Monday, 6 April 2020

Biochar Woks, Cooking, Collapse

I came back to my home city about ten years ago, after having lived for a few years up north in the Yukon. I took a culinary arts course at the college in Whitehorse, and spent some time working in the college's kitchen and at a hotel restaurant in town.

Whitehorse, YT

Strange as it was to move to a remote and isolated city to learn more about the culinary trade, instead of heading to some metropolis with a thriving restaurant scene, I feel it worked out well. No waiting list for the course, and tuition and rent were very reasonable. The hotel I worked in was part of Holland America, a stop on their bus tour line that ran from California to their cruise ships in Alaska. The sheer number of customers passing through the hotel, and the chaos of trying to serve them decent meals was a great chance to put into practice the ideas I'd picked up at school and from reading through cookbooks and culinary magazines.

That was a dark, sleepy winter of working weekends at the hotel, while taking the cooking course during the week and studying in the evenings for the test every Friday. I remember one December morning, working in the college bakery for a few hours, and looking out the window around 10am to see the sun rise over the snowy woods. The short daylight hours of course also meant that that sunset would be around 3pm, before we would get out of class.

A winter morning in Whitehorse, YT
Not too long after the term ended, one day in early spring the tour buses started arriving, along with a few new cooks and servers mostly from Ontario, and all at once we were swamped every dinner service, completely unprepared.

It taught me a lot. After getting spanked every night for a few weeks, I started trying to break down every station I worked on (grill, pasta, entrees) into a functioning system: writing up new prep lists for all the stations on the line with every single ingredient that was required of us. I decided on the minimal set of equipment for my stations to keep them clean, uncluttered & efficient, and a working method for every item, to make sure the dishes were ready to serve and not overcooked when the chef called for that table's food to be plated. I used what I knew of mnemonic systems to create some sort of physical marker for every dish the chef called out. Not all the stations had printed bills to look at, forgotten orders were a constant problem.
Arctic Char

We were required to come up with daily specials on the pasta and entree stations, and I used that opportunity to try out a lot of recipes and ideas. The chef there ordered a lot of fresh herbs & mushrooms, and fish like halibut and arctic char for us to work with. I've noticed in every establishment that I've cooked in, the chance for cooks to constantly create specials and new dishes is what keeps the heart of the kitchen alive, without that it becomes an assembly line with little space for human abilities to take root and grow.

*  *  *  *  *

When I got back to Winnipeg, I struggled to find a kitchen that was like those I worked in up north. I was really disappointed with two of my first positions, working in the Manitoba Legislature and in a college residence dining hall, both of which had great kitchen spaces housed in beautiful, historic stone buildings, but at which the food quality was severely constrained. One of he first kitchens I came across that had a spark of independence and creativity was a restaurant owned by the student union on campus. It was re-opening at the time, after a renovation and expansion of the kitchen, and one of the new pieces of equipment was a commercial wok station, which I'd never worked on before.

The restaurant was managed by a tall, enthusiastic German man, who was passionate about cooking and hospitality and was a delight to work with. He had recruited a traveling German friend of his to help with the relaunch of the campus restaurant. His friend was a chef, also quite tall, with a thick beard, who had extensive cooking experience in Europe. He had spent time in Thailand, learning about their cuisine, and was knowledgeable of wok cooking in general. He had a lot of intense interests, from running marathons to working as a boat builder, so I picked his brain as often as I could, on culinary matters and many other things, he spent an inordinate amount of time volunteering his time in the restaurant.

*  *  *  *  *

At that point, a few years after the financial crisis of 2008, I'd already steeped my brain in thoughts of peak oil and economic collapse for some time. I was actually surprised to have made it back to my home city at all before things all fell apart, as I imagined they might.

I had tried to think of ways that a culinary education might be to use in a collapse scenario: maybe I could study how many calories are needed for hard working people, and how these needs could be met with locally available foods? Maybe cooked en masse, in some sort of energy-efficient way? My ideas of what industrial collapse would look like were very rudimentary. I envisioned something like a quick-onset, severe economic depression, where communities would have to scrape together their resources in some sort of communal response to hard times. (Since then, the model of a long, slow decline, punctuated by periodic crises, seems like a better model for understanding recent decades.)

Wheat, meat, cabbage & ale
One thought I had: as cooks we tended to focus on the culinary styles of warmer regions, places like, say, Italy or Thailand, with ingredients like olives, lemons, coconut milk, tamarind, etc. Maybe, where I lived, in the prairies, we might be better to model our culinary styles on regions with a climate more similar to ours, based maybe with a lot of fermented cabbage and root vegetables and cereal grains?

I bought a few books on German food traditions. I asked that chef if maybe Germany might be a comparable climate to match the conditions in Manitoba, and he laughed and said Siberia was a far better match. (Alright, Russian cuisine it is.)

* * * * *
To get a handle on wok technique and to get some ideas for wok specials, I got a copy of Grace Young's excellent The Breath of a Wok. 

Young grew up in San Fransisco, her parents had recently emigrated from Hong Kong. She relates the deep impression left on her from her father's respect and enthusiasm for the Cantonese style stir-fry dishes. The book records her research into the history of woks and Chinese cooking, how they are made and how they are used, in Hong Kong and throughout China.

The title phrase, the breath of the wok, is a translation of the Cantonese phrase wok hay, which is used to describe a well-cooked wok dish: the elusive combination of the high-heat searing and the touch of smokiness this imparts, the fresh vegetables and meats, cut to the right size and added to the mix at the right time to give them just the right texture. The dish has to be served promptly, before the ephemeral wok hay begins to dissipate.

Young explains that hay is the Cantonese pronunciation of the character that is pronounced chi or qi in Mandarin, more well known to westerners, meaning both "breath" and "spirit", connoting the subtle energy that animates us. It's interesting that most ancient languages had a word that linked breathing to the idea of an subtle life energy: prana in Sanskrit, pneuma in Greek, ruach in Hebrew, spiritus in Latin. Chinese culture has long incorporated this concept of qi into daily life, with movement arts like qigong, with how one builds and arranges their living space, in how food is prepared. Young relates how her family would discuss the wok hay of a dish while eating out in San Francisco restaurants for special occasions.
The deep, curved shape of a wok pan makes it versatile, ideal not only for tossing foods together, but combining many of the virtues of frying pans, skillets and deeper flat-bottomed pots. Along with stir-frying, they can be used for "pan-frying, deep frying, poaching, braising, boiling," and, when you add stacking bamboo baskets, they can be used for steaming and smoking. "It was staggering to realize that nearly the entire repertoire of Chinese cuisine can be cooked in a wok."

I'm reminded of how professional cooks in the west have traditionally employed an array of knives, from chef's knifes of several sizes, to a boning knife, a paring knife, a slicer, among others, while Chinese chefs (from what I've read) have tended to use a single cleaver for all their knife work. I like working with a full knife roll, but from an ecotechnic standpoint, I appreciate the economy with which the wok and the cleaver can accomplish so many varied cooking tasks.

What first struck my collapse-addled brain though was Young's descriptions of the pai dai dong, the Hong Kong version of open air food stalls, which were common when she'd visited the country as a child, but were disappearing when she returned as an adult to research her book.

The cooks could have such simple set ups: a folding table and some chairs, a heat source, a few ingredients, and they were open for business. It struck me then that, in some form of social collapse, something like this could be a way to make some daily cash. I've read a little about the collapse of the Soviet Union, and that book mentioned elderly women selling various foodstuffs in the street. The cash was only so important, it's value was tenuous in a collapse, but it was an impromptu way of distributing food and maintaining social relations in a struggling urban centre.

In a dai pai dong the food didn't have to be all that complicated. Young mentions that one of her favorite stalls was a chestnut hawker's, who cooked chestnuts in a wok filled with hot sand mixed with a little sugar. Each stall offered different types of dishes, all manner of stir-fries, noodles, pancakes, tamales, omelettes, fritters, and soups.

Young writes, in the early aught's, that food service regulations were making most dai pai dong illegal, though in some areas they would still "appear and disappear depending on the watchfulness of the local officials... these nightly street gatherings have an energy and a warmth made all the more attractive to me because of their chimera-like quality, appearing and disappearing right before my eyes."

The food market vendors weren't the only facet of traditional wok culture that was fading away. Young says that one used to be able to hear from the streets the hammering of carbon steel discs from small artisan shops who produced woks locally, before fire and noise regulations closed most of these shops down. Production had moved to factories in mainland China, where labour costs were lower. And the wok repairmen, who used to make house calls to patch damaged woks, had likewise been put out of work: "No one repairs a wok when a new one is so cheap."

When she left Hong Kong to tour through some rural areas of China, Young found more of the traditional wok culture she was looking to document. A village she toured had a large, communal wok stove, in the old manor house of the landlord who was overthrown during the Cultural Revolution. It had two giant woks, about 42" in diameter and 15" deep at the centre, set into round masonry ovens. Too big for one person to lift alone, on the day Young visited, women from the village were boiling soybeans in the large woks to make tofu. They also use them for fermenting sweet potatoes or rice to make wine. Her guide mentions that large woks like these can be used to feed animals, or to heat water for washing clothes or bathing.

From "The Breath of a Wok"

The other stove that interested me was the traditional hearth stove at the home of the rice farmer who guided young around these areas of rural China, a type that had been used for many centuries, since the Han dynasty. Made of brick, about 2.5 feet high, with a stoke hole at the base of a fire chamber, dry rice stalks could be fed in at different rates, as the cooking process demanded different levels of heat. It's efficient use of fuel had been "dictated by centuries of shortages and need... the entire workplace is a marvel of efficiency."

It the colder regions of northern China, it seems that woks tended to be set into masonry ovens, and used more for long-cooking braises and stews than the quick intense stir-fries popular in the south.

Apparently in the north there is not a colloquial phrase equivalent to the Cantonese wok hey. It's another interesting example of how food traditions rise out of local traditions: in the heat of Hong Kong, a quick, intense stir-fry, using a minimal amount of fuel is optimal, while in the north, where a fire in a masonry hearth stove keeps a home heated, it makes sense to use that steady heat supply to simmer meats and vegetables. In tropical climates, foods can spoil quickly, so cooking smaller batches from fresh ingredients often makes sense. In colder regions, where nature supplies unlimited cold air for much of the year, the remainders of a stew can be cooled and saved for tomorrow's meal.

Cen Lian Gen, The Breath of a Wok
When Young traveled to Shanghai, she came across the traditional wok craftspeople she had hoped to find, two brothers running a small shop that their father had founded seventy years earlier. They took a minimum of five hours to hand-hammer carbon-steel into what they call "fire iron woks." Young notes that it was hard, deafening work in a fairly rudimentary shop, but that their pans "are beautiful, with rich, dull, pebbled finishes and exquisite crafting. They are nothing like I have ever seen before."

The demand for handmade woks had been decreasing over time, especially as western foods and modern cookware became more popular in China. The shop, operated by the brothers Cen Lian Gen and Cen Rong Gen, still had steady business with Shanghai's top restaurants, who appreciated the strength and durability of the individually made woks. After Young's book was released, Williams-Sonoma began to sell their woks in the U.S.

The shop closed in 2016, as the neighborhood was slated for demolition, making way for new construction. When asked if he worried about the future of his craft, Cen Lian Gen replied that "people are too busy and they have less time to cook. But I don't worry about the fate of the wok. A good restaurant will always use a traditional carbon-steel fire-iron wok."

Two of Grace Young's woks, 16 yrs. old and brand new

*  *  *  *  *

From "The Breath of a Wok"
One image from Young's book stuck in my mind, a photo of a wok sitting on a pail of charcoal, cooking what looked like a simple mix of cabbage and bell peppers.

I think when a person first starts taking seriously ideas of social and economic collapse, part of the process is imagining what you might do if things fell apart really quickly. Some people hold to these rapid collapse scenarios, others modify their vision to encompass a drawn-out, protracted decline, and still others, after a few years of preoccupation, tire of the subject and move on.

One of my earlier fast collapse imaginations was sparked by this picture of cooking over bucket of coals: I envisioned attaching a small trailer to the industrial-grade bicycle I'd bought from Worksman Cycles, USA, and riding it through the quiet morning streets, to pick up some fresh vegetables and meats to add to the cooking gear I would be hauling to set-up on some busy street corner. I suppose I'd have had to pick up charcoal from somewhere occasionally, I guess from some small scale charcoal maker, traditionally called a 'collier'. Charcoal-makers would heat pieces of wood in a low-oxygen setting, driving off volatile substances to leave behind the chunks of black carbon that people could ignite again in their stoves, to cook over the even, fairly smokeless heat.

How I imagined there would be daily farmer's markets and enough street traffic of workers passing by to be customers, I'm not sure: one's brain only has so much computing power to envision how a quick collapse scenario would affect an entire society. The idea of a charcoal street wok was just one among several others. I pictured using wet stones to sharpen knives, scissors and other larger blades, and getting a grain mill so that I could store grains and bake whole wheat bread.

