Sunday 23 June 2024

The Porcupine Saga, Part 11, When We Met Jack, Part 5

Allan Harper, morning, Thursday, April 11, 2030

Allan got up earlier than usual the next morning, anticipating Jack's arrival and hoping to help cut down a couple of cedar trees to make posts for Porcupine's new sign. He hadn't quite finished eating when Tom, Mark and Jim arrived in the dining room. He raised an eyebrow at his dad, who replied, "The building crew has claimed the addition and the school is in the living room, so we—we're the finance crew—are going to convene here."

"I'll just get out of your way," said Allan, and he started to get up with the intention of finding another place to finish his porridge.

"Hang on there, Allan," said Tom. "I think you should consider joining us."

"Me?" he replied. "Why would I be on the finance crew? I didn't bring anything but pocket change with me when I came here, and I'm no genius with money. From where I am sitting, one of the best things about Porcupine is that we are not supposed to be using money."

"And that's why I think you should be on this team," said Tom. "Look around you at who is about to sit down—Jim, Mark and me—all old people who brought pensions and investments with them. It seems that, like you, everyone else is hesitant to join us, and I see a division in the making. We need you and maybe one other person to even out the representation a bit."

"OK," said Allan somewhat doubtfully. "If you haven't picked anyone else yet, maybe Wilf would be a good choice?"

"Sounds good to me," said Tom. "if no one has any objections, maybe you could go find him and bring him back to join us? After you finish breakfast, of course"

The rest of the finance crew were fine with it, so Allan wolfed down the rest of his porridge, and headed out the back door toward the machine shed, where he expected to find Wilf. Five minutes later he was back with both Wilf and Miles in tow. "Hope nobody minds, Miles wanted to join us as well."

"That makes six of us," said Tom, "Should be OK. Any objections?"

There were none, so Tom went on, "In a crew like this we shouldn't need a facilitator, and I'm not trying to set myself up as one. But there are a few things I wanted to say..."

"Just go for it, Dad," Allan said.

"OK," said Tom. "So, we're the finance crew and as I see it, our job is going to be tallying up what our financial resources are, and then have a look at what we can do within those limits.

"But first, I have to say how much it irks me that we are having to worry about money at all. I know, this isn't a surprise, but still.... What we should be able to do, when a project is proposed, is find a way to doing it using our own materials, equipment and skills. We'd figure out what it's going to 'cost' in terms of materials and labour, decide if we want to make that investment and if so go ahead. Mark my word, money is going to distort our thinking and keep us tied up in the system we came here to escape."

"I see your point, Tom," said Jim, "and I guess that will be true eventually for most projects, but there'll still be some that need specialized tools and materials that have to come from outside Porcupine. Currently we're talking about bringing in quite a load of materials because we aren't set up as yet to take trees from our wood lot and turn them into lumber. But it's still nowhere near 100%. The changes we're talking about doing to this house, for instance, will require some lumber, drywall and hardware, but the biggest input is the house itself, which we already own. Most of the value of the end product is already here. Same with the pole barns.

"So don't feel so bad, Tom. A year from now we'll have a sawmill running and stacks of lumber drying."

"I suppose you're right, Jim," replied Tom. "Wherever possible this crew should, in my opinion, focus on spending that helps us become more self sufficient. I'm not sure if this building program does that."

"Maybe not, but we need more people and they'll need a place to sleep," said Jim. " Anyway, you asked me to tally up some figures on our current income and expenditures. Maybe I should present them?"

"Yeah, for sure, go ahead," said Tom.

There was a white board at the south end of the dining room. Jim stepped up to it, picked up a marker and wrote a figure at the top left. "OK," he said, "this is our currently monthly income from pensions."

Writing a smaller figure under the first one, he said, "And this is what we are currently spending on groceries, utilities, property taxes and so forth."

Jim did the math and wrote down the difference. "This is the amount we have monthly to spend on materials, tools, equipment, seeds, nursery stock, livestock and such. The point being to produce most of our own food, fibre, lumber, energy and so forth, and in the process to increase the amount left over for outfitting. That won't really take off until sometime in the summer."

"It's not really very much money, and there is a lot we want to do. But fortunately we also have some money in the bank and some investments." He wrote another, larger figure in the upper right, and a smaller figure underneath it.

"The larger number is the total of our investments, and the smaller number is how much return we are getting yearly," said Jim. "Because of the depression, that number isn't as large as it once would have been. I think we can expect to see it get smaller, as well. At some point I think that our pensions will get discounted too, maybe even dry up altogether. So we should aim to convert our money into more concrete investments that aren't at the mercy of the failing capitalist economy. And as Tom says, to make sure those investments end up making us much more self-sufficient than we are now."

"That's good information, and more money than I thought we had," said Allan. "But exactly what is this crew supposed to be doing? And how are we going to do it?"

"I guess we are supposed to look at all the projects people are proposing, what they'll cost and which ones we can afford to do, given the available funds," said Tom.

"Projects, eh?" said Wilf. "I gather the building crew are costing out the projects we discussed last night?"

"I believe so," said Tom.

"Well then," said Wilf, "is there much we can do until they have a lists of projects and costs drawn up. I mean beyond what Jim has already done?"

"Well..." said Tom "It does look like maybe we've done what we can financially. I think the building crew is just looking at the partitions project so far. Maybe we could come up with a longer list of projects. And maybe we should inventory the materials, tools and equipment we do have on hand. Maybe even tackle those piles of stuff in the barn..."

At that point, the front door opened. Andrea, Terry and Jack made their way in and through to the dining room.

"Mornin'," said Jack. "Sorry to interrupt, but I need to talk to you folks."

"Could it wait until we are done here?" asked Tom.

"Well, I think maybe not, since it does bear on what I gather you're discussing. ," said Jack, nodding to the figures on the white board. "First thing I want to ask is this—how does one go about joining your outfit?"

"Well, so far, it's been by invitation only," said Tom, a smile forming on his face. "Are you saying you'd like to join?"

"Yeah, I am, actually," said Jack.

"Well then, you're in," said Tom, "welcome aboard!"

"That's all there is to it?" asked Jack.

"No need for more, really," said Tom.

"Just minute Tom," said Mark. "You know damn well there is a bunch of paper work that has to be taken care of. Especially since you are turning over a lot of private property to the commune, Jack. Tom did fill you in on how this place works, right? Especially the part about property?"

"Yeah—as I understand it, I just gave you 200 acres of land," replied Jack, "plus all my buildings and machinery and what little hay, straw and grain is still in the barn. And, oh yes, my pensions, cash and investments as well. Everything but what you folks recognize as my personal property."

"That's right," said Mark. "You're OK with that?"

"Strangely enough, I am," said Jack. "You know I don't want to leave my farm. But when Tom and Allan arrived yesterday, I had just about decided that there's no way to make it all work. I spent half of last night thinking about it, and it seems to me that joining Porcupine is the only way for me to have my cake and eat it too. Seeing as how my place now belongs to us all, in some sense of the word, it still belongs to me. Or a share in it anyway."

"That's true," said Tom. "Though, as I found out in the meeting last night, with consensus decision making you sometimes have to step back and let the group do what it wants with property that used to be yours."

"I can see that," said Jack. "I think I can live with it. And I'm looking forward that training on participatory democracy. Can't come soon enough."

"I think Angie made some phone calls first thing this morning," said Tom. "She's waiting for them to get back to her with dates for the training."

"That's good," said Jack. "Now, I think I mentioned yesterday that I have a couple of kids in Alberta who I don't really get along with. I know they are expecting an inheritance from me. When they hear that I've given away the farm, they won't be happy. So we'd better make this transfer of ownership bullet proof, legally speaking."

"That's the reason for the paper work," said Mark.

"Good. We'll get to that before the end of the day," said Jack. "From the figures on the board there, I gather you folks here are trying to figure out how to get properly set up with the limited money you've got?"

"Well, yeah," said Tom. "I was thinking it's going to be pretty tight."

"I can understand that," said Jack. "Mainly because I've got a big chunk of what you need, and I know how much it cost to put together. But maybe I've just solved part of your problem, eh."

"Hell yes," said Tom, "why don't you sit down and join us for a bit. Mark, you can have him after lunch."

"I'll hold you to that," said Mark.

"OK," said Jack. "I see you started by inventorying your financial resources. You can add mine to that. Jim, here are the numbers..."

Jack dictated pension, investment, utility bill and property tax numbers to Jim, who added them to the totals on the white board.

"OK, that looks a bit better—even with my expenses added in," said Jack. "You're buying your groceries retail in Inverpen?"

"We're buying as much as we can in bulk, but yes," answered Jim.

"Well, I've got some contacts who would be glad to supply you with meat, eggs and even some grains," said Jack. "And all at better prices than you're getting at the supermarkets. Especially with what inflation has done to food prices the last few years."

"Thanks, Jack," said Jim. "I think we'll want to take you up on that."

"OK," said Jack. "I'm glad to help. The next thing you need to do is inventory the tools, equipment, materials and such that you—I should say we—have on hand. I think we need to go through those piles in the pole barn and sort out what's personal property and what now belongs to the commune. And then you—we—need to do the same at my place. This has to be a first priority so you don't go spending money on things you've already got."

"Actually, we were just starting to discuss that, Jack," said Tom. "I've got a bunch of hardware left over from building a house years ago that will save us some money on the projects we are currently considering. I also suspect that the tradesmen and hobbyists among us have enough hand tools so that we don't need to buy more."

"You're likely right there," said Jack. "I guess the next thing would be to list the projects we want to tackle and figure out what order they need to be done in. Then we can start figuring out how much each project will cost. Have you got a building crew set up yet?"

"Yes, they're meeting in the addition right now," said Tom, "working on plans and a bill of materials for the partition project. Between us here, the sign crew, the building crew and homeschooling for the youngsters, there aren't any people free this morning. Sounds like this finance crew needs to switch to doing that inventory, and maybe coming up with a list of projects."

"Sounds like that to me," said Jack. "It may be that my carpentry background would be of help to the building crew. So I think I'll join them once I get done with Mark. That is, if Andrea and Terry don't mind. Maybe we can leave that sign until tomorrow..."

"Sure," said Andrea, "if that's OK by you, Terry?"

"I'm good with it," said Terry. "Hope I can get on that inventory crew."

"Me too," said Andrea. "Do you guys crew have room for a couple more people, Grandpa?"

