Beartooth Chronicles #1

Refuge from the World

by Kim McMahill

Refuge from the World by Kim McMahill Ashley McPhee arrived in Beartooth with her mom, Sara, when she was three years old. Ever since Ash can remember, life has been simple and peaceful. She enjoyed a carefree childhood, tending honey bees with her mom and spending time with her best friend, Caleb Solomon. But, life in their idyllic mountaintop community is changing.

After learning of the government’s plan to use a geoengineering process to cool the planet, Ash and Caleb realize they need to step up and take an active role in the community. Along with fear for how the process might impact their food supply, Ash learns her mom’s health is failing.

Sara doesn’t want Ash to face an uncertain future alone and nudges her and Caleb into marriage. Even though they have known each other most of their lives, Ash and Caleb’s relationship has changed drastically in a short period of time. They embrace the challenges of learning about each other, dealing with tragedy and grief, protecting their community from deadly predators and ruthless neighbors, and experiencing epic adventures, while trying to find solutions to a rapidly changing environment and deteriorating world.






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The world had survived a massive shift in the tectonic plates, resulting in earthquakes and epic volcanic eruptions. Millions of people had been lost. Landmasses subsided and eroded significantly, further exacerbating the effects of flooding as the last of the world’s ice melted and ran into the rising oceans or into inland lakes.

The Mediterranean Sea had spilled into the Black and Caspian seas, submerging Istanbul. Coastal Europe was gone, forcing hundreds of millions to migrate inland. The Leaning Tower of Pisa, the great pyramids of Egypt, and dozens of ancient Mayan temples were all under water.

America had not been spared either. Coastal California along with its Central Valley were flooded. The Eastern Seaboard, including Washington D.C., most of the Gulf Coast states, and the entire state of Florida were gone. Nearly two-thirds of the U.S. population had to relocate inland. Some were absorbed into other cities, while others were forced into fifty new resettlement communities. The U.S. capital had been moved to Denver, Colorado, the once Mile High City, where the country’s government hoped it would be safe.

Populations around the world were being pushed inland and to higher elevations, concentrating vast numbers of people onto a shrinking land base. The resulting high population density coupled with fear, created a ticking time bomb. Keeping the peace between the political parties and extremist factions, feeding more people with less land, and controlling infectious diseases had become a huge challenge.

Ashley McPhee, Ash to friends and family, turned off her shortwave radio and walked to the small map of the United States tacked to the wall of the one-bedroom cabin she shared with her mom, Sara. Using a piece of charcoal, she shaded out more of the Eastern Seaboard and studied what remained of the country. Although she watched the status of ocean levels around the world, her main concern was for the future of the United States.

America was still a global superpower, and like the few others that remained, the government was struggling to keep the peace, domestically and abroad, and find high-tech solutions to the growing array of problems, including a shortage of fuel. Refineries located in coastal areas were now underwater, some oil fields were flooded or had been altered by tectonic shifting, and pipeline and road damage made distribution difficult, inefficient, and expensive.

Along with developing better vaccines to stay ahead of rapidly mutating viruses, the race was on to build better dams, levees, floating cities, pumps, desalinization plants, and weapons. Some scientists worked on redirecting the sun’s rays back into the atmosphere to cool the planet, while others were simply looking for ways to feed more people with less land and poorer growing conditions.

As the world gambled on science and high-tech solutions to save civilization, small communities like Ash’s, were experimenting with the opposite approach. They worked with, rather than against nature and looked for the lowest-tech methods to satisfy the community’s basic needs. So far, it had been successful.

Ash wondered how long it would be before their little enclave near the top of what was once known as Beartooth Pass, could remain unnoticed by the outside world. The community was established just twenty-five years ago with three families who had pooled resources, purchased a struggling mountain resort, and began building a sustainable community.

Settlers looking for a simpler life slowly trickled in for nearly ten years past Beartooth’s inception. After the flooding and the near-continuous swarms of earthquakes in the area destroyed most of the roads and all the bridges that once provided access to the community, arrivals stopped. From the time the community became cutoff from the outside world, the population had grown from just thirty-nine adults and children to fifty-one souls.

