Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Anniversary 2017

I often mark the passing of years by reflecting on where I was 1 year ago, 2 years ago, 5 years ago, etc.  I definitely haven't been looking forward to this 1 year anniversary that is approaching.  But, as I sit here at my desk, nearly 39 weeks pregnant, listening to the rumble of a cement truck running in the farmyard and the whirring of the agitator barrel, I'm reminded that everything happens for a reason, the only thing you can count on is things is constantly changing and evolving, and that tough isn't about how many fights you've won, it's about how many you've been in.

One year ago on April 30th, 2016 all three of our farm outbuildings burned down.  It was one of the first nice Saturdays of spring when the grass was starting to green up but hadn't started growing yet and so I had spent the day doing cleanup around the yard (because it's a good time of year to find rusty bits of metal before the grass grows and hides them-- see photo to left) and hauling loads to the dump.  Jon was at work at Patmore's.  I have re-lived the day in my mind hundreds of times, often not by choice as I have found myself plagued with nightmares the past year, especially this winter.  I still go back to that day when the wind blows just right through the farmyard and the smell of burning oil, manure, and old dry wood permeates my nostrils.

There had been grass fires burning a few miles South of us all day, and at one point when I went in the house to stir the pot of pea soup I was making, I glanced out the kitchen door window and remember thinking "that doesn't look right".  There was yellow smoke blowing through the farmyard.  I went out to investigate and found yellow smoke billowing out of the South ridge of the shop.  My first instinct was to grab the sliding door handle and pull: Locked from the inside, thank goodness.  At the same time as I pulled, I heard the whooshing of flames, clearly already out of control, and so I stepped backwards and dialed 911.  Following, or during the call, I can't really remember when, I went to the frustratingly close by hydrant and tried to open it.  It stuck and no water came out, so I grabbed a rock and bashed the handle up.  Nothing.

Cursing bad repair, my next instinct was to search for a fire extinguisher.  I had no idea where one might be.  As I ran, I called Jon at work and when he said it was in the shop, I grabbed a key and went inside.  Yes, inside a flame-engulfed building.  The shop had two sides and one was on fire.  As soon as I opened the other side and stormed in, the thick black smoke made a nearly audible groan and sunk down to my waist.  I walked 4 or 5 steps in, and then decided to heed the 911 operator's advice to not go inside.  Thank goodness those people are trained to point out things that should be super obvious, because when panic sets in I guess all logic goes out the window.

I decided to move the rabbits who were nestled in their cage beside the hydrant.  They had just been moved out of the barn 6 days prior, little did we know that decision saved their lives!  I grabbed the 200 lb cage, which has wheels on one side and is meant to be moveable by one person, but really isn't-- except in this case, where I remember nearly sprinting with it.  I moved it to where I thought they would be safe, in front of the barn.  Immediately after moving it, I took one of about 5 photos that I took that day, only 2 of which I remember taking.  As you can see, the fact that I was just inside that building less than 5 minutes prior is a bit ridiculous.

At this point, I decided it was best if I did just get safely back in the house yard and wait for the fire department to arrive.  I remember calling 911 again because it had been hours since the first call (though my phone reported it was actually 11 minutes).  From photos and calls I was able to piece together afterwards that the fire department made it to our place inside of 25 minutes, which is no small feat for a volunteer fire department located in a town 10 minutes away on the first nice Saturday of the year.  Our fire call disrupted the first spring BBQs and birthday parties and family gatherings.  When they arrived, both the shop and quonset were fully engulfed and the strong East wind blowing that day had been pushing hot black smoke and licking flames against the cedar shake barn roof for some time.  The shingles caught while the fire fighters unrolled their hoses and got the pump truck going, and three or four of them disappeared into the black smoke.  A feeble trail of water sprinkled on the barn roof, and it was instantly clear that the barn was gone, too.  Without any water available on site, it was a matter of stopping the fire from spreading beyond the three buildings.  It's one of the few times I ever remember there being a strong wind from the East, and other times of year we are mostly sheltered from it by the leaves on the trees.  There were no leaves that day, the yard was bone dry, and the wind was blowing hard.

