Since the tornado hit my parent’s property just before Christmas, I have spent much of my weekend time helping my dad with the slow, arduous task of cleaning things up. As of today he still has no storage building to speak of. The two tractors and all the mowers and four-wheelers and various other equipment are just sitting out in the open rain and wind and cold weather we have gotten lately. Last week we had continuous 15-20 MPH winds with frequent 30 MPH gusts for a period of about 36-hours. No wonder he is having trouble getting some equipment to run.
By now, the barn has fallen in completely. Initially, the main support structure of hand-hewn 8 x 8’s nailed together with large wooden pins was leaning severely but still standing. Three of the giant hand-made beams were, in fact, largely unmoved and still upright. We were able to walk hunched over into the barn and pull most everything of value (damaged or not) out where it now sits in the weather with everything else there is no space for but the great outdoors.
A young, local fireman, when off-duty, has been coming and taking loads of the barn wood away. Now only about half the wood remains. But the nine 8 x 8’s are still there, a couple buried in the rubble as the whole collection of nine that once supported the barn finally twisted and fell to Earth.
My grandparent’s entire lot, old trees and house, has been completely bulldozed into a flat dirt acre opening to my dad’s many acres of pasture that are still littered with the tops of twisted trees and whole oaks of great age lying with their roots exposed, unmoved on the ground. The fall of the barn along with the original complete destruction of a house between my parent’s and the road maybe a quarter mile away that heads back into town means my dad can now sit in his living room recliner and look across through a door, out the windows of a adjoining sun room and see the lights of traffic at night. He has never had such an open view in his life and he has commented about it several times to me.
For the most part, other than the barn being slowly hauled away and the general cleaning up of debris, the farm itself looks exactly as it did the day after the tornado. The shed behind my parent’s house (see pic in original post) is now completely removed and the concrete pads underneath are now fully exposed and ready for a badly needed 20 x 12 storage building to be delivered and set up soon.
Most of the many fences with which my dad manages his small herd of cattle are still down in numerous places from fallen trees that no one has had time to address. Once recently with a team of volunteers and again last week with hired workers, large sections where the fence was completely missing were rebuilt. So, now my dad can keep the herd pinned-up in one 20-acre section of the pasture with a pond until he has time to repair all the damage throughout the other 100-plus fenced-in acres.
So, when I showed up Saturday for another weekend of helping out, my dad for the first time didn’t want me to help him haul stuff over to a giant dumpster that sits behind his house now. Instead, we went to a section of the farm where the fence was unaddressed as of yet and spent much of the sunny, winter afternoon repairing it using existing posts and supports.
It has been probably 20 years since I last worked on a fence, something that was common in my youth growing up on the farm. Back then it was just my dad and I, working weekends as now, building new fences for cattle my dad had not even bought yet. All his life my dad simply wanted to be a farmer but, of course, it has been ages since small-time farming could support a family.
So, my dad was a wage slave all his life and only dabbled in farming as subsidiary income and a desired way-of-life. When he retired 12 years ago he finally got to do what he had always wanted with his life. He became a farmer on a scale only possible with regular social security checks. Through these recent years, his ability to farm has been emotionally and psychologically meaningful to him. He has been (and remains today) living the agrarian way of life and expressing those values.
We worked on a section of fence crossing the middle of this vast and fairly open 70-plus acre pasture. This is the heart of my dad’s farm. One fence runs essentially north-south dividing the space into two equal halves. To the east side there are three sections of pasture fenced-in. The outer fencing is down with many fallen trees. Most of the inner fencing remains untouched, however. My dad and I worked Saturday afternoon on the single mid-fence that splits the west side of the farm into two large pastures.
Altogether it is a space of about 120 acres, though we could not see the entirety from where we worked due to the gently rolling lay of the land. But I felt the basic grounded gentle ease of Being in the middle of this damaged openness. About half the trees that dot the pastures are still standing. A few birds were chirping in them even though it is winter. The sun shone bright and slightly warm. There was only a wisp of cool wind.
Working out in the open like that, surrounded not just by our farm but hundreds of acres from adjoining farms, gives you a holsom sense of seculsion. I took a moment to breath in the space and I was remembering my childhood in the open pasture world. I ran these fields with several different dogs at different points of my youth. I played “army” with friends and sat against some of these fallen trees to read Thoreau and Emerson and even some Zen Buddhist teachers. I read many books in the solitude of this space. I was a frequent hiker on this farm and the others nearby.
Farm work is such that you get to enjoy nature in this subtle way while you work. This is something almost completely lost in today's manufacturing and service-driven consumerist reality. I even found myself humming some of Shostakovich’s Great Tenth, it was such a perfect day for it. Though it is often physically demanding, working on a farm does afford a luxury of pace, time for conversation and even contemplation, as you address whatever job needs to be done. Dad and I pretty much worked silently as we always did, except when some planning was needed or there was a certain obstacle that we had to work together to overcome.
Barbwire fence mending is not brain surgery. You untangle the layered strains of existing fence wire, you figure out where to reconnect them, usually at an existing post, then you use special tools to pull them together, splicing them by weaving short strands of new barbwire around each side until they are secure. Sometimes you have to walk down to a section of fence that is fine and loosen the stapled nails from that post so the fence can stretch in at the broken section. Then you nail each of the four lines of wire back to the various posts.
Dad had everything needed, of course, in the back of his big diesel truck (where else was he going to put it?), which survived the storm with only minor paint damage though being parked at the time down at the barn. One of the “posts” for the fence was a very old pine tree too broad for me to reach around. It was scarred from years of wear but its roots must be sound as they held it in the ground amidst all this other tree destruction. Its top didn’t even break out of it. So here it stood in the middle of this open space, mighty against the nature's fury, helping us hold up this section of cross-fence.
Of course, I have done