Biochar made from sawdust pellets
Time passed, and no total materialized. Eventually I transitioned out of working as a cook and got into plumbing. An interest in climate change, however, returned my thoughts to charcoal, as I read about the subject of biochar. In a nutshell, biochar is made by heating organic materials, such as tree branches or corn stalks, in a set up that greatly limits the amount of oxygen that reaches the materials as they bake.

This leaves behind char that is largely carbon, in a form that won't break down and return the atmosphere for hundreds to thousands of years. It can be mixed into compost and returned to the soil, or mixed into materials like mortar or plaster and sequestered into the built environment. This allows the next generation of trees and plants to draw down more carbon from the atmosphere over the following season.

I tinkered with some small biochar retorts, using paint cans and coffee carafes, to get a feel for how biochar was made while I read about the subject. Looking at videos about the common larger kiln design, made from 55-gallon barrels that small scale farmers tended to use to produce biochar for their themselves, they almost always commented that ideally they'd like make use of the heat produced when making the biochar, for something like cooking.

Clay Biochar Model Kiln
The only examples I'd seen attempting this this were some pictures of clay biochar cook stoves being made in Africa, and I couldn't find any instructions for these. I tried to design my own clay version in a pottery class I was taking, with ring pan fitting around the chimney. It didn't work that well, the heat rose too quickly through the chimney.

I still had in mind that idea of a wok set over a barrel of burning charcoal. I thought that a wok burner that used the heat from the process of making biochar would be interesting. Instead of wasting the heat used to make charcoal, and then using the charcoal to cook food, emitting carbon dioxide in the process, this cook stove would use the heat from the char making process. The char would then be used to sequester the carbon, adding it into compost and then back into the soil, hopefully improving soil fertility in the process. Every time you cooked on it you'd engage in a cycle of drawing down carbon from the atmosphere.

Stacking up the component pieces
I found some 15 gallon drums that seemed about the right size to have a wok sit above them at about torso-height, and the project came together fairly easily from there. (I'll include some pictures showing how it was assembled as a post-script to this.)

Basically, there's an outer drum with holes drilled around the base, and then a smaller metal container inside to hold the dry organic feedstock and keep it mostly out of the air-stream in the drum. Into the lid of the drums I inserted regular galvanized steel ductwork fittings to serve as the chimney, increasing the diameter size from 6" to 8" at the top, for the wok pan to sit inside.

These stoves work on a basic TLUD design (Top Lit Up Draft): the flames are at the top of the container, and hot, narrow chimney creates a natural upwards draft that keeps the airflow rising around edges of the inner chamber of the feedstock. This keeps oxygen from readily combining with the carbon in the organic materials. The nice thing about TLUDs is that you don't need a separate fire to pyrolize the dried materials: the flames in these sit just above the feedstock, and radiate heat downwards into the materials to keep the volatile gases coming. The rising current of air from the holes at the base ignites with the volatile gases, and whisks the exhaust up and out the chimney.

I used a Y-fitting on chimney of the first stove I made, as I thought I might need to maintain the upwards draft, I thought perhaps the wok pan would prevent proper air flow. I found this lost too much heat out the Y, it didn't produce the blistering fire needed for proper wok cooking. Grace Young explains:
When a wok is not scorching hot, food cannot be seared and a stir-fry becomes watery... with good wok hay, vegetables have a crisp texture the Cantonese call song, highly valued in Chinese cooking... (p. 63)
On the next stove I made, I omitted the Y-fitting and drilled holes in the 8" fitting that the wok sits in, and this worked wonderfully, the wok fire was extremely hot and close to the base of the pan. The two stoves work well as a team though: the hotter red one is great for a proper stir fry, and the cooler black one is a good temperature for cooking a wok-full of rice, slowly braising meat or simmering a thai coconut curry sauce. It's about as easy to light and tend to two stoves as it is one, and you've sequestered double the carbon by the end of the session.

The easiest fuel source for me has been sawdust pellets, a waste product of lumber production. Being just compressed sawdust, there are no adhesives or chemical binders to worry about ending up in garden soil. I've used 2x4 cut-offs and even added in pistachio shells, to see how they would char. I would like to start collecting up twigs and branches to make into biochar. My idea is to dry batches of them in the solar dehydrator I made last summer, removing these screened trays and just stacking them inside to dry in the current of warm air.

These stoves are, to some extent, a novelty. I am not positing them as any sort of solution for climate change, of course. I made them to get a better feel for the process of pyrolysis and to help promote the idea of biochar, though kilns of these size could easily produce enough char for a backyard garden, if it turns out that mixing biochar into compost is a worthwhile soil amendment.
Biochar can be made at different scales however: I envision it being produced in suburban backyards, on small-scale market farms, on municipal lots near the where cities compost the branches and trees they cut down, and then again in large industrial plants on a regional level. I think of biochar as being a subset of "carbon farming", one of the various ways we can increase the amount of carbon that is stored in the earth, to accompany other practices like reforestation and afforestation. Project Drawdown lists biochar as #72 in their list of the top one hundred methods of reducing the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Albert Bates and Kathy Draper have recently released a fascinating book that details the wide range of projects people are innovating to make and use biochar, that I'm looking to review in an upcoming post.

*  *  *  *  *

I wrote most of this essay before the coronavirus outbreak had become a pandemic. It's surprising how much the current context alters how I'm reading the pieces I was working on even a few months ago. On social media and in podcasts, I'm hearing discussions of decline and collapse from people who I wouldn't have expected to consider the idea. I don't think anyone really knows how all this is all going to play out, but the speculations run from moderate to quite dire.
I'm not a "prepper" at all, at least not by any normal understanding of the word. Despite all the reading and ruminations that have occupied me on these topics, I haven't managed to position myself for periods of crisis much better than the average city dweller: I've got no homestead, no garden, no substantial pantry. However, in reading about topics related to sustainability and resilience, I'm trying to build up skills that might possibly be put into use at some point down the line. Working on small projects like the biochar woks keeps me engaged in these issues. I think it is a way to process information and emotions about the predicaments that face us, and better imagine how we might adapt and respond.

I've noticed my own imaginings of the future becoming less dire over the years though. I'm still expecting to see industrial decline, various resource shortages, increasing climate disruptions, but I'm picturing it as a long process that we will ultimately adapt to, and hopefully mitigate, if we are wise. My focus is on learning about helpful skills and practices, and working to bring them forward into the future.

For these wok stoves, I've imagined setting them up at a local farmer's market and cooking stir-fries, beside a booth with information on biochar and appropriate technology. Maybe we could use some fresh vegetables and meats from the market, and farmers could take the biochar with them at the end of the day, and we could raise some money for a local group working to help the community through all of this.

*  *  *  *  *

Construction Steps

I had in mind a general design like this, and then started modifying the parts so that they'd work as a wok burner.

I found some metal drums that seemed abut the right height, about 30" tall.

The first step was to drill some holes all around the base of the drum. These allow air into outer chamber of the retort, to rise up and combust in the flammable gases above the organic materials, and then drawn up and out of the hot chimney.

Next, I added some three long bolts facing into the centre of the barrel, which would serve as an inner shelf for the container of woody feedstock to rest on.

To hold the feedstock for the biochar, I found these containers in a local garden centre. I drilled a bunch of small holes, evenly spaced, through the bottom of the pail.

These allow a small amount of "process air" to enter the inner chamber, while the majority of the air in the drum rises along the outside of this pail, warming before it ignites above the feedstock.

The small flow of process air allows the natural upward draft to quickly draw up the flammable volatile gases from the woody materials as they heat.

I took another one of these containers, turned drilled holes around it's base, and used tin snips to cut a round hole in the bottom of the container, for the chimney to fit into. This second container gets flipped over and used as a lid for the inner chamber, filled with biochar feedstock.

This one is filled with sawdust pellets, though I have used lumber cut-offs and even pistachio shells since then.

Next, I drilled a circle of holes in the drum lid for the chimney to fit into.

I cut through these holes with reciprocating saw, and bent down the metal. This actually worked well to hold the chimney in place.

The 6" ductwork coupling fits inside the hole in the lid, and then the 6"x8" reducing coupling was fit over that.

Holes are drilled around the top to let the exhaust out and maintain the natural draft once the wok is placed on top.

I added six eye bolts and some thin aircraft cable in a tripod arrangement to give the wok more stability during use.

Unnecessary step: filling the gap between the chimney and lid.

I first tried some high heat gasket maker - which caught on fire once the kiln reached full temps!

Next tried "waterglass," which you can make by heating a solution of lye and silica in water. That creates a clear, sticky adhesive, which I mixed with masonry sand and molded around the base of the chimney.

The high heat set the waterglass and sand and sealed up the gap.

Last I sprayed the lids and chimneys with Tremclad High Heat Enamel paint to prevent them from rusting.

I found this 14" Lodge Cast Iron Wok on clearance when Hudson's Bay Home was clearing out it's inventory. Not necessary at all, but it's sturdy and does a good job at diffusing the heat.

Grace Young notes that in China, besides the carbon steel woks shown in the photos above, cast iron woks are also traditional, but they are not like Western cast iron pans. They are thin, and smooth, apparently you can shatter them if you were to smash them against a hard surface.

Besides sawdust pellets, which pyrolise nicely and evenly, I've tried making biochar from 2x4 cut-offs, which also worked well, but was a little more difficult to get started.

As an experiment, I tried charring pistachio shells, just because they were already dried and easy to collect up.

I kept the in a separate can for the trial just have a sample of charred shells separate from the wood, but normally I'd just mix them in with the the sawdust pellets.

They wouldn't support the initial combustion to get the pyrolysis process going, but mixed among other combustibles, you can collect up the carbon in all sorts of dried organic materials.

Sunday, 2 February 2020

A Package

(My submission for the latest de-industrial short fiction contest hosted on

A Package

Early in the morning, a small, round, bald man, his heavy face freshly shaven, was making his way towards the southern edge of the city, along a path near the river. He wore an army-green cotton shirt, with a collar and a buttoned-front. His pack contained a number of pouches of dried herbs, envelopes of seeds, several notebooks and letters, as well as some food and a few personal items. A canvas tent, a blanket and a thin mattress were rolled up at the top of his bag. Walking along this path, he could always keep an eye on the highway off in the distance. There hadn't been much traffic. The little there was opposed his direction, vehicles heading out of the city into the countryside, by motor or drawn-cart.

It seemed like a storm was coming, the air felt thick and humid along the banks of the muddy river. It looked like there were purple and green tones to the morning light. Walk as far as I can before the clouds gather, he thought. Be ready to get a camp set up quickly, I can't afford to get drenched.

On this morning, late in the summer, Kiera Robinson, the director of the Fine Arts program at the University of Manitoba, got up from her seat at a table off to the side of a cafeteria, having eaten almost nothing. She left the students to finish breakfast while she took some moments alone to collect her thoughts about the work she wanted accomplished that day. The hallways were empty as she walked over to a small studio on the campus, and unlatched a ring of keys hanging on belt loop of her dark jeans, to open the deadbolt on the door. Her grey cat darted around her legs to enter the room before her as she pulled the door open and held it with her shoulder, maneuvering a crate of supplies that she held under-arm.

It was a Saturday. They had fallen into an irregular pattern of work and study, being mostly isolated in their building on the silent campus over the last few months. Any pretense of following academic terms had long fallen away, they worked pretty much year round now, with leaves of absence being granted often, as circumstances required. Kiera was planning to continue working on a painting in the space she'd set up for herself on a mezzanine platform beneath some large windows, where the light was good and she could keep an eye on the rest of the studio. Her first level students had been working with her in this studio, two of them carving woodcut images, the other two throwing clay pieces on pottery wheels. She pulled out some rough sketches that were tucked into a large book in her crate, and clipped them to a string running above the two angled bench-tops, some scattered chisels and a stack of cherry wood planks.

On the other side of the studio were shelves of covered clay pieces waiting to be fired: dishes, bowls and mugs, decorative vases and vessels for storing things like wine and oil, and some neti pots, which had sold well at market booths in the last few years. For her novice students, along with exercises to improve their drawing and drafting skills, Kiera liked getting their hands working with a wide range of materials, things like clay, cloth, and wood to begin with, experimenting with colours, textures, pigments and glazes. They progressed to sculpting in stone and casting metals. Most of them painted through the entire course. From the start, she had them producing simpler items that could be sold easily and cheaply, things like utilitarian items, jewelry, and small figures, while she and the more senior students worked on the larger, complicated, expensive commissions.