Ash grabbed her beekeeping hat with veil, suit, and gloves and left the cabin. The moment she stepped outside, the beauty of her surroundings pushed all the dire news reported on the radio from her mind. As she looked around, she thought about the knowledge concentrated in Beartooth, and wondered if it would be enough.

All of the adults who migrated to Beartooth possessed useful skills. Ash’s mom had a master’s degree in entomology, and had worked as a horticulturist and entomologist for the state agriculture extension office in Idaho before the move. Sara and Ash now maintained the apiary. Other residents were carpenters, engineers, scientists, farmers, ranchers, nurses, teachers, city planners, technology experts, and people who possessed the skill and desire to build a better community.

Beartooth had and would continue to face many challenges in order to survive, but returning to their lives below the mountain was not an option. Residents had left their previous lives to move to Beartooth for various reasons, but the more Ash listened to the radio, the more she was convinced there was no going back.


Chapter One

It was a beautiful late December day. Ash McPhee had seen historic photographs of snow ten-feet deep where their cabin stood, but today it was a pleasant seventy-two degrees.

The seasons didn’t vary as much as they once did. Winter days now saw highs in the seventies and overnight lows in the sixties. Summer months frequently exceeded ninety degrees, and overnight temperatures seldom dipped below seventy. They could grow gardens year-round, though the hottest months in the summer and the months with the shortest days in the winter were less productive.

She spotted her mom near one of their six hives, clustered in three locations in small clearings behind the Solomon farm and Mark and Tara Ferguson’s fruit orchard, vineyard, and goat farm. The scene was peaceful.

Ash loved working with the bees. Her mom was her best friend, and her stunningly-beautiful mountain home was isolated from a country riddled with division, crime, disease, hate, discrimination, civil unrest, and government corruption.

“Have any of the hornets we spotted a few days ago found their way into the honey bee hives?” Ash asked.

“No, it looks like coating the hive entrances with animal dung worked.”

“Good. We can’t afford to lose any pollinators, but we can’t let the hornets kill the honey bees either,” Ash said as she donned her suit, hat, and gloves.

“I think we’ve struck a balance for now,” Sara replied.

Ash had worked with her mom as long as she could remember. Most children learned trades from their parents unless there were multiple children in a family, then some pursued other interests.

She enjoyed the work, but also knew the community counted on the two of them to nurture and protect the bees. Their food supply depended on it.

They spent hours each day inspecting and maintaining the hives. Few others realized how much effort went into creating a conducive environment for the bees.

When not tending the apiary, they started bedding plants for gardens, rooted grape cuttings for the vineyard, and planted tree seeds in pots, mostly apple, cherry, and conifer. And, like all residents, they pitched in wherever needed.

“I think it’s time to start building some new frames,” Sara said. “Some of these are really showing wear and are probably not as sturdy as they should be.”

“I’ll go into the forest and scrounge for fallen branches when we’re done collecting the honey and wax,” Ash replied.

Tree species growing on the mountaintop continued to evolve. Only seventy years ago this area was near the tree line, dotted with hearty pines, low shrubs, and mosses clinging to the rocks and soil close to the ground. Fifty years ago, pine trees were dominant. Now, deciduous trees other than aspen were slowly moving in.

Except for when a construction project or cabin addition was approved by the Community Leadership Board, known simply as the CLB, all wood available for use had to be naturally discarded from living trees or harvested from a tree that had died of natural causes like disease, fire, or old age. So far, the system had ensured a healthy forest around the community, and keeping the ground under the trees clear of dead and downed timber ensured that the rare lightning-caused wildfire was manageable.

Since the hives were located too far away from the residential area to take the full frames back to the cabin to extract the honey, Ash and her mom had constructed basic workstations near the hives. The workstations consisted of an elevated platform to set the extractor on, that was low enough to easily load the frames, but high enough to allow them to drain off honey as needed into another bucket.

