I picked up my shopping basket and started walking down the street of the condo community. At the corner, I turned, heading through the next development, to the edge of the steep hillside. At the top of the slope there was a small platform where several other people were already waiting. I nodded to them in general greeting, then stood beside Wendy, who lived at the opposite end of the neighborhood. Wendy had a couple of cloth shopping bags on her arm — this was Tuesday, usually a quiet day for shopping — but today was just two days before the Spring Holiday! I hadn’t seen Wendy for months, it seemed, and we spent a few minutes catching up on each other’s lives.
While waiting for the cable car to arrive and discharge its passengers from the shopping center down the hill, Wendy told me about her plans for the Holiday. “Rob has been trying out new BBQ recipes for the past month, searching for the perfect recipe to complement his homegrown goat steaks,” she said, adding that “this is the first we’ve tried growing our own goats.” Wendy and Rob were both newcomers who moved up from the city when Wendy inherited the property from a childless aunt. They had started with raising rabbits for meat, which turned out to be a huge success, but after a couple of seasons, Rob had developed a craving for roasts and steaks that didn’t taste like chicken. “Even froglegs, like the ones Susie breeds at her end of the pond, taste just like chicken. Rob wanted red meat that one can really sink one’s teeth into,” she exclaimed.
We stepped aboard the cable car, maintained by the consortium of stores at the shopping center below, which provided free service to the residents in the neighborhoods at the top of the hill. It was solar-powered, so maintenance mostly meant keeping the gears and chains greased and the solar panels clean.
Wendy continued chatting as we descended, while I, as usual, couldn’t take my eyes off the panoramic view of the city and suburbs spread before us. I was always enthralled by the vista that presented itself, changing every minute during the leisurely trip down the incline. At the top, we could see tall steeples and the highest buildings downtown rising above the treetops. The range of hills beyond the city blended into the distant mountains in the stunningly clear air. Between our hill and the city, several building complexes could be seen at first, including the hospital and a college campus. These were soon lost among the trees and buildings of the shopping center as we reached our destination.
The shopping center, The Highlands, boasts a general store, clothing stores, bakery, meat market, furniture and craft shops, post office, bank, several eateries, and a farmers market during the growing season. There isn’t much that we have to travel off the hill for these days.
While Wendy went over to the grocery store, I walked across the crumbled parking lot to order some sandals for the hot weather. Although sturdy shoes or boots were advisable for most activities, I still liked to wear loose, comfortable sandals around the house.
Across the parking lot from the main shopping center is a former gas station that has been converted into a shoe store. They use leather tanned from local cattle, which have been butchered for meat. Many folks, like Wendy, are into growing their own meats, but others of us have different priorities. I am a vegetable and herb farmer myself, and add my produce to the Hillcrest community’s wagonload of goods brought down every week to the market, which operates on Saturdays and Sundays.
Each household has developed its own specialties, which encourages trade, and keeps the economy going. All summer long, artisans and craftspeople, and farmers, make their goods, tend their fields, butcher their meat animals, gather their eggs, pick their fruits and veggies, and bring their wares to market. During the winter months, markets are held much less frequently, and feature preserved foods and a greater variety of crafts. We have turned into a very seasonally-focused society since the Oil Wars left us without access to most fossil fuels. Folks have proven to be remarkably adaptable in the long run within the constraints of our new energy paradigm, although it took many years for most to make the lifestyle adjustment.
I stepped into the store, and greeted Rita. She was between customers so I was able to go over and chat with her. I heard once that in the old days, way back in the 20th century, a big company in a state called Texas had sold leather cut in patterns along with the laces needed to make moccasins and purses, as well as other leather items. Rita didn’t use patterns, but custom-fit each shoe for every individual.
Rita promised to make me a pair of moccasins, and I also ordered the sandals I’d been thinking about. She already had my foot measurements, but she re-measured, just to make sure my feet hadn’t changed. I had completely worn out my old pair last year, and had been wearing soft leather boots ever since last fall. In fact the boots were nearly worn out too, but I wouldn’t replace them yet. We settled on a price of one large bundle of dried basil, which Rita used a lot in her cooking, for the moccasins, and a sack of onions for the sandals. I would bring them next week when I came back down the hill for my shopping, and she would have them ready.
