Friday, December 29, 2023

Deliveries (Cumberland Saga)

The first “package” arrived the Thursday after New-Year’s Day.

The motion-activated sensor pinged in Sig’s and Roger’s homes at 1:53 PM. Somebody was coming up the poorly maintained two-track that led to the compound. They were not expected.

Sig was standing near the top of the drive when the ten-year-old, Dodge, 4-wheel-drive diesel truck cleared the tree-line and broke into the opening that housed the Copperhead Cove compound. Even though it was only ten years old, it clearly showed a lot of very hard miles.

The driver who stepped out matched his truck, not very old by the calendar but with a lot of miles on the odometer.

“Jerome asked me to drop off a tool box on my way to Asheville” the man said, pointing at the back of his truck.

Looking in the back of the truck, Sig saw a multiple-drawer tool-box on rollers. He recognized the nameplate riveted to the end of the box as one of his nephews. Jerome was in Cincinnati. Realizing that the driver had probably jogged 100 miles out of his way, Sig said “Thank-you from the bottom of my heart. Do you need a place to stay over-night or can we feed you?”

“No, I am sure I can make Asheville before dark if I get back on the road. Just yank out the box and let me be on my way.” the man with the heavy, dark beard said. “My job starts tomorrow and I don’t want to miss any hours. Work has been hard to come by.”

Sig looked over at his wife and said “Make him four ham sandwiches to take with him.”

Calling out to Roger who was snuggled down behind cover 40 yards from the truck, Sig said “Roger, start up the tractor and bring the slings”

Looking over at Blain, who had wandered over when he realized that something unusual was “going down”, Sig said “Help Roger get this tool-box out of the truck. You might learn something.”

And then Sig went stalking off. He was like that.

Roger gave Blain a quick lesson on slings-and-rigging. He showed him how to use chokers to snug up loops and in less than ten minutes had yanked Jerome’s 400 pound tool-box out of the bed of the gentleman’s truck.

Five minutes later Jerome's friend was directed around the loop at the end of the drive so he could drive down the steep, rocky two-track to the public road in relative safety. He had a brown paper bag containing four ham sandwiches, a loaf of bread, a pint of pear preserves and a quart of apple-sauce and quarter-pound of crispy, fried bacon. And he had a quart jar of clear, high-proof liquid suitable for Molotov Cocktails or sedating jangled nerves, whichever was most appropriate in the moment.

Jerome’s friend who drove the Dodge was just the first of many. Within a week, it was a rare day when two-or-three deliveries were not made to Copperhead Cove.

Sig’s letter had resonated.

Tool boxes and bags of seeds for pastures. Solar powered electric fence energizers and wire. Solar panels and electrical controllers. DC powered, drum wool-carders and bobbins for spinning-wheels and garden seed.

Coils of rope and baling twine, rolls of chicken wire and fabric and bird-netting and floating row-covers. Needles, thread, thimbles and magnifying glasses. Pallets of used solar panels and DC technology appliances and pumps.

It was an embarrassment of riches. Sig did not have enough places to put the unexpected riches.

Blain listened to Sig grumble about the seemingly unfocused deluge of "cargo". Specifically, Sig was pointing at the floating row-covers as "yuppy, feel-good junk".

By now, Blain had worked with Sig long enough to push back a little bit. "Ya know, I watch Sarah cutting cabbage for slaw or for soup and she spends a lot of time cleaning out the bug-poop. Either that, or she ends up throwing out a third of the head. Either way, that is a lot of waste. If those "floating row covers" keep the caterpillars off the cabbage, I would say it was worthwhile."

In a moment of self-awareness that Blain had not realized that Sig was capable of, Sig said "I ain't bitchin' because I think it is a bad idea. I am bitchin' 'cause I ain't comfortable receiving charity."

Blain, Sig and the others switched from cutting the downed timber into firewood chunks to pulling an old, portable sawmill out of storage and cutting boards for constructing sheds.

Once again, Blain suffered cognitive whiplash at the seemingly instantaneous change in direction. He had yet to realize that Sig (and Roger) were consummate chess players who were always thinking two or three moves ahead of the actual game. To Blain, it was instantaneous. To the others, it was the switching of rail to a slightly different pre-planned path.

Had Blain been privy to Sig’s thoughts, he would have been surprised to learn that Sig was more than alarmed by the largess.

Five short years ago, Sig had been one of the men from Copperhead Cove working construction where ever the work took him. It only took a glance for Sig to realize that he tool boxes that were showing up were not the men’s “back-up” tools but their main tool boxes.

