Editor’s note: This in one of a series of fictional accounts that imagine what life in Whatcom County would be like after a great earthquake funded by the Riverstyx Foundation. Each episode offers preparedness tips and discussion points. Read more about the series here.
Episode 23 - Day 10
We sat around a small backyard fire, watching small blobs of yeasty white dough browning in a skillet set atop an oven rack that we were using as a grill atop the brick firepit.
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“They always smell so good,” said April, Darlene’s 12-year-old daughter.
It had been 10 days since the quake. April had been almost pathologically quiet when she and her mom moved out of their broken-down truck and into our lives two days after the quake. She was getting a little more responsive every day. She enjoyed kneading the dough I made with my dwindling bag of flour and the yeast I had scavenged from Haggen’s on the day of the quake.
After making each little batch of flatbread, we saved some dough as a starter for the next batch. It was easily the best thing we had to eat. But this was the last of it.
Post-quake life with me and my two other refugees, college students Jake and Sally, had been an upgrade for Darlene and April. They had been homeless, living in a broken-down truck, waiting for April’s dad to get out of jail. I never asked her what he was in for.
Whenever Darlene was outside, she always seemed a little tense, on her guard, looking around.
All over the neighborhood, people had eaten fairly well at first as they rushed to finish the thawing food in their powerless freezers. The people with portable generators staved off the big defrost for a few days, but their fuel supply inevitably ran out.
People with big freezers shared some of what they couldn’t eat themselves as the inevitable big thaw hit. One day, Jake and Sally went out for a walk and came back with a limp pepperoni pizza in a soggy cardboard box.
“What are we going to do with it?” I asked no one in particular.
“Wood-fired pizza coming right up,” said Jake. He and Sally added a little more wood to the fire and let it burn down to coals. They carefully slipped the dismal pizza out of its plastic sheath and onto the oven rack. It sat there, a vision of despair, for many minutes. Then the crust started smoking underneath.
The two college students donned oven mitts and lifted up the grate. Using a scissors, I managed to cut the mess into six servings, including one for our visiting neighbor Gene. He had been generous with his supply of freeze-dried backpacker delicacies in days past.
The pizza was blackened on the bottom, tepid and revolting on top. We ate it all.
Just a few days after the quake, the first relief supplies had trickled in on the ferry. That was good for morale, but you can’t eat morale, and it was evident that only token amounts of food and fuel were likely to get to us for the foreseeable future.
We had put ourselves on tight rations once my own little freezer was empty: a couple of small servings of rice, enlivened with a little bit of instant soup powder from Gene’s stores.
I remembered seeing an old black-and-white samurai movie, set in a starving village ravaged by bandits. A pot of rice is spilled on the floor, and an old man gets down on his hands and knees to pick up every grain. We were getting to that point.
Lake Padden was even more heavily fished than normal that spring, but nobody ever gave us a fish. I had some fishing tackle in the basement myself, but Lake Padden was a long walk, and I had never had much luck catching fish in better times.
After a few days of rice rations, I started to worry about scurvy – the Vitamin C deficiency that makes your teeth fall out. Then I remembered that you could eat dandelions, although up to that point I had never wanted to. Later on, at a neighborhood meeting, we learned that a lot of our local weeds are good for eating. Until that day, I had not realized how smart I had been to let those weeds run riot in my lawn. I eventually convinced my little refugee camp to include a bit of dandelion and chickweed in their daily diet, just in case.
Every now and then, some kind of strange or wonderful food would appear as if by magic.
One day Ralph, the neighborhood hunter, dropped by to offer us a squirrel. He even skinned and cleaned it for us. We simmered it for an hour or so and it wasn’t bad.
Another day, Susan and her daughter Melissa came down the alley to offer us three fresh eggs. The three of us had been in Fairhaven Park when the quake hit, and we had bumped into each other a few times since.
“Marge has four hens,” Susan told me.
“I’m surprised nobody’s stolen them by now.”
“She’s been keeping them in the house,” Susan said. “So I guess these don’t qualify as free-range eggs.”
“I wish I could give you something back, but we’re down to bowls of rice,” I said. “Tell Marge to call me after this is over. I’ll help her clean out her house.”
Then there was a time a guy in a white van parked at the end of the street and set up shop selling rapidly-thawing salmon, halibut and blueberries. Cash only. They were packed in wholesale-sized crates, and he was digging out portions and taking fistfuls of cash according to no kind of system I could see. Nobody cared. Nobody asked him where he got his inventory.
A helmeted bicycle cop spotted the crowd and pedaled over for a closer look. He stopped, stared, contemplated.
“Even if that stuff belongs to you, you are violating many ordinances,” the cop said. “Have a nice day.”
He pedaled off.
John Stark retired from The Bellingham Herald in 2014. His fictional account that imagines imagine what life in Whatcom County would be like after a Cascadia great quake is funded by the Riverstyx Foundation and also appears online at bellinghamearthquake.info.
Stay alert: Sign up for Bellingham Herald news alerts by text message at bit.ly/2G8amIy; sign up for Whatcom Emergency Alerts and get the AlertSense My Alerts app for your mobile phone in the Apple Store or from Google Play.
Take action: Family and neighbors are our first line of response in an emergency. As our fictional account wraps up Feb. 25, we’ll offer a printed map in the newspaper and downloadable maps online that will assist you in talking to your neighbors and taking note of skills and concerns that will help us all be more resilient and survive in the aftermath of disaster.
What foods can be foraged?
Vitamin tablets should be part of your stock of emergency rations, as long as you remember to rotate your stock, and use and replace them before they reach their expiration date.
Many common local plants could be foraged for vitamins in an emergency. And some people already enjoy them. There are suggestions online at northernbushcraft.com/plants/.