Monday, September 11, 2006

What did YOU do on 9/11?

It is at times like these that I honestly wonder how much different my life would be if we had never moved out to the country.

But, let me take a minute to introduce myself before I get into the story (which is a long one). I am Margaret, Deborah's eldest daughter who is taking a break from academia, and am currently the "farm manager." As such, I am home more often than not because I am the only one in the family not currently attending school of some sort.

This September 11, as did the one five years ago, started inauspiciously enough (other than the lightning and thunder that awoke us all at about 6:30 am). It was a typical, slow-moving farm day until Katherine (my younger sister) came into the house, panicked and dripping wet, because she could hear her baby goat across the creek screaming his head off. She was wet because the entirety of the middle and near pastures' low ends by the creek was covered in water 2 feet deep (some of it had temporarily trapped a few sheep). She was panicked because she could see one of the four bucks across the creek, and he was in water that covered most of his legs. Goats typically detest water, so we knew there was something seriously wrong... like their entire pen was flooded.

Our first step, was, of course, to use our heads. We knew the only way to cross the creek at this point was to swim, despite the frigid temperature. But the current would sweep us away before we could get very far, and I didn't want to take the chance that my baby sister would be floating away and there would be nothing I could do about it! So we found a rope (that my father claims is 50 ft long, although I wouldn't have guessed it was more than 25) and I fashioned a harness out of one end of it to attach to Katherine so that she could try to cross. She tried a couple of times before I told her I would try. So she gave me the harness and I started to try. My first brilliant deduction, after failed try #1, was that my shoes were too heavy. So off they went. My second (after failed try #2) was that my sweat pants were so waterlogged they were adding at least 10-20 pounds to my weight (or so it seemed). And they were history. My THIRD brilliant deduction was that it was ridiculous to think that I would be able to fight the current the entire way across, and would have to move a little upstream on the assumption that I would go a little ways downstream before making it across. Attempt number four was when I made it across, after having to discard the harness when I was a couple feet from land (but close enough that I would have run into bushes if I had lost the battle with the current).

At first I was very upset, because I was starting to doubt I had any brain cells left. What was I thinking, trying to swim across a creek that had practically become a river with all the extra waterfall? What could possibly be THAT important. However, as soon as I could see the bucks I knew that I could not have come soon enough. Although the one buck Katherine had seen had only had his legs in water, the littlest buck (Katherine's buck), Hammie, was almost completely covered in water, and still screaming. As soon as I picked him up I knew we didn't have much time. Not only was he freezing on the outside, but his body temperature was definitely in the mid-90s, if not lower. (Normal goat body temperatures are usually around 103 degrees Fahrenheit.) He was as limp as goats get, and was grinding his teeth in pain.

It was then that I realized I had no return plan. How was I supposed to make it across the creek holding onto a little buck when I had barely made it across by myself? As soon as I had realized the seriousness of Hammie's condition, I started shouting "What do we do?" across the creek to my sister, who, in her turn, shouted my words back to me. I started walking upstream, taking only a few seconds to look at the other bucks before focusing my attention back on Hammie. None of the others were in as bad a shape as he was; they, at least, could keep their bodies above water. I stopped walking when I reached some trees, trying to find a place where maybe I could grab onto different tree branches to pull myself across, but couldn't find a good spot. Instead, Katherine spent the next five minutes trying to toss the rope back across to me, but because we were both running on adrenaline and freezing from the water, never accomplished it. In the end, as Hammie's condition continued to worsen, I just waded in and swam across, holding Hammie's neck to keep his head above water and using my other three limbs to get us across. Luckily, because of the trees and branches just upstream of us, the current was much calmer than it had been where I had crossed originally and I was only swept about 15 feet downstream of where I started.

