I'm up early. Or still. I didn't sleep much last night. I stoke the stove, start coffee and tea, and then start a batch of bread. I pour myself a cup of tea- it'll be the last one with honey. I wonder why I never went to the local apiary myself. I always meant to, to see if they had larger jars or better prices than what the grocery store carried. But then, I also enjoyed the convenience of buying it from the grocery store, and the best way too show them that was to keep buying it there. Except now, I don't know where they are and I can't call for directions. I know they're somewhere near the potato man. It would have been good to make two stops on one trip.
Husband gets up and pours himself a coffee. He puts his sugar in, then hides the canister at the back of the cupboard. He sits down at the table and sees the empty honey jar. "So I suppose this means I'm going to have to start sharing my sugar with you."
I laugh. "Yeah, unless you want to go on a wild goose chase and find me some more honey." He looks over the jar. Just a rural route number, no road address.
"Why didn't you ever start a beehive?", he asks.
I just stare at him. "Seriously?" He starts to laugh.
"What? My super woman afraid an itty bitty bee's going to kill her..." He's roaring now. I can't help it. I laugh too. I had thought about getting a hive, but I am allergic. The bumbles are better suited to our climate and less likely to attack me, so I never pursued it. Though in all honesty, the bees get a bad rap. I've never been stung by a bee- it's always the wasps and spiders that put me in the hospital.
There's a tap at the door and the dogs go wild. I think they're edgier since it's so quiet now without the constant hum of all the hydro sucking appliances. Husband grabs two of them and I get the door with just Smitty as my guard. To my surprise, it's Brother and Sil. They join us for coffee, and I sneak them some sugar but tell them not to tell.
Brother is going with Husband for potatoes. He wants to try calling the girls again. Sil wants me to take her for a walk and teach her the weeds. Mom and Dad still aren't concerned about how long this is going to last for, but Sil knows we could be in it for the long haul. She's extra uncomfortable not having any food storage here. We're discussing my storage when Nira and Diego come in. Nira's surprised that Sil wants to forage and store whatever she can find. I think having Sil in on the conversation helps Nira to see the light. Sil keeps telling her how lucky we all are that I've been feeding my family weeds for years. Most people don't know what to look for.
The boys get up, and the kids come in. There are too many people in my house. I leave #2 to organize breakfast, and show Nira how to cook again. I go out to the garage to cut and wrap some beef.
Casper's only been hanging three days, but my mouth is watering. The meat is so much thicker and heavier than Steaks' was. It smells divine. I split the hip and cut down one quarter. I almost drop it. He was a big boy. Dorie sure did a fine job!
I start cutting the meat off the bone. The rump is big enough for at least six roasts, eight if I really want to stretch it. I cut the legs into stewing beef. I look over the pile of meat. By pre blackout prices, a roast should be worth a bit more than a bag of potatoes. I decide to send them with 7 roasts and 2 packages of stewing meat. I tuck the rest of the meat into the freezer. I take the bones in the house.
The kids and the Littles are gone when I go in. There are plates everywhere, and most still have bits of pancake on them. It amazes me how wasteful city people are. At least I don't have to worry about what to feed the dogs today. Everyone else is finishing their pancakes. The blueberry sauce is empty, and they've started a jar of elderberry. #1 must have picked it.
I put the bones in a stock pot, then filter the water off the stove to fill it. #1 gets me a couple of carrots and an onion from the basement. I know this is breaking my own rules, but the stock will make several meals to come, not just today's. I chop the carrots, then change my mind about the onion. I go out and pick a few chives instead. I spice it with rosemary, thyme, and garlic, and set it on the grill. #2 hands me a plate of pancakes. He and I sit down to eat. I'm annoyed that he's still cooking, but Nat has finished her pancakes.
Husband, Brother and Diego go out to get Tori and the cart ready to go. #1 finds and loads a couple of garden forks and several feed bags, in case they have to dig. Husband hasn't thought of anything worth trading, other than food. They load the meat I had wrapped. The cart is almost full. I send #2 out with a few jars of jams, a small bag of carrots and a blanket to cover it all. He saddles Knightmare. He'll ride alongside the cart. I tell him to put the saddle bags on too, just in case. The men get their guns. There's only room for 2 on the seat, and one in the cart. Someone will have to stay.
