The Introduction of Plants and Animals into the New World
by Beth Godwin
Forgive me if I don't show a good understanding of everything that has been going on. My specialty is living things, not social activities, and I tend to live and work in my own little world.
I have been asked to start by telling about myself. Although I was born in upstate New York, I began teaching high school in 1948 in central Pennsylvania, and I taught there until 1967, when I moved to the New World. Since then, I have taught school, nursed animals, midwifed babies, taken care of our breeding program, approved or disapproved the entry of new species into the New World, inspected entry animals (plants are never allowed in, not even root stock, except for those plants which can't be grown from seeds), planned and planted greenhouses, and helped out in whatever other way I could. I have never married, and I have never been interested.
For years, people who visited my school saw me as a simple high school biology teacher; however, I completed both my master's and my Ph.D. by going to school during the summers. I could have left education and worked for either the state or for industry many years ago, but I preferred to teach.
While working on my thesis, I visited many farms in central Pennsylvania. (My thesis was on animal breeding, something I had participated in since childhood on my family's farm.) One of the places I visited was the Community. Being from upstate New York, I was used to such communities, and of course, there were many Amish and Mennonite communities in Pennsylvania as well, so there was nothing really unusual about this one. However, this community gave me an interesting problem to solve.
Most people see dairy cows as being safe from the butcher. That is far from the truth. In order for a cow to give milk, she must be "freshened," that is, she must be mated with a bull, have a calf, produce a mixture of blood and milk for a few days, and then start milk production that will gradually decline over the next ten months. She will be mated with the bull again a few months after she starts producing milk and, during the last months of her pregnancy, she will be allowed to dry up. As long as she is a good milk producer, she will continue to be milked, producing a new calf each year. However, if her milk production declines or even if it drops off too quickly or if she becomes injured or diseased, then she ends up being sent to the slaughter yard. The average cow is a milker for only five or six years. But what about the calves? As many more calves are born than are needed for milking, and half of those are male, most are sold to another farmer who will raise them to sell for meat. Dairy cattle produce 40% of the meat sold in the US. A few get their opportunities to become milkers, a few more might be used as wet-nurses to raise young cattle, and the extremely rare male might become the farmyard bull. We can say that for high-production cows, a calf is destroyed for every 10,000 pounds of milk or 1,000 pounds of cheese. For ordinary milk cows, the production is half these numbers per calf.
But the community did not want to destroy any calves -- or any of the cows for that matter. They could let an older cow live out her retirement, and they could train the young bulls as oxen, but the community could not solve the problem of the overproduction of young cattle as they could not find a use for one ox and one new milk cow for every two years for each milking cow. They could solve the problem by not mating the cow, but then they would have no milk. Their idea was to allow the cow to produce its first calf and to continue to produce milk without additional calves, except those needed to maintain or increase the size of the herd.
Their project, I thought, could help me towards my dissertation. By interfering with the reproductive cycle of cows, I could add a lot to our knowledge of cattle breeding. It helped me, in working on this project, that I was not a vegetarian or unwilling to kill cattle. However, even though I now must still be able to kill when necessary, I no longer eat my four-legged friends.
The problem was not as great as it seems. After all, human mothers sometimes nurse children until they start to school. Why did bovine milk production decline so rapidly? Was it hormonal, or was it an artifact of our breeding programs?
Some of the research consisted of trying to milk cows long past their normal milking period. I tested for different influences on the milk production, such as milking more often each day, keeping a calf near the milker, using hand milking, giving the cows hormone shots, and so on.
I also looked at a breeding solution, getting semen from bulls produced from cows that had a flat milk profile (less decline from peak to end of cycle).
My research showed different factors were responsible, but most probably the origin of dropping a calf each year was the natural life cycle related to the weather. Even though cows now drop their calves at all seasons of the year, originally the calves probably were dropped soon after the new grass came in, and the cows would be able to produce a heavy milk flow. Humans did much the same, having their young in the late spring, so there would be ample food when the child was born. For this reason, both humans and cows have nine month gestation periods. However, human babies grow slower and might need milk during their second winter or longer. Calves grow very fast and would never need milk over a second winter.
Although the cattle owner liked having a new calf each year, as it was a source of meat, he also wanted the milk. So, due to man's selection over the years, cows became able to produce milk for longer periods of time. And they could also become pregnant while still milking, something most animals and even humans don't normally do. A similar change happened to chickens, which were selected to lay infertile eggs, something other birds can't do.
Now what I have said is not adequate for Ph.D. research. I had to investigate what was going on inside the cow during these periods of time. I kept records of cows' temperatures and took samples of blood, saliva, vaginal secretions, milk, and stools. I was watching for simple things like changes in acidity and complicated things like changes in the hormones. After charting a number of cows going through their regular cycles, I introduced various disruptive factors, especially hormones, to see how they would affect the cycle and the chart.
Particularly difficult was understanding the hormones of a cow. However, the hormones led to the greatest change. I could study the hormones more carefully by dissecting the hormone-producing organs which I got from a slaughterhouse. To give me greater understanding, I had to know about the cycles of the slaughtered cows whose organs I studied as well. I tried talking to the men who were bringing their cows in to slaughter, so I would know the history of the cow, but this made them very uncomfortable, and the owner of the slaughterhouse told me that I would have to stop. However, the organs of the cows that were given to me were also a history of the cow, and I began to learn from them which cows were old and had not had calves in a long time, which cows were young and had never had calves, which had recently had calves, and which were going to have calves when they were slaughtered.
By using a series of injections containing the hormones of cows at different states, I discovered that I could confuse the cow's body into believing it was about to give birth to a calf and begin producing that mixture of blood and milk that begins the milking cycle. Or I could extend the milking period. Thus, I had an answer for the Community. Of course, they had some distaste for my using hormones from dead cows, but that was preferable to having to kill their own calves.
Thus, the short-term answer was to use an injection of hormones to control the milk flow. The long-term answer was to breed for an extended milk cycle. Of course, the longer milk flow would lead to a smaller production of milk per day per cow, but the Community didn't seem to mind that.
