Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Alone is a good way to start, GG Sienna thought as she replaced the magnifying glass in the high cubby where the loft floor joists met the loft floor. A new loft, designed, built, and finished by the resident carpenter, her husband, GG Victor, gave the family extra sleeping room. In the loft proper, a spinning wheel stood by the high walnut and oak rail, created from limbs blown down during Kentucky storms the past year, 2079. The rail was newly seasoned with a clear coffee stain and linseed oil.

A new set of stairs and a new ladder to the loft stood to Sienna’s left. She smiled in the early dawn, mindful last night’s cranberry sunset to the west of Alleynia, the tract of 300 acres in southeast Kentucky. GG stands for great grandmother, Sienna smiled. The extended family liked the short version. Sienna stepped down from the oak cross-section, another windfall from the storms, dusted off her hands, and looked at the hearth where the kettle of water steamed a pale curlicue. Breakfast simmered. With her foot, she pushed the oak log section back to its regular place--the small stump a perfect makeshift stepladder, extra seat, or door prop. She nodded, her still, classic profile limned in the darkest gray; the sun hadn’t yet raised pewter into pale pink. Humming the last violin tune from last night, she turned to the table. Sienna had only one oak stump, but GG Victor insisted on two of everything important that the family relied on: wood and fire, glass and sun. Her world now revolved around family, farm work, and story telling. No corporate paychecks for the past 3 decades. Heck, she shrugged; she should have traded the corporate life away long ago: language major, health sciences major, then farm major. Sienna hummed at the progression. Wasn’t there are precession of the equinoxes? Spring and fall? She’d heard the term before. She shrugged and thought of the story telling contest at the state fair, three weeks from now. Farms and stories: both thrived on creativity and conflict

As she took four mugs down from the shelf, she heard a thump. “Kendall, are you awake?” Silence. The three-year-old insisted on sleeping in the new loft, and she were still quiet this early. After the violin music last night, she were worn out from dancing. Maybe she’d fall back asleep.

Lena Kay, the Kendall’s mother and Sienna’s grand-daughter, was boarding in the nearby town. One of the family’s chestnut horses was stabled close to the school where Lena studied nurse and midwife skills. Sienna thought today she and Victor were headed to town, in the wagon, to see Lena Kay and barter with the school, the Alleynia root cellar contents for the school’s larder and meals, a fair exchange for Lena Kay’s tuition. Sienna thought they would bring the chestnut back home if needed, to look at the horseshoe that Lena had diagnosed. Maybe Lena was just practicing nurse skills early, thought Sienna, pouring steaming water over peppermint leaves harvested from outside the front door. She liked a mug of her own tea. One grandson, Devon, usually joined her, but not today; Devon was helping at a neighbor’s farm. She remembered her own days studying health science. She pulled out a ladder back chair. Victor had paid the tuition and had always made certain the automobile had gasoline and oil in it. No more of that, she thought. The plastic engine and parts from the 1996 Honda had long since been sent to the auto junkyard heaven, or so the story went. Plastic, Sienna frowned. She missed her grandma’s storied red truck, but loved the horses Uncle Cawood bred on his own land.

Sienna stirred honey into her mug as a tall shadowy figure joined her in the main room. “Are you entering the story contest?” asked Trevor Steven, his blonde head just poised to catch the Kentucky sunrise. He eagerly pulled a ladder back chair and sat down. Trevor Steven usually beat everyone to the table for Sienna’s tea.
Sienna smiled. “Sure,” she answered. “You coming to hear? Might be a girl or two there.” Sienna nodded toward the honey. “Victor has the best bees.”

“He’s done well with Alleynia.” Trevor Steven offered his usual benediction before he tested the mug with his lips. Just right. He sipped. “Honey’s great. Clover?”

“Clover.” Sienna answered. “Remember, the time will come when you raise your own honey. When the bees forage, and the clover or lavender totals 50% or more of the crop, within a mile limit, then honey can named “clover honey.’” Trevor Steven nodded. Sienna continued, “Not much work to do around here this autumn,” Sienna slyly glanced over at Trevor. Trevor ducked his head and grinned. He worked circles around the entire family. Sienna said, “Berries picked, cider made, shine and brandy kegged in oak barrels, canning finished, crops over-wintered, and wood chopped.” Uncle Cawood had stored the canned items safe in the separate, small house that stood behind the main house. The family canned enough produce to last almost into next summer. Last year they had decided to build a completely separate place to store canned produce.

