off some distance away from where I was so I knew other people were populating the upper elevations as well; or at least they were up here hunting.

Strangest thing I saw for a long time was when I was out jigging for frogs.  For some reason I just had a hankering for frogs legs.  Maybe it was all the rain and I was getting webbed feet or something.  Anyway, I was out jigging and I hear this buzzing coming off the water from around a bend created from where a hallow had filled up.  Wound up being one of those boats like you see down in the swamps of places like Florida, Mississippi, and Louisiana; call ‘em air boats. 

I’d never seen one so big.  It looked like a giant, flat-bottomed skiff that had a giant fan attached to its butt end.  It had room for twenty plus a captain that sat in the back telling the fan which way to send them.  It wasn’t full but had about twelve passengers plus a pilot.  I grabbed my gear – hiked that day, hadn’t needed my boat – and ran behind a pile of washed up trees on the edge of the water.

The air boat pulled in beside a point of land I’d used myself for the same purpose they were using … getting in and out.  All of the men were armed but they weren’t looking around like you’d think they would be if they were so wary they needed to dress like Pancho Villa. 

“Ernst!” one man yelled.  “There’s a log here to tie off.  This way you can take a break if ya need to!”

The captain of the airboat turned off the engine and said, “I’ll do me fine by staying right here.  You just bring me back a deer or hog to pay your fee.  Gotta watch these goobermint people anyways.”

The guy nodded and gave a half wave.  The “goobermint” people gave him an irritated look but didn’t say anything.  They took some gear off the boat and set up on shore.  After watching them for almost an hour I finally figured out they were taking water samples for testing and doing some shoreline mapping. 

I hadn’t realized I was so hungry for another human face.  I lay there all morning and watched those people and listened to them talk.  The “goobermint people” were generally silent but the few things they did whisper was interesting in an “oh holy mackerel” kind of way.  First off the area was being dammed up on purpose … sort of like an unnatural beaver dam where all of the flotsam of the floods was being allowed to build up in the areas that they would normally wash out through.  This was primarily to keep more areas from flooding.  They were sacrificing one area to “save” another.

Rather than a large inland sea the flooding was more like the land was dotted with large, deep lakes and lots of smaller shallow ponds that filled valleys and deep hollows of the Appalachians.  Each “lake” and “pond” had its own elevation and they were surveying them trying to guess how long they’d hold the water back and how long they’d stay flooded once the rains stopped.  My cave was surrounded by several of the highest “lakes.”  They also said that occasionally lakes would either melt together or the “dam” between lakes would burst with one lake rising and the other lake lowering until both smoothed out.

The flooding was still going on but at least the majority of the water was being held within valleys and held back by major land features giving people time to move away from the areas likely to wash away when the dams gave way.  Not all of the moving was voluntary either which was why the “goobermint” wasn’t looked on with a lot of favor.  People had moved up to the higher elevations much as I had thinking that the water would soon recede but now it was obvious that it would take quite some time before it did.

Weather, cyber attacks, and destruction of infrastructure has inhibited communication with satellites which would normally do most of the work that was now being done by hand as far as surveying and such goes.  The goobermint people didn’t like being out in the field without the military to protect them as they came under attack alot.  They didn’t trust the locals but claimed to have no choice this time around and had been told to shut up, do the work, and don’t hassle those they were dependent on to get to into areas that were otherwise inaccessible.

They didn’t expect the higher than normal precipitation to stop until spring which meant that the area around where my cave was would be inaccessible for some months starting after the first snow; and a vicious winter was expected that might last a month longer than normal and possibly have lower than average temperatures all next year.  Some were hypothesizing possibly two years of abnormally low temps before the cycle started to correct itself. Another guy mentioned that another Little Ice Age might even be possible.

The southern hemisphere wasn’t suffering near as much as the northern hemisphere but they were suffering with some changes in their weather patterns as well, naturally.  The problem is that many countries in the Southern Hemisphere were less prepared to deal with the changes.  They were primarily suffering economic pain and political unrest caused by an influx of expats from the northern hemisphere.  Coastal regions and Island Nations also were dealing with worse than normal typhoons and tropical cyclones.

Part of me was so tempted to step out and talk to them but something held me back.  Mr. Harkins had always impressed on me that as a female I was going to have to take extra precautions and that if I was going to hide that I needed to stay hid and not think I could just pop in and out whenever I felt like it or my age and/or sex would surely get some busybody do-gooder in my business even if I was able to avoid the bad ‘uns of the world.  Uncle Jerry and the boys had been rough but I’d never had to worry about anything sexual but I was not nearly so stupid as to believe I would be able to say the same thing about any other group of men.  Even if it is just one bad apple in a bunch, that can still lead to some not nice things happening.

About what would have been my lunch time had I been able to jig some frogs – all the noise and mucking around those men were making pretty much scared off what I had been after – the hunters of the party came back and threw a bag at the goobermint men.

“Hope this is all you needed ‘cause I ain’t going back in there to get anymore.  And we need to get gone Ben,” he said turning to address the air boat Captain.  “Saw not one but two bears.  One seemed to get the sent of the offal where we field cleaned these here but that other one may decide to come out of the trees at any minute and he was a big ‘un.”

I’d seen bear sign and been smart enough to avoid them.  Most of the prints seemed to be headed west towards unflooded lower elevations.  I’d been wondering what kind of winter we were likely to have – doing my own bit of planning – and thought they were wanting to find their natural forage and bulk up.

Two of the goobermint men started complaining about not being able to finish their tests.  The other two were scrambling to pack up like they just heard that Satan was about to make an in-person house call.  The hunters were loading their harvest.  About three-quarters of the way to both parties getting everything loaded the captain says, “decide what you’re leaving boys ‘cause we are real close to overweight already.”

There was a lot of cussing at that; enough that I come close to covering my ears in addition to feeling my face turn ten shades of red.  Finally they left and as soon as they were up around the bend I ran over to see what all they’d left.  The goobermint men had been forced to leave the most.  I opened the packs and saw all sorts of stuff in shiny foil packets.  The hunters had left a brace of birds, a few rabbits, a small deer, and a hog bigger than any I would have taken on.  I knew if there was indeed a bear in the area all I could do was pray I had enough rope with me to get the meat strung in the trees and then a couple of the packs.

Boy I was fast … and tired and nasty by the time I was finished but then I hightailed it out of there with one of the packs.  I got near my cave and then thought better of it and strung the pack I was carrying up in another tree before grabbing the game wagon that I used to move things around in and headed back to the waters edge.

I got there just in time to see a bear’s butt waddling back to the west and away from the water.  He’d put a few scratches on the tree where the meat hung but hadn’t bothered to go climbing after it.  Guess it was too full and it wasn’t worth the effort. 

I started hauling what I’d strung up back to my place.  The rest of the goobermint stuff got strung up a ways off until I could go through it but I spent the rest of the next two days and most of that first night processing the meat so that it could be hung in the smokehouse.

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