Friday, September 5, 2014

May: Misunderstandings and Mourning (part 1)


May:  Misunderstanding and Mourning (part 1)
Days:  275 – 304

 
Day 275 (Wednesday) – May 1 

I was blessed with quite a bit of alone time today.  The kids were either in school, doing chores, or starting their apprentice programs.  The kids that weren’t assigned to a specific apprentice program are now jealous and are asking for an assignment.   

Some of the things I had planned to do got rained out.  I wanted to go back up to that warehouse and collect some bamboo starts … or whatever you call them, “shoots” maybe.  Saen couldn’t have gone anyway what with Glenn and a crew of guys leaving earlier than expected to go after rebar, fabric and a list of other things as long as my arm.  I guess our collecting with have to wait a couple of days but I really want to get some of the little baby bamboo. 

I’m not gratuitously just wanting to go and collect plants for the heck of it.  Saen, thanks to her Thai heritage, was exposed to some of the more esoteric uses for things as well as having a slighting different view of others.  For instance, when thinking framing and building, she is more likely to think bamboo when the rest of us would thing wood.  When thinking floor mats she thinks plant fiber rather than synthetics or woven animal fibers.  In fact, many of the things she was raised with were more “organic” and renewable than what many of us are used to.   

I don’t mean organic in terms of no fertilizers, chemicals, etc.  No, I mean organic in sustainability and plant vs. animal origins.  She also has a keen idea for the different types of bamboo and what they can be used for.  For instance, when I brought back a few of the smaller canes of the bamboo up at those warehouses we searched she got really excited … bouncy excited.  The bamboo is a variety commonly called “Moso” and it is a very versatile bamboo.  Aside from being one of the largest grown in the US, it is also the type of bamboo that you can make cloth out of.  Yep, cloth. 

Apparently the procedure is similar to flax.  You beat the bamboo all to flinders, then it is soaked and soaked and soaked to separate the bamboo fibers from the wood.  I didn’t understand all of it but you can use caustic soda (aka Lye) to the beat up bamboo to do a better job of separating out the bamboo fibers.  Once these fibers are drained, rinsed, and dried you are left with these flax like fibers that you can then spin into thread and then the thread is woven into fabric. 

The problem is that I have absolutely no clue how to go from the fiber stage to the thread stage.  Hopefully that is where Kim is going to come in.  I hope to talk to her tomorrow about the whole process and see what she thinks about it.  I also want to do what the Mr. Choi’s group is doing.  They are planting bamboo that will ultimately grow into a thick, impenetrable hedge or living “Wall” of sorts. 

One of the things about bamboo cloth is that it will absorb roughly 30% more than the same amount of cotton fabric will.  This will make it great for summer clothing and for replacing the disposable feminine hygiene products we will eventually run out of whether due to availability or barter cost.  There are simply some things that a girls gotta have but if we can find a work around to having to pay so doggone much for things we’ll be better off in the long run even if it is different than we might initially be comfortable with. 

It wasn’t just bamboo I was thinking of however.  Everyone was really busy so I pretty much just planted this month’s crops myself.  I had already marked all the rows off and prepped them so that planting was pretty much a breeze.  I planted several varieties bush beans, several varieties of pole beans, lima beans, cantaloupes, okra, black eyed peas, sweet potatoes, summer squash, collard greens, peanuts, peppers, and pumpkins.  It’s nowhere near as much as I put in the ground last month so that left me with thinking time while I did the drone work. 

It has been nine months since I started my journal and all heck broke loose.  Nine months – long enough to bury too many people and to witness several births for the next generation.  Our defensive Wall has already had three versions and now we are going to build a fourth … and final … version that really will resemble the castles of the early medieval period … except instead of blocks of limestone, granite, or sandstone, it will be of slip poured concrete; a measure of ancient and modern history rolled into one.  Our whole lives seemed to be reaching that point. 

We are mixing ancient technologies with modern ones for so many of the things we now do.  Solar panels and trebuchets.  Radio waves and spot lights made from candles and mirrors.  Salvaging items left over from the modern world and using them to build items that would have been common place and recognizable to the ancients.  If I really sit down and think about it, it’s completely mind blowing.  And I did some thinking today. 

I don’t think any of us really expected the black marketers would have the kind of fire power they did.  It makes me wonder if that kind of stuff is just laying around out there for anyone to pick up or whether they are being supplied by a post-NRS arms dealer of some type.  Around these parts the US military’s clean up took everything but the kitchen sink as far as we can tell.  Only permanently disabled vehicles were left and many of them were stripped of anything potentially useful.  The military did leave us a few crumbs but I think that was a one-off situation because they were in a position to be generous and wanted to make allies.  Their previously stated interest in the blackmarketeers should have given us an inkling of how powerful or problematic that group was; on the other hand it could be a matter of hindsight being 20/20.  At this point it doesn’t necessarily matter. 

Because of how far up Hillsborough River the blackmarketeers appear to be traveling, those over in Aldea are considering proactive defensive features down river; chains across the river, dropping bridges that would create obstruction for any but the shallowest boats, dropping trees across narrow parts of the river to develop as snags, etc. 

But I for one want to have nothing to do directly with the blackmarketeers.  They are in a completely different category of fighters from everyone we have faced up to this point.  Look at how easily and completely they wiped out the ZKK with a single attack.  OK, so we did have something to do with whittling that group down more than just a tad as well as disorganizing it when we took off the snake’s head, but still … that’s some gall to use a rocket launcher just to open a door with.  That says to me that they have enough to waste on show-off antics and that’s not a good thing. 

The blackmarketeers have also managed to do something that I avoid perhaps more than I should.  My day to day worries are those people and things in my immediate sphere of influence.  My family, the communities of Sanctuary, Aldea, and OSAG and in a wider sense those now residing in what we consider the TTT or The Triune Territory.  At most I think about what might be going on across town and within a certain delineated area in Florida.   Nothing else I thought could really touch me or mine or influence our lives in the here and now. 

The blackmarketeers have proven that I was wrong.  The US military should have done that but they weren’t enough.  With the NRSC out of our lives, at least for now, I haven’t really been taking the time to give them much thought.  But those weapons are coming from some place.  And those reports of some fairly devastating fighting across what remains of the USA aren’t just stories on the radio any more.   

Scott is really pushing to go on a run to the north.  Now that we have two barrels of flour and two barrels of corn meal you would think that the urgency would have gone down.  The opposite is true.  Talk, talk, talk, push, push, push … I know I can’t fight it forever.  I can see he actually needs to take make such a trip.  And now James wants to go as well. 

How on God’s green earth am I supposed to sit here quietly like the good little wife and just let both of them drive away into who knows what kind of mess?!  I’ll admit it here when I might not every admit it out loud; that hurts.  It feels like I’m being abandoned.  Oh, logically and academically I know that isn’t true but emotionally it absolutely does.  They are so eager for adventure, to stretch their legs, that they can’t see anything else.  I’m the one that is left at home with this huge responsibility of keeping the family together.  They know the risks yet they still want to take them.  

Thinking about that I wasn’t in any mood to come to lunch.  I couldn’t even have laughed at the face Kevin made over the lavender colored mashed potatoes.  I spent the hour trying to work through my anger and hurt by digging in the dirt and burying it all there.  I have a feeling though that they aren’t going to stay buried; just thinking about it again to write things down has me upset all over again. 

After I had regained my composure I forced myself to stick to more practical matters that I could actually do something constructive about.  Primarily we are going to have to do something about all the stuff we have in plastic tubs and bins.  Running the rats out of the storage containers that held the fabric only sent them into other locations.  How one got into the food Storehouse I don’t know and Scrappy caught and killed two that had been beneath the Cooler.  The one in the food Storehouse gorged on of the last of the dried apples we had by chewing through the plastic canister I had them in.  The ones under the Cooler had gotten to a little wiring and insulation but not the coolant lines thank goodness. 

We are moving all of the food stuffs that we can into glass or metal containers and out of any that are in containers with plastic lids.  Hurray for all of those metal tins and glass bottles they helped.  And Glenn has drawn up some blue prints for a glassworks station that Tris took an immediate interest in.  His stepmother was one of those modern day hippie types that were all back to nature and artsy-craftsy.  He’s even blown glass before in an artisan program he was in two years ago. By this time next year we may be trading excess jars that we make right here in Sanctuary.  Cool beans. 

But next year isn’t soon enough and we need bulk storage options.  Even the Clinic hasn’t been without problems.  A family of mice got into a storage closet.  It wasn’t bad enough that they chewed holes in a bunch of gauze pads and rolls; oh no, they also got into some of the meds.  The mice that ate the medicine all died but that was an awful expensive bit of mice poison.  Scott is in the process of replacing all of the old kitchen cabinets in the Clinic with metal storage cabinets.  It’s not a perfect solution but it is better than nothing. 

As for the bulk storage of items I may have hit on a solution.  Why I didn’t see it before is beyond me.  I think it was thinking about the modern vs. ancient things this morning.  Big clay pots.  They are all over town even now.  I know for a fact there are still a large number of them in Busch and Lowry because I was there not that long ago.  I’ve even got some here that have been starring me in the face.  I had put them aside for when I needed to transplant any of my potted trees.  How could I have been so blind? 

The rats have been so bad that I’ve had to leave a couple of the dogs in the cornfield.  The cats have gotten so ferocious that I haven’t seen a rat in either of the barns plus Lucky came back and has another litter of kittens that she is feeding.  Normally I wouldn’t want to have that many cats around but frankly I don’t see any choice if we don’t want to be eaten out of house and home. 

And when the corn is ready for harvest all of it is going to need to be stacked and dried and then shucked and shelled.  Rather than putting it in silos as we had thought of doing … at least for the coming year’s supply … we’ll store it in those clay pots.  Some of those things at Busch are half as tall as me or better.  So that is one thing solved.  We can even put fabric in the smaller clay pots though it may not be the most convenient storage method.  At least we won’t have to worry about more rat damage.  We need to cut their food supply off and then cut their numbers down. 

