I'm up early, alone again. It doesn't feel as cool this morning. Maybe above freezing? It's raining and the snow has melted. Hopefully the rain barrels will fill back up. The battery has died in my outdoor thermometer. I know I have more somewhere, but it's just not that important. I stoke the stove, then start a pot of tea and a pot of coffee. I open one of the bags of dandelions and start trimming off the roots.
This morning will be different, with 'company'. It's important to establish that they are NOT company, right now, this morning. We will not be taking care of them. They can stay, as long as they work. If that's going to be a problem, they can join us for breakfast and head on down the road.
Diego taps softly on the door, which sets the dogs off. I try to open the door and they push through barking and growling. Diego's a little freaked out and stumbles back. In all of the commotion the plant stand by the door gets jostled and a shelf full of seeds goes flying. I lose it. I start screaming at the dogs to get out, I yell at Diego to get the hell out of the doorway. Husband, who just got up, asks what's going on, and I snap at him. He pushes me out of the way and surveys the damage. Most of the seeds have landed on the window sill. It's wet from condensation, and they're all mixed together. I'll have to take my chances and dry them out again. They might sprout or mold. I hope not.
Diego apologizes several times. It's really not his fault. I was hoping the dogs would go outside instead of waking everyone up, but I should have known better.
He asks for coffee. Husband grabs three cups out of the cupboard and hands him two. I notice he doesn't get the sugar out. He pours himself a coffee and hands Diego the pot. Diego asks for sugar, and to my surprise Husband says, "No. She's got me on rations, no sugar in the coffee. Be happy you get coffee. She hasn't started rationing it yet."
I laugh. "What do you think I'm doing with these?" He scowls at the dandelions. He doesn't like dandelion coffee.
Diego asks, "What are you doing with those?"
"Making coffee", I answer. "I dry and grind the roots, then roast them. You can drink them on their own, but Husband doesn't like them. I mix them in with the coffee grounds though, and they help stretch it a bit further. I'll mix them with tea this year too."
Nira taps at the door and I yell, "Come in!". Diego hands her a black coffee and tells her I made it out of dandelions. She looks disgusted, but doesn't comment. She watches him drink his before she tastes it.
"Not bad, but it needs sugar," she says. "It's much warmer in here than it is out there. We need a stove."
"Well you're not getting one", I say. "You're moving."
"You're throwing us out?", they both ask at the same time. Husband looks at me.
"No. But yes.", I say. "You can sleep in the add-a-room while you build yourselves a shack. I need my personal space- I'm not easy to live with- and the trailer's too close to the house. You're going to need firewood, greens and water. It'll be easier if you're farther away from the house." Husband asks where I was thinking of putting them. I tell him in the clearing at the back by the creek. They'll have easy access to water, space to forage now, and grow a garden in the spring if things aren't back to normal, and there's a pile of scrap logs left from logging that they can burn. They can hunt and set snares close to their shack without us feeling like they're stealing our food.
"You guys aren't prepared for the apocalypse?", Diego quips. "I thought you were preparing for the end of the world!"
"Preparing, yes. Prepared, no." The boys are all up and have spread around the kitchen. "I took inventory yesterday. I figure we can stave off scurvy for the winter, but we'd only get one serving of veggies a day each, and that was without 7 extra people. We won't starve- we've got beef hanging, as well as beef, goat and poultry on the hoof, but we won't be eating like we're used to. All of the manual labour that needs to be done burns extra calories. We're going to have to ration, and we're going to have to work. Starting today- we forage for greens. I'm not serving any fruits and veggies that I have canned or frozen until the snow is too deep to find something fresh."
"What do you expect us to eat? Dandelions?", Nira asks.
"Yes. Lots of dandelions. They'll be the easiest. Plantain's pretty easy to find, but bitter. Cattails. The roots need to be dug for starch. Comfrey, wild carrots, mint, and chives are still growing. Clover, chickweed, purslane. There are still lots of greens growing, you just need to learn to look for them. The kids, too. Everyone. Wherever you go, wherever you walk, you need to be looking and picking." I look at my boys when I say the last bit. They know what most of the weeds look like, but other than a few dandelions for doggy stew, they've never really picked them. I know they understand though. We've got to set the example.