"There are already six of us," said Tom. "But we could split into two groups--there's enough stuff to inventory that we won't get in each others' way."

"I'm going to leave you to that, and go touch base with the building crew," said Jack."And after that I'm all yours Mark, and we can take care of that paper work."

"I'll just come along," said Mark, "and introduce you as our newest Porcupiner."

Allan watched them go and then turned to his step-son Miles, "Well, I guess we've got some inventory to do."

"Not so fast, Allan" said Tom. "Between now and lunch, and I hope that's all the time it takes, we need to sit down here and figure out a set of guidelines for personal versus commune property. That way we can run them by the whole group right after lunch and get group approval."

Allan Harper, late afternoon, Saturday, July 21, 2040

"Well, we did figure out those guidelines by noon, and got approval from the whole commune after lunch, with only minor changes. Then we spent a few days on inventory, drawing up our list of projects, prioritizing them and figuring out what the ones near the top would cost," said Allan. "It wasn't that long, though, before we started the actual work and we've been at it ever since. You've already seen the sign over the gate, and the inside of our pole bar/hall, but I think we are finally to the point where we can start that tour I've been promising you, Uncle Will. You know, so I can actually show you what we've built over the last decade."

"Sounds good to me," said Will. "Let's do it."

Coming soon, Porcupine Saga Part 12, The Tour

Links to the rest of this series of posts:
The Porcupine Saga

Monday 3 June 2024

The Porcupine Saga, Part 10, When We Met Jack, Part 4

Allan Harper, evening, Wednesday, April 10, 2030

It had started raining so no one went outside during the break and Angie had light work getting everyone back into the addition for the second half of their meeting.

"We were going to hear reports from the metal working crew and the legal crew next," said Angie, "and we still will, but something else has come up. Jodie, why don't you come up here."

Jodie, Wilf and Cindy's teenage daughter, joined Angie at the front of the room. She had her father's height and lean build and her mother's blond hair and blue eyes. "For those who haven't been introduced, I'm Jodie Janes. This is only my second day here, so I don't really know what I think of the place yet. But do I have a couple of questions. The first is—I'm only sixteen, do I get to speak in these meetings? And I'll just get the second one in before it turns out that I don't. If you have to be an adult to get a private room, when does one become an adult?"

"Good questions, Jodie," replied Angie. "And ones that I don't think we've even thought about yet."

"Well, some of us have been thinking about it more than you know," said Jodie. "Jane and I were discussing this sort of thing in our 'home schooling' session this afternoon. She has some interesting ideas."

"Jane?" said Angie.

"Actually, Jodie is the one with the ideas," said Jane, "I was just encouraging her. Let's let her tell us about it."

"OK," said Angie. "And I guess until we can see some good reason to decide otherwise, you do get to speak in these meetings. Any objections?"

There were none and Angie gestured for Jodie to go ahead.

"Maybe I should think about what I'm getting myself into here," said Jodie with a grin. "But best not to waste the opportunity, I guess. It seems like we are rejecting much of our conventional North American culture. That culture is such a mess that it's probably a good thing to be rid of. But this means we're starting from scratch here, making up a new culture as we go along. Last night Tom did a good job of outlining some parts of that new culture, but there are things he left out.

"Much of that comes under the category of what Jane tells me is called 'reproductive labour'—the things we have to do to make sure there is a new generation to carry on after us. Not just gestation and child care, but passing on our culture to the next generation, as well. Even though we are inventing it as we go along, in this case.

"Actually, Tom, you did mention this last night, and that's what got us talking about it. Mostly, Jane and I were talking about the stages you go through as you grow up, and how a culture supports that growth and marks the occasion of moving from one stage to another. She tells me it's called a 'rite of passage' and consists of some sort of test to see if you're ready and, if you pass, of some sort of celebration to welcome you to the next stage.

"It might seem odd that this comes up when we're just talking about housing, but not really. So far, if I understand correctly, we've decided that babies and toddlers will live with their parents until they are of 'school age', whatever that means. Somewhere from age 4 to 6, I guess. Then they will move to a bunkroom with other kids of the same gender. And then at some point, when they are old enough to be considered adults, they get a room of their own. Andrea, is that the gist of what you've written down?"

"Yeah, that's basically it," replied Andrea.

"OK, I have a few suggestions for fine tuning that plan," said Jodie. "First, has anybody thought to ask the younger kids what they think of the bunkroom idea?" asked Jodie.

Some shook their heads, others got a sheepish look on their faces.

"Not to worry," said Jodie, "'cause I have. We've got two boys who are brothers (my brothers, actually) and two girls who are sisters (Jane's girls), and in both cases they are used to sharing a room. So no problem there. Right guys?"

The youngsters indicated their agreement, and Jodie went on, "as Jane and my mom mentioned earlier, it will be interesting to see how it goes when we get some more kids that aren't related, but I guess that's a bridge to cross when we come to it, and having some trained mediators should help.

"We don't have any babies here as yet, but thinking ahead, I've done some babysitting and I've noted that the culture we are leaving isolates new parents at a time when they really need a lot of help. And hardly bothers to acknowledge their efforts as work, either gestation or child rearing. Often a single mother is left to work and try to manage child care at the same time. And nobody seems to think there's anything wrong with that—sure it's tough, but it's the mother's problem, maybe even her 'fault'. I think we should arrange for parents of babies and young kids to get some rest and even a little, ahem, privacy from time to time. Maybe this can be done without building any special rooms, or maybe we want to have a nursery or a bunkroom with training wheels, so to speak. But parents should get lots of help from the rest of us. And recognition for the vital work they are doing.

"Anyway, kids keep growing and get to a point where they can be a little more independent and bunkrooms would be OK. As Mom said, we should get some input from parents of the kids as to when they should make that move. Also from the kids themselves. And have parents, or at least adults, nearby for when the kids need some guidance.

"The next big change happens at puberty. Ages vary, but it's something we all go through and I'd argue for putting us in private rooms at that point. But at the very least you should have another set of bunk rooms, separate from the younger kids.

"I'm a teenager, and I can tell you from being in the middle of it that the whole thing is a mess. Maybe, as some say, we do kind of go crazy for a few years. And how could we not—we're left floating, with no idea of how we fit in. I'd say it should be a training period, with a definite goal of being welcomed as an adult at the end, fully aware of adult rights and responsibilities. We have to be able to do better than conventional society is currently doing, anyway. That society has moved adulthood later and later during the last century or so. I would argue that we should move in the opposite direction, especially since our community seems prepared to support its members when it is time for them to take on a new role. Taken to the extreme that would mean rolling puberty and the transition to adulthood into a single event. Some cultures have done this.

"Anyway, moving on, I haven't heard any talk about where the older people fit in, even though we have quite a few of them," said Jodie. "You all seem hale and hearty at the moment, and that's great, but as time passes this will change and we need to accommodate your decline while still encouraging you to contribute. The idea being that you are still seen as a resource, rather than as a burden. Housing wise, at the very least, we'll need rooms you can access without stairs and that are handy to the dining room."

"Well, I think I've about run out of steam for now" Jodie said after a brief pause. "Thanks for listening."

"Jodie, that's an amazing bunch of ideas just from one afternoon of discussion with Jane." said Angie. "I'm very impressed and I think we own you both a vote of thanks."

The group responded with applause, plus various hooting and hollering from the more rambunctious among them.

When they had quieted down Angie went on, ""So, like I just said, that was a great speech, and you kinda snuck in the bit about you having an adult room and not being stuck in a bunkroom with younger kids. I don't blame you and you may well be right—if we put you in with the younger girls, you just end up as a full time baby sitter for the next few years, which wasn't the intention. I take it you really aren't keen on that either?"

Jodie shook her head, "Nope."

"OK," said Angie, "without setting a precedent, which we don't have to do since we haven't yet adopted any out of date rules of order, I'd suggest we give you a room across the hall from the bunkrooms, and put the parents of the younger kids in the other two rooms in the addition. That way, if they need any guidance, there'll always be someone handy. But it only needs to be you if the parents aren't available, and it can be recognized as part of your 'shit jobs' hours if you wish."

"I guess I can live with that," said Jodie, "even though it means my room will be right next to my parents."

"Hardly the end of the world, Jodie," said Cindy, Jodie's mom. "This puts us back pretty much the way we had things before ocming here, but with a clearer plan for what to do when it is time for you to move out on your own."

"Yeah..." said Jodie. "Depending on how you look at it, I'll be moving out as soon as the new rooms are ready, or since you'll always be within shouting distance, I'll never really be moving away. But not to worry. I think this place offers opportunities for independence without taking on as much risk as many young people have to do these days."

"Right," said Angie. "Also bear in mind that room assignments may have to change as more people arrive And actually, I guess I am a bit out of line here. We should check what the group thinks."

As it turned out, they were all happy with Jodie's suggestions.

"OK, now I guess we can move on to the metal crew's report," said Angie. "Don, you're on."

Allan's mind started to wander as the metal working crew reported on what they'd been doing, and what they intended to be able to do. He couldn't help thinking back to what Jack had asked that afternoon. Where did he fit in? It seemed like you had to be part of a crew to make much of an impression at Porcupine. So far, he'd been working on his own, with a bit of help from Tom now and then. It looked to him like they needed a power crew. Especially if they were going to make electrical power out of firewood. Then there was what his father had said about caring enough to have the reach to attain certain technologies. It seemed an about face from what Tom had said the night before, but he thought he understood what Tom meant—some things might just take more effort than they were worth. Allan wanted to make sure that was looked into in detail, not just based on the assumptions of an influential guy like his dad. So maybe a "tech reach" crew as well.

He resolved to bring this up at the end of the meeting and then returned his attention to Don's presentation for the metal working crew. Don was just wrapped up with a quick summary of the things they hope to be able to make for the Co-operative. It was a pretty comprehensive list.

Next, the legal crew was called on for their report. Mark made it short—if they jumped through the right legal hoops and submitted the right forms, it seemed like they could set up a non-profit co-operative dedicated to the goals Tom had outlined the night before. With official government recognition, which would be useful as long as governments were still functioning—a few years yet, anyway. If no one had any objections, he would start on that tomorrow. And no one did object.

"OK," said Angie, "Anyone have anything else before we pack it in for the night?"

Allan put up his hand and was recognized.

"I just have an idea for a couple of new crews which I think we should look at putting together," he said. "A power crew to do the job I'm doing now with generating electricity, and a 'tech reach crew' to look at how high tech (or low tech) we want to go."