“Uncle Cawood counts the contents daily. He knows the glass jars as intimately as a stained glass window in an ancient cathedral,” Sienna said. Uncle Cawood was a full partner in Alleynia, 300 acres Sienna and Victor had purchased to change the access road to their farm, to correct a path over the ridge that was too narrow for a horse and cart. Sienna continued, “Back in the 2020s, the single access road was deemed too small for a horse and cart, so when a neighbor’s farm came on the market, Victor and I were on the short list for the 200 acres, to add to our own acres. We negotiated back and forth, with the last of my savings from my bank account.”

“Long trip from here to Madison County for the deed and sale.” Victor knocked off the dew and grass from his boots and entered the front door.

Sienna agreed. “Yes, it was a long drive,” then she pointed to the new loft and whispered, “Kendall is asleep; don’t wake her up.” Sienna leaned down and decided she’d heard nothing. One of the kittens, maybe. “If we talk quietly, she will sleep.”

“When’s Lena Kay coming back?” asked Victor.

"She isn’t, this week, ssshh,” said Sienna. She didn’t want Kendall to hear her mother’s name. “Lena says the chestnut horse might have a pebble under one shoe. You and I are taking the horse and cart to go see.”

Trevor Steven said, “Going on that stretch of gravel road. Should be a nice trip. Leaves are just beginning to turn. Might find blackberries, if they haven’t already been harvested. What did you used to call it, the interest state?”

“Interstate.” Sienna sipped mint tea. She set down the mug and stirred in a touch more honey. “That man does wonder with bees.

“Droning on and on,” Victor winked.

Sienna ignored him. “The interstate is now wild grasses and wild flowers. You can wind sail on a windy day. Big improvement over automobiles. I like the go-karts and land-boats you young people have invented. Don’t like the sails made out of whole cloth, but I’ll grant you young people are creative.”

“We patch the cloth together. Nothing’s wasted,” said Trevor

“Never did like driving on the interstate, did you, Sienna?” After sitting on the oak stump to take off his boots, Victor walked across the room to the larder where he set the empty milk pail on a high shelf.

“How’s the spring house? Is that where you stored the milk?” Sienna asked.

“Still there, last time I looked. Stored in the five gallon container, just like you wanted. We may need another five gallon-er.” Victor returned to the table. They kissed. Trevor Steven grabbed a biscuit, spreading golden distilled sunlight. “Good honey, GG Victor, thank you.”

“You helped. Help yourself.” Victor sat at the head of the wooden table where the extended family ate breakfast, sometimes in successions of three or four families, and any friends who dropped by. Victor allowed his creativity free rein. He cultivated bees, chickens, and cows, which provided almost every breakfast. GG Sienna was always spinning stories, poems, and the occasional tall tale. What creativity the Alleynia farm didn’t consume went into her own special shorthand, however she could get it down. GG Sienna had long ago learning to fold a page into quarters, then write small in each quarter, both sides of the page. Paper making is a complex task. Each small page kept her busy, in creation and then creative writing.

Up in the loft, Kendall rolled over, her strawberry blonde curls gathered into a top knot held by yarn from the knitting basket. When she woke up in the morning, she was ready to launch into the first adventure of the day.

While the adults murmured below, she stretched his chubby body forward until she slithered to the edge of the loft. She rolled over on her back and popped her thumb into her mouth. No one would see her here. Too restless, she stopped and rolled over, and completed her mission. Slithering to the edge, her forehead pressed to the rail, she reached over. She found a leather case holding the smallest magnifying glass, the one that swiveled in and out of its leather cover, and pulled it forward and up. She put it down, hidden, listening. The adults could have that thing they called tea. Her thumb was her favorite, but she sensed she needed to stop. Kendall elbowed her way up, sat up, thumb forgotten and now employed in opening the leather cover. She had watched GG Sienna do this; all the time listening to the voices below. No one had noticed her; the hum of the adults continued, hive-like. Out came the round glass. Kendall knew not to touch the glass with fingers. She turned the glass. She waved the glass, held it and focused or tried to. She looked at the kitten, still fast asleep on a quilt. He’s no help.

No sunlight. Maybe the sunlight was outside. Of course it was, she remembered. She looked up at the ceiling. She’d have to go to the barn. She scooped up what was left of a quilt fragment, pushed the glass back into its leather sheath, wrapped the magnifying glass in the quilt, and scooted to the top of the stairs. Positioning herself the way she’d been taught, she turned over on her stomach and slid down the stairs, feet first, just as a generation of Allens and Bakers had done before her. Who needed to stand up? “Down,” she repeated as she slid. At the bottom of the stairs, she stood up, ignored the adults, and headed to the front door, which opened.