The cat, Pangur, hopped up onto one side of the firebrick kiln, while Kiera loaded hardwood charcoal onto the fine mesh grate at its base. The sleeves of her usual plaid flannel shirt were rolled up past her elbows, thick veins ran along her forearms and the backs of her hands. The decades of work, the hammering and chiseling, on top of many other chores like gardening and washing, had given her thick hands and fingers for a woman with a small, wiry frame. She pulled opened the heavy steel door on the chamber below the charcoal, a compartment with just a few exhaust holes drilled along the top. She filled it with dried wood and branches, as well a some dehydrated soup bones. Her red hair, flecked with grey, was tied in a messy top-knot. Her worn flannel shirt was open at the neck, showing sun-weathered skin around her collar-bones. Faded dark jeans made up the rest her daily attire, along with her ankle-high leather boots with thin, pliable soles. (She had designed the boot herself years ago, and had had them repaired or remade ever since.) Her eyes were intense. Her face had become a little thin lately. It had not been an easy summer.

When she got back to the cafeteria, the students were in the kitchen cleaning and washing dishes. The cook was chopping onions and carrots for a chicken soup he was starting for later in the day, to which he could add the leftover rough-cut oats from breakfast. One of Kiera's common refrains was “everybody works, everybody learns.” She made note of the steam rising from the wash-water in the stainless steel sinks, and walked over to submerse her hand and feel the temperature. She glanced at the dishes lined up to dry in the wire rack.

“Ok, when you all are finished” Kiera said, gesturing to the six younger students, “head over to the clay studio. I clipped up some rough ideas for the woodcuts, start working those onto your designs, I'm thinking three variations from both of you before we start carving. You two – start with loading the pots into the kiln, then we can start throwing some new pieces. It looks like it's going to be some rain today, if we have the windows open, I think the heat should be alright. And I'll have you both keep working through the drawing exercises or the math exercises, whichever you'd prefer. Thomas and Rachael, grab some tea, let's sit down together before you head upstairs to work.”

In the strange morning light, a sailboat slowly approached the quiet docks at the intersection of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers, with only the campus shipwright and the University President aboard. The President, Edward Rait, was a mathematics professor who had served as administrator for two years now, had felt uneasy thinking about this trip all week. It never sat well with him to delegate dangerous tasks though, which he could accomplish himself. Aside from that, he wanted to see the conditions in the quarters around the docks and rail yards with his own eyes, and get a sense of how the city was fairing as the summer died down.

As the shipwright chained the boat to the pier, the professor took up his duffel bag and a light jacket, as it seemed like it might rain, and stepped over onto the dock. The boat yards were normally busy this time of year, but there wasn't much going on today, just one ship being loaded with cargo, at a distance. He knelt down and leaned back into the boat to grab the handle of an old warehouse cart, with thick wooden deck, that the burly shipwright was hoisting out of the boat.

The infection had probably emerged from somewhere in the quarters around the docks and the rail yards, though there weren't competent officials working to discover where the contagion had originated, or what it was exactly. It seemed to most that it emerged from the districts of crowded homes of the city's laborers and the various indigent people among them, crowded around scarce masonry heaters in the late winter, and from there the sickness spread. These areas were also blamed for the last bout of this infection (or some precursor variant to what they were experiencing now,) in the year before last.

The location of the city had seemed once like a minor blessing through decades of recurrent depressions. As river transport revived, and northern markets for trade expanded, being situated around the confluence of the Assiniboine and the Red River of the North had primed the city to resume some of its traditional economic activities: several factories were built, warehouses were restored, local merchant and investment firms developed to spur and coordinate the activity. The north-south axis of the Red River complemented the east-west orientation of the Canadian Pacific Railway, and allowed the city to position itself as an economic hub for the wider region.

As they walked through the quiet streets of the Exchange District. Edmond peered up at the windows of the apartments on the second and third storeys of the stone and brick buildings, above the street level businesses. It was common for people to be abandoned in their bedrooms as their illnesses progressed. He had heard crying from below on the streets before.

After the last round of the infection, he had taken up some reading about epidemics in university's library. There wasn't much on the subject from any recent years, what little remained in the stacks on the subject were from the early decades of the century. He had imagined there could be some cadre of doctors and medical researchers, in some city like Chicago or Detroit, working long hours now to collate all the reports of all the various outbreaks, to make sense of the situation. Maybe they could publish something, he hoped. The constant traffic of ships and trains and migrants looking for work was an obvious factor, not to mention the livestock yards that had moved closer to the city centre, and also the makeshift set-ups people used to keep animals throughout the city, and some of the meat-cutters' shops.

There were theories about the prevalence of outbreaks that he'd gathered from the brittle, yellowed pages of those old paperbacks, their spines disintegrated, now just packets of weak paper held together by twine. Bacteria mutating beyond the range of the antibiotic medicines they once had, new viruses emerging from the thawing of the north, possibly biological agents created in laboratories and released by governments as acts of warfare. He kept a notebook of his readings (despite not understanding much of the biology involved) but there wasn't a lot that could be concluded from these old warnings. At best he got a sense of how they once dealt with epidemic disease before their systems fell apart. Far more useful were the old nursing textbooks he found, with lists of protocol for dealing with infectious patients.

The street traffic remained sparse as they approached the four storey red-brick Customs Warehouse. The shipwright pulled the cart towards the ramp by the loading docks at the side of the building, and Edmond went in the front doors to speak with a clerk. The front office had some benches, and boards for government notices, and a thick oak counter separating the public area from that of the staff. One clerk at the far side of the room was sorting notices into a filing cabinet. The other was seated behind the counter, looking towards the professor without much expression on his face. Balding, with a neat beard, a thin white shirt buttoned to the top.

“Morning sir, I'm expecting some packages for University.” His glanced around the room and briefly at the two men, mainly trying to get a quick read on their states of health.

“Of Winnipeg or Manitoba?”

“Oh yes. Of Manitoba.”

“Yeah. Think it's been quite a while since we've seen anyone from out there, no?” he said as he got up and moved toward the card cabinet.

“Most likely, we haven't had a lot of people on campus at all for while. We've been trying to keep to ourselves. Its been working for the most part. Less cases than last time.”

The clerk pulled some cards from the narrow drawer. “Care of Edmond Rait... yes, shipments for a few departments here. Six crates and a package of letters. Also, if you don't mind, there's a form here that City Hall has wants us distributing for the larger institutions” he said, placing the long form on a clipboard and a pen onto the counter.

Edmond pulled the sheet towards himself and took out a pen from his shirt pocket. Questions about how many had fallen ill, how many dead, common symptoms, approximate time frames. He wasn't sure what good this information would do them, but the details were all the top of mind for him anyways, he could fill it out quickly.

The clerk placed the cards in a tray, on a counter in the half-wall between the office and the warehouse, and rang the bell beside it. “Certainly hasn't been quiet for the University of Winnipeg, they've been in for a number of shipments, just recently.”

Edmond looked up from the form. “I imagine, with the teaching hospital and the medical school, the nursing school, it must be chaos. Have you two been at work all summer?” The second clerk looked over at him, but remained silent.

The bearded clerk paused a moment. “I didn't have a lot of choice, I want to keep the position.” He sat back down on his tall stool. “I made it through the other year without getting sick too. This one does seem a little worse though. If things are going to keep running, some of us have to keep showing up. The way I look at it anyways.”

“Well, I can appreciate that.”

“I sure don't spend much time in the district though,” he continued, gesturing generally in the direction of the taverns and theatres near the docks. The first time a slight smile came to his face in this encounter. Maybe he recalled some wild night, before all this, Edmond intuited. “I got an apartment downtown, it's pretty quiet. A lot of vacancies. I hole up most times I'm not here, take some walks when it's quiet. Try to stay sane.”

“Probably the best course” Edmond replied, working to the end of the form. “You can't avoid people entirely, most of us anyways. Someone has to keep things running. We can't let things fall apart every time an illness runs through. I take just limiting my interactions with, you know, outsiders or the public to be good enough, to keep my odds of contracting the illness to be at least decent. I don't try to look for guarantees.”

“Yes, same here, exactly. So, are you guys opening for a fall term?”

“You know, I'm not sure we even work like that anymore,” Edmond replied, inwardly amused at how ad hoc the operations of the various departments had become. “The subjects we teach aren't so urgent as those at the Winnipeg colleges. I suppose we can manage a break.”

In the later part of the morning, Kiera set aside her brush and tray of paints and stepped back from the easel, taking a break, feeling a little drained by the light trance she'd been working in. The dim light from the tall windows wasn't ideal, but the colours had been mixed yesterday, and the mood of the building storm outside seemed to mesh with her conception of the piece.

The students were only lightly engaged with their tasks, working intermittently between quietly talking and getting up to wander to room and the halls. Kiera didn't mind some slow, off-focus days like this, just so long as materials weren't being wasted. They were passing the time, and in a decent mood, and were quiet enough to let her work, though still breaking the silence and providing some company and activity.

For so long as this outbreak lasted, and the few groups who remained on campus had largely sequestered themselves (the protocol decided on during the last wave of this illness), Kiera's basic plan was to keep her program functioning at some level, and keep those students who had chosen to remain in good spirits, so far as it was possible. She had positioned them decently to weather the downtime: the pantry and the cellar were well-stocked, and she had built up their stores of basic materials; clay, woodblocks, canvases, paints. It was a matter of maintaining the student's training, and transforming these materials into a store of pieces that they could sell once the outbreak subsided and the markets opened again. She conceived of it as a period of incubation, a process of development, under the stress of confinement.

The key was to have their studio produce the right mix of pieces to sell through the various channels open to her. Pottery, simple jewelry, figurines for the market, items that could be given as gifts. She'd had students come up with decks of painted cards, board-games, illuminated pages of poetry or passages of scriptures. The also did commercial work, signage for various businesses and firms, painted or carved wood, to hang on street fronts or indoor plaques, though she refused advertising work. Larger commissions tended to come, as always, from a network of wealthier patrons, with which Kiera was adept at maintaining connections. She was a frequent guest at dinner parties and salons, invited for her sharp and playful personality and her knowledge of culture. She made it easy for philanthropists interested in supporting the work of the university to find ways to employ the talents of the students. Churches were the source of most other large commissions, often difficult to arrange and to design, due to the fractious array of religious communities in the region, and among the backgrounds and beliefs of her students.

Kiera left the junior students to bring what they were working on to a point where they could leave it, they'd soon break for a meal and spend a few hours in the afternoon working, mostly cleaning today as the rain prohibited work in the gardens. She went upstairs to check with her two senior apprentices, who had set up work spaces alongside the tall windows of an old office space. Dividers were arranged to separate their areas. They didn't always get along well.

Rachael was working on a large canvas that she had propped up about a foot off the ground on some cinder blocks against a brick wall. There was no chair nearby. She moved around a lot when she worked, crouching, pacing, gesturing to process her thinking and feeling as she progressed in the work. She was a small, thin young woman, with dirty blond hair she tied up while she worked. She was one of the messier students, there were paint marks all over the floor and on the baggy overalls she wore over a thin white cotton collared shirt. The room felt cool when Kiera entered, in contrast with the heat radiating from the kiln in the studio downstairs. Rachael didn't seem to notice, moving in and out from the canvas like a hummingbird.

“Hey Kiera,” Rachael said, keeping her eyes on the painting as she stepped back from it, briefly viewing the work she'd done this morning as how she imagined it would look from her instructor's perspective.

“Ah, you got a lot done today,” Kiera said as she approached the painting and taking in the details of the leaves and flowers that Rachael had been working on.

“Yeah, I like how it's coming together.”

“Where's Thomas?” Kiera asked, noticing the silence on the far side of the dividers.

Rachael shook her head. “He never came up.”

“Hmm. He said he was going to work on the piece for the militia captain.”

“Well, I don't know. You know he does what he wants.” Rachael moved over to a counter by a basin to start washing her brushes, while Kiera went over to scan Thomas' area for any signs of activity. “The campus being so quiet doesn't suit him, he's off his rhythm. Just moody and brooding all the time now, it's tense to work around him. He's turning into a lunatic.”

“I'm aware,” Kiera said as she took a seat on stool beside where Rachael was cleaning up and tightening the lids on her jars of paint. “I'm just hoping he can hold it together for awhile longer. I don't like him wandering around campus, but I guess it's better than him slipping away from campus, like Petra was.”

Kiera looked back to Rachael's painting. There was a contrast between the delicate, intricate, whimsical manner of how she painted with how she normally behaved. It seemed to Kiera that, if Rachael wasn't being skeptical or sarcastic, she was mostly plain spoken, unaffected and unsentimental. It always interesting, in watching her students develop, how some tended to express things that were scarce or absent in their own demeanor, while there were others whose work and persona seemed entirely of a piece. Thomas was definitely the latter, a dramatic personality, who thrived more with some opposition and competition (with which Kiera was glad to supply with challenges and debate) and his better work was usually dark and dramatic, focused on people, and themes of conflict. He was talented at portraits.