"Sounds good," said Angie. "Andrea can add those to the list of crews we'll start setting up tomorrow, but I think the way that has worked so far is that whoever sees the need for a crew rounds up some like minded people and goes for it."

"OK," said Allan. "I'll have a go at that real soon now."

"Nobody else?" asked Angie. No hands went up, so she continued, "Right, it's getting late, so I think I'll declare the meeting closed for the night."

A glance outside made it clear to Allan that it was still raining, and it didn't seem fair to expect Jack to walk home. Everyone else was standing up and stretching so Allan took the opportunity to do the same and then went over to Jack. "It's raining pretty hard, would you like a ride home?"

"Hell yes—I'm no bear for punishment," said Jack, "and I'm supposed to be back here first thing tomorrow morning, so I'd better get home and get to bed. Lead on."

Allan turned back to Erika for a moment, explaining where he was going. "OK, I'll be in bed when you get back—it's been a long day," she replied.

Allan led the way to the back door, and they grabbed their coats from where they'd hung them before supper. Allan selected a set of keys from a board where the keys for all Porcupine's vehicles were hung on hooks.

"Nothing for it but to run," Allan said. "It's the red Chevy Bolt on this side of the lot."

He put his head down and ran for the car, unplugged the charge cord and got in the driver's seat. Jack joined him only seconds later. The car was already pointed towards the road, so all Alan had to do was turn it on and hit the accelerator. Mindful of that bridge, he turned right and headed for the next side road to the west.

They had just turned onto the side road when Jack spoke up, "I guess I should have thanked you folks for letting me sit in on your meeting."

"Oh, no problem there," replied Allan, "you were a pretty quiet observer, anyway."

"Just taking things in," said Jack. "I must say you folks make consensus decision making look easy."

"Yeah, that amazes me too," said Allan.

"What was it David Graeber said?," said Jack "Something about how consensus isn't about argument. It's about changing things around: you get a proposal, you work something out, people foresee problems, you find solutions. At the end, you come up with something that everyone thinks is okay. Most people like it, and nobody hates it."

"Wow," said Allan. "I'm impressed that anybody around here would have even heard of Graeber, much less be able to quote him from memory. I only know the name because Dad is a big fan."

"Well," said Jack, "I picked that up from Tom's blog. And I probably messed the quote up, but you get the idea."

"I think we all do get the idea, and everybody is trying to make it work," said Allan, "rather than deliberately trying to screw it up, anyway, which makes it a lot easier."

"Although Angie did kinda dodge the toilet issue..." said Jack.

"Yeah she did," said Allan. "Hopefully, with a few days to think about it, people won't get surer they hate it. I'm already less upset than I was when Erica brought the idea up."

"Well, I hope you're right" said Jack. "And my driveway's the next on the right."

Allan pulled in, turned around and came to a stop with Jack's side of the car right next to his porch.

"I hope you can leave that shotgun locked up for now Jack," he said as Jack got out of the car.

"Yeah, well... I've had a chance to rethink things," said Jack, "and now I'm thinkin' there's nothin' worth huntin' that's in season this time of year."

"That's the spirit," said Allan. "See you in the morning?"

"Yep, I'll be around about nine with a tractor and chainsaw," said Jack. "See you then."

Coming soon, Part 11 of the Porcupine Saga.

Links to the rest of this series of posts:
The Porcupine Saga

Tuesday 28 May 2024

The Porcupine Saga, Part 9, When We Met Jack, Part 3

Allan Harper, evening, Wednesday, April 10, 2030

During supper Angie had warned the Porcupiners that they needed to have another meeting, and she was at the front of the room by the time Allan took a seat next to Erika. Jack sat down on the other side of Allan.

Angie cleared her throat and the conservations died down. "Well, here we all are again for another Tuesday night meeting, and it's only Wednesday. I suspect this will happen a lot for the first while. Several of the crews have reports to give, and there are decisions to be made. And on that note, I must say that I'm not up to facilitating and scribing at the same time. We need to keep track of decisions reached and action items assigned."

Gesturing with her clipboard and pen, Angie said, "Andrea, could you join me up here?"

"Sure thing, Angie," replied Andrea, and got up to join Angie at the front. Sitting down, she put pen to paper with a flourish and said, "OK, I'm ready, go for it."

"One small point before we go to the crew reports," said Angie. "I notice Jack has joined us. Does anybody have a problem with that?"

No one did. "What about him taking part in the discussion?"

Again, no one objected.

"OK," said Angie, "Jack, I have to tell you that if you get out of line, I'm going to jump on you a little harder than I would on the rest of these folks, since you don't have as much riding on what we decide."

"All I want to do is listen," said Jack.

"That'll work," said Angie, "Now, it's hard to say who should come first, so I'm going to just go with the order in which the crews approached me. Erika, that means the housing crew is up first."

Erica got up and made her way to the front. With a nod to Tom she said, "Well, I got picked to present what we've found and what we suggest doing about it. Most of what we have is questions—I hope we can answer them tonight."

"Go ahead," said Angie.

"Well, we think that first we need to decide what level of accommodations we are going to provide for people," said Erika. "At one extreme we could have people sleeping on mattresses in one of the pole barns, with essentially no privacy, shared washrooms and a shared kitchen and dining room. Our most basic needs would be met and it wouldn't tax our resources very much at all, since most everybody came with a mattress or two and some bedding.

"At the other extreme, we could commit to providing separate houses for everyone. I suspect that would take more resources than we have available."

"Sounds to me like when you say 'resources', you're talking about money, energy, materials and manpower," said Angie. "But I'd say the most basic resource we're considering here is privacy. I suspect we already have something of a consensus on that. Is anyone willing to accept the minimum privacy option?"

This question met with a chorus of noes from everybody except Tom.

He put up his hand and Angie nodded for him to go ahead. "When I started planning out this place, I was thinking of something pretty much like Erica's minimum privacy option, with the addition of privacy screens between each family's area on the floor of the second pole barn. I know it doesn't sound very pleasant, but I'm not sure that we can afford to spend a whole lot on accommodations this spring, when we should be concentrating on self sufficiency. Later on, sure, using our own materials, once we are set up to produce them, but not just yet."

"Can you stand to wait until we decide what level of accommodations we do want to go with, Tom?" asked Angie.

"Sure," said Tom, "better to know exactly what I'm disagreeing with, eh?"

"Exactly," said Angie, "so, given our common cultural background, it's not surprising we only have one person in favour of the minimum privacy option, and that for financial reasons. OK, now let's talk about the other extreme. Does anyone think we all really need separate houses?"

Again there was a chorus of noes, with just a few people who stayed silent. One of them, Nora MacGregor, put up her hand.

"I guess we really don't need separate houses, however small," said Nora, "Maybe just little apartments—I do value my privacy. Especially in the washroom. At the moment, upstairs in this house, six bedroom are sharing one bath. Takes a lot of co-ordination, and some of us older folks can't stand around waiting for long when we need to..."

"To go?" said Angie.

Nora nodded.

Erica, who was still standing at the front next to Angie, cleared her throat and spoke up, "Nora, I may have a solution for you. It's actually part of what I was going to present tonight anyway. I think we should switch over to composting toilets. The septic system here just won't cope with this many people for much longer, and we urgently need to recycle the nutrients in our waste back into the soil.

"I don't know if any of you are familiar with the sawdust toilet, often called a 'Jenkins toilet' after the guy that came up with the idea and tried to popularize it. It's just a wooden box with a bucket inside, a toilet seat on top and a container of sawdust or similar organic material nearby. You deposit your waste and then cover it with sawdust. When the bucket is full, it gets dumped on a compost pile. A year later it has composted down to nice rich black earth ready to be used on our gardens. And any disease organisms have had lots of time to die off.

"Subject to everyone's approval, of course, I think we need to pull out all our existing flush toilets and replace them with Jenkins toilets. And anyone who needs quick access can have a toilet in their bedroom. The smell is minimum, but ventilation can be arranged if it turns out to be a problem."

"Well, that's quite a heap of shit you've dumped in the middle of things here, Erica" said Wilf Janes with a chuckle. "But seriously, there's no doubt in my mind that we do need to do this, and it certainly answers some of Nora's concerns. I'm guessing we could even put a little cubicle in the corner of any bedroom that needs one of these."

"I don't know," said Nora. "It's really kind of a shocking idea."

"I've got a copy of Jenkin's book and a couple of others on the subject in our room upstairs if you want to read up," offered Erica. "And there are some websites you could look at too. Just Google 'humanure'."

Allan's own thoughts on the composting toilet issue were mixed. Like many people in modern western society, "feces" were something he felt should be flushed away behind one and never seen again. Not talked about, and certainly not handled. On the other hand, he'd seen the books Erika was talking about and understood the point about replenishing the soil—turning human waste into a valuable resource rather than something inconvenient to be gotten rid of. He had a hunch that, given a chance, Erika might be able to talk him around.

"I think we need to mull this over for a few days," said Angie. "Andrea, make a note that it should be on the agenda of next Tuesday's meeting. Those with serious doubts should approach Erika and get more information. For now, let's get back to the housing question. So, Erika, do you have a recommendation of where we should fall on the privacy spectrum?"

"Yes, actually," said Erica. "And it is kind of a default option, not much different from what we are doing now. We recommend that couples and single adults get private bedrooms with storage for their personal property. School age kids will share a pair of bunkrooms—4 bunks each, to start—one room for boys, one for girls. Currently, we've get 5 couples, 5 single adults, 2 school age boys and 3 school age girls. There are six bedrooms upstairs in this house and they are occupied by the couples and Jane's girls sharing one room. Some of you are sleeping on couches in the living room and here in the addition. It's a less than ideal situation."

"It is less than ideal," said Jane. "But I'm not sure your solution is an improvement, especially this bunkroom thing. You're talking about taking about taking our kids away from us at age four? What kind of a cult are we running here?"

"No kind at all," said Cindy. "I've got kids and I had as much input into this plan as Erika. The decision as to when to make the move would be up to the parents and the children. And 'away' isn't really the right word for it. The parents' rooms would be in the same building, on the same floor, as the bunkroom their kids would be in. Little different from the average family home."

"That sounds better," said Jane. "But I am guessing kids from different families will be sharing these bunkrooms?

"Initially, as it happens, no," said Cindy, "but eventually, yes."

