Updated: Apr 21, 2021
(a fictional story of growth)
Upon birth of their first and only child five years prior to the pandemic of 2020, Able's parents fortuitously decided to spend a portion of their savings to buy a modest tract of land in a remote, mountainous location, the southern edge of which bounded more than one and a half million acres of wilderness area and national forestlands. On that completely unimproved bit of property–more out of frugality and industrious curiosity to leverage emerging off-grid technologies than any consuming drive to become preppers–they built a fully self-sustainable off-grid home, purchased seeds and saplings and planted small orchards and gardens around the new green home before finally acquiring essential livestock and ample starter feed supplies to supplement the animals' continuous daily foraging on grazable acreage of the property.
Within a year after settling into their remote wilderness home, they acquired excellent 4G wifi connection to the internet from new cell towers constructed on hilltops several miles downslope, providing high-speed access to valuable information around the world beyond their wildest dreams. To bring in some income without having to go into towns to work, they discussed starting an online company providing digital creative services for small businesses lacking financial resources for large-scale marketing campaigns driven by secure online information collection, analysis, management and related web-based retail sales infrastructure. Their extensive discussions and learning adventures in coding and big data convinced them it was worth a try. So they invested a significant portion of savings in enough hardware, software and internet services to effectively utilize the world wide web toward that purpose, started their own business working entirely online from home and then began designing a system for express purpose of legally qualifying for homeschooling their only child. Capable of working at home together on their own schedule, they were bound and determined to keep their rapidly growing toddler at home too, away from the county's abysmally mismanaged, reportedly corrupt independent public school district knowing full well it would only inflict irreversible damage on the brand new, boundlessly hungry mind forming within their free-spirited child.
Successfully gaining homeschooling authorization from the state, instead of sending Able off to school by bus at a poorly sheltered stop located alongside a dangerously narrow paved road in a tiny village miles downslope on a daily basis, they spent every free moment available between themselves playing with Able at whatever their child seemed to want to play at. They read to Able from thousands of ebooks and other online sources and told thousands of made-up stories spun from their own wild imaginings. Eventually Able decided to make up stories too and joined in on the storytelling sessions, weaving delightfully rich and entertaining tales from nothing but wispy strands of thoughts and ideas. They watched streamed docos and other informative videos together on the family company's 50-inch flat-screen LCD HD display. They painted and sculpted together. They gardened and cooked and canned and ate what they grew together. They expanded and tinkered on their off-grid systems together, showing Able which system units did what and which switches connected and disconnected them from the system while frequently informing their child of the dangers of high voltage current flowing through living beings. Able watched them both working their company as they wrote and debugged web apps, created and tweaked ecommerce sites, composed original music for advertising videos they shot, edited and produced and sundry other creative tasks. They raised pets and livestock together, solemnly burying beloved pets that always eventually died so their bodies could return to their natural source of creation as they should. They heartily feasted on fresh eggs and milk gathered daily from hen and nanny, and on the meat of farm fowl and livestock they eventually slaughtered and butchered together.
After learning to read and write as soon as Able was compelled to do so (entirely by personal choice at age six), they began providing their child with every material, every tool and every bit of available information required to allow Able to independently explore, experiment and create using those resources. Then they stepped back, stayed out of the way and watched, only intervening when absolutely necessary to keep their intrepid child safe.
By the time the pandemic began, Able's self-directed, self-paced learning adventures were proceeding at an astonishingly rapid pace. Upon completion of each learning experience and related project while they all lived together under government-mandated lockdown, Able's parents were frequently astounded with each educational outcome, knowing they had succeeded at allowing their child to discover, learn and understand anything through pure, unadulterated, extended play without suppressing or destroying any trace of the naturally ravenous curiosity of childhood. That ravenous curiosity never dwindled within Able as years passed and projects became more complex and involved until deliverables from those projects actually became useful for them all in both minor and sometimes major ways.