The shipwright was tying a tarp over the crates as Edmond joined him on the dock, in anticipation of rain. This wasn't the best day to come into town, Edmond thought, but they'd planned for today and the winds were right. Once the September rains got started there often weren't many clear days before winter, and it was hard to tell when they would come.

The Exchange District began to show some signs of life as they made more stops on their way back to the docks. For the most part it was the wealthy who'd sequestered themselves in their houses, or departed the city entirely to wait out the contagion, in second homes on farmland out in the country. Some determined professionals remained, to work with the sick, to administer charities, or just to ensure that the city kept running with a semblance of order. The workers and the poor tended to carry on as usual, but took different attitudes toward the outbreak. Some took refuge in maintaining vigilance and hygiene, and a good portion of those clung to religion as well. Others seemed to take no precautions at all.

Edmond wondered about this: was it a total lack of discipline, people just unable to curtail their habits, no matter what others they saw dying around them? Or was it people who had mostly given up on life anyways, the greater chance of sudden painful death couldn't impress on them enough to change their daily habits? There was something else as well, though. A strange air of freedom developed in the city during both waves of this infection. So many people had absented themselves from the city's core, the people with some money and standing, the streets felt somewhat vacant and the normal order of things suspended. There was work to be had in dealing with the fallout of this crisis, nursing the sick, helping with all the problems and open positions they left behind. Transporting and burying the dead. There was a definite need for people willing to risk daily the chance of being infected. Porters and cemetery workers, who populated the rooming houses of the Exchange, and ate and drank in the taverns of that district, were notorious for being the most raucous and wild.

The professor and the shipwright were wheeling their cart over the rough pavement of a street not far from the yard of an inn's tavern. A group of rough characters were drinking and smoking around some picnic tables that were arranged around a service window into the tavern's kitchen. As soon as they'd come into Edmond's view, as he passed around a building, he wished he taken a different way as soon as he'd heard the noise of their conversations. It might've been awkward to suggest that to the shipwright, who didn't seem to take notice of them at all.
“Hey! Hey! What goods do you two have there? Gentle-men! Wheel it over here, you could make some sales!” yelled one member of the group, sitting with his legs spread wide off the edge of the bench closest to the street.

The cart was making slow progress down the rutted, patchy pavement. Edmond was pulling on a tow-rope tied to the front of the cart to help the wheels out of various depressions while Karl pushed from behind on the steel handle.

“We're just passing by, it's just supplies, we're not looking to sell anything,” Edmond shouted in reply, lifting a hand up to greet them, and maybe also to signal them to stay away. He took his duffle bag from the front of the cart and lifted the strap over his head, so it hung from his left shoulder, to hang behind his back.

“Whatever, whatever, just let us have a look!” the man said as he got up to approach them, obviously amusing the people sitting around him. He wasn't exceptionally large, but he was thickly built.

Edmond came to the side of the cart, and gestured to Karl to stand down and keep pushing. Karl didn't, watching the altercation unfold, impassively. “Friend, I'll ask you to stay back, we're aiming for minimal contact on our way through the city. I'm sure you can understand.” The man's eyes were glazed. His hands were dirty and the grey cotton shirt underneath his denim jacket was badly stained.

“Don't insult us like that, we're all healthy here!” The men by the tables seemed to be enjoying the confrontation, but nobody else seemed to be getting up, Edmond noticed, taking an automatic read of the the dynamics here: was this guy more a leader to them, or a clown? “We just want to see what you have. Just stop your cart for a bit, over by us.”

Edmond moved himself between the group and the cart, and tried to lower his voice to engage with the man personally, without involving the group. “Hey, go sit back down, and let us be. I'm asking you.”

“This guy doesn't want to pay respects to us, on our own street! Ah, put your hand down, we're friendly!” the man said as he reached out brush aside the arm Edmond was holding out to distance him. Karl still hadn't moved.

The professor was anxious to avoid being in his proximity. As the man grabbed for his wrist, Edmond reached for the fish bat held in the straps along the side of his bag. He grasped a fist-full of the man's jacket sleeve, and yanked it forcefully down to his side, and whipped the bat down on the man's shoulder, cracking it onto the bone. He maintained his grasp of the sleeve as he drove heel of his boot into the space just above the side of the man's knee, and then pushed him, sending him staggering backwards.

“You fucker!” the man howled he fell back onto the sidewalk. A few of the men at the tables laughed at how abruptly the man was dealt with, a few others didn't seem as amused, and returned to their drinks, mildly disgusted at the display. He hadn't expected a thin man that neatly dressed to strike at him so hard.

Edmond watched the group out of the side of his eye as he turned back to the cart, concealing the bat as best he could to avoid provoking the group. One other came over to help the fallen man up, and mock him at the same time. Karl seemed satisfied that it was over with that, and resumed pushing the heavy cart. As they rounded the corner and left the street, Edmond returned his bag to the cart, and gave his arms and shoulders a shake, to expel the tension of the brief scuffle.

“I didn't want to hurt anyone. They didn't seem like bad guys, necessarily,” Edmond said, glancing back in their direction.

“Yes, might have been excessive,” Karl replied.

When they returned to their boat mid-morning, they loaded in their crates, they saw the inn by the docks was opening it's lunch stand, offering pickerel chowder for the noontime traffic. They scrubbed their hands in the river water before sitting down to two bowls at a table on the long wooden deck. The soup was served with a glass of ale and wedge of rye bread.

“I do hope they all appreciate our taking the trip down here,” Edmond said as he sat back in his chair, his mood lightening with the quiet atmosphere on the docks.

“Oh, I'm sure they do,” Karl replied, leaning forward on the table to dunk his bread in the broth. “I'm sure all the materials and letters will lift people's spirits, for a bit anyways. Something new to focus on.”

“Do you think we'll make it back before the rain falls?”

“It'll be close,” the shipwright replied, without looking up from the meal.

By the time the rain came, Reginald had his small tent set up between a few trees at the edge of a field not far from the river, and an orange tarp tied up above. He laid on his back listening to the storm in the afternoon darkness, thinking about his situation. His backpack hung from a hook, off the ground and away from the tent's walls, ensuring that the contents wouldn't get wet. Some dry firewood that he'd gathered after his tent was set up lay piled beside him.

He was restless, picturing the storm outside and the wet, muddy ground he'd have to move through tomorrow, and the long hours he'd have to wait today before nightfall even came. He was tired, and the weary, miserable prospect of continuing this march to no set destination seemed especially dismal at the moment. The sense impressions from his imagination of this bled into his memories of his life over the past year, and it all seemed part of a single, aimless trajectory. It contrasted with the brighter images of his life before she died, the animals in the barn, all her plants in the sun-room and the garden. The homestead and the town.

He rubbed his closed eyes with his stubby fingers. Why he had left, what it was he could be hoping to find, what good could come from wandering with no definite plan... He was only half listening to these passing thoughts though, there was a part of him already resigned to the idea that his life might not add up to anything much from here on out. A stoic indifference to what lay ahead eventually diffused through the troubled stream of images and questions in his mind, he started to feel drowsy, and the tent seemed less confining. Now, at least there was a chance for something new.

After spending time reading for about an hour after dinner, Rachael wandered back downstairs from her dorm room. She'd hung up the paint-strewn overalls, and put on some baggy denim trousers and a grey cotton sweater, as the heavy rain and wind had to continued to cool the building, for the first time in months. The seasons always seemed to change on a day somewhere near the beginning of September.

She was the last one to get to the lounge at the far end of the hall from the cafeteria, where the students and Kiera had gathered again. The old student lounge was oversized for the small group of students, like so many other buildings on campus, but they'd arranged a smaller space within it: couches, chairs and tables were set up in a haphazard semi-circle around an upright piano against a high red brick wall. Meeting to play music on Saturday evenings had become a weekly event during this period of isolation, though they did so less frequently in ordinary times.

They were just starting as Rachael entered through a side door. Kiera was at the piano, striking notes for a few students to tune their instruments, while the others milled around or chatted, with drinks in hand. Skimp had carted up a couple jugs of beer from the cellar, as usual, playing bartender and joining them for a drink or two before heading home to his family.

“Rachael!” he called over, pouring her a cup.

She came over and took a seat by him at the side of the room.

“Cheers, Skimp” she said, as they clinked mugs. “Did you make this batch?” she asked, taking a sip.

“That I did.”

“Ah, it's really good, bravo,” she commented while raising her glass again.

He smiled and nodded, and they sat for a bit watching the group prepare to play a piece they'd been working on. Rachael could remember, a few years back, when the students had given the cook his nickname. The person in charge of the larder was not always a popular figure, especially managing the food levels through periods like this, though the students did appreciate his skill in keeping them fed, he was well liked. He could be intimidating at times. He had a thick, muscled body, a heavy moustache, a receding hairline with a close, militia-style haircut. He lived in one of a group of small houses off to the side of the campus, reserved mostly for the families of the custodians, who maintained the buildings, the gardens and wooded areas around the university, on either side of the river.

In these sessions, Kiera tended to either take control from the piano, or she would stay more on the sidelines, depending on the energy of the students and how much she felt she had to manage the evening. They had a two guitars, a dulcimer, a mandolin, some tambourines and hand drums. Some students had instruments they'd brought to campus with them. One of the young students had a Japanese flute that he'd somehow managed to acquire and find instruction for. They'd play instrumental pieces they worked on over time, or students would find songs with various parts to sing.

Kiera would issue challenges for the students to compose new verses to old songs that she'd found, especially when they were written in something like a traditional poetic form. She liked to have the students (at least those who were inclined that way) to work with themes, patterns, and culture outside of visual mediums. It was easiest for the students who attempted the challenges to write something funny or satirical in the place of the old lyrics. Most didn't want to be too vulnerable in what they choose to express and leave themselves open to being mocked. Rachael noticed that Kiera's eyes lit up, however, when she saw a student managing to balance something light-hearted or comedic with something more emotional or profound, weaving several modes together. Kiera also encouraged them to find good passages of poetry to read aloud. Last week students had chosen pieces by Dylan Thomas and William Blake, both fit well the sensibilities of a group of young art students.

Rachael wasn't interested in taking part this evening. She sat with the cook for a while listening, then patted his shoulder in thanks again as she got up and walked over to a window. Across the rain-soaked yard, facing the gardens and the river, she saw Thomas under the stone canopy covering the upper steps of the southern entrance to the building, sitting alone, smoking, beside his red tin wax-oil lamp. Rachael walked over, through the hallways, to join him, as she had some evenings over the summer.

When she got down to the back doors, she tapped lightly on the glass to announce herself, she sensed he might not hear her approach over the sound of the rain.

“Thomas, what are you doing down here?” she asked as pulled her pipe from her back pocket and took a seat across from him on the steps. “You're saying you couldn't use a drink?”

“Eh, a glass or two barely gets me started, what's the point,” he replied, handing his pouch of tobacco and a matchbook to Rachael. She bought the pipe in town last year, specifically to join Thomas on the steps, at which point they were better friends.

“Yeah, well, you might enjoy it for the taste.” He shrugged his shoulders. She lit her pipe and glanced over at him, he was thinking about something. He was short, not much taller than her, but he was stocky, with a thick, round head, and very dark short hair.

The atmosphere of the deserted campus seemed especially oppressive on this Saturday near the end of summer, when it felt like the campus should be preparing to come alive again for a new academic term. Normally, Rachael would spend Friday or Saturday evening with students she'd meet from other programs, and occasionally, in nicer weather, they'd take a long walk to a tavern in the nearby town. Thomas, on the other hand, was known to take a ride into the city after class on Friday, and stay with bohemian friends for the weekend in the Exchange, drinking in the pubs around the brothels, taking in music shows, getting in fights. He'd arrive back to campus Sunday afternoon, worse for wear, to join them for the evening meal, and then a long night of sleep. Rachael did wonder if the group sequestration might've given Thomas a chance to change his ways and get more serious about his work and his studies, but it seemed like it had slowed him on all fronts.

Rachael lit her pipe and drew a few breaths through it. “I don't mean to lecture you, but, if you don't come to class, and you stop spending time with the others, isn't that just going to make this plague-time pass even slower?”

“Yeah, maybe,” Thomas replied. “But being in this school is driving me crazy either way. Joining in on a music evening isn't going to help it, it's better I just stick to myself. I went over to the library today. I did talk to a few people.”

“Well, good you kept busy. Kiera's not happy you skipped cleaning this afternoon.”

“Yeah, I shouldn't have. I just wanted to be away from everyone,” Thomas said, not taking his gaze off of the river in the rain. “I'm thinking I've got to get away from this campus, it feels like a dead-end. I'm wasting my life here. Don't you ever wonder if it was a mistake committing to this?”

“Well, not really, I like having the chance to paint and work on sculptures. I like studying and going to lectures,” Rachael replied.

