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abandonment and renewal

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From the ashes of catastrophe, life somehow manages to rise again. This thought hung on Daisy’s mind, sweat pouring down her face, as she uttered a reassuring click to Bud and Betsy, the pair of Belgian draft horses drawing the plow. The community had outgrown its garden, and Daisy was charged with negotiating a new patch of rich soil from the shrubby old field, which had not seen a plow in decades. Despite the heat and her perspiration, she reveled in the back-breaking work, for it was the full expression of her life purpose: rebuilding.

Daisy moved to Hope Prairie Community from the Great Lakes Climate Change Refuge two years ago with her husband, Felix. Over the years, the pressures of climate change had pushed thousands of people into refuges dispersed across the country. These safe havens were established by the federal government to absorb refugees who fled from communities destroyed by the climate’s fury. Feeling crowded and thirsting for a life free from the stifling restrictions imposed on refugees (necessary for order, but cumbersome for daily life), Daisy and Felix packed up their lives into two suitcases and made the journey to Wisconsin.

Thirty-five years prior, in the year 2035, Daisy and her mother fled Madison after the disaster. Daisy was barely a year old. Although she remembered nothing of the land of her homeland, Daisy had always held onto the dream of returning there, an indescribable longing for an unfamiliar home. She knew from her mother that, because of the danger, few people still lived in Madison and the surrounding area. But Daisy and Felix hoped the largely abandoned landscape would offer them the chance to start a new life, perhaps a new society. Following this glimmer of hope, they migrated toward a land from which so many had not too long ago fled.

They took it as a sign that they stumbled upon Hope Prairie so quickly after their arrival. On their first night in Yahara, they stayed with an old friend of Daisy’s mother, who lived in what was left of Middleton. When chatting about the couple’s potential next steps, their hostess told them about the subsistence farming community with a big dream. Hope Prairie sounded exactly like what they were seeking.

Three years before Daisy and Felix’s arrival, a troupe of young, optimistic east coast refugees merged with a clutch of equally young and optimistic Wisconsin dwellers to found Hope Prairie. The community blossomed from their shared dream of shaping a new society from the dust of Yahara’s crumbled past. When the great disaster befell the watershed, the human population had been decimated, and many of the survivors fled. Most of the former human settlements lay in ruins, and the landscape had been transformed by the hands of nature. The resulting autonomy and rejuvenating ecosystems offered these idealistic homesteaders a virtually clean slate from which to realize their vision.

The group settled in the ruins of a suburban development that hugged a former prairie preserve and some abandoned farmland, and fixed up a few of the large houses to create communal living spaces. As a subsistence farm, Hope Prairie resembles the few dozen of such farms that have filled the void industrial agriculture left after the disaster. For the most part, each cultivates only what it needs to feed its members; Hope Prairie has grown to twenty-seven. The homesteaders found the soil in the old farmland still ready for crops. A recent history of drought and fire allowed very few trees and shrubs to root on the sloping, south-facing fields, which made them easy to till. The community’s breaking of the rich soil seemed somewhat reminiscent of settlers past.

The soil still replete with phosphorus, Hope Prairie’s vegetables and fruits flourish (corn and soy lost their value after the disaster; few farm them anymore). The community also has a handful of dairy cows and a herd of goats, which are pasture-raised, now the widespread practice among Yahara’s farms. A dozen chickens roam the central courtyard freely by day, but are locked up in the coop at night, to keep them safe from the raccoons, foxes, and wolves. The community trades its surplus with neighboring subsistence farms and communities in the city center for goods they cannot make or services they cannot perform for themselves. This bartering system has replaced the monetary system of pre-disaster society. The community recently banded together with a neighboring farm to further diversify and expand their cropland—a collaborative model they are copying from other subsistence farms in the watershed.

Daisy’s current task was part of this new effort. The collaboration thrilled her, as it was proof their model was working. They could survive off the land and with each other, and work together in a productive partnership. In their new environment, they found nature to be a fickle roommate, feral and prone to mood swings. Only by working together and adapting to the shifting conditions could they survive. This lifestyle stands in contrast to life before the disaster—at least, according to how Daisy understood it. Back then, people largely ignored nature’s complaints and warnings, and their ignorance set the course for the disaster from which this new society would sprout.

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