"So, who's going to be in charge of the kids in the bunk rooms?" asked Jane.

"I don't think we've worked that out yet," said Cindy. "I'd like to say their parents. But I can see cases where disagreements between kids could lead to disagreements among parents. Hmmm... I think that leads to something we haven't addressed as yet, and we really should."

"What's that, Cindy?" asked Angie.

"Well, so far we've all been working really hard to get along," said Erika, "And with some success. But eventually we're going to end up with disagreements that people can't settle among themselves. I though Allan and Tom were pretty close to that yesterday. They sorted it out, but we need to have a mechanism for coping when we can't settle out our differences."

"I think you're talking about having some people trained as mediators," said Angie. "Enough so we can always find a reasonably neutral party to mediate a dispute. Yesterday we talked about facilitator training, which I must admit I haven't got around to arranging yet. But mediator training is similar and could probably be done by the same people. Andrea, make a note for me to get that set up ASAP."

Andrea did so and Angie went on, "Jane, you're OK with this?"

"Yeah," said Jane, "but I'll be keeping a close eye on how it works out."

"Good idea," said Angie. "Erika, where were you?"

"Just about to make a sketch of what we can do with this building," said Erika. "We need a few more bedrooms, the two bunkrooms and at least one more washroom. As we see it, we can have all that by putting in some partitions in the large rooms on the main floor of this house, " said Erika. She turned to the white board and made a quick sketch of the main floor of the house. "The living room could be divided into three rooms, the dining room into two, the kitchen into a bedroom and another bath and there is room in this addition for three bedrooms, two bunkrooms and a bath."

She added the partitions she had just suggested to the diagram. "This gives us 14 bedrooms, and we only need ten, so there is even room for the next few people who arrive. And the materials needed for this shouldn't be very expensive. For now we can still cook in the kitchen and since the weather is warming up, we can eat on the front and back porches."

"Maybe we could hold off on dividing up the dining room until we absolutely need to," said Jim. "That way we can eat inside and give the weather a chance to finish warming up. "

"I think you'll find we want a window in each of those bedrooms," said Don. "So that means we can only get one bedroom out of the living room, at the north end. What's left of the living room would do for a dining room in the short run, especially if we knock out the walls separating it from the hall and entrance way. So partition the dining room and addition first, then the living room and finally the kitchen, once we've got another kitchen set up."

"Actually, Don, that's a pretty good idea," said Erika, and adjusted her sketch to reflect Don's suggestion.

"I think there are a few more things we need to discuss," said Angie, "but first, how does everybody feel about just having rooms instead of houses or apartments?"

Allan was cool with it, but he expected to hear some push back. Surprisingly, everyone agreed with the idea.

"OK. So, at this point, the loose ends are replacing the kitchen, dining and meeting areas" said Angie. "Any ideas, Erika?"

"Yes indeed," said Erika. "Let me just add another sketch and then I'll explain what we are thinking about."

She took a moment to roughly outline the two pole barns, and then went on. "The kitchen here is really too small for this group, much less a significantly larger one. We'd recommend cleaning up both pole barns. Put the kitchen at the north end of the nearest barn, with processing and storage areas for the food we'll be producing, and a buffet counter to divide the kitchen from the dining area. Set up tables next to the kitchen for people to eat at. Maybe a stage for entertainment at the other end of the building, with chairs in front of it for the audience. That would work for these meetings, as well. In the other pole barn we can add more bedrooms as more people arrive, plus bathrooms, and also a 'maker space' with the tools and equipment we'll need to build all those things we aren't going to buy."

"That would seem to just about wrap it up," said Angie. "What do we think people?"

"Just a couple of things I'd like to add," said Karen. "First, if we set up a big kitchen in the pole barn and feed everyone from there, am I still going to get stuck doing all the cooking? I pretty much have so far. I mean, I don't mind cooking, and thanks to those who have helped, but as we get more people it's going to become a big deal. More than I can handle.

"Maybe we could take Tom's 'crew' idea and have several 'cooking crews' rotating through the kitchen or sharing the work some other way. Spread the work around and have more of a variety of food than I can provide. And maybe we can try to scare up some actual professional cooks when we are hunting for new people."

"Sounds good to me, Karen," said Angie. "People?"

This time there was unanimous agreement.

"You had a second point, Karen?" asked Angie.

"I do," answered Karen. "I know that some folks, like my husband Tom here, will want access to the kitchen for a snack now and then. Maybe not the whole kitchen, but at least a small area of it, set up with just enough supplies and equipment for those who feel the need to nosh. Or for people who have missed a meal."

A few chuckled at this but no one disagreed. Allan noticed his parents lean together and have a quick whispered discussion.

"When we first moved in here back in February, I claimed the master bedroom upstairs," said Karen. But we've been feeling more and more guilty about hogging the biggest room. If we get a family with a baby or children too small for the bunkrooms, that would be, of all the rooms we currently have, the best place for them. We think that's likely to happen soon, so we are offering to move to one of the new rooms, so the master bedroom can be readied for that use."

"The other thing is storage for personal property. So far, Tom's had us dump everything in heaps in the pole barns, but it's going to have to come out of there if we follow the current plan. The existing bedrooms have closets, and room for a chest of drawers or two. I'd suggest we add closets when we put those partitions in. There's room in the basement here to put in lockers for what won't fit in the bedrooms. When we start building more rooms out in the pole barn they should be big enough to include storage as well as sleeping space. And talking about storage space for personal property gives me the idea that we should really keep that property to a minimum. Something to be decided when we are actually doing the sorting, I guess."

"Well, what do we think of that, folks?" asked Angie."Speak up if you disagree with any of these ideas."

There seemed to be general agreement. "OK," said Angie. "You got that all down, Andrea?"

Andrea, who'd been writing furiously, stopped. "I think so."

"OK. Now Tom, let's get back to your original objections," said Angie. "Would you be satisfied if we agreed to put together a 'Finance Crew' to take a closer at what we can afford?

"I think we should do that in any case," said Tom. "And as long as I get a spot on that crew, I'll be happy. Perhaps we also need to morph today's Housing Crew into a 'Building Crew' to firm up their plans and cost them out. I still think we may have a bunch of new people show up with little warning— after all we are a 'refuge co-operative'—and we might have to do something like that minimum privacy option on a temporary basis. We should be sure to make whatever preparations are necessary to do that. Mattresses and bedding set aside, privacy screens built and so forth."

"Yeah, I think we can take that on," said Erika.

"Andrea, did you get Tom's suggestions down with all the others?" asked Angie.

"Sure did," said Andrea. "Just remember that Terry and I are still working on the new sign tomorrow and Jack has agreed to help us with getting a couple of big cedar posts out of the bush."

"OK, I think that just means you won't initially be on either the finance or building crew," said Angie. "We still have a couple of crew reports to hear, does anyone besides me think it might be time for a 15 minute break?"

Coming soon, Part 10 of the Porcupine Saga.

Links to the rest of this series of posts:
The Porcupine Saga

Tuesday 23 April 2024

The Porcupine Saga, Part 8, When We Met Jack, Part 2

Allan Harper, midday, Wednesday, April 10, 2030

The three of them walked side by side down the laneway that led to the back of Jack's farm. Allan stayed quiet and concentrated on following what the old guys were saying. They were deep in conversation but stopped abruptly when they came to the fence at the south end of Jack's farm, looking out over Porcupine's hundred acres.

"I gotta say," said Jack, "I was wondering why you'd pick that particular farm. The creek runs right through the middle of it, and maybe half of it is in bush."

"The buildings are part of it, but all that bush is actually the main reason," replied Tom. "We're expecting the energy situation to get even worse and planning to run things mainly off firewood and muscle power."

"I see what you mean," said Jack, "surely not this year, though. I've got a 200 gallon tank just sitting there full of diesel fuel...."

"That could come in handy," said Tom. "It may take us a few years to get set up with work horses, and convert existing equipment for use with them. In the meantime we'll need to make the best possible use of every drop of diesel and gasoline we can get hold of."

"I'd suggest getting a couple of 200 gallon fuel tanks, one for diesel and one for gas. McCullogh Fuels in Inverpen would be glad to sell them to you and fill them up when fuel is available" said Jack. "I could also introduce you to some people who keep work horses as a hobby. Might be interested in selling you a team or two and harness to go with them. In the meantime, if diesel isn't available, canola grows well hereabouts and it isn't that hard to set up an oil press. Diesel tractors will burn it OK if you warm it up first to thin it out. Or, with a little more trouble, you can make it into biodiesel. Gasoline engines run fairly well on wood gas, and a gasifier isn't hard to set up."

"Yeah, we probably will do most of that at one point or another," said Tom.

Allan noted that there was a large pasture field on the other side of the fence, up the hill from the creek in the northwest corner of Porcupine's hundred acres—the bush only occupied the middle of the farm, on either side of the creek. Figuring that they would soon be crossing the fence, Allan started to climb over it in the middle of the span between two posts.

"Hey Allan," called his Dad, "not in the middle. Always cross a page wire fence next to a post, where it is well supported."

"Sorry Dad. I'm not much of a farm boy. ," said Allan, moving to the nearest post.

As the crow flies the distance to Porcupine was about a mile and a quarter, but when they left Jack's farm, the route grew complicated. After climbing the fence they headed southeast across the pasture field toward the bush. Jack led them straight to a footpath that took them into the bush and to a point where the north slope of the ravine wasn't too steep. The path went down that slope to the bottom of the ravine where a crude timber bridge crossed the creek.

There was a fallen tree just to the east of the bridge, it's trunk level enough to make a decent bench. Tom sat down and patted the tree. "Let's take a break."

Jack and Allan joined him.

By this point Tom had finished giving Jack an abbreviated version of what he'd covered the night before, outlining what The Porcupine Refuge Co-operative was all about and how Tom expected it would operate. "That's the idea of the thing, anyway," said Tom. "It's pretty clear, but the practical details, not so much. Besides being an electrician, I've got a bit of experience with gardening, woodworking, basket making, baking bread and cheese making. I learn well enough from books, but I've found it's a lot easier to have someone on hand who has some actual experience with whatever I'm trying to do."

"I can see that, for sure," said Jack. "And there are a few areas where I may be able to help you on that score. You were talking about firewood? Just take look around here."