For some reason … possibly my worry about Scott and James going on a northern run … I was also thinking more about the zombies than I had in quite some time.  We’d gotten some idea of the different types and why infecteds went that way but there has to be more to the virus than that.  I worried at that bone for a while and then hung everything up for the night to get the kids and myself washed up for dinner.  I was starving by that point. 

Synchronicity strikes again.  Steve had a real bizarre guy on his radio show tonight.   This guy claims to be a doctor that had been working at the CDC trying to determine the origin of the NRS virus.  Apparently, he was able to prove his identification significantly enough that Steve replayed a conversation where the good doctor was pontificating on what he knew and what he suspected. 

Thank you for having me on tonight.  My name is Dr. Z. Jager and my specialties include microbiology and virology.  I worked in the Atlanta offices of the CDC until the facility was compromised in August of last year. 

We know NRS, a virus, causes the reanimation of dead humans. Yet, how NRS is transmitted is extremely inconsistent between cases.  Injected infected fluids into an otherwise healthy human doesn’t need to be present for reanimation to occur.  In layman’s terms I mean that a person doesn’t necessarily have to be bitten to become infected.  This was a contradiction that we hadn’t been able to reconcile scientifically before all of the CDC facilities were compromised.   

A small contingent of scientists escaped the collapse of the CDC in Atlanta and we’ve been hiding out while continuing to work on the conundrum that is NRS.  One hypothesis that is that NRS virus, starting out as a necrotizing bacterium or a virus with a necrotizing component; the second is more scientifically valid in light of modern science.  At some point this naturally occurring virus began to mutate.  Why the mutation occurred or what caused it is still unknown.  However, some evidence is that it was a microbe that did it.  Again in layman’s terms you could think that a virus and a microbe mated and produced the bastard child NRS.

Bare with me as I digress.  In a particular area of Arizona there is a microbe in the soil that causes a condition known as “Valley Fever”, if you stay in that area for any length of time you contract it.  It is even known to affect animals. The reactions for most people are insignificant cold/flu – like symptoms which pass quickly. However some people and animals suffer severe adverse effects which manifest themselves in several different ways.  In very rare cases even leading to death(usually from underlying conditions).

In my own research I began to think of NRS in the same way. People contract it casually in some manner – from the soil, in the water, contaminated food sources, etc.  However a healthy living person’s immune system is able to suppress it. My testing had gone so far as to draw blood samples from supposedly infection-free live specimens.  I would say roughly 60% of the specimens showed some level of NRS infection.  It appeared that most of the specimens were able to force the infection into dormancy.  Those specimens with a compromised immune system had the highest number of parts per million of the virus.  
 

One of my colleagues, not unfortunately deceased, was working on a study that might explain why some speci … hmmm, I beg your pardon … survivors appear to be so susceptible to minor illnesses.  Of course, this could also be due to the stress inherent in the current lifestyle of many survivors.  Stress also suppresses the immune response. 

As outlandish as many laymen may find this, this would even explain why a bite appears to cause death and reanimation so quickly.  The infected fluids are transmitted directly to tissue and blood stream overwhelming the body’s immune response.  Organs quickly shut down bringing death and then reanimation.  The speed of the reanimation may be due to the amount of infected cells or could be a result of blood type or … frankly, as much as I hate to admit it, this is a piece of the puzzle that still eludes us. 

This explanation however, also may explain why some people reanimate and some do not.  The delivery mechanism may not matter.  What matters is the human body’s immune response.  It is possible, though certainly an untested hypothesis at this point, that a small enough sample of virus may act as a live attenuated vaccine for some people.  That would mean that a small percentage of individuals would actually be immune to the NRS virus completely.  Of course various other factors could come into play such as blood type – already acknowledge as playing a significant role in the virus’ manifestation – or some other chemical or environmental factor.

At this point Steve turned off the recording and mentioned that while it is possible that Dr. Jager, and those scientists still working with him, were well intentioned he was personally warning anyone that was asked to donate blood or tissue for sampling.  There are flyers out throughout the Quarantine Zones asking for anyone that has been bitten but who as not turned to report to the nearest military or NRSC facility.  To me that sounds like an E Ticket ride straight to hell.
 

But, the doctor did give us all something to think about.  It didn’t change how we managed illnesses and sanitations but it was something we filed away for later.  Nana got a little upset by the idea that she could be infected already – she’s a bit of a germophobe – but otherwise there wasn’t widespread panic or consternation.  Most just shrugged their shoulders and if they said anything at all they said, “Well, what are we supposed to do about it?  It is what it is.” 

I feel like I’ve been doing too much of that lately … “it is what it is so what am I supposed to do about it?”  On the other hand, getting bent out of shape over something I can’t change isn’t exactly a healthy response either.  Wouldn’t it be lovely if I could just wave a magic wand and have all the answers?  Dang, I really need to get that crystal ball out of the shop.
 

Day 276 (Thursday) – May 2 – Food Prep Day 

I was very introspective yesterday.  Today there wasn’t a lot of time for it.  I suppose if I let myself I could go all dark and moody now that everyone is asleep and there is no one to interrupt but honestly … I’m not really in the mood for it now; I just want to enjoy the quiet.   

I worked my rear bumper off today and that’s usually good for most of the emotional stuff that ails a person; at least that is always good for helping me to get re-balanced.  At the very least it helps keep things in perspective. 

My work day was primarily focused on food preservation.  Part of that included McElroy, David, Lee, Jack, Theo … and a guy named Ben from Mr. Choi’s group … going in search of the big pots I mentioned yesterday.  I noticed that some of the other group members looked kind of chagrined when I brought it up as well.  At least I don’t feel so bad about it since I wasn’t the only one who missed the obvious.  Mr. Choi smiled and nodded and gave me a thumbs up; high praise for a man that is normally very laconic and austere looking.  After the salvage crew brought the first load of pots back Jim went with them for the second and third loads as some of them were very heavy even after then had been empties.  Those they didn’t bother emptying I had them dump the contents into the large raised bed that I’m still trying to fill.  

While out Jim spotted a real herd of deer foraging within the grounds of Busch Gardens.  Normally you see deer in twos and threes, maybe four, but it is more than that is rare around here.  Jim said there had to be two dozen of the small white tails that roam in this part of Florida despite encroachment into their habitat over the years.  He brought back three.  That thinned the herd but not too far. 

Harvested a bunch of celery today.  It wasn’t as pretty as what you once could get in the grocery but it was a nice change of pace.  For snacks we filled some celery with cheese, or peanut butter, or a fruity cream cheese kind of thing that Reba makes.  We continue to bring in lots of beans, peppers, melons, tomatoes, and we’ve also started getting in the winter squash a few at a time.  We are drying what we can to save our jars and freezer space.  I know Glenn is really sure that the glassworks will be able to make jars but I’ve learned that until I have an item in my hot little hands, I need to proceed as if I’m not going to get any more.  Eventually salvaging operations are simply not going to turn up the items we need.  We need to be able to make the items ourselves or trade for them somehow. 

We are being forced to do a lot of things for ourselves these days.  Scott and I always imagined ourselves self-sufficient – or at least much more so than our neighbors – but there was always a store handy and money to spend in those stores.  We’ve still got the money – it’s amazing how much sheer wealth was simply left lying around in the homes we’ve salvages even if you take away paper money – just no stores to spend it in.  The only person taking “money” at the last Market Day was the ammo guy and only for gold coins or old coins with a high silver content.  Bring your barter skills or go home empty handed these days and even then you can’t be sure that what you need is actually going to be available. 

Tomorrow Saen and I and a couple of other people are going to try and get that bamboo; the sooner the better.  Before too much longer the grass is going to start getting impossibly long and snake-y up there making the job ten times more difficult that it needs to be. 

While I was busy preserving, Scott was laying the ground word for the new Wall.  He and Dix were out surveying and putting stakes out most of the day..  I have a hard time envisioning everything they want to enclose.  It is an absolutely massive undertaking.  It’s complicated by having to make sure we don’t run the Wall through seasoning swamping wetlands.  That’s why Scott has to be there for every step. 

Other complications include clearing additional land and the sheer volume of concrete it is going to require to build the new Wall which we will call the outer wall or curtain wall.  Actually cleaning will partially solve the material shortage.  Rather than have a traditional pure concrete pour, the construction crew will reuse the concrete footers and slab foundations of any buildings we demolish by breaking them down into pieces no bigger than a bowling ball and mixing them with concrete.  Scott’s only worry is to make sure there are no air pockets in the pour.   

Basically what we are going to do since our work crews will be somewhat limited in numbers is first the outline of the outer wall will be cleared.  While the area is being cleared a dry moat will be dug around outside of the wall.  The dry moat will begin as a slope so that twenty feet out it is nine feet deep.  We are still working on how wide the dry moat will be before it more sharply returns back up to ground level.    We are calling it a “dry” moat because that is likely what it will start as; however it may seasonally be filled with water, much like the retention ponds that were built when they widened US41. 

After the dry moat is dug we start on the footers and foundations for the towers that will be on the corners of the curtain wall.  The slip forms will be built concurrently while the dry moat is dug and set in place as soon as the corners are ready to go.  We will pour concrete in the mornings to allow maximum drying time during the heat of the day and in the afternoons we’ll switch to digging and pouring the footers and foundations for the four gates … front, rear, and two pedestrian gates. 

When the four corner towers are completely poured they’ll move the slip forms – and any additional ones that had been built in the mean time – to the remaining tower locations and being to pour them.  There will be a total of sixteen or seventeen towers because the area we are enclosing is so large.  When we get to that point we’ll continue to pour in the morning but the afternoon will be devoted to digging and pouring the footers and foundations for the straight sections of the wall. 

The main difference between the towers and the straight sections is that the towers will be poured in a traditional slip process with each tower basically being the same as a concrete silo.  The straight walls will be poured in sections so that it’s almost like block on block.  But we will use the same material for both which will give continuity. 

