After the euphoria of their successful escape from the city wears off, Karen and Brian quickly realize that their struggle has only just begun. The stores in the pantry will only last a few weeks and with no end in sight to the power outage, they need to get to work. But they’re city people and they have a new baby to care for. They don’t know how to farm or hunt. Things they took for granted before the power went out now seem impossible. Winter is long and without a proper supply of food or fuel for heating the house, their chances of survival are slim.
As the only house in the area with power, Brian and Karen have something to offer the community, who must all work together to survive. They have everything they need in the surrounding area: dairy, meat, wheat, wood, corn and vegetables. But when a hunting accident almost takes Brian’s life, will they be able to make it to spring?
Explore the world of Book Two: The Middle
“The birds are loud, the tumbling song of the wren, the yellowthroats with their wichery-wichery-wichery, the rose-breasted grosbeak, like a robin that’s had singing lessons.”
Whizbang chicken plucker
“You know, we used to have a machine called the Whizbang with little rubber fingers called Chicken Picker Fingers, and you just stick the chicken in there and turn it on and it spins the bird around and those little rubber fingers do all the work for you!”
“The mayonnaise is the special ingredient, the thing that pulls the whole meal together.”
Old-fashioned spring house
“They’d build a stone house around where the stream came out of the ground, usually it’s on a hill and then they’d build these troughs for the spring water to flow along through the building and then out through the wall. Some of the water would be siphoned off for drinking water, but the rest would run through these troughs and they’d put their milk and cheese and butter in the troughs and the spring water, which had been underground and pretty cold as a result, would keep their dairy chilled.”
DIY hydraulic ram pump
“Anyone with a stream or pond, I can show you how to build a hydraulic ram pump out of materials most of us having lying around the house.”
Installing an old-fashioned hand water pump
“And lastly, it would be great to find some old-fashioned hand pumps. Some people keep them for decorative purposes on their properties.”
Bush cord vs face cord of wood
Brian is staggered by the amount of wood they’ve cut in a single morning, more wood than he could ever imagine going through in a lifetime.
“Probably about three bush cords”, was Iggy’s proclamation. He’d paused, eyeing Brian. “That’s eight feet long by four feet high by four feet deep.” Brian nods. He has the feeling that Iggy is resisting the urge to finish each sentence with the word “Idiot.”
“Today is the day Brian learns to use a chainsaw and he’s a little giddy at the thought of it, images of burly bearded men with pick-ups slicing through thick lengths of timber. He’s a little disappointed when Harry hands him the saw he is to use with its stubby 14-inch bar, but he pushes the feeling aside, pays close attention as Harry walks him through the steps to starting it, how to hold the saw, the various safety precautions. It’s easy enough: slow, steady pressure, let the saw do the work, avoid using the tip of the saw.”
Using Crazy Glue to close cuts
“I read somewhere that you can use Crazy Glue in the place of stitches. Apparently, that’s what it was originally designed for, as a medical adhesive. You pinch the two sides of the wound together and Crazy Glue them closed.”
Wild yeast starter batch
“Did you know that the way they used to make yeast was to mix some flour and water together and put it next to a window so that wild yeast would land on it, and then you just keep using the same batch and adding to it? It’s the craziest thing I’ve ever heard!”
Yellowjacket ground nest
“What happened to you?”
“Apparently bees make hives underground.”
“Apparently it’s Oxycontin withdrawal.”
There’s a silence while this sinks in. It’s after nine now, the kids are asleep, the evening light fading. Melina woke up for a bit, was in the bathroom for a very long time, drank some tea, then groaned that it felt like an animal was trying to get out of her legs and went back to bed. Since then they keep hearing her moan, a few times a sharp shriek and the heavy sound of her body hitting the mattress as she flips herself back and forth.
Cannabis as alternative treatment for opioid use
“They are building something to smoke the marijuana with, Brian putting on his invisible engineer’s cap, Robin asking what the contraption they’re building is for. There had been no way around telling her. That marijuana is a plant that you smoke, and that it’s kind of like medicine, kind of like cigarettes, kind of like alcohol. It helps people that are sick by reducing pain and settling their stomachs and giving them an appetite, and they need it for Melina because she has run out of her back medicine.”
DIY bong with PVC
“The design of the bong is simple. A straight length of ABS pipe about eight inches high, joined at a 45-degree angle to another four-inch length of pipe, open at the top where you put your mouth, two quarter inch holes drilled on opposite sides of the longer length of pipe, one for air to be drawn in, the other with a length of hose attached to a small plastic funnel that miraculously fit perfectly into the end of the soft hose. He had then wrapped the entire funnel in aluminum foil, layering in some of the wire mesh from the failed water filter to the bottom of the funnel, allowing the smoke to pass through the hose, into the base of the bong where it would bubble through the water, cooling the smoke, before being inhaled from the top. A fully functional design.”
Training a horse for long line
“Robin and Emily are spending every day on their bikes, back and forth between Emily’s barn, the stables, where the two of them have made themselves indispensable, brushing the horses’ coats, walking them around the exercise circles, teaching them to respond to long lines rather than the directions of a mounted rider.”