He pulled a folding knife out of his pocket, opened it and jabbed the tip of the blade into the tree trunk they were sitting on. "This wood hasn't gone punky yet and I'd guess there is a lot of fallen deadwood here much like it, that would make decent firewood. Enough to last you through next winter, maybe longer. Clean it up and it will be a lot easier to access the rest of the wood in this bush. Looks to me like there's quite a bit of standing deadwood as well. Do you for another year before you have to cut any live trees, maybe."

"That's what I was hoping," said Tom. "We passed some ash trees that look like they haven't quite succumbed to the emerald borer yet. I've seen ash in that state put out a lot of new shoots from the stump after they were cut down. And the shoots get pretty big before the borer starts to bother them."

"Yep, I've seen that happen too," said Jack. "Coppicing, they call it—a great way to get a perpetual supply of firewood."

"Yes indeed. So it looks like with some care we can be well set for firewood," said Tom. "As for lumber... near the creek here I can see cedar, hemlock and willow. Further up the hill, where it's not so wet, we just walked by maple, beech, ash, birch and some cottonwood. All we need is a sawmill. I've seen some portable small scale ones that would do the job. We'll just have to add one to the list of things we need to acquire. So, given that, food would be the next thing to think about, and then textiles."

"Yep. I gather you don't need me to tell you how to grow a garden?" said Jack.

"Well, I'll listen to whatever you have to say, but I have done quite a bit of gardening in my day," said Tom. "I've got a book back at the house where the author, Carol Deppe, talks about what to grow if you want to feed yourself. Five things, she says—potatoes, corn, squash, beans, and a laying flock. All those (except the chickens, of course) can be planted and harvested with hand tools, and a fairly small plot of them will produce a lot of food."

"A good plan for people with limited access to land," said Jack, "but aside from the bush, you've got fifty acres or so and access to powered machinery, so I think you might want to go with a longer list—more variety, and more diversity and resilience in case one thing or another doesn't work out during any one year."

"Yep, I agree," said Tom. "We will have a big garden, with herbs, greens, tomatoes, peppers, cabbage and kale, onions, leeks and root crops other than potatoes. I've good a bunch of them started under lights already. And I think we'll treat Carol's list as field crops and add more types of grains, as well. Wheat, oats and barley at a minimum. I take it that would be your area of expertise?"

"Well, I've got some experience," said Jack. "Don't know if I'm really an expert. For instance, I've never grown potatoes on a large scale and I don't have the machinery."

"Well, my dad used to use a single furrow walking plow hitched behind a tractor to make a furrow to plant them in and to cover them once we planted them. In the fall he'd use the plow to turn the ground over to get at the potatoes," said Tom, "So maybe you can be more help than you think. But we'll cope one way or the other. I'd like to plant quite a lot of potatoes, a even if we have to plant and dig them by hand. Just for diversity in our starch crops."

"I haven't done much work with a walking plow," said Jack. "Your dad was from an earlier generation, sounds like."

"He sure was," said Tom. "Now about field crops...."

"You do like to stay on track, don't you?" said Jack with a chuckle.

Allan laughed, "He's got you there Dad!"

"Yeah, well..." said Tom, with a rueful look on his face "I've been told I can be a pain that way. Not a problem, I hope."

"Oh, hell no," said Jack. "A solution, if anything. It's pretty easy to sit around talking all day and not get anywhere. Good to have somebody to keep us out of those rabbit holes, eh? I think I was about to start one about our fathers, but that can wait for another day. So... yeah, corn, wheat, oats and barley are no problem. I've grown all those. I have machinery to plant and harvest them and I know where to get seed. I don't have a huller for the oats and barley, or a grinding mill to make flour."

"But you'd lend us the machinery you do have?" asked Tom.

"Sure—it's just sitting idle now," said Jack.

"That would be a big help," said Tom. "Several of us at Porcupine brought hand cranked flourmills with us. I even have one that's been adapted to be turned by an electric motor. A bigger, heavier duty one might be a good idea, though. I guess we'll have to add that, and a bunch of other stuff to the list."

"I'll bet that's gettin' to be a long list," said Jack with a grin.

"It sure is," said Tom. "Now, I'm guessing the corn you're thinking about would be a hybrid like everybody around here grows?"

"Yes it would," answered Jack, "Not so good if you're wanting to save seed for future years, I will admit."

"Not to worry," said Tom. "We can plant the hybrid corn this year for immediate use. I have a gallon jar of non-hybrid white flour corn seed which we can plant well away from the hybrid corn this year and get enough seed to plant a few acres next year. May do the same thing with some non-hybrid sweet corn and popcorn too."

"Might be a bit of a trick to keep those different types of corn separated enough," said Jack. "It's pollen carries a long way on the wind."

"Yep, we'll have to be careful about that," agreed Tom. "There are a few other crops I am interested in...."

"Yeah?" said Jack.

"Well, there are eight crops that people don't usually think of, that I'm convinced are pretty important" said Tom. "Bamboo, willow, hazel, flax, hemp, sorghum, sugar beets and Russian dandelions"

"Well, I've grown flax and sorghum," said Jack. "and before the depression hit, a few people around here were growing hemp. The new, simpler licensing requirements that came in after pot was legalized made it easier to get started. I could call a few people, probably get you started on hemp too. I presume you want the flax for the fibre as well as the seeds, and the sorghum for the sweet juice as well as the grain. If I were you, I'd probably try canola, too. But I have to admit I know very little about the rest."

"Canola and maybe sunflowers would be a good idea," said Tom. "As for the others, well, bamboo is a useful building material, and in the spring the shoots are a nice treat. Willow coppices really well. If you cut it every year you get thin shoots that are good for basket making. If you cut every three to five years the shoots get big enough to use as firewood. Hazel you grow mainly for the nuts, but it too has shoots that can be used like willow. We'd grow sugar beets for the sugar in them. And you can make rubber from latex in the roots of the dandelions. It's amazing the number of things that rubber is used in, and there's a fungus that destroying the rubber tree plantations in the far east. Plus shipping from that distance is going to get chancy."

"If this goes well, I might learn a thing or two here," said Jack. "So, anyway, I take it you folks ain't vegetarians?"

"No, we certainly are not," said Tom.

"OK. When it comes to stock, I have had some experience with cattle, pigs and sheep on a fairly large scale, and chickens on a small scale—just a few for eggs, you know," said Jack.

"That would do for a start," said Tom. "Some beef cattle—cows and a few steers. And three or four dairy cows so I can get back into cheese making. Preferably Holsteins, young ones who've just had their first calf and are still milking. I'm assuming the artificial insemination people are still in business?"

"So far, yes," answered Jack, "though I think you'd might want to look at having a bull in the long run. I don't think we can rely on any business to survive for long if the depression continues. Sure, some will, but enough won't that you wouldn't want to count on them."

"Yep," said Tom. "We'll want sheep too. My main interest there is milking sheep, since it's the best milk there is for cheese making. I'm not sure if milking sheep are much good for wool or meat—I guess we'd have to research that."

"I know some of the Amish people hereabouts that keep milking sheep," said Jack. "I think they'd be interesting in selling you some."

"Good. I'd like you to have a look at our barn and see if there's room for all this stock," said Tom, "If there is room I'd sure like to have some pigs and chickens too. Definitely laying chickens, but some for meat as well. There are only twenty of us for far, but I'm thinking we'll add another 100 acres later this year, and see about finding another twenty people with some of the skills we are missing. So we'll want to be set up to feed that many people."

"You're looking at 5 acres per person, from the sound of it?" said Jack.

"Yeah—that may sound like a lot, but remember we are planning to be self sufficient in firewood, lumber and fibre at least, as well as food, and feed for the stock," said Tom. "We'll want to have some surplus too, to get us through bad years. With climate change, I think we can expect some of those."

"Seems reasonable," said Jack. "You don't happen to have a butcher among you?"

"Not yet," said Tom. "For now, we'll be trucking anything we want butchered to Bluewater Meats, on the highway just north of Inverpen."

"They do a nice job," said Jack. "Now, excuse me for jumping back, but I guess we'll have to have a closer look at what acreages you want of the various field crops."

"I'll have to draw on your experience there—I have some ideas of how much we need, but not what we can expect for yields," said Tom.

"Good. Seems like we've covered food, fibre and building materials," asked Jack. "Is there anything we've missed?"

"There are other grains we might want to try," said Tom. "but let's leave that for another year. I'll want to talk to the people at Busy Bee Honey in Inverpen about getting a few hives of bees out here for pollination and honey. The other big thing I want to try is setting up an orchard. There's a nursery down near Alma that specializes in fruits, berries and nuts suitable for this climate. They take a few years to get going, so I'd like to get that started ASAP."

"I don't know much about growing fruit," said Jack. "Clearly possible, though—every farm around here used to have a orchard."

"Yep," said Tom. "I guess we'll want to make sure we can get the hides back from the butcher, too. Leather is useful for so many things, it's worth putting the effort into learning how to tan and work it."

"That's ambitious," said Jack. "But it's not like you're talking about doing anything that people haven't been doing for millennia."

Up until this point Allan had only the vaguest idea of how Porcupine was going to feed itself, but it seemed that Jack, with his experience and equipment, was just what they needed. Still, it sounded like a lot of work. "How many of us is it going to take to grow all this stuff and raise all this stock?"

"Sounds overwhelming, does it?" said Jack.

"As I said before, I'm no farmer," said Allan, "but yeah, it sound like a hell of a lot to take on."

"It may seem that way," said Jack, "but it isn't really. The kind of operation your dad's thinking of has often been done by one family, using horses instead of powered machinery, working hard while they are at it, but with lots of downtime too."

"Your grandfather would be an example of that, Allan," said Tom. "He switched from horses to a tractor when I was a little kid. But the farm he had was about the size I am thinking of, and run by one family of five, three of us kids, with occasional help from my uncles. I think the hard part isn't the growing, but the next stage where it all has to be processed into food, clothing and so forth. That will keep us busy."

"Looks that way to me too," said Jack.

"You guys would know, I guess," said Allan, somewhat skeptically.

"Well, I hope we do," said Tom. "I probably am missing a few things, but they'll become obvious as we go along. For now, maybe we should get moving."

They got up, crossed the bridge, and soon came out into the field behind Porcupine's bank barn. From there they continued past the barn and into the parking lot.

Jack looked around the parking lot. "You folks sure have a bunch of vehicles here."

"Yeah, most everybody so far has come with one or two," said Tom. "I guess we need to sort them out and sell the poorer ones or store them somewhere for parts. Since they all belong to the commune now, nobody wants to take the first step, I'd guess."

