feral pig
You wake up tomorrow and discover that all the hydrocarbons in the world — all the oil, gas and coal — have vanished. Evaporated. Crumbled into dust and blown away.

Since it’s dark, you have to stumble around looking for a candle, hoping that all your candles aren’t made of paraffin, and wonder how you are going to light it when your butane lighter is now empty. You have water, for now, but your fridge and freezer are not working, so you start to guess how many days’ food supply you have left and how long before it spoils. You estimate that after two weeks you’ll be relying on dry goods and canned goods, and expecting that they’ll have to do, since by then the stores and restaurants will be empty and abandoned.

You’re cold in the dewy morning air, so you add a few layers of clothing, and then wonder how, from now on, you’re going to keep them clean. You remember from your university days washing your clothes by hand in the sink and hanging them to dry. But even then the detergent you used was petroleum based.

You wonder whether to make a run for the store before everyone else empties out the shelves. But it’s a long way on foot, and how much could you cart back, anyway, even with your bicycle, which has no carrier on it?

You’re puzzled by the fact your cell phone isn’t working, even though it has some charge left in it, and there are no radio stations on the air. You have no idea if TV stations are still broadcasting, and the morning paper hasn’t come. You rummage around for the non-portable phone you keep for times of power outages, but you can’t find it in the dark.

You stagger outside, seeking to find some meaning for this bizarre event through conversation with others. All your neighbours, at least those who slept at home last night, are out at the end of their driveways, looking bleary-eyed and bewildered, talking quietly. The cats and dogs seem enchanted by this strange occurrence, and the dogs rush, tails wagging, between the huddled groups of people who are munching various foods they’ve scrounged from their cupboards and fridges, hoping for morning treats.

What you notice most is the silence, the incredible peacefulness of this morning scene. You can hear birds that you’ve never noticed before. Although it’s past daybreak, you can still see the stars. There’s a sense of exhilaration, not dread, among the people you meet, as if they’d been liberated rather than deprived of the fuel of their civilization. Work responsibilities that yesterday weighed heavy are no longer important. It is as if everyone has discovered they have all the time in the world.

Within an hour, plans have been formed to pool the neighbourhood’s perishables, to keep them in one cool shared place, and to mete them out, fairly and carefully so they last as long as possible. Henceforth, all meals will be communal, shared with neighbours whose names, yesterday, you hardly knew.

The parents of one of the neighbours, you learn, are farmers with dairy cows, free range chickens and several acres of vegetables. An expedition is formed — a bicycle brigade — for the ten-mile trek to this farm, to see if the owners are well and safe, to offer services to replace those once done with oil-powered technology, and to procure supplies for the coalesced neighbourhood group. This group of 35 people includes a bed-ridden senior, a child with Down Syndrome, a two-month-old baby, six people with various allergies, three diabetics, and a woman in an electric wheelchair (now powerless).

These people lives within five minutes’ walk of your home, but you didn’t know most of them existed until today. Now they’re your community. So are six dogs, four cats, and various furred, feathered and scaled creatures, animal companions now dependent on your collective largesse.

This is not what you’d expected. There are no looters, no gangs, no crazies with guns trying to protect what’s theirs or take what’s yours. You’re not sure what will happen next, or even if this is all a dream. But you do not feel terribly concerned. You have a plan, as part of this quirky new, quickly-assembled community. You are doing what you can. No panic is called for, and there’s no point in it anyway.

The silence is astonishing. You have time, space and opportunity to think. There is no hurry any more. There is no worry, either. There is a sense of comfort, connection, security, self-control, independence. It will be winter, soon, but there’s plenty of wood stacked up, and unlike the other sources of fuel and heat, it seems to be intact. You know wood is bad for carbon emissions, but you have high-efficiency fireplaces, and besides, with no more oil or coal being burned, will global warming still be a problem?

In an hour you’re going to take your dog for the longest walk of her life, as you join the ten-mile bicycle brigade to the neighbour’s parents’ farm. You’ve never milked a cow before, and your dog’s never even seen one.

You are singing to yourself: “Now she’s wild with expectation on the edge of the unknown“, and you know the song’s about you. “It’s enough to be on your way, it’s enough just to cover ground, it’s enough to be moving on.” You’re on your way.

You feed your dog, eat some cereal, drink some juice, kiss loved ones goodbye for awhile, and cycle over to join the group, loaded with water, blankets, baskets, ready for the trek. One member of the group has a crank-powered mp3 player, yesterday a conversation piece, today a staggeringly valuable rarity. You are missing your music, already.

You wonder how all the people, all over the world, are coping. The people you know and love, and now cannot talk to, and may never talk to again. The people you’ve never met, in struggling nations, who will find this day not terribly different from yesterday, people who have spent their lives learning to live the way you’re just about to begin to learn to live. You feel a sudden affinity with these people.

You are becoming someone else, someone you could not have been yesterday. Someone more connected to the land, to the people in your community and all over the world, to all-life-on-Earth. The sun is shining, now, and the colour of the skies and the trees and the eyes of the people beside you are richer, more real, different from anything you have seen before, and you’re sooverwhelmed with awe and wonder and you’re laughing and crying and so present it’s almost unbearable.

Category: Fables
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17 Responses to Suppose

  1. Simon Hazelton says:

    Wow! I feel that :)

  2. Susan Hales says:

    Dave, much of this is exactly what happened in my neighborhood after Ivan and Katrina when everyone was without power for a few days. The sense of community and the camraderie is instantaneous. I’ve often reminded myself that one of the reasons I choose to live where I do is because I see this as a possibility and I want to live where I will be able to build a community garden. I think that part might happen sooner rather than later. Living without my internet connection will be much harder than living without almost any other service. I’m sure of it.

