Monday, July 21, 2014

Chapter 7

When You Least Expect Things

" ...drag your thoughts away from your troubles--by the ears, by the heels, or any other way, so you can manage it; it's the healthiest thing a body can do.”
- Mark Twain

It took me a little over two days to get back to going through those back packs.  Something had tried to get into them but hadn’t actually made it; just tried to bat it around a bit like a piƱata.  Nice collection of odds and ends; pens to add to my collection of writing utensils, paper that went into the cabinet with them, a couple of plastic clip boards, some stuff that looked like I expect MREs look, some back-to-nature soy-based candy bars that nearly had me gagging after one bite.  I would have to be some kind of hungry to willingly eat those things that’s for sure.  There were a couple of little personal first aid kids, a couple of barely there pocket knives, and lots of other odds and ends.

If it had been me slogging through everything those guys were slogging through … and boy they were sure city folks from somewhere … I wouldn’t have been able to go a quarter mile before those straps were digging into my arms.  The packs were too big and too heavy for what they were being used for unless they figured they might get stranded.  As heavy as the pack was if the boat went down it was going down with it … as well as anyone that was wearing it at the time.  And I would say they weren’t especially well thought out either. 

There were matches but they weren’t waterproof.  There was a flint – a cheap one – but no dry kindling.  The little pocket knife couldn’t have won a battle with an exacto knife.  There were hand warmers and but not one of those reflective emergency blanket kind of things; and no tent of any sort either.  There was a metal cup for heating water in and a Nalgene bottle to put the water in but no way to purify the water.  There was fishing line but no hooks.  There were some of those fancy schmancy solid fuel tabs but they were crushed inside the little cardboard box they were stored in.  There was a little fold up stove type thing but it was rusted shut despite looking like it had never been taken out of the box it was in.

That last is what made me look even closer and I realized it looked like that whole thing was something that had come out of a box and never been gone through to make sure things worked.  Which made me a little leary about the MREs but their date on them said they were still good.  I chucked those things in a box and put them in the pantry for just in case but I’d need to be desparate to eat ‘em.  I prefer my own chili to something that has been vacuum sealed for who knows how long.

There were no cool government gizmos or gadgets; not even a wind up radio or flashlight.  Overall the haul from the packs wasn’t bad, but I got more useful stuff salvaging the flooded out areas.

And since I never wanted to be so hard up that I actually had to use those MREs I started spending even more time foraging.  The bears had made me aware of the time of year.  The words of those men made me aware just how bad things were likely to get.

I gathered up all the acorns I could find.  Sometimes had to fight the pigs over them, but I’d gotten good at climbing around them and then shooing them off by chucking rocks at them.  I wished for a sling shot but I started practicing and playing at being David from the Bible and though I’m sure I’m not as good as he was, I usually hit what I’m aiming at these days.

I gathered amaranth heads to help piece out the flour supply.  I still had a couple of barrels of wheat berries and dried corn, but it wouldn’t last forever.  I was hoping between the cattail fluff and other wild grains I could come up with I would at least piece it out for a year or so … maybe until I was close enough to eighteen that no one would bother me none.

At the lower elevations that weren’t flooded or where the water had receded but the people hadn’t made it back yet I gathered black walnuts, butternuts, chinquapins, hickory nuts, and even found a small grove of pecans that were surrounded by water that the squirrels and other rodents hadn’t gotten to first.  The wild grapes were really nice but the domesticated ones I found all had some kind of mildew on them and were wilting fast. 

Raspberries and blackberries were my favorites; favorites for the bears too.  And I had to fight to beat the bears to the huckleberries.  It was like a race … black haws, ground cherries, pawpaws, persimmons, black cherries, and wild plums … if there were any at all left by the time I found a patch I was happy and then some; felt like I had found gold.

Suprisingly I didn’t have to fight with too many animals for the pickly pears, but then again maybe not.  I remembered after one painful experience why Momma had always worn her rose gloves to pick them.  I fought the birds over the elderberries and the wild rose hips.  It wasn’t until Mischief and Molly, the two ravens that lived with me, started coming that I got any peace at all.  The jays were nasty birds that would go for my eyes but M & M would mob them and drive them off.  Of course their reward was a cup of berries but for the company and the help I wasn’t going to complain.

The day lilies were all kinds of pretty but that didn’t stop me from harvesting their buds.  Same with the violet blooms.  If I knew it to be edible it was fair game.  Other things that I harvested were bee blam, chickweed, chicory, dandelions, dittany, wild garlic, lamb’s quarter, mustard seed, purslane, sassafrass, sumac berries, water cress, wild ginger, and wood sorrel. 

I ran into a few problems here and there.  More than once I reached down to take something and put it in my baskets and pulled up a mouse.  Some areas were getting overrun with rodent type vermin.  All of the empty houses were perfect breeding grounds for mice and rats.  I did note that the owl population had increased to take on the expanding rodent population, also smelled some evidence of male cats, but it was a battle that was barely staying balanced.

I found a bunch of different patches of mints, some of which I transplanted around the cave area.  I don’t know if they’ll take off or not but I am determined to try.  I managed to harvest a goodly bunch of wild rice that must have survived the original floods but I made sure at least as much went back into the water as what went into the boat so that it would propogate for the following year. 

What I had no trouble finding were mushrooms and nearly every meal I ate had some in it.  The ones that were good that time of year were chanterelles, Judas’ ears, oyster mushrooms, shaggy manes, and sulphur shelfs.  The mushroom I missed was the meadow mushroom but that one I kinda figured.  There weren’t exactly a lot of meadows to be had; they’d all gotten flooded.