Just then, Andrea and Terry pulled into the parking lot and jumped out of the pickup truck they'd taken into Inverpen. "Hey Dad," called Andrea, "what's up?"

"This is Jack Collins," answered Allan, "our neighbour to the north. Grandpa and I went to his place to say hello and he's come back with us for supper. Jack, this is my daughter Andrea and the guy with her is Terry Mackenzie."

Andrea and Terry shook hands with Jack. "We're planning to put a sign up over the gate, and we got most of what we need," said Terry. "But anything big enough for tall gate posts was either out of stock, or God awful expensive. I'm wondering if there might be some big straight cedars back in the bush?"

"You know, just now we walked by some trees that might do nicely," said Allan. "I don't think we have a chainsaw yet though."

"No need to worry about that," said Jack. "I've got a chainsaw and a tractor to haul the logs back here. Maybe a bit late to start at it today though. What if I show up tomorrow morning with the tractor and saw?"

Andrea, Terry and Allan all looked to Tom for an answer.

"I know the sign was my idea, but it's your project now. What do you think?" said Tom.

They looked at each other for a moment and then nodded. "Sounds good to us," said Terry "Could you guys give us a hand unloading the truck?"

Soon the materials were all stashed in the second pole barn and Tom said, "Am I right in guessing that we've all missed lunch?

There was general agreement on this and they headed for the house. They were standing in front of the fridge with the door open when the housing crew (Karen, Erika and Cindy) came in.

"Looking for a snack?" asked Karen after the introductions were done.

"We'd like to dignify it by calling it a late lunch," answered Tom. "Not sure what to have though."

"Why not keep it simple," said Karen. "There's bread and peanut butter in the cupboard and jam there in the fridge."

"OK," said Tom. "I've invited Jack here to supper. Hope that's OK."

"Sure," said Karen, "with this many, one more doesn't make much difference.

They set about making themselves sandwiches and a few minutes later joined the housing crew in the dining room. Allan sat down next to Erika.

"You mind if Jack joins us?" Tom asked.

"The more the merrier," said Erika.

"How'd the measuring go?" asked Tom.

"Pretty good," said Erika, "we've got pages of numbers and more questions than we started with."

"That's just a sign that you're doing it right," said Tom.

"Maybe so," said Erika. "We've realized we aren't clear on what level of accommodation we should be providing for people."

"That's a good question, and one we'll need to address as a group," said Tom. "It would be good if you had a few suggestions though."

"Yeah, I think we do," said Erika. "We're also wondering what resources we have to draw on. Just the buildings right here, or if we are eventually going to take over the whole concession and occupy all the buildings?"

At this, Jack cleared his throat and spoke up, "One of those sets of buildings is mine, and I don't plan on leaving until they take me out in a pine box."

"Sorry Jack," said Erika, "we're just brain storming here—didn't mean to step on any toes."

"It's OK," said Jack, "don't mean to be grouchy, just wanted you to know how things are."

"Yeah, we understand," said Tom, "In any case, I think we want to keep everyone living right here, within easy walking distance of each other, with a common kitchen and dining room and so forth."

"OK, that gives us a basis to work from," said Erika. "I guess we'll need to get together after supper and talk this over."

"You should find Angie and let her know about that," said Tom. "Well, guys, maybe we should leave these folks to it and go have a look around the place."

As Allan stood up he caught Erika's eye. She just shrugged and shook her head.

They picked up their sandwiches and drinks, and headed out the back door onto the porch which ran along the north side of the house.

"I think we're going to see if we can get started on that sign. Right Andrea?" said Terry.

"You bet," answered Andrea, and they headed off toward the pole barns

After an awkward moment of silence, Jack spoke up, "Figure you guys got sent to my place to see if I wanted to sell out."

"You're not wrong," said Tom, "but it was clear to me once we got talking that that wasn't the thing to bring up."

"You're right there," said Jack. "Maybe we can come to some sort of mutually beneficial understanding, though. Just give it some time—I don't like to be rushed." After a moment of silence, he went on, "What about you, Allan? You're pretty quiet. Where do you fit in around here?"

"I find I do better with my mouth shut," said Allan, "at least until I get to know you better. Don't take it personally."

"Nope, no problem there," said Jack. "Anyway, you were saying?"

"Well, I'm an industrial electrician by trade," said Allan. "I guess my job is to keep the lights on. We haven't had a lot of outages since we got here, from natural causes or sabotage. But that could start up again anytime. And in the long run we don't want to buy power from the grid even if it is available. So far, we've got three generators and a bunch of jerry cans of gasoline. And the generators are hooked into whatever building they supply with a transfer switch, so it's even legal and safe. Long term, the problem is prime movers to spin those generators."

"And that would involve firewood from what Tom was saying earlier?" asked Jack.

"Yes. The challenge is how to use burning firewood to spin a generator," said Allan. "Like you were saying, the simplest approach would be to build a wood gas generator and use the wood gas to fuel the existing gasoline engines on our generators. Our metal working guys are pretty sharp and they seem to think that would be easy. Beyond that, I guess we could replace those gas engines with steam or Stirling engines. Again, the metal guys are keen to try, but it's all on paper at the moment.

"Where've you got these generators stashed?" asked Jack.

"There's one just around the corner of the house," said Allan. "Let's have a look."

He led them down the steps and to the left around the corner of the house. There was a wood pile there and a small metal storage shed. Allan opened the door of the shed and pointed inside. "Here's the generator that feeds the house. The shed protects the generator from the elements. There's this sound deadening stuff on the inside," he said, pointing, "—heavy foam rubber, basically —and the exhaust is vented to the outside through a muffler to keep the noise down. The sheet metal is all bonded together and solidly grounded, and the connection to the house is protected by MOVs—little lightning arrestors— so it should be fairly well lightning/EMP/solar flare proof. The connection is via an extension cord, so we can move the generator and hook it up anywhere else it's needed."

"Ten kilowatts, eh?" said Jack, after taking a close look at the generator.

"Yeah," replied Allan, "we don't normally need that much—we heat the house and cook with wood—but we're still using an electric water heater, which takes about 4500 watts. When we're off grid, we don't run the water heater continuously, just for a while when we need hot water. Eventually we'll switch over to heating water with wood too. The generator is only about 25% percent efficient, so burning fuel to make electricity and then turning the electricity back into heat is pretty dumb."

"Yeah, I guess so," said Jack. "What about your wood pile? Where did it come from? You said you moved here in February—it's pretty hard to buy firewood at that time of year. And anything you took out of the bush wouldn't be dry."

"That's true," said Allan. "Dad, the Mackenzies and the MacGregors had wood piles and brought them with them. Enough to get us through this winter, looks like. Fortunately, it hasn't been cold."

"Would you eventually try to do without electric power?" asked Jack.

"Eventually is a long time," replied Allan. "And that amounts to never, if I get my way. Yes, eventually our generators will break down, even though we bought top quality ones. And so far we've bought identical ones so we can switch out parts when we need to. Most of the parts we'll be able to repair or build from scratch, except for the solid state stuff which I'd guess will be beyond us. But we'll buy spares of what we can't build, and that will extend the amount of time that we can keep things running. For quite a few decades, I hope. And remember, people were building generators in the late 1800s and early 1900s using technology that is well within our reach."

"The thing is whether we want to make that reach," Tom said. "We've only got so much in the way of materials and energy. Energy both in terms of firewood and of human focus and effort. There may turn out to be other things that are more important."

"Maybe so," said Allan, "but electric power is so damned useful—for a number of pretty basic things. As you yourself were saying just last night, Dad. Some of those things you can do directly with mechanical power from a heat engine, of course. But if you give up on both electricity and heat engines, it's a big step down. And if you've got heat engines, electricity is only a small step further.

"I think the real limitation with be the amount of time it takes to cut and dry firewood and build and maintain the infrastructure to use it. If we set out to use a great deal of energy, we'd end up spending all our time cutting and stacking firewood and none enjoying it benefits. Clearly, there's a sweet spot somewhere in the middle."

"You would certainly hope so," said Jack. "So let's see—steam engines date from the late 1700s so you'd be talking about going back to pre 1800s tech, I'd guess, if you gave up on electricity and heat engines altogether."

"Exactly," said Allan, "where I think we can maintain late 1800s tech at the worst, more likely early 1900s."

"I hope you can," said Jack. "It'll be interesting to watch, anyway."

The conversation paused for a moment, then Tom spoke up."Well, let's have a look around the rest of the place."

It was getting dark by the time they'd done the full circuit and arrived back at the house. "The bank barn is in surprisingly good shape," Jack said, "The steel on the roof is fairly new, so it's just a matter of pointing up the mortar in the foundation wall and replacing a few broken window panes, and it should be good to go. And there's lots of room for all the stock we were talking about.

"All the pole barns need is a good cleaning up if you plan to use them for human occupation. You'll want to get a pressure washer and a few big jugs of soap. Should be easy enough to build in interior walls and ceilings, with lots room for insulation."

"This house is the most amazing part," he went on, "if my memory serves, it was built back in the 1960s, when the McConnell family outgrew the little stone farm house that used to be here. Lots of bedrooms and storage space in the original design. Then in the 80s, they put on that addition and beefed up the insulation on the whole place."

"Like I was saying, the buildings were part of the attraction of the place," said Tom. "I used to take photos for real estate agents and while I've photographed a few farm houses this big, they aren't common. This one is ideal for our purposes—big enough, but simply built rather than some kind of damned mansion."

They went into the house to find supper almost ready and were soon sitting down in the dining room with rest of the Porcupiners. Allan thought that sounded better than "Porkies", but he decided to let someone else broach the subject.

The Porcupiners loved both talk and food—during a meal it was hard to tell which was really their favourite. Even Allan, who preferred eating to talking, enjoyed listening. And he observed that Jack joined right in with lots of intelligent questions and comments.

It didn't seem like long before they had finished desert and cleared the tables, loading the dishes into the one built-in dishwasher that had come with the place, and two portables that a couple of them had brought with them. That done, they adjourned to the addition.

Coming soon, The Porcupine Saga Part 9, When We Met Jack Part 3.

Links to the rest of this series of posts:
The Porcupine Saga

Tuesday 16 January 2024

The Porcupine Saga, Part 7, When We Met Jack

Will Harper, late afternoon, Saturday July 21, 2040

"Well," said Will Harper, "I guess he must have talked you into it, 'cause there's the sign."