“We've been working hard for years, and we have nothing to show for it. A little trunk of clothes in a dorm room, I might as well be a monk in a cell.”

“Thomas, you do not live like a monk. Maybe if you didn't spend so much in the city, you'd have some money saved.”

“Ah, I don't spend that much, My friends that cover me a lot. And I have to get away from here, regularly, this campus is like a country monastery, for most of the professors anyway. All they do is study and garden and work, pretty much for room and board. So, alright, I might be a bad monk, but the life is about the same.”

Rachael smiled at this. “Ok, but you're looking at it wrong. This is how all school goes, and how it is to be apprenticing. You put in your time to learn the skills, and then you're free to set up your own shop.”

“Alright, that would be fair if that's how it went, but did you ever think, Kiera's never had a student who's actually done that?

“Yeah, I guess, but also, she was only brought in to revive the faculty a few years before we got here. Why would you expect there to be students who'd finished the program and gone out on their own, before we would?”

“No, what I'm saying is, it's not proven to even be possible. Think about it: if this program is going to keep on going, is this city going to have room for us all to set up real studios like this one? I'm not sure there are that many real commissions to go around. And Kiera is a master at getting them, and really, at getting people to want them,” Thomas said, looking Rachael in the eye.

“Honestly, I have thought about this sort of thing from time to time, but I don't dwell on it. I'm keeping some hope that things will work out.”

“I don't know,” Thomas said, standing up to pace a little on the platform before the doors. “I guess I don't have that same hope, at all. I'm wondering about the city, how many more of these waves of infection can we take before we just stop functioning? It's not only that, its failed harvests, it's too hot, it's too dry, then there's too much rain. Even before this last round of sickness, I felt the mood in the city, it's dark and strained, people don't make enough to get by. People are violent, they'll beat you and rob you without a second thought. And decent people are just leaving the city. I don't think we get a sense out here how it is in the city, we're sheltered. But we do rely on them.”

Rachael turned away from Thomas slightly. His intensity and pessimism were starting to get to her, she didn't like it affecting her mood. “Let's say you're right - which is not certain at all - and the city succumbs to dysfunction. We can go other places. You can't say we didn't gain a lot of different skills being here, that could be put to use in a lot of different ways.”

“Fair, but it's a gamble trying to set up in some new town as an unknown. And it's a gamble that we'll make it through this infection alright, there are sick people in this building! It just takes some more infected people slipping onto campus, like with Petra meeting that guy, and we could get sick. I see they're still having contact with strangers on the docks, for shipments and all,” he said, point the stem of his pipe towards the area.

“Thomas, stop! Of course all sorts of things can go wrong and not work out. That's basically life. We're here now, things are under control for now. Better just to enjoy the day, and the people that are here, and let tomorrow take care of itself. You don't know that you're right, this contagion could subside soon, things could return to normal, and our future plans can get worked out from there.”

“Yeah, well I like to be realistic, and see things clearly.”

Rachael had her back to Thomas at this point. She heard the door click shut behind her. He had apparently had enough of the conversation. She finished the tobacco in her pipe, sitting by the lamp he'd left behind, taking in the atmosphere of the storm.

By the next morning, the heat was returning with the sun, and the air was becoming humid again. At the edge of the muddy field, just under the edge of the canopy of the trees lining the banks of the river, Reginald was sitting by a modest campfire. A small metal pot was hanging from an impromptu tripod that he'd tied together, holding a few small potatoes simmering in some rainwater he'd collected. Likewise, a tin can pierced by a bolt a bolt at the top was hanging beside the pot, with rainwater heating to make a cup of black tea. His canvas bag was hanging from a tree branch, and the wet tent hung from a branch near that, shaken out as best he could for now. He was not looking forward to rolling it up later to attach to the top of his bag.

When the potatoes were just about soft, he added some crumbled jerky and a spoon of salted tallow from his small jar to the starchy cooking liquid. As it reduced a little more, he tore some dandelion leaves and wild greens he'd collected and tossed them into the pot, to cook for a moment before pulling it from the fire. He let the tea leaves steep in the can for a few minutes, before carefully pouring the finished tea into the ceramic mug he'd brought along from home.

Eating his breakfast, looking over the water lying in the field in the soft morning sunlight, the scent of smoke rising past him as he ate, the world seemed still and calm compared to the day before.

Kiera's habit was to give the students Sundays off, and also let the cook sleep in, and they would meet for lunch in the cafeteria. Kiera slept later than normal this morning. Her sleep was unusually full of vivid dreams, and she woke up feeling very clear and light, throughout her head and body, and also a little sad. She got dressed in yesterday's red plaid shirt and dark jeans, and spent some time looking out her third storey window at the river, the trees growing along the banks, and all the garden plots set up in the river's bend. The light was beautiful, it was blending with the feeling left behind from the morning's dreams.

She made her way down to the cafeteria, carrying a book and a notebook. Most of the students were already there, drinking tea and chatting at two tables close by each other. She came by their table and made some lighthearted inquires, before she drew a cup of tea from the large dispenser and sat down at a table off to the side, by herself. The cook was portioning out their meals into bowls: a large scoop of white rice, some red lentils and butter, a bit of chopped hard boiled egg, and a spoon of shredded beets, carrot, and turnip that he'd fermented with caraway and fennel seeds. A sprinkle of roughly chopped parsley on that.

“It's up, come get it!” he grumbled loudly, in his strained baritone voice. They filed up to grab their dishes.

The cook brought his own and Kiera's bowls to her table, and sat down at her table, but at bit of a distance, mindful of her space with the notebook out before her. She smiled and thanked him, eating while she continued making sporadic notes. Despite being mainly rice, it was a good meal, she glanced over at the students to see if they were enjoying it. There were no set menus for the cafeteria, but the cook and herself had worked out a style of cooking over the years. Dried grains and legumes had to comprise the bulk of their diet, but Kiera felt strongly that dull rations would not serve an art school well, and she made sure to find the resources to vary the ingredients coming into the kitchen. They experimented in the herb garden, they sourced various imports. It wasn't only about maintaining the student's morale. In times like these, she felt the time she devoted to the kitchen helped keep them healthy and resistant to becoming ill.

She had asked of the cook to always aim to pair something raw with the cooked food he served. A balance of living and dead, in her mind. In the summer, that wasn't so hard, the gardens had a lot of fresh herbs and vegetables. In colder months, they sprouted beans and grains to accomplish the balance. More recently, she'd ask that he try to add some fermented food throughout the week, if only a tablespoon of brine added to the grains. It seemed like a third category to her, dead and living. Putrefaction. Transformation.

After lunch the students helped clean the dishes and the kitchen, before going on their ways. Kiera insisted it be returned to pristine condition after every single meal. She stayed at her table for the first half of the afternoon, reading and writing at intervals, sipping on roasted dandelion tea, the sunlight pouring in through the windows behind her. The cook brought a raw chicken up from the icehouse in the cellar, planning to make use once more of the intense daylight with the large solar oven.

The slightly sloped, south facing windows, that some architect had designed long ago, seemed to Kiera perfect for collecting sunlight. Years back, she had slowly gathered together the necessary materials, and then worked with maintenance to construct the oven, basically a large black metal box with adjustable racks, surrounded with insulation, built in from the sloped window. The insides had black iron lath to collect and maintain the heat. A wooden frame was set up around outside of the insulated metal. At the top there was an adjustable screened and covered vent to release excess heat back outdoors. At the front of the oven, there was a second screened vent, near the ground beneath the window. It was kept closed and covered when they were using the unit as an oven, but it could be opened to convert the oven into a solar dehydrator. With the lower vent open, the black metal vessel heated the incoming air gently, and established a updraft that guided the warm current up the rectangular chimney to the screened vent at the top. The chimney had slots for screened trays, on which the cook laid out various food he wanted to preserve, mainly slices of fruits and vegetables, that he could use in their meals through the winter and early spring.

The cook was spending time each day preserving food, dehydrating, making ferments, setting foods in beds of salt, sand, or newsprint in cellar. Kiera had also tasked him with heating a pot of salted water during the afternoon cooking, which she insisted that the students and staff use in their neti pots and to gargle with. Some resented this intrusion into their personal hygiene choices, but fear of illness, and of arguments with Kiera, had led everyone to comply. Her other idea, of her students wearing rubber bands on their wrists to snap when they noticed themselves touching their eyes, nose or mouth, hadn't gone been as popular, though she noticed a few of them still maintaining the practice.

Over the last week, Kiera was also having the cook warm a second batch of lightly salted water, but to this he also added some sugar and some preserved lemons that he minced and let steep in the liquid.

“Kiera, the drink is ready, and I've got another pot of water up to a boil,” the cook called from the kitchen.

“Thanks Skimp, alright.” She closed her books, and left them at the table. In the kitchen she took the vessel with the lemon water by it's handle, as well as a wood carrier with four empty glass milk bottles in it. The cook followed her with the larger pot of very hot water, out of the kitchen, up the stairs and down the hall to an entrance of a room on the second floor. He left the wash water to return to the kitchen. Kiera knocked on office that had been converted into a nursing station, and popped her head into the room.

“Hi Sandra, is it alright if I go in? I brought the lemon drink. Sorry to wake you.”

Sandra looked up from her bed. “Ah, wasn't asleep. Yeah, it's fine, thanks,” and she laid her head back down.

Kiera opened a broom closet beside the nusting station, and started taking some items from it to wear. She removed her boots and put on some black rubberized clogs. Then a long, yellowed white lab coat, followed by a grey paper face mask (she and the students had made charcoal-infused paper, and use twine to construct disposable masks). Last, she pulled long, heavy, rubberized gloves over her forearm sleeves. She set the hot water pail just inside the door, and carried the rest in with her.

The room had once been the change room for a dormitory gym. The old lockers were all removed, but the wooden benches between them in rows remained. Light angled down from high windows onto the grey-brown tiles that covered the floors and walls of the otherwise dark area. Kiera moved back into the shower area, where a young woman was laying beneath a thin sheet on some athletic mats. Her mouth was covered with mucus and blood. Kiera placed the metal vessel and the bottle down, and took a moment to look at her. Kiera's breath deepened. Her student seemed to be sleeping, and feverish, some of her black, wet hair was pasted to her forehead.

She took a clean cloth from a stack on one of the benches, and an empty steel pail, and filled it with hot water from a spigot that teed off from a galvanized pipe that ran from the rooftop to the kitchen below and back again. There was a heavy black hose coiled on a hook, attached to another tap on the pipe, and a gauge threaded into a fitting just above that, at eye level.

Kiera knelt down beside the young woman to wipe the hair from her face and the blood from her mouth with the warm cloth. The young woman roused a little, and parted her swollen eyelids by a crack.

“Hey there, Petra” Kiera said softly. She put her hand on her student's head, and smoothed out her long dark brown hair as best she could with the thick gloves. Petra managed to look into Kiera's eyes for a moment.

Kiera gently got Petra to sit upright against the cool tile wall, to take some sips of the sugar water. Besides the mattress, the only other thing in space that was partitioned off for Petra was a rough clay pot to use as a toilet, with a simple wooden bench that fit over top of it, and a clay lid for when it was not in use. There were two barrels, sawdust and crushed charcoal, for whoever was serving a nursing shift to used to cover the deposits, to keep the pots dry and from the odours from being a problem.

For when the patients failed to be continent, they had chosen this room as the infirmary because it was all hard surfaces, all possible to clean and sterilize. The solar water heater on the roof provided them with ample hot water, which was rare, the plumbing systems this far from the city's centre had long fallen into disrepair. Custodians had to pump water from their cisterns to a rooftop tank, which fed into the solar collector to heat the water. Kiera was hoping the sickness would pass before the system had to be emptied for winter. She kept watch on the temperature gauges here and in the kitchen, the custodians had instructed that they not to let the water fall too far below 140F, to prevent lethal bacteria from building inside the pipes. On cloudy days, when the water cooled a little, they lit a fire in a masonry oven that housed a copper coil, to heat the water back to safe levels, while they used the heat for cooking.

They used the hot water hose to keep the infirmary clean. The tiles all sloped down to floor drains, to pipes that custodial workers had routed away from the kitchen ceiling to a downspout out a sidewall. This drained to a perforated pipe in a trenched area they had dug out and fenced off. Hand-painted tin bio-hazard signs were hung from every so often from the fence wire. They layered the ditch with straw, shredded brushwood, charcoal, and sawdust to make a compost pile, generating heat to reduce the pathogens with little maintenance. On a cool morning, steam would rise from the long heap. They carefully carried the clay chamber-pots from the infirmary through the old service corridor to a ditch near the straw heap, opened the lid one last time to add a handful of fermented rice, and lowered to the entire pot into the trench and abandoned it there, covering it over with some soil.

