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The fourth and final book of the World Made By Hand series.

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Excerpt from The Harrows of Spring

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Brothers Seth and Elam, veterans of the War in the Holy Land, the first a wiry half-Cherokee and the other a former NFL prospect in the last days of the old times when pro sports still ruled the land, rode out east of town in the light of the waxing three-quarter moon. They were glad to be at large in the landscape, on horseback, out in the springtime night air, after being shut-in much of the elongated northeastern winter. As army rangers specializing in reconnaissance, night was their natural element. They had studied a topo map before leaving and committed the rather simple route to memory. Eventually, riding east, they made out the campfires on the side of Lewis Hill. In a little while, they turned off old state highway 372 onto a wagon-track in a field. The wagon track followed a hedgerow past other fields not yet plowed and up to the edge of a high pasture where twenty-seven tents were pitched in no discernable arrangement.

“These ain’t military types,” Elam observed.

“I don’t believe they’s even boy scouts,” Seth whispered back.

They hitched their mounts in a locust grove at elevation and crept up to a three-hundred year-old stone wall washed with sprays of bramble canes and wild rose, just barely budding at this time of year. Most of the individual campfires before the tents were merely smoldering now. But deeper within the encampment, they saw one larger brighter fire, around which dozens of figures sat. The rangers could hear voices ringing in song.

“I know that tune,” Seth whispered to Elam. “What all’s it called?”

This Land is Your Land.”

“I be dog. They’s socialists for sure.”

“Shush.”

They watched at a remove for a time. People came and went. Sparks flew as tree limbs were tossed on the fire. The rangers smelled something sweet roasting. The singers ran through a considerable repertory: Where Have All the Flowers Gone, I Dreamed I Saw Joe Hill, Michael Row the Boat Ashore, Goodnight Irene, Wimoweh.”

Seth studied the gathering through a pair of compact binoculars.

“Hey, quite a number of them is women,” he whispered. “Young’ns at that.”

“Lemme see.” Elam took the optics. “Hmmm. They’re wearing men’s clothes.”

“Want to introduce ourself?”

“What’s our cover?”

“Men of Jesus and like that?” Seth said.

“I dunno,” Elam said. “Night-time and all. That won’t wash. Let’s say coon hunters for start.”

“Copy that. Fall back to Jesus.”

“All right, let’s go.”

They clambered over the stone wall, entered the pasture, and made their way past the tents to the big fire where the strangers were disposed in various postures: sitting, reclining, couples cuddling, some women with women and men with men, several with guitars and one banjo. They had been singing Swing Low Sweet Chariot, swaying in time with music, when the rangers emerged into the orange halo of firelight.

“How you all doin’?” Seth said.

“Evening ladies,” Elam said. “And gents. We was out and about and heard you all.”

The people around the fire greeted them with silence and stared emptily back at them, many with their mouths open, as if amazed or perplexed. Then, a figure on the far side of fire stood up.

“Are you regulators?” the figure asked, rather sternly. Seth and Elam could not tell whether they were being addressed by a man or a woman. The voice was of middling register, and the standing figure, dressed in high boots, trousers, and layers of flannel and expeditionary polartec from the old times, and a wool Sherpa hat with dangling earflap ties, presented an ambiguous picture in the firelight. Then the figure moved sinuously through the throng of seated campers until a handsome, big-boned woman stood before the rangers. She was just under six feet tall, with wisps of sandy-blonde hair curling out of her Sherpa hat, and raptor eyes that suggested steely determination. “This is a no-gun zone,” she said, straight deadpan, her delicate mouth downturned into a self-consciously dramatic frown that worked against her natural appeal.

“We just out for coon,” Seth said, adding, “Ma’am,” and making sure to point the muzzle of his rifle toward the ground.

“Please don’t use the ‘C’ word in our company.

“Huh…?”

“It’s offensive.”

“Uh… coon?”

“That’s right.”

“Oh…it’s the animal, not a person,” Elam tried to explain. “You know, raccoon, ma’am.”

“First of all, we don’t call it that anymore,” she retorted. “Too much room for misunderstanding and offense. To us it is the ring-tailed hand-washer—”

“You kidding, ma’am?” Elam said.

“No, I’m not kidding,” she said. Anyway, we’re vegetarians. We don’t approve of killing animals. And don’t call me ‘ma’am.’ That term is an instrument of systematic patriarchal oppression. It smacks of binary opposition and invites unwanted penetration.”

“Say what?” Seth said.

“That’s our analysis of the associated cultural production,” she continued. “Nobody’s privileged here. Now is there something you wanted — besides the meat of little animals that are just out minding their own business, not bothering you in any way, shape, or form?”