At age fifteen, Able had independently acquired and developed an especially strong interest, knowledge and set of skills in microbiology and bioengineering and began taking online accredited courses in that subject matter from every source available on the world wide web until eventually matriculating at age nineteen with a masters degree in microbiological science and engineering from MIT with a focus on organic growth systems and processes. Able presented and successfully defended a ground-breaking dissertation on feasibility of genetic modification of plants toward structural growth enhancements for serviceable utilization in industry. Those revolutionary ideas which sprang from such a young, self-educated mind earned Able world-wide acclaim, attracting significant attention. Soon thereafter lucrative job offers began to arrive in Able's inbox even as the pandemic raged on around the world without signs of letting up even a little bit.
Then something happened to drive society beyond critical mass in its ability to adapt quickly enough to deal with the pandemic through application of new coronavirus vaccines developed annually. A couple of the annual vaccines produced were ineffective against prominent strains two years in a row. Economies began sinking and crashing around the world. A second great depression descended upon civilization and Able's dreams of entering into a profession with a bleeding-edge team in a company operating in some city out in the world were dashed by realities of circumstance. Instead, Able turned attention, formidable knowledge and highly honed skills toward projects at home which would help them all continue surviving in isolation as independently as possible. Danger of infection increased as failing economies forced people into ever-increasing risky behaviors thwarting all attempts to maintain effective social distancing practices. Another pandemic wave was underway. The worst since it all began in 2020.
Eventually, coronavirus mutated frequently and rapidly enough to produce an even more deadly and virulent strain than the initial strains which first entered and spread across the nation. Able's parents were infected during a trip into town for the few vital manufactured supplies they still had to purchase and they both quickly succumbed to the ravages of COVID-35 which struck them down for good less than one month apart. Able skillfully cared for them in their isolation–as many more children around the world struggled to do for their own aged, dying parents–but could not keep them alive. Then Able fell ill and was forced to focus every ounce of personal energy and will on simply inhaling another breath of life-sustaining air.
Able's recovery was slow and uneven, as expected. The nastier strains of coronavirus which had emerged over the decade and a half since it began infecting its first human hosts in Wuhan, China frequently induced rough illness with particularly varied, strange and ragged-edged symptoms. Onset of symptoms did not happen quickly. Eight days passed after infection before Able was stricken by an odd, low-grade fever and chills entirely disproportionate to severity of the mildly elevated body temperature. But those chills immediately drove Able to bed seeking sleep between shivering spells for a full week to escape the insanity COVID seemed to always bring with its many other weird indicators, not the least of which were the nightmares. Maddeningly recurrent nightmares of Able's last large task completed mere hours before falling ill: placing mother and father on the huge compost heap used to recycle livestock carcasses–something every truly self-sufficient family farm inevitably must deal with.
Putting them there wasn't Able's idea.
"Compost us," Mother had insisted in their final, halting but still coherent discussion together. She had died before her mate but Able was surprised that father had not yet laid out the same simple instructions. Always direct-speaking people, they never wasted time or breath hemming and hawing around any subject matter.
"After we're fully composted next spring . . . scatter us in the orchard . . . at the north edge of the meadow, to feed the cherry trees . . . so we can help them make lots of your favorite fruit . . . through summertime next year. Then you'll get to enjoy the fattest cherries . . . of the largest harvest . . . you'll ever have."
Able wasn't at all appalled and not at all inclined to argue against this final wish or her predicted outcome, dutifully performing the task of carefully constructing their multi-layered compost bed as soon as she expired three days later, adding fresh moisture to the precisely laid-out layers of feedstock beneath, around and above her body in the form of copious tears shed in steady, silent rain. Able's detached, scientist mind was somewhat amazed tiny ducts of the eyes could produce so many tears and made note to throughly rehydrate while working.