As soon as I climbed out of the water with Hammie (though I was still standing knee-deep in it, I was no longer swimming through it), everything hit me like a ton of bricks and it was all I could do to keep standing. But again, because I knew Hammie was in bad shape, I kept going and made it through another 200 ft of knee-deep water, up a hill, through the barn and back to the house to try to breathe life (not literally) back into the freezing goat. I won't bore everyone with the details. It would suffice to say that it took us about 20 minutes before we were convinced his condition was stable enough to go back for the others. (We also changed into our swimsuits at this time, since it was clear we were going to get soaked anyway.)

This time we went right back upstream to where the trees were, where we knew that the current was not as bad. During the time we spent untangling and untying the rope, we were introduced to all of the wonderful (note the sarcasm) bugs and spiders who were trying to survive by climbing onto anything that was above the water level, including us. I did not know that praying mantises were in Illinois, but I saw one! In addition to all the scary-looking spiders (Katherine assures me they are harmless) and orange-colored ants (though those might have been fire ants), there were numerous worms and caterpillars clinging to life.

We tied one end of the rope to a post, and I swam across with the other end to tie it to a tree - it was barely long enough. I got one of the goats, and did the same thing as I had with Hammie, except this time I was kicking with my legs, holding the goat up with one hand and holding onto the rope with the other. The main purpose of the rope was to keep me from going too far downstream. Unfortunately, the second time my legs got tangled up in a bush that was covered in needle-like stickers, so I got rather scratched up and accidentally dunked one of the goats. Meanwhile, each time I brought a goat across and handed it to Katherine, she would run across the middle pasture and up the hill to the barn pasture to deposit said goat in the dry area before turning around and coming straight back. The first time she did this, she saw that I was already waiting to swim across with the next goat and started running, only to trip and go flying headfirst into the water!

The third time across was definitely the hardest, for two reasons: one, the goat I had was 60 pounds (I know because I weighed him last week); two, I had detached the rope from the tree, and Katherine was pulling me across. I was doing fine until about halfway across, when I realized that I could not hold both my head and the goat's head above the water. Since I couldn't tell the goat to hold his breath, I took a deep breath and went down. Unfortunately, of course, I could not communicate this to Katherine, so she had a few panicked seconds when all she could see was Hercules, and no me! (She didn't see that I was the only thing holding his head above water.)

By the time we got the goats settled and inside the barn with a heat lamp, and Katherine and I went inside, Katherine was still very worried about Hammie and trying to decide what to do next. Although it had never really left my mind, I knew that we were risking hypothermia and told Katherine that we'd done enough for him for now and that if she didn't want to spend the next week in bed we needed to take care of ourselves NOW. We took quick showers to get all of the creek water and twigs and muck out of our hair and got into a very warm tub, where we soaked for at least half an hour to try to warm up our innards, much in the same way we had soaked Hammie (one of the things I didn't bore you with earlier). We had both noticed that although we didn't feel cold on the outside (strange, since the water had been so cold), it seemed as though our very bones were exuding coldness. After getting out of the tub we both dressed from the tips of our toes on up, covering every spare inch. We put our hair up so that we could release body heat through the back of our necks, but wore long sleeves, thick socks, and two layers wherever we could.

And then we got back to work. I still had dinner to make, after all. (Homemade pizza with dough made from scratch, without a breadmaker, if you were wondering! Katherine also made fried okra.)

It was the longest two hours of my life, but also the most exhilerating. I guess adrenaline can do that!

Hammie is doing much better. After six hours he is finally standing again, though he still looks droopy. He will be staying in the house tonight. All of the other bucks (of which there are three) are in much better shape, dry and well-fed in the barn. I don't know what you did on the fifth anniversary of 9/11, but ours was certainly one to remember!



Anonymous said...

Holy cow, uh, goat!--or something like that!

Paul Brumbaugh

june in florida said...

Excellant writing Margaret, thank you for taking time to fill us in on whats happening.Glad Hammie is ok.I bet Mom yelled at you and your sister for taking on such a dangerous escapade.Please post again when you can find a spare minute.

Michelle at Boulderneigh said...

This is my first visit to your blog, and what an introduction! I was sitting on the edge of my seat while reading this post, and ended up very impressed with your determination and success. "Farm girls" rule!


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