15 Minutes

tornado like winds destroy pine trees

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.

whole trees with their roots torn out of the ground

wind cut trees in half

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?

trees with their roots pulled out the ground

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.

Carl and his wife, Norma

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.

ready to fall

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.

storm clouds at CrossRoad Field

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?

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About Grace

Grace and her husband Michael manage Buxton a Polyface satellite farm. Her first passion is to align with radiant health. She knows intimately that when you have your health you can do anything. Next, her passion for vibrant healthy food and beautiful landscapes along with her interest in permaculture influenced Grace's decision to align with the Polyface farming model. With 20 years of experience in the healing arts, she feels growing food and pasture raising animals is one of the greatest healers and a true source of personal empowerment. It's been said, "if you're not living on the edge your taking up too much space." Grace lives joyfully on the "leading edge" surrounded by the breathtaking beauty of the appalachian mountains where her and Michael steward 1000 acres with profound appreciation."

16 Responses to 15 Minutes

  1. Sandy says:

    Best blog on life I have read in a very long time. Good you are safe and lived to farm another day.

    • Grace says:

      Appreciate your words. Yes, life. Isn’t it filled with amazing stories and experiences.

  2. Shannon Wood says:

    Wow. Scary and powerful moment. Glad you guys have pulled through.

  3. Leilani says:

    We can only prepare so much for these freak events and they can take us in an instant from a state of feeling in control and safe to feeling completely vulnerable. No matter how out of control things feel during the event we always seem to learn something that makes us more prepared the next time. Sometimes I feel like extreme weather events are Mother Natures way of bringing things back into alignment and reminding us of what is really important. I am so glad you all are safe and grieve for your animal and infrastructure losses with you.

    We had major flooding from the tropical storm right before your wind storm. We had two feet of rain in 24 hours. Our farm was luckier than many of our neighbors who are lower and lost everything. With a foot of water in the main garden we lost some things but managed to drain it fast enough to not loose everything. We were able to move all of our animals to higher ground and didn’t loose any. As I see neighbors still under water, I know how truly lucky we were.

    • Grace says:

      Really appreciate you sharing this. It takes time to pull through devastating emotional experiences. I’m always pleased when I can get to a sense of peace about what I manifest in life. Not sure how I brought this defined experience into our experience but I did! I feel for your neighbors. Losing all that you nurture and grow can be terrible piercing. What I love is being alive to turn it all around. Best to you and them!

  4. Awesome post. Like I was right there. The freezer and turkey detail was the worst. I’m so sorry.

    I agree with your conclusion. The chickens can be replaced. You can not.

    • Grace says:

      A friend come over the following morning and took some of the chickens to his house. He’s another caring person. The rest of the chickens got to Polyface at the crack of dawn. The roads were precarious but thanks to Leanna they got put into the Polyface large freezer and Polyface got power later that day. We didn’t get power back for 5 days but that’s another story.

  5. Sounds like a really scare day. So much damage and loss, I’m glad you came out of it OK. As you say, though, risking your own lives like that for chickens, it’s simply not worth it, tragic though that seems.

  6. Kristen Beichler says:

    We’re so thankful that you and Michael were safe through the storm. Prayers and hugs, Grace!

    • Grace says:

      Thanks dear ones and thanks to Ben for putting Buxton on the map. Without his desire to learn from Polyface this farm wouldn’t be here. !

  7. Melissa says:

    I have wondered how you made it through that storm. Your post tugged at my heart and brought tears to my eyes. In bad situations we do the best we can. You did the right things and God watched over you, it was how it should be. Hugs and blessing to you. I feel so bad about your turkeys. I know how much mine mean to me. I will keep you in my prayers. Take care.

    • Grace says:

      Sometimes doing the best we can in bad situations means taking a nap! In the aftermath of all this drama, my body just wants to rest. Not to mention my right foot. Emotions are powerful navigators and taking time to regroup has won the day! Who knew how dramatic living at Buxton would be? Our desire to have all of these experiences on this farm are preparing us for something even better. I can feel it!

  8. daisyglitter says:

    Wow, that is really scary. I am glad you are safe. Your neighbor is an amazing person – how blessed you are to have people around you for support in times of trouble! I am also very sorry to hear about your turkeys. Trials bring perseverance, perseverance brings character and character brings hope. I am glad you are finding clarity and solutions on the other side! Be careful out there!

    • Grace says:

      I love that word perseverance. I just need the universe to turn it down a notch for a little while! You’re right this farm experience has shaped our character. You can bet on that one!

  9. Shelley says:

    My warrior friends; tested again. Shoot, that one was a bit much! I was so proud of you guys when I came to visit and this just reinforces that again. I am so glad that you (and the tiny) are safe. love sh

  10. Brenda Smith says:

    Hi Grace ,
    This is Carl’s daughter Brenda .I’m glad you told me about this post .As you know i’m pretty proud of him ….Glad everything worked out and you were safe …Keep an eye out for him for me ,please , as you know sometimes he doesn’t know when to stop lol…… We might be over again swimming soon ,maybe we will see you then ….. Stay safe 🙂