My name is Jim Woods and yesterday was my seventieth birthday, at least we think so. It is the year, 2019. We may have lost a day or two over the years but we have the years straight. I am married to Wendy and who I met and married and we had survived the destruction. I told the beginning of our story in Day of Destruction. Though I summed up details after the first year through the five year point, Wendy wants me to write of our experiences since then. Wendy is beautiful. At just over thirty, she is strikingly good looking and I am and have been proud that she is my wife.
We now call our settlement the Woods. That wasn't my idea but it proved popular. Over the years that I have led it with Wendy, another couple, Paul and Susan, Becky Anderson, and Jack Edwardsen have been developed to be leaders. We constitute a council to lead the members of the Woods. All adult members of the community have a voice in our affairs guided by the council. I have particularly worked on Paul and Susan to be leaders in my stead. They are both natural leaders and have a strong bond to one another through their shared experiences. At some point, I think that I will not be able to lead. I don't know how long I will be active or live but feel great thus far.
The exercise of farming and caring for these people has been good for me and having a young wife also keeps me motivated not to age. My hair is now totally gray but I am "hale and hearty." I wonder how long I will be able to function at this level but plan to continue as long as I can. My parents died in their mid-eighties in a car accident when a drunk crossed the median on a two lane road. They were both able and quite active when they died. My only regret is having a vasectomy many years before I met Wendy. That means I cannot give her children.
There are now a bit over five hundred inhabitants of the Woods. We are active farmers and have spread out to encompass many farms in our area. We had started using what was called ham radio to communicate between ourselves and with other communities. Ed set up a central radio site which was and is solar powered. He tells me that the solar panels will not last much longer and we are having trouble finding viable replacements. Batteries that work are proving more and more difficult to find. Electrical power is so valuable in so many ways. The council has been talking about building some kind of small hydro-electric facility but haven't figured out where or how yet.
Our old civilization with its many gadgets is gradually breaking down as various things quit working. We lost the power grid three years ago but had prepared for that. Now, we are faced with a scarcity of refined fossil fuels. The day is coming when none will be available. We are actively looking for alternatives to oil for lighting and lubrication. Tractors are nice but we have retired them in favor of horses and mules. Tractors use diesel which is almost gone and they don't reproduce. We have built many pieces of equipment from old vehicles and use them regularly. Tires are becoming a problem. No one makes them any more. Many automobile and light truck tires are dry rotted. Scavenging in our general area is starting to return little for the effort.
No one ever really considered what would happen if all the factories stopped producing. We are now faced with that fact. It is surprising the things that last and the things that are now missing from life because we don't have the ability to produce them any longer. Toothbrushes are still around and may be for a hundred years because they are plastic but toothpaste is gone. The tubes we find are not good. They weren't designed for a shelf life of what is now eight years from the Day. We have learned to make many things and have even started to produce many needful things for our use. The struggle is to prevent us from slipping back to the stone age or somewhere close to that. Our sophisticated tools required an infrastructure which is rapidly eroding. Trying to find a middle point from what we can and should do to what we can't or shouldn't do is not always easy.
Over the years, we have contacted other communities and solo families in what was the southeastern United States. When the population of the country goes from three hundred million to three million, there are two issues. The first is that there are not many people around. The second is that there are a lot of bodies to bury or let decay. It has created some potentially dangerous situations in the old cities but no one now alive seems to get sick. I know that, thinking back, I cannot remember ever being sick even one day of my life. My daughters were rarely sick and survived with me. Both have remarried. Doris was the first one, marrying Ed, our electronics guy. Joan followed two years later with Jack Edwardsen, a widower farmer.
We were having our weekly governing session with me presiding and Wendy, Paul and Susan flanking me in this session as my assistants. Everyone was welcome and decisions are made by group vote after discussion. To me, leading is not dictating.
One item for discussion was some more exploring. We knew much about the southeast and had contact with various communities by radio. However, we had heard nothing from the northeast since Ed came down here. He had worked up that way and came down here because he was a ham radio operator and heard a broadcast from us when we were trying to contact people. No one else had come south to our knowledge and we had heard nothing on the radio from that direction. We heard a bit from Minnesota and the west. We had found that a three percent survival rate from the virus might be true but there were many other ways to die and the cold of the north could make living difficult for people unused to living as farmers. I suspected the Amish folk in Pennsylvania were okay if they survived the virus because they used little that they didn't produce. The discussion went on until I called a halt and asked for an initial opinion.
"The question I want us to consider is, 'Should we continue this discussion?' By that I am asking whether or not this issue is important enough to warrant more consideration. If it is, then we will devote a full community meeting to it. If there is not enough interest, then it will be tabled at this time. I ask you to vote on this question, not whether or not to make explorations but whether or not to talk about the possibility some more only."
The vote was overwhelming in favor of continuing discussion. With that vote taken, I said that we would notify the entire community and plan a community-wide meeting in a couple of weeks. With that we moved to other business and resolved those issues. After the meeting broke up, I told Wendy, Susan, and Paul that we should talk with Becky and Jack to determine a good time for a big meeting.
I hadn't briought up the idea but it interested me greatly. Wendy and I had talked about the two of us traveling, seeing what was happening, and how other people were coping. That didn't come up in the discussion. I'm not even sure it would later either. Wendy and I had decided that we wanted to go "walkabout" for some period of time. We were interested in the community's take on a larger scale trip than just one couple out in the wilderness.
