Imagining ‘the Big One’ – ‘Deer roasted on spits around the edges of the fire’

Courtesy to The Bellingham Herald

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Preparing for resiliency after a great quake

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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 18 - Day 3

The afternoon passed quietly. We mostly sat around the fire.

“Help yourself to books and magazines,” I said. I went back into the house to get a book myself –”Undaunted Courage,” by Stephen Ambrose. It’s the story of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Before the quake, I was about halfway through it. It had fascinated me, this tale of a small band of Americans rowing and poling and dragging their boats up the Missouri River into the unknown, enduring hardships unimaginable to modern people, living mostly on what they could kill.

But now, it seemed less compelling.

I wondered if I should go door to door begging for food. I figured that could wait a day.

I boiled a pot of creek water for drinking later.

We said next to nothing. April stayed glued to her mom, arms around her neck as they huddled under one of their old blankets. Sally stared at the fire. Jake kept getting up and pacing around.

So did Daisy.

I got Daisy’s ball and asked April if she would like to play catch with the dog.

She shook her head. Sally and I took turns throwing the ball until Daisy got tired and curled up near the fire.

“I’m going to go get more wood,” Jake said.

“We better burn this stuff a lot more slowly,” he said as he returned and dropped an armload of scavenged lumber scraps next to the fire. “It’s already getting harder to find. Not much left of our old house.”

I could hear the distant sound of chainsaws. I wondered if we would get to the point of burning the fence or the furniture. It was a great comfort to have a fire, but Jake was right. Keeping it blazing all day was an extravagance we couldn’t afford. We could purify water with bleach if we had to, instead of boiling it. And we had my little filter straw. We could get by with a small fire in the morning to warm ourselves up and make some food, if we had it, with another fire at night. I hoped the overcast, drizzly weather might give way to a day or two of spring sunshine.

Big One (5)

Mostly I thought about food.

As the dinner hour approached, I remembered Charlie’s invite to the venison roast, and I shared that option with my little commune. The alternative would be to stay at home and dig into our little cache of pasta or oatmeal.

“I’m up for venison,” Jake said. Sally looked skeptical, but food was food. Darlene and April followed the three of us as we headed over to Charlie’s place. I grabbed a bottle of ketchup and a bottle of barbecue sauce on the way out.

There were already a dozen people in Charlie’s little backyard, gathered around a big blaze.

Charlie had a couple of cords of dry alder stacked along his back fence, and he wasn’t scrimping on it. He and his pals were tending a big iron pot suspended over the fire, and sections of deer roasted on spits around the edges of the fire.

Ralph, the deerslayer, had a big carving knife. As the big meat chunks sizzled, he turned them around and sliced off cooked servings, slapping them down on paper plates as people stepped up. Charlie ladled on beans from the pot.

“I’ve had a ten-pound bag of pinto beans simmering since dawn,” Charlie said proudly.

The beans tasted like he had added about ten pounds of jalapenos.

“I grew up in Clovis, New Mexico,” he said. “That’s how my mom used to make her beans. Hope they’re not too hot for ya.”

I winced, smiled, and complimented his cooking. He seemed so cheerful, in the middle of a disaster zone. I envied that.

I handed him the ketchup and barbecue sauce. He grinned again, grabbed himself a plate of meat and sloshed some ketchup on it.

We stood around eating the venison with our fingers and shoveling beans into our faces as fast as we could manage, using little white plastic teaspoons.

“Be sure and save your spoons,” Charlie shouted.

I saw Darlene and April off by themselves, sitting on the ground with their plates on their laps, huddled together. Jake and Sally were in another corner of the yard, having a spirited conversation in hushed voices. It looked like they were arguing.

Charlie, Ralph, Carlos and their pals were having a jolly time, or trying to. They had cans of Bud and one bottle of bourbon that they passed around. Joe was there too, but I didn’t see him drinking.

He saw me standing alone and stepped up next to me.

“Fun, huh?” he said with a grimace. “Save your spoons! Save your firewood, ya dumbass.”

“Could be worse,” was all I could think to say.

“It will be,” he said.

At that moment, a man came hobbling up to the back fence yelling. He had a homemade splint on his left foot, and he was leaning on a big stick.

“There’s people inside my house!” he shouted. “I’m being robbed!”

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.

Today’s tip

How well do you know the people in your neighborhood?

Sharing and cooperation will increase everyone’s chances of survival. For more information about Map Your Neighborhood and how to get involved, please contact Whatcom Unified at 360-676-6681 or info@whatcomready.org.

As our fictional account wraps up Feb. 25, The Herald and partner agencies will 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.