Sunday, October 2, 2011

Chapter 41

Chapter 41

October turned into November and I was ready several times to run for Josef no matter how it might compromise our secret. But each time I was nearly ready to tell Abel “now” Daniel’s fever would break and his chest would clear quite a bit.

Abel and I slaughtered the pigs and while Abel took charge of the hams and larger pieces of meat as well as the pig skin, I spent hours upon hours upon hours rending lard, straining off the cracklings and canning them, cooking sausages and preserving them, cleaning intestines to use as sausage casings, filling sausage casings for smoking, and doing my best to make sure that not one single useful thing escaped our notice.

We did the same thing with the venison that Abel brought in. If I hadn’t known how important it was I would have run screaming into the woods at the idea of making more jerky. The chickens also had to be culled before the painfully cold weather arrived.

I canned broth, soups, stews, wild greens, and mushrooms. I gathered acorns like a crazy woman, always making sure that I left enough for the wild animals, but with the whole valley and much of the BLM land at our disposal finding acorns wasn’t the problem. The acorns were particularly bitter, more bitter than I ever remember them being. It took forever to soak it all out.

There wasn’t a moment that went by that my hands weren’t doing something. Even if I was sitting with Daniel during his feverish times I had a bowl of acorns in my lap removing them from their shells. The acorns weren’t just bitter they were smaller than normal as well which made shelling them a frustrating challenge. Once I did get a pan full it was time to leach the tannin out.

I placed whole, chopped, or coarsely ground nutmeats in a - the best I had for this purpose was from old t-shirts - and tied the bundle closed with string. In the past I would have hung this bundle in the spring and let the run off leach it for me but animals had gotten too aggressive; I lost to bundles of acorns this way before I gave it up. Instead I would place the cloth of acorns in boiling water until the water turned brown, then drain it, add more boiling water and repeat as many times as it needed until water remained clear.

After the nuts were completely leached of I spread them in a pan and dried them in the dehydrator trays in the kitchen. I would have dried them in the sun as but I had the same problem of animal predation.

With the acorns I was able to keep bread on the table. One of the breads I made was Acorn Honey Bread. Even a whole cup of acorns I still had to use four cups of flour. To the flour I added two teaspoons of baking powder, two teaspoons of powdered ginger, two teaspoons of baking soda, two teaspoons of salt, and a teaspoon of ground cinnamon. In another bowl I mixed together two beaten eggs, one cup of honey, two cups of milk made from the powdered stuff we still had thanks to Dad’s foresight. Then I added the wet ingredients to the dry a bit at a time and then I folded in a cup of chopped acorns.

I poured the batter into two greased loaf pans and baked at 350 for 45 minutes or until golden colored. If bread is done, it will come out of the pans easily when the pan is turned over and tapped gently. If not all you have to do is bake for another 10-15 minutes and that should fix that problem. When you take the pans out of the oven you want to remove bread from their pans immediately and put the bread on a cooling rack. The spicy bread was always better the second day after its flavors had a chance to mellow and blend.

Between every chore I had to take care of I had to take care of Daniel’s needs. Up and down and up and down and up and down. He would get very sick then he would almost get well before beginning to fall ill again. I don’t think he ever had pneumonia but it was close. Croup and bronchitis though, yeah that he definitely had. And fever, sore throat, congested sinuses, swollen glands, fatigue … the list seemed endless.

I gave him coltsfoot tea when his congestion was at its worst but only then. The fever I treated by keeping him hydrated and part of the hydration was from teas like the ones I made with Echinacea. I bathed him as well and powdered him with cornstarch to prevent his skin from getting heat rash which is a miserable condition I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. Well, maybe the crazy Richard and Hakim but they’re both gone and no longer count.

is pulled out my mother’s books and tried everything I had supplies for. Tea with honey. Chicken soup. Tea with ginger for when he stomach became upset. I used barely warmed olive oil to soothe his ears that were sore from coughing. The cankers that developed in his mouth from having an acidic stomach I treated with powdered alum. A tea made of turmeric powder helped with joint pain from being confined to his bed. Mustard oil helped with blocked nostrils.