#2 says, "Let's ask southern neighbour for an extra horse." That's not a bad idea. I give Husband all of the paper cash I have saved, except $20 in small bills, just in case. We say goodbye, and they head out, with #1 walking along. If they can't borrow a horse, he'll walk back home.
They find the neighbours putting the last of their hay out. They tell them their plan and ask to borrow an extra horse. Sanya tells them they can keep one if they're willing to feed it. She picks one of her favourites for #1. She also decides to join them. She rides one of her horses that's also broke to pull, just in case Tori can't handle the trip. Roam saddles two horses, and leads a third from the barn. He figures they can't feed it anyway, they might as well try to trade it for potatoes.
It's 42 kilometers to the next small town, so it's a pretty quiet ride for a while. There are few houses alongside the highway, and most look abandoned. The worst they encounter for a long time are cars abandoned on the road that they have to work their way around. Most of them have smashed windows and have obviously been rummaged through, probably people looking for food. They shoot a few partridge on the way.
After about an hour later, they are hit with the stench of rot. They can see the crows up ahead. They expect to find roadkill, but as they approach a house on the side of the road, they see people have been shot. There are three near the road and a fourth near the house. They are about to stop when the door opens and a woman with a gun yells, "Keep moving!" They wave and continue, guns cocked.
They reach Littletown after two hours. People are out and about chatting, kids are running around playing. Things look normal, until they arm themselves. Several men walk out to the road. They're wary, but calm. They chat about the blackout, supplies, survival. The people here have banded together, and most are doing fine. Husband tells them our village is ok too.
Brother asks if the payphone is working. It is. He calls the girls. There's still no answer. They continue down the road.
It's almost another hour before they reach the next village. It looks like a major city from days gone by. This area is mostly a Hutterite community. They're doing well. The country store is still open, though it's lit by lanterns and has no feed. Husband stops in and looks around. He buys a small oil lamp for $7. #1 spots my honey on a shelf. Husband grabs two jars. It's another $20, but he figures it's worth it. The man at the counter tells him the apiary is part of the community, so the honey is always there for sale. He also says they're still processing chickens down the road, if we have money, we can have meat. We aren't worried about meat.
Diego looks over the woodstoves for sale. These are serious wood cook stoves, with serious price tags. He asks if they would consider trading for one, since our money is all locked up in the bank. The man scratches his chin for awhile. "It would have to be a big trade", he says, "like a couple of cows or horses".
Roam jumps in and tells him he has a horse with him that he was hoping to trade. The man calls someone else out of the back to go and see the horse. Outside they settle on a price, not in cash, but in goods. Roam and Sanya discuss a variety of things they need, but the big question is how to get them home. They tell the men about their other horses, and no hay. The men ask where they are, and agree to trade horses for hay. They'll deliver it and take the horses they want with them. Sanya is happy her horses will be fed, and she won't lose them all.
They continue on their way to the potato man. It's only another half hour up the road. No one is around when they get there, and they see bullet holes in the sign. The men call out to the house and fields but nobody answers. Then Husband yells, "We have food to trade or money to buy!" A curtain moves in the window and they can see the potato man peek out. Husband pulls the blanket back, and lifts a package. "Beef!", he yells.
The potato man and another man step outside with guns. "The beef is probably rotten!" He yells. Husband tells him we slaughtered our cow just three days ago and wrapped the meat this morning. He takes one package to them and opens it so they can smell it. "That's not rotten. That smells good!"
They start to discuss a trade, but the potato man has been robbed several times. He has no fuel for his equipment, and most of his crop is still in the field. He agrees to let them dig the potatoes themselves. They decide that ten bags of potatoes are a fair trade for all of the beef, jams and carrots. He tells them where to dig and welcomes them back any time.
It takes a couple of hours to dig and fill the ten bags of potatoes. The cart is overloaded. Tori is already sore and tired, so Sanya switches her horse on the cart. #1 trades horses with her. He's lighter, so it will be easier on Tori. They cover the potatoes with the blanket and Diego sits on top of them for the ride home. There's really no hiding what's under the blanket though.
