Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Hard Choices

The roosters never wake me its always the donkeys. No one ever really mentioned how loud donkeys are. Somehow in the old fable books they came across as quiet and solid. Most of our donkeys are young, and jangly and loose and super loud and I am often thankful that we decided to keep them across the river near the infirmary station that connects the longtrail checkpoints. the first task of the day for the donkeys is carrying up the empty tins from the dinner night before and hauling back down breakfast for the crews going out from the quarantine stations. The three long houses above the river forming a courtyard and gated residence are our quarantine stations. Most of the field workers and youth live down there attending to the interactions with the outside world.

Our numbers can only work for us if they stay within a certain margin. If we have over 200 people eating from the lenses we have all agreed to simply shut the gates and stop accepting travelers young and old. We have rarely had to keep to this rule since the allure of the longtrail is high and the workload and expectations of self discipline are often daunting for people. It takes at least nine months for many strangers to actually become what we consider community members, and in that time we can also observe them for health risks.

The infirmary is also a store and trading station. There are no infectious diseases handled there, we have another altogether removed outpost for those conditions including the various chicken pox that children commonly pass around and even certain advanced cases of substance abuse. We will give any traveller around a week to regather themselves at the outpost quarantine station above the store and restaurant, (the "red house" we call it) and they have to decide to move into the "yellow house" or make their way along the road in a vehicle or the longtrail on foot within that time. One of the resons we have such a steady flow of incoming youth in particular is this is a cross roads between the two possible forms of travel locally. Oh we still get very spooradic flights into the local airports however you still need the roads or the longtrail to get to your final destination.

We also provide a stop for the haulers taking dairy and beef and local products out. Our shop creates tinctures and alternative medicines that are highly regarded. We are very lucky in that our early involvement in the trade and barter routes has led us to the curious position of being able to trade out and back again for almost anything we want.

One thing we cant trade away for though, is the ability for a human community to easily self govern after it reaches 200 people. You must include children in this count because they are part of the process, their needs are part of the groups considerations and over the years we have found that the children often have quite a lot of important things to say. It is precious to train people early on to group consensus anyway,

This morning I must be rambling on about our troubled process because the decisions around Karl and Annie May have my mind wrought up. I can hear my own granddaughter on the other side of my shop feeding our families small penned coop of chickens. We rely on the children here as much as we rely on the adults or the donkeys or the river.

Except in this case there was a problem.

Annie May and her papa Karl were after something on the long trail, and they were not honest about what it was. It was hard to tell if they were hobos from the last set of storms in the south or if they had escaped a quarantine. Either way there were some old patterns and social habits that were going to have to get disrupted for them to adjust to us. It was not unusual for the situations like this to come to light in our midst. We were more generally known for our celebrations than for our austere lifestyle. Its easy to be attracted to our fire spinners and our musicians at the summer forays and festivals. its not so easy to perceive where they get their long lean tan bodies from in terms of the really truly hard work that they all make quick and joyfull.

This morning I can hear a small burst of laughter and some pans clattering down below. There is plenty of residual amps from yesterday so i slip on my robe and turn on the computers. The catwalk in the shop between our houses clangs as I hear my son-in law moving about in the algae incubators siphoning off finished bags into the separators and at the same time filling new bags with water and algae starters. He is probably sieving out the crude side since he has to go up to Eureka today for his work. I hope that he remembers that I need him to sieve and fill the cellulose side also so the 3D printer is topped up.

With a glass of hot tea warming my hands I take a glance at the opening screens. We have some serious applicants for our seven intern positions this year. That will mean that our tincture and salve shop will be maxed out easily.


Karl and Annie May will be riding up to town with Jacob. There is just no other way. Perhaps they could come back later after they have figured out where Annie Mays mother has gotten to...I think that is the real issue. They are more likely to hear news up in Eureka than here at the glass shop. Plus we have been at a hundred and sixty seven for almost a week. That's a bit of a gamble since we have at least twenty of our own out on the longtrail or doing some worktrade in the hills.