After leaving Rita’s, I continued on my way to the clothing store. I was frugal, and tended to buy my clothing in the off-season. With spring just around the corner, Shelly was busy sewing short-sleeved shirts, light-weight dresses and pants, and other summer-wear. I went in and began looking through the heavy shirts and pants left from last fall.
“Cara, can I help you find something?” Shelly looked up from her treadle machine, where she’d just finished putting together the front and back of a child-sized shirt. It was made in the style of most of our clothing these days – a loose-fitting tunic with belt loops and a long cord to hold the voluminous shirt in place. Buttons were only used for special orders, when the buyer provided the buttons to be used. Some clever artisans created metal hook fasteners for sewing onto clothes, but most folks didn’t feel the need for such ostentatious display. Belted tunics were perfectly acceptable to most of the community.
“I’m just looking to see what you might have left from your winter stock. You know how I am.” I replied. I wasn’t any poorer than anybody else, but maybe my fashion sense was less developed. I didn’t care much what my clothes looked like, as long as they were functional. The truth was, I couldn’t ever decide what latest fashion to purchase, but when choosing between old leftover fashions from the previous season I had no trouble deciding what I liked – I went by what fit. I soon had two outfits picked out, which Shelly set aside for me. We agreed on the price, and I left.
Next door was the general store, where I picked out candles. Trent was in a good mood, and our bartering lasted for a few minutes, until I finally gave in to his final offer. I had enough scrip on me to cover the cost of the candles – even at the exorbitant price Trent charged me, and continued making my way around the shopping center.
At the bakery, I bought a freshly baked roll, and a mug of tea, which I took to a table in the sun to enjoy. There were several others sitting around on this mild day after a long winter, and we discussed the weather, the coming growing season, and most importantly, the upcoming Spring Holiday.
People who study the past say that our Spring Holiday used to be called the Equinox, when the length of day and night are the same length. There’s one in the Spring, and one in the Fall. We don’t celebrate the one in the Fall, though – folks are too busy harvesting then to stop for any reason. Maybe that’s why we like the Spring Holiday so much, to make up for the one we miss. Not that we don’t make up for it later, when winter begins to set in. That’s the Winter Holiday, the Solstice – when the day is shortest — and we tend to really celebrate that holiday. There’s another Solstice, also, the Summer Solstice, but we don’t celebrate that one much, either; it’s part of our busy time of year, also.
Anyhow, this year’s Spring Holiday was going to be better than ever, according to the folks planning it. It would start in just two more days, at the Farmers Market area. Hopefully, the weather would cooperate and the day would be like this one; it would be held inside in case of bad weather, although the feast wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. Rob would do BBQ, and Harry would roast a pig. Everyone else would bring whatever they had or felt like bringing. I planned to make some kettles of soup. After I ate my roll and drank my tea, and talked awhile with the others, I got up to finish my shopping.
My next stop was the bank. Joe’s family had been headed by a bank manager for a large regional bank before the Oil Wars, and had started her own community bank in the aftermath. They didn’t deal with a lot of cash, but had developed a scrip that the community accepted in place of constantly bartering, which can get awkward when dealing with big or messy items. The bank was actually a former discount store that now served as a warehouse for people’s valuables. Each member of the bank had their own separate section for storing their goods. I used mine to store seeds for crops, and dried bundles of various herbs.
I greeted Joe and asked him if it would be possible for me to go through my supplies; I was going to need some seed, as well as to purchase new footwear and clothing. He smiled and invited me to accompany him to the ‘vault’ area, a large storage room that used to hold all kinds of goods, shipped from far away, even from across the oceans, to sell. Although those days were long gone, folks still talked about them as if they had personally lived through those days.
Once in the vault, Joe led me to a section of the room where all kinds of good-smelling herbs and dried fruits and vegetables were stored. My shelf was about half empty, which wasn’t bad for this time of year – it would be a couple of months before there were crops to harvest for this new growing season. Besides basil, I had lots of lavender, rose hips, and spearmint, as well as herbal mixes for cooking and for teas, left for trading; my seed stores were inviolate, barring some extreme emergency.
