Thursday, April 6, 2006

A flood ... of water and thoughts

Katherine came running into the house this morning screaming about a flood. If there is any good news in the midst of all our bad news lately, it is that we have very good timing. She was in the barn when she suddenly heard gushing water. Following the sound, she discovered that a plastic water pipe (yes, they make plastic water pipes!) had burst and water was flooding the storeroom and running into the barn. I ran out there and tried in vain to stop the rushing water, then I turned off the valve under the sink, but that had no effect. I ran into the pump room of the smaller barn and tried to turn off the electricity for the well pump, but none of the switches seemed to affect it. I ran back through the barn and tried to stuff wool (from the shearing almost two weeks ago) into the pipe. That didn't work. I yelled to Katherine that I was running into the house to call Mike. By the time I reached him by phone, I was breathing so hard from all the running that I had to repeat myself twice before he understood what had happened. He told me that there were two valves behind the water tank in the pump room. One goes to the barn, one to the house. He didn't remember which was which. He said they were both about a foot and a half from the floor. I ran back to the pump room, sloshing through an inch of water that now filled the area between the two barns. I discovered one valve close to the floor and turned it to the right until it was tight. I continued hearing the sound of water rushing through the pipes. My brain kept insisting, "righty-tighty" as I grabbed the next valve and turned it to the right. Still no change in the sound of rushing water. I grabbed another and another valve, thinking "righty-tighty" and turning to the right until it was tight. Finally it was quiet, and Katherine met me halfway out of the barn saying that the water had stopped running.

Of course, at that point, we had no water in the house or the barn, but the flooding was stopped. There was an inch of water in the storeroom, where a 50-pound bag of lamb pellets, a half-full bag of kelp, and a large bag of dog food were sitting. After moving the bags to a dry area, I came into the house and just sat and thought.

Control is a funny thing. It's something that most of us think we have; it's something that most of us want; but I'm not sure it's something that any of us have. There are so few things that we can control. I suddenly had an urge to clean the house, because it seemed like something that was within my control. When I had babies, I realized that it was impossible to control them -- and by extension, I had very little control of my own life when they were babies. I couldn't control when they wanted to eat, sleep, poop or be happy. As my children have grown older, I've forgotten the lessons I learned from them. The farm is teaching me now.

Fire, death, flood ... I dare not say, "what next?" I used to think that doctors must be the least spiritual people on the planet because they try so hard to control things that often cannot be controlled. Now I am starting to think that they must be very spiritual and willing to simply accept the things they cannot change, otherwise they'd go mad. I've been thinking about this so much since Dancy died. There have been a few times when goats have been so sick, and we've brought them back. Dancy herself was very sick in December. Every morning for four days, I was afraid I would walk out there to find her dead, but she pulled through. This time she died quickly. I've spent much of the past three days asking why she died. What should we have done differently? How could we have saved her? Maybe it was just her time to go.

I've always known that farmers tend to be rather religious, but I never wondered why. But they are at the whims of nature. Disease, droughts, floods wreak havoc on their livelihood. They can't control the weather, so they pray, and they do everything else they can to control as much as they can. They give medications that may or may not be needed. They are willing to trust the seed and fertilizer companies to bring them bigger yields from their crops. They trust the vets who tell them to vaccinate for diseases that could be avoided by more natural management of the animals. I hope it doesn't sound like I have any answers here, because I don't. Living out here has taught me how little I know, and I'm not talking about things that can be learned from books or even a teacher or mentor. It's easy to learn how to milk a goat or deliver kids. But I am constantly reminded that 99% of what I see is a mystery.

When I moved out here, I treasured the Yahoo groups. If I had a problem, I'd post my question to whatever list was appropriate. I belonged to more than 20 groups, so regardless of my question, someone there could answer! Someone knew the right answer! Although they helped me in many ways, they also slowed down the learning process. They encouraged me to depend on others, to look to "experts" rather than quietly seek what my animals had to teach me. Many of my mistakes were made on the advice of so-called experts. No one on the other end of Cyberspace can read a two- or three-paragraph description of a problem and tell you how to fix it with absolute certainty. It's nuts to think how many times it happens every day. Yes, you want to help people, but you have to understand their situation before you can help, and the person seeking help can only explain the situation in a context that makes sense to him or her -- a skill few novices have. If you leave out one or two little facts or don't describe something accurately, it changes everything.

I feel that I have wasted a lot of time on those groups, when I should have been spending time with the animals, observing and listening. I keep asking why Dancy died, and today I called the university vet clinic. Of course, the only way to know how she died would have been to do a necropsy. I knew that, but I didn't take her body down there because part of me didn't want to know why she died. I was afraid that it would have been something that we could have saved her from. I want to be perfect. I hate making mistakes. In corporate America, we get second chances, we can make excuses, and no on expects us to be perfect. The law of the farm is unforgiving though. Mistakes cost lives. Excuses are irrelevant. There are no second chances.

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