We live surrounded by a vast mountain range. When we moved into the old farmhouse at Buxton we immediately noticed that the house was located in a “wind tunnel.” We get some serious winds. Looking out our front window we can see weather patterns from West Virginia headed our way. Sometimes we”ll be working in the broiler field and when we look out across the mountain range we can forecast the weather pattern ourselves. Usually we have 15 minutes to get out of the field. With the intensity of this last storm 15 minutes wasn’t nearly enough time for us to take cover.
Looking back its seems absurd that we had little warning about the land hurricane, Derecho, that hit Virginia over two weeks ago. I was doing our dinner dishes when blue skies turned a bleak black, the air suddenly grew super still and the mockingbird outside our kitchen window stopped singing and flew away. By the time I sensed something unordinary was about to descend upon us, 15 minutes would not guarantee safety of ourselves or the animals. It just wasn’t enough time.
Hindsight is always tricky. Typically when we know a storm is coming through we move cars away from trees, secure broiler pens, close up the brooder, close up the house, and wait it out.
But in this instance the storm hit fast. The wind was severe and strong, so strong it seemed it took our ability to think clear with it.
Who’s needs do you meet first in the event of danger with a storm this penetrating? Yours or the animals?
Our impulse to get the hens closed up won the day. Unfortunately they were with the cows 2 miles down the road. As we scrambled to get to the hens fierce winds almost took our little farm truck with us in it. Trees did back bends across the road. We were plunged into a scene from the Wizard of Oz. In the Campbell Pasture Field we watched the cows seek safe land stampeding their way off the hilltop. It was remarkable that they knew how to take care of themselves. Their instincts intact. They roared like a pack of elephants as they descended to lower ground breaking through cross fence lines, just missing trees slamming onto the ground all around them and us.
Michael and I moved fast. Once we got the hens inside, we threw our geese in the back of our Nissan and realized suddenly that there was no way for us to get home. Trees were dropping like paper clips across the earth blocking our route. Where could we go? We know only one other neighbor on our road and getting to his house was risky. We inched our way along down the S-curved road, surrounded by enormous boulders on one side and the roaring river on the other. If a strong wind descended upon us, we would not make it. My stomach rumbled. Inside I shook.
Our neighbors, Carl and Norma were home. They sat patiently inside their dark house. The grid was down. We waited the roughest part of the storm out in good company. But it was impossible to be still. All I could think about was how hard the farm was getting hit.
I’m not sure how some people walk through life as bold and committed as our neighbor Carl. At 73 years old, with a pacemaker and chronic health challenges, he didn’t think twice about leading us back down our country road. I’ve never seen anyone use a chainsaw with such determination and precision. Tree after tree after tree he cut through oblivious to the wind and rain that pounded us. The number of fallen trees seemed endless. It took us nearly 2 hours to get back to the farm. That one mile down the road felt like eternity. Michael and I moved branch after branch as Carl cut away. Every few minutes I would confess to Michael, “Carl’s amazing, look at him, this is unreal, it feels like he’s saving our lives, he’s incredible.” And he is. I see now how he has outlived the unpredictable nature of living in these mountains. This is is home.
Eventually we found refuge once we got home. Our car sat damaged under a tree, broiler pens were torn apart, chickens cast all over the field. In the processing area our freezers were thrown in the the yard by the pond, countless frozen chickens we just harvested would begin to melt, almost all of our turkeys died in the storm. With the grid down we had no water for the animals. My heart sank. We collapsed into bed long after midnight.
The weight of this storm has brought me a sense of clarity. Do you know what clarity brings? For me it brings empowerment. Once I’m clear about what I don’t want I can reach fully for what I do want. This storm could have taken our lives. We had no idea what to expect as we drove down the driveway on our way to secure the hens. If we had turned around in mid-route trees could have crushed us? Big trees.
In my life I have known some drama and big dramas bring big solutions. This storm swept through this farm and me with strong purpose. Almost as if it was begging to get my attention. Risking our lives for animals won’t happen again. That’s clarity. I like being clear. Who doesn’t?