Feeling no small amount of survivor guilt, Able reflected at length on recent events. A month after mother, father was added to the compost heap in like fashion and now Able sat in nervous, twitchy relief–somehow still alive as a rare COVID-35 survivor–weakly tapping and swiping at wifi-connected tablet to read latest news of the latest pandemic wave sweeping the globe. A wave which was still killing victims counted by millions each week. One hundred fifty-eight million totaled so far, with no signs the far side of the wave was approaching. One hell of a carcass composting job going on out there, Able thought and sighed, long and deep, enjoying soothing sensations the extended respiratory exercise brought to battered body and mind.
Sitting in shade beneath largest of the cherry trees at the north edge of the meadow, Able occasionally glanced at the new twin mounds on the compost heap. Various compost heaps on the family farm had provided significant impetus toward the career vectors Able had taken. Any sample from any of them viewed with the microscope received on Christmas at age eight was an adventure of delight. Able decided to carefully monitor microbial development of this most recent addition to the livestock heap. Something new and interesting just might pop up from decomposition of COVID-killed human remains in it. Sun setting behind Able and orchard cast last rays of light at desperate, steep angle over western ridge line against an overcast sky, producing illusion of it rising anew and golden-red behind clouds sailing away east and south before surrendering to night's insistent, inky murk. Recording the sight in eidetic memory as darkness encompassed, Able reveled in it. Then boom of nighthawks and subtle wingbeat of free-tailed bats on the hunt for flying food fleeing in fading light added to an otherwise still evening well worth remembering. Promise of rain from storm clouds gathering overhead was never fulfilled, waiting until well out over eastern high plains to loose lightning, rain and hail upon sparsely-treed, grass-carpeted landscapes. Low thunder rumbled and thrummed from someplace out there. Able could feel it as well as hear its portent, triggering thoughts of many tasks ahead required to prepare for winter, and many more to prepare for long-term survival in an increasingly unstable world.
Able's convalescence was extended and essentially entailed brief periods moving around very slowly while quietly, carefully easing into a new life of solitude. Most pressing task at hand was cooking the first hot meal–including a substantial slab of cured meat for much-needed protein and sodium–consumed since falling ill, wolfing it down and cleaning up the aftermath. Then a long, deep sleep was required to recover from that bit of work. It felt like every cubic inch of body tissue had atrophied much more than the past week in bed could account for, but having watched COVID's effects on mother and father, Able understood all too well that this was a ruthlessly strong virus wreaking microbiological havoc of epic proportions.
Second task was simply to walk about the homestead taking stock of everything. The bout with COVID-35 had dragged on a full week before Able finally rolled out of bed with a long, wheezy groan to do more than stagger to the toilet and back to bed, get some water to drink or fetch something readymade to eat from shelves of home-canned foods stored in the larder. Clove-spiced peaches, string beans, spinach, peas, new potatoes and choke cherry jam, all favorites chock full of vitamins but lacking protein. Able had not lost sense of smell or taste as many had reported being a typical COVID symptom and was grateful for that. Aside from watching streamed videos on tablet or smart phone while sick in bed, savoring flavors of the canned foods had been the only other distraction energy and stamina allowed.
Checking the animals first, Able found many were missing. It appeared a bear had ripped into the coop and had either eaten or scattered the chickens, turkeys, ducks and geese it sheltered. The aviary was still intact and pigeons continued circling above, waiting for fresh food to be shoveled into feed bins. Fortunately, the stream was still running and the small impoundment behind the minimal dam built across it was full. Mennsie and calf were drinking from it when Able first spotted them. No sign of Hector the bull. Both dogs were no shows too, most likely now roaming in search of wild food. Two nanny goats were located grazing contentedly deep in the shade of the oak grove along the east side of the property. One of the cats, Wisp-O, greeted Able with much rubbing and purring about the ankles looking no worse for wear and still carrying her load of kittens which would probably be born within a day or two. No sign of the father, Whop-O.