Manual grain harvest
“They have yet to figure out how to grind the hard wheat kernels, and it is something that fills Brian’s thoughts, when he isn’t so exhausted from the labour of bending over and either tying the scratchy wheat stalks into sheaves, or taking his turn with the only scythe they have, a beautiful new one from Lee Valley that Luke produced to the amazement of all.”
Beef tongue recipe
‘“It’s delicious. What is it?” When the answer doesn’t come immediately, he looks back and forth between the two women again. “What?”
Jean steps in neatly. “It’s an old family recipe of mine. My family came through the Depression and they learned the hard way that absolutely nothing was to be wasted. There wasn’t a local supermarket you could just run out to whenever you needed something. In fact, most of us kids only had two pairs of clothes, and if you got a hole in your sock, you had to darn it. I remember one time when…” Harry steps in. “It’s tongue.”’
Antique fanning mill
‘“That there was called a seed separator or sometimes a fanning mill. You dump a bunch of seeds in the top, and you get the kids to take turns with the hand crank which shakes the seeds through the different sized screens, separating out the seeds by size and getting rid of the straw and husks.”’
Antique disk harrow
Long-handle waffle maker
Perseid meteor shower
‘“Is it just me, or are there a lot of frigging falling stars tonight?!”
This makes him laugh, the explosive kind, trying to hold the smoke in, then giving up, as he doubles over with laughter, the smoke hanging around his head in the airless silo. Then a thought occurs to him, subduing the laughter.
“Wait. It’s August, isn’t it?”
“How should I friggin’ know? Yeah. Sure. August sounds right.” It’s clear he’s not the only one that’s high.
“I’ll bet this is the Perseid meteor shower.” Another star catches the corner of his eye. “Wow. This is spectacular!”’
‘Harry and Melina both hop down off the vehicles, allow the horses to graze on the grass and flowers that grow waist-high by the side of the road. The girls busy themselves picking bouquets of Black-eyed Susans and wild Sweet peas and purple-tinged Asters and giant ditch lilies.’
Egg quota supply management
‘“Egg police?” She says this with a non-committal half-smile.
“Don’t even get me started. Can’t have more than 99 laying hens without buying quota, and even if you do have under a hundred and want to sell them anywhere you gotta get them graded, which costs a small fortune and isn’t worth the effort. Few years back one of our neighbours down the road got busted by some inspector from the government who pretended to be a foodie from the city looking for organic free-range eggs. Ended up with a $3000 fine. Can you believe that?”’
Threshing wheat with a flail
‘When the wheat has been delivered to the storage silo, the second step, called threshing, begins. John had been conscripted to build several flails which consisted of two lengths of wood connected by a small length of chain to allow someone to hold one of the wooden ends and beat the stalks of wheat with the other end.’
Winnowing or separating the wheat from the chaff
‘Once the grain is separated from the stalks, the third stage is the winnowing, a process that involves two people loading a bed sheet with the wheat grains, then tossing the grain in the air while holding the four corners of the sheet. The heavy grain simply falls back down, while the light husks, the chaff, is blown away by whatever breeze there might be that day.’
Inuit blanket toss
‘Several of the women and a few of the children are brought in to do this job, the children begging to be put in the blanket and tossed, Inuit-style, into the air.’
Pineapple juice for yeast starter batch
‘The final batch, suggested by Johnny, based on conversations with the artisanal baker that used to supply the restaurant where he worked, was ultimately the most successful, though most challenging to find the key ingredient for: pineapple juice. According to Johnny, the pineapple juice provides the perfect pH level for the yeast to flourish.’
Sugar beets in Canada
‘“Sugar beets”, Iggy had barked when asked if he had any idea how to produce sugar, though when pressed, he confessed to not knowing where to find any locally. “Only place I know is down the 401 a couple of hours on the way to Detroit.’
Grist mill in operation
‘Once the grain bags have been all loaded up to the second floor, they are able to take turns pouring the wheat into the funnel that drops the grain down through the centre of the slightly concave runner stone. Gravity then causes the grain to roll into the space between the runner stone and the convex bedstone, and once it’s trapped between the two, it is inexorably crushed and ground by the stones, until it comes trickling out the outer edge of the stones as flour.’
Wild grape wine
‘The rosehips are stored until they’ve finished making the tomato sauce. Turning the hand-cranked sieves to push the tomato pulp through, while leaving the seeds behind is a full-time job, and the same sieves are required for the making of rosehip jam.’
The Bruce Trail
‘“See?! There’s a trail, and those white markers all along show where it goes!”
It’s as if they had discovered a secret passage to the North Pole.
“That’s the Bruce Trail, Beaner. Remember, we talked about that? How it runs all the way from Tobermory down to Niagara? It’s almost nine hundred kilometres long.”’
Ecological history of Southern Ontario
‘”We have this idea that in the past man lived in harmony with nature, but there’s more wooded space in this area than there was a hundred years ago. I bet if you looked at photos of this area from back then, there wouldn’t be a tree in sight.”
“Is that right?”