"You guys are going to have to get started right away, too. After breakfast. You'll need to get a shelter built quickly, before the ground freezes. Then we'll see what we can do about a stove or fireplace. You haven't got much clothing with you, so you're going to need to be doing laundry a lot. You'll need a bucket and a clothesline, and something to agitate it with. You can eat with us for now, but you'll need some cooking pots later, utensils and whatnot. You'll need a water filter, and more buckets, and a rain barrel. And an outhouse down there. There's a lot of work to do."
They both look overwhelmed. I feel overwhelmed just saying it. A million things are still racing through my head. Stuff they need to do, stuff we need to do, stuff I can't control.
"And we need potatoes. Husband, you're going to have to get that horse ready to go, the sooner the better. I don't know if the potato man will take cash, or if he'll want something in trade. Look around for stuff that will fit in the cart that might be good to trade. I'll wrap up some beef."
#2 shows Nira how to mix pancake batter, how to heat and clean the cast iron pan, how to cook on the woodstove. She takes over as soon as she's got it figured out. Then he joins his brothers, picking the dandelion leaves off the roots and tossing them in a big pot. I keep cutting the roots off. The rest of the kids come in, just as the pancakes are finished. They're all hungry, and obviously enjoy the pancakes and blueberry syrop.
After breakfast the Bigs and Husband go out and jack up the old pick up truck. We need to borrow the wheels off of it for the horse cart. They get them put on, then pull the cart out. They get Tori out of the pasture and harness her up. She was broke to pull a buggy when we bought her, but we've never used her that way. Husband hasn't been interested in horse work since we sold the Belgiums three years ago. This will be quite the crash course in training for both of them.
I finish cutting the dandelion roots, then scrub them with a potato brush. They need to be ground up, so I haul out the old hand crank meat grinder. I enlist the Littles to keep turning the crank as I feed the roots through. Once they're done, I spread them out on a cookie sheet in the oven on the stove top.
The Littles run out to play with the other kids. I remind them to pick dandelions before they come in.
I go about my usual routine, heating water, filtering water, washing dishes. I start more bread. I get the soup pot ready with the dandelion greens, then run out and pick a few chives. I add a package of frozen turkey and some noodles.
The Bigs walk down to the back clearing with Diego and Nira. They point out and pick edible weeds as they go. They've got a chainsaw, the post hole digger, a hammer, and a bucket of spikes with them. They pick out a flat spot in the clearing that looks like it should be good to dig in, and explain to Diego how to build a greenhouse. It's our typical building construction method. The three of them dig post holes, cut logs, and frame it in. We don't have any tin left to spare, and we're down to the last sheet of pressboard. #2 decides to cover the entire roof with poles. It's a lot of cutting, but only the poles and the plastic will be keeping them dry and warm this winter. They leave the tools there and walk back for lunch.
Husband returns for lunch as well. He's test driven the cart to both of the neighbours' and had a long visit. The southern neighbour's mother has died- she was on dialysis, with a host of medical problems. They were unable to get her to the hospital. They buried her in their yard. Husband is quiet for a moment, eyes glassed over. I'm sure he is thinking of his own mother, in a nursing home down south. There's no way to know for sure, but I can imagine the rooms filled with bodies, equipment not working, and no one there to run it anyway. Our eyes meet, but we don't say it out loud.
Husband starts talking again. They have food and candles to last a few weeks, but will have to let their horses loose since they don't have the hay to feed them. This will be a problem for us. Our hay is in the yard, easily accessible to strays. We'll have to close up the yard fence, but it's only two strands of barbed wire. If the horses come, it won't keep them out for long. We may have to shoot them.
The northern neighbours are packing up and heading to their daughter's place an hour away. They're travelling by horses and cart, but the ponies will be left behind. There should be enough hay there for the winter.
Tori did well with the cart, and husband is confident that she'll be fine to make the trip. He'll go in the morning.
Everyone has soup for lunch, though the kids barely pick at it. It's far too weird for them. I give them each a hunk of bread to dip into it, but they mostly just eat the bread. The dogs will have a good soupy lunch instead.
After lunch Diego, Nira and the kids head back to their camp with a shovel to dig an outhouse. I tell them to keep it up away from the creek. Husband lets them take a couple of windows from the pile as well.
I add more dandelions to the soup, then spread the rest out on the plant stands to dry. I stir the dandelion grounds, and decide to leave them bake awhile longer. I look in the freezer and choose a package of sausages for supper, leaving them on the counter to defrost.