The towers and gate structures will be a consistent three feet thick.  The towers will be forty feet tall and twenty feet in diameter.  The two main gate structures will be forty feet tall and thirty feet square at the base; a squatty rectangular shape with an inner and outer gate like we have right now.   

The base of the curtain wall will be five feet wide and the top will measure four feet wide.  This will add strength and stability to the wall but it is also a security feature that will help deflect projectiles.  Each straight section will be twenty-five tall plus five feet tall alternating crenellations on both sides.  The section of pour directly beneath the crenellations is actually designed to be a trough two feet deep.  Add the five foot crenellations and even our tallest survive won’t have to worry about their heads sticking above the concrete structures while they are on the wall walk. 

Eventually we will add a “roof” to the wall walk that will serve multiple purposes.  The primary purpose of the roof is to provide extra protection to anyone walking up there … both against attack and against the elements.  The secondary, though potentially as important as important, is to feed into a large water catchment system where rain water is directed into several concrete water cisterns that will be built against the interior of the curtain wall.  We will also build one on the outside of the curtain wall.  The exterior cistern will be made available to our satellite communities in time of drought. 

The towers will also serve multiple purposes.  They will have four floors plus a roof top with crenellations around the edge.  The towers will be for observations, communication, housing and mounting the larger weapons and the weapons that require wider range of motion, housing the spotlight system, sniper stands, etc.  The bottom floor will be windowless.  Floors two, three, and four will have loop holes.  These loopholes will serve traditional purposes – light, air, or shooting through.  Each tower will also be fitted with a dumb waiter or elevator system for raising and lowering supplies and larger pieces of equipment.  All four floors will also be bisected into a room for storage, sleeping chambers, etc.  For now we are not planning to roof over the tops of the towers although we will likely provide some sun shade up there. 

Scott thinks the towers and gateways will take six weeks to two months to complete with constant effort.  The straight sections will require other six weeks to two months to tie into the towers.  But the curtain wall are the only structures we want to build this year.  Concurrent with the curtain wall will be the communication silo built on the same location it currently inhabits which is around the old cell tower.  We also have plans to build storm shelters and concrete food storage facilities.  If we still have materials left over after all the things we have to do we may replace the two aluminum barns with concrete barns.  All of these projects will easily take us through the remainder of the year and that’s assuming we have no major interruptions like successive tropical storms, fires, material shortages, or broken equipment. 

Something odd happened today.  Yesterday Bubby took a spill.  I thought the boys had been rough housing again but Johnnie and Al swore that they weren’t.  Padric said it looked like Bubby had simply tripped over his own feet.  Well, it’s not like I haven’t had clumsy kids before but he complained off and on about his hip the rest of the day.  I didn’t think much of it because he fell on gravel.  Today he had an awful bruise on that side.  The bruise looked a lot worse than what I would have expected from a minor fall like that.  Once we started to think about it though Scott and I agree that Bubby hasn’t been acting like himself for about a week now.  We put it down to a stage he was going through, he is a moody kid to begin with.  But that bruise bothers me. 

Scott and I took him over to the Clinic first thing this morning after we saw the bruise but they can’t find anything specific.  He didn’t hit his head so there isn’t much chance of a concussion.  We don’t know what to think.  All we can do is watch him.   

Well, it has started raining.  That’s good for the stuff I planted yesterday and today.  I have a major experiment started after talking to Kim.  I had some seeds that I had just for kicks – white, green, and brown cotton.  The green and brown varieties are rare heirlooms that I picked up at a plantation in Georgia when we were vacationing, before NRS changed our lives so completely.  It will be September before I know whether the experiment has been worth my time and sweat but what have I got but time?  With the cotton we can have bamboo, cotton, alpaca, and angora to spin and weave in addition to the coarser hair of the goats, lamas and other farm animals. 

As soon as I turn out the lantern I’m going to get Scott up for his shift on the Wall and then crawl into bed.  I need to get up early as I’m part of the breakfast crew again.  I hope I patched all of the Scott’s rain gear well enough so that no rain can run down his neck like it did last time.
 

Day 277 (Friday) – May 3 – Cleaning Day 

Today was cleaning day at home.  When I finally got home from our salvaging operation I had to do a lot of cleaning of myself.  I was covered in mud, ticks, and I even had a leach on the back of my arm … that hitch hiker probably got picked up when I was running through the swamp.  But I suppose if things are to make the most sense I better start at the beginning. 

This morning started out very promising.  The early morning was clear and had a lower humidity than what we had any right to expect.  I found out tonight that Dix heard on the navy frequency there was an early storm out in the Gulf and it was probably pulling all of the moisture out of our area which is the likely reason for the unseasonably nice weather. 

I had breakfast duty and fixed cornmeal pancakes with fruit syrup made from Jell-O and fried up some slices of leftover fresh pork ham that had been baked yesterday.  The ever present fruit bowl was there for whoever wanted it.  Luckily, the majority of the time if you cook you don’t have to clean, so I put my emptied plate in care of the kids and Charlene and I went to tell Scott we were leaving. 

No school today so I asked Charlene if as part of her apprenticeship (I’m her mentor apparently) she wanted to go with me to help dig up bamboo.  Charlene is fairly self-contained; reminds me of Rose a bit in that respect.  On the other hand she is much more outdoorsy and earthy than Rose is so in that respect she reminds me more of Sarah and Bekah.  Either way she fits in easily with our family and readily gave up her free time to come on the outing. 

We were taking two vehicles; a truck that Conrad had converted to AldeaFuel  and an old late-80s diesel VW vanagon that had seen better days.  I drove the truck with Charlene and Saen (who had been dropped off this morning by one of the Aldea patrols).  Dawson drove the vanagon and it carried Ben, Mr. Choi, Emma, Cooper, and Autumn who was acting as our medic.  Waleski has taken to sending a medic along when he can arrange it.  Seems he doesn’t quite trust the “civilian element” not to get hurt.  Of course when he was saying it he was looking square at me and Scott gave him a clap on the shoulder as they passed one another.  Don’t tell me there aren’t male chauvinists in our group. 

I thought Angus was going to come but he wasn’t feeling too hot; he’s picked up a cold from the kids I think.  In hindsight I’m glad he stayed at the compound; his knee wouldn’t have taken kindly to all the knocking about that we endured.  Fy stayed at Aldea working on some figures that Glenn had left her as her “homework.” 

 There was nothing interesting to catch our attention all the way to the warehouse area near US54.  Even the few shamblers that we spotted were boring and little more than bags of walking bones.  I figure these must be some of the oldest ones and decomposition was finally catching up with them.   Saen, Charlene, and I discussed the potential life span of the oldest zombies and whether we would have to face another Hive.  I brought up a couple of things that the odd Dr. Jager pointed out but with no way to determine how long the decomposition process was ultimately going to take we have no way of knowing when the greater majority of zombies will eventually “die” off. 

We arrived at the complex of warehouses in due course and it didn’t take us long to get hot, sweaty, and dirty.  Firs we cut a bunch of the moso bamboo to take back and beat up and then put in the enzyme bath that Saen prescribed.  It is some nasty stuff that she had Glenn mix up before he left.  We had the back of the truck nearly full with canes when we finally started digging of the little shoots or buds or whatever the heck you call baby bamboo.  We had about a dozen three-gallon sized pots filled when Emma looks up and for the first time I saw her lose her cool. 

“Uh … uh … uh …,” she stuttered out, finally pointing behind most of us when she couldn’t get anything out. 

The first thing that entered my head was zombie so I jerked around and reached for my machete and … well, geez, I even feel strange typing this.  Stranger than writing about zombies. 

We all stopped in our tracks and got real quiet, real fast.  Elephants will do that to you.  Yeah, elephants … as in plural … as in there was a freaking herd of eight elephants eating the bamboo out of the back of the pickup truck.   

I went to say something – I don’t know what – and Saen covered my mouth and then shook her head.  I found out later that coming to the attention of an elephant all of a sudden can be a bad thing.  What I would like to know is how something that big moves that quietly.  They were suddenly just there, like they appeared out of thin air.  Only they didn’t appear out of thin air, they came through the overgrowth on the other side of the road from where we had parked.  And before that their home was either Busch Gardens or Lowry Park Zoo.  I supposed they might have come from down south where the Ringling Bros. Circus and other carnival acts over wintered but I wouldn’t think they would have travelled so far for a bit of grass and bamboo. 

I know from listing to Sarah and Samuel talk about all the zoo escapees in the area that elephant herds are made up primarily of matriarchal groups.  Any young male elephant … called a “bull” … is expected to leave the herd by about ten years of age; whether he wants to or not.  See this is the problem we ran into here, but I wasn’t really trying to analyze the situation until it was all over with. 

The elephants – there were some younger elephants for no young babies – were placidly eating so we started edging back to a location of safety until they moved on.  We were moving slowly and quietly, giving them plenty of room to just be their elephanty selves.  Then from across the road came another elephant.  This elephant really set the elephants in the herd off, especially the big female.  That’s when things got dicey. 

It all happened so fast that I’m not sure exactly what the catalyst was that made the herd elephants go from mildly annoyed to highly ticked off.  All I know for sure is that it suddenly felt like one of the herd elephants got a bead on our group and became affronted by our existence.   

If you’ve never had the pleasure of running from an elephant I have to tell you that the experience is priceless … as in I would have paid any price to have avoided it.  We scattered like bugs to avoid being squashed the one of the bigger females that came running straight at us.  The poor vanagon never stood a chance.  Both sides were caved in and all of the windows were smashed in. 

I grabbed Charlene and ran into one of the warehouses.  Unfortunately doors are merely minor irritations to a charging elephant and the warehouses were just big aluminum structures.  They were built to withstand a hurricane but not a charging four ton train car sized animal.  The elephants began to punch into the warehouses like speeding bull dozers.  We wove, we dodged, we ran in and we ran out.  Dragging Charlene behind me I sped around one side of a warehouse and ran into Cooper and Autumn running around for the other side.  All four of us took off into the tall grass behind the warehouse area.  