“When Champlain first arrived, this land had largely been cleared and was being used to grow all sorts of crops: corn, squash, beans. Then, with the arrival of the Europeans, disease and warfare destroyed at least two thirds of the Native population, and the land grew wild again. When the European settlers started to arrive en masse in the 1800s, they re-cleared the land for agriculture and profit.”’
Why societies collapse
‘”That’s how a lot of societies collapsed, you know. Deforestation. Easter Island. Ancient Sumeria. Rome, even. That would interest you, as a water guy. Why else did they build the aqueducts? Because they got too big and used up all their resources, so they had to pipe it in from far away. Think of Los Angeles. It’s not so different.”’
Seed saving basics
‘“The trick to it, and where you save yourself a lot of money, is in seed saving. Of course, the Monsantos of the world don’t want you doing that, because that’s their profit, so they develop these genetically modified high-yield seeds which the farmers have to rely on if they want to earn a living, so you have to buy new seeds every year. But with my heirloom fruit, you just save the seeds, dry them, store them in a paper bag, and next spring, there you go, free seeds!”’
‘“Hey, I was meaning to ask you if you ever managed to get those supplies from Iggy.”
It takes her a minute to register what he’s asking before the episode with the marijuana-procurement comes flooding back.
“Oh God, I almost forgot about that! Yes, it all worked out, but I was starting to feel a little like Radar O’Reilly with all that running back and forth and bartering stuff.”’
Dip Dip and Swing
View of the world from the schoolhouse
‘Susan, the soap and candlemaker, had volunteered to lead the kids in painting the room. Her idea was to draw the outline of whatever lay beyond the direction of the wall and have the children paint it in: to the south, she drew a few trees in the foreground, and the outline of the Toronto skyline; to the West were the Great Lakes, followed by fields of wheat and the Rocky Mountains; to the East the St. Lawrence Seaway out to the Atlantic ocean; and to the North, a vast stretch of pine trees, followed by pure white plains with a tiny Inuit hunter, Inukshuk and polar bear in the distance.’
Biodiesel made from tallow
‘”Luke came by to show me a recipe for turning tallow into bio-diesel. Did you know that one cow can produce up to a hundred litres of diesel? All we need is beef fat, lye, methanol and a blender.”’
How to remove grouse breasts
‘“I can pull the breasts for ya. Still lotsa grouse around.”
With this, he drops the bird on the ground, steps on each wing, boots close to the small body, grabs the feet and pulls. The bird basically tears in half, the legs, skin and entrails pulling away easily in his hands.’
How to purl stitch
DIY Diwali paper lanterns
‘She has a slightly awkward moment when she serves Priya and Suresh, their dark brown faces standing out against the see of white.
“Happy Diwali?” she says tentatively, while dishing out the potatoes. “I’m sorry, was that right? Do they celebrate Diwali in Sri Lanka?”
Priya breaks into a wide smile. “It’s okay. We celebrate Christmas too. But yes, Sri Lankans celebrate Diwali, though it’s usually in November. But we did bring some paper lanterns that we made.”’
We Three Kings
Away in a Manger
Bobby Orr – The Goal
‘When she actually scores a goal, Bobby Orr-style, as she’s falling, she looks like she just won the Stanley Cup.’
‘It’s near the end of January that the weather takes a sudden turn. After several days of hovering near freezing, they wake one day to the sound of rain. The grey clouds look thick and dense, and the rain is heavy and relentless.’
DIY soap with wood ash and fat
‘One bright spot is Susan’s production of candles and soap. Luke and Susan have turned the garage into a fat rendering facility, him working on finding a biodiesel recipe that works, her mixing the fat with wood ash to make lye.’
How to make methanol from wood chips
‘“Methanol. Also known as wood alcohol.”
There are shades of Luke and Iggy’s past interactions, some inter-generational competitiveness, something about his big-city cockiness seeming to make people like Harry and Iggy want to cut him down to size.
“I didn’t know that.” It’s a clipped admission.
“All you need is sawdust. Horseshit’ll do.”’
Birthing a calf
‘Brian nods. He is staring at the swollen back end of the cow, which is bulging grotesquely, a white membrane about five inches long hanging out. As he watches, he sees the entire back end of the cow contract, and a distinct hoof appears, wet and glistening, before retracting back into the cow’s body.
“So, I’m going to reach in there and try to get those hooves out so we can attach this rope to it.” He holds up a twine rope tied into a kind of noose. “Unless you’d like to feel what it’s like on the inside of a cow?”
“I think I’ll leave that to you.”’
Tapping maple tree with homemade spigot
‘A few of the families already have pre-made maple syrup spigots and John had spent many hours of the winter months fashioning taps out of copper tubing and lengths of hollow bamboo used for staking gardens, nails hammered in on top to hang the buckets from.’
Ramps (wild leeks)
‘When she brings the basket into the kitchen, a rich smell of onions fills the house.
Karen’s face is blank, unsure what Jean is telling her.
“Wild leeks. One of the first things to appear. Haven’t you ever come across wild leeks before?”’
I became completely caught up in Book 1, but Book 2 took things to a whole new level. I felt like I moved in down the street from Brain and Karen — the characters are so well developed and the story line is riveting.“