Ash set up the extractor with the excess bucket below the spout and placed a wax collection bucket nearby. She then filled the smoker with grasses, lit it, and waved it in front of the hive entrance until she detected little movement inside.

Setting the smoker aside, she lifted the lid and held it while Sara carefully pulled out one of the frames. Ash gently brushed off the sluggish bees. It was nearly full, so they took it over to the bucket, sliced off the wax sealing the combs into the pail, and placed the frame into the extractor. They repeated the process until the four fullest frames were loaded.

Once the frames were secured, Ash spun the frames while Sara kept the bees pacified with the smoker until all the honey was extracted. After each frame was clean, Ash returned them to the hive, took four more frames, and repeated the process.

Depending on the amount of honey and time of year, the number of frames they extracted honey from varied. Going into the cooler months they always left plenty of honey for the bees to use in case they needed to expend energy to generate heat.

Ash loved the process of gathering honey and wax. Even more so, she enjoyed making products from the wax that the residents of Beartooth wanted and needed. She and her mom kept all of the honey and wax they needed, and then contributed the rest to the storehouse to distribute to others.

“The bees are producing well even though this isn’t a place that should have plants producing pollen and nectar at this time of year,” Ash said.

“It’s a relief and a miracle that they continue to evolve to new conditions so quickly.”

Bees had nearly gone extinct in much of the world, but with attention and care, Ash and Sara’s apiary continued to thrive despite a rapidly changing environment. Ash was proud of her mom’s success and worked hard to learn everything she could to take over one day. She hated the thought of her mom not being around to guide her through the intricacies of apiculture, but she had been raised a realist. Her mom wouldn’t live forever.

“What else do you need me to do today before I head out into the forest?” Ash asked.

“Once we get the honey and equipment back to the cabin, you’re good to go.”

Ash and Sara carefully removed their gloves and suits. They never walked between the cabin and the apiary in their beekeeping suits since the ones she and her mom used were the only ones they had.

The extractor was heavy, so they each took a handle to share the weight, and Ash carried the extra honey bucket in her outside hand. After dropping their load off at the cabin, they returned to the hive and retrieved the wax bucket and remaining equipment.

“Help me set up the strainer, and then you can leave,” Sara said.

“Sounds good. I’m anxious to get out into the forest. It’s always so peaceful.”

“Everywhere in and around Beartooth is peaceful. I suspect your love of the forest has more to do with chance encounters,” Sara replied with a knowing smile.

Ash wanted to deny it, but there was more than a grain of truth in her mom’s observation, so she chose not to respond.

“Anyway, just be careful if you have to venture too far in search of wood.”

“I’ll take my knife, but I doubt I’ll see any predators,” Ash replied as she helped her mom heft the extractor up onto the edge of the table.

“I was worried more about you twisting an ankle or getting lost, but now that you bring up the idea of unwanted visitors, a weapon can’t hurt. I understand Henry Adler saw tracks belonging to a person when he was on his way back from his scouting trip towards Granite Peak. He said the tracks weren’t very fresh and could have been made by someone from Beartooth, but be alert.”

“Even if it was an outsider’s track, it doesn’t mean he or she had malicious intent,” Ash stated.

“True, but a wanderer could unintentionally bring tragedy to our community by introducing a virus no one has encountered before.”

“Okay. Try not to work too hard. There is nothing that can’t wait until I get back,” Ash said.

She noticed that her mom tired easily as of late, but there wasn’t much left to do except wash and store their equipment. The honey was now flowing slowly out of the extractor, through a sieve to strain out bits of wax and other unwanted materials, and then into a clean collection vessel. Sara would need to add honey from the overflow bucket to the extractor as soon as there was room, but that was a slow and non-strenuous process.

Ash was more concerned that if she didn’t gather the wood for the frames, her mom would attempt to go into the forest and gather it herself, which would be much more arduous. She hadn’t said anything to her mom, but she had tried to pick up as much of the work as she could without being obvious. She hoped and prayed the situation was temporary and nothing serious was wrong.


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