I took out some packages of tea herbs for Shelly for the clothes, and measured out some tomato and pepper seeds; if the weather held out, I planned to get my greenhouse seedlings started that week. I had already planted potatoes, peas, and onions in the field, and lettuce, radishes, and onion seeds in my kitchen garden patch. I would get the dried basil and onions for Rita next week; there was no sense in lugging them back home and then down here again.
Next to the bank, there was a large building that housed several craftspeople. I stopped at the Weaver’s stall to talk with Etta, who was my next door neighbor. She grew flax in the area between my gardens and the golf course, which was now used for growing grains. The flax fibers were spun into cloth, known as linen in the old days, and very expensive I’ve heard.
Etta was the community expert in fibers of all kinds. She raised sheep and goats, and grew plants for fiber, as well. Some fibers were spun and woven into cloth to use for many purposes, but others were used for knitting and crocheting. I didn’t know anything about those processes – that wasn’t my area. Dyeing the fibers, though; that was something that I knew about.
We talked for a few minutes, about the weather, of course, and our hopes for the coming summer. Etta had been experimenting with cotton seeds for several years, having found a small sack of seed at the Trade Fair a few years ago. So far, she hadn’t quite figured out how to get cotton to produce enough to be worth the trouble it took to grow, because of its long growing season. She had been starting them in her greenhouse, which limited how many plants she could grow.
Although we had hotter summers now, they weren’t necessarily longer. Winters had become more extreme, also. Climate change wasn’t just ‘global warming’ as the ancestors had thought, but it certainly disrupted civilization; especially after the oil wars, when the old-timers had finally been forced to use renewable energy sources.
I left Etta’s stall with promises to combine resources for the holiday; Etta wasn’t much of a cook, but she was generous in providing supplies for others, usually me, to cook or bake.
My errands completed for the day, I took the incline back up the hill. I would have time to plant some seeds before dark. Wesley was home; he was developing a recipe for making brew, and planning what to grow where for his ingredients. It would only be a few more weeks before we could plant the hops and other grains that he wanted.
Wesley was a woodcarver when he wasn’t creating a new brew recipe or working on the land with me. In the evenings, Wes would whittle while I cooked or baked, shelled beans or worked with my herbs. We would talk about many things to pass the time away. During the winter, we’d go to bed early, as soon as it was too dark to see.
Some people had solar lighting, but we enjoyed living according to the sun’s cycle. Some folks still used bicycle generators to run radios or televisions, but the entertainment was generally dated, or else totally irrelevant to our lives. I wondered that people let others think for them, paid others to be creative; what did that do for them, and why didn’t it work for me?
Hillcrest had been laid out for a totally different lifestyle than we enjoyed, or should I say, endured. I enjoyed it, but many others did not. They were envious of our ancestors who had squandered so many of earth’s resources for themselves and never thought about how their children, or their children’s children, would live.
Like I said, I enjoyed our lifestyle. In my opinion, life all boiled down to such simple things – water, food, shelter from the cold or heat. Someone to share the simple things with, whether family or friend; some activity to do, thoughts to entertain oneself . . .
The Hillcrest Condominium Community – from what I’d read, and from the stories told around the fire at night during community gatherings, it was so absolutely unsustainable that I couldn’t help but wonder how those first survivors had actually lived through the wind-down of high civilization. I could see, from the layout of the streets, and the structures of the buildings, that there had been only homes built along those streets.
People had been slaves to their automobiles, because they had to use them to go anywhere. If they needed food, they would have to drive to a store to find any because they were not allowed to grow any useful plants in the development. They didn’t know how to make anything that they used, from clothing to furniture, to the gadgets that enabled them to communicate as people had never communicated before, or would ever do again, probably. The kids would have to be driven to playgrounds to play with their friends, or play sports at school. They had to ride buses to go to school, because the schools were so far away.
Some folks, even today, drove their little electric cars around, using solar panels to collect and store energy for them. They could have hitched horses to them, or to carts, and gotten around much more efficiently, if more slowly, of course, but preferred to tinker with plugging them in, and all that fuss. I’d ridden in an electric car to go to the Trade Fair, and it was quite exciting. However, for everyday errands, there were more functional ways to travel.
In the old days, folks had known people at work or at school, but they had no further connection with them. Neighbors worked at different places and had no connections to each other. This was the American Dream, apparently.