On and on went the home remedies. Then one morning Daniel simply woke up and told me, “Dacey, I’m hungry!”

I would have danced for joy, shouted at the top of my lungs in celebration … but I couldn’t celebrate just yet. Abel had fallen ill with the exact same set of symptoms that Daniel had. The difference between caring for Daniel and caring for Abel however was that Daniel was cranky but willing to be comforted. Abel was just horrible and nothing I did seemed to take away his mullygrubs.

Abel kept trying to get up and “help” – at least until he completely lost all of his strength and could only lay there. He was also stronger and heavier than Abel so when he would get delirious from fever or when I needed to turn him over to change the sheets – never my favorite chore in the first place – it was a struggle for me. I’d had Abel to help me care for Daniel for almost the entire time he had been ill, with Abel sick there was only me to depend on. Daniel was still too weak to do more than sit around and recover. I sure wasn’t having him go outside in the cold and sporadic snow to help with chores.

“Dacey, I’m hungry.”
“Querida, I have such thirst.”
“Dacey, Dog needs to go out.”
“Querida, I must get up … I … I need to go to the bano.”
“Dacey, I’m hungry.”
“Querida, the room, it is so hot.”
“Dacey, Dog had an accident!”
“Querida, my love, I must get up … I must help … argh!”
“Dacey, when’s Abel gonna get well?”
“Querida, the room, it is so cold.”
“Dacey …” “Querida …” “Dacey …” “Querida …”

I was going mad trying to keep up with everything. The wood pile was the worst of the most important stuff. We’d used all of the wood that had been cut and stacked from before; now we were down to chopping, splitting, and stacking everything ourselves. A fallen tree was a blessing. A fallen tree that was dry enough that I could simply chop the branches off of it to use was a miracle.

To take care of Daniels suddenly crazy hunger I had to get creative to make some munchies that would tie him over between regular meals. To this end I experimented and figured out how to make Honeyed Acorns.

I dipped the acorn meats that I had leached the tannin out of into boiling syrup or a 2:1 sugar to water solution. For variety, in addition to the honey I used regular sugar and all the different flavored syrups we had in storage. After each nutmeat was dipped – I usually tried to do a slotted spoonful at a time – I took them out and thoroughly dry them on a greased pan. They weren’t a perfect solution but they were the best I could come up with considering the limited time I had.

It wasn’t just the wood pile that needed my attention. The grow rooms had to be tended. I was using all of the greens, garlic, and a lot of the herbs for remedies to deal with Daniel and Abel’s needs. If I didn’t replace them we would be in serious trouble. I hadn’t really taken into account how much Daniel had helped with that. I mean I knew but I didn’t know, know … if that makes sense.

Laundry was never ending. It took forever for anything to dry because it was so cold and damp outside. I hung what I could in the cave or near the stove but that created a worse mess of drips that were too easy to slip and fall in. How do I know? I took a few headers before it sunk in; the bruises gave my backside a sunrise kind of look. The sheets were too bulky to hang inside but the blankets and quilts were a nightmare to try and wash by myself. Then they had to be wrung out and hung to dry along with everything else. And when Daniel or Abel missed the buckets I had by their beds I had to wash the rugs as well. I stopped using laundry detergent and simply boiled them; everything got a gray, dingy caste to it but that couldn’t be helped.

Dog and I could only hunt when we were out gathering wood. I didn’t force her to come – sometimes she refused to leave Daniel’s side except to run out and do her business – but I worried that she too would get sick if she didn’t get out in the sun and run like a dog is supposed to. But chopping wood didn’t give us much of an opportunity because all of the noise of hatchet and axe drove everything off.

Finally towards the middle of December Abel started to shake off the sickness. I wanted to be happy but all I seemed to do was cry. I was so tired. This was one of my nightmares come true … working and working and working and never a dent being made in the list of things I had to do so that we could survive.