When they reach the Hutterite village, Husband decides to go back to the store. He asks the man about live chickens. We lost all of ours to foxes this year. The man from the back takes him to a farm in his buggy where Husband pays $20 for 4 hens and a rooster. He doesn't have a cage though, so he cuts some air holes in a feed bag and hopes they make it home ok.
Back on the road they pass some people headed south. One of them is bleeding. They watch the cart of potatoes go by, but don't try anything with everyone holding guns.
In Littletown they are wary, not wanting their haul to be raided. The men come to the road to chat again, and ask if the potato man is ok. They've made several trips there themselves. They chat about the Hutterite village. A boy notices the chickens in the feed bag and gets upset.
"They shouldn't be in there like that!", he says.
"We don't have a cage.", Husband answers. The boy runs off and comes back with an old laundry basket. It's cracked in several places. "Put them in here", he says. They transfer the birds, and put the feed bag on top. He gets some string so they can tie the feed bag over the top. Husband thanks him profusely, telling him he was worried about the birds making it home.
They talk about the city to the south. There haven't been any visitors from there, and the townsfolk think any who have left the city headed south. Not many people head that way and return though either. Most people come from the north, hungry and desperate. They had to shoot at a group earlier in the day that tried to break into a house. Husband tells them they probably passed them, and one was bleeding.
Brother decides to try the phone again. There's still no answer at his house. He tries calling a friend, and is surprised when he answers. He is relieved a moment later, when he is talking to his daughters. Friend went to their house. He has an old truck that's still running, and wanted them to travel north to his cottage together. Things are crazy in the cities. He found the girls home alone. They loaded up all of Sil's canned goods, sleeping bags, hand tools, and winter clothes for everyone. They've been in Friend's village for days. Friend wants to leave after dark and travel through the night. He thinks he has enough fuel to make the trip to Huntsville. This will put the girls several hours closer to us. He gets the phone number for the cottage and tells them to take the rotary phone with them.
They leave Littletown and head for home. The rest of the trip is uneventful, except for shooting a few more partridge. They leave Sanya and Roam with one bag of potatoes and bring the rest home, along with the horse #1 had been riding.
We're all relieved when they're back at home. It's been a long, worry filled day. I am thrilled to see the chickens. We will have eggs again! I am not taking any chances with these- I put them in the basement for the night.
Brother tells Sil and the rest of us the news about the girls. Mom and Dad are here too. Dad thinks he can get our old diesel truck running, and he should have enough fuel to get to Huntsville and back. He'll have to put his farm fuel tank in the box. They decide to work on it in the morning.
The Bigs put the horses back in the pasture. Everyone helps unload potatoes. Nat is upset that all of the potatoes are going in my cold room. I tell her until she digs a root cellar that's the only place that makes sense.
We clean the partridge and I slice them up. I put them in the cooler tonight, we will feast tomorrow.
When everything is unloaded, Husband brings me the blanket. It's much heavier than I expect. He smiles as I unwrap it and discover the honey. This is so much more than I was expecting. I start to cry, cause, you know, sometimes I get girly like that.
This morning, after the men left, we women went on a weed walk. Nira and Sil are both quite confident about which weeds are safe to eat. Back at the house, Sil helped me roll out bread. She wanted to learn how to make it, so we started another batch. Then we rolled it into bread bowls. We canned several jars of beef stock, and made a big pot of beef soup for supper, with a variety of weeds, a few potatoes, the carrots from the stock, and all the meat off the bones.
We light a fire outside and sit around it eating and talking for hours, listening to the men's tale of adventure. The kids are all enthralled by the story telling, listening intently. It's like a pirate story for them. I think we better make time for 'school' for all of them.
We talk late into the night. Sil and Nira ask about how to build a root cellar. Mom and Dad tell them about root cellars they had when they were kids. I suggest they start digging right through the floor of their camps, so it'll be accessible through the winter.
We talk about the woodstoves and doing a trade. Two cows would leave us with only 1, the calf, and our bull. That's too steep of a price. Dad's pretty sure he can rig something together for Diego and Nira anyway.
We all go to bed well fed, calm and more content than we have been in a long time.