A long, doleful braying from deep in pine forest somewhere far up the south slope signaled the adopted burro Sanchi was still nearby. Able whistled loudly and the braying immediately ceased. A short minute or two later Sanchi burst at a gallop out of the aspen grove lining the south stream shore, gracefully leapt over the narrow stream and rushed uphill panting hard for their heartfelt reunion punctuated with lots of patting and scratching of the still-shedding burro's silvery-beige coat.
Followed by Sanchi and Wisp-O, the slow, strolling inspection tour continued. Fortunately, there was no other damage to any of the farm facilities or fixtures. PV arrays were all still gathering photons and pumping out electrons. The pair of water turbines were both cranking out their share of electricity, their flue pipes clear of obstructions. And the wind turbine was providing modest current from a steady breeze shifting direction from westerly to southerly and back again as was usually the case during final weeks of late spring. The house was in good shape. No broken windows or ripped screens from nosy bears seeking easy food. There were lots of elk and mule deer tracks around the yard, pressed deep into soil still soft from plentiful spring rains. The meadow was awash in wildflower blossoms as the first blooming of the warm seasons peaked. With all the moisture, Able was sure a second blooming would come in August, if not late July.
Growing tired after filling feed bins, watering troughs and cans, Able went back inside to take a mid-morning nap before doing anything else, hoping more of the farm animals would return when they smelled aromas of fresh feed wafting around on shifting breeze. Sleep was blissfully uninterrupted or disturbed by noise or nightmare. Upon waking, it was time to pull sheets and blankets from beds and get them into the washing machine. Removing the case from mother's favorite down pillow, a small slip of folded paper fluttered out onto the mattress. On it were two Gaelic words written in her distinctively tiny, cursive style: Dialann and Oifig. Able finished getting the load of wash started in the machine then went into her office and looked around for the diary she had left hint of in her native tongue.
Hours later, no sign of anything remotely resembling a dialann was found. Every bound notebook inspected was labeled and cram-packed with her neatly scribed business notes on work or research projects. All other bound volumes were printed textbooks or references. Frustrated, Able stopped searching, made a PB&J, filled a tumbler full of ice cold milk and returned to mother's office to sit at her desk eating and drinking while looking around for more clues. Before finishing the tasty sandwich, randomly-cast gazes here and there caught sight of her AR rig sitting alone on a small side table, and there it was.
"Of course!" Able exclaimed aloud, knowing a computer geek mother so well.
A laminated label with the word DIALANN printed on it was neatly attached to the circular, self-contained central processing unit users of the expensive system clipped to their waist so they could move about freely while immersed in augmented reality, unencumbered by cables or wires attached to any stationary hardware. Donning the AR rig and powering it up, the rig's startup sequence ran through its BIT set and then her interactive journal unfolded before Able's eyes in glorious three-dimensional, high-def color and surround sound. Mother appeared off to one side and spoke to Able as guide and narrator while revealing information copiously flowing from the family company's local, secure cloud storage array housed in the disaster shelter buried beneath the north slope directly behind the house. She showed her child around the office, pointing out important resources which might be useful. Then she directed Able to follow her through the corrugated-pipe tunnel leading from the secret door in the office closet into the disaster shelter where she instructed Able on its many components–their purposes and maintenance requirements and procedures. None of it was complicated and Able was certain it would not be a problem keeping up with it all since it was push-button operational and almost fully automated.
"This is where all of our knowledge acquired while building this home and maintaining it over the years has been stored in augmented reality featurettes," she told Able and then played short segments of several she knew her child would recognize and understand, having participated in many of the featured projects shown in augmented reality replay as well.
"As you know, your father and I have been working with AR for several years. So here are thousands of featurettes stored in our cloud server. And as you continue living and improving this home of ours–of yours, now that we're gone–you can create your own project featurettes for storage and playback as needed by you, your spouse and your own children."