There was no one to ask for help. Even if I had needed it snow was blocking the trails that we normally took over the mountains and no way I could have broken them on my own in the condition I was in.

With Daniel and Abel not eating regularly I had fallen out of the habit for myself. I was in sad shape, expended far more calories than I was taking in. It was a week after Abel had broken his last fever that he was feeling up to … well, marital relations I guess you would call it. He may have been interested but I was not but didn’t know how to tell him. When he didn’t get the response he’d imagined I tried to play it off and fake it. He saw through the act and was hurt at first which only upset me and I burst into tears.

“Dacey! You cry? Please Querida, what is wrong?”

I don’t think I said a dang thing that made any sense at all and when Abel started comforting me he finally noticed how much weight I had lost. I really don’t remember much of what came from that but I didn’t wake until lunch the next day. I should have been rested but I wasn’t.

I got up, even more upset than I had been the night before. I dragged my clothes on and grabbed my list of things to do. I went to check on Daniel but he wasn’t in his room. I found both he and Abel in the kitchen. Abel was far from being in tip top condition but he was on his way. After I fussed at him for trying to do too much too soon he told me gruffly, “I am not the good cook but I can open the jar. Sit down and eat. I did not think straight. You have grown thin and it snows. The wood pile is low. And …”

I wanted to slam my head into the wall. “I know!” I had startled both of them … and myself too for that matter. I pulled myself together and said, “Sorry. I’m just out of sorts from sleeping so long. I’ll get the wood in a minute. I just want a cup of tea with honey in it.”

“You will have the bowl of soup and you will not get the wood, I will.”

I shook my head. “You will not get the wood unless you want to put me into an early grave. You are just now getting well. Do you want to relapse by going out into the cold and damp too soon?! Just … just feed Daniel.”

We went through another week like this … Abel taking on what inside chores he could so that I could do the outside chores. It wasn’t role reversal, it was survival. Then he slowly started going back outside although he didn’t swing an axe right away.

And as both Daniel and Abel improved I began to feel weaker and weaker until one day I simply tried to get out of bed and couldn’t.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Chapter 40

Chapter 40

Did a wedding and marriage change things? Yes and no. For the most part when we returned to the cave we picked up the lives we had been living. On the other hand getting used to that level of intimacy took time. I mean I enjoyed it, and Abel did too, but at the same time there were moments when it was almost overwhelming. And Abel and I had to get used to our new roles.

I had to decided not only was I never going to be my mother, I had to accept that I didn’t want to be her either. I loved Momma but our personalities were dissimilar and I just was not the kind of person that could pour myself into the mold her absence left behind. I was me and in the end pretty satisfied with that.

Abel had to learn that he didn’t suddenly need to be super man and do everything for me and be everything for me. After one particularly frustrating afternoon that carried over into the night I finally told him I needed him to be Abel, not a father to me. There was more to it than that of course but that’s between the two of us and private.

For Daniel there were new rules of privacy but beyond that and a few embarrassing questions he persisted in asking despite our attempts to redirect him onto another subject, his world was as secure as it had been before and he thrived on Abel’s attention and the new skills he was learning at a much faster rate than I had expected him to.

The barrels and boxes from Hakim’s cache helped our deplenishing stores. They added a couple of months that we had used up, a very good thing. Daniel mentioned that the dirt “was getting tired” in the grow rooms. I was composting things as fast as I could but since we operated with very little waste and because I was too afraid to bring in plant matter from outside the caves, the compost pile simply could not keep up with out use of it.

A project that Daniel and Abel built in some of the smaller storage nooks that Dad hadn’t considered worth doing anything with gave me back some of my calm. Each of the little nooks were for a different type of edible mushroom. I’m not quite sure why my parents hadn’t thought of it or whether they’d simply run out of time or money. Either way, with fungus being one of the few types of “plants” unaffected by Heart Rot we couldn’t afford not to give it a try. In a room close to the entrance of the cave I tried the same thing with baskets of ferns using some of the houseplants that Momma had put into the herbal grow rooms. While it was a risk moving them to a new environment, it was less of a risk than bringing in exposed plants from outside the sink. The ferns in the sink were thriving, almost to the point of clogging the water run off so I transplanted many ferns into the surrounding woodlands.

