Beginning of story
I had anticipated the possibility of starting over, but I didn't think I would have nothing but the clothes on my back. This presented a problem. I figured I would have something other than my bare hands to dig up my buried treasures with: a knife, perhaps, or at least a spoon. I looked around the Shelter to see if there was anything appropriate. I did find some rocks, one of which looked flat enough that it might work.
I knew that I might not have a good digging implement, and it would be the first thing I wanted, so I had strategically placed it by the sapling that was furthest north and west. I had four spots for each sapling, three feet away from the trunk in each direction, north, west, south, and east. Or did I start with the west? Shoot, now I wasn't sure which spot I wanted to dig first.
I decided to go with west. I put my left heel on the sapling, my right heel in front of left toe, then my left heel in front of my right toe, and made a scuff mark where my left toe was. I started scraping away the weeds with the rock. It was slow going, but it worked adequately. After 10 minutes, I had a decent size patch cleared, but my hands were burning. The rock was just to cumbersome to continue working with. I needed to find something else.
A few of the cut saplings were still lying around, but they were too thin to be of much use for digging. I left the shelter and started searching through the forest. Walking out into it, I realized another of my follies: I'm sure even to someone who had never seen a forest before, like on my first day Outside, I would have been able to tell that there was something different, that someone had been at work. Because I was always in a hurry whenever I went Outside, I just picked up whatever dry deadwood was closest. So for a fair stretch surrounding the Shelter, there was none to be found.
Luckily, that wasn't exactly what I was looking for. An old, dry piece of wood was going to be too brittle; I need something fresher that could bend a little without breaking. After about 20 minutes I found a tree that had fallen recently enough its leaves hadn't dropped off yet. I spent about 10 minutes trying to break off some branches, but they were too green and flexible. Had I had an axe I might have been able cut one off, but then I probably wouldn't be needing the digging stick.
After about another hour of searching I found a downed tree that had lost its leaves but didn't look decayed at all. Pulling back on one branch that was half the size of my wrist, I had it just about pointing backwards and was practically hanging off of it when a sudden crack dropped my butt on the ground. The branch came to a nice jagged point with a good 6 inches of flat, exposed wood, and with a few minutes of twisting the remaining bark and wood fibers, I was able to liberate it from the tree. I repeat the process 3 more times -- I even managed to stay standing the third time! -- and decided to head back to the Shelter. Since I was a bit further out than normal, I did pick up what dry wood I could find until I couldn't carry any more comfortably.
When I got back the Shelter I was quite hungry. I knew I was going to have to make that a priority soon, but right then I wanted to get to work on the digging. Setting down the firewood and digging sticks, I went and filled up my stomach with water. I realized it wouldn't keep me satisfied for long but at least I could focus on the task at hand.
I started in on the cleared patch. I wasn't able to move much dirt at a time, but it was nice to be able to get some leverage with both hands holding on solidly. While the stick held up well, the edge didn't stay sharp long, and I switched to the next stick before I had finished clearing the roots. When I got about a foot down I hit something. My triumph only lasted for a few seconds when I realized it was a bioplastic case. I had chosen the wrong spot. I finished digging it out and opened it up. My set of ceramic knives were still in beautiful condition. One Cook had gotten a lot of Beans for those; ordinary people didn't have knives of that quality, and since they were virtually indestructible, replacing them too often would arouse suspicion.
Naturally, I couldn't risk something so precious on digging. They did, however, make the task of clearing the vegetation from the spot 3 feet north of the sapling much quicker. I gave up on the second digging stick soon after I started on the second hole, and switched to the last one once I had cleared the roots. It wasn't long before I saw the reassuring flash of metal, and soon I had my vitally important aluminum trowel in my hand. It was not much less indestructible than the ceramic knives, and rarely did anyone but a Gardener have one, but since they were considered useless as a weapon, they were not quite so closely monitored.
Between the ceramic knives and the aluminum trowel, the third, south hole went much quicker. I was a bit surprised when I hit a thick clay jar, carefully sealed. Then I remember making it and laughed so hard I cried a little. Here I was, holding what would have been a fortune, now almost useless to me. Inside were fresh Bean seeds, carefully packed and sealed so that they would remain viable for as long as possible. I had stored them again precisely in case I lost all my trees and had to start all over again. But I never anticipated the shelter being ruined. Still, perhaps I would find another shelter out there somewhere and could start growing them again. I might never be able to trade them again, but at least I would have my own supply.
A lengthening shadow reminded me I had to finish my work quickly. Still working cautiously so as not to damage my tools, I did work steadily on the east hole until I reached another bioplastic case. Inside was a magnifying glass, the second thing I really wanted after the trowel. I would need to work quickly before the sun got too low.
Part 9: Light My Fire