After the Change
I recognized it as the home I'd left a little over a month before yet it was different.
There was an open structure, similar to a carport where the garage had been. Back wall, side walls and a roof; pretty much a wide garage without the big doors. A couple of wagons were parked inside, backed in for easy hitching and unhitching of the horses. There was room for at least two more wagons. Tack, miscellaneous wagon parts and wheels were hanging on or leaning against the back wall.
The barn looked about double the size of the old one. I guess horses were taking over for pretty much anything that had an engine in it in this new world. We'd had a tractor, mainly for harvesting close to 30 acres of hay each year plus digging fence holes with an attachment that fit on the back. A cutter, rakes, a baler and a flatbed trailer made harvesting the hay a matter of just putting in the hours. That would all need to be done with horses and strong backs from a lot more men now. Fence holes would just take good old muscle combined with sweat.
Behind the barn was a long building with four doors on the closest side that I somehow knew was a bunkhouse for some of the help. It looked like it could house at least 30.
The house had grown, both out and up. A couple of rooms had been added on the back where the propane tank had been and there was a completely new second story. I noticed that the number of chimneys was triple the two we'd had before. A porch that hadn't been there before covered the front and one side of the place.
All the buildings had a rustic look, primarily constructed of local timber and rock.
What used to be an asphalt driveway was now dirt. There was something else different about it. It took a few minutes to spot that the three utility poles from the main street to our house, bringing in electricity, phone and cable, were no more. As if to take their place, the number of trees on and close to our property had increased at least fivefold.
"It's all gone, isn't it?" my wife said, taking my hand.
"Yeah, I guess it is. We didn't get hit too bad, considering."
"They didn't even ask us how we felt. One day we go to the cave and a couple of weeks later they say, 'Oh, by the way, we've wiped out most of the people on the planet along with anything more modern than a pot bellied stove'."
I squeezed her hand. "Well, it's obvious it was going to happen no matter what we said or thought about it. Would you rather have been wiped out with the rest of them?"
"No, that's not it. I don't know. I guess I'm in shock."
Grace said, "We're going over to my place to see what they've done to it."
"Do you want me or Val to go with you?"
"No, Kyle can take care of anything. We're just going to our home. Vicky, do you want to come?"
"We'll be fine," Grace said. "I guess we need to get together after we settle in and figure out what we're going to do."
"That sounds good. We can't call each other so why don't you plan on coming back around 6:30 or 7 and we'll see what we can come up with for dinner."
"I don't know. It's going to be dark and we don't have any lights. It could be pretty dangerous riding back home after we eat."
Maria said, "It looks like we've got plenty of room if you want to spend the night."
"No," Grace answered, "I think I'd like to spend the time getting used to my new place. We'll come over in the morning."
They swung their horses around and headed across our ranch towards theirs. The wolves looked at each other as if communicating and then Betty got up to go with them.
Val and Bev decided they wanted to check out the place and see what changes had been made in this new era. They headed out toward the back of the ranch. Knowing them, they'd be looking for places they could be alone as much as changes to the property. Alfie got up and followed them before they'd gone a dozen yards.
Maria had started toward the back of the house when the kids took off. She was just past the far corner now, sitting on her horse, looking at whatever was back there. That's where her garden had been before.
I nudged my horse forward and pulled up next to her.
Our garden had grown every year since Maria started it and had been about half the size of a football field when I left for the cave. Now we had one that you could easily fit six or eight stadiums in. At the far edge were a couple of dozen fruit trees. I saw a couple of different apples, cherry and several varieties of plum, all trees that belonged here in eastern Montana. There were also orange, lemon, lime, grapefruit, pear, peach, nectarine and several others that had no right growing here in the cold. All were filled with fruit that any magazine would be proud to have on their cover.
Between the trees and the garden were berries. I picked out huckleberry, raspberries, blackberries, bluberries and strawberries. Again, lots and lots of fruit. The strawberries were almost as big as my fist and I could almost feel the juice running down my chin just looking at them.
The most surprising thing to me was the windmills. There were two of them, at the close end of the trees, near the house. Someone had figured out how to to irrigate the garden. I wondered if we had running water in the house, as well. I'd eventually find out why we needed two of them.
