Saturday, July 01, 2006

Ten Years from Now

It is late spring, 10 years from now. I am 42 years old.

Nine years ago, the avian flu swept across the earth, killing one-third of the human population. By some miracle, my husband and two children, and most of our close friends and relatives, survived.

But the loss of life changed everything. People are no longer regarded as profit-generating machines, and they don’t hide from each other in their automobile shells. Nowadays, people are profoundly treasured for their individual creativity, so vital for each village’s survival. People are valued for their courage to have survived and for their ability to go on at all. People are respected for their strength, their intelligently-directed skilled labor – on communal organic farms, in communal kitchens, in music, dance, painting, poetry and sculpture.

Money is no longer used. All the oil wells are silent, still and empty. So are the coal mines, the oil refineries, and the airports. The huge, human-chewing factories spew nothing at all from their smokestacks and drainpipes. Planes rust on the runways; cars rust on the roads. The oceans are empty of freighter traffic.

Beneath clearing skies, the waves are split, rarely, by the hulls of large sailboats carrying nothing but mail and supplies for the crews. Deep under the surface of the sea, the coral is repairing itself, the plankton is making a comeback, and the fish populations are struggling, successfully, to recoup their losses. On the quiet ocean floor, no sonic blasts disturb the creeping crawlers or the dolphins. No electric pulses course through the transcontinental cables; no submarines unsettle the sand. The nuclear bombs are slowly decaying in their underground silos, and no one alive can remember where those bombs rest. No one is looking for them.

Occasionally, resourceful scavengers, who travel with small, lightweight tool-kits, cluster around the carcasses of the planes and cars and tractors, to pry off a sheet of metal to make a new solar oven, or dismantle propellers and fan-belts to make wind-driven irrigation pumps. But in most places, these are the only sounds other than the wind rustling the leaves of trees, the water in the brooks tumbling over rocks and carving new backwaters in the clay banks, and the birdsongs mingled with soft human voices, solving day-to-day problems together.

During the pandemic, all the central governments of the world collapsed. The need for coordinated, life-saving efforts was too great to permit entire cohorts of potential cooperators to spend their time devising new means of exploitation. Political power devolved effortlessly back to neighborhoods. Anyone who wasn’t sick was eager to help out – caring for sick neighbors, coordinating the distribution of food from homes and grocery stores that had supplies to hungry people who didn’t.

Children who lost parents were linked up with parents who had lost children, or parents who could manage a few more. My husband and I welcomed two more children into our family that way.

Medical care is a little difficult – so many of the doctors and nurses died fighting the disease. But we’re trying to gather up the knowledge again, and we do pretty well at supportive care: rest and fluids seem to cure most of what ails us.

Affordable housing is no longer a problem. With the population cut by a third, survivors have been able to move into any unoccupied home they could find. The general rule is, if you use it, it’s yours, until you aren’t using it anymore, and then it passes into other hands that can use it. That goes for homes, and all the other tools and objects people need, from crockery and cooking equipment to shoes and clothes, to bicycles and wagons.

We still live in the mid-Atlantic region of what was once the United States. In the winter, we tend to live in fewer houses, with more people in each one. We’ve rigged up some good solar heating systems for home heat and hot water, but there weren’t enough panels to do every house, and we find the company comforting when it’s cold outside anyway.

In the warmer months – April through late October, early November, we live in a house on our own. But most of the time we’re outdoors. There are hundreds of small organic gardens to tend in the mile or so around our house, and there are always other families out weeding or watering, adding to the compost piles, drying and saving seeds, drying or canning fruits and vegetables for the winter. The soil is healing, slowly but surely. Some neighborhoods have a few chickens or a cow, and eventually, they might give us some, and we’ll have eggs and milk. But in the meantime, we’re doing fine with the vegan diet. We grow beans and wheat, and some spices for flavor.

Once a week, we have neighborhood meetings to draw up “to-do” lists and make sure able-bodied teenagers and adults take responsibility for those chores. We cart the small children and the elderly, who can’t walk so well, from place to place to do their visiting. We run the library. We repair broken things, and sift through the empty homes and businesses, culling out the useful bits of metal, wiring, ceramic and other things, and organizing those supplies in one of the bigger houses, so we can find what we need when we need it.

Most days, I work for about four hours and spend the rest of the day just hanging out with people. Most meals we cook and eat with two or three other families, sitting around long tables under the trees in our nearest neighbor’s back yard.

And most nights end, after an hour or so of storytelling, poetry, folk-singing or puppet theater, with my husband and I walking the kids home under the leaves and beneath the stars, putting them to bed, and crawling between the blankets to sleep.


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