Kiera moved Petra to one side of the mattress, and then to the other, wiping it down thoroughly, and then changed the pillow cases and thin sheet. Petra set her head back down, exhausted.

“Alright my girl” Kiera said, placing her hand on Petra's head once more, and looking into her eyes. “I'll be back soon. Try to drink as much of this as you can. You're back downstairs with us next week, young lady. Rest up.”

She walked back to the entrance, and held her gloved hands out a little before her, her standard gesture to herself not to touch anything. Tears were welling up in her eyes, and she let them fall. Bending over by the pail of very hot water, she slowly immersed her hands, careful not to splash, and held them there, feeling the heat move in through the rubber. She stepped out of the clogs onto a clean folded cloth, took a cloth and some soap, and wiped the shoes down, and then used the soap to wash the gloves again. She carefully worked the gloves off, one hand helping the other, careful not to touch the outside surface of either. She lay them on a metal rack, near to the ground and close to a drain. Next she worked her way out of the lab coat, placed it with the dirty laundry. The paper mask was discarded by the door.

By late afternoon, Reginald approached a cluster of houses on his way towards the city. It was one of the farming villages on the outskirts of the old city boundary, which had coalesced out of the remains of the suburbs as the city proper had receded. As he rounded a curve in the path following along a bend in the river, he saw a man leaning over a short fence, up a gently sloped hill by a group of houses, off in the distance. It was the first person he'd seen for some time, asides from the occasional vehicles he'd seen, in places where the highway and the river came closer together.

“Hello sir! Have to ask you to stop about where you are, if you don't mind,” the man called out in a loud voice as Reginald was about a dozen paces from the fence. An old, rugged-looking man, in a cap and a loose-fitting long sleeved shirt, open at the neck. There were sheep in the field behind him. “Where are you heading?” he asked, looking at the camping gear on Reginald's pack.

“Well, about that, I'm not entirely sure,” Reginald replied, feeling odd to speak for the first time in about two weeks. “Into the city, maybe.”

The old man took a minute to process this answer. Reginald was clean-shaven and looked healthy and well-fed, he didn't strike the farmer as a hungry migrant. “Are you going to there to look for work?”

“Again, sir, it's hard for me to say. I guess I that might be it,” he replied, hesitantly. “It's not so much that I know where I'm going, it's that I had to leave the place where I was. Nothing left for me there, I had to make a change.”

“Seems like an uncertain time to uproot yourself and head into the city. You have heard about the illness spreading, in town worse than anywhere, no?”

“I have. I wouldn't mind to help, if I could.”

The old man took a moment again. “Do you have any family?”

“No, not really sir.”

“Well. I wish I could show some hospitality and offer you dinner and a place to stay the night, but, with this illness spreading, we just can't allow strangers in, for the time being. We've had people fall sick, it's a terrible thing. Going to have to ask you to move on.”

“I know sir. I've seen it take lives too.”

“You have provisions in your pack there?”

“Yes, some.”

“I have heard in town, there are religious orders set up to help the sick and the poor. Might be room and board for you there, especially if you're looking to lend a hand in that type of work. If that fits with what you're intending.”

“Well, thank you, I'll look into it.”

The farmer nodded, and Reginald headed back towards the river trail.

After a quiet Sunday dinner, Kiera returned to her apartment/studio, intending on an evening of work. She had an easel set up adjacent to shelf of varied candles, and while she tended only to paint by daylight, she liked to draw and work out various ideas, sometimes adding writing alongside images, working out designs for things she wanted to make, basically the rough materials to draw from as the opportunities arose. Her table was covered with books on loose long-term loans from the library, with sheets of notes and sketches jutting out from the passages that had caught her attention and sparked some elaboration. The counter near the wash basin was filled with brushes in jars, unwashed mugs and glasses from teas and wine. Another part of the room, an exercise mat and some thick cotton resistance straps were weighted down by two black kettlebells that she had cast herself. Another of the common goods she was always thinking of to produce alongside their art.

She heard a knock at the door and Rachael's voice calling on her.

“Come on in Rachael.”

“Skimp sent some tea.” She had the carried the hot water in one hand in a small iron pot and two small cups in the other.

“Yes, come sit down, we'll have it together,” Kiera said, as she made a place for them at the table, noticing the second cup in Rachael's hand, and sensing some emotion in her voice.

They sat down and Rachael poured the water for the first batch to steep. “I saw you went up to the infirmary today, how is she doing?”

“I didn't stay long. I don't really know. She was weak, but she was still aware. Of course I can't say, but you know, my thought is, or my hope is, she was quite healthy right up to this. If she can keep taking in fluids and keep from getting depleted and dehydrated, it's something the body can fight. That's how it seemed the last time.”

Rachael put her hand to her face, and pushed against her closed eyes to quell some tears. “I just hope she's going to be alright... it would be really hard to lose her.”

“I know. I know.” Kiera reached over and put her hand on Rachael's shoulder. “Petra's been great, she's definitely a bright light, for sure.” Her own eyes started to well up again. “She balances out Thomas' darkness,” Kiera added, trying to ease the mood, as Rachael was still trying to manage the tears.

“Hey Rachael, you keep forgetting” Kiera said, and gave a little tug to the rubber band on Rachael's wrist.

“Ah yeah,” a little laugh between the muffled sobs, as she drew her hand from her face and sniffed, and took a breath.

Kiera took a sip of tea, and nodded. “It's been hard to keep going, definitely, for everyone. I think we have to keep busy though, what else are we going to do?” She paused again. “To be real about it, whatever happens, it's not going to take us all down. If we keep doing good work now, when this passes, we'll be in a good place to continue on.”

“How can you know that though? What if these plagues keep going, and keep coming at us in waves every year? I keep having thoughts that this is not going to pass. It's not something that's going to end, it's the start of something that is going to finish us...”

Kiera paused a moment. “Well, you are right, who can know. It's not the first time in history that there's been rampant disease. My thought is, if these illnesses were the kinds of things that could finish us off, they would have by now. They can curtail us, they cut us down... they leave us changed, but we adapt to them, and continue on...”

“Yeah, I know... I just wonder if it's maybe different this time,” Rachel replied, calming a little, as Kiera poured more tea into her cup and her own. “I've heard people talk though, that germs were altered somehow back then, by science, so maybe it won't work itself out on it's own anymore. Everything seems pretty fragile, the ways people live and work. We don't have the strength they did back then, the medicines they had, the electric machines. I feel like we're living off the broken pieces of what they had, and it's all rusting and decayed, this can't last with these shocks coming through every year... I have this sense of everything winding down.”

Kiera looked down at the table for a moment, feeling her way to a response to all these thoughts that had passed through her mind at times as well.

“Of course, you could be right, but it's not the sort of thing we get to know ahead of time. Neither you or I really knows about this illness spreading, or about human health or the world of nature, how that all balances out. They didn't back then either. The dark thoughts, of course they fit our lives well recently, but it's only a sense or a obscure perception... another student could as easily come sit down here and tell me a manic story about all the bright times that are coming just over the horizon. For all I know they'd be just as right.”

Rachael smiled a little as she had an idea of which student would likely be.

“That's why I put my focus on work, the details of this day” Kiera continued, speaking more directly to Rachael. “We don't know how things will work out, we scarcely know what the situation is today. But, while we have the chance, with the program here, the studios, the library, the lectures to take in - if we use these to develop ourselves now, to challenge and refine our thinking, and our skills, that is how we're able to meet the challenges that are going to come at us, or, you know, at least give us a chance to.”

Rachael seemed like she was going to start crying again.

“What is it?” Kiera asked.

“I'm sorry, I don't want to bring you all my worries for myself when you're going through all this with Petra, just that I worry about this too.”

“No, no, just say it and get it off your mind. It's alright with me.”

“It's just being here, studying art, I'm wondering if its a dead-end, sometimes. With Thomas, me, Petra, and if some of the new students stay on, where are we all going to end up? We can't all stay here for ever. Even this university itself, it doesn't teach practical things like the city college does. I just wonder how long even this can go on with all the disruptions to regular life and business, it's going to affect the patrons and the donations eventually for sure. Sometimes it feels like all this work, it's not going anywhere...”

“I am definitely considering these sorts of things, Rachael. How about, on this, just leave this with me for now. See what I can come up with. We're okay for now. Alright?”

“Yeah, alright.”

Kiera filled their small cups with the remaining tea.

“You know, I've that image before, that you mentioned, of our world being cobbled together from rusty pieces of broken machines, all scattered around,” Kiera said, as she reached over to one of the books on the table, with some page markers sticking out from the glossy plates at its centre, and laid it out so Rachael could see. “They've got all these reproductions in here from his personal notebooks, all sorts of mechanical devices and building designs. They're fascinating me at the moment. The differences between how humans think about building things, and how things grow by nature, the differences between the shapes and structures involved in these.”

Kiera sat back as Rachael looked over the images. “As full as the industrial age must've been with material goods, and technical ability, and information, to have left behind all these scraps, I can't help but also picture that age as a massive gap, or chasm, between the older traditions and our times now. And, it's funny, I don't picture that gap as darkness, but actually as bright electric light. Blinding. Blotting out the heritage that age had received, and eventually consuming itself, and when it dimmed, it's only fragments left behind. The designs were lost. That idea too, a lost design, keeps coming to me. I had a dream awhile back, of climbing up in an attic and finding these missing blueprints, all rolled up, pretty heavy, tucked away in this long wooden box.”

Rachael placed the book back on the pile and picked up her cup again. “By these traditions that have been lost, are you meaning things like how people grew food, and manufactured things, their medicine, things like that?”

“Well, definitely that, but I think the more subtle parts of culture too. I've been through nearly every book the library has on art history. When you look at something on, say, the Greeks or the Renaissance, it really seems like their artists were connected into some shared thread between their philosophy, their religion, their buildings. You find that everywhere in antiquity, in Asia, the Americas.”

Kiera paused a moment, bringing her thoughs together. “We're always working under limits, and these cultures emerge, for whatever their faults, they find some sort of balance, or harmony, among a fairly small number of elements... the things they endeavour to do, their values... Even at the early parts of the industrial age, there seemed to be all kinds of artists who managed to bring something from that kind of culture and fused it with something of themselves, as individuals within that new age... but my thought is, that previous kind of tradition and culture was lost.”

There was a moment of silence between them as Rachael, somewhat forgetting her immediate concerns, pondered what Kiera was saying. Kiera looked off the the floor on her left, and appearing to look inward, remembering.

Kiera continued, gently shaking a finger in the air. “You know, that's what I feel I'm missing. I had training, I traveled, I've experimented with techniques and I've resurrected some from descriptions in books, so when this program started up again, I knew I had a lot to teach in terms of materials and techniques. But in terms of passing on something more subtle and coherent, I never felt I had that, it's always only been fragments.”

“Alright though,” Rachael said, sitting forward, “if the plans are lost, and we only have scattered pieces, what's the way forward? Do we try to restore some forgotten way, or do we, you know, melt these fragments down, fuse them into something new? Any thoughts on that?”

“I really don't know,” Kiera replied, laughing a little. “The only thought I return to is keep working, while you can.”

She looked at Rachael directly. “However things happen to work out here, I think you are the sharpest one, of all of us. If anything, they are going to be looking to you for help,” Kiera said, pointing in the direction of the students' dorms.

“Thank you Kiera.”

“You'll be okay for the night?”

“Yeah, I'm alright. I'll get going,” Rachel said as they got up from the table. “I'll take this back to the kitchen.”

“Can I burden you with a full tray?” Kiera asked, pointing to the array of mugs and glasses on her counter.

“Heh, yeah, no problem.”

After Rachael gave Kiera a hug and left with the dishes, Kiera got up to light some candles around the table and the easel. She took a clean glass from a cupboard and a bottle of red wine from a crate in the corner. Good relations with well-connected patrons had benefits, in terms of access to imported goods like wine: even in times like these, enough was sent her way to maintain her supply. She poured a glass, and placed it on the broad windowsill beside her easel, reaching for a charcoal pencil to begin some sketches.

She'd been relying heavily on the wine recently, to clear away the concerns of the day, and for some energy for these private sessions of reading, dreaming, and contemplating, but she was aware she'd have to ease up soon. She was drinking too quickly, it was clouding her mind as much as it was providing any inspiration, and more often than not she was waking up with a headache. The habit had gotten her through the recent troubles, but she sensed that soon it would be time for a change of routine.

By late Tuesday afternoon Edmond Rait had spent the better part of three days by himself, using the time he'd set aside to work on a treatise he'd been meaning to write. He felt healthy, without any symptoms of illness, and planned to return to his office by the library in the morning. It was no full quarantine, but he didn't feel that was warranted, from the little he knew of how this contagion developed. His concentration was spent, he gathered up his papers and folded them into several books, and stacked them up, with his pencil case and slide-rule, and placed them all on a shelf in his bedroom, by a large south-facing window that looked down over the garden plots and the apiary stretching out before the trees on the river bank. Pulling open the casements, letting a fresh breeze into the apartment, the professor laid down and fell asleep for a little over an hour.