I had my machete out cutting through the grass as fast as I could as we zigzagged trying to stay out of all of the elephants’ ways.  Cooper grabbed me to stop me.  The elephant had given up chasing us and returned to hunt down the rest of our party or to bang into some more stuff.   

We stood real quiet trying to get our bearings and to catch our breath.  Looking down I noticed we were ankle deep in silt and muck.  Thank goodness for good boots and even better shoelaces.  We laid the grass over to help us to stay on the mud, rather than in it, as much as possible.  I felt it suck at my shoes but it wasn’t able to pull them off. 

Then opposite the direction of the elephants there came noise … slosh, slap, splat, slap, splat, slosh … in an uneven and unnatural pattern.  Up to that point I had never really heard zombies moving through swamps but we all knew what we were hearing without having to guess.   

It was back towards the warehouse.  I think as scared as I was of the elephants I was even more scared of trying to deal with zombies in grass that was taller than I was; basically operating blind.  Cooper pointed north of our position so we headed that way.  Dawson and Emma nearly got a bullet from Cooper … for a second we were sure that we running back into the zombies.  We heard Emma call on Dawson to slow down just in time.  Unfortunately there were some lively zombies that heard her as well. 

All the heat and running had me as dizzy as a doodle bug.  I’m in better shape than I’ve been in many years but endurance running in this heat we have now would suck it right out of a marathon runner.  Sweat was running into my eyes and fogging up my glasses.  I took them off and was wiping my face with my sleeve when Charlene’s muted giggles turned into a scream. 

 

I’m all but blind as a bat without my glasses on but I could still smell.  Autumn’s shirt was ripped but she was never bitten praise God.  But Dawson practically picked Charlene and I up off of our feet when we were moving fast enough.  I was being joggled so much I couldn’t get my glasses on one-handed.   

I had to see.  I let my machete hang by the wrist strap and put my glasses on.  Good thing I did too as we hit the concrete at that moment and I stumbled and went down on my hands and knees.  I heard Charlene scream, “Momma!”  I had just the presence of mind to turn over, slicing with my machete at the same time.  An annoyingly lively zombie caught somewhere between the stages of runner and shambler was practically on top of me.  In addition to the mud and muck I was now covered with liquefied zombie entrails where I cut the thing practically in half. 

I stood, gagging up bile, but was then slammed down again by Dawson while Cooper started shooting over my head.   

Emma helped me up after we’d made it behind Cooper’s line of fire.  “Excuse him, his mom never taught him to watch his strength,” and then she winked at me.  Dawson grinned and blushed a little.  I see now why those two work so well together. 

A piercing whistle drew our attention to a tall Live Oak tree with low hanging branches.  Saen, Ben, and Mr. Choi were perched midway up.  That became our destination.  We ran to the tree and started climbing and that was when I realized that the wrist strap on my machete must have broken.  I looked back and was just able to catch a glimpse of the long blade laying at the edge of the concrete. 

I had made it down two branches when I was unceremoniously grabbed by four different people, one of whom was Saen.  “You crazy woman?  Scott kill us all you get down.  We get you another pig sticker.  You stay put!”  I don’t care if she is only five foot nothing and eighty pounds soaking wet, you do not want to make Saen angry. 

I was able to keep an eye on my machete for about five minutes and then things got excessively interesting again.  About two dozen zombies had exited the tall grass, no doubt drawn by all the noise.  None of us has ever seen a zombie attack anything but humans, barring the Ragers that attacked anything and everything in their way.  This time was no exception.  Unfortunately for the zombies the elephants didn’t have the same issues. 

The elephants tore the zombies apart and then squashed them into toe jam.  We were all heaving and gagging while this played out.  I’d never felt sorry for the zombies before but the wanton destruction I witnessed came real close to causing me to feel that way this time. 

It took a while longer but the elephants finally calmed down and headed back the general direction they had come.  We gave it a few more minutes and then climbed down to survey the damage they had left in their wake and to call Sanctuary for a tow.   

The vanagon is toast.  Conrad and McElroy think they can salvage some parts but the body and axle are completely useless except as scrap.  They had to pull it up on the flat bed tow truck to get it home.  That’s not the only thing that is toast. 

It was lying right where it had fallen.  The grip was all misshapen but would have been repairable in some way; but, the blade had snapped right at the hilt.  It had saved my life so many times I’d lost track.  My family had even decorated it for me and made me a fancy sheath to hold it.  It was more like an extension of my own body than a simple piece of metal that pre-NRS could have been purchased at even the cheapest flea market.   

Scott, Dix, Bob, and McElroy showed up faster than I thought they would but all I could do was sit there and feel like I’d lost a good friend.  Even I knew that was silly but I was still mourning my machete.  Saen or Charlene must have said something because when Scott walked over to where I was cutting more bamboo with a hatchet he didn’t holler or anything like I expected.  He just took the two pieces and walked over to Bob. 

But my dad made knives as a hobby.  Bob looked at it and then at Scott and just shook his head.  Even I know that something that broke can’t be put back together except for show.  I’ll think about getting a replacement for it tomorrow but for now the pieces are sitting out in the carport.  It’s been like a wake, practically everyone in Sanctuary and a few from Aldea have actually come by to see for themselves that Sissy’s machete is actually as broke as Scott used to threaten to make it. 

We made it back in time for dinner, but just.  I was just wore out and discouraged.  Finding that bloodsucker on my arm didn’t improve my mood at all.  Rose got it off and then took it in a specimen jar for Waleski to look at.   

Scott tried to cheer me up by playing as he was “checking for ticks” and though I tried to play along my heart wasn’t in it.  I really was covered in them but thankfully none had sunk their heads in.  What we are going to do with the Deet repellent runs out I don’t know. 

Silly to be so upset by something like a broken machete but I was … and am.  I know I can’t pout about it, certainly worse things have happened to me, but no one is begrudging me a little time to grieve which I’m grateful for.  It feels like someone has stolen my good luck charm. 

It hasn’t helped that Bubby was sick again after dinner.  The girls said he was nearly back to his old self most of the day though he got a little pale after lunch until Sarah insisted he, Johnnie, and Al take a short nap but that perked him right back up.  Then right in the middle of dinner he lays his head on the table and Scott and I barely got him out of the dining hall before he was puking.   

I don’t know what kind of bug he has gotten but he is staying in bed tomorrow if I have to staple him down.  His color was way off when we put him to bed and I’m watching the other kids to see if and when they are going to come down with whatever it is.  I had the other boys bed down in our bedroom and I am going to sleep on Johnnie’s bed in case Bubby gets sick in the night.  James and David are splitting my guard shift so I can keep an eye on him.
 

Day 278 (Saturday) – May 4 

Bubby seems like he is doing a little better today.  Rose and Melody have kept an eye on him and the rest of the kids spent time with him off and on to keep him from getting bored between his naps.  I kept him on beef and green broths today to build him up and I’m thankful to say his color is better.  He still isn’t one hundred percent but I think he is kicking whatever this bug is that he has.  I always hate it when the kids get sick.  I should be used to it by now but it really does give me this helpless feeling inside. 

As for myself and Charlene we spent the early morning hours berry picking.  Scott and I had talked about it.  Rose and Melody were both capable of watching Bubby and Scott would be in the immediate area starting the clearing process for the curtain wall.  We needed to know what had happened to the east of us as far as the fire and Hive damage and I really wanted to see if the U-Pick farms out that way were still going or had they been destroyed or claimed. 

Betty, Rilla, Charlene and I would be in the trip from Sanctuary.  Austin’s Sarah, Anne, Saen, and Fy were coming from Aldea.  Shorty and two of her girls were coming from OSAG.  Our guards were Angus, Dix, Jim from Sanctuary; and Steve and Dave from OSAG.  Aldea is short-handed with Glenn and his crew gone.   

Dante’ would have come but Dix wanted him to stay in Sanctuary.  He’s awful cut up.  Tina told him that there was no chance that she would ever take him back, that she was satisfied just sharing Bo with him.  I know these things happen but I personally don’t think that Tina was practicing the art of forgiveness very much.  Yes, Dante’ made a horrible mistake and it appears one that he’s going to beat himself up over possibly for a long, long while but I think Tina has forgotten that while she was the primary victim of her abuser, Dante’ suffered as well.  What I don’t understand is that Dante’ isn’t fighting her.  They both just appear to have given up.  Too bad we can’t institute mandatory counseling but that’s not the way we work around here, not to mention we don’t really have the professional help they both would require.  A talk show, generalized counseling session via the radio isn’t enough in this instance. 

Because of the number of people that we had going we took two trucks with extended cabs from Sanctuary, an SUV from Aldea, and Zassat’s Escalade from OSAG.  The SUV and Escalade were former gangbanger transportation and were heavily armored.  The trucks were reliable and 4WD with independent suspension in case we had to travel over or through debris … which we did. 

No one was too happy but I drove the lead truck with Angus at shot gun.  He only grimaced a few times and once said to take the lead out of my foot but otherwise he didn’t fuss too much.  The reason why I was the lead vehicle is because I knew exactly where I wanted to go.  Destination:  Plant City.  Most people around the country only know Plant City as the Strawberry Capital of the World and for the Strawberry Festival that is held every year in early March.  But Plant City also has a pretty good smattering of other types of U-Pick farms and the ones that I was after grew blueberries and blackberries. 

The first field I headed for was completely destroyed by fire.  So was the second field.  I was beginning to sweat it.  Fire damage was very hit or miss out this way though we’d come through some pretty fierce damage to get where we were going.  If I hadn’t been so familiar with the route we’d been in trouble as many of the landmarks and street signs had been obliterated.  I began to pray we hadn’t gone all that way for nothing. 