When we had big issues to discuss, we would gather the entire community together and let the talk go for a while in smaller groups which could report their opinions to the whole. The community then would make its decision.
The six of us got together and decided that, in two weeks, the planting would be completed and no pressing chores would be in front of most of us. The council then called for a community-wide meeting in two weeks. With five hundred people, some lived half a day's ride from our headquarters house. It was still our main point though we moved council meetings around to keep participation high. Our one doctor and nurse were located there though they worked on injuries, not sickness.
As the meeting date neared, I talked with Wendy, "I think it's time to tell people that we want to go look at the northeast. I would like to see the ocean again and show you Washington and New York City. There is a lot of history that is going to vanish over the next twenty years."
"Jim, we have done our jobs here and no one can fault us for wanting to go off though they will. There will be some who can't imagine the Woods without Jim Woods."
"I knew I should have objected more when that name came around."
"It would have done you no good. Even your wife likes the name."
I let it drop. I had never won an argument with her yet. I went back to my first argument, "They will get used to it. These are folks who will like to remember me rather than live with me. Anyway, I feel enclosed. I want to do something or go somewhere."
"Jim, it was your choice to lead and stepping down will entail some preparation but we can do it. Paul and Susan are ready to lead. I am only on the council because you are the leader."
"Not so fast, Wen," I interrupted. "You are more important than you know. The women, including Susan, idolize you. They will be less happy with you going off with me than with me going off."
Wendy looked at me and smiled. We both laughed and went to bed.
The big day arrived for our meeting. As usual, I presided with Ed's help. He had set up loudspeakers and microphones all over the primary meeting area. People gathered in family groups and friend groups as they usually did. I started things off by saying, "I have my own thoughts about this though I didn't bring it up originally. I think we should do some more exploring which means going a distance from here. I have asked Wendy to speak on this matter in our behalf. Wendy, please come to the microphone."
'Jim asked me to speak for the two of us today. We are in favor of exploring particularly to the northeast. We have two reasons for this direction. First, it was a heavily populated area and we have heard nothing from it over the years. Second, the large cities there may have warehouses with goods that would help us improve our lives. We have a third, personal reason. We would like to go. We both have a desire to go see something new again."
She sat down and I got up to a considerable buzz. I have asked Jack Edmonsen to speak against exploring. Jack, please come to the microphone."
"I want to give some ideas why this may not be a good idea. We have a good community here. We are thriving and are willing to take people in from outside or at least make friends if they don't want to join us. I think of the Tennesseans that we have never met but have talked to for years over the radio for one example. I think we have so much to do right here that we should be very cautious about expending resources on a trip that may not gain us anything. We have big projects here which need leadership and resources."
He sat down. I got up and went back to the microphone to another considerable buzz. "I know this is a lot to consider but it is worthy to discuss it. The results of this discussion will likely set a direction for many years into the future. At this time, I will suggest that we break into smaller groups for the rest of the day. When you entered, you saw the field divided with white lines for the microphones. I suggest that you, in so far as is reasonable, make your groups from within those lines. That will give groups with people you know well. I hope you will to see different points of view within those small groups. We, on the council, will mingle to listen and talk as requested. Thank you."
We broke up into the small groups and the six of us mingled, listening and being asked questions. I asked Paul and Susan to go out separately.
Wendy looked at me and said, "I guess that means you want me to go around without you, too."
"Wen, that's what we usually do."
"Okay, but don't mingle far."
We all went out to mingle with the various groups. Since there were only ten field mikes set up, the groups were about fifty people each including children. We still did not have as many children as I would like but it wasn't for lack of trying. Those who were still in child-bearing age were not using birth control but, at the same time, there was a limit as to how many babies a woman should bear according to Doc.
It didn't surprise me but did surprise Wendy that more people wanted to talk to her than to me. I learned a long time ago that a pretty woman was more interesting even to other women than the man who was obviously smitten by her which I was and am still.
One of the first to talk to her was a teenager. She wanted to know if the trip would be limited to only older people.
Wendy said, "Right now, we haven't determined to make a trip. After that determination is made and, if a trip is to be, then the makeup of the party traveling will be discussed. I can see an argument for both sides of the ages."
Another older woman said, "You and Jim are going no matter what, aren't you?"
"We haven't said that though we are interested in the possibility of such a trip."
"Who would lead us if you go?" she asked.
"There are four more on the council and they are all more than competent." She responded.
"You and Jim are the leaders of the Woods. It wouldn't be right for you to leave."
"It wouldn't be right for us to be forced to stay, either. That is a choice and discussion to be made later. As you heard, Jack wants to stay. Becky and Susan have talked with me and, while they are in favor of an exploration party, they don't want to be going."
I was asked a question and noticed she had moved on from there.
"So, you believe going on this trip will be voluntary. That's good. We don't want to go but we think it's a good idea." said Jimmy Warren. He and his wife, Gerry, were one of the few couples surviving from before the Day. They were in their seventies. "I think Gerry and I have seen enough to hold us."
I smiled at that. "I think there will be many who feel as you two do. If the majority wants a trip, then who will go and where will be the next matters to discuss."
Gerry said, "That's what our group is already talking about. It's surprising to me how many like the idea of the trip but don't want to go."
The group discussions continued through a lunch break. After lunch, I called everyone to order. "I would like each group to quickly report to us all on the question, 'Should this trip be made?' A yes or no and no more than a short explanation is my preference."