The other project was to create a pool room. I know that sounds bizarre but that’s exactly what we did. We found some concrete mix that was still good and we dug out the sand in one of the unused “rooms” in the an unused wing of the cave. That wing wasn’t used because it got wet from seepage and hadn’t been worth the trouble of figuring out a solution around it. We used that area to build a “pool” and imported some small fish and crayfish and water plants to have a source of crawdaddies for protein over the winter … assuming the project worked. We threw some small cat fish in there as well.

Hauling the water for the “pool” was not fun. We made it a mixture of spring water and water from the pond we took them from. Before pouring the crawdaddies and fish into their new home we left them in a five gallon bucket set in the pond so that the water temperature could equalize and the fish wouldn’t dish of shock. We lost a few at first and we were ready to call the whole experiment a failure but a turning point was reached and after a week had passed and no more had died we became cautiously optimistic and concentrated on other things, security being one of them.

We had not managed to drive everyone from the town. There were several small groups that wandered the forests and BLM land. If they continued to follow the practices they had under Richard I couldn’t say but they were so jumpy and afraid of other people that they would run at the first sign of anyone not in their immediate group. Abel, Josef, and some of the other men from Amish Town hypothesized that they’d either eventually move on or that many of them would die during the coming winter.

Once a month Abel, Daniel, and I would make the trip to Amish Town to trade news. The radio spoke of some serious battles between the US military and the Chinese. It also revealed that Peacekeepers were being deported for the most minor infraction, infuriating a certain faction in the government. Apparently the deportation was being done by the military rather than the civil court system under the guise that with war on American soil, the military justice system trumped any previous civil agreement with the UN.

In August we shared with Grandfather Isaac and Brother Clayton the list of plants that we had been gathering that was either resistant to Heart Rot or that seemed to be unaffected by it all together. Plants that were annuals or plants that were perennials that were propagated by seed alone were the worst. Plants that were perennials that propagated by cutting, runners, or roots were resistant to the disease; some more resistant than others. Any fungus, edible or not, was unaffected.

I had hesitated sharing this hard won knowledge but if the people there like Josef and Monica starved to death I refused for it to be because I didn’t do what I felt in my bones was right. They had a whole valley to search and forage on, many of the acres formerly productive farm land. The peaks on the BLM separated our mountain cove from them and few to none of them were in any shape to climb up and over to come in search of us. I had to believe that enough of the old ways still survived that they would know not to over pick any given area so that it would survive for them to harvest again at a later date.

During our September trip to Amish Town we learned that the only remaining bridge out of town had been destroyed but no one knew by which side. It was much too large and modern a structure for it to be done by a few fireworks or a storm the likes of which we see in this area. Not only had the bridge been blown on both ends, it looked like it had been destroyed even further once it fell so that it wouldn’t block the river it fell into. That is a lot of C4 or whatever it was they used. All that meant as that we were even more cut off than we had been.

“I would not worry on it so Querida, whoever did it made a good strategy.”

I asked Abel, “Why?”

“Because it prevents an enemy from re-occupying the town. For a civilian population it is a no good place but for a military group it is fine because they come with tents and other things to live in. The mountains, they offer protection from those that snick up from behind. The only worry would be the planes in the sky but I have seen few of those in the last months.”

He had a good argument, I just hated not knowing. I guess I was like a cat in that respect.

We almost didn’t go to Amish Town in October because the weather was so foul but there came a week when the sky turn cerulean blue and the air was crisp and clean. We spent a day there, traded news while Abel helped weatherize some of the buildings in town, then headed home. Our plan had been to camp at Mirror lake and do a little fishing and then come home later that day. We were stuck there for three days as the rain pelted down and our supplies dwindled to nothing. Never again did I want to have to take such risk. By the time we got back to the cave Daniel was sick and Abel and I agreed that our trips to Amish Town were over until the Spring.