When he awoke from the nap, feeling refreshed though a little disoriented, he went to his kitchen and made a small meal, slicing up some cured meat, some cheese and some fruit, using up most of the provisions he had taken from the cellar for this short retreat. He took the plate and a glass of beer out onto a balcony down the hall from his apartment. The air was cooling quickly and the sun was just about set, illuminating the gardens with a dim orange glow.

He always felt content for a brief period after the effort of working through some intellectual content and shaping it into a manuscript. His method was to alternate his sessions of intense study with more prosaic administrative duties, and some physical labour in the gardens or on various projects around campus. Tomorrow, he planned to first check on Karl at his house by the dock. He wasn't overly worried about the shipwright's health, and assumed Karl had passed the few days in his large workshop more easily than he had in his apartment. From there, he could spend a good part of his day delivering the shipping crates, checking in with the several faculties living somewhat isolated from each other throughout the campus, and also on his own three students, who had rooms set up on the floor below him. He was hoping to find no new cases of infection.

As he was coming to the end of the pint glass, having stood up to lean over the edge of the balcony, he was startled by a door below being slammed open and a young man bursting outside, yelling, brandishing some sort of a stick or a rod. He recognized the student right away, and quickly looked around to see who he was confronting. At this distance in the dusk it was hard to see, but he could make out the figure of a man in the gardens who seemed like he was about to be attacked.

“Thomas!” the professor called out, bolting back into the building, heading for the stairs.

By the time Edmond had ran downstairs and over to the field, Kiera and a few of her students were already outside. Rachael and another student were talking with Thomas, who was agitated and still holding the iron poker from the wood stove, putting themselves between him and the stranger, who he was still shouting at. Kiera was standing to the side, trying to figure out what was happening and what to do, having told the rest of the students to stand back for the moment, and they were watching from near the cafeteria doors. Reginald was sitting on the ground in the gardens beside his pack, about fifteen feet away from them, seeming dumbstruck and holding his hand on a wound above the left side of his forehead, blood spilling down the side of his face.

Kiera spoke with Edmond, and decided to go up to the infirmary to get protective gear, rubber gloves and a mask, some cloths and some gauze. They asked the stranger to stay where he was. Edmond got the students to go back into the cafeteria, to light some lamps and draw some hot water to heat up further on the wood stove. When Kiera returned, she led Reginald inside, and had him sit down at a table at the far side of the cafeteria, away from the others and the kitchen area. She held a cloth against his head, adding another over top of the first when the blood had soaked through. After about twenty minutes of pressure, the bleeding seemed to have slowed, she removed to towels to look at the wound. It didn't seem too serious, Thomas had knocked him with the butt end of the poker instead of swinging it, though it was a fairly deep laceration. She got his name and tried to speak with him a little, but he said he felt light-headed and didn't seem eager to talk. Away from the cut, she wiped his face and neck with some hot water, and then wrapped a proper bandage around his head.

Edmond had two students make up a bed in a room in an unoccupied corner of the building. Two others went down to the pantry to get some food and drink for the room. They decided to let Reginald stay for a day or two to recuperate from the injury, provided he agreed to stay in the room, to mitigate the chance of infecting them, which he agreed to. Edmond considered suggesting they find some way to lock the room from the outside, but decided against raising the point. The man didn't seem especially threatening.

Before Thomas left for his room, he came over, standing at a distance, and apologized for his reaction, explaining how they had had a case where an outsider had brought the infection to the campus. Reginald raised his hand, gesturing to absolve Thomas of any wrongdoing, and apologized himself, for startling Thomas and putting him in this situation. Kiera made a change of gloves, and went back out to the garden to get Reginald's pack, before showing him up to the room. She walked back to the infirmary to dispose of the cloths and gear according to protocol, and returned to her section of the building to take a hot shower. 

The next morning, after the students had cleaned up the dishes from breakfast, they left to walk to an auditorium near the library. Kiera sometimes accompanied the students to lectures, depending on the topic, but with the commotion last night, and an outsider staying in the building, she felt it would be best if she stayed close by, maybe to help out in the kitchen for the morning, and paint in the studio over the afternoon.

Many of the scholars were on leave from the campus, mostly to stay with family in the country. From the lesser amount who remained, Kiera had arranged some lecture courses for the fine art students to be held on Wednesdays, to continue their education and to help provide structure to the week. The students normally had more choice as to what lectures they wanted to attend, but generally, depending on the student, Kiera liked them to engage in some mathematics, philosophy, courses on ancient civilizations, literature, scripture, theatre. These all provided elements that she worked into her own classes on theory and art history.

Her aim was for a balance of technical subjects and the humanities. The first provided rigour in a student's thinking, and helped in extending their skills in to other practical areas. The other could get them questioning all different facets of life and reality, to induce some vertigo in their minds regarding ethics, metaphysics, aesthetics. Questions to hover in the background of their work, and energize it.

After breakfast, Skimp had fired the wood stove and opened some windows to set up a cross-breeze to relieve the heat. He'd brought up a goat leg from the cellar and was searing it in the bottom of a soup pot. After the meat was well browned, he added some water and a cup of wine to let it slowly braise, while he diced some onions, garlic, and celery root. He then minced some rosemary that Keira had gone to pick from the garden, and some dried figs he took from the pantry.

Once that was set aside, the cook, standing with his left foot raised up on a wooden milk crate under the counter, started working through the several baskets of tomatoes that were sitting on his left. The first were diced into cubes for the goat ragu, that he was going to toss with einkorn pasta for dinner later that day. The rest he was slicing and layering onto screened trays for the solar dehydrator. Through the colder months that were on their way, the dried tomatoes were useful for brightening all sorts of dishes like soups and stews, or finely mincing and mixing into things like bread or scones or a pot of white rice.

Kiera set up at a counter behind the cook to help with the food preservation tasks that would be part of the daily work for the rest of the fall. She 'd cleaned some baskets of green beans, and was taking off the tops and tails, while a pot of brine she'd prepared was heating up on the stove-top beside the ragu. Some chopped garlic and dried seeds and peppercorns were stirring at the bottom of the brine. Sprigs of herbs sat beside in a bowl, to be added in closer to the end.

Kiera looked up as a door at the far end of the cafeteria was pulled open, and Edmond backed in with a wooden packing crate on a narrow warehouse cart, and then pushed it over to the steel counter of the kitchen area.

“Ah, things have quieted down since last night I see!” Edmond said as he pulled the cart to a stop. Edmond looked over to Skimp, and they nodded to acknowledge each other.

“Yep,” Kiera replied, removing her apron and folding it on the table. “The students are off for the day, and we're back to monastic silence.” She came around the counter to inspect the crate. “I spoke with the traveler, Reginald, through his door earlier in the morning, he seems to be in good spirits.”

“How is Thomas?”

“He was quiet at breakfast. I'll keep an eye on him, make sure he stays busy.” Kiera replied.

“On that note, actually, I do have a manuscript ready to print. I was planning to have Andrea from the library to open the print shop and get it ready for a session. If you have some students to volunteer for it, that would be good. I have some more complicated diagrams, I wouldn't mind the plates to worked out with some artistry.”

“Absolutely, Thomas would be the one to design the diagrams, I'll discuss it with him later.”

Whenever possible, Kiera involved her students in any projects underway at the campus press, and in any bookbinding or book repairs that were being undertaken at the library. One more type of work the students might be able to find after they'd graduated from the program. Over the last years, they'd had the opportunity to collaborate on some fine art editions of a few books, most recently working with a religious college on campus on something like an illuminated book of liturgical prayer.

“Great. Based on the weight of this crate on the bottom here,” Edmond said, tapping box in question with his boot, “feels like you've got some books arriving today.”

Kiera looked at the packing slip tacked to the crate, it was from the art program at the University of Minnesota. “Yeah, I'm not sure what would be in this one, I wasn't expecting it. Most of these others are supplies and materials.”

“Curious. Do you want these stacked here, are you going to go through them now?”

“Ah, I'll save the reveal for the end of the day, with a glass of wine and a prybar. We can unload them in the storeroom over here.”

“Well, I do admire your discipline,” Edmond said as he started the cart moving to the pantry on the far side of the solar oven.

“Actually, did you want to join us for dinner this evening? We could discuss the details of your book with the students directly.”

“That would be lovely, I'll never turn down an invitation to eat with the art department. This is the best, and definitely the most creative, dining hall on campus.”

Skimp grinned from his table, without looking up from the tomatoes.

After checking on Reginald again and stopping by the infirmary to speak with the nurse, Kiera spent the rest of the afternoon working on a painting in the ground floor studio. Before dinner, she had a few of the students set out a long table, with a cloth and some flowers, in the open area of the cafeteria, so they could all eat together and participate in the discussion with the University's President. Despite their having been in lectures all day, Edmond managed to conduct a lively conversation with the group over the meal of pasta and salad greens, freshly gathered from the gardens. He inquired into their work and their plans, and posed them questions to spark some discussion and debate.

As the students started cleaning up, which Edmond insisted on helping with, the cook tossed together a fresh plate of the ragu and pasta and dressed a bowl of greens, and Kiera walked it up to Reginald's room. She placed it on a table by the entrance of his room, and knocked on the door.

“Reginald, how are you doing in there?”

“Ah, hello. Yes, I'm doing alright, thank you,” he replied, sounding a little startled by the knock on the door.

“How is your head feeling?”

“It's not bad really. It's a little sore of course, but it's alright.”

“That's good to hear,” Kiera replied. “Listen, I'm sorry I can't be more hospitable, I hate to have locked you in a room alone, just after you've been injured. I hope some of the books in the room might be of interest to you?”

“Honestly Ma'am I'm grateful for the room, I've spent most of the day in bed. As I said yesterday, I've been walking though the country for most of a week. It's nice to be indoors, with good food. Even just hearing your voice through the door is the most conversation I've had in some time. Even before I left my house, it must've been another week back when I last saw another person. I didn't have much company out at my farm.”

“You're saying you haven't been in contact with anyone for weeks,” Kiera replied, thinking. 

“Well yes, but that's not so unusual for me, of late anyways. I did speak to one man for a moment, a farmer out near the edge of the city, but from afar. He didn't want me coming close to his enclosure, for fear of infection. Which I can understand, I saw a fair amount of it the last time it passed through.”

“You didn't feel any signs of illness over those days of walking?” 

“No ma'am, just the aches and pains of an old man taking exercise. I actually have not seen any sick people during this return of the contagion. I heard some reports from the town that's nearest to where I live.”

“Reginald, I have some dinner for you here, I'm going to bring it in to you,” Kiera said before she opened the door of the room.


She took a look at the small man seated on the bed in the fading evening light, blood having seeped through a few spots of the bandages on his head. She felt a sense of sadness about his situation. “You can assure me that you haven't seen any person other than that farmer for the last few weeks?”

He looked into her eyes as he nodded. “Yes, I can.”

“I imagine you could use a drink,” Kiera said, smiling. “I'd be interesting in hearing about your travels.”

“That would be nice, ma'am.”

“Alright, I won't keep you from your dinner, while it's still hot. Do you have a change of clothes with you?”

“Yes, one.” He motioned to his bag, on a table by the window. 

“If you'd like a shower, we have a hot water system. We do laundry tomorrow evening, if you'd like to help out, you can wash your clothes then” Kiera offered. He looked dirty and smelt heavily of camp-fire smoke.

“Thank you so much ma'am. You've all been so kind.”

“Well, we also cracked you on the head, I suppose it all evens out,” Kiera said, smiling again. “I'll come back in awhile, I'll show you were the shower facilities are.”

Reginald nodded with a smile. Kiera closed the door and walked across the building to her apartment. Reginald took the dinner tray to the table by the opened window where he'd placed his bag, and removed the upturned metal bowl that keeping the dish hot. The meat and rosemary in the sauce was very appetizing, he ate the pasta while looking out on the sun setting over the grounds of the campus.

At her apartment, Kiera poured herself a glass of wine, and looked over the drawings and notes she'd worked on the previous evening, waiting for enough time to pass for the others to clear out of the cafeteria. She placed the bottle of wine in bucket, and lit a thick candle on a candelabra, to light her way to their metals workshop, to pick up a mallet and a small prybar that she carried in the bucket as well. She stopped again by Reginald's room, and she showed him the way back to the cafeteria, and further down the hall to an old staff change-room, that had been converted to the male shower room. She left him the candle.

“Alright, I'll be over in the cafeteria, come sit with me later if you'd like.”