“Hey, leave me some breakfast, will ya? Mornin’ sugar” Victor smiled, ducking under the front door header. He reached to pat Kendall’s golden head as the toddler walked past him. He carefully noted the magnifying glasses were in their protected, almost secret, cubbies. Salvaged and protected by Sienna for decades, the magnifying glasses, seven in all, were the last ditch, last resort, method for starting a flame. The family were careful to tend fires, bank them, watch them, protect them, always planning for the future. The worst, a fire going out completely, they didn’t want to think about. Victor, Trevor Steven and all members of the Allen family all knew the importance of fire and flame, the last resort against the dark. They were careful, but the magnifying glasses were treasures against cold. Each family member had one flint, but Sienna kept the magnifying glasses. Secretly, Victor used a magnifying glass to read, when he thought no one was looking.

“Morning,” roared Uncle Cawood, as he entered the kitchen. “Don’t let me hear you complain. There are others who have made more sacrifices than we have.”

Victor pulled back a chair and offered it to Uncle Cawood. “Tell us about the drones.”

“Bankers pictures were loaded into the drones. The Great Civil War started--”

"--and finished. No talk of bankers at the table,” Sienna warned with her darkest frown.

Trevor Steven bowed his head. Uncle Cawood pulled his chair to the table. “Eat breakfast first, then time to check the fields, Trevor Steven.” He would eat breakfast, then the two would head out the door into the dawn. Trevor Steven ate with an eye toward joining him without question. Silence settled in the kitchen. Finally, Uncle Cawood pushed back his chair and stood up. Trevor Steven followed. “Good-bye, GG,” they chorused. Once outside, Uncle Cawood bent down, picked a blade of mint that grew just outside the front door, and chewed. “Who put up the magnifying glasses?” he asked.

“GG Sienna, so they’re safe and sound,” Trevor smiled quickly.

Uncle Cawood nodded. “GG Sienna saw to it we had a horse and wagon.”

“Didn’t her ancestors have a wagon?” They walked from the front porch onto the river stone path.

“Yep, the Allens did. During the American Revolution, and we’ll get to your lessons soon,” he eyed both. “The Allens had a wagon used to transport British prisoners to prison in Hillsborough. Your GG and I drove through Hillsborough a couple of times.”

“Do you miss automobiles?”

“No, we do just fine.”

“They only had a wagon?”

“And guns and bullets. Your ancestor ran an iron furnace for melting lead and making bullets.”

“Just like I do today,” said Trevor Steven.

“Well, I got to get to work soon,” Uncle Cawood stated.


“Refinishing the cistern. One wall caved in. We’ve re-routed the spring. Want to get it finished today. Cole is coming by to help.”

“Lend a hand, if you need,” said Trevor. Uncle Cawood coughed and thumped his chest. “You need more brandy?”

Uncle Cawood nodded and coughed, “Brandy. Set me right but maybe not at dawn. Save it till later.”

Behind them, Kendall looked for a dry spot on which to sit down. She had her first act planned. She waved to Uncle Cawood and Trevor Steven.

They heard her and turned around. “Stay with GG Sienna. Breakfast first,” Trevor Steven said to her. “See you at the barn later. We’ll look for the kitten.”

Kendall headed immediately for the barn. Uncle Cawood and Trevor Steven watched her. They smiled then resumed their adult talk.

“I heard the last batch of brandy set up well.”

“You fool, brandy doesn’t ‘set up.’”

“Cole said it did.”

“Stop. GG Sienna doesn’t like conflict in the morning; she’ll hear you.”

“Conflicts make stories.”

“You’ll tell her that yourself. I won’t.”

They looked left, down the garden path, and saw Cole, who had left the next farm.
Trevor Steven finished opening the gate. “Cistern’ll be good. You're a great builder. Look at those hogs, like fussy old men.”

Uncle Cawood smiled, “Nice job on this place. GG Sienna always wanted solar, and I agree with her. Let the sun do it for free. You inherited your practicality from her.”

“DNA doesn’t lie.”

“Wish you boys could study health sciences.”

“We like it here. Like GG Sienna says, sustainability is the best life of all. Besides, Lena Kay is the brain in the family. She’ll study enough from all of us. Cistern water’ll make great brandy and whiskey, Kentucky vintage 2084 brandy. Has a great ring to it. ”

“She knows. Don’t let her hear you say it, though.”