The chanterelles are the shape of a cap and you find them under conifers and hardwood trees.  They are pretty versatile as far as mushrooms go.  You can eat them fresh, raw or cooked; dried, canned or pickled.  Now Judas’ ear mushrooms are just plain ugly.  You find them in the fall and winter on dead or dying wood and use them fresh or dried like you would a vegetable.  My brothers used to call them “tree ears” and would eat them by the pound after Momma or Daddy had pointed them out.

Oyster mushrooms are kinda pretty in their own way.  They get their name from the way they look growing on a dead or dying hardwood tree – they are fan shaped sorta like an oyster shell – and their color which might remind you of a oyster without the slimy texture.  Shaggy manes are funny looking things with a club shaped cap.  You cook them before you eat them.  Then comes the sulphur shelf and they are pretty easy to spot because they are the fall colors of yellow or orange.  You cook and eat them like a vegetable after harvesting the tender outer edge of the shelfs from dead deciduous tree wood.

The only other thing that I harvested almost as regularly as I did mushrooms were Jerusalem artichokes.  Mamaw also called them sunchokes and she grew them in her garden and said they were more reliable than potatoes but couldn’t be stored as long so she’d leave them in the ground, cover them with hay, and then harvest them until they got too tough or they were putting off babies for the next year.  I replanted half of what I harvested; I was the Johnny Appleseed of sunchokes.  I was hoping that by planting them all over the place that at least some of them would take and I’d have forage closer to the cave.

Then I got to thinking, what if there really wasn’t a summer?  I don’t mean that summer was cooler than normal but what if there wasn’t a summer at all?  What if winter just kept going on and on for a bit?  That wasn’t likely but then again I never would have figured that people would ever build a machine that would let them make earthquakes and volcanoes happen, or that would let them play around with the weather.  How would I survive?

I was already working on wood and had a pretty good supply.  Since it was still raining relatively clean water to put through my filter, potable water wasn’t a problem either.  But food?  Now that was a different kettle and one I was working on but when all my stored food ran out, and there wasn’t anything to hunt or forage, what would I do?

Some would say the natural answer to that was grow my food but what if the weather got in the way of that?  Then I thought greenhouse.  That’s when I had another one of those ideas that struck me on occasion. 

I needed a fireplace.  I had found an endless supply of sandbags around the flooded area and had been bringing them back with me when I had room in the boat.  I was building what looked like half an igloo onto the front of the cave where the entrance was.  Putting a door in was going to be challenging but I had salvaged an attic window to let a little light in.  I also managed a fairly decent mud and dob fireplace using fieldstones and a vein of clay that I had found.  As my walls went up so did fireplace and chimney.  The roof was going to be a challenge but I figured if worse came to worse I could hammer together small tree trunks and then cover them with an old canvas tarp and then put fir branches on top of that to shed the rain and snow.

But it was the greenhouse that concerned me now.  The glass would be no problem.  Most of the house windows in the area were broken from the storms but enough car windows had survived that I’d have my pick of sizes and shapes.  I hadn’t figured out how to get them to hold together.  But the glass sounded like a good idea so while I was out foraging I started bringing home glass from broken down cars.  I’d learned my lessons well working with Mr. Harkins and I knew how to remove windows fairly easily.  It was just a matter of getting to the things I needed to undo that cost me time. 

Turns out that transporting the glass from the car to the cave without breaking it was more difficult than I had anticipated.  I cracked, chipped, or broke about a quarter of the windows that I tried to bring back.  That meant gathering more glass than I had originally planned on needing.  I had also foraged about all I could from the areas that I normally travelled.  Before I got stuck for the winter I decided to go a little further afield.

I got lucky and found the mother load.  A bunch of cars were left stranded on a bridge over a short, but what I remembered to be, deep gully.  Being the cautious girl I was I started on the far side of the bridge where it disappeared into the water then moved back towards the shore.  I’d remove two cars worth of glass and then head back to the cave to store them and forage on my way home.  Hard and merciless rain showers continued to slow me down and the rain had turned cold, another sign that winter was on its way.  I knew my time grew short.

There wasn’t much worth anything left in the cars though I did cut out the the seat belts as they were nice strong straps.  I’d been so very lucky for so long.  Perhaps I should have been paying attention but sometimes I think things are just meant to happen for a reason.

I was on the last car, the very last one, and on the very last thing I wanted from it.  All the glass lay in the boat wrapped in blankets.  I had climbed into the car to cut the seat belts out when I heard something.  I looked around from the back seat but since I didn’t see anything I figured it was just a tree falling in the water.  That happened a lot.  So I went back to cutting.

Then all of a sudden there was this jerk, hard enough to bounce me and I hit my head on the roof of the car.  I froze just one moment and then started scrambling out to get to safer ground.  I didn’t know what was going on but I was sure as heck needing to get out of that car.  But the single frozen moment was a moment too many.  Without warning I felt the way you do when you don’t travel in elevators very often and you get on a fast one going down … you go down but your stomach takes a while to catch up; free fall.

The bridge settled but wasn’t down too deep.  Water poured in through the openings the windows used to be in and disoriented me as I tried to figure which way to move.  The water was dark but I could see the light of the late afternoon above me through the water so I knew which way I needed to go.  I took off for the surface then nearly had a heart attack as something jerked me hard.

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