I had to take the long way around but I finally made it out to W.O. Griffin Road and we hit pay dirt.  There were no trails back to the fields so I was discouraged at first but I’m glad I didn’t give up.  Everything had gone wild.  I didn’t open the door but climbed out the driver’s side window until I could sit on the edge of it and listen.  Angus had his window down and was listening.  All that could be heard was the ticking of the engines as they cooled from the long drive. 

I looked over the overgrown fields and not a blade or branch was moving.  Then I spotted squirrels and song birds out and about doing their daily search for food.   Then I spotted a couple of small rabbits eating what was left of the flower beds up against the produce stand that used to serve as the field office. 

I looked at Angus and he gave a silent thumbs up; then I swiveled my neck and saw Dix gave me the same sign.  Rather than risking a door opening and closing I climbed out and had Charlene hand me one of the small plastic buckets she had down at her feet.  The grass was tall and I missed my machete more than ever.  I walked so that I laid the grass over with each step to clear a path.  I stopped when I saw Dave angling to meet up with me as I walked towards the field.   

Dave, in case I’ve never mentioned it, is really into body art.  I nodded and then backed up when he insisted on taking point.  I had no idea whether he even knew what a blackberry or blueberry bush looked like but he is one of those protective types so I knew it wasn’t any good arguing.  The grass thinned out a little to my left and I tapped Dave’s shoulder and pointed that direction. 

When we got to the head of the row I had spotted I felt some of my tension leave me.  We weren’t going to be hurting for blueberries if even a quarter of the bushes were as loaded as the one right in front of me was.  I pulled one off and checked it for varmints before popping it into my mouth.  My word, I nearly had drool running down my chin.  That had to be one of the best blueberries I’ve ever had.  Fresh from the bush is definitely best.   

Dave signaled to Steve, Dix, and Angus … I was too short and had all but disappeared into the grass.  We all kept very quiet.  Attention was not something we craved.  We all agreed quietly that no human had been back here recently and there were no obvious trails left by zombies.   It made me wonder however where all the locals had gone.  If anyone would have been staking out ownership rights of the U-Pick fields it would have been someone that knew where they were. 

Unlike my puny bushes back home these already had a lot of ripe berries on them.  Those first bushes we picked from must have been made up primarily of an early ripening variety.  I noticed some of the rows closer to the road didn’t have nearly as many ripe ones which would give us time to make another trip if we wanted to and not have to worry about stripping the whole field in one shot. 

There were sixteen of us but it was primarily the women that picked leaving the men to act as security although they obliged us by fetching and carrying containers so we didn’t have to stop what we were doing every time we filled one up.  In just over an hour we had completely stripped all of the ripe berries from four long commercial rows.  I left the other women working on a fifth row and then asked Angus if he would go with me up to the little house.  I remembered there used to be a board that said where each of the fields were and I wanted to see if it was still there. 

That also gave me a chance to see how his knee was.  He admitted it was bothering him some.  “Gonna be some rain through here this afternoon.  You plan on staying that long?” he asked. 

“Your knee talking to you?”  After he nodded I answered, “I honestly want to be out of here by lunch if we can.  We need to get this fruit home so it doesn’t spoil in the heat.  Not to mention we’ll probably be running out of water by then.  Its hotter than I expected with the fields being so overgrown and suffocating all the air out of things.” 

The field sign was faded but still legible but barely.  The home garden was toast, what little bit coming in wild from last season’s rotted fields had been savaged by the local wildlife.  A snake slithering under my field nearly had me shrieking but Angus covered my mouth just in time.  He was real still then pointed.  People had been nailed to the side of the big wood shed on the other side of the house.  Each of the remains had taken an obvious headshot; part or most of the skull of each body was missing.  Dried gore painted the barn’s side and not even the elements had bleached it away. 

We edged closer and as we passed the corner of the house Angus stopped.  It was a moment before he let me come around and see what he had found.  Sitting against a concrete bench was a long dead corpse of an obvious suicide; the shotgun was still between its outstretched legs though the fact that it was missing most of the top of the skull gave us a pretty good idea how things had occurred.   

It was a depressing sight but not an unfamiliar one so we continued on with little fanfare.  I said a prayer hoping they had found peace as we entered the shed.  It had been ransacked.  Everything useful was already gone … long gone considering the layer of dust and mildew that lay on walls and work tops.  There were a few baskets hanging on the back of the building and I was tempted to take them until I saw the kind of shape they were in, useless for any real work. 

I was aiming for the field on the other side of the shed.  Oak saplings and saw briers were encroaching on this field very heavily but the blackberry and boysenberry canes were as heavily loaded as the front blueberry fields were.  Angus and I made our way back and after making sure the blueberries were in the shade everyone but a guard for the vehicles trooped back to the blackberry fields.  It was getting so hot however that the most we were able to pick was for an hour but that was enough.  We had twenty gallons of domesticated blackberries with absolutely no problems. 

We were packing it up when Steve and Dave came over and asked me to look at a couple of trees and tell them they weren’t seeing things.  I had no idea what was going on but on the side of the house I hadn’t gone by was a small dwarf orchard.  I hadn’t seen these two years ago when I was here and they were loaded quite heavily for dwarf fruit trees.  There were four peach, four nectarine, and four plum trees.  There was also a large mango tree about fifty feet beyond the orchard.  On the other side of the mango we found several bee hives but there was no time to try and collect any honey but the bees explained why everything was doing so well despite not being attended to by humans. 

We salvaged the house and found some containers and bags to gather that fruit in and then we really had to book.  We were down to barley a quarter of a canteen of water per person and it was beginning to get hotter than blue blazes with thunder heads former off further east.  The wind hadn’t freshened yet so the rain was some ways off but we all knew we needed to get back as quickly as possible. 

It was nearly two o’clock when we pulled into Sanctuary after having unloaded things at OSAG and Aldea.  We brought most of the stuff back with us for preserving but that would have to wait until tomorrow.  It took us a couple of hours just to get things sorted out so that they could go into the Cooler. 

Mr. Morris, Kevin, Dix, Angus and probably a couple of others are going back out to the U-Pick farm tomorrow, weather permitting.  They are going to try and grab those bee hives and see about maybe bringing back some more fruit.   

I could have showered and gone to bed right then but I had to go out to our gardens and pick everything that had ripened during the night.  After checking on Bubby I grabbed my basic and brought in some celeriac and some beans but that was about it.  Betty however asked if I could come help her in the native grove.  There was quite a bit of stuff coming in out there:  custard apples, zapotes, karandas, white sapotes, star apples, kei-apples, cherries of the rio grande, grumichamas, pitombas, acerolas, sopadillas, tamarind pods, calamondins, and more key limes.  Something tells me my “rest day” tomorrow is going to be spent in the kitchen canning and processing things for the Drying Oven. 

Angus’ weather prognosticating knee was correct.  The rain hit at 5:15 and it was a hard and fast one; what my daddy used to call a gulley washer.  But as is typical of those types of rain it didn’t last long.  By 5:45 it has passed through leaving a mess behind.  But at least it was dry enough in the Dining Hall.  Bubby was asleep half way through dinner and I carried him back to the house so that Scott could stay and listen to everyone’s reports. 

Bubby used to be a chunky little pumpkin when we first got him but he’d trimmed up along with the rest of the kids from all of the outdoor play and chores but as I undressed him for bed I noticed he hadn’t just trimmed down he had thinned out quite a bit.  Some of it is that he’d put on several inches of height but I didn’t like the implications that he’d been sick for a while and I hadn’t noticed.  I will be talking to Ski tomorrow if it is possible he is anemic and if he is what we can do about it.   

Bubby woke up from his brief nap cranky and didn’t want to go back to bed so when the other children came home after helping to clean up from dinner I read a couple chapters of Night of the Twisters by Ivy Ruckman.  By the time that was read everyone was very ready for their beds.  Bubby had fallen asleep on his own and Scott carried him to bed and then made sure the other little boys had brushed their teeth and put away their clothes. 

We were both tired but I wanted to type an entry in my journal and Scott needed to make some changes to his drawings of the curtain wall.  He is starting to put his papers away so I might as well close as well.  Glory knows I’ve got a ton of work facing me tomorrow.
 

Day 279 (Sunday) – May 5 

My rear bumper is dragging the ground.  I’m truly glad I have this typewriter now because actually having to get up the energy to hold a pen to paper to write – and have it come out legible – is beyond me tonight.   

I hadn’t planned on it but I went back with the group that hit up the U-Pick farm yesterday.  Apparently Dix simply wasn’t confident he could follow the path I took yesterday.  We lit out right before first light and were only at the U-Pick farm long enough for Mr. Morris to organize kidnapping those bee hives.  We had to head out so early because the hives needed to be taken up before the dew was off everything or the bees would leave the hive and we’d lose a lot of workers. 

While the guys played with the bees the females that went divided up and attacked the blueberries, blackberries, and fruit trees.  This time some folks from Mr. Choi’s group came as well as some girls that Dora had sent with us.  We stripped several more rows but there is more than enough ripening fruit left to make another trip later in the week worth the effort. 

On the way back I made one unplanned stop and that was at the Parke Family Hydro farm in Dover.  I nearly couldn’t get there because of fire damage.  About half the farm was gone; all those beautiful greenhouses and hydroponic gardens were pretty much melted and the whole set up was a waste.  However it did look like some of the farm had been salvaged at some point, but not recently.  Oh well, we can’t always be first but I’m going to talk over with David what his plans are for the fish ponds he is trying to develop.  If we can get a good aquaculture set up going that would extend our harvest of some things even further. 

The other stop in Dover was at Lee Farms.  Not a sign of anyone there, lots of overgrowth, but it looked like most of the peaches and nectarine trees had made it.  And the farm hadn’t been salvaged at all so there were still lots of crates in the big field barn.  As heavy as the trees were loaded it wasn’t a waste of an hour but Mr. Morris was getting cranky and wanting to get the bees home.  He’d plugged their escape holes and even I could tell they weren’t happy about it.    Between the two U-Pick locations we’ll definitely be going on another gathering run out that way this coming week. 

