Friday, August 29, 2014

Part 65


Because of the dogs affecting the small game I decided to get adventurous with something else as well.  The book I was reading parts of at that time had mentioned that almost all the parts of the cattail were edible and I was wanting something fresh besides meat.

There isn't a whole lot of stuff in the winter compared to what is available in the other three seasons but there is still some stuff and cattails are the most reliable, especially around here where there is enough ponds and shallow water to provide cattails for anyone that wants them.  I gathered a whole basket of the roots by just reaching down into the water and pulling them out of the dirt and muck.  It was a cold and wet job for sure, but the point was that I was hungry and was willing to put up with it.

I headed straight back to the cabin after that and started a fire and warmed up while the roots soaked in some clean water I had in a big plastic dish tub (another find in the trailer).  Then I had to scrub those puppies which meant getting wet again but I did it with rubber dish gloves on in front of the stove which made it less misery inducing than it could have been.  After they were scrubbed clean I separated the rhizomes from the corms.  The rhizomes are the things that look like rope with all these hairy little roots on them.  The corms are the itty bitty bits of new growth that will eventually pop up above the water line.  The corms can be as small as peas in eary winter but the closer to spring it gets the larger the corms get.

The corms can be chopped and eaten as is (raw) or cooked (steaming or frying).  They taste green, kind of like zucchini, is the only thing I can say about them and they satisfied something missing in my diet.

The rhizomes - a fancy name for a type of root - are the starch part of the plant and you use them a lot like you would any other root plant ... potatoes, turnips, carrots, whatever.  You can slice and fry them, bake them, boil and mash them.  I've tried them all sorts of ways but I think my favorite way is to use them in a hash of whatever meat I can catch.

The other cool thing about cattail rhizomes is that you can make a kind of flour out of them ... as in you can make bread.  Not by itself of course cause it doesn't have what Mom called glueten which is a binder of sorts I suppose.  But its what the books call labor intensive and requires a good, clean water source.  You basically boil the rhizomes until you separate the fibrous junk from the soft junk.  Take the fibrous junk out and let the water set until the soft starch settles to the bottom.  Then you have to carefully get as much water out as you can.  I use a ladle and skim off the water like skimming the melted fat off the top a pot of soup.  When you've got a thick slurry left you strain that through a fine cloth to get even more water out.  Let it drip a bit and then put that mush on a pan and dry it out all the way (so it won't sour) and then carefully save it.  When you go to use it you have to grind it up really fine but its not too bad.  I'm still learning - no wheat flour that's for sure - but if you don't mind flat bread my concoctions aren't too bad; more like crackers I guess.

The way I write it sounds like I'm sitting pretty with all the world at my feet.  The truth is there isn't a single day that I don't know real hunger.  Not that "my belly is growling" feeling to let you know you're due your next meal, but the bone deep hunger that tells you that something is missing and if you don't find it you're gonna die.

I guess that is what the puss brains must feel all the time too.  I feel bad for the few that I've seen.  Most people think of them as zombies - and when they get violent and stuff I do too - but they aren't.  Zombies are only in the movies.  And the winter seems to be even more cruel to them than to me and that's saying something.  I watched one try and eat its reflection in frozen pond.  Part of me thought that was hilarious, but the longer I've thought about that the more it has bothered me.

"Getting philosophical in your old age child."

I sighed.  Sometimes Mr. Svenson treated me like I was two years old, or so it felt.  I didn't appreciate being humored when I was serious but I couldn't pop off and be disrespectful back to him.  Instead I kept my cool and said, "I don't know about philosophical but it just bothers me.  I know they are sick.  I know they have something wrong with them.  I know they can't be fixed ... or at least not back to the way they were before they got infected.  But watching that ... that ... puss brain try to eats its own reflection.  It's like a metaphor or something."

"A meta-who?"

I rolled my eyes because Mr. Svenson was a lot smarter than he let on.  "You know what I mean.  Doc - that man I told you about that tried to take care of me back in the city ..."

He grumbled, "Lest said about that creature the better."

"Yeah, well, Doc was his own kind of sick sometimes but he also had some brains when he wasn't turning them to mush with pills.  He didn't come on board until like two months after Moses formed the main body of the group.  I think he was some kind of scientist or researcher or something and just got left behind when the last of those types of people bugged out of the city.  Sometimes he talked like he'd escaped from them rather than gotten left behind."  I shrugged.  "Anywho, regardless of what he was, he was smart.  He had all sorts of theories that made sense and he would also go all 'philosophical' like you are calling it.  One time he and Jerry got into it real bad because Doc kept saying that there had to be some way to harness the puss brains, to make them useful to society.  Jerry popped back that if that had been the case then they should have been able to train and harness all the leeches on welfare all the years its been around.  Round and 'round it went with Doc saying things like people are a product of their environment and if ... blah, blah, blah.  I guess it doesn't really matter what they were fighting about.  Just that puss brain bothered me."

After giving it some thought Mr. Svenson asked, "Why exactly.  If they're sick and broke in the head then we shouldn't expect any different than crazy from the infecteds."

"Are they?" I asked.  "I mean I know they are sick but are they all broke in the head the same way?  I've seen some puss brains doing things up here that I never saw them do in the city ... like use tools to get at something or put on more clothes to stay warm.  I've seen puss brains act different - kinda smarter - when they are together in a horde; like they are working together and have leaders."

"Honey, I've seen animals do many strange things in my travels around the world.  Monkeys using sticks like a tool to dig out termites.  I've seen predators pick out the lame and sick from a herd and strategize how to take it down.  I've seen chickens have a pecking order and the bottom of the order usually winds up dead without the farmer's intervention.  I've seen mother birds play wounded to draw snakes away from their nests.  All those things might seem like the animal is smart but mostly that is just instinct.  What they do may look like humans but they aren't human and never will be."

I thought about that but then said, "But puss brains are human.  They may look and act like zombies sometimes but they are just as alive as you and me."

He nodded.  "True.  But that only makes them accountable and if they pose a threat to you, you better not be wondering how human they are and start wondering if you can put them out of their misery before they kill you and then go on to kill someone else later."

"Oh I'll do what I have to but that doesn't mean I have to like it or feel good about it."

"Ayup.  You just better not be feeling sorry for 'em too much.  A little compassion is all well and good ... too much isn't going to make anything better and could make some things quite  a bit worse.  Both for those that aren't infected and for those that are."

It seems that that is true to some extent.  Mr. Owen has been able to keep their radios running at the camp and they've heard stories that groups are trying to corral puss brains rather than let them be killed.  They feed them like animals in a zoo despite the danger.  Like Mr. Noah said, "It boggles the mind what some people will get up to."

I've even heard that some places are charging those people defending themselves or their families against a puss brain with murder; this happens mainly in the far western enclaves where the infecteds are under control somewhat.  If any of those types knew about me they'd likely put me in the electric chair or in those re-education camps they are trying to develop to fit the puss brains for some type of work that will benefit society.  Shades of some serious eewwwww right there.

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