"Oh, we gave him a hard time, just to remind him that he was no longer the boss," said Allan. "Some thought it was a silly name, but they had nothing better to offer. So it didn't take long to reach a consensus. We became the Porcupine Refuge Co-operative, and a couple of days later the sign went up.

"That evening, before shutting down, we agreed to adopt Dad's suggestions about direct democracy and communism, and to get some training for everyone in consensus decision making, ASAP. We came up with a list of decisions that needed to be made soon, to be investigated by a number of new crews over the next few days, and agreed to meet every Tuesday night after supper, unless events called for a meeting sooner than that. Dad and I agreed to visit our neighbour the next day, with an eye to buying his land and equipment. That's the next story I should tell. Right now, probably, since the tour I've promised you would include some spoilers. It's not as long as the last one, so I think we've still got time."

"OK," said Will, "we don't want to be late for supper, but go for it!"

Allan Harper, morning, Wednesday, April 10, 2030

Allan Harper got out of bed, stretched and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. Erica had risen earlier, leaving him to sleep. For most of his working life Allan had been a shift worker, and pretty seriously sleep deprived. He'd promised himself that here at Porcupine he'd make a point of getting enough sleep whenever he could, even if it meant being the last one out of bed. He dressed and left their upstairs bedroom, made his way down the stairs and down the hall into the kitchen.

The breakfast rush was over and the big pot on the back of the woodstove contained only the dregs of that morning's oat porridge with dried fruit. It looked like enough for his purposes though, so Allan started spooning porridge into a bowl and soon found there was indeed enough left to make him a very adequate breakfast. He grabbed a jug of milk from the fridge and a cup of coffee from the pot on the stove and, managing to hold onto all three, headed for the dining room. He found his dad, also not an early riser, alone at one of the big tables, reading. Tom was sitting part way down one side of the table and Allan sat down opposite him.

"Morning," said Tom. "You're eating porridge?"

"Good morning to you, too," said Allan. "You remember I didn't like it when I was a kid?"

"Yes, actually," replied Tom.

"Well, here at Porcupine, I'm making a point of trying new things and some old things that I didn't like before," said Allan. "This porridge, for instance. And it is much better than what we had thirty years ago. Which is odd, since Mom made this porridge too. Different texture, different taste."

"Well, that's made with steel cut oats, instead of rolled oats, and it's got an assortment of dried fruit in it. It's also cooked in a pot on the stove rather than microwaved. Which is your mother's idea—I'm the microwave guy," said Tom. "But I suspect your tastes have changed, as well. I know mine have over the years. Anyway, it's a good thing you like it, since oats are easy to grow around here."

"Glad to hear it," said Allan, and spooned up more porridge.

"You ready for a walk?" asked Tom.

"Soon as I finish eating and brush my teeth," said Allan. "We're heading over to see the neighbour?"

"That's what was decided last night," said Tom. "I seem to remember you volunteering...."

"Yeah, but I'm not sure what I'm supposed to contribute to the effort," said Allan, "diplomacy has never been my strong suit."

"In my opinion you're too modest," said Tom. "But maybe you're supposed to watch out for me—I'm getting old."

"Nah, you're hanging in there pretty well... for a guy your age," said Allan with a wink. "So what exactly is the plan, anyway?"

"Plan may be too strong a word. We're going to walk over there," said Tom, "And check out the supposedly closed bridge on the way. When we get there, we'll introduce ourselves, feel him out and play it by ear. The fact that he's still there indicates to me that he doesn't want to leave, but you never know."

"OK," said Allan, "What's everybody else doing while we go for a walk?"

"Again, pretty much what was decided last night," said Tom. "At breakfast earlier this morning people split off into a number of crews. It's a bit of a job to keep track of them all, but I think I've got it straight...

"Oh yeah?" said Allan.

"Yeah," said Tom. "Our legal crew, Mark and Angie, are in the living room with the door closed, looking into getting us registered as a non-profit co-op, and checking how what we want to do here will fit into the local zoning regulations, and what more we need to do to make it fit."

"Our education crew, made up of Nora, Jane and all the school age kids, is in the addition. Again with the door closed, setting up for some home schooling.

"The metal working crew—Jim, Don, Wilf and Miles—are moving their stuff into the machine shed and setting it up ready to use.

"Andrea and Terry have headed into Inverpen to pick up materials for the sign we're going to put over the gate.

"Erika, Cindy and your mom are the housing crew today. They're out measuring the barns and outbuildings, and have already measured in here. All this with an eye to finding accommodations for everyone, including those who'll be joining us as time goes on, and to setting up a central kitchen and dining/meeting hall."

"So, it's really that simple?" said Allan around another mouthful of porridge. "Everybody just gets together and organizes themselves?"

"It seems that it is," replied Tom. "Especially without a bunch of management people with stupid ideas. A good thing, too—if it wasn't that simple, it might be practically impossible. Then someone like me—probably me, in fact—would be stuck trying to do it, and failing. As it is, I don't have to organize one bit of it."

"You sound pretty happy about that," said Allan. "Somebody's going to do it, though, right?"

"I suspect we all have a part to play," said Tom. "It's certainly not done yet. Right away we need a building crew, and we're missing a carpenter, a plumber, an HVAC guy and an electrician who specializes in residential wiring, instead of industrial and power maintenance guys like you and I. Pretty soon we'll need a garden crew, a farm crew, and a forestry and firewood wood crew, at least.

"But again, I don't have to organize finding those people or putting them to work. Anyway, I'm going to get ready for that walk. Meet you on the front porch shortly."

"OK." said Allan. He tucked into his porridge, finishing it in short order and heading up stairs to brush his teeth and put on a pair of hiking boots, his light jacket and a Blue Jays ball cap. He stuck a pair of leather work gloves in one of the jacket's pockets and headed downstairs. Moments later he found his father sitting on the front steps of the old farmhouse, in his khaki safari jacket, with an olive coloured Tilley hat on his head. "You're looking pretty spiffy. Ready to go?"

"Yep," said Tom, "let's head out."

As they crossed the parking lot towards the front gate, Allan noticed several people moving equipment from a trailer into the machine shed just to the east of the barn. Wilf the welder, Don McPherson, Jim MacKenzie and Allan's step-son Miles were all there and seemed to be working together quite effectively. And having fun while they were at it, to judge from the occasional outburst of laughter. The metal crew, hard at it. Allan found it encouraging to watch.

They went out through the front gate and headed east along the shoulder of the Seventh Concession. Allan couldn't help thinking how much the climate had actually changed over the last few years. When he was a kid in Inverpen, even with the moderating influence of Lake Huron, it had been common to have temperatures below freezing for weeks at a time in winter. And lots of snowfall during those times. Some years the lake even froze over. A few miles inland, like here at Porcupine, it was usually at least a few degrees colder. But this past winter there had only been a few days below freezing and what snow fell melted quickly. The grass in the pasture fields was already turning green and the buds on the row of maple trees along the fence line were opening up.

Looking back at the group of buildings at Porcupine, Allan's thoughts turned back to the work that faced them at the co-operative. "You know, if it's just putting a few partitions inside existing buildings, I'll bet the tradesmen we already have could manage it," said Allan. "That sort of carpentry isn't hard. And you did some drywall work when you built our house back in Inverpen, didn't you?"

"It was a bit of a comedy of errors, but I ended up doing all the drywall finishing in that house," Tom replied. "I hired some guys to put the board up, but they did a terrible job, and the prices I was getting to do the finishing were way too steep. So I decided to do it myself. Started in the closets and by the time I was done I was doing a pretty decent job. It's not really hard. I could show you the basics in a day—the main thing is to work in thin coats. And to do a good job of installing the drywall itself so you don't have too much of a mess to hide with the mud. You're right about the carpentry too. I'm sure we could put in some partitions, even do a bit of wiring and plumbing with the guys we've got. But we need to see what exactly the group wants to do first."

"Sounds like we've got another meeting coming after supper tonight to sort that out," said Allan.

"Maybe so. I know what I'd like to do, but I expect I could be talked into whatever the group prefers" said Tom. "Anyway, this is our turn up ahead here."

They turned left and headed north along the side road. Almost immediately, they came to the "Bridge Closed" sign.

"Where's this bridge?" asked Allan, since it wasn't visible from where they stood.

"I've never been further than this," said Tom, "but I suspect it's a ways ahead yet and then down in the ravine."

"OK, lead on," said Allan

The road went downhill a little and then leveled out for half a mile or so. Then it turned a little to the right to head straight down a steeper slope, at the bottom of which was the creek, with a typical township road concrete bridge across it. Allan couldn't see anything wrong with the bridge, but there was another sign: "Closed to vehicular travel".

His dad went down to the edge of the water on the west side of the bridge and had a closer look. "Yeah, there are some cracks down here, alright," he said. "I don't think she'd stand anything very heavy, but we should be OK. One at a time, if you're worried."

"Sure, why don't you go ahead," said Allan. "I'll stand by to either fish you out of the creek or follow across."

"Nothing to that," said Tom as he reached the other side of the bridge and set out up the higher hill to the north.

Allan would have sworn he could feel the bridge shifting as he crossed, but he made it and caught up to Tom by the time they reached the top of the hill. The land to the north of the creek was at a higher level and it was easier to see how the concession was laid out. The creek meandered southwest, crossing the Seventh Concession just before the next side road to the west, with a good growth of bush along both sides of it for most of the way.

"Now, where I grew up, the farms were square, with two rows of five making up a rectangular concession, about eight tenths of a mile wide by not quite two miles long, adding up to a thousand acres. Here the farms are rectangular, a quarter mile wide along the concession roads, by five eights of a mile deep, with two rows of five making up a square, a mile and quarter on a side. A total of a thousand acres again, but a different shape."

"Interesting," said Allan, "I didn't know that was how it worked. So that's why the locals use 'a mile and a quarter' as a unit of distance all the time."

"Yep," said Tom. "Now that's where we are headed." He pointed to a set of buildings about half way along the Ninth Concession toward the next side road to the west.

"Should we cut across the fields?" asked Allan.

"Well, maybe not," answered Tom. "The ground is still wet and the grass and weeds from last year look pretty tangled."

"OK, by the road then," said Allan.

Even going the long way, it was less than half an hour later when they reached the laneway they were aiming for.

"Looks like his truck is here, so he's likely home," said Allan as they turned in and started toward the house.