Motioning toward the door, with a smile she added: "You'll find your father's own dialann in his office which also contains–as mine does–private featurettes from each of us for you to view at your leisure at any time, our dear child Able." And then she vanished as the introductory featurette to her dialann ended and a virtual 3-D menu appeared in the air in front of Able awaiting input.
Tentatively reaching up and tapping on a menu item labeled LIBRARY, the exploration of mother's richly captivating AR featurettes began in earnest.
Following a couple of days spent repairing the damaged poultry coop, two hens came back to the farm after being who knows where. A week after that, a rooster came back. No ducks. No geese. If Able was lucky a brood of chicks would hatch long enough before fall for them to grow to winter-survivable maturity. The farm maintenance AR featurettes mother and father created were detailed enough to fill in the gaps of Able's knowledge regarding every facility and system from water well controller and septic to solar power and the two custom-built, walk-in freezers located underground at the rear of the disaster shelter. They showed Able where replacement parts for each system were stored for maintaining these facilities and systems a full decade into the future. On their final supplies run into town, they had returned with a pair of new propane-powered generators to replace the rarely used but aging generator/welding machine which was most likely approaching end of serviceable life within a few more years, if not sooner. They had also brought home another thirty PV panels totaling 9KW of potential output wattage, with matching charge controllers and inverters sized for a pair of 4.5KW PV arrays as well as two sets of the latest models of vanadium flow battery banks including all the wire and cables required to construct a pair of fully-functional solar-power systems to replace the current one now in constant, uninterrupted use for fifteen years.
"Redundancy has always been our goal here, Able," father had explained again and again. "Redundancy saves the day and buys time for recovery from systems failure. And in this day and age of rampant pandemics, saving days and buying time are essential for long-term survival."
While still taking college courses, Able's mind had been overcrowded with massive amounts of information focused on lessons and research, and father's harping on the matter had seemed rather redundant at the time. Now, though, wisdom of his words and both parent's concerted preparatory work for future growth and survivability while Able was so focused on studies in microbiology and engineering made perfect sense, leaving Able immensely grateful they had not only had such pointed foresight but had also put that foresight into practice. This drove Able to work steadily at constructing the new pair of solar power systems, install the pair of new battery banks and both generators, then throughly test everything before first snows of winter began to fall. Taking stock of supplies in larder and freezers while first blizzard of winter raged on outside, Able determined there was plenty of food to last at least two years. This would be enough, Able thought, to gradually resupply food stores from gardens, livestock and harvest of deer and elk for more meat beyond the meager surviving animals over the next two years for survival into future years.
As snow accumulated to world-silencing depths, attention turned back to Able's favorite fields of study in microbiology and engineering. And as those studies progressed to new levels of inquiry and understanding, Able began thinking of ways to leverage the newly acquired knowledge and skills to survive beyond the lifetime of the family farm's finite resources. Coronavirus pandemics seemed to be far beyond humankind's ability to ever stop or control to any practical extent. Knowing this feeling was more opinion than scientific since virology and epidemiology were not within Able's range of expertise, it was still strong enough a feeling to drive desire to develop foresight and then attempt to put that foresight into practice as mother and father had for short-term survivability in their off-grid living approach. But electronics and machines and facilities age and wear out and weather and eventually break down beyond repairability, especially if replenishment of parts and materials supplies becomes an issue. As the pandemic raged on unabated and businesses failed in droves on a daily basis, Able could see a grim future ahead if dependency upon electronics and machines and facilities was not addressed. Manufacturing of products required for the farm would cease soon and might not pick up again in the foreseeable future. Able needed to find a way to survive without depending on things manufactured by people.