In the meantime, a paramedic on the scene was the first person to engage with me.  We were standing on the house side of the fence, with all the other non-fire personnel.  I'm sure he asked me if I was ok and offered me water, and as the firefighters retreated from trying to save the hopeless barn, he then asked if there was any livestock in the barn.  I said, "not really, but that cage has my rabbits in it", and he motioned for one of the firefighters to come over and pointed frantically at the cage, which I had moved to relative safety less than 20 minutes prior, and was now directly in front of a building turning into a blazing inferno.  Three of the younger firefighters who had been downing entire bottles of water in one squeeze after attempting to extinguish the barn and were covered in sweat from the heat threw their gear back on and grabbed the cage and ran it over beside the fence.  I grabbed rabbit carriers from the garage and they helped me over the fence and started spraying us indirectly with water, because it was so hot that it felt like the hair was being singed off your arms.  I've never caught and caged rabbits so efficiently in my life.  The handle fell off Bear's carrier as she went over the fence and she went for a roll, I snagged the crotch of my jeans on the barbed wire and ripped a huge tear in the jeans and my flesh, and an hour later, Mom would point out that I wasn't wet, though I remember being soaked at that moment.  After placing the rabbits safely in the house porch, I walked outside and took this photo (above).  The rabbit cage is visible just outside the fence, and the barn was just a skeleton of flaming ribs at that point.  I feel like the barn was gone in under 5 minutes.  Henny & Penny our two old hens, and Roseanne the cat probably didn't even know what hit them, though the back 8' door to the barn was open the whole time.  It took months for us to stop seeing Roseanne in every shadow or silhouette in the farmyard when we looked out the window.  We'll never know.

The rest of the afternoon was a blur of Jon arriving home, and then Dad, Mom, and Sherman as they worked to contain the fire and extinguish the rubble.  Many neighbours came to help: two brought water trucks, one even brought a Cat in case we needed to move rubble to help extinguish the flames.  Our closest neighbour helped Jon lay a water barrier in the house yard as it got dark, our electrician stopped in to see what was needed to get our power restored and Manitoba Hydro must've come as well, as I remember sitting in the kitchen with lights on that night and cooking hot dogs for all of us who had missed supper.  The well power was out, and would have been when I tried to turn on the hydrant earlier in the day.  Everyone left well after dark, and we could still look out and see little fires burning in the manure pile left from the barn.  We didn't sleep much that night.  The fire continued to smoulder for nearly 3 weeks, during which time the smell permeated our yard and my dreams.

Two days after the fire marked the 1-year anniversary of mine & Jon's arrival to Manitoba in 2015.  So, it was a bittersweet anniversary for us.
However, during this past year we have purchased the farm (July 2016) and then after the fire investigation was complete (determined to be a short in an extension cord), my Dad spent the whole summer cleaning up the site.  After the cleanup was done, he made us a gravel pad as the future site of our new pole shed building.  In November, Mark started construction on the shed and finished in December in the frigid cold.  And today, after a couple weeks of discussing plans and getting things ready, the concrete is being poured in the new shed, cementing our commitment to making this farm our home for many years to come.  The concrete footings from the old buildings are still piled in heaps in the farmyard, like a remembrance cairn of what used to be.

So, on this May 2nd, while we await the eminent arrival of our daughter who will be named Myrah (after Sherman's last name), instead of feeling devastated and hopeless and like we had to start all over again as we did last year, we instead feel grateful for what we have, for each other, and for all that is to come.

Shed progress

 We've been making some good progress on the shed.  By "we", I mean most of this stuff is so far over my head that I'm lucky if I'm able to help a little bit with logistics and cheque writing.  Thank goodness for our wonderful builder (and friend!) Mark!  Not only did he put up the shed in the frigid end of 2016, but he got right back at it as soon as the snow melted working on finishing the interior.

First step was to confirm the floor plan.  Much harder than it sounds!  I've said a few times, "Why can't we just start at the end and then work backwards?!".  It would be much easier to start at the end, point out all the flaws and changes you would make if you had to do it again, than starting with a blank canvas!  Some of the needs we had were: Cooler 12' x 18'; mechanical room with furnace, cooler guts, and a/c; washroom with toilet, sink, shower; stairs contained within the space to upstairs grow room; three-basin sink for washing; floor drains located where there is potential for a future barrel washer.  All of that basically filled the space!
The area with the pink rigid insulation is where the cooler will be.  To the right of the cooler is the mechanical room and washroom.  To the left, the wash bay and sinks.  There will be stairs against the far right wall as well as lots of room for shelving.  The front door will open into a propagation greenhouse attached to the end of the building.  Above the prep/wash area will be a grow room, for starting transplants with long growing times as well as growing pea shoots and other microgreens (potentially), and early spring salad crops in trays, in the hopes of moving me away from being the Salad Nazi.

(We grow salad mix in the early spring in Mom's greenhouse, to take advantage of the extra space that is being heated.  We can produce a couple of pounds a week, and there is demand for at least a few dozen.  I basically can't even take photos in the greenhouse this time of year without being inundated with emails and messages of people looking for salad.  It's encouraging, but also very annoying to have to be the gatekeeper for this popular crop!)

In other news, baby is at week 38 now, nearly there!  Late pregnancy has proven much more bearable than the first 8 months.  I feel better and more energy than I have the entire winter, though the waiting is getting annoying at this point.  I feel like everything is just on "pause" waiting for the new arrival, except it's not-- the spring is progressing out there and soon it will be time to be out planting!  Would rather be getting my sea legs with a newborn now rather than later, but there's nothing I can do about that, so instead I work away at the things I can do right now... Picking nettles, computer work, email correspondence, and very light amounts of yardwork and farm work.