"Hope so. I'm just wondering which door we should go to," said Tom. "Probably the side one, nearest to where he parks the truck."

Allan followed his dad up the steps onto the porch. Tom pushed the door bell button and they could hear it ringing inside, but it brought no immediate response. After a minute or two, Tom tried again.

A gruff voice responded almost immediately from inside, "Keep your drawers on, I'm coming."

The door opened, revealing a skinny fellow about Tom's age, dressed in a grubby T-shirt, bibbed overalls and bare feet in ratty house slippers. He hadn't shaved in a couple of days, and it looked like he hadn't combed his hair in just about as long. He had an old double barreled shotgun in his hands, fortunately pointed downwards and well away from them. Allan noted with some relief that while the hammers were cocked, the old guy's finger was well clear of the triggers.

"Who're you and what do you want?" he asked gruffly.

"We're your new neighbours to the south and we just wanted to introduce ourselves," said Tom. "I don't think you'll need that gun to keep us in line."

"Don't worry about the gun," he replied, releasing the hammers, breaking it open, removing both shells and putting them in one of the pockets of his overalls. "It's not intended for you. I'm Jack Collins. Been living here for the last 75 years. Who'd you say you were?"

"I'm Tom Harper and this is my son Allan," said Tom. "We moved into the old McConnell place back in the winter, along with some other folks."

"I see," said Jack, offering his hand, which both Tom and Allan shook in turn." If you'd like to come in, I can put some coffee on."

"That'd be great, Jack," said Tom, and they followed him inside.

Allan was wondering what or who the gun had been intended for, and what exactly they'd interrupted. Jack paused for a moment in the hall to lock the shot gun in his gun safe, and then showed them into the kitchen. "Have a seat at the table there while I put the kettle on."

The place was a bit of a mess and smelled like little effort had be spent on cleaning recently. Allan and Tom sat down and watched while Jack puttered away making coffee in a cone and filter setup. "Yeah, this is pretty old fashioned—got it back in '81, a couple of years after we got married. The darned thing lasted longer than my wife. Still works though, and no need for anything fancier. Actually, I used to say the same thing about Mary," he said, "But now that she's gone, it's not so funny."

The kettle came to a boil and Jack poured some water over the coffee in the filter. "I hope you can excuse me for being kinda rude when you came to the door, I'm not having a great day. Now you said your name's Tom Harper. I've been reading a blog for nearly twenty years now, written by a guy of that name. You don't mean to tell me that you're him?"

"Yep, I am him," said Tom.

"And you just show up at my door, out of nowhere, after all this time, " said Jack.

"Kinda like, yeah," said Tom. "I'm as surprised as you—I don't meet many people around here that follow my blog, and I don't believe you've ever commented."

"Nah," said Jack, "I don't usually comment on social media—guess I'm pretty shy. I can see how my interest in your blog might surprise you, most folks around here voting Conservative and all. But I spent 26 years in the union down at the plant and it changed my attitude, I can tell you. I'd guess that I am as much of a leftist as you, and something of a kollapsnik, too. It's nice to meet you—there's not many neighbours left and none with sensible politics."

Jack shook his head, then poured some more water in the filter cone, set the kettle down and gave the liquid in the cone a stir. "Should be ready in a few minutes."

Allan was interested to see his dad somewhat at a loss for words. It had been happening a lot lately. To be fair, this was unexpected—not the way they'd been thinking things would go at all. He perched on the edge of his seat, eager to see what might happen next.

Before Tom could say anything, Jack cleared his throat and spoke, "So what are you folks doing at the McConnell place—setting up some kind of damn commune?"

Allan thought it was a good thing Tom didn't have his coffee yet—he might have choked on it or spilled most of it on the floor.

"Well, uh, actually yes," said Tom after a moment. "Some kind of commune is exactly what we're trying to set up."

"Don't be embarrassed," said Jack. "The way things are going, that's probably a good idea. Provided you can find the right people to join you. I don't have the connections anymore. Is it just you two so far?"

"No, no—there are twenty of us as of yesterday," said Tom.

"Coming along then. You got a name for it?" asked Jack.

"Yep, we just decided that last night," answered Tom. "We're calling it The Porcupine Refuge Co-operative. The reason for the Porcupine part is a bit of a long story. The Refuge Co-operative part is more straight forward, what with all the people—basically refugees—coming back to this area 'cause things are going so badly in the big cities."

"Uh huh," said Jack, turning to grab a trio of mugs from the cupboard. "Looks like the coffee's done."

He poured the fresh brew into the mugs and set them on the table. "What do you take in it?"

"Just something white," said Tom, "whatever you got."

"Same here," said Allan.

"Well, there's milk in the fridge," said Jack. "Let's see what shape it's in." He pulled a carton of whole milk out of the fridge and gave it a sniff. "Seems OK, even if it is past the 'best by' date. Help yourselves."

As Tom and Allan took care of that, Jack said, "well, if we're going to be neighbours, we should get to know each other a bit. What about your family, Tom?"

"Well, my wife is with us at Porcupine, and we have three kids, including this fellow here," said Tom, nodding at Allan. "And counting Allan's step kids, we have 6 grand children. Allan, his wife and her two kids, grown up now, are at Porcupine too."

Jack nodded. "My wife passed a few years ago. We had two kids, both of whom moved to Alberta for work and aren't talking to me anymore. They're hard right wingers now and part of the 'let the eastern bastard freeze in the dark' crowd. So I'm pretty much alone here. Sold the last of the stock last fall and buried my dog a month ago. Lucky the ground wasn't frozen."

"That's too bad, Jack. A fella can get mighty attached to his dog, not speak of his family" said Tom. "You worked at Bruce Power for a while?"

"Well, yeah. Grew up here, went to high school in Inverpen, apprenticed as a carpenter with a local contractor. Worked for him for a few years, then got a job as a scaffolder at the plant. Those guys have scaffold built for anything you can't reach off a 3 foot step ladder. So it's steady work and the pay and benefits are great. The organization is kinda crazy though, so I retired as soon as I had the rule of 82 and farmed here every since. What about you?"

"I grew up on a farm about a hundred miles east of here," said Tom. "After high school I got a job as an apprentice electrician with Ontario Hydro, doing maintenance work in their switchyards. Ended up in the switchyards here at the plant and eventually got promoted to Crew Foreman. Like you, I retired as soon as I could, by which time the company was called Hydro One and was a separate outfit from OPG and Bruce Power. Still a crazy outfit, though maybe not quite as bad as Bruce Power."

Allan couldn't help chuckling silently at these two old guys grousing about how bad the companies they had worked for had been. During his working life he'd seen some privately owned outfits that were damn poorly organized. And even though he had worked mainly in union shops, the contracts he'd worked under had, at best, included only "defined contribution" pensions, not the gold plated "defined benefits" pensions that Ontario Hydro and its successor companies had. The "rule of 82" had allowed Tom and Jack to retire as soon as their age and accumulated years of service added up to 82, with only a slight discount for each year of service under 35. Allan knew his dad had been 51 when he retired, and gladly accepted that discount in order to get out. Allan had been laid off twice and had cashed out his pension both times to spend the small amount that had accumulated on rent and food.

"The last few years I just been farming for fun," said Jack. "Started collecting old farm machinery too. Which may come in handy if you're right about collapse. What have you been doing since you retired from Hydro One?"

"I had a little print shop the last few years before I retired and expanded it after retiring," replied Tom. "Sold it eventually and got into gardening. Like farming, but smaller, you know. I ran the Community Garden in Inverpen for a few years. Quit that when I turned 70.

"We sold our house in Inverpen to my younger brother and rented a place in Port Elgin. I read a lot, science fiction and non-fiction, write for my blog, do some woodworking and a bit of gardening still. And of course, spend time with the grandkids. Lots of fun there, although with gasoline not available sometimes and expensive when it is, we don't get together as much as I'd like."

At this point Allan twigged to what was guiding this conversation. Tom and Jack were both doing the "FORD" thing for making small talk with a new acquaintance—family, occupation, recreation, dreams. And it seemed to be working pretty well, so far. But he doubted that a couple of old working men like Tom and Jack would be keen on discussing something as airy-fairy as "dreams".

"Anything left you're hoping to do?" asked Jack.

"Well, I'm not much of a bucket list guy, but surviving collapse was my plan. Then this depression hit. Not that much of a surprise, really. But before long Allan here and a lot of other people I know were out of work and in a bad spot, things collapsing around them and nowhere to turn. So I started this 'refuge co-operative', actually putting into practice what I'd been talking about for years on my blog. We're just getting started, and it looks like it'll keep me busy for the rest of my life."

So, Allan observed, it's OK as long as they don't actually say the word "dreams".

"That sounds great, Tom," said Jack. "Myself, I'm kinda just sitting around wondering what I should do with the rest of my life. Not that many years left, I'd guess, but a fella would like to think he's doing something worthwhile with the time he'd got left."

"Well, maybe you could help your neighbours a bit," said Tom. "we're fairly clueless about farming and we'd like to get some stock and plant some crops this spring. Hoping to feed ourselves next winter, you know."

"Feeding yourselves would be good," said Jack. "I'd have to look your operation over, but I would guess I could give you some advice and maybe lend you some machinery. It would give me something to keep going for, if nothing else."

"Well, there's no time like the present," said Tom. "There's always a place at our table for one more—why don't you come back to Porcupine with us when we're finished with this coffee. I could show you around the place and introduce you to the rest of us."

"It's not like I had big plans for supper," said Jack. "There's a back way that cuts across the concession to your place. Saves a bit of time. Let me show you the way and you can fill me in on Porcupine while we walk. Just a minute though, I should change into something more presentable before we go."

Allan watched Jack disappear upstairs and Tom call home on his cell phone to warn them there be one more for supper. Then he just had to ask, "Hey Dad, what do you think we walked in on here?"

"I'm not sure, but maybe it's a good thing we arrived when we did," replied Tom.

In a few minutes Jack came downstairs dressed in brown cargo pants, a checked shirt, and work boots (with socks). He was freshly shaved and had combed his hair. All of which made a big improvement. He grabbed a coat and a feed store cap off a hook in the hallway and moments later they headed out the door and towards the laneway that ran down the center of Jack's farm, pointing straight towards Porcupine.

Coming soon, The Porcupine Saga Part 8, When We Met Jack Part 2.

Links to the rest of this series of posts:
The Porcupine Saga