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The old root cellar had to be the most comfortable place we had slept in weeks. The cellar was dark, true, but when you're sleeping, that's a good thing. It was a surprise finding it - Dave tripped over some bricks and landed on the door. Nothing seemed to live there. It was dry enough, a reasonable temperature, and the broken shelving only covered a little bit of the space. We took the shelving outside and put it in a pile, ready to use for cooking dinner and the night's fine. Damp wood was better than the wet wood all around us.
The sheep were roaming as usual, with the collies and llamas keeping them as orderly as they could manage. There might be a few coyotes around, but we were ready for them, and hadn't lost a healthy sheep in a month or so. The dogs were good for company, too, since we hadn't seen another human in a couple of weeks, and think he might have been a thief anyway.
We'd have to move on in the morning, though, to get to the Elmira shearing by Tuesday. The beginning of our wanderings is always fun, but somehow the end of it is always a mad rush - lose track of time, then have to make up for it and more. If you're not careful, the sheep lose weight on the way in, and you won't get as much money for mutton.
The last shearing was pretty much a disaster, since my good horse had broken a leg in an old house foundation and I had to ride our aging pack horse. We got to the shearing just as the gates were closing, and missed all the fun as we scrambled to get set up. This time we'll be earlier, with time left over to raise a ruckus.
I've never been outside the wall. I was born in here, in the home my parents chose. The world was too broken for them, as strife and disease spread through the land. They and about a hundred friends bought a series of old farms, and we control the whole valley. The quarry provided rock for the walls, a few acres of solar panels provide power, and we grow the rest of what we need here.
I know practically every inch of our home, and every human inhabitant. All of the gardens, the places in the wall where the rock changes, the inventory in the warehouses, the books in the library. Everyone sees everything, inside of our wall.
When I was a child there were strange birds in the sky - fixed wings, leaving behind a line of white, usually, and sometimes noisy creatures that hovered and floated through the sky. We haven't seen any of those in ten years or so, which has made my parents relieved. The wall mostly defends itself, but we'd prefer that no one look in on our home.
They might want to join us - but we're at capacity. They might bring the germs and violence of the old world into our new world. It's better that we stay here, and they stay there.
Upstate New York? Sure, I lived there. I lived lots of places, driving that combine and then trying every other way we knew to get corn out of the ground.
Ethanol sure was tasty - I don't mean the corn whiskey, though that was fun after a long week, but the appetite everyone seemed to have for energy. My dad had planted just corn his last few years, occasionally doing some soybeans for biodiesel, but the price of corn just kept climbing once folks realized that gasoline wasn't going to be forever.
Early on, every time the price of gas went up, we knew we were in for a bonus. They said ethanol was just a tiny energy increase over the gas we had to put in the machines, and in the fertilizer and pesticides, but once they got it up to 20%, things were good. When they got it up to 120% with that cellulosic stuff, things got even better.
You know what the problem was, though - our cornfields started drying up like the oilfields did. I had a reputation for keeping the fields going, so that kept me in demand for a lot of years. Mix the right set of fertilizers, figure out which chemicals to spray on which bugs that were going to cause the worst problems where, and figure out which other plants might mix well in the fields and machines once we went to cellulosic. Rotate crops once in a while, when you had to.
I could have kept it going too, but the more we made, the more they wanted. Sure, the government was happy to talk about how energy use was declining, thanks to improved efficiency, but the basic problem seemed to me that when you don't have energy, you just can't burn it.
I'd never really gone east until 2035, when the Feds created those "energy sacrifice zones", where we'd be able to rearrange the countryside however we needed to get the most energy out of that soil. The government paid people off and they left, or were supposed to leave. The National Guard proved awfully helpful a few times.
Where was it you were asking about? Upstate New York? Yeah, that got us a few years worth of gas. At least they had water. The northwest was okay, but too much of it was hills. Sure, we tried the hills, but that got us a lot of mudholes and not enough corn. It seems that the people who'd farmed that way back when hadn't done a great job of taking care of the soil, and even a century of forest didn't fix it. So there wasn't a whole lot there.
What's that? Oh, yes - there's less there now. When we couldn't get decent yields out of the soil, the government sold it cheap. I don't know what those people are going to do with it - there's nothing much there. Starve, I guess.
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