“We just saw your campfire from a ways away,” Elam said. “Thought we’d see who was out and about. So what do you want to be called by if ma’am won’t do?”

“By my name,” she said. “Flame.”

“Pardon, me,” Elam said. “Like that fire there?”

“Yes…?” she said, the interrogatory uptick meant to display her impatience with yokels.

“She do burn bright,” Seth said.

“And hot,” Elam said.

Flame bristled visibly again. “Did I ask what you two wanted? I thought I did.”

“Well, uh, Flame,” Elam said, “it’s part of our duties to keep an eye on things, who’s coming and going in the area and like that.”

“Then you are regulators.”

“Uh, no. More like lookouts?”

“Who for?”

“Our people back in town.”

“You sound like you’re not even from around here,” Flame said.

“Well, we’re not, ma’am—”
“Flame.”

“Darn it you’re hard to get on with.”

“Lookit,” she said. “You barge into our camp with guns—”

“I’m sorry about that,” Elam said. “We don’t mean any harm and we’ll be on our way shortly. To answer your question: we are from down South, mostly Virginia and North Carolina—”

“’Cept for me,” Seth said. “Oklahoma born.”

“And with all the troubles back home, violence and fighting and all, we come north, first to Pennsylvania, which didn’t work out so well cuz of its proximity to Washington DC, and then we lit out again further north to find some security. We are the New Faith Brotherhood Covenant Church of Jesus. There are eighty-two of us in all, counting the young ones. We have settled in Union Grove, some five miles to the west of here, and we are getting on pretty good there, considering these times. Now, who all are you, if I may ask?”

“We’re free citizens of the Berkshire People’s Republic,” she said.

“Berkshire — where’s that at?”

“Those are the mountains of western Massachusetts. Our capital is the town of Great Barrington.”

“You got your own country?” Seth asked.

“Nature hates a vacuum?”

“What’s there to hate about a vacuum?” Seth said. “Anyways, the electric’s out and all.”

“A political vacuum,” Flame said. “What’s wrong with you?”
“Nothin—”

“You never heard the phrase? Nature Hates a vacuum?”

“I guess I have,” Seth said. “Do the federals know you gone and seceded from the USA?”

“They’re irrelevant now.” Flame said. “After Washington was destroyed, we formed our own government. We had to. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts has no presence anymore in the Berkshires either, no resources, no law enforcement, no social services, no outreach, no funding. Of course, you can’t have no government.”

“Why not?

“There would be no justice. Rights would be trampled. Oppression and rape would rule. The poor and disabled would be cut loose to die. Discrimination, economic inequality, unfairness in the workplace, gender coercion, environmental degradation, bad schools, and creeping theocracy would be the order of the day.”

“We got some problems here,” Seth said, “but nothin’ that bad.”

“How do you monitor excessive privilege?”

“Privilege of what?”

“Race, gender, income.”

“I dunno. We have some rich and some poor. Like always, everywhere.”

“Is it right, though?”

“It’s normal, far as I know.”

“Surely you know these aren’t normal times, mister.”

“Even the rich ain’t that rich — not like in the old times,” Seth said. “They don’t have no airplanes and like that. Around here they’s just farmers, mainly.”

“And they employ a lot of people.” Elam said. “There’s work for anybody that wants it.”

“Is your community diverse? Flame asked.

“Well, it takes all kinds,” Elam replied, flustered, as though teacher had singled him out for humiliation.

“You know what I mean.”

“Not really.”

“Then you must be politically unconscious, living in happy anarchy as you do, with no government.”

“We’re not living in anarchy,” Elam said.

“Who monitors diversity?”

“It takes care of itself.”

“What about your homeless?”

“Homes are a dime a dozen around here. The population’s way down. Abandoned properties everywhere you look, and folks just move in where they please. Nobody has to go homeless.”

“It sounds like paradise,” Flame said with a sardonic snort and the others in the big circle around the fire giggled. “Utopia! Satori! Nirvana!”

“We’re looking out for our own affairs well enough, considering,” Elam said. “You still haven’t said what y’all are doing over here in New York state.”

“Every year we go on outreach,” Flame said. “We call it the Spring Fling, but it’s a serious political organizing mission. The People’s Republic wants to invite the neighboring regions into our federation for the greater good. Eventually, perhaps it will become a replacement for the broken United States government, and our poor country will be reborn.”

“Who you got besides yourself so far?” Seth asked.

“The towns of southern Vermont will be coming along, I believe. Brattleboro, Wilmington. We met with the Bennington council the other day.”