I ended up spending more time than necessary in the community, because the people were always needing my help. They were producing all their own seed and breeding all their own animals, and they wanted to gradually improve the quality of their stock, so I was a good source of information and advice. It is interesting to note that their goal was not greater production; they felt that very high production levels -- too high in some cases -- had already been achieved. Instead, they wanted to develop more robust plants and animals. As a result, they used breeds of animals that were the hardiest rather than the best producers; for this reason, their cows were Ayrshires rather than Holsteins.
After a while, I was accepted as a full member; I believe I was the only outsider granted this honor. Of course, by then I was spending all my weekends and holidays with them, so that might be the reason.
In 1966, I received several frantic calls, one from Jon Dexter in Alabama and the rest on the same subject. Fortunately, these calls came at the beginning of the school year, so I was able to get a dear friend and former biology teacher to substitute for me for a week without disrupting the students' progress.
The minute I stepped out of the cave, I was shocked. I couldn't believe that I was seeing such a magnificent chestnut tree, unharmed by the blight. It must have been four feet in diameter. I would have traveled ten times the distance to Alabama just to have seen that tree. And then, after we walked on, I recognized that I was walking in an uncut, virgin forest. The young man, who was later called the Founder to protect his identity, opened a door on the side of a cucumber tree and pulled out a rifle. We walked out of the forest, through cane brake on a worn trail to a wide, powerful, and muddy river. Jon remarked that he had seen alligators and elephants on his previous trip. I did see some marks that could have been made by almost anything at the place he led us to.
"What river is this?" I asked. The Founder said, "It doesn't have a name; would you like to name it?" "Doesn't have a name," I snorted, "That's impossible, just like the elephants and alligators." Jon called me over to look at something else he had seen before. There, on the edge of the water, were the scattered bones of a very large animal. Someone asked me if it was a sloth. I studied it, completed befuddled. Then, I announced, "I need to sit down," and I did so. My head was spinning. It was very quiet. Outside of the chatter of my friends, I could hear nothing except animal cries and insects. The Founder came over to me. He said, "I thought, since you are a biologist, that you would be thrilled." I said, "I am thrilled, but I am also scared; I am seeing too many things that don't make sense, and I am hearing about more that don't make sense." He asked, "Why don't they make sense?" I replied, "There are no large chestnut trees, no virgin forests, no uninhabited large rivers, no alligators, and no sloths in north Alabama, where we certainly are." He asked me, "Let's pretend that you are not in Alabama; where would you be, based on what you have seen?"
"Well," I explained, "I am still in a mixed mesophilic forest, although towards the southern end, judging from the trees, for instance, that cucumbertree. The brush also contains plants that indicate the South. So, I would be in Northern Alabama or Northern Georgia, as Northern Mississippi is too flat. However, the only river I know that this could be is the Tennessee; it's just too big to be the Coosa. Isn't the Tennessee all dams and lakes in Alabama?"
"No," he answered, "It's not. There are some stretches below the dams, and some of them are forested like this one. But there's still something wrong with that idea, isn't there?"
"The animals and trees are impossible. We might find them all here ten thousand years ago, except for the alligators."
He said, "You're wrong about the alligators; people find them in the Tennessee River today, but they're pretty rare and were probably brought from Florida when small. But they can still live this far north, although they never seem to reach much size here. Were there ever elephants in Alabama?"
"No," I replied, "Not unless they escaped from a zoo. Elephants all live in hot, steamy areas in Asia and Africa."
"Well, look over here," he said, moving downstream a ways. I looked around. The others were out of sight. I pulled myself up and walked down to where he was. Growing at an angle out of the bank was a sassafras tree, about forty feet high and a foot in diameter. Branches had been torn and stripped from the tree; the leaves had been pulled off. In the soft soil of the embankment was a large round footprint, while two others were in the muck beneath. I looked at him with a question on my face. He shrugged. Then I heard the flies. Downstream, just a dozen more yards, the flies were enjoying themselves on a pile of something. I walked down to it; it was a fresh pile of elephant dung. He joined me and said, "Are you sure?"
"I'm not sure of anything," I said. "I want to rejoin the others." As we walked single file down the trail, him behind, he asked, "Did mastodons ever live in Alabama?" "I don't know," I answered, "They lived in North America before the Indians arrived. Most of my students confuse them with the mammoths, which were woollier and lived farther north. He said, "Could those have been mastodons instead of elephants?" I stopped, turned around, and looked at him, "You have got to be joking." He said, "Wasn't that first tree you saw an undiseased chestnut? Wasn't it impossible too?"
To tell you the truth, I think I was the last person on that trip to finally agree that we were in another world, even though some of my remarks about the trees, plants, and birds convinced the others. I don't know if I really believe it yet, even though I am living in the New World today. I guess I am the kind that wouldn't believe in UFO's until the little green men came and got me, and maybe not then.
I finally learned to relax with the Founder; he is a very sweet boy. He is also knowledgeable about plants. We went on several hiking trips together where he showed me some rare plants; he kept on the lookout for them and recorded and marked their locations. One day we walked to the top of the mountain -- a long way -- to one of his locations. From the edge of the bluff, we could see for miles. There was not a sign of a road, a house, or a plane. He said to me, "Now do you believe me?"
I said, "I believe what I am seeing because I have no choice. But I never would believe this hearing it from someone else." He said, "I like it that you're a doubting Thomas; I am too. Nobody could convince me that this was real without my seeing it, not in a hundred lifetimes."
Nonetheless, I gradually adapted to the new reality. In fact, I was making useful suggestions just a day after we arrived.