And those homes . . . they had been very badly designed. Windows facing the wrong way, so that breezes couldn’t cool the rooms, decks placed where the full afternoon sun would blast anybody who was crazy enough to try to spend time out there; no insulation, so winter winds blew right through the house; great rooms that couldn’t be heated or cooled efficiently.
Our house had been like that a long time ago. The first survivors had rigged up a greenhouse on the deck to take advantage of the hot sun. They’d used the great room for overwintering tender plants such as citrus trees and tomato plants, so they’d have food during the winter. The upstairs rooms became drying rooms for crops and herbs in the summer, and cold storage in the winter. The garage, cleared of useless vehicles, was cool in spring and warm in fall, but impossible both in hot weather and in cold. The people mostly lived in the basement, which was protected from the elements by earth.
Those survivors probably wouldn’t recognize the house if they saw it now. The garage walls were knocked out several generations ago, replaced by wooden fencing; our chickens found it to be a comfortable home. The kitchen, appliances removed, now featured a stovepipe rising up the center of the room through the former skylight, roofed over except where the pipe ran through it. The non-weight-bearing walls of the dining room were removed; the only heat available was from that woodstove in the kitchen, so the rooms on that side of the house were turned into one cozy area.
The staircase to the second floor divided the house, into two distinct sections, and a large blanket hung between the kitchen area and the steps, to keep the heat in during winter. Above the kitchen/dining room space, which we called the living area, there was an open loft area – open to the great room-turned-into-greenhouse. It actually stayed rather warm, and was now used as a bedroom in the cool months, although most winters required sleeping in the kitchen area. The bathroom and bedrooms upstairs were my storage and drying areas.
This particular ‘unit’ as they called them back in the day, had a closed-in basement. Some folks with similar basements had taken to living down there, but I didn’t like not being able to look outside, and made do with living on the first floor and loft. Wesley was even more warmblooded than I, and never seemed to get cold. He was a great sleeping companion on cold nights.
We liked to play music and sing in our leisure time, which generally meant twilight, when it was too dark to see to do anything else. Sometimes, if the importance of the task warranted, we would light candles to continue working into the night, but that was seldom necessary.
Wesley and I had been together for just over two years. He was from a neighborhood at the edge of the city, and had come to the Spring Holiday three years ago. We had hit it off, and during a later visit, had invited me to join his family in going to the Trade Fair that fall.
The Trade Fair is the event of the year around here. Folks come from two or three days’ travel away (those who used horses, anyhow), and camped out at the Fairgrounds, on the other side of the city. The Fair lasted a week, and every day, folks wandered around the stalls, looking to see what wares were available, and haggling with the vendors. Wesley had cousins from downstate who were in the breeding business. They mostly had horse breeds, but one of the aunts had branched out to alpacas and llamas.
Wes and I had helped Auntie Rana care for her small herd; she had several baby animals to barter, and a few adult llamas to get people’s attention to her stall at the Fair. Her man, Lester, wanted her to give rides to folks, but she refused to subject her charges to that indignity. The livestock stalls were along the perimeters of the Fair, and there would have been space for a riding circle. Rana suggested that Lester provide horse rides, instead; an idea that didn’t go over too well. Lester was a good horse trader, though, and the two complemented each other. She kept him from acting like a fool, and he kept her from taking everything too seriously.
By the time the fair was over, Wes and I had come to an understanding for our own complementary relationship. My family was small, there being only me and my parents at that time. Wes had several siblings, and his family did not need him there, so he moved up the hill to stay in my family’s home. We all worked the land, using horses, from his inheritance, to plow and cart supplies. His folks had blessed him by giving him breeding stock, and we soon had a couple of foals to raise, in addition to growing herbs and vegetables. So far, Wes and I had not had any little ones of our own, but we remained hopeful while we continued enjoying each other.
My folks had died during a flu outbreak the previous winter. My herbal remedies just did not work to ease their symptoms. Many other elderly folks had also succumbed to the virus that year, as well; it had been a particularly pernicious strain. According to historians, the serious flu outbreak right after the Oil Wars had been very similar, and just as fatal in the end. Even the old time medications hadn’t helped those victims; all any healers could ever do, no matter what the level of technology, was to treat and wait – hoping for the best.
