...and what a year it's been. So much has happened to enable me to live a dream. I have a lot to be grateful for...amazing love, a chance to live and work on a farm, some growth in admissions at the seminary, wonderful friends and a deep sense of connection to this place and to the community that surrounds us. If that's how 2009 is ending, 2010 should be absolutely amazing.
December ended with my initiation into farming. I've been a farm sitter and have helped out around here a lot for the past few years, but when Lisa went to Seattle for a week and Kasey went to be with his family for a few days, I found myself solo farmer for nearly a week. The farm has grown. We now have 28 ewes, a ram, and several little lambs added to the goats and llama that we have. I was expecting lambs to be born while Lisa was gone, and indeed a healthy baby boy was born the day after Christmas, all without any help from me. Mama and baby are doing quite well.
A winter storm was predicted for the time Lisa was away, but they were making it sound like it wouldn't amount to much. As it got closer to time for the storm, the predictions grew larger and larger. By the time Christmas Eve rolled around, we were hearing "Blizzard Warning," words that are rare in these parts. That day rain turned to sleet and things started icing up pretty quickly. I checked on the animals and though they were clearly cold, all seemed okay. The winds started picking up and I found myself checking the weather radar every few minutes. The storm seemed to be moving on and it appeared at one point in mid-afternoon that we were nearly out of the woods, not much more than sleet and a little bit of snow. Oklahoma City had been hit hard, about 10 inches they were saying, and I could see on the radar how the storm was hammering them.
A few minutes later I looked out the window and saw snow coming down sideways with almost no visibility. I looked at the radar again and realized something had caused the storm to stall out on top of us. I pulled on my Carharrts and coat and raced around to check on animals. The snow was drifting in the barn. The area where we kept our bucks was quickly receiving a covering of snow and I could tell that there wouldn't be much dry, warm space left for everyone. I knew it was crazy, but I opted to put the does in the milk barn for the night and coaxed the bucks into the does area of the barn.
I slept uneasy that night. I had to make myself get up and go outside the next morning to see what had happened. There was snow everywhere. It was beautiful to see the sunrise on the frozen acreage, the faint hints of light peaking up over the hill beyond the pond, just beginning to reflect off the ice that covered it. I stepped into the barn and found everyone huddled. The two bucks were still lying on the ground, cuddled together to stay warm. Everyone else was standing. There was a four-foot drift just outside the barn, creeping into the south end. Everywhere I turned there was snow.
I fed everyone and went back in to get ready to milk. When I went back out I checked on the bucks again. They seemed to be listless and not very responsive. I called Lisa and made the decision to get them in the milk barn where I could turn on a heater. They were so cold at that point that they couldn't walk. I had to carry them to the barn. I laid them on a thick bed of hay, turned on the heater and grabbed several blankets to put over them. A friend of ours recommended putting hot water bottles under them to help warm them up, so I did that as well. I laid on top of them and talked to them, alternating blankets and water bottles. Lisa stayed on the phone with me for a long while, coaching me, talking to the boys when I'd put the phone to their ears.
In the end, all that I tried didn't work. They had already shut down too much when I found them. They both died that day in the barn. It was hard to accept. It still is at times.
But I find myself as I move into this new year, aware of all that we've accomplished in 2009, trying to celebrate what did happen those few days when I was here alone, deeply aware that I am not in control. I play a role here. I am responsible for the care of these animals, a responsibility I share with Lisa. A responsibility I share with the animals and the elements too. I won't always be able to save the animals. At some point, our best efforts fall short, and I'll learn from those times, just as I've learned from this one.
Being a farmer is not about being a hero. This narrative I write of my life will not have its heroines. It will be the story of living beings learning to live to within a balance of life, each playing a role, each impacting the other. There's a rare beauty in that. I've seen it intimately these past few days. It's like seeing the face of God, I think. I can't walk away the same.