During our group discussions about settling the New World, I pointed out that we could make very serious errors very easily; in fact, they might have already been made. The others asked me what kind of errors. I told them that when the pioneers came to America, they brought human, animal, and plant disease with them; they also brought many species of undesirable plants and animals, some deliberately, some by chance. The chestnut trees in America were all killed, and the elm trees are all dying now due to bringing related species or even wood from those species to America. Those trees and that wood carried a fatal fungus. The weeds that grow in farmers' fields often arrive with the seeds, and the bugs that destroy their crops were mostly accidently imported into the US on plants. The others all seemed to agree with me. "We should close up that cave at both ends to prevent air from carrying pollen, spores, bacteria, and viruses through. We should allow only a limited number of animals, which have been quarantined and treated with a heavy dose of drugs, to enter. We shouldn't allow any plants to enter except as seed, and that seed should be carefully inspected for weed seed, except for those plants which can't be grown from seed, and those few plants must be carefully inspected and cleaned. We should allow only the genetically best seed and animals to enter. We should fumigate whatever we bring in to ensure that we are not allowing hidden mice and insects to enter. We should be careful to introduce only species which could never cause harm if they should get away from us. We should prevent people who are sick from entering until they get better."
They then asked me if I would personally take responsibility for every plant or animal that passes through the loop. I asked them if they would take care of me; after all, I was getting pretty old. Jon said, "I think you're getting pretty ornery; I don't know about your getting old." But I actually already knew that they take care of all their old people; I guess I just wanted them to say it.
Then I went back home to teach school for the rest of the school year -- but I also turned in my resignation, something that shocked them. The principal said to me, "I didn't think you would ever quit to get a job in industry." I said, "I didn't; I'm quitting to work with homesteaders." He told me he would be glad to give me my job back if he had an opening, and I told him that I hoped it didn't ever come to that.
That year was hell. I was responsible for teaching a class of students in one city, helping out with the decisions at the community about which animals and plants to carry through, and overseeing the transport of goods, plants, and animals into the New World down in Alabama, which I could scarcely do, since my weekends were not long enough to drive down and back. However, I spent a lot of time on the phone, giving them instructions on how to keep pests and diseases from passing through the cave. I wanted them to be sure to seal it off at both ends, to fumigate it inside to kill any insects, mice, or rats, and to thoroughly clean it out, carrying everything back into Alabama, as the soil may have dangerous spores in it. Everything must be washed and scrubbed immediately before entering the cave.
One project was checking out seeds that would be going to the New World. The most common seeds were from the Community, but we also needed to purchase new kinds of plants, which the Community had not been growing previously or which it had not grown from seed. The first decision was what seeds to allow. I wouldn't allow any hybrid seeds through because they wouldn't breed true. I also read about the various varieties, and called the seed companies on numerous occasions, to make sure that plants from our seeds would be hardy varieties and not hybrids. With some plants, we could have pure bred varieties in the New World that would be impossible to breed pure in Pennsylvania or Alabama. We also inspected our seeds for seeds of other plants. In this regard, the hardest to check were the clover seeds. Mainly, we were wanting only look-alike seeds of similar size, shape, and color. We discarded any seeds that looked suspicious plus whole packets that contained numerous suspicious seeds. We were also improving the quality of our seeds at the same time, since we were discarding all undersized seeds. I also explained to those responsible for planting and tending these seeds the problem of look-alike seeds, and I instructed them to check their rows and to kill any strange plants during the first weeks. "You'd want to do that anyway, and most of the plants coming up in the soil will not be persistent, so doing so immediately will be an enormous time-saver." I also had to check the horses, oxen, cows, chickens, and sheep that would be going through. After examining them carefully for disease, I treated them heavily with antibiotics just to be sure. All these animals came from the Community, so their pedigree and history were known.
One consideration in sending the seeds, plants, and animals to the New World was what can be called the "Noah's Ark problem." If for some reason, all communications between the two worlds ended, say due to an accident in California, then the people living in Cave would be separated from the rest of mankind forever. For this reason, we made every attempt to acquire seeds from every useful species of plant, even if they would not grow in that climate. That required a lot of extra reading on my part, as I was interested in seeds which the companies never sell, and also more than a little trouble getting some of those seeds. Those efforts were unsuccessful in many cases. In a few cases, getting the seeds was not even legal.
I was not alone in this project; everyone pitched in to help with seeds, plants, or animals that were in their area of interest. Cal and Mary Walthour might be used as examples of how I was given help by others. They are beekeepers and, like the others, they were more than eager to help me with this project. They researched every book, and decided that we 1) should only allow adult bees entry at one time (eggs to raise queens from, however, could be carried in later), 2) should not allow any comb or any previously used bee equipment (except metal tools that had been heated red-hot), 3) should only allow packages of bees that a) had been nearly starved to clear their stomachs, b) treated heavily with Terramycin, sulfathiazole, and fumagillin, and c) fed heavily with commercial sugar only (no honey or honey products could enter the New World). They decided to start twenty hives in the spring, but they would not stay with them for the summer. Cal had a full-time job, and their hives back in Pennsylvania would need the most attention anyway. Their trip was planned to coincide with the spring break, so I could be with them and learn how to feed the hives during the summer.
We traveled down to Alabama together, crowded together in the front seat of a truck, while the new hives and bees were strapped on the back. I couldn't help noticing that Cal's boxes looked odd; they weren't painted white but had been treated with linseed oil. Cal, like everyone else in the community, had worked out his own system. He told me that the typical beehive was a mess and that it made beekeeping very difficult. He said that Langstroth had designed the first practical moveable frame beehive and had made it exactly the right size for the bees of his day, which were black bees, originally brought over from the Netherlands (honey bees are not native to the Americas). But after he had gotten everyone to using his hive, he imported Italian bees, which were gentler and more productive, but their hives contained more bees, honey, and brood; thus, they needed larger hives. This problem was not apparent for some years, as the new craze was to force the bees into an even smaller area, so they would put more of their honey in the honey combs. This practice initially led to greater honey production but eventually led to starvation, so it was abandoned. Finally, the beekeepers discovered that bees produce much more honey if given enough empty comb. A much larger hive was needed, but for the purpose of standardization, most beekeeper chose to use two of Langstroth's boxes, piled one on top of another. An unfortunate characteristic of this double brood box was that the hive had to be completely disrupted in order to check on its progress, transfer brood or honey, requeen the hive, or for any other operation. And because the boxes were often stuck together, the manufacturers increased the space between them so they could be pried apart more easily. This extra space was usually filled with comb or bee glue, and eventually the moveable frame beehive became a solid, unworkable mass.