Once we were back home my real work day began.  We had blueberries, blackberries, peaches, nectarines, and mangoes that needed preserving.  My pineapple plants were also putting off quite a few fruits.  This is a good thing because some of our commercially canned pineapple is beginning to get that metallic back taste to it that says it’s been in the can just about as long as it is good for. 

Mostly what I … we women … were doing is canning and preserving the fruit that we had brought in the last two days.  We had every burner going on both the two wood-burning stoves and the two hydrogen stoves.  We even had a couple of propane burners going on stands out in the yard.   

For the blueberries and boysenberries we made relish, canned whole berries, syrup, conserve, blueberry-pineapple conserve, pie filling, juice, dried berries, leather, liqueur, jam, blueberry-lime jam, blueberry-lemon jam, blueberry mincemeat, chutney, marmalade, blueberry lemonade, catsup, and blueberry-cherry jam.  The blackberries we made juice, vinegar, dried, syrup, canned, pickled, nectar, shrub, wine, brandy, cordial, jam, leather, relish, and pie filling.  The peaches made into pickles, conserve, canned slices and halves, preserves, brandied, jam, butter, spiced butter, preserves, pie filling, leather, chutney, dried, dried/glace’, liqueur, cordial, peach-cantaloupe jam, wine, watermelon-peach wine, and vinegar.  The nectarines made just about the same things as the peaches since they were such similar fruit in nature.  We turned the plums into liqueur, jelly, jam, preserves, conserve, wine, leather, and juice.  And the mangoes were made into chutney, leather, candied, juice, ketchup, relish, and wine.  

We literally went through a barrel of white sugar to pull all of this off.  With the fruit that is coming in this week we are going to switch to honey and primarily just drying it.  Got a nice surprise today with all of this.  It seems that young Bobby is very proficient with canning and preserving.  She had been very active in 4H growing up and her father was even an Extension Agent.  Her mother had some kind of degree where she organized commercial kitchens.  It was very nice to have an extra pair of hands in the kitchen even if was for only a few hours between when the baby needed her.  Now that she has settled down and isn’t so freaked out she is a lot easier for me to be around.  She and Melody have hit it off really well and Rose is slowly warming up to her as well. 

Got a radio message from Glenn and company today.  They are going to try and make it back by tomorrow late afternoon but if not then by lunch on Tuesday.  We’ve also heard that the peddlers are in the area.  I hope that means that I’ll find out what Iggy was sending back my way.  Hopefully we’ll find out how he and Baron are really doing and possibly have a better idea of when they will come back in.  I worry about them getting enough to eat and clean drinking water.  I don’t know how Iggy is supposed to work, hunt for food, and keep his eye on Baron if Baron continues to be a problem.  I guess that is one thing I’m just going to be forced to have faith over. 

We experimented with the celeriac.  I’ve grown it in the past in very limited amounts with hit or miss results at the dinner table.  This time Betty suggested something I hadn’t tried.  We shredded equal parts raw potatoes with raw shredded celeriac, added some onion and seasonings and then fried them up into patties.  Not too shabby, not too shabby at all.  And Bubby even at two of them.   

His color is better and he is acting much more like himself than he has been.  I’m a little bewildered as to why Ski won’t give him iron supplements but he said that to bump up his iron through his diet and not through pills.  Kids can OD very easily on iron supplements and he has no way to check his blood for any deficiencies.  That means that I’ll be feeding Bubby green broth and I’m also going to make a juice up from the acerolas that are very high in Vitamin C.  I wish I had some rose hips I’d make rose hip soup as well.  We need to build his system back up. 

And Angus now has a full blown cold.  He refused to drink any more honey-lemon tea but he was happy to eat a slice of the sour cream blueberry pies we made for dessert tonight.  He’s not feverish just very stuffy and constantly having to clear his throat.  I told the kids to be quiet and if they wanted to do something for him to make sure the Mischief’s “puppies” didn’t get his boots while he was resting.  Those little beasts need to be trained for something other than trouble right quick.   

In the morning I will make blueberry gingerbread for breakfast to go with the fruit bowl and other muffins we plan on making.  Ah, and here is more rain so I need to pack it up and get back inside.  The wind has been blowing the last thirty minutes and I expect the rain is going to blow into the lanai before too much longer.  Unfortunately that means we are going to have to sleep with the windows down.  Thank goodness for ceiling fans that work off the battery backup system Scott rigged. 

(later) 

Had to get back up.  Scott is snoring so bad I can’t sleep and after trying to roll him over for the fifth time I just gave up.  It is so hot in the house with the windows closed but it is still raining.  I’ve opened the French door trying to get a bit of breeze but it isn’t helping much.   

David is up moving around getting ready for guard duty.  I startled him but it didn’t take him long to hear Scott’s dulcet sounds and understand.  I think Scott is trying to get the cold that Angus has full blast.  Lovely, I can imagine it running through the whole house now.  Maybe this is what Bubby has and he just got a bad case of it, though he didn’t have the sinus or throat involvement that I can recall. 

The rain is noisy on the aluminum roof of the lanai, but worse on the skylight in the kitchen.  It doesn’t feel like there is any hail in the rain … not cool enough … but those are some hard rain drops.  I’m glad I don’t have guard duty tonight.  The guys will probably stay in the guard shacks most of their shifts unless the rain lets up. 

I’m not too worried about zombies tonight, thunderstorms always fritz them out for a while.  Anyone not working on assigned tasks will probably run patrols to see if they can clear out the zombies before their electrical system rights itself … if you can call anything about zombies right. 

Speaking of … I just can’t get over how empty the east county area was.  No survivors.  No zombies that we saw.  We saw small wildlife but nothing big.  It was eerie in a way that I haven’t felt in some time.  We women talked about it for a while as we were cooking.  The fire that was started by the NRSC probably caused a lot of deaths … even if people weren’t actually burned up I’m sure more than a few of them died from smoke inhalation.  We still see recent zombies that don’t appear to have any physical injuries that can’t be explained by the beginnings of slowed decomposition.  We figured these were people that had died quietly, killed by a silent murderer like oxygen starvation. 

But there are still a lot of people in and around Tampa … well, relatively speaking there are a lot of people.  You would have thought the urban centers would have been much more cleared out than the rural districts.  It’s just weird.     

Of course, for salvaging purposes the cities and suburbs are the place to be.  But, come to think of it I didn’t even see any cows or horses or goats.  I need to say something to Dix and see if he noticed that.  I saw Angus and Dix talking this morning and the looks on their faces was kind of puzzled or close to consternation like there was a puzzle that wasn’t going together the way they expected.  I might be stretching my curiosity a bit but I wonder if they were talking about their impressions of that area. 

And before I forget I have to write this down.  I don’t know if it is funny or sad or just what exactly but it caught my attention.  Part of me wanted to laugh and part of me was really sad at the same time. 

It’s no secret from anyone that Dante’ and Tina have split and that it was Tina’s decision but Dante’ isn’t fighting it.  You can tell Dante’ is … careworn.  Yeah, that’s it, he’s careworn like he’s got a heavy burden that he knows he’ll never put down.  He’ll be fine for Bo when he is around but when his son is back at Aldea it’s like a little more of the life just leaks away from Dante’. 

Well, Bobby was confused about why Tina would dump Dante’ that way and so to avoid awkward questions we explained the whole sad tale to her.  She got real quiet and then shook her head and snorted in an inpatient way and said, “Gee, does she think she is the only one that has had to deal with that kind of crap?  You know, this baby wasn’t exactly my idea but he’s here and now I have this little person that needs me to take care of him.  I’d give a lot to have a guy to share it all with, even if the guy occasionally acted like a jerk.  So long as he was really sorry after and tried to make up for it I think I could live with that so long as there wasn’t any hitting or he didn’t sleep around.” 

Well, I had had no idea though apparently Melody and Rose did which probably meant that Ski did and with him Rilla.  I looked around and most of us didn’t know what to say.  “Yeah, I know I’m a little blunt but it’s stupid.  It sucked and I cried for a while but my dad, you know, he told me that it didn’t change the fact that I was his kid and that he loved me and that basically I could chose whether I was going to stay a victim or deal with it and get on with my life.  The baby complicated things and I still sometimes can’t believe this little person like came out of me and stuff but … well, the guy was a jackass and well, I don’t want to live in his shadow for the rest of my life.  ‘Cause he was a total fu … uh … bad dude.”  She changed the last when she caught Patricia looking at her. 

I don’t know what I expected but a smile of approval from Patricia wasn’t one of them.  But when I saw her grab her little baby girl and hug her close I guess maybe I shouldn’t have been so surprised after all. 

But none of that is what I had to laugh about even though it was a little sad.  Dante’ had come to the dining hall to get something to drink before he went back to working on his inventory sheets which is what he usually did on his day off.  Bobby had gone outside to change the baby.  He’s a wriggly one that is a challenge to diaper.  I think out of habit more than anything Dante’ stopped to give her a hand.  It was humorous to watch a man give a young woman tips on diapering.  He was telling her all about how Bo used to be the same way and a few things that he used to do to get it done and over with as quickly as possible to avoid the pinpoint accuracy issues that some baby boys seem to enjoy. 

They weren’t that far away from the rest of us so we all could see what was going on.  Reba looked at me and rolled her eyes.  “Betcha a block of cheese she tests the water.” 

I only had a second to decipher what she meant when it became obvious.  Bobby must have been coming on pretty strong but it still took a second for it to penetrate Dante’s awareness.  You could see it in his face.  He move pretty quick to put the table between him and Bobby and being as polite as he could he still took off awful fast.  

Bobby had a pretty satisfied look on her face when she walked back in.  When she looked around at us she asked, “What?  Did you think I was kidding?  I’ve seen him with his kid and he knows about babies.  And the fact that he didn’t jump after what I was offering is good too.  At least he’s got something to think about now besides sitting around moping.” 

