Abby had her puppies. Four to be exact, but one of them died shortly after birth. I’ll spare you the gory details of how dogs give birth, but seeing the aftermath was really eye opening. For the first two weeks they did little more than crawl around on their bellies and make squeaky little yips as Abby watched over them. Rusty is disinterested parent giving his small squeaky offspring little to no attention as he goes about his day following Ruth around.
By the fourth week the chorus began. I’ve never been a dog person so I couldn’t tell you what breed Abby and Rusty are, but mixing the two should be avoided for people who like silence. The puppies clumsily chase each other around and bark. They bark when they catch each other, they bark when they’re caught, they bark when they don’t catch each other, and sometimes they bark in their sleep. I’m thankful I work outside.
Or at least I was until the end of July, when Abby started bringing the puppies outside with her to follow me around. I tried to discourage this behavior, but by the second week of August I had a train of dogs following me everywhere as I tend the garden. At first, I saw them as little furry noise balls. I’m not sure if it’s because it’s just me and Ruth out here, but I’m starting to see different personalities. Of the three puppies Lump is the biggest. He looks like a smaller black version of Rusty. He has stout little legs with the feet far too big for his wobbly frame. He’s a big baby who likes nothing more than being pet and played with. He’s picked on by the twins Bip and Bop. I bet you can guess who names which puppies. Bip is a boy with a brown hair on everything but his back and the top of his head. Bop is a girl and looks like her brother with the colors reversed. The twins are more like their mother, and are far more demanding than I think a dog should be. They’re the source of most of the barking.
These three along with their mother follow me around for the first half of my day. Digging in the garden till I stop them, dragging off my hand tools till I catch them, and trying to eat all sorts of things I would really like them not to. They also wrestle each other until they’re too tired to walk and just fall asleep in a pile. Abby watches over them as they play and sleep. They wake up shortly before lunch and I spend about half an hour trying to train them. So far, they’ve gotten sit and laydown. Having Abby really helps since she always demonstrates. After lunch if I don’t have anything to fix, build, or harvest, I go hunting.
I’m getting much better at hunting, or the animals are getting worse at hiding from me. I’m successful more times than I’m not, and we have a lot of spare meat. The freezer is working just fine for storage but I really want to try some of the methods I found in the food preservation book I got from the library. Ruth tells me we can also can the meat if we need, which I’m up for trying but first I want to try smoking. From what I understand it’s pretty much a method of drying that adds flavor.
Thanks to my new book on Dendrology, I can identify different types of wood. Which makes smoking easier. I wish my food preservation book went in to greater detail. It’s covered oak and applewood but nothing else. I don’t think using the smoke from a different tree would be poisonous but I’m not sure I’m willing to take the risk. I’ve built myself a little smoke shack where I’ve been trying to perfect the art. I should say I’ve rebuilt myself a little smoke shack after I accidentally burned the first one down, and the dogs knocked the second one over to get to the meat. My third one is much more stable, I hope. I think I’m going to scour the neighbors houses and see if I can’t find a conventional smoker.
I tried checking the hardware stores, but either because the season everything shut down is wrong or they were just out, there doesn’t seem to be any to find. Unfortunately, the hardware stores are increasingly bare. I’m the only one I can blame for this. I’ve used a lot of their stock to build the stuff we need to survive, but I used most of it learning how to build in the first place. Also, almost all the tools they had are stuffed in one of the houses we use for storage. I’ve thought about breaking down their shelves for more building material but it’s something that will have to wait for another day.
There is a source of stuff I’m nowhere near exhausting, houses. We’ve really only searched the houses on my street. We’ve pulled almost everything of immediate use out of them. I’ve started removing the pipes from the houses at the end of the street to make more irrigation systems for the fields. I now have over half of them covered. Today however I’m going a little farther out to look for a smoker.
About two miles away from my home is what I like to call the rich neighborhood. Where the yards are at least an acre and the houses close to four thousand square feet, most even have multi car garages. I’ve been avoiding it because one, it’s full of hills, and two It’s wide open. I feel safer in my suburb or in the city were there’s lots of places to hide. In the rich neighborhood the houses are far apart and the tree line isn’t far behind them. If there was ever a place, I would encounter another cougar this would be it. Unfortunately, I believe it’s also the best place to find what I’m looking for.