One beekeeper, Charles Dadant, had another idea. His hives contained much larger combs and more of them. While these larger combs were a little more difficult to lift out, they made all other operations much simpler. Unfortunately, few beekeepers ever tried Dadant's hive. But Cal had read Dadant's book and also a book on hive management by C. C. Miller, and he became convinced that standard hives were more of a problem than they were worth. Cal built his beehives with a single large box broodnest, twenty inches square and twelve inches deep. The bees were easy to work with because there was only one box, and it was not stuck together. In fact, Cal used metal spacers instead of solid wood to hold his combs apart, so he could easily lift out frames and place them back in. This ability to move comb easily helped him equalize his bee hives, keeping the weakest from dying and the strongest from swarming. In fact, he called the double broodnests "swarm boxes."
When they reached the New World, Cal and Mary had a lot of work to do. I spent a good bit of time with them, so I could become familiar with the bees, although more time and attention had to be focused on improving the inspection process at the cave.
Cal had brought with him twenty packages of bees with queens, assembled hives and frames with comb foundation, feeders, and sacks of sugar. All the equipment was brand-new, and the hives and frames were made in our own shops. This was all transferred to wagons after everything except the bees was washed thoroughly. They had to find a good location in the vicinity of Cave and near the road, and they had to get some roughcut lumber for stands from the sawmill. Then they had to assemble the stands, and they also had to inspect each hive to make sure the foundation was mounted properly and undamaged. In the meantime, they were feeding the bees treated sugar water. I joined them as they were ready to install the bees. Putting the bees in the hive was fascinating. We first sprayed them inside their box cages with sugar water; then, we dumped water on them; then we poured them into the hives just like wet oatmeal. None of us got stung. As soon as the bees were poured into a hive, Cal put the little queen cage inside the hive with them, having removed the cork. Finally, Cal added a large feeder on top and filled it with sugar and a little water. Then he put on the tops. All the bees were installed in the evening close to dark, as Cal didn't want the bees flying around until they learned to think of the new hive as home. Otherwise, large numbers could move over to adjacent hives, a process Mary called drifting.
Cal and Mary stayed the week, and they checked to make sure that all the queens had been accepted before they left. Cal had a couple of extra queens on hand just in case they weren't. Then we returned together, carrying some sawed lumber for the community on Cal's truck. Mary returned to Cave alone a month later (since Cal had to be at work) to refill the feeders and to make sure all the hives had sufficient brood, a process they called "equalizing the brood." She also inspected for disease at that time.
One reason why I spent so much time with Cal and Mary was that I would have the responsibility for checking on the bees during the summer, and I had never been in a beehive before.
Cal did not plan to get any honey from the hives during the first year, but he told me about his honey boxes, which he called "supers." He told me his supers were the same dimensions but half the depth of the brood boxes. To keep the queen from laying above, he had spaced the combs farther apart, so the bees would make them extra deep. When his bees started producing, he would have no problem getting us to use his honey; we had no other source of sweets. But besides providing honey for making bread and on top of pancakes, the bees would be important as pollinators of our fruit and vegetables.
My school year ended before the end of May, and I was already packed and ready to leave, as I had to get to Alabama before the loop was carried to California. It was important that I be in the New World to continue to inspect the plants and animals for disease, and also to inspect weeds in the fields and gardens to ensure we were not introducing any unwanted species. If there was a problem, someone had to be knowledgeable enough to spot if the problem was something the animal had eaten or some soil deficiency, some disease that was already present in New World animals or plants, or some very minor and probably unavoidable condition. In any other case, the plants or animals would be destroyed.
It seems that, for want of a vet and to insure the health of the animals, that I found myself taking on a role I hadn't foreseen. And the next thing I knew, I was also treating humans as well. Since I wasn't overwhelmed with work during the summer, as I had been during the school year, I had lots of time to spend with the bees, in the fields and gardens, or with the livestock, or I would go on hiking trips and look for more wild plants.
I also taught a class at school about the plants of the New World. The community's schools are quite different from what I was used to. The kids don't all show up on time; in fact, the time when they are supposed to show up is rather hazy; some of the older kids would show up before I did. There's no grades or tests in the usual sense: each of the students compiled a notebook full of reports and flattened leaves and flowers, wrote an essay, and answered questions at the end of the course. I don't stand in front of a chalkboard and explain everything from there: instead, we were out in the woods more than half of the time, and I spent my teaching time mostly answering questions, which were often quite perplexing. The kids don't sit still listening to me or daydreaming: instead, they were actively involved in learning about the subject. When I started teaching the class, I asked how I should determine whether they had passed or not, and I was told that the standard was that an "A" was the only passing grade. If an "A" is considered to be being able to make 90% or above on every subject we covered, then no one made an "A." However, in every other way, these students made far above an "A." They learned everything I expected to teach them, and then they demanded more. They just sucked the information out of me and my books. That one class was grade-school and graduate school botany combined. In fact, the only real difference between the students, as to how well they learned, was their maturity. I was told the youngest students could get credit for the class again after a lapse of three years. God help me!
I don't want to leave the impression, however, that these students were all geniuses. Some of them could pick up on something immediately, and some needed extra attention. I talked to the other teachers at one of our weekly meetings, and they said that the policy was to give the students having more difficulty more time and attention. "But isn't it unfair for me to spend more time with one student than another?" I asked. "No," they told me, "you should be giving every student as much help as he needs. Everyone gets an equal opportunity to succeed, but all the students don't get the same amount of help because they don't all need it. If students aren't taught to the same level, they become discouraged, drop behind, and drop out." In fact, I noticed that the students were helping each other out, because this was a cooperative learning system, not one in which the best students received all of the rewards.
