This week has been a wild ride.
Monday was a fairly typical day--a bit cloudy with rain and wind in the forecast. Wind and rain are fairly normal this time of year so we weren't overly concerned. During a normal spring (does that exist?) our fiercest winds are in late March and April when the temperature is fluctuating dramatically. By June we have thunderstorms but the extreme wind isn't (as) common. We hadn't sustained any damage during the earlier part of the spring and we assumed we were past the worst.
Around 8pm the skies were getting pretty dark and rains were starting. Not long after, as we were moving through normal evening activities like kitchen clean-up and the bedtime wind-down, the power flickered and went out. Some mild fear gripped the girls but the adults weren't phased...yet.
It didn't take long to the winds to kick up to concerning levels and soon the girls fear needed significant comforting. Conversations were cut off as adults scampered off to address flapping things and distraught daughters.
Within a few min I (Joel) decided closing blinds might help calm my now frantic daughters. The trees were whipping violently and the rain was driving. Even I was starting to feel a bit anxious.
As I stepped to the south facing window to drop the shades and block the alarming visuals for my girls I saw a curtain of rain moving across the yard that was so dense it looked like a solid wave of water racing up a beach shore. This was getting serious. I was alarmed. At that instant the side of the house was pelted by large hail and tree 20 feet from the house snapped and fell while my daughters watched!
Things had escalated quickly and Megan and I decided it was time to move to the basement.
Beatrice was retrieved from her crib (sleeping soundly of course). And we all scurried into the cool dark basement. From there we sent out messages to the crew to dash in and join us.
For the next short while we all sat in the dark singing hymns and praying and calming the very distraught girls.
Once the branches outside the basement window stopped straining and some evening light returned, we cautiously decided to venture out and assess the damage. The rain had all but ceased and the wind was passed. A few birds were chirping to let us know the storm was mostly over.
It didn't take long to notice the flattened high tunnels. The wind had hit three of them directly on their long side and simply crushed two. We've had high tunnels picked up like giant box kites and we've had plastic ripped off of frames. But this was different. In this case the force of the wind simply pressed the tunnels down--every "rib" on the wind side buckling and bowing under the pressure.
What was strange was that there were three tunnels oriented perpendicularly to the wind but only two were flattened. And what's more, the third vulnerable (yet untouched) tunnel was by far the most critical, being our greenhouse full of furnace and a season's worth of valuable seedlings. A strange mercy...
My gut was now catching up with the events and I hung back from a close inspection of the damaged structures. I knew the basic story from a distance and needed to focus on calming a still very afraid daughter in order to sooth my own mounting emotions.
After the garden inspection Jerry dashed off to the pasture to check the chickens. We all assumed some damage in that quarter since the pasture is SO open and the coops are all designed to be light for easy movement.... I didn't really want to hear the report.
But as we helped the girls regain composure and confidence in the living room, his report came crackling over the walkie-talkie-- several wrecked pasture pens, everyone please come help. We didn't wait for clarification. "several" and "wrecked" said enough.
On went the rain gear and back out I trudged towards the "wreckage". For clarity, our pasture pens are 10 foot by 12 foot wooden structures. Each one holds 65 chickens. If "several" were "wrecked" we could be walking towards a lot of death. My stomach was tight.
It was now some time close to 9 or 9:30 and the storm had settled back into a steady rain. The sun was setting and though gloomy, we still had time before it would be totally dark.
The first thing we came to was the layers coop. The birds were inside and mostly on their perches. The structure itself was unmoved. No damage here.
Over the hill was a different story. Out of the 8 pasture pens, only four remained. A full half of the pens just weren't there anymore. Scanning the pasture in the dim evening light one could see a trail of pasture pen fragments strewn northward from their previous location. The final pieces of pen were caught high in the branches of several downed trees on the far side of the pasture. It is difficult to comprehend what had taken place. Those pens are hard to move. I didn't want to see the birds.
Four pens holding 300 chickens totally destroyed.
But that wasn't the whole story. As we came closer we found hope. Crowds of chickens were mostly huddled where the pens had been. And they were standing hunched in the rain. In fact, it wasn't immediately obvious that any chickens were dead!
Jerry's report confirmed the visual report. Almost all the birds were still alive and huddling in the rain where their pens had been. Somehow the wind had carried off the pens without hurting any birds underneath the pens. I have no idea how they were not all smeared. A strange mercy...
Furthermore, we had two old and somewhat dilapidated pens not far away that we had recently retired from service. Bringing them back into action meant we would only be two pens short. With a little reshuffling we could easily get all the birds under protection without excessive crowding!
As a few of us set off to retrieve the mothballed pasture pens an enormous full (and partially double) rainbow appeared in the pinkish purple sky above us. A sign of mercy for sure, but given the tumult of the last 2 hours I mostly just confused and overwhelmed and responding to the various needs of the creatures around me. I didn't feel like I had been shown mercy at that moment.
Within a short time the team and I had all the birds under protection. Setting the old pens down over the huddling groups of soaking birds was actually pretty simple. A few stragglers had to be gathered into pens, but it wasn't long before we had done everything we could for the night.
Home we went to dry out and try to fall asleep and absorb everything that had just happened (a process that is still ongoing).
This story is not a tragedy. In fact it is difficult to even call it a setback. Over the next several days we were surrounded by support from our friends and community. Within 24 hours a GoFundMe page was set up for us by our dear friends and fellow farmers Hannah and Jason at Medicine Creek Farm. In the days after that we were overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of friends and strangers alike. And those blessings are still unfolding.
The list of things we are thankful for right now far exceeds the damages. Our renewed sense of awe in the face of God's incredible power and gracious mercy is deep. What else is there to say? We built bigger structures and they were taken away--but our souls were not required of us. Lord have mercy.
Pride can be done away with. Neither is despair called for. We are small, but we are held. He gives and takes away in an instant. The spirit (wind) moves in mysterious ways. But the lines have fallen to us in pleasant places. Words fall short. Let it be unto your servant.
Panorama time lapse of the rainbow sunset.