I sat down to write my weekly Full of Grace post, where I intentionally recall some of the things I was particularly grateful for during the week. I had started a list which included the incredible crop of heirloom tomatoes in our vegetable garden this year. And going to see Peachie's first game at college and being able to hug her again - the thing I have found I miss the most about her being gone. She is a great hugger.
But this past week, my friend Ren called and said she had friends deeply impacted Hurricane Irene who needed some clean up help. Denise and Dan own a farm in the river valley just west of us. I was utterly unprepared for what I saw when we arrived. Piles of furniture and kitchen appliances, stacked outside and covered in mud. The whole front porch had torn off the house and lay like a pile of splintered toothpicks, across the farm. The main barn too. Their field crops were totally destroyed and their sheep, goats, chickens and assorted other animals had been swept away in the raging flood waters. Everything . . . trees, bushes, vehicles, the kid's swing set . . . everything was covered with a thick layer of grey muck.
When we arrived there was already quite a crew of people helping. Men were out in the field trying to coax a tractor out of the mud. It was buried almost up to the seat. Ren left to go help dig out, and properly bury, animals that had been drowned and trapped in fencing. I could not allow myself to even think about that. I went into the house, which had had 5 ft. of water inside, was handed a pair of barn boots to slosh through the mud and started helping rip out the horsehair and lath walls and insulation. Others were removing all the kitchen cabinets. Everything had to be stripped from the interior of the house, right down to the studs. The wide plank floor boards were still covered with a thick coating of muck. It will all need to be professionally sanitized. Because the front porch was missing, there was a 3-foot drop from the front door to the ground. Everyone carrying things out of the house had to jump down and then climb back up. So I thought, woodworking being my hobby, I could be most helpful by building a temporary porch and steps.
I left to get some wood and returned to start my project. Then I realized there was still no power to run the tools I had thrown in the car. All power had been cut to prevent fire. Someone found me a hand saw and I began. I made it through one board when my arm became rubber. What a wuss! I realized that it would take me a lifetime to try to do this all by hand. Then I looked at this old farmhouse and realized that the entire house had been built by hand, long before electricity and power tools. I stood there in awe of what our ancestors were able to build with just their hands and sweat. I wanted to have that strength and determination. But knowing that time was more important than ego, I took measurements and went home and cut all the wood on my super duper radial arm saw. It didn't take me long to assemble the small porch using my battery powered drill. The first time Dan saw it me gave me a smile and a thumb's up It is such a tiny drop in the bucket of what this family needs.
At some point someone arrived with food and everyone gathered around makeshift tables. Talk turned to plans for a barn raising and offers of equipment to get the fields ready for next year. No self pity, no blaming, no complaining, no excuses, just a "what needs to be done?" attitude.
I have lived in cities and suburbs and a small village. I have never lived on a farm. I am fortunate that where I live now is almost half rural farmland and I have had the privilege of meeting and learning from farmers. They are a unique breed of people I think. So self sufficient and yet they accept help so graciously when they need it. I suppose because they are always the first to offer someone else a helping hand. And they seem to accept all life throws at them with a remarkable ease and perseverance. Pull on the barn boots and rebuild, replant., recover. It is a way of life.
I think I am too old and too spoiled to live on a farm now. Perhaps in a future life. I think I have much to learn from farmers. Especially in accepting the inevitable cycles of nature and life. I don't think they have time to over think, or get caught up in drama or their own self importance. They just do what needs to be done.
So I sat to write my weekly gratitude list while thinking about this family who has lost almost all of their possessions. They have no idea when they will be able to move back into the house. They have lost their entire crop which is their livelihood. They have lost all the equipment they need to make their living. They have lost their animals, some of which I understand were beloved pets. And the weather forecast for the next few days is soaking rains and more flash floods.
What am I grateful for this week? Everything.