I learned more about education than I ever knew before. The American system of education doesn't work because it tries to force children to learn, often in an educationally impoverished and disruptive environment. Then when the students fail to learn, the school punishes them, humiliates them, and finally abandons them. The desire to learn is inherent within each of us, but the schools are all too successful at killing it.
The community couldn't be described as religious, as I never saw anyone worshiping, but there were signs made by the younger students put up on the walls everywhere in the school that came from the Bible and from other sources of wisdom, such as American writers. I learned that while the students were encouraged to do this, no one told them which statements they should put up. I noticed one such statement frequently on signs, "The kingdom of God is within you." When I recognized that one of my youngest students had posted one of those signs, I asked her what it meant. She said, "It means that I am responsible for how I grow up. Other people can help me, but I have to find the treasure inside."
One Sunday morning as I was resting on the bench in front of the hotel, I noticed that Carl Braun, sitting on the bench next to mine, was reading a Bible. I asked him why there was no church for people to worship in. "Oh," he told me, "those wanting to worship don't need a separate building, as they can use any room in the school. And we also designated a grove in the woods for that purpose." I replied, "But no one is meeting in those places; I have looked." "Well, you are probably not looking at the right time. If you wish to worship with others, put a note on the bulletin board, and I'm sure that someone will respond. People are always looking for others who share their interest." "But why are there no organized churches?" He said, "You will find us pretty strongly united in our dislike for organized religion. We believe that each person has a right and a duty to investigate his own beliefs and to come to his own conclusions about God. We consider the use of verbal trickery or emotional force to change someone's inner feelings or their moral beliefs to be a crime against human nature." I sat there stunned, while he continued, "That doesn't mean that none of us believe in God. You will find every variety of belief within this community, and you will find that some people are reluctant to talk about their beliefs and that others sprinkle their views into every conversation." "How do you feel about sharing your views?" I asked him. "Well, since I am reading a Bible in a public place where someone is likely to sit next to me on a Sunday morning, I think it should be obvious that I consciously or unconsciously wish to share my feelings with others on that topic. Would you like to talk here or go somewhere else?" We talked there. I won't discuss Carl's personal beliefs, as that would be a violation of his privacy, but I did find my conversation with him and with others to be very meaningful to me. I must admit that I had never actually heard anyone before tell me what they really believed; I had only been hearing what they were supposed to believe. Carl and the others also told me about what their beliefs had meant to them, and that was more inspiring to me that hearing about miracles that faith is supposed to accomplish.
To get back to teaching for a moment, I encountered another new idea at the school. My students were also taking French with Marie Bourget, who had been born in France. Like my class, the French class consisted of all different ages, and whenever I passed the room, they would be in conversation with one another. This conversation also sometimes continued in my class, and I told a couple of students that it was rude to talk in front of me in a language I didn't understand. Jerry said, "You haven't studied French, then." "That's not true," I replied. "I was required to learn two foreign languages in order to get my Ph.D. in biology, and one of those languages was French." "But you can't understand it?" Judy asked. "No, I learned how to read and write; speaking was not considered necessary." "Could you teach us the French words for the parts of the flowers?" Judy asked, since that was what we were studying at that time. "No," I said, "I don't know any of the language connected to biology; we focused all of our time in French class on literature." Jerry said, "Then why did they require you to learn it in order to get a degree in biology?" "I suppose the idea was that if I were knowledgeable in two foreign languages that I could use my knowledge in conducting research, but of course, it would take many, many years to acquire that kind of competency in the language. But why are you learning French? There aren't any French speakers in the New World." Jerry said, "There might be some day. At any rate, we are learning it because we want to; it's not a requirement. I'm learning French because I enjoy being able to communicate in another language. It seems very powerful somehow." Judy said, "I would like to be able to read books in French someday. Right now, we just have children's books and comic books, as our ability is still small. Our teacher says that you have to start filling a glass from the bottom."
My work in the field consisted mainly of making observations and telling others what I was seeing. There were plenty of people available to take care of the regular crops; I only inspected for weeds, looking for introduced plants. I did explain the differences between local weeds and introduced species. Although we had plows, much of the land was turned over with shovels, due to the numerous stumps and large roots. Before planting, the only fertilizer used on most of it was wood ashes from the steam plant. After a section of field was planted and the sprouts had appeared, the soil was covered with leaves from the woods, both to keep the ground from drying and to help enrich the soil. We were also producing compost from barn sweepings and leaves, but we didn't have enough to go very far. We planned to rotate crops and to also leave each section fallow -- growing clover -- every few years.
Whenever plants reached the harvesting state, it was necessary to select out the best individuals to grow seeds from. Basically, we wanted the hardiest, best looking, and best tasting plants, although tasting was not always possible. Plants selected for seed were marked and were not harvested with the others. With some species, the seeds were allowed to dry, and with others, the plant had to go to seed. With those plants which go to seed, we deliberately discarded seed from the plants that went to seed the fastest. Once ready, the seeds from each individual plant were kept separate from the others. Only the best seeds from each plant were chosen. When these seeds were later planted, they were planted in rows, so we could compare whole rows to each other, selecting the best sets of descendents, but also the best individuals from those sets.
Animal breeding was a much slower project, of course, and worked quite differently. With mammals, after the summer, we imported semen and used it to increase variability and other desirable characteristics. With chickens, we selected the eggs from the best layers and hardiest animals. My work with the animals took very little time during the summer. Basically, I gave them health checkups for the first few weeks to be sure no disease had come across. Since we did not have fencing and since the danger to them from wolves and cougars was high, we kept the animals in barns at night, and had cowboys and cowgirls watching them during the day. While "cowboy" acquired a new meaning in the American West, it originally referred to the child watching the animals in the field, as in the story about the boy who cried wolf and also in
Cowboys and girls worked in pairs, so they wouldn't fall asleep, and were given hoes to kill weeds. They were given whistles to alert us of any danger. Accompanying them were a pair of trained dogs, who would both guide the animals and attack any threatening animal. These dogs were odd in that each had a blue eye and a brown eye; I had never seen that before.
Little Boy Blue come blow your horn,
The sheep's in the meadow, the cow's in the corn.