Maria got off her horse and walked over to the edge of the garden, bending over to pick up a handful of dirt and inspect it as it ran through her fingers. She looked up and called to Margarita, who was about twenty feet away, bent over with her back to us. Margarita came running over to her, apologizing for not noticing that we'd returned. Maria shushed her and pointed to the section she'd gotten the dirt from. The two of them knelt down and began to run their fingers through various areas of the dirt and to feel the leaves of the sprouting plants between their thumbs and fingers.
Maria stood up and wiped her hands on her thighs as Margarita called out to five other women who were working further away in the field. They ran over to her and Margarita duplicated what my wife had just done with her, showing the women what had been discovered and discussing what needed to be fixed. Three of them ran off to the barn and came back shortly, loaded down with shovels, hoes, rakes and a couple of buckets.
Manuel came over for Maria's horse and I got down from mine and handed him over. As he led them away, I asked Maria if there was a problem.
"Not really. I just saw a way to get the plants more water. They're doing OK but we could feed a lot more people if they got more to drink." I looked back at the garden area. There were now about ten women digging out the dirt between the rows of vegetables. Where there had been troughs an inch or two deep, there were now five or six inch deep channels.
Maria turned away from the garden and took my hand. "Let's take a look at what they've done to our home."
The first room we entered was a big mud room. There were hooks on the wall for coats and three four foot long shelves, one above the other, for boots and shoes. There was probably room for twenty or more people to keep their stuff and approximately a quarter of the shelves and hooks were in use.
There were sturdy doors both from the outside and into the kitchen. Solid doors that would cost hundreds of dollars at Home Depot that I knew had been cut whole out of trees on or near our land.
It wasn't until I wiped my boots on the mat and hung up my coat that I realized we'd been clothed when we transferred from the cave to our driveway.
The kitchen was a throwback as far as we were concerned but would probably be a dream to someone who hadn't seen what we used to call the modern world. The whole outside wall was covered in brick that narrowed down into a single chimney about ten feet up. There were three open fireplaces, two of them large enough for a steer, pig or deer, set up with spits that had handles coming out of the brick so someone could rotate the meat without getting too close to the fire. The third had a couple of big cauldrons on hooks. There were a couple of pot bellied stoves with four round metal plates of varying size for cooking, similar to the burners on a stove. There were also ovens built into the brick above the three fireplaces. So, you could roast a pig and bake several pies in the same fireplace if you wished. I know that because Rosa, one of Manuel's relatives was doing just that. I was going to have to teach her to make pizza.
There were three cast iron sinks on the other side of the room, each one almost a yard cubed. They looked about 3 X 3 X 3 except the outside part sloped in a bit so the bottom was probably closer to 3 X 2 ½.
There was running water, I assume made possible because of the windmill. Believe it or not, there were both cold and hot water spouts over each sink. I had no idea how that miracle had been achieved with no gas or electricity.
Maria opened a door to find a pantry. It was about six feet to the far wall, then covered half the side of the house to the left. There was shelf after shelf of canned produce, jams and jellies, jerkies and other dried meats. One wall had several smoked hams hanging in front of it.
There was a thick wood door with insulation surrounding the edges to the right of where we entered. There were a couple of thick coats on hooks next to the door. Going inside was like walking into the storage freezer in the grocery store I worked at as a kid. We both went inside and closed the door. I could feel the hairs in my nose freeze up as I breathed and a cloud appeared in front of my mouth. There were 50 or 60 animal carcases hanging from hooks. I spotted beef, a few sheep, several pigs and some deer and caribou. It got too cold to stay and I was happy to leave when Maria tugged on my arm.
Next to the kitchen was a huge dining room with a table that could probably seat thirty. There were cabinets and sideboards with warming trays and china. The furniture was all handcrafted and it was solid. No pressed wood with plastic skin died to look like grain here.
It was pretty obvious that the place used a lot of wood, both for food prep and heating. It would win no awards from Al Gore, especially in Montana's sub zero winters. I'm sure he'd accuse us of destroying the ozone layer all by ourselves. Peta would also have a major problem with us because there were fur rugs all over the floors and the primary materials for furniture were wood and stuffed animal hides.