To one degree or another, Sig knew each of these men personally. They were all wise in the ways of the woods. Where a city-man might only see fallen leaves, these men could see where the deer had passed, scuffling up the leaves. They could estimate the number of deer and assess their emotional state. Given a bit of information of the lay of the land and where other hunters were, they could even make accurate estimates of the life-spans of the deer in the passing herd.

These were not men who spooked easily.

The men sending their tool-boxes to Copperhead Cove were not hedging a bet and buying some arcane, academic option or taking advantage of an inexpensive way to store tools they had no need of.

They were, serious as a heart-attack, planning on landing in Copperhead Cove to sit-out the duration.

And that had implications for Blain.

“I think it is time for you and me went squirrel hunting” Sig said to Blain.

Blain looked up from his task, surprised. He didn’t know Sig was a squirrel hunter.

Roger interjected, “If Sig wants to go squirrel hunting with you, I highly recommend that you go.”

Blain felt foolish toting the old, Crossman 2100 pellet gun while Sig carried an old, pump, 20-gauge shotgun.

Sig was not one to beat around the bush. “My gut tells me that we are going to have a lot of company dropping in on us over the next few months. Folks we ain’t got room to house.”

Blain cocked an eyebrow in a “What does this have to do with me?” question.

“I ain’t about to kick you outta here. You earned your place. But if some of these guests have kids...and I am betting that a lot of them do...then the proper thing to do is for you to let them have the CONEX and we find another place for you to sleep” Sig said.

For the tiniest fraction of a second the thought surged in Blain’s mind that he would not mind sharing a bed with Sarah...and then he realized that he hadn’t earned THAT, yet.

Sig saw the passion surge in Blain’s face and then recede. Blain’s voice was curiously flat and without emotion. “What do you have in mind?”

“That ain’t for me to solve. First, you gotta decide if you are going to do the right thing and let that family and kids move into your CONEX.” Sig said.

“If you do the right thing, then I think the family moving into the CONEX oughta kick in a few dollars to make sure you aren’t sleeping under the stars...or in the rain” he said.

They trudged onward, squirrels forgotten. Blain was sure that if he DIDN’T choose to do “the right thing” he would not be welcome in Copperhead Cove. Blood is thicker than water, especially for people like Sig and Sarah.

"So what are you saying?” Blain asked.

“Figure out what it will cost to knock together an 8-foot-by-12-foot hut good enough to spend the rest of the winter in or to get a van-body towed up here” Sig said. “Somebody shows up with kids they will be thrilled to get the CONEX for that price. If somebody shows up without kids, you keep the CONEX and they get the hut or van.”

It only took Blain a second to realize that the van was the better option purely because it was turn-key and had none of his time invested in it.

“Are you OK if I just look at getting the van?” Blain asked.

Sig nodded his OK.

A moment later he said “See if you can get a volume discount. We might need five of them, if only to have places to store things...”


  1. "Cumberland Saga", the "Enemies Foreign and Domestic" trilogy, "One Second After", "Absolved", "Unintended Consequences" - a group of outstanding novels which we hope we never see in real life, that have a disturbing habit of coming true.

    1. Thanks a million for the kind words.

      I am pretty sure that I am not in the same league as the others you mention but I appreciate the support.

      One great thing about this format is that when I make important mistakes, somebody out there will not let the error stand. That adds extra layers of credibility and value. The work is reviewed by experts.

    2. Oh, I forgot the Seven Cows saga. That story is what led me to this blog years ago, and I have read this blog every day before breakfast since then.

  2. Interesting thread, also interesting the observation skills of Blain.

    Heating a van is an interesting project. Unless well insulated too large for body heat even for a small family (personal experience in Yakima Valley wintertime).

    Too well sealed, you might not wake up the next morning.

    A small stove needs constant tending unless sleeping in sleeping bags and some brave soul is the morning fire tender.

    That's why more than a few outbuildings in my area have insulation. Insulation is cheap today. Good luck getting it when Lowes is aflame. We see that soon enough company is apt to be arriving.

    1. Condensate is also a very big problem.

  3. To Michaels' point, any car is not a great place to winter in the winter - it can be cold. One of the most "memorable" experiences I had was sleeping in the pull down back seats of a Mazda Protege to save money only to find it had snowed over the night. I was warm under the blankets, but the car was terrible cold (and filled with condensate, as noted above).