Where is the boy who watches the sheep?
He's under the haystack, fast asleep.
One section of the field, full of huge stumps, was for my use alone. Fencing is much less common in the New World, and this plot contained the only plants protected with wire fencing that first year (there was a stout fence around Mary and Cal's beeyard to prevent some rare bear destroying all the hives in one night). I used it to grow fruit trees and also both dwarf and regular root stock from seed. There is a particular problem that we face with root stock, especially that for apple trees. Nowadays, apples are no longer grown from seed. Instead, cuttings are grafted onto rootstock which also comes from cuttings rather than from seed. Unfortunately, the root stock itself has become full of disease. Now that we had a disease-free environment, or at least free from diseases imported from other parts of the world, I wanted to start anew, even if it took years. So, I was growing apple trees and the root stock for them from seed. And in truth, it would take years before any fruit trees, let alone the experimental apple trees, could produce worthwhile fruit. I was hopeful that some dwarf root stock could help speed fruit production. You may wonder why I felt so sure we had a disease-free environment. I always remember my first shock at seeing that healthy chestnut tree: all the chestnut trees in North America were destroyed in just a few years in the late 20's. If any of that blight had reached the New World, that tree would be deader than a doorknob. Nonetheless, I got my seeds from only rust and blight-resistant fruit tree varieties. One particular possible problem in that area was apple-cedar rust, and cedars (actually junipers) were common here; therefore, I was careful to select varieties resistant to this rust.
Although I enjoyed my other tasks, my favorite was the field trips into the woods. Most of these were the trips with the school kids, looking for plants, but I also made longer trips with various adults and children, mainly to enjoy this beautiful world. I told everyone else to be on the lookout for wild fruits and berries, as we wouldn't have any fruit of our own for a while, and sometimes we would find some to carry back. When areas growing wild blackberries, raspberries, or blueberries were found, we indicated their location on a map for the benefit of other gatherers and future years. This section, even in the old world, contains many plants and trees that grow this far south nowhere else, such as the raspberry. I used these trips as opportunities to educate the adults about the plants we encountered.
Towards the end of the summer, two occasions caused me to use my medical skills with people. The first was an accident Melissa Andersen had while working in the lumber yard. I am not sure of the details, but a pile of lumber fell, and she either got her arm trapped or injured it trying to stop the pile from falling. She hurt the arm pretty badly but assumed it would feel better in the morning. In the morning, it was a lot worse. Although I didn't have an x-ray machine, by feeling her arm carefully, I concluded that she had a simple fracture and I put it into a cast.
The second was much more significant. We weren't supposed to have any pregnant women in the New World during the summer, as there was no way to get the woman to a doctor or hospital in case of an emergency. However, Wendy McCloskey was pregnant without knowing about it. She didn't have any morning sickness or other signs, except for having missed her periods, and she said it was common for her to miss periods, so she thought nothing about it. In fact, she and her husband had been taking no precautions, as she had come to believe that she was one of those women who couldn't have babies. However, as the summer progressed, it became pretty obvious that she had one in the oven, and I hoped that the baby wouldn't come until after the loop was opened. No such luck.
I was unaware of the preparations they had been making. I only knew that the baby was starting to come when one of the children ran up to tell me that I needed to go to the McCloskey house right away, although I had been aware that Wendy was pregnant, and I had checked her blood pressure, pulse rate, and temperature on several occasions; she was as healthy as a horse. I didn't have any training as a gynecologist, so there really wasn't much else for me to do.
Several women and Bill, Wendy's husband, were inside with her when I arrived. One of the women, Carol Steward, talked to me briefly outside. She told me that they had had experience with many babies, they had been training the mother for this day, they expected me to not interfere with their procedures, but they wanted me to be available to help out in case of an emergency. I asked her, "What could I do in the event of an emergency?" She said, "You've helped with calves that were having trouble coming out before, haven't you?" "Yes, of course," I replied. "Have you ever had to cut up the calf to save the mother?" "Yes, that too," I replied. "Then you're prepared," she said, leaving me stunned.
Inside, I found Wendy squatting on the floor next to the bed. There was a sheet under her, and her husband, Grace Jones, and Sandra Mueller were helping to support her. I learned later that she had spent a number of hours doing breathing exercises, lying in bed, pacing around, or squatting on the floor, and that they had sent for me only after the baby was ready to come. I asked, "Shouldn't she be lying on her back?" "No," Carol said, "That position was for the benefit of the doctors and their tools, not to help the mother or the baby."
I didn't think Wendy knew I was in the room (later, she thanked me, so I guess she did). She was entirely focused on her labor and her baby, and she was panting like a cat. I learned afterwards that she had been taught to breathe like that. Then I saw that the head of the baby was already beginning to appear. I said to Carol, "Doesn't she need something for pain or at least a sedative?" "No," Carol replied smoothly, "but you might want one." With her husband and Grace helping to support her, and Sandra waiting to catch the baby, Wendy stood up and yelled as the baby came out. Sandra placed the baby in her arms as soon as she was steady: Wendy looked at the baby, the cord still attached, and said, "I name thee Virginia Dare McCloskey!" and kissed her on the cheek. Then, she handed the baby to Carol, and they helped her to the bed, so she could be cleaned up and allowed to rest. I was given the task of cutting the cord, and pulling the cord and placenta out of her body. Then they asked her if she wanted to eat any of the placenta, and she said yes, the only red meat I ever saw eaten in the Community. While we were cleaning the baby, I asked if I shouldn't sew up the mother, and Carol told me that it wasn't necessary because she hadn't been wearing any underwear during the summer, an answer that made no sense to me. I asked Carol if babies were all born that way, and she said, "No, every mother is a little different. Some babies are born in the water or in the bed, and there are different birthing positions as well. We let the mother decide what is most comfortable for her." When the baby and the mother were both clean, the baby was put in the arms of its mother to nurse, and we left them in charge of her husband.