Winter across the nation raged on with marked fury and deadly-frigid temperatures. Downslope, people were dying from much more than complications from COVID as so many became homeless and destitute at dreadfully ever-increasing rates each week. Able stayed up with current events related to the pandemic's disastrous effects on the world over the internet connection which somehow continued to remain operational throughout it all until a day came to take a break from the endless streams of bad news. During an extended late-winter snowshoeing journey through steeply-sloped forestland to the top of the south ridge and back home after camping overnight at a favorite overlook, Able marveled at the dense expanse of surrounding ancient trees' ability to live and survive in place through all seasons of the year without use of anything except naturally available resources steadily drawn from earth, air and sky. It seemed almost impossible for such a large thing to exist on such unrefined sources of raw nourishment and energy, but the forest clearly demonstrated it could happen for vast populations of trees of various kinds living in so many places. Able also wondered at redundancies trees must employ to deal effectively with rapidly, drastically-shifting conditions through progression of seasons and extremes of environmental changes.
Able began to draw from a highly developed personal well of knowledge and expertise to formulate ideas on how one might be able to live like a tree to survive only on raw resources drawn from earth and sky. Recent studies in tree roots and ability of quantum dots to travel through their transmission systems tickled at Able's never idle idea engine.
In late April, Able's internet connection went down and service was not restored within the usual few hours, or in worst case for such remote cell tower location, within a few days. Weeks later service was still not available, but before that happened a raw newsfeed the family had kept watch on for several decades reported detonation of a nuclear device in Hong Kong with unconfirmed speculation an extremist group based in Iran had already claimed responsibility. Then Able's safest connection to the outside world went dark for good.
This was disconcerting only in so far as making it impossible for Able to order manufactured products offered by online stores, but this eventuality had been anticipated as worse case scenario triggered by the latest pandemic wave and enough of such manufactured products to last several years had already been ordered, safely delivered and stored in weatherproof locations around the farm. Able didn't allow the mystery of internet service failure consume precious thought cycles better applied toward the most important project underway. Significant progress had already brought the project through its first two phases to successfully produce ample supply of quantum dots of required composition and coating, and complete their deployment into the root system of an ancient spruce standing tall and firm deep in the forest on the southern slope of the property. The ground-penetrating imager construction was almost finished as well for project phase three imagery collection work.
Along with the mysterious internet service outage, Able also noticed the world had grown quieter as all human activity noise occasionally reaching ears from far downslope ceased altogether. And as this silence thickened while artificially created racket rapidly subsided, nature's many audible energy sources became more apparent from singing birds to buzzing insects. The same day Able deployed the first set of quantum dots into the old spruce, mother and father's fully composted remains were added to the soil in wide circumference around the gigantic tree. Having decided the spruce was ideal in species, age, size, health, lifespan and growth rate, it served Able's project goals much better than any of the cherry trees mother and father had suggested should be nourished with their remains. Surveying the work completed, Able wondered if the wild project outcome would reach fruition or not. Short term survival did not depend upon its success but longterm survival definitely did, especially for offspring, if any ever did come into being. Chances of that ever happening seemed outrageously thin considering the rate of degradation of civilization in this age of pandemics, and the biological clock was ticking.
The exciton Bohr radius formula floated before Able's unfocused gaze into the distance from the still, peaceful shade circle of the aged spruce, imagining the passive phalanx of quantum dots just deployed whose electron energies had been so carefully tuned using the equation now coursing through xylem and phloem tissues of the tree's vast root system, and then–hopefully–well beyond that into its supporting mycorrhizal network. Able cast more focused gaze to surrounding needle and pinecone-strewn ground wondering just how far out beyond root tips into the forest's underground fungal community the dots would travel and whether or not the root system and that community could be manipulated to serve desired needs for longterm survival . . . what it would be like to co-exist with and live as a cooperative organism drawing life-giving resources while also enhancing existence for the old spruce and its progeny.
It seemed like a reasonably doable thing considering the massive amount of productivity both root systems and surrounding fungal networks could muster. It didn't seem so far fetched that Able might find a way to synergistically integrate into that biosphere. But then it might be just as crazy an idea as Tommy Chong's $1 million bong marketing scheme before the rabid GW Bush-era feds sent him to prison.