At that moment, Sienna appeared in the doorway. “Where is Kendall? I’m fixing a cup of chicory, come back when you’re finished. Give me about, oh, 15 minutes.”

“Right there,” he pointed to the barn. We’ll be back in a minute.” Trevor Steven said.

Cole, Trevor Steven and Uncle Cawood turned to the path; there were livestock and fences to check.

“Like those Granny Smith apples.”

“Are you going to have an apple named after you, Uncle Cawood?” Trevor Steven asked.


"Not likely.”

“Your land. Your name,” Trevor Steven smiled.

"Apples, eggs, biscuits, and country ham. Those are good hams you cured, Trev. Next year, the state fair blue ribbon. You and Cole did an excellent job.”

“Enough to get to go to the fair and circus next year?”

“We’ll see. Heard another one’s coming, the last one was such a success. Maybe if they come early enough, we can barter.”

“You did a great job, letting them stay here.”

“We have enough room. Share and share alike,” Uncle Cawood said.

Back in the front room, Sienna had completed a circuit, looking for the twins. The barn, she remembered. She left the front room. Standing on the stoop, she could see Uncle Cawood and Trevor Steven walking the fence line, looking at the livestock. They made a slow circuit. Making the list of chores for the day, deciding on what they could do, and what they’d wait for Ben to help with. The sun was just raising an orange-rimmed eyelid, a spirit-friend looking through the trees, peering onto the land. Then GG Sienna, Trevor Steven, Uncle Cawood, and GG Victor all saw the haze at the same time.

“Fog this morning?” asked Trevor Steven.

Uncle Cawood sniffed the air. “Not fog. Smoke. Kendall!” They broke into a run. “Check the barn,” Uncle Cawood started, then pointed. “Look. Kendall!” To the side of the barn door, Kendall sat with a pile of straw that was smoldering. She was holding the magnifying glass concentrating a sunbeam. Both were concentrating.
They ran back up the garden path. “Kendall, stop, put the magnifying glass down.” From where he ran, Trevor Steven saw the small sun-yellow flames lick through the strands of hay and leaves. “No, stop that!”

Uncle Cawood ran to Kendall, and followed closely by Trevor Steven and Cole. Trevor Steven picked up Kendall in his arms and kicked at the smoldering hay, spreading it out. “I’ll get the bucket of sand from the barn,” Uncle Cawood panted. Ten buckets of sand and ten of rain water stood ready at all times. Trevor Steven removed the magnifying glass from Kendall’s grasp. “No.” At that moment, Sienna ran up. “I heard the commotion and came running. Kendall, no. Come here.” Kendall put one small index finger in her mouth, took it out, and said “’moke.”

“No, Kendall. You know not to take the magnifying glass. They’re mine. That’s why GG has them in the cubbies. No more, Kendall. No more. Don't touch GG Sienna’s magnifying glasses. You can get hurt with fire.” Sienna looked at Kendall, frowning. By this time, Ben had picked up Taylor and held him, feeling around the quilt and finding the second magnifying glass, which he stowed in his pocket.

“What do you think you’re doing?” Cole asked Kendall. Kendall twisted around to look back at the yard. “No, Kendall. Look at GG Sienna. She has something to say to you.” They all gathered around GG Sienna and Kendall. GG Sienna continued. “Kendall, look at me. It’s fine to be intelligent and smart, but only GG Sienna uses the magnifying glasses to start a fire.” The twins looked at each other. “Understand.”

Victor said, “Looks like we need another cubby and hiding place.” Uncle Cawood said, “We need another hiding place, can’t find one high enough for these two. Maybe we’ll design a shelf or china cabinet with a false back. Maybe a storage utility shelf with a false back.”

“What do we do, Sienna? Reprimand?”

‘No, split the magnifying glasses. Maybe store two in the main house, hidden, for convenience, to keep them close at hand, and the rest in the new storage building, with the canned goods. Remove the temptation. Let me think more about it.”
Uncle Cawood kissed Kendall, then to Victor he said, “Bet you’re already thinking about a storage design.”

Victor said to Sienna, “Good for your story telling.”

“High under the roof,” Sienna said. She smiled. “Your name is Victor. You’ll figure it out.” They turned and walked back to the main house, ready for chicory, Kendall held safe, and Victor already considering plans and measures, stains and varnishes, and walnut and oak from the Alleynia grove.