I couldn't help compare the birth scene I witnessed there and the trip I had once made to a hospital to be with a very close friend as she was having her child. The doctor really didn't even want me in her room before she had the baby, but it was impossible for her husband to get there on time, and I was her only moral support. Most of the women were completely alone in their rooms, with lots of pain. They hadn't been taught breathing exercises, and they just suffered until right before the baby was born, when they were wheeled into the operating room and knocked out. I couldn't be with my friend when she needed me most. Whenever I was required to leave the room, I spent my time in the waiting room, which was full of husbands too cowardly to be with their wives. Not only that, but friends and relatives were there to soothe, and stroke, and comfort the husbands while their wives were suffering alone! Then when the baby was born, the family congratulated him as if he had done something, while the mother was still being ignored! My friend said that after all of her lonely suffering that she didn't even get to see the baby being born. The baby had marks on his forehead from being yanked out of his mother instead of born naturally. In talking to other women, I discovered that the doctors kept them ignorant, forced them to do things they did not want to do, including forcing the baby to stay in when it was ready or to come out before it was ready. Another friend told me that, when she had her baby right at the end of the year, she had been asked to come to the hospital before her labor began and that every single woman in the hospital was having her labor induced, so the doctors could watch football on New Year's Day!
Wendy surprised me in another way. I had seen her working and doing everything else right up until the day the baby was born, which encouraged me to believe that the baby was still weeks off, and now she was up and around after only a day in the bed, carrying the baby with her. Carol told me that spending a lot of time in the bed after the baby was born was bad for the mother, and spending a lot of time in the bed before the baby was born was bad for the baby. As to the baby being outside, she said that was good too, although they were going to keep her away from people for a while, and the mother was watching for mosquitoes or other insects. I also noticed that Wendy didn't mind nursing her baby in public and that she or Bill was carrying the baby somewhere all the time. Carol said that the bonding process was extremely important. In the Community, they never allow a baby to lie alone and cry, but instead the mother or dad carries it all the time while it's awake, and they sleep with its crib next to them at night. According to their theory, children who are ignored grow up with a sense of hostility and resentment towards society, while children who are constantly nurtured during their first months develop a strong sense of belonging. Wendy and Bill weren't neglected either; they received lots of gifts of food and of home-made baby clothing. This was deliberate too; taking care of the parents was another way of taking care of the child.
At the end of the summer, when the new railway station opened in the old world, I went to inspect it. I was pleased to see that they had installed all of my improvements. Everyone would take a shower and change clothes when entering the station. All cargos would be washed and some fumigated. Air couldn't enter the station easily, and whatever air entered was soon swept into air ducts and passed through filters.
I can't complain about my quarters during the summer. I had a nice room at the hotel, and I was given space at the school for my books. Nonetheless, I had always had my own house, and I had been promised one, so I didn't understand why I had to wait until the end of summer to get one. So I was told that unless wood has a long enough time to cure, it will split, warp, and/or shrink, and that we didn't have any window glass on hand anyway. Then after the summer was over, there were more delays due to problems with the railroad, but my house was still one of the first to be constructed in the fall. Houses were going up as fast as they could build them, then, as lots of people were going to be moving there for the second year.
The way they built my house was very interesting. First, I was asked to pick a site. Houses in the New World aren't laid out in rows on lots. My house had to be a certain distance, more or less, from its nearest neighbors as long as it was in or near town, but otherwise there were no restrictions. Jean Griggs, our architect, went with me to the location I had chosen, just across the tracks from my fruit trees, and mentioned several problems, in my case, being too close to the field, too close to the interurban tracks, and rather far from town. I told her I liked all of those features, and she said fine. She next looked at the ground conditions and at the trees. She said my ground was well-drained, so there should be no problems, and she suggested the removal of several dead trees, of a hollow ash that would be likely to fall soon, and of an oak that had been struck by lightning. With one section of smaller trees, she suggested thinning some to allow the others to grow. I kept the ash, the oak, and the small trees but did have them remove the dead ones. She asked me what spot I liked for the house, and I showed it to her. She asked me if I would have any problems from not enough light on gloomy days, and I said I didn't think so. She suggested facing the house to the east of south for the best light, since the plateau to the west would block the late afternoon sun (no sunsets!), especially in winter, and moving it to the left a dozen feet for the same reason. She asked me if I wanted an outhouse, a commode within the house, or both. I asked her what the difference was. In either case, I would be using a chamber pot which I would carry to a central compost pile, where I would get a fresh one. If I lived way out of town, I would be expected to maintain my own compost pile. The advantage of the outhouse is that all odors are outside; the disadvantage is during the winter, when the weather is cold. A commode does not require going outside, but the odors remain within. Many people use the outhouse during mild weather and the commode during cold or rainy weather, and some women want a commode just to pee. I chose both. One change that I requested was a higher seat. The toilet seats are lower in the community than I have ever seen elsewhere.
While we talked she kept notes, and she also placed markers to indicate the locations I chose and the trees I wanted cut down.
After we returned to the hotel (her own house hadn't been built yet), Jean showed me plans and asked me what I liked. Everyone is given a free house (in exchange for a year's work!), but no one is given a five thousand square foot, split-level home with a swimming pool in the backyard. Instead the size of the house is determined by the number of family members. As a single person, I had the choice between a 16 foot square house and a 12 by 20 house (due to the construction method, all houses had to be constructed to the nearest four feet in each direction, no odd dimensions allowed), each with a front porch and appropriate outbuildings. A couple gets a house twice that size, and a family of four gets four times that space. If the family grows, the house grows with them, and their method of building houses made such changes easy. If I wanted a larger house, I could pay extra, but they really didn't encourage people to do so; large houses were considered wasteful, both for materials and fuel. If I needed more space, the community buildings would be mine to use as much as I liked; this house was just sleeping and eating quarters. The houses are not as small as what they may seem when you consider that refrigeration, food storage, clothes washing, and bathing was all done elsewhere. In fact, some families didn't eat at home either, as food was always available at the hotel.
