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.