“Have you heard of the Foxfire Republic in Tennessee and the New Africa bunch down in Georgia, Alabama and like that?” Elam asked.

“Of course. We’ve seen reports.”

“Are you worried that they coming up to git y’all over in Berkshire?” Seth asked.

“Foxfire is fascist and racist,” Flame said. “We’re not comfortable seeing that in what used to be America. Maybe that’s okay with you.”

“Not really,” Elam said. “We’re live and let live.”

“Except for harmless little animals.”

“Well,” Elam said. “We like a little meat with our vegetables. Anyway, Tennessee is a far piece from here. And it appears the leader of that outfit been assassinated. Mebbe they’ll change their ways now. Like if someone had nipped that Hitler in the bud before he went and started the second World War.”

“They’re still committing atrocities against people of color down south,” Flame said.

“We’ve heard where it’s plenty of wickedness on both sides,” Elam said. “I guess me and my partner’ll shuffle along now.”

“Is he your partner?” Flame said, a smile suddenly lighting her face.

“We hunt and patrol together and like that,” Elam said.

“Oh,” Flame said, affecting to look abashed. “But you’re not…” she made a little twiddling gesture with her index finger. Elam and Seth swapped a glance, both genuinely perplexed.

“We go back to army days,” Seth said. “The Holy Land War.”

“Oh? Did you kill people?” Flame asked.

“Yes, we did,” Elam said. “That’s what you do in war, Ma’am… er, Flame.”

The crowd around the fire groaned and grumbled.

“Have you ever encountered the teachings of Glen Ethan Greengrass?” Flame asked, the tone of her voice rising again.

“Who’s that?”

“The founder of the Berkshire People’s Republic. Our leader and teacher. You two can read, can’t you?”

“Of course we can,” Seth said.

“Someone, give me a green book,” Flame cried over her shoulder. A young man with a sunken chest about twenty stepped up and presented a slender volume with a green cloth cover to Flame’s outstretched hand. “This is our Bible,” she said, handing it, in turn, to Elam. The title on the cover said: Birthing the New Knowledge Economy: Teachers as Midwives for the Skills Agenda of the Future. Elam opened the book and turned to examine its pages in the firelight. He read a paragraph:

“’The path to victory in this great war for the minds of youth demands that we achieve radical inclusion.’” he read. “’It’s not enough to know that we are created equally. We have to act on it every day or surrender to ignorance and failure. In the absence of diversity, stereotype rules. It fills the voids of truth that should be occupied by morality and justice.’ Is the whole book like that?”

“It’s genius,” Flame said. “He’ll be coming soon. Do you understand? Glen Ethan Greengrass is coming to your town!”

“We’re honored, I guess,” Elam said, “Pardon me for asking but does he have Jesus, your Glen Ethan? Does he carry the word of Jesus? Just wondering. You all have that missionary tone.”

“Jesus?” Flame recoiled, almost spitting the name out. “We don’t have any use for Jesus. This is political. We’re not in the twelfth century.”

“Oh. I see,” Seth said. “Jesus ain’t part of the inclusion deal? He’s exclusioned out?”

“Everybody’s free to believe what they like,” she said. “The People’s Republic is a secular enterprise. We don’t persecute anybody based on creed or color.”

“Speaking of color,” Seth said, “I don’t see that your bunch here is anything but white folks.”

“New Africa has had a polarizing effect,” Flame said. “No question about it. Milton Steptoe is a very effective demagogue.”

“He ain’t no demigod,” Seth said. “They say he ran a chain of payday loan shops is all.”

Flame just glared back disdainfully.

Meanwhile, a girl of eight came forward from the dozens huddled around the fire. She carried two sticks with smoldering coals at the end and proffered them to Seth and Elam.

“For you,” she said.

“What all you got there, little Missy?” Elam said.

“Toasted marshmallows,” she said. “Glen Ethan Greengrass said to always be generous of spirit.”

“Is that so,” Seth said. He helped himself to the blackened confection at the end of the stick and made a show of savoring it. Elam took the other one. “Mmmmm,” Seth said. “That’s tasty for sure. It’s been a while since I had one. Is he here amongst you, Mister Greengrass?”

“He’s asleep,” the child said and went back to the others.

“Tell him thanks, when he wakes up,” Seth called after her.

“You all have a nice camp out,” Elam called out to the crowd over Flame’s shoulder. “Don’t forget to bury your fires and your latrines.” Then to Flame, he said, “Maybe I’ll see you again if you come to our town.”

Her mouth clenched and her nostrils flared.

“Maybe you will,” she said.

The rangers turned and walked back out into the moonswept landscape.