It would seem that I had little choice in interior design, as their houses were almost prefabricated, as the parts were all cut out and even stained and treated with linseed oil before being assembled. However, I was given a choice of wood to use for the walls, floors, and ceilings, inside and out, and I could also pick the roof design and coverings which I wanted. I could choose to arrange my windows any way that I wanted. Although there was a limit to the amount of glass, it was fairly generous. People living in the woods need more windows during the summer.
In my choice of wood, windows, and doors for the walls, I could make a different selection with each four-foot section if I wanted to. Each could be plain, contain a door (several styles possible), hold a sliding glass door, hold a full-length window, hold a half-length window, or hold a small window of whatever width I wanted (the window sizes had to be in multiples of six inches, however, to avoid wasting glass).
I chose to have my house lined with cedar (I was asked about allergic reactions) and to have it roofed with cedar shingles. I chose tulip tree (also known as yellow poplar) for the rest of the wood. I asked for two half-length windows and a solid door on the front (southeast). Jean warned me that since I had picked the minimum amount of glass, that the house would be dark on stormy days, since it was under the trees. I then picked some medium-sized windows, one for each wall, to improve the lighting and allow me to see all around the house.
We then discussed interior arrangement. She used a floor plan and cut-outs representing the furnishings from the top and also from a side view, which she assembled with the appropriate walls and interior items. With a 12 by 20 house, there can't be much of either, especially since I would have to place a wood stove "at least three feet from an unprotected wall or one foot from a shielded wall." I looked at the choice of stoves first, and I decided on a cooking-heating stove combination, and Jean reminded me that I wouldn't be able to cook on it in the summer and that it couldn't hold as much fuel in the winter. "Do you point out what's wrong with every choice I make?" I asked. "Always," she said "Our job is not to be salesmen and to convince you to buy something you don't need; our job is to help you find what you really want. That's Standard Operating Procedure. You don't tell farmers what they want to hear, do you?" We put the stove on the north end and therefore had to move the window from that panel to another. I wanted a queen-sized bed in the middle of one end of the house, and she pointed out that it would take up a third of my useable room; she suggested a twin bed, against the wall, with built in storage underneath, which I accepted. Then I picked the rest of furniture I wanted in the house, and we arranged where it would go, changing windows as necessary. While we were doing this, I recognized that I would never have a neighborhood meeting in my house; it would be a strain to invite three people to dinner.
After making these plans, it was about a week before I heard about my house again. When I visited the site, all the materials were piled up everywhere, and two rows of three post holes had already been dug. In the morning, I returned, and the crew was just beginning to work. The first task was to set the posts. These were big, fat, square, chestnut posts, and two men repeatedly lifted and dropped them into the holes in order to tamp the ground properly. Then, they were placed in the holes, lined up with a tape, plumbed with a level, and were firmly braced with dirt and rocks packed around them. The foreman told me that concrete was usually used, but none was available yet. She said the dirt tamping wouldn't cause any problems because we were too far south for heavy freezing. Next, a level line was drawn across these posts, and they were notched out with saws. The main beams were nailed to the posts with the notches helping support them. Then some rough cut tongue-and-groove boards, which were already cut to the right size, were nailed to the beams. Each board fit tightly into the groove of the next, leaving no open crack. When I expressed that I was puzzled, Jean told me that they went under the floor joists to hold the insulation. I soon saw what she meant, as the 2x8 floor joists were placed on top of them. One of these, called a header joist, was placed along the front of the house, and I noticed that it was slightly notched and had three rounds holes every two feet. All of the rest except one extended from the front of the house to the back; these all had round holes drilled into their ends. Finally, they were fitted into another header joist like the first at the back of the house. Then they were nailed together using dowels. Then, the nailed boards under the joists were nailed to them, and bags of wood shavings were poured on top of the boards, between the joists. Jean told me that the shavings made excellent insulation, and that some cedar shavings had been added to keep out the insects.
The finished, tongue-and-groove inside floor was attached next, on top of the joists. It was covered with an old sheet to protect it, and then work on the walls began. The community's method is to attach notched, pre-prepared plates that 4x4 posts fit into. I say "attach" because dowels were used again, not nails. Each of these posts is grooved to receive both the inside and outside panels, which are notched along their ends to fit into the grooves and to fit into each other, leaving no cracks. Then, more shavings are poured between the inside and outside panels. With the panel sections containing windows or doors, everything fit together without sawing or nailing, as it had all been preprepared to lock together. When the walls were complete, the top plates were added and attached with pegs.
With the roof, I had had several choices, and I had chosen a regular sloped roof. The roof joists went up just like the floor joists; that is, the tongue-and-groove ceiling was attached first, then the joists already pre-notched with holes for the pegs, and finally the insulation was poured on top. The pre-cut rafters went up next. Some brackets and gussets were used to attach them to the ridge board and the roof, and the gable end was filled in with short studs. Then the rafters were covered with boards, and the men started nailing cedar shakes on, starting at the bottom. Each of these had been split from a log with an ax.
By this time, the working day was over. But I was amazed, as the entire house, small as it was, had gone up in a day. The workmen returned on the second day to finish the shingles, attach the door, add a porch to the front, put in the soffits, add a shed for firewood and/or bicycle, put up the outhouse, clean up their materials, and check for any little additional thing I might want them to do. Jean told me that a huge savings in time and effort had been achieved by insisting on standard dimensions and pre-cutting all the materials at the shop. The house was also stronger, lighter, and tighter as well.
In looking over what I've written so far, which is already far too long, I find I have failed to tell about the neighborhood meetings. Perhaps that's just as well, because in the hotel, which was supposed to be our neighborhood, the weekly meetings never amounted to much, probably because we were all older people, mostly permanently single, and very much focused on our individual responsibilities. Life had lost its stress for us. But after I moved into my house, I was assigned to a new neighborhood, with younger and more lively people, and the meetings were lively as well. I won't mention names here, but people talked about their frustrations, their dreams, their aspirations, and their quarrels. We also told about our lives and what we had seen and done, which would make a book. We also had some decision-making powers, and everyone had an opinion about what should or should not be done. It became the most interesting evening of the week.