I took my bike in hopes of being stealthy. I don’t want to announce my presence with the truck. Unlike in my neighborhood there are no cars parked on the street. Every house is hidden behind grass that’s almost as tall as I am. Here and there I see small trees poking up through the grass. It won’t be long before they claim the area. I can see the driveways cutting through the high grass as I peddle up the hill. I figured I would start at the top and work my way down.
The house at the top is a massive log cabin. Half of the bottom floor it taken up by a huge three car garage with a big wrap around porch on the second story. There are some seriously expensive SUVs parked in front of the doors. All of which are grimy and one has a flat tire. This neighborhood like all the other appears empty. I got my tools and headed for the front door, but as I grabbed the handle, I notice it was already open, all I had to do was push.
As I entered, I took a test sniff of the air. It didn’t smell like death but there was a staleness to it. It almost smelled like dirty clothes. Who ever lived here was pretty messy. There was stuff everywhere, though it still look fairly neat because it was spread out so far. The kitchen was to my immediate right. It was a massive thing with a large island in the center that was topped with a single unbroken slab of black marble. On the island sat a packed bag, I guessed the homeowner. They must have left before everything went down.
I headed for the back porch. I can see it through the huge floor to ceiling windows. This place was the biggest house I’ve ever been in. A wild thought occurred to me to move everything up here. This house was really nice and had some really nice appliances, some even ran on gas. It would take some cleaning but we’d be able to store everything in this house alone. We would also have larger fields for growing.
Then I remembered, this place wasn’t close to the river or any water supply and it was on top of a hill meaning getting water up here would be a greater trial. I also have my doubts we have the fuel to move everything. The list of things we would need got longer and longer before the idea seemed utterly impossible.
I found no smoker on the back porch but I did discover a hot tub. When I look down at the back yard, I see a large dry swimming pool with an outdoor kitchen set up a few yards away. The grass formed a big green wall just outside the patio area where all the trappings of comfort ended. The more I looked at all the stuff that at one time would have cost an insane amount of money, stuff at one time I would have wanted but never used, the more I saw work. All I could think about was how much effort it would take to maintain, to fix, and all my want for it evaporated.
I decided to search the house for anything else useful. After looking at the backyard, I now know that the main floor I entered on was the second floor when viewed from the back. This place really was too big. I decided to search downstairs first. The downstairs was mostly taken up by a massive den and utility room. There was a bedroom near the back and next to that was a safe. I blinked in disbelief a few times. It was an actual safe, like you would see in a bank. Out of curiosity I tuned the handle. It creaked open.
From the outside the safe looked massive. Inside it was more like a big closet, but that closet was filled with guns, ammo, and literal piles of cash. There were a few guns missing, but there were just empty slots in a massive wall of armament. What kind of people owned this house? I made a mental note to come back with the truck for the guns and ammo if nothing else. I was momentarily excited by the cash, but that want died quickly. With no one left it was less than worthless.
I decided to at least check the upstairs before I left. The third floor was more like a balcony to the second that had bedrooms around the two sides with no windows. The first few bedrooms I opened were surprisingly bright and cozy, but had nothing in them aside from beds and empty dressers. I figured anything of value left was either in the vault or the master bedroom. The master bedroom’s door was locked. I guess who ever left this place must have done it. I thought about getting my tools but it was a simple bedroom door. Maybe it was time to try kicking again, surely, I’d gotten stronger since the last time I tried.
I squared myself up, took my time to get my posture right, and with as much focus as I could I launched my foot forward. The door gave way almost immediately and swung in hard enough to bang in to the other side of the wall. I felt a great surge of triumph. I had done it; I could kick open a door. The triumph made way for curiosity as something appeared to be moving towards me. Something as high as my chest was approaching me quickly. It was dirty, hairy, and smelt terrible. It rammed me out of the way and headed for the staircase.
Only after standing back up, did I realize it was a person. They were down the stairs before I could call out to them. They disappeared into the kitchen. I was at the top of the stairs when I saw them grab the bag on the counter and move for the front door. They stopped and stared at me for just a second. Their hair was a huge tangled mess, full of dirt and mud. Their clothes fit poorly and showed nothing of the body underneath, and what part of their face wasn’t covered by the matted hair from their head was covered in dirt. I only caught a glimpse of one eye, bright green and wild. They didn’t stare long but ran out the front door. I chased after them and called to them, Before they disappeared in to the grass, they stopped for just a second but didn’t turn around. Then they took off towards the trees.
August 20, 2022