That girl is just loaded with audacity.  There is a small part of me that wanted to say “you go girl” but the problem is I know Tina and I know what Tina and Dante’ used to have and wonder whether they could get it back.  That’s the part that wasn’t funny.  I know life moves on, and sometimes more quickly that you could imagine, but when you have something this awful happen, how are you supposed to just pick up the pieces and move on? 

As for me, I’m going to try to move back into my bed.  I’m tired and it sounds like Scott has stopped snoring finally.
 

Day 280 (Monday) – May 6 – Wash Day 

I love the new Sanctuary Laundromat.  If we start right after breakfast before everyone else gets started on their laundry I can have all of our loads washed and hung out by lunch time.  That is halving the amount of time it used to take and there is no telling how much actual manual labor this is saving.  Do need to watch the belts a little more closely however; something had chewed on one of them.  We have spares but not for long if we have to replace a belt every week like that. 

Scott is disgusted but he worked around us to put up a pole barn over the area today and then attached heavy chain link fencing to the poles to try and keep the varmints out.  He was irritated that this was taking him away from the curtain wall project.  I hung “poisoned peppers” at the base of each pole for the rats and mice to nibble on and hopefully die from.  We may also try and civilize some of the kittens from Lucky’s latest litter and see if we can have them in the common areas without the dogs going too crazy. 

Most of the dogs have learned to leave Lucky and her two sadistic sons alone but the puppies are still insatiably curious.  Strangely, Pup is the only dog that the cats don’t absolutely hate with a passion.  She can walk by them and they don’t even react.  I thought she was going to be toast the time she got into the barn and went over to sniff Lucky and the kittens; the little fuzzballs didn’t even have their eyes open yet.  That crazy dog went so far as to lick the top of Lucky’s head and all the cat did was sneeze.  Of course now Pup is too busy playing “mommy” to Wiggles.    

The puppy is looking lots better and Austin has said it doesn’t have worms or even fleas which would have been close to a death sentence at her age.  I’ve had to get onto Sarah and Samuel more than once about getting too close with their “observing.”  But, after Pup snapped at Sarah for sticking her hand in the box I think they finally got the message.  Pup never snaps … at anybody … but to have her snap at Sarah was especially surprising.  That tells me that more than likely I hadn’t caught them as often as they had actually been near the puppy and messing with her.  I threatened both kids with seeing that they lost a week or two of taking care of the animals if they couldn’t behave.  I told them if they couldn’t follow the rules with this one thing then maybe they could follow the rules with the other animals.  They got the message after that for which I am glad; I would have hated to try and explain to Mr. Morris why he was losing his two main helpers. 

Talked to David today about his future plans for the fish ponds.  He told me that he was going to get some help with digging the canals deeper sooner than he expected.  There are a couple of places that Scott wants to drain so they can incorporate them into the dry moat; in order to do that they need a place to put the water first.  They’ll start on the opposite end of the canals from where he is currently working and using a small dredging bucket they’ll work over towards the middle of the canal length.  They’ll drain the few wet places that Scott wants done.  Then they’ll put that water into the newly deepened canals.  The extensive dry moat system may eventually turn into a dry and wet moat system, either from seasonal rains or because the water table may be breached in a couple of places where it runs really close to the surface. 

The deeper canals inside Sanctuary will also act as drainage in the event of a heavy rain storm(s) so that Sanctuary doesn’t turn into a big bathtub.  I admitted that I was a bit worried about that when I found out how deep they would be sinking the footers and foundation for the curtain wall but he said Scott took that into account.  As soon as the curtain wall is complete they will be digging some drainage ditches that will direct the worst water pile up areas either into our small wetland area or into the canals.  Plus, the large water catchment system on the curtain wall will also help deal with any water pile up caused by the wall itself. 

David was fooling around after dinner – Rose had late shift at the Clinic (OK, that didn’t come out exactly right, eeeww mother brain overload effect) – and took some PVC that came out of the ground where they are clearing the foundation and digging the dry moat and cut it into 18-inch lengths.  It is that heavy-duty stuff that is used for main sewer and water lines.  He’s going to find a way to “cap” off one end so that we can do those “upside down grow pots” like you used to see on TV.  I’ve used 2-liter soda bottles to do this a couple of years ago but all of our soda bottles are used for water storage these days. 

The next thing will be to set up a bunch of poles that will serve two purposes.  First we need to run strong wire from pole to pole to create a grid pattern.  Then we will lay a sunshade type of netting on top of the poles and grid of wires.  The wires will be what we hang the “upside down pots” from and the netting is to keep the roots from getting scorched.  We’ll use nitrogen rich water from the fish ponds to water the plant roots and voila! … the hydroponics component of the aquaculture plan.  In one of the larger canals we are also going to see if we can eventually start wild rice or cattails … both will be another food source for us.   I’m not sure that Sanctuary will ever be totally self-sufficient but with what we have now and what we are creating for the near future we will certainly have the ability to withstand a longterm siege … assuming we don’t get bombed into submission (or out of existence) from the sky.  But even with that I suspect that between Dix, Glenn, and a couple of the others we could come up with some mitigating tools that would make folks think twice before taking a bite out of us that way. 

And from what I am already seeing we won’t run out of firewood for a long while.  In a way it hurts to see all of the trees coming down that we had tried so diligently to save but our reality trumps any tree-hugging tendency I have.  Scott and Dix both promised to save what trees they could … they don’t want issues with erosion or to run all of our small game out of the area after all … but they aren’t going to bleed green if a tree is in the way either.   

Bob has already had to fix two teeth on one of the big root rakes that they have attached to the front loaders.  They are running it right at the edge of the first Big Fire boundary and there is a lot of debris underground that isn’t apparent now that things have gotten overgrown again. 

Some of the debris is simply unsalvageable.  They are loading all of that up in a dump truck and they are dumping it in piles along a lot of the roads that are still in the area.  This will prevent any vehicle from being able to get up to speed on a straightaway and prevent kamikaze drivers or high-speed drive-by type shootings.  We hear that they are picking up on the other side of town.  We don’t know if it is the blackmarketeers driving this or due to the vacuum of power left over from the demise of the ZKK or perhaps even a combination of the two.  Dix said one possibility is that the blackmarketeers are creating a market for what they offer by turning certain items from a luxury to a necessity.  I can see the logic in that even if I personally find it demented.  It’s what the old drug gangs did when they moved into an area; get the kids hooked by giving it away free and then start charging an arm and a leg for the drugs that they had become addicted to.   

During dinner when this was being discussed Nana called the whole thing capitalism at its worst.  I could see Scott starting to get hot under the collar so I forestalled a blow up by telling her that the blackmarketeers actions, assuming they were behind this, had no more to do with capitalism than sex had to do with rape.  It’s about power and subjugation … sex/money are only by products, not the primary goal.  Amazingly I think she might have actually heard what I said as she dropped the matter and didn’t make any more derogatory comments in that direction. 

We’ve had the Sanctuary School running for nearly a month now and I have to admit that though it is different than what I would personally have done it is proving to be successful.  Angus, with a little help from the tweens and teens, was able to clear out the house we had picked for the education building.  Our “library” is conveniently right next to it.  He’s gone in there and painted all of the walls with primer.  The short wall in each room is going to get a coat of that “black board” paint that Scott salvaged from several local paint suppliers.  He was going to have the kids paint/decorate the rooms themselves but the blackboard space will let them have the chance to decorate, erase, and redecorate their the hearts’ content so long as we have chalk.  I can make chalk as long as we have Plaster of Paris so that should be a problem for a while. 

 Next he plans on getting creative.  The younger kids’ rooms are going to look like an indoor treehouse if I’m understanding him correctly.  The upstairs rooms may lean more towards a Viking stronghold or medieval castle.  The way I understand it most of the furnishings will be homemade.  His plans are ambitious but the kids are so excited about it that I think it will be a huge hit no matter what the end result is. This also gives Angus and his tremendous energies something to focus on while his knee continues to heal.  It is taking much longer than I thought it would.  I know James is worried though he doesn’t let on about that stuff much.  I think, as a guy, he doesn’t particularly like the idea of something breaking and not being able to fix it to his liking.  That’s youth speaking too.  There are mornings when my early 40s feel like my late 60s.  Particularly on days like today when I’ve been spending a lot of time bending up and down. 

My blackberry hedge is giving off its own berries now.  We’ll preserve everything that we are getting from out in Plant City and use the stuff in the hedge for fresh berries and juice.  My little blueberry bushes that I used to be so proud of look puny after seeing those big bushes full of berries out at the U-Pick farm.  There were some smaller bushes that I think I might be able to dig and transplant but most of their nursery stock that was in pots has died. 

With all the guys working on the curtain wall project I’ve got less help.  James used to give me what help he could even if it was only lifting and carrying stuff that I left at the end of each row.  All the females help out and I’m happy to hear that Saen wants to organize a regular group from Aldea to come over and help in the gardens.  I know it is kind of awful to say, but I’ll be glad when the garden slows down.  I’m tired … and getting wore out.  Having to work outside in the heat of the day so much is also getting to me.  Even with a hat on I had to sit down about three times just to finish a hundred-foot row.   

Saen and Fy and maybe a few others from Aldea are coming in the morning to help.  I’m grateful and then some even though I know mostly it’s because Glenn and the crew will be coming in some time tomorrow.  They had to make a major detour when they ran into not one but two small, local bridges that wouldn’t take the weight of the trucks they are driving. 

That will be something special for our anniversary tomorrow.  Scott and I talked it out.  In years past we’ve always taken the day off for our anniversary.  This year there just doesn’t seem like it is the right thing to do.  He’s already lost part of a day working on the curtain wall project because he had to put up the Laundromat structure and I can’t just let stuff rot in the fields; not stewarding our abundance today could well mean having starvation forced on us tomorrow.  We’ve decided to do our normal work during the day and then have a quiet bit of alone time in the evening.  David, Rose, James, and Charlene have agreed to manage all of the kids for us for a few hours and we are going to take our dinner and “picnic” in the old house in the orange grove that used to be our guard shack.  Right now it is little more than a place to store our garden tools but it’s reasonably clean. 

