Part 1: Breakfast
The sky is just starting to glow in the pre-dawn light and there’s a winter’s chill in the air as I make my way down to the common house. I’m not a morning person, but it always starts to grow on me once I’m up and out of the house, despite the zombie like way that I shaved and washed my face after rolling out of bed. I’ve taken to showering in the evenings in order to get a better result out of the solar hot water, and also because I now get a lot sweatier and dirtier during the day than I used to when I sat in front of a computer.
My reluctant rising means that I’m far from the first person in the common house this morning. There is a fire going, and lights are on in the kitchen and dining room. There might well be power from the grid right now, although the rolling blackouts are no where near as neatly scheduled as the radio might suggest. Morning and evening are peak times here, so it’s most likely that the lights are running straight off batteries. We put solar cells on the roof of the common house when things first started getting bad, and although many argue that they aren’t a solution, they certainly made the transition a lot easier. There are a few households with electricity generation, but the rest of us rely pretty heavily on the common house facilities, especially the four big chest freezers, when our own houses lose power at inconvenient times.
As I walk in it’s warm, almost unpleasantly so as I quite like the shock of a cold morning for short while at least. I don’t have to have breakfast in the common house, but it has become a habit for most of us after it proved basically impossible to retrofit our own houses to take wood-stoves. Also, we simply don’t have enough wood on site to burn in thirty-two cooking fires, and although bringing back loads of it from the hills isn’t impossible, it’s pretty hard to manage it sustainably with all the city folks who are already grabbing loads of it without understanding what the forest needs.
These are academic arguments though, the sort of things we might say to people on tours (yes, we still run those), but everyone who lives here knows that the real reason for the centralised cooking as soon as they walk in the door and see the beautiful cast iron range taking up pride of place in the kitchen where the gas stove used to be, back when there was affordable gas to be had, bedecked with an array of bubbling pots, boiling kettles, and slices of toasting bread. I like the smell, and I’m going to very much appreciate a coffee soon (there’s nothing quite like a stovetop espresso), but I’m still a cold muesli person so I’m here mainly for the companionship and the aromas than I am for a hot breakfast.
I’ve got a pretty big stash of muesli left in the pantry. Anyone who hadn’t been to Earthsong in the last dozen years wouldn’t recognise the pantry these days. It grew as a rather hodgepodge effort, starting with inclosing the paved area between the kitchen door and the existing pantry, which we’d always thought to be quite large. Then, the broom cupboard was re-modeled, and two separate extensions were made to the south in various bursts of enthusiasm. The muesli is stored with the dry goods, along with the ingredients that we make it from every couple of weeks. It was only about a fortnight ago that I returned from a trip up north to buy grains, so we’re well stocked with bit big plastic tubs of oats, which we’ll run in batches through the hand flaker as needed for making muesli, porridge, crumbles and so forth. The sultanas are grown here, both on north side of the common house and also some from private gardens, and we’ve managed to include a good supply of nut and seed crops from both on site, and from the Ranui nut tree project.
The milk is cold and fresh. We still trade for it with the same farmer up the road who has been supplying us for nearly a decade. We’ve got the processes down pat now, with bike trailer kitted out to take us much as a hundred litres of fresh milk in tubs. We get it unpasturised, so that we can make better cheese, although we do pasturise batches of it ourselves after we have skimmed off the cream. It’s been a few days since the last load of milk, so it’s time for a big butter making day to help store the excess. That’s why Tracey is working for the dairy group today, and the kids are joining her, while I head off early (too early if you ask me) to the two CSA farms that we’re involved with.
The common house is filling up now, and I exchange quick greetings, kisses for the kids now starting in on scrambled eggs, and a another for my wife at the griddle, and then I’m back out in the cold as four of us fiddle with bike panniers and check tyres over in the bike shed before setting off. Like the pantry, the bike shed has sprawled in stages as it became clear that bikes were going to become a bigger part of our lives than cars. It’s moved from north of the shed into one of the rows of carports, as it was much easier to put a few weather proof barriers around the side of a carport than it was to build a new structure, and we just don’t have enough cars on site anymore to need them. We held on to our cars for a long time, as everyone around auckland did. Even though it costs around $150 to drive to central auckland and back, it was hard to admit that “assets” which had cost many of us so much money were now basically worthless as no one wanted to buy them.
There are still cars on the street, but for our purposes at least they are far too expensive to run. We never managed to get our hands on a plugin hybrid, the new ones are proving totally unaffordable due to increased manufacturing costs, and the general weakness of the NZ dollar, and getting our hands on an old Prius to convert is something that we’ve talked about, but never quite had the energy for. Instead, we keep about six of the more fuel efficient cars on site, which is still far more than we need, most of which have the batteries disconnected most of the time and just stand ready for emergencies. We don’t leave fuel in the tanks until we need to use them. Crime has actually dropped since the initial trouble around the time of the crash, but we still don’t leave fuel in the car tanks any more than we’d leave gold bullion lying about on the lawn, it’s just common sense.
The sun is most definitely up now, and it feebly attempts to warm our backs as four bikes set off down west down Swanson Rd, which is a very different place to when I first arrived here.