Every week there seems to be more people pouring in from the longtrail. The road is used by people with vehicles and by the haulers and it seems that the walkers are wanting to ride now that winter is coming. Maybe some of the juke joints and cat houses closed up for the fall season. They are actually somewhat mistaken to come to us. It is not really that easy for us to place people with rides on the way out on the road...the haulers are our friends but we know that they need to stay safe and ride light.

As Jacob finishes filling the bags on the cellulose side of the upper rafters the fiber optics dawn lights switch on and the building begins to glow. Down below I can see the lights switch on in the big shop and in my dads algae incubators that he ingeniously installed over his hot tub. The soft murmurs of voices outside and the sound of footsteps on the gravel as my kids and granddaughter walk to the vehicle shed. Often they all ride up together however this time he will have passengers and we all agreed it was better for them to stay home.

More than anything this was to save time. There are three quarantine checkpoints on the way up to Eureka, one outside of Scotia and the other entering Fortuna and Ferndale then the big one entering e-town. Sometimes they get finicky with travelers like Karl and Annie May who have old paper work and inconsistent stories told with tight lips.

Little Zoe is knocking at my back door. It is a small pathetic little knock however I recognize my granddaughters tenacious flurry of blows. I open the door in the thin cold morning light, Zoe is darling cute with a little set of knitted mouse ears on her head and matching Grey gloves making her dark coat look festive. Her little cheeks are pink from exertion and her hazel green eyes are twinkling.

"I brought you something gran-ma" she said, just off to the side I could see my daughter hovering, blowing on her gloves and wanting to get back inside. Little Zoe had a small egg crate clutched in her hands.

"FOUR eggs!" she said. "feel them"

I dutifully opened the crate and picked up an egg and put it to my cheek. She showed me her dimple as I mimed big time how warm the egg was, caressing my cheek with the smooth brown orb. The gravel under the wheels of Jacobs car crunched as he wound his way out the driveway, stopping to open the large locked gate at the bottom of the hill. There were two gates.

"Thanks Zoe!" I said "I will use them for my breakfast right now along with my millet bread".

We gave each other a hug and then she scampered off to get ready for school activities.

It was troubling to consider what a different life Zoe was having from that of Annie May. The little painted tea set may have been her first toy in months. She had few if any regular daily chores, and almost no schooling. Zoe had been reading for the last two years, the intense study atmosphere of our small community made it easy for her to get lots of instruction and attention.

The most attention that Annie May had from people outside of Karl was the bare scrutiny of the haulers taking them on and on down the road. She was still too small to walk the longtrail, and to big to be carried on it.

The sun was breaking light as I began to start printing orders for the haulers that would be by to pick up printed parts and supplies tomorrow. Thankfully Jacob re-filled the spinners so there will be plenty of fresh cellulose. Once I get the orders started I will do my yoga and make a quiet egg and toast and tea. Usually I have few hours of work to do up here before the musicians even wake up.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Evening Chores

Before I can head down the hill for dinner a number of small chores need to be done. Some of them are as simple and fundamental as re-setting the mechanical clockwork sun trackers and sand weights. The others are time old like picking the last few ripe cherry tomatoes from the garden and spraying down the plants around the house so the tiny insect mite predators can be wet the way they like it.

Already I can hear the music rising up from the glass shop below as the musicians gather to cheer on the cooking crew. The steam whistle that signals the great samovar teakettle coming to a final solar lens powered boil signals the movement towards the evening meal and the gathering of the small community together around the giant iron cookpot below.

Its easy to step through my last few chores humming along with the song as I go. It is a familiar maquuam from the roads of California. Most of the kids that are here were just wandering and stranded when they found us. At a certain point we managed to use the glass blowing tools my neighbor is a master of to create the great parabola cookers we now use to create this lovely meal at the end of the day. Before the propane became so precious that a large tank order became rare we silvered these powerful solar soncentrators and built iron stands for the great pots and even made a crucible hot enough to keep him blowing glass out of a glory hole using a series of lenses and parabola mirrors.