    That said, I likely would do the van - if I could get it delivered.

    Interesting detail on the nature of the tool boxes. Something I would never have realized.

    Echo the comments above, ERJ. Excellent and gripping writing.

  4. RE: receiving charity

    For many years now, I have urged family and friends to open themselves to receiving.
    Because elsewise, they'd be denying others the blessings of giving.
    There's more to it but it really is that simple.

    So put away the ego, the pride, the whatever and receive as joyfully as the one who gives.

    (This after I myself had learned the lesson.)

    1. This is valuable information, especially for prideful, headstrong men. People, this world needs much more empathy, balanced with good judgement.

    2. Also, when we refuse to accept charity, we deny the giver the pleasure of doing a good deed.

  5. Interesting points.
    It's good that they are thinking and planning ahead on a large scale.
    Are they planning anything to harden the compound or control access? A few strategically placed large rocks or fallen trees can do wonders...

  6. In 2008-2009 I was working in a big town north of here every other week. I made a habit of hitting some pawn shops at lunch every day. When the good tools started coming out, I knew how bad it was. I felt guilty as sin buying them, but I figured I'd need them and either wish I had them or be thankful I bought them at some point. Here we are again.

  7. ERJ Pity the community doesn't have internet access. I suspect poverty AND the Sin of the internet has something to do with that.

    Otherwise, someone might find this:

    Used in the Crimean War in the best hospital units and American Civil War to keep hospital tents warm and dry. Easily created with found items, can burn GREEN Crappy firewood (even Pine) safely and is the Poor Man's Rocket Mass Heater.

    I have one in my Deer Camp as an experiment and found it awesome at burning storm dropped trash branches and such. Keeps the lightly insulated Deer Cabin toasty all night (Just REMEMBER to close the fire door as not to have the chimney effect drain your heat).

    If I was to rebuild it, I'd add a rocket stove cooktop with some heavy steel plating and a diverter chimney as not to have the heat pulled into the tent-cabin area while cooking.

  8. Incomplete thought, with salvaged bricks and metal sheeting such an item could be put under a Van just like a tent. Fire hazards would have to be addressed. No transmissions full of oil down there. Baine might even have an OUTSIDE Canning-BBQ (just remove the heavy steel plate) stove for summer-fall canning.

    I've canned inside on hot fall days. Not fun. There's a reason my Grandmother had an outside kitchen under a roof.

  9. From my RVing experience, you can keep condensation down by opening a window (or a ceiling vent). The warm air escaping takes the water with it. Of course, if means extra heating is needed, but nothing is free.

  10. What Contrarian View said, +1. Re: charity, is it still a Good Deed if done for selfish reasons? I once paid for the lunch of the person ahead of me in line just because my lunch (half)hour was evaporating while this child came to grips with "cash only" and child didn't have any. "Oh, thank you so much, I don't know how to pay it back." "Don't pay it back, pay it forward" sez I as I beat a hasty retreat.
    Also, did the full text of Absolved ever get found? I was a fan of the Dutchman.
    Stay safe

    1. I found my ebook here:

  11. For those people contemplating heating and cooking using wood etc. try these links:

    Creative projects on youtube has some interesting heaters/hotplates with a built in water boiler here:

    I particularly like these ones and if you are handy with a welder (or know someone that can weld) then building one of these would be inexpensive and can be kept for emergency use:

    The heavy steel plate with nodirect flame on the pots makes cleaning much easier.

    Phil B

  12. What about water? Is there a source or supply to handle more people and livestock? What about space for cooking, canning, and storing food?
    Southern NH

    1. See the post on "Geography"

      The water situation is fragile. The soil is 36"-to-60" deep over shale. That is not a lot of soil volume to buffer dry-spells. While the soil is clay, which has high water retention capacity, it is also fairly impermeable so much water runs off when the rain is heavy.

      The shale layer is 600'-to-800' thick so drilling a well into permeable sandstone or limestone would be a very deep well by eastern US standards.

      In general, long dry spells are uncommon as water vapor from the Gulf of Mexico is slung north-by-northeast.

      A weather pattern that is a problem for them is when the upper airflow is from due-south and southsoutheast. The clouds hit the Appalachian mountains (which are higher than the Cumberland Plateau) and wring out most of the rain. Prolonged weather from that direction can result in dry periods.

      For human use, cisterns fed by roofs is a great option. Animal water is more of a challenge. Water for irrigation is a pipe-dream (pun intended).


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