The Spring Holiday went off without a hitch. The weather was warm and sunny, and people came down from the mountains, up from the river towns, and from everywhere in between to participate in the festivities. The food court offered basic victuals such as BBQ, soups and breads, and herbal beverages, that everybody was urged to enjoy.
In addition to the free foods, there was a section of vendors nearby who sold specialty items – fried dough creations, sausages, candies, desserts and other carry-overs from the old traditions – as well as homemade brews and wines, which it is said they couldn’t do before because of all the rules and regulations.
Wes’s family joined us for the day’s celebrations, and three of his siblings remained for the evening festivities. There was plenty of wine and brew, as well as home-stilled liquors, to facilitate the music and dancing that celebrated the return of warmer weather and a new growing season. I tested out my new moccasins dancing with Wes.
In the wee hours of the morning, as the sky lightened with the dawn of a new day, Wes and I, with the siblings — Charlie, Lacie, and Stern – made it back home to sleep it off. The sun was about halfway up the sky before we awoke again. Wes and Charlie went out to tend to the animals, while Lacie, Stern, and I prepared food. While we worked in the kitchen, Stern told me about some ominous news he’d heard from Auntie Rana.
“There are folks downstate who want to organize all of the communities along this side of the river. They convinced the folks at the county seat that we need to band together to protect ourselves from roving marauders, who, they claim, are overrunning towns between them and the coast. The folks across the river have already joined them. We haven’t heard of any incursions, at all – just their word that it’s happening. Charlie and I are going to go exploring that way, to find out what’s really going on.”
Lacie had come up behind Stern while he was talking, and interjected that she was going along with them. “We want Wes to accompany us too – just so you know. Charlie is telling him now, I’m sure.”
Well, sure enough, Wes came back in, all set to go exploring with the three. “And there are others going, too.” He added, “not only my kin, but other families from the city and the county are sending young people out. Some other folks from here are going, as well.”
“I want to go too.” I said.
“Cara, you can’t. There’s nobody else here to keep the farm going. Besides, you need to take care of yourself.”
I could have stomped his feet into the ground! How did he know I was pregnant, when I wasn’t even sure yet? “I’ll be careful,” trying to convince him that I should go, when we both knew that it couldn’t be.
“When are you figuring to leave?” I finally asked, admitting defeat.
“Not for a few days. We have a lot to do to get ready.”
The next few days were whirlwinds of activity. The men, and Lacie, hunted deer, and butchered a kid for meat to dry for the journey. I mixed up packets of trail mix, and gathered supplies of beans and grains and herbs for them to live on. They planned to avoid most people until they knew what the situation really was. Besides, even though Joe’s scrip was good even on the other side of the city, it probably wouldn’t be accepted where they were going.
Way too quickly, the day of departure arrived. Wes saddled up the male yearling, and rode beside the electric car that we borrowed from Taylor to take everything to the city, where they would meet the rest of the explorers, along with llamas for beasts of burden, and other camping supplies. I didn’t have to make that return trip alone, though – Wes’s youngest sister, Serena, came back with me, to help out. She was a good sturdy girl, well-accustomed to handling horses and livestock. She confided to me, on the trip back to the hill, that she was looking for a mate as well.
“None of the men, or boys, that I know are what I’m looking for.” Serena wasn’t sure just what she wanted in a mate. Having seen close up many relationships in her extended family, she knew what she didn’t want. She hoped that she would know what she did want when she found him. “Maybe I’ll find him at the Highlands.”
We spent the next six weeks working in the gardens and fields, taking care of livestock, and trying not to worry about Wes and the others travelling into unfamiliar territory. Besides being in strange locales, they might have to navigate through strange mores, as local customs could differ enough from their own to put them in danger, unwittingly.
I was definitely pregnant, and kept busy with chores all day long every day, and into the evening as well. I could not keep my thoughts from worry; at the back of every thought was the knowledge that I didn’t know how Wes was faring.
Serena was a good companion, who kept both of us in good spirits. She had made friends with several available men in my circle, but none of them struck her as ‘the one’.
Finally, just two days before the full moon in July, Wes arrived home. He came walking up the road, leading a llama laden with a few small packs on its back. Serena was feeding the chickens in the front, and noticed him half a block away, and she called for me. I was around the corner of the house, weeding one of the herb gardens.
“Wes, you’re here!” I cried out.