The hardest part was admitting that we had the tech all along.

The easiest part was taking in the kids and road dogs off of the street who came to us like lost souls. We began to organize them into teams and set them to farming the river bars for things like sunflowers and sorgum and corn. Every year the river bars change and shift, especially since they started dredging the mouth of the Eel river almost a decade ago. We use concrete based poles and long rolls of recycled plastic fencing to demarcate new gardens each year. The plants are fertilized with collected algae and squaw fish from the river. Up here by the shop we have irrigated kicthen gardens full of herbs and tender vegetables.

This reminds me of one last chore that I need to accomplish before I scamper down the hill to the large meal at the hostel. I walk into my small house attached to the shop and flip on a few lights and the computer while I place produce in its correct cool indoor spot and wash my hands and change for dinner. Once the system is warmed up I proceede to print out a few things to take down to the dinner as small gifts: a fishing bob for Karl and a small teacup and saucer set for the little Annie May. I select a few different options from the Rep-rap printing system, choosing to print out two sets of teacup and saucer and three fishing bobs just because I have it ready to go. There is plenty of distilled cellulose from the algae distillers. The sun trackers are set on them already for tomorrow and the fiber optic system has proven to be very efficient in keeping the algae production in ther fermenters going. In fact the entire workshop has this strange green golden light that we are quite used to since we actually use the upper floor of clear plastic algae incubators as the souorce of light for the shop below. At night or before dawn it is simple to switch on the electric light at the start of the fiber optic harness. For special project areas we have special lighting, however the even distribution of light from the algae incubators is surprisingly good for most of the projects we have going in here.

While the printer shuttles back and forth through its job of printing out the 3D objects I move food across the dehydrator system in the shop. Its pretty easy to exhaust the heat from the room through these screened cupboards and this time of year you can actually dry and store quite a bit of food, the dried roma tomatoes, herbs and peppers are very treasured in the winter here in California.

Tonight it will be a fairly large meal because of the season. Its almost fall and there is still a lot of movement on the old highway. Once the rains come we encourage as many of the kids as possible to go seek some shelter in a warmer climate and to visit the urban centers more. Since the last outbreak of SARs in the San Francisco Bay area we encourage them to find a work share in the hills more than to travel the cities of the world anymore. There are lots of older people still in the hills here from the back to the land movement and the later cash crop boom that need some young people in residence to care for them and keep the woodstove going.

Without cheap diesel the life in these woods that we all share has become more physical in many ways. The best part is that we have learned to stay in closer proximity to each other for most of the growing season so that we could become self-reliant on food. It quickly became apparent that we needed to help to feed as many people as possible in the world beyond as well and so we became a sort of ashram or hostel and farm.

The little printed gifts are tucked away in my fabric bag as I skip out of the building turning down the power. The last bit of sun is gleaming off of the big acrylic parabolic lense receivers above. There are several styles and sizes of collector on the metal shop roof all turned now away from the sun towards the first light of the next new day.

The dog joins me as I walk down the driveway. My dad is already down there, he is one of the few that controls the great cooking lenses in the late afternoon. There is great danger in those lenses being handled incorrectly and we have only a handful of people who we let run the actual cooking "flame". Of course the flame we cook with is the image of the sun itself.

At the gate leading into the small scatering of buildings and yurts I hear a familiar greeting from some of the young men "There is ONE GOD" they chant in unison to me "He is the SUN GOD" now I can see them dancing and clapping the four of them "Rah! Rah!....AAaaaAAAmen Rah!".

It is the old cheer of my old long gone master and it falls on happy and receptive ears. We all jump around together like cheerleaders "Rah rah amen rah". Really it is mostly just a silly rhyme we like to repeat to each other. Within the small saying is truth, we derive our sustenance in fact at the gass shop from the sun in many ways.