We grab a couple of chainsaws and walk to Brother and Sil's camp. They've cut quite a bit of wood, but it's a big job for just two people. The Bigs pick out a spot down the trail a bit and start digging a hole for an outhouse for them. The rest of us work on firewood all afternoon.
We walk back home to find Diego and Nira in our house. It gives me a sick feeling. They're not strangers, but still, I feel my space has been invaded. Nira has taken it upon herself to cook supper. They took the oven off the stove top and put it on the table, where it burned a ring into the surface. They put too much wood in the fire and the sausages are frazzled. They didn't put the soup back on, so it's cold. The sink is steaming with hot water. I look over and see that the drinking water pot is empty.
"What the hell are you doing?" I ask.
"The kids were hungry, so we came back to get something to eat.", says Diego.
Husband can see I am going to lose it. He starts rubbing my shoulder, and then he sees the table. He loses it himself. "What the hell? You put a hot oven on top of a wooden table? How stupid are you?"
"Well, we didn't want to burn the floor.", says Diego.
"So you burned our table instead? The floor is tile, it won't burn, you moron. What the hell else have you been doing?"
Diego sputters a bit. "We were just trying to help. Nira's cooking, washing dishes. Sorry about the table, but we didn't know."
"You're right. You didn't know.", I say. I'm not yelling or screaming. I'm actually very calm. "You didn't know that a hot oven will burn a wooden table. You didn't know that the soup needs to be reheated for supper. You didn't know that you can't turn down the heat on a woodstove. You didn't know that you don't wash dishes with clean drinking water. You didn't know that more water needs to go on the stove when you empty the pot. You didn't know that the bread needed to go in the oven before you took the oven off. There's a lot of things you don't know. We're willing to let you stay here and learn, and maybe survive this black out. But you should leave things you don't know alone. Or I might have to shoot you myself."
The room is now very quiet. I hand the empty water pot to #1, who takes it out to refill. Husband takes the oven off the table and sets it on the sunroom floor. He takes the sausages off the wood stove and puts the soup on. #2 looks at the damage, then goes out to the garage. He comes back with some sandpaper and quickly sands around the edges of the burn to remove loose varnish. I roll out the bread.
Finally, Nira breaks the silence, "I don't see what the point of heating the soup up is. Nobody's going to eat it anyway. If you're going to buy potatoes tomorrow, we might as well eat the ones we have now, instead of eating that garbage."
"Nira." I sigh. "We ate the soup for lunch. We will eat the soup with supper. We prefer not to be hungry. You and your family need to learn to eat different things, or you will not survive the winter. Maybe you'll get lucky and the hydro will come back on soon, but there's no way to know that. We do not have enough food for us all to survive the winter."
I look at Diego, who hasn't said anything. "IF everything goes well, we will get potatoes tomorrow. Husband and Tori have a long ride to the potato man's. They could be attacked on the way, or on the way home. They could be attacked when they get there. There might not be any potatoes. Husband might have to dig the potatoes. The potato man might not be willing to sell. We don't have much cash, and he might want a lot for a little. He might refuse cash , because it's really not worth the paper it's printed on right now. We have no idea how things will go tomorrow. We will not count our chickens before they hatch."
#2 says, "I can go with Dad. I can help dig potatoes, or fight people who try to attack us."
"Me too.", says #1.
I am still staring at Diego. He looks up at Husband. "I will go with you.", he says.
The soup is boiling. I move things around on the stove, put the oven back on and put the bread in. We sit down to eat. The kids, of course, don't want to eat the soup. They get a half sausage each, and Diego tells them this is all the food they're getting. They better eat or they're going to bed hungry. They pick at it. When the bread is done I cut two loaves and give everyone a chunk.
We talk about how their construction went in the afternoon. Diego managed to frame in the windows, but Nira and the kids didn't get much of a hole dug. They hit clay about a foot down, which is very hard to dig through. I tell them that's good, because they'll need the clay to fill the chinks between logs on the house. After supper I let Nira wash the dishes and I fill jars with the dandelion coffee. I pour about half a cup full into the open coffee container, then shake it up to mix in.
I play a game of chess with each of my boys. I'm afraid to let them go tomorrow, but also afraid to let them stay. There is safety in numbers.
We go to bed early, tired from a hard day's work, and knowing tomorrow will require an early start.