There was a big room that had four couches and a half dozen over-stuffed chairs. The stone floor was covered in skins from local hairy animals: bear, sheep and goat. Where the plasma screen would have been was a huge fireplace. There were smaller versions of the cauldrons from the kitchen in this one. The wall was decorated with paintings on the wall of the local landscape and wildlife. There were also several trophy animals' stuffed heads; a bison, a 12 point stag and a bear that matched one of the rugs.
Another room was a combination library and office. There were books on two walls in shelves that reached up to the ceiling. A couple of roll top desks were against one wall and there were three sturdy oak tables with cushioned chairs for reading or writing. Each desk and table had several quills plus ink bottles. I took a quick look at the books and didn't see any authors I recognized. They were all leather bound, first editions. The majority were fiction, primarily romance and adventure but there were some nonfiction, mostly about nature. I didn't see any histories of the world we'd grown up in or the one we were now relegated to.
There were two guest rooms with a shared bathroom at the end of the hall between them. Each room had a four poster queen size bed, complete with feather mattress and pillows and quilts. A walk in closet had drawers, hooks on the walls for hanging clothes and shelf space. The bathroom had a toilet with a water receptacle mounted above shoulder height with a chain hanging down. There was a cast iron tub, complete with clawed feet that had hot and cold faucets. Between them was a sink with hot and cold water and a mirror. There was a cabinet with drawers below the sink but no medicine cabinet.
Upstairs were four bedrooms similar to the ones below, all on the right side of the hall, split by two shared bathrooms like the one on the first floor. The other side of the hall was the master suite. There was a sitting room, a bedroom twice as large as the others with a bed one and a half times as large and a private bath. The tub was big enough for two or three; the other fixtures were similar to those in the other bathrooms. There were three picture windows in the suite, all looking out over the garden to the ranch and the mountains beyond. And there was a walk-in closet almost as large as one of the bedrooms across the hall.
The end of the hall had a door that led to a laundry room that covered the complete side of the house, directly above the pantry and ice room. There were four large sinks, similar to those in the kitchen with additional washboards. A large set of rollers with a handle for turning them was over the far sink for wringing out clothes. There was a large window with a crank that opened it completely so it was up against the outside wall. The sill was large enough for sitting on comfortably with room for a basket of washed clothes. There was a horizontal beam attached to the side of the house above the windows and there were three pulleys, each with a loop of rope around it. The middle rope went straight out from the house to another pulley on a pole about 50 feet away. The other two were each about 45 degrees off-center, the same distance to two other poles. Each rope was a closed circle and was set up so clothes could be attached by the person sitting on the sill, the rope reeled out to allow more clothes until the rope was filled from house to pole. There were two big cloth bags, filled with push-on wooden clothes pins on the wall, one on each side of the window. I bent over and saw a metal grid coming out from the side of the house, slanted slightly up. Dropped clothes would be caught instead of falling all the way to the ground, as would someone who leaned out too far and lost their balance.
There were also five parallel lengths of rope inside, running the length of the room, high enough so that a stool was needed to reach them. There were stools against the walls at each end of the room. There were shelves for temporary storage of clothes, a couple of large tables that folded up and attached to the wall when not being used for folding clothes and a fireplace with a cauldron, both for warming the room and for boiling water. The room was easily large enough for five or six people to work comfortably without bumping into each other. I noticed there was no bleach, softener or special stain removing laundry detergent, just a large barrel at the end of the room past the sinks that was three quarters full of white flakes, similar to the Ivory Snow I remembered my grandmother using when I was a child.
Lighting throughout the house was accomplished with candles and kerosine lamps. The hallways and many of the rooms had lamps mounted on the walls but each room had at least two sitting on a table or a desk that were portable. Every room had a fireplace and the chimneys were common for the two floors. Glass jars with handsful of strike anywhere matches were conveniently placed throughout the house.
We were never big TV watchers so we weren't going to miss that lack. Not being able to throw a switch and get clean, bright light was going to take some getting used to. As were hopping in the car, throwing dirty clothes in the washer and taking a hot shower. Maybe there was something I could do about the showers. We did have hot water and I was just going to have to find out where that was coming from. I'm sure it wouldn't be too hard to rig up a shower of some sort.
Maria didn't complain once on our tour of the house and she smiled and squeezed my hand upon several occasions, especially when she noticed the size of our bed. All in all, I figured we could live in our revised world.
We were eager to go when Rosa came up and told us that dinner was ready.