In the courtyard of the main kitchen I am greeted with a cup of tea and the smell of the soup. All at once I can also smell fresh bread as the great solar ovens are off-loaded into the preparation area. There are easily over fifty people preparing for dinner, we have several sets of neighbors that are coming tonight as well and overall we will feed more than a hundred people before the evening is out. Several harvest groups have not yet come back in from the river bar fields. As we start to put the meal together at the glass shop up above the river by the road they are down below still harvesting as fast as they can into the big bundles that will work their way up the hill to the music and the food and the merry company.

For several minutes I simply sit in the courtyard silently enjoying a baked millet treat and sipping tea observing the group.

This is our way.

There is time to meld with the group as they move about cutting bread and moving great pots of corn and squash inside to cool and be served out. In the distance I can hear the sterling engine as the corn for tomorrows breakfast polenta is being ground up in our small mill house. Inside the courtyard compound we have even got several mascot banty chickens that run wild and cause occasional worries within the cooking area. Like most of the people here they just appeared one day with bright eyes and a desire for our company.

On the other side of the courtyard where the musicians and other kitchen serving people live I can hear the music getting more excited. They must be able to share the smell of the bread. As I move around the cob building which surrounds the biggest lenses the music gets louder and I see the intended recipients of my little gifts.

Off to the side of the music Annie May is sitting in her Papas lap. They have the stiff discomfort of people who are new to a large very familiar group. They also have slightly sad and lean expressions which we often see on the faces of the road travelers. At first glassblower Michael and I thought they were passers through. Simply mouths to feed until a ride came through since the little girl could not walk the longtrail. It was less that a week before Karl had made himself a makeshift pole for squawfish duty, and Annie May had gone out with the kids to pick grapes several mornings up at the neighbors on fruitland ridge. They were settling in.

Like many on the longtrail they arrived with very few things and Annie May had no toys at all really to play with. Certain that the teacup would at least give her a chance to pal with a friend I handed her the little bundle of cups, saucers teapot and sugar bowl and sent her to the tech shed to paint them while dinner was being set up. Of course I had printed out an entire cellulose tea party for three complete with flower decorated teapot. Here at the Glass Shop we have had no shortage of small children.

Karl admired his fishing floats before we sent them along with Annie May to be painted red on one side. Nearly every night this time of year one of our soups was a sort of California version of a French fish pistou...a strained fish stew. The squaw fish were not of course so delicious as the other fish we are protecting from them. With our supply of shallots and this evening fresh corn also the soup is usually quite good.

At the sound of the first bell a small group gathers and serves out some food. Over the years we have developed an order of eating that is mostly practical and usually seasonal. The younger people are still making their way up from the river with the donkeys and the harvest bundles. Meanwhile the older neighbors and people who live year round at the glass shop usually eat with the young children and musicians. One of our chores while we get our own plates ready is to portion out and set in the warmers stacks and stacks of the steel lunch pails from India that we use quite a bit now for food. Since we commonly have several stews and some millett and dal they work well to keep the food covered and warm and tasty. When it is the full moon and it is possible to harvest the river bar fields all night we actually take these containers down to the workers and sit out with them on the river sand drinking tea with the muscians playing all night by a little campfire watching the moon. In this way we can get a really large part of our food in for the year right before we have our large local new-moon viewing party where we serve our famous sorghum beer.

On the carpets under the arcade outside the musicians quarters
I sit with my bowl of soup and my millet bread. As I begin to speak to the now quieted musicians in greetings Asha, one of my close women friends gestures with the teapot she is carrying around. We exchange warm greetings as she re-fills my cup and gracefully reaches to place her curved wooden musical instrument inside of the shelving area inside. Tonight she has been playing Oud. I prefer to take my meals with a small circle of friends, and she sits besides me on the reclining pillows with her tea in hand, relishing the simple time together taking our meal of fish and vegetable stew, with some tomato and cucumber salad and millet bread. She understands my need for quiet company since food itself is quite a lot of stimlulation. On the other side of the cob walls we can hear the rowdy gathering of a dozen families at the long tables now that the food for the workers has been set aside. As the sun makes its final descent the second long slow bell rings out over the river delta valley.

In reply far away we can hear one of the donkeys braying in the distance.