The cafeteria was empty. Kiera went into the kitchen to fetch some more candles to set on the long table, and a couple of glasses, which she filled with the fresh bottle of wine she had in the pail with the tools. After retrieving the dense crate from Minnesota out of the storeroom, she tapped the prybar between the slats of the crate's lid in several spots, until it was loose enough to pull off entirely.

It was filled with papers and notebooks and books. There was a letter in a long envelope addressed to Kiera. Sipping wine as she perused the contents of the box, without altering the order of anything yet, she then removed the letter.

Dear Kiera,

Thank you for your letter and the sketches and drawings and designs you enclosed – been so long since we'd met in person, it was great to hear from you and about what you've been working on over these last years.

I apologize for my slow reply, I wanted to consider your ideas carefully and take my time working through the images you enclosed. I was interested equally in your drawings (style, colour, motif, I felt I could create in mind how the pieces must look in full) as I was in the detailed building layouts and the designs for the devices you've included: the kilns and ovens, the fixtures, the solar apparatus, etc. Interested in the connections between the decorative/pictoral aspects of what you've included and the practical function. I'd been getting more commissions for architectural work myself in recent years, I'm interested to work more carefully through your ideas.

The letter continued with some discussion of the situation at the University of Minnesota, the instructor's family, and of the city of Minneapolis more generally. The letter was mostly likely written before this recent outbreak of illness, Kiera thought, assuming this epidemic had in fact broken out there.

Further down, there was a listing of some of the contents of the box.

Along with some drawings of my own, I asked my senior students to include small portfolios of what they'd been working on. Two of them included a letter as well, something of their background, their interests & ideas. 

I won't give much rationale here for the literature I've sent along- I've inserted notes in each at the page I'd like to draw your attention too. For the most part, these are secondary copies that I've managed to find of books that were very important to me, or primary copies of works that I and my students have taken in so thoroughly that we can afford to be without them for awhile. (I've made a note in every book that I'd like returned to me. Feel free to add the rest to your library.)

To close, I want to thank you again for initiating this exchange between our two programs. I'm very much interested in having students of yours make a stay with us, and likewise would be grateful for having student's of mine to spend time studying with you. I think it's important for us to find & reach out to some other like-minded artists & studios in this wider region, who'd be suitable to participate in this kind of exchange.

And beyond only having students travel and participate in other programs, I myself have hopes that, for some larger commissions (say for a public monument or for building work), perhaps we could meet on the site and camp there for the duration of the project. If we can share our designs, and plans for things like the devices you've been working on, perhaps we could develop a repertoire among us, valuable for building & artistic projects in the region. I have in mind some projects that might work well to initiate a collaboration like this, I will be writing you again soon.


Christopher Mindhenhall

Kiera smiled at his ambition as she folded the letter and returned it to it's envelope. Again, she had no way of knowing if and how this epidemic might affect the plans that were forming here, but she hoped that, when the contagion subsided, they would find a way. She started pulling books from the box and laying them out on the table. It was a wide range of subject matter: a few art history books, some poetry, math, engineering. She could start reading through some of these herself, and also have Thomas and Rachael start working through whatever might interest them.

She heard knocking on the large cafeteria doors, and smiled at the thought of that as she got up to walk over and welcome Reginald in. He had a white shirt on, with his backpack over his shoulder and his towel and his old clothes rolled up in coils in the metal wash pail he'd taken. She looked at his forehead, it looked like he hadn't much disturbed the scab that had formed on the wound, but it was weeping a little.

“Hey there, come on in, have a seat over at the table. I'll get a new wrap for your forehead.” The tin medical case had been stowed in the storeroom as well.

“Thank you once again, ma'am,” Reginald said as he took a chair at the long table. His eyes poured over the books and papers laid out among the candles and the wine. “You're deep in some study here, it looks like.”

“Actually, this all arrived today, I'm just mapping out the contents of the delivery at the moment,” she said as she pinned the clean cloth at the side of his head. “It will definitely take a while to work through.”

She piled the books to the side, and poured him a glass of wine, and topped up her own. “Enough with work for the today though. I'm curious to hear your story though, Mr. Whitson. In particular, of what brought you to be skulking through our gardens at dusk,” she said with a smile as she raised her glass. “Cheers.”

He touched his glass to hers and had a sip. “Ah, that is really good, thank you. As I'd said before, I left my home about ten days ago, I've been hiking and camping since then. My food has run low, I admit to thinking of plucking something from your field. I saw the light behind the big windows of your dining room here, I was curious. I was kind of drawn in, I didn't notice the young man who saw me from that stoop. These are the largest buildings that I've come across since I left home, by far.”

“This journey you're taking... where are you headed?”

“Well, strange to say, I don't exactly know.” He looked to her eyes to gauge how she'd react to this point, it was a source of tension in his own mind. “I was planning to come to the city, but beyond that I didn't know. That farmer I'd mentioned just south of here, he referred me to some religious orders downtown, doing charitable works. I entertained that idea.” 

“It's kind of an unusual time, during an outbreak of illness, to take up aimless wandering, is it not?”

“It is ma'am. I've had many moments over these days where I can't believe that I did this, and am filled with anxiety. It passes though, and I feel calm again, and find myself wanting to continue on.” Reginald took another sip. The rich dinner and the deep flavour of the wine brought to him a sense of being restored. “This contagion though, that's what prompted me to leave, for the most part.”

“Oh, how is that? Is the illness especially bad where you've come from?”

“Well, I'm not entirely sure. It's definitely reached into town, but my farmhouse is some ways off from there. I hadn't been getting many visitors, for some time.”

“Then how is it that the contagion prompted you to leave your house?” Kiera asked. Her interest was growing in his hesitant, nebulous little tale. The glow of the dim candlelight shifted on the smooth skin of his cheeks, he must have taken some time in the shower to give himself a fresh shave.

“That's a longer story. The last outbreak of this illness, about a year and a half ago now, I'd say, that was a busier time for me. My wife was a public nurse then, she did a lot of work in the towns in our area, and out at farm houses, caring for the ill. She fell ill herself, near the end of that wave, and passed away.”

“I'm sorry to hear that,” Kiera said.

“Yes. That following year was a hard time for me. She was the light of my life, and my life got very empty when she passed. I didn't get up to much for some time. I spent a lot of time in bed. In recent months, I'd say the grief was lifting a bit, but when this contagion returned, I had a sense that I had to leave.”

“What was her name?”

“Rebecca. She really was a wonderful nurse. She was a prominent person in town, she was kind of my connection to the community. She was outgoing, I mainly tended to our homestead. She kept my world interesting, she read so much, medical books, from history. She wrote a lot when she had the time, there was always some project or line of thought that I could hear about, or help with.”

“You were a farmer, then?”

“No, not exactly, our main source of income was her practice, for sure. I helped support her in that, and grew most of our own food. I took odd jobs in town when the chance came up, helping with some carpentry, or harvests. We had some animals and a large garden though, I spent a lot of my time with that. She was interested in botany, she had a lot of herbs growing, in the greenhouse and a plot we set aside for that, that was her domain.”

“Well, she sounds like an accomplished person,” Kiera remarked. “She was growing these plants for medicinal purposes then?”

“Yes, for treating certain symptoms, and for promoting health more generally I suppose, preventing imbalances, something like that. She studied the effects of food on health, she had a lot of notes on that. The herbs weren't all she did though, she knew about treating injuries, she knew all about the uses of the factory medicines, when they could be had.” He took another drink of wine. “I suppose you have some capacity for nursing yourself,” he said, gesturing to the medical case and the roll of gauze.

“I've been teaching young artists here for about eight years. With the chisels, the metal works, heavy mallets, we've had a few injuries during my run,” Kiera replied, smiling. “That last pass of contagion though, we had quite a few fall ill, we had to work out our system for dealing with the outbreak. I learned a lot in our discussions on how to manage this, a few of our professors here did a lot of reading on the matter. And similar to your wife, I've taken an interest in the foods we eat here, in our program, I've worked a lot with our cook, thinking through how we order our food, what we grow, how it's prepared, that sort of thing.”

“Ah, this is an art school then,” Reginald said, finishing his glass.

“Yes, I suppose we could've mentioned that to you by now,” Kiera replied as she poured him another small glass.

“I gathered that it was a school, I didn't guess what kind. Did you study here before you started teaching?”

“No, I didn't actually, I didn't study art at a university. I spent a lot of years travelling, taking jobs in various kinds of studios and workplaces, to learn the kinds of art that I do. The program that I've assembled for the students here, it took me a long time to gather together.”

“You and the students live at the school then? Is that to isolate yourself from the illness, are you away from family?”

“No, I live here year 'round, more or less, the students for the most part as well, they return to their family homes for periods of the year. I don't have much family to speak of, though I have a lot of close friends in the city. I never married. My whole life is bound up in these studios, I feel.”

“My wife and I never had children. When she passed, I was left without much family as well,” Reginald said. Kiera could hear sadness welling in his voice here.

“What about your homestead and your animals, what's become of them?”

“Well, as I said, it was a hard year, I had troubles getting to my work. I sold the animals, and didn't grow much either. The house is still there, largely boarded up. I left a key at the neighbour's farm with a letter and some payment for their boys to look in on it from time to time.”

“I think I can understand your situation,” Kiera said as she emptied the bottle it her glass, “but I'm trying to picture what exactly made you set out – and on foot no less – away from your home, in a time of sickness, to no clear destination. I don't want to pry, but was there some dream, or a vision?”

Reginald answered slowly, taking thought. “There wasn't any dream or vision. There was just a strong sense to leave, that rose up in me, over some days or weeks. The last part of my life was over, and I grieved it. I felt my life had entirely emptied out, and when I accepted it, I seemed like a new part was opening. I wanted to bring her work forward, to other people who could use it, and expand on it and pass it on. And I wanted to help them do it, if I could. I had a feeling I would need to come to the city for this, and the days of walking and sleeping in the brush seemed to be a part of it.”

Kiera took a moment to take in what he'd said, and Reginald was content to wait in the silence. Then she started again, “How were you thinking to carry forward her work? Do you know it well yourself?”

“I don't, exactly. It was her work, I didn't involve myself in it too deeply, though I definitely heard a lot about it. I helped with the herbal gardens, some of her preparations, and ordering medical supplies, that sort of thing. But I have her notebooks, they are very detailed. I can work through those, with some help. I have them here, if you'd like to see them.”

“Really? Absolutely, by all means, I would love to see them.”

Reginald got up, surprised to feel a little tipsy, and walked over fetch his bag, which he placed down beside the wooden crate. He pulled out a few notebooks of different sizes, and laid them in front of Kiera as he sat back down. “These ones are mostly loose notes. These two are observing patients, recording results of treatments, that sort of thing. This one here is more like a complete book,” he said, pointing to a thick, ledger sized notebook with a deep red cover.

“Thank you.” Kiera opened the book of patient records. It was very tightly written, in columns, a lot of abbreviated words. It looked like sets of questions were included at the base of most of the columns, highlighted by a rectangles traced around them. Next, she started paging through the collections of notes. Reginald sat quietly as Kiera read. She sensed he was comfortable sitting in the quiet, she didn't make any comments as she read random passages that'd caught her eye. Quotations she had copied from other works. Sections that were more like diary entries, her thoughts and reactions to what she encountered, and reflections on the times more generally. Newspaper clippings inserted between certain pages. Prayers.

The large red book was more intricate and structured. It had longer chapters, arranged similarly to the headings used in the books of notes. It was filled with elegant botanical drawings in dark ink, as well as charts and pages where the information was represented in various diagrammatic patterns. Recipes, instructions, and preparations were appended to the end of the chapters. It was an impressive, striking manuscript, and though she wasn't sure it was finished, right away Kiera had thoughts of working on an illustrated printing of it.

“These look fantastic, Reginald. Appears like the work of many years condensed.”

“Yes. Of course it's not cures, exactly, or anything like that,” Reginald cautioned. “It's not medicine like they have in the city hospital, though she did know a lot of that, she used it with her patients. But it is the sort of thing that's available to nearly any group of people out in the country, in times like these. She was interested in how to keep people healthy, aside from just the treatment of diseases and injuries.”

Kiera closed the book, piled them back together, and moved them back to Reginald. “Would you be interested at all in staying here for awhile, and working through some of this material with us? We could definitely use an extra hand in our program here, especially in the kitchen over the fall. If you want to bring this to someone in the city, I'm thinking you could use a place to stay and work from, and maybe some help. We have gardens here. It's crossed my mind before to learn about the use of herbs, for my own health and for the students.”

“I would like that, very much. Thank you. I brought a fair number of seeds with me, when I left. It's taken some work to keep them dry.”

He took from his bag a number of labelled packets, being sheets of paper that were carefully folded into envelopes, wrapped around with twine and held together with a parcel knot.

Biochar Woks, Cooking, Collapse

I came back to my home city about ten years ago, after having lived for a few years up north in the Yukon. I took a culinary arts course ...