Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Tragedy averted ... by a few minutes

Katherine came running into the house about an hour ago to tell us there was a fire in the barn. A heat lamp had fallen to the ground and caught the straw on fire. Luckily, it had not fallen long before she got out there, because the fire hadn't spread more than a couple feet. The whole barn was filled with smoke, and Katherine knew where it was coming from as soon as she opened the door, because she saw the smoke rising up from the stall where three mother goats and their five babies were staying. As soon as Katherine opened the door, the three mothers ran, but the babies didn't move. Katherine said they simply stood like statues staring at the fire. Whether they were mesmerized by the flames or were starting to suffer the effects of smoke inhalation, we'll never know. She had to move all the kids out of the stall herself, picking them up, pushing them, doing whatever she could to get the five of them into fresh air. I am so very proud of her. She immediately unplugged the heat lamp and threw a bucket of water on the flames -- very important to do that in the correct order! I'm not sure I would have thought to unplug the lamp first.

It is so horribly scary to think that had Katherine gone out there even 10 minutes later, those goats and possibly all the other goats in the barn could have been dead from smoke inhalation. An hour later, and there would be only ashes where the barn now stands. This is one of the reasons I hate leaving here. Yes, there is always lots of stuff to do out here, and I also love the peace, but I never leave without worrying that everyone will be okay until I get home again. Yesterday, Katherine went outside to find one of the goats stuck halfway through a fence. Little Beauty had managed to get the front half of her body through the woven wire, but her belly stopped her from getting the back half through, and the thought of backing up isn't something that goats usually consider. Goats have died when getting stuck in fences if someone doesn't find them soon enough. It's great having children because hardly an hour goes by when someone isn't outside doing something, even if it's just walking through the pasture enjoying nature.

Three years ago, we left for a day in the suburbs, and we returned home to a disaster. When we got out of our car, we smelled something strange. The kids immediately said that we had a gas leak, but I didn't think it smelled quite like liquid propane. The ground was covered with snow, and as I approached the barn, which is near the propane tank, I started to sense a sloshing feeling under my feet. It was a typical frozen January. Sloshing was abnormal. As I got closer to the barn and saw more standing water, my brain suddenly screamed the answer. The barn and the surrounding area was flooded. There must have been a malfunction in the pump room again! I screamed, "It's flooding! We have to get to the pump room!" I tried to go through the barn, but when I stepped into a stall that had several inches of water in it, I lost my footing and fell into dirty water, straw and manure. I struggled to get to my feet and decided to go the other way around. I came running out of the barn and around towards the smaller barn that housed the pump room, and I fell again. Finally I got to the pump room and was greeted by a geyser of water shooting up and out of the water tank, flooding the room and spilling out into both barns and the surrounding area. When I came out of the barn, I tripped and fell again. I started screaming and crying. Katherine, who was only 10 at the time, came up to me, gave me her hand to help me to my feet and told me in the most convincing voice she could muster, "It's going to be okay, Mom." She kept her arm around me as we walked to the house, and I continued weeping.

When we walked inside, Margaret took one look at me and struggled to stifle a laugh. She suggested that I take off my wet clothes in the foyer, and she offered to wash them for me. She also told me that everything was going to be okay -- as she picked straw and bits of manure out of my hair and wiped my face. And my girls were right. Everything was okay.

Living out here has provided us with more living in four years than most people eek out of 40. We deal with birth and death regularly-- things that most people in our society almost never see. We try to cheat death as much as we can if it's an animal we love -- or we end the life of a rooster who starts attacking people. We are judge, jury and executioner. Sometimes I feel like the ruler of a small country. Sometimes I think I've slipped back in time 100 years.

We laugh so much -- at ducks, goats, sheep, our own foibles and shortcomings. We scream in anger and frustration when things don't work. We learn new things every day. Sometimes we have to learn things more than once. We all know that heat lamps are the #1 cause of barn fires, so we had all been very careful to secure the heat lamps to the eye-hook with a clip. Someone didn't do that with this heat lamp. It was hanging on a nail and fell off. We're so lucky that the timing was perfect. This was just a learning exercise. It could have been a tragedy of the worst dimensions. There were eight does in the barn, as well as two bucks (including the son of the 2005 AGS National Champion), and 12 kids. But the timing was right, and our only loss is a charred heat lamp.

1 comment:

Judy Benson said...

I absolutly LOVE your writing. I think you should put this all into a book. Real life events from a real life person!

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