I worked on my harvest inventory to give to Dante’ while listening to Scott, David, and James banter about what they would do if we do have a run that goes north for a bit.  David has no interest in going.  I think that is because of his early unsettled life being pulled from pillar to post.  Now that he has a real home he prefers to remain grounded there.  Scott and James on the other hand are so eager to go off gallivanting around that I had to stop listening to them or I was going to get upset again.  I know there will be a run to the north, I just don’t know when, probably a lot sooner than I’m going to be comfortable with.  I’m also not sure who all will be going.  I have a feeling that both Scott and James will want to go and I may just have to resign myself to that though I’m far from happy with it. 

At least the inventory kept me occupied while they talked.  Today I brought in the following types of produce:  black turtle beans, great northern beans, jacob’s cattle dried beans, navy bean, pinto beans, soldier beans, wren’s egg beans, moon and starts watermelons, blue lake pole beans, genuine cornfield pole beans, Kentucky Wonder pole beans, painted lady pole beans, romano pole beans, Jackson wonder lima beans, lemon cucumbers, long green cucumbers, Mexican sour gherkins, straight 8 cucumbers, black eyed peas, and kohlrabi.  I wasn’t able to get all of the dried beans in but they should be fine on the vine another few days, it’s more important to keep the fresh produce picked.  I also harvest a couple of heads of lettuce every day.  At least we can have a fresh salad and/or a fruit salad every day if we want. 

The dried beans we’ll likely store in buckets though we’ll have to be careful because they aren’t rodent proof.  By the end of this week we will start adding dried blue corn to our storage as well.  The blue Hopi corn started coming in last month and I’ve got two hundred feet of row that is now dried on the stalk.  They need to be cut and then stacked so that they can complete their drying and from there I’ll have to decide whether to shuck the dry kernels out or to leave them on the cob for storage. 

We are about to cycle through another round of heavy tomato production that will require time to dry and can.  And, a bunch of fresh sweet corn should be ready by the end of the week if the sun keeps shining the way it has.  The popcorn should be coming in at the same time, not to mention the heirloom corn that we are letting dry on the stalk and the shoe peg corn. 

I’ve had to keep the Butch and Sundance out in the garden at night.  We are having problems with raccoons again.  I thought we had cleaned them out of Sanctuary but I guess there were a few left and they’ve been breeding and having kits.  Same with the possums.  If I could trust the puppies not to run roughshod over the rows I’d let them into the garden all day to scare up the varmints but they’ll just cause as much damage as they prevent digging up stuff and dragging it hither and yon.   

And with that I’m going to drag myself from hither typewriter to yon bed.  I’m beat and I want to be able to have dinner with Scott tomorrow without falling asleep in my plate.  I hope he likes what I made him for his anniversary present.
 

Day 281 (Tuesday) – May 7  – Happy Annivesary to Us 

I’m not going to spend the whole night typing.  I’m just waiting for Scott to get off of guard duty. 

Wowzer, how different … like night and day … from last year on this date.  Yes NRS was around but only in very isolated cases, at least here in the USA.  The way the news about it was covered it was almost a joke, exaggeration, or tall tale; more hyperbole than anything else.  Last year Rose and James watched the younger three and Scott and I actually got to go to dress up and make a whole day of having fun to celebrate our anniversary.  We went walking along the Pier first, got a small bite to eat, then came home and got really gussied up and went to a nice steak restaurant and then to the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center to catch a reprise of The Jersey Boys, one of our favorites. 

This year we can’t count all of our kids on one hand any more.  I haven’t been near a beach in a year and it will likely be some time before we could take the time to do such a thing again … and even when we do I doubt it will be with anything less on than camo and a side arm.  Getting gussied up tonight was taking a midweek bath and using Avon Skin-So-Soft instead of Deep Woods Off to keep the bugs away.  Our fancy dinner was eating a picnic version of what everyone else was eating sitting on one of my old quilts by the glow of a citronella candle.  And the Performing Arts Center is nothing but rubble. 

My, my, my; what a difference a year can make.  But, the most important thing remains true; we are still together regardless of the problems that have beset us.  I still have him, he still has me and we have all of the children as reasonably safe and secure as we can. 

I didn’t have much work in the garden today … or should I say I didn’t have as much work.  Saen, Anne, Tina, and Becky came over to help.  Mostly the only new thing to harvest was a few new rows of hot peppers but there are always things to harvest.  They picked several bushels of beans and about of which they took back with them when they left in the afternoon.   

I haven’t seen Becky much since they moved to Aldea.  She’s 22 weeks along and boy is she showing.  I wasn’t sure what to make of Tina being there.  I saw her talking to Dante’ mid-morning … more like fussing at him from the looks of it.  I asked Saen and she told me they are having trouble with Bo.  He isn’t taking his parents’ separation at all well.  Tina is blaming Dante’ for giving the boy ideas that maybe she and Dante’ could still get back together.  I don’t know.  Kids can have that idea all on their own when they want it bad enough.  From what I now hear they are going to try and have Bo with Dante’ Monday through Thursday so he can have some consistent schooling and then Friday through Sunday afternoon he’ll be with Tina at Aldea.  I guess they’ll just have to see how that goes. 

As far as how well Scott and I are doing … “fine as frogs hair” as my Daddy used to say, so long as he doesn’t get long winded about going north.  He wants me to be all excited for him but I feel like tossing my cookies from anxiety.  Maybe if we were all going together but that just isn’t reasonable and I can’t have both Scott and I gone from the kids at the same time.  And either he didn’t have the run on his mind or he was trying to keep the peace and didn’t mention it … either way suited me just fine, nothing about it was brought up except in a roundabout way when he said he had wanted to find me some apples as a surprise but no one has any to sell or trade around here.  We here they are cheap up north according to the radio but … like I said, it was brought up and dropped so fast I didn’t even have time to get upset. 

Besides I was all agog over the gift Scott had given me; or I should say gifts.  The first one was this cool hand sickle … looked very similar to one that you see on the Russian flag only this one had lots of detail work on the outside of the blade and was shaped just a wee bit different.  It’s called a hisaya.  It is about eleven inches all together with a four and a quarter inch handle as part of that length.  It only weighs about six ounces.  He found it months ago in that strange house were we found all the big game hunting equipment.  It has a perfect weight and balance for my hand.  Scott said it was too small for many of the men so it could very well have been designed for a woman to use in the field.  I was already planning how much use I could get out of it and what was the best way to carry it when he gave me the second gift. 

It brought me to tears.  He knew how much the loss of my machete was bothering me.  He hadn’t really realized how much I had used it and how much comfort it had brought me until it was gone.  First he had asked Bob to put it back together the best way he could and then he mounted it and the sheath on a really nice piece of wood and I have it hanging over the top of my closet door.  It is strictly ornamental of course but there is lots of sentimental value to it.  It that had been all I would have been more than satisfied but he wasn’t finished. 

On one of Glenn’s recent forays Scott asked him to keep an eye out for a cutlery store or something similar and see if he could find a high quality replacement for the machete.  He admitted that he hadn’t had much hope of that and Glenn said that had he stuck with store fronts it would have been a lost cause.  However, salvaging for something totally different on this last run he busted into a warehouse only to find out it was a shared space with an import/export business.  There was a whole selection of Asian imports and of this, not a small selection was from Thailand.  He was scooping all of that stuff that he could … seasonings, cloth, etc. … and then he found a bunch of Thai weaponry.  Now most of the stuff was purely decorative but somehow or other there came to be a few pieces of authentic stuff in there and Glenn offered a couple of pieces to Scott when they arrived back this afternoon. 

Scott said it was in the nick of time.  It is different from my old machete but … it’s beautiful.  It is called an e-nep.  It is the Thai version of a machete, or sword, or long knife … kind of all combined.  It is nineteen inches long and Scott weighed it in at a pound two ounces.  Wow is it efficient at what it does. It was cutting through small limbs with almost no effort.  Scott sharpened it with my dad’s sharpening kit so it had that wow-factor to it.  The handle is a little different but Scott said if I wind up not being able to get used to it he’ll trim the wood back so that it fits better in my hand.   

The e-nep has this really wicked curve to the blade that … it is like it is so eager to work that the blade is hurrying up to get where you are sending it.  I know that sounds weird but that’s how it feels in my hand.  The e-nep kind of looks like the khukuri that my dad almost bought years ago but not quite as fancy.  The e-nep is definitely a working man’s tool that gives me a lot of control in confined spaces.  It’s not a sword; I may have to take Scott up on his offer to shave the handle down a bit. 

After that bit of excitement I felt chagrinned that my gift to him wasn’t more but I’m happy to say he was very pleased with it.  I’m glad as I did put a lot of work into it.  I took one of those single sling backpacks and made a pattern from it then using some chamois, leather, and heavy-duty camouflage material I had I made a duplicate of the original.  Only the one I fixed unzipped so that it would open up flat like a book.  I had used some of those armor pieces from the NRSC and inserted them into the lining of the backpack so that when it is open he will have a hard surface to draw or write on.  On one of the inside sides I put these zippered pockets on the inside that hold his squares, tape measures, plumb lines, and stuff like that.  On the other side is a clip board.  Basically it is all his surveying stuff in one handy-dandy carrier.  And the bonus is that the NRSC armor is exactly that … armor.  When he is wearing it on his back it’s like Kevlar.  Scott brought me to tears again when he said, “Now you have my back even when you aren’t around.”  Gack … the big mushy romantic.   

Well, I hear Scott rattling the door knob and coming in so I’m am going to stop for the evening.  All the kids are asleep and we plan on extended our “mushy moments” for a little while longer.

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