Day One Hundred Ten
I spent this morning traveling the same road as the day before, then turned onto a smaller road in the afternoon. I soon found myself in hilly country, green and half-wild.
There were creeks to ford and an abundance of wildflowers and unfamiliar trees and plants. I’m pretty sure that many of the plants are edible or medicinal in nature, but until I meet up with someone who can identify these plants to me and tell me how to harvest them safely, I’ll have to continue without fresh greens for awhile longer.
It seems incredible that such a lush place can exist and not be overrun with people trying to settle it, but the resource wars were harder on people here than in my own country, where we kicked the feds out seven years ago, ending the draft of our young people. Until the wars ended in a stalemate two years ago, this region continued to be robbed of its adult men and many of its women, which is probably why guys like Craig and Jason in Springfield have such important jobs, even though they’re only my age.
I guess it’s no wonder that so many places have become wilderness. Today I saw the hoof prints of deer that had crossed the dirt road during the night, and I heard birds singing in the trees. There was even a type of bird that pecked so loudly on the tree trunks that it took me awhile to figure out where the tapping sound was coming from.
Late in the afternoon, I came upon some familiar creatures.
Where there are sheep, there are humans, so I followed a path that led into a field of spring flowers, with a large building in the distance.
I didn’t know what to expect, but it was late in the day and I needed to be thinking about where I would spend the night. I knew all about sheep, and figured maybe I could trade a little work for food so I approached the building and was greeted by a young woman with bare feet, flowing skirts, and a mass of reddish curls held off her face with a colorful scarf. She had a baby on one hip and a bucket in her free hand, and since it looked like she was on her way to the well, I offered to help.
She said her name was Ruth, and she seemed glad enough for my assistance, since the baby was squirming and needed all her attention. I filled the bucket and took it to the house for her, where she and a sallow, dark-haired woman named Sharon were preparing supper. There were several children running around, but even so, the meal looked like it would feed a lot more than just two adult women and some kids.
“Those your sheep I saw out there?” I asked.
“They belong to all of us,” Ruth said.
“They’re owned by the community,” Sharon explained. “None of us owns anything in our own right.”
“I see.” I didn’t see, but it seemed best to pretend I understood and hope I could figure it out on my own later. “I was asking because I grew up on a sheep farm and was hoping I could trade some work for food.”
“We’d have to vote on that,” Ruth said. “Since everything belongs to the community, only the community can make those types of decisions.”
I guess she saw me frown, because she added, “Don’t worry. It’s in our bylaws that we always provide a meal and a night’s shelter to passing strangers, if they’re friendly.”
“I’m certainly that, but I’ve always worked and I’d feel a little funny accepting something for nothing. Can I at least help with supper?”
“How about just keep the kids out of our way?”
I spent the next hour trying to herd and occupy a group of children—not my best skill by a long shot, but I did my best and after awhile, another woman came in—an older woman with graying hair braided so tightly that the braids curled up slightly at the ends. She asked me a few questions, seemed satisfied with my answers, then went outside and beat on a big metal thing she called a gong.
The gong was a signal, and a few minutes later, men and women began straggling toward the building from the surrounding fields. Sharon put a basket of bread into my hands and asked me to set it on the long table in the next room. “They’re going to wash up first, since they’ve been working with the animals and in the fields all day, but as soon as they’re cleaned up, they’ll be hungry.”
I set the bread basket on the table, then went back to the kitchen for more things to set out. It was a simple meal, but there was a lot of it—potatoes, beans, pickles, preserves, cheese, salad, and a few other things I didn’t recognize but figured must be some kind of native food from the surrounding forests. It looked and smelled wonderful.
Supper began with an older man named Nicholas giving thanks to someone he called the Mother Goddess for the “bounty of the earth.” He rambled off a list of blessings, and asked a special one for me, their guest. I was surprised and touched that he would ask his goddess to be nice to me. These are obviously good people.
Once the prayers were over, the meal proceeded pretty much like any family meal. So I guess that’s why I was surprised to pick up on bits of conversation that suggested that this wasn’t a group of kin, but a family of choice, sort of like mine with Auntie and Will. I had always thought our arrangement was strange, but looking around the table at these happy people, I began to think that perhaps my upbringing wasn’t so crazy after all.
After the supper dishes had been washed, everyone went into a common room, where they clapped and sang songs for a little while. Then Nicholas read to the group from a big book. Some of the women knitted or worked drop spindles, and some joined the men in carding wool. The children grew sleepy and fell asleep on the floor or the nearest available lap. I ended up with a child dozing in my own lap, even as I found myself nodding off, too.
Ruth moved the child out of the way and helped me to my feet. “You'll stay in my room tonight,” she said.
We climbed the stairs and she led me to a room that was pretty big, but seemed small because it had so many beds in it. On one of them, someone had already laid my packs.
A couple of the older girls had followed us into the room, and while Ruth helped them into nightgowns and put them to bed, I brushed out my hair, re-braided it, and lay down. A few women came into the room and got ready for bed, too, and soon only Ruth was still up, waiting for everyone to find their bed before snuffing the oil lamp. When she turned down the wick and the light went out, the darkness was complete, except for the moonlight shining in the windows. I tried to sleep, but sleep wouldn’t come. So once I was sure everyone else was asleep, I reached for my solar lantern and came out here to the common room to write a little.
This is a nice place, and I’d like to learn a little more about it. I’ll ask in the morning over breakfast. I’ll also try to find out if there are more places like this along the way. It would be great to have such nice people to stop with all the way to Kentucky.
◄ Previous Entry
Next Entry ►