“Yes honey, I’m back, and it is a wonder. Sissy, here, could use some water and food, after we get her unloaded, and I could do the same.”
Serena unloaded the llama, took it into the barn, filled the water trough and gave it fresh grain to eat. I led Wes into the house. While I poured water from a jug, and cut thick slabs of bread and cheese for Wes and handed it to him, he just kept looking at me.
Finally he said, “So, when are you due?”
“Not until late fall.” I answered, and then threw my arms around him. “You made it home – I was so worried that you wouldn’t!”
“It wasn’t an easy trip, and I will tell you all about it, but also, we must gather everybody we know together because we have some decisions to make. What we learned is going to change our lives.”
I sent Serena to tell everybody that Wes was back, and to call for a meeting. “You tell them to send for the Mountain folks, as well as everybody on the hill. Charlie is gathering the folks down in the city to tell them, and word will spread quickly down that way. They should be able to get here day after tomorrow, and that’s when Wes will tell everybody what he’s found out.”
We spent the next day preparing for a feast – gatherings like this required providing for all of the hungry travelers who would not be able to cook and hunt for themselves here as they would have been doing for themselves at home.
That very afternoon, families began arriving, and the community took on the excitement of a celebration; at least for the youngsters. Adults were apprehensive about the news, of which they’d heard bits and pieces. Rumors had augmented what little was known until some folks were sure it was the end of the world for them.
The next evening, after a good meal of vegetable stews and meats, Wes called for quiet as everybody gathered around the market space in the shopping center. There was no place else where so many people could gather at one time.
“As you all know by now, a few siblings of mine invited me to accompany them to the lowlands, to find out the truth to the rumors we’d heard at the Spring Holiday. These rumors, you’ll recall, were that there are people at the state capital who want to organize everybody into a larger government. They said for protection, but we were afraid it was more of a scam – that they just want some of our hard-earned goods and products, in return for what?”
“So, that was the point of our expedition; to find out why they wanted to rule over us. Was there some foreign threat, or perhaps another kind of threat from folks close by? After meeting with country folk, and with some city folks at several cities between here and the sea, we came to the conclusion that these organizers are just looking to line their own pockets. They’re inventing threats and enemies where, in truth, there are none.”
“However, they do have lots of guns, and ammunition. It is not hard to make, but they must have been stockpiling for years to have amassed enough to be threatening peaceful folks like those we met on our journey. Enough that most of them have buckled under the organizers’ threats. They call themselves the “Patriotic Americans” and are determined to rule over this side of the continent, for starts. They not only have men and guns, but they’ve also confiscated any technology that the communities they’ve absorbed had. They travel in electric cars and trucks, and can move fast, when there are roadways that are not too deteriorated, that is.”
“My idea is to destroy our roads and bridges to keep them away. I know that won’t work forever, but it gives us a little more breathing time. Time to figure out a better solution.”
“They’d better never try to reach our mountain,” Kenny, an elderly hillbilly threatened.
“Well, they’d have to get through us first.” Wes answered.
“And us.” Charlie echoed.
“Waaall, I guess we just have to make sure that that doesn’t happen,” drawled Kenny.
The folks got down to the nitty gritty then, and figured out how they were going to deal with this. I have to confess that I was more concerned with everyday life and the baby on its way than I was about some threat that might not happen for years.
One night, we were awakened by bombs going off in the far distance, across the river. Somebody had apparently found some missiles, too, although they didn’t go where they were aiming them, from what we found out afterwards. The attackers shot their missiles up, which then came back down and destroyed their own forces. The defenders weren’t much better off; they set their own armory on fire and blew up the whole shebang at once. That was a sight to see!
It will soon be time for the Spring Holiday again. My moccasins are worn out already, so I’ll need to get down to see Rita again one of these days. Wes will be entering his new brew in the fermented drinks contest this year, and he may well win.
Serena found a good mountain boy, a grandson of old Kenny, to marry. They had the wedding at the Winter Holiday, held on the Mountain. Serena broke tradition to move up with Randy on the mountain. She’s from that big family of Wesley’s, also, and they don’t need her there. She took a pair of breeding horses as a marriage gift, so she’ll still be working with horses. She is already expecting.
I gave birth to a baby girl just before winter, I ‘m calling her Wren.