  3. Scott says:

    Dave:There was actually a sci-fi novel written with this premise: Ill Wind, by Kevin J Anderson. Oil eating bacteria go through and eat all the long chain polycarbons.

  4. Amy says:

    Why would there be no more worry? There would always be challenges: coping with the weather, managing food supplies, dealing with the illnesses of people you care about. But at least the worries would be sensible, and focused on the meaningful goal of survival.

  5. David Parkinson says:

    Sounds lovely, except for the James Taylor. :-)

  6. Adele S. says:

    Since all of it sounds like heaven except for “The people you know and love, and now cannot talk to, and may never talk to again.” part, I need to get busy and write all of my “I’m grateful for you” letters.

  7. EJ says:

    Too much of a picnic for me to believe. An example:water. Are your happy wannabe farmers ready to hand dig wells and haul all the water the diary farm and their own needs?Also, I’m sure the people with diabetes and other chronic diseases are worried. Your first broken tooth will have you wishing for a dentist pretty quick. When you lose your wife and unborn child to childbirth complications you might also wish for “modern” medicine. Of course, all these complications may get sorted along the way and some sort of society may emerge (minus a lot of people)- but I doubt it will be peaceful, without worries, and sunny picnic weather most of the time.

  8. Jon Husband says:

    What happens if / when someone starts hoarding and hiding ? Not out of the realm of imagination, especially given the social conditioning into competition that we have all experienced.Will they get 1) ignored, 2) scolded, 3) held to some kind of community justice, or 4) beaten up by angry neighbours ?

  9. It is a month later…The group is now down to 25 people. The bed-ridden senior died in the first week, and the Down syndrome child had an accident not long after. The diabetics lasted into the third week, but none of them made it into the fourth. A man died from a bee sting, a boy in a bicycle accident, and two people – a young couple – never returned from a trip to the farm.That’s where everyone live now, out on the farm. The city had become dangerous, not so much from looters and criminals (though some gangs were beginning to form near the river) but from the housefires and the packs of dogs now making travel dangerous outside fenced areas. We all share the main house; two or three people in each of the four bedrooms, and a family of five living in what used to be the dining room. We eat in the kitchen, in shifts. It doesn’t take long.We saw some jets fly overhead last night; we figured they must be burning alcohol. There were some explosions in the city; we could hear them from here, and saw the red glow in the sky. The shadows are growing longer and the dewy mornings now warn of frost. This disaster couldn’t have come at a worse time. We’ll make it through the winter on canned food (we were able to barter our houses for some canned food and some guns with the WalMart gang).We’re not going to be able to stay here, so close to the city. Already we’ve had to shoot raiders. Any light in the night will attract them, and of course our wood smoke is a dead giveaway. Vern and Sara are trying to rig a still; we’re hoping we can make some frain alcohol out of the corn (it’s cow corn, so we can’t eat it, and we haven’t seen a cow for a couple weeks now). If we can rig some cars we’ll make a run for it next week, try to find a place up along Georgian Bay or lake Superior where we can fish and maybe grow beans, potatoes and carrots in a river valley.It’s going to be a long winter…

  10. Thanks, Dave–I’m sending this ‘fable’ to my various communities…it’s the kind of dialogue starter that we use around our fire circles–and I’m grateful to you. The issues raised in some of the comments are valid. But…change comes with a price. Why would we expect wholesale change from the way we live to be without human life impact?

  11. Dave Pollard says:

    Thank you, everyone. You picked up, of course, on the fact that this was (a) a fable, with all that connotes, and (b) a far-from-finished story. I was counting on you to help me write the next chapter of this, and you came through. Having seen what people do for each other in an emergency, at least one that’s expected to pass, I think this fable is credible, as far as it goes. For the next chapter I’m torn between something grim, a la Stephen and Jon, and something more nuanced, a gradual wearing away of the veneer of civilization, until something new emerges, neither good nor bad, merely human.And I promise there’ll be no James Taylor in the second chapter.

  12. Meadowlark says:

    Ya’ll should visit us over at This is pretty much our focus.Peace to you.

  13. Too much “inner peace” too quickly. Survival mode certains strips away many of the superficial issues, and no doubt fosters makeshift communities, but I doubt that most people would come so quickly to feelings of “liberation” and “peace” and freedom from concern.Now…where can I buy a crank-powered MP3 player?

  14. Theresa says:

    re hoarding Jon’s comment: “the social conditioning into competition that we have all experienced”: I think what readers might be missing is the extreme alienation from nature and community that we have all experienced. When you are suddenly thrust into the wilderness and forced to connect with others at the same time you begin to realize what was missing in your life. I am reminded of something Barry Lopez wrote in one of his books, words to the effect (not an exact quote) that “wilderness is an antidote for the alienation of modern urban life”. Here I am using the wilderness concept as a way of describing the feelings of people when everything suddenly changes although Lopez was writing about the natural wilderness without roads and services. Re the fable: I suspect that the feelings and experiences you describe are known to people who land on skid row for reasons outside of their control. Perhaps it is not as bad as they thought? Perhaps they discover more kindred spirits and unusual acts of kindness (and cruelty too)? It might be a good idea to ask some folks who have been there (or are still there)?

  15. Wow yeah that is vivid. Really made me think about my reliance upon things and services, as topics of this nature usually do. We need sustainability via renewables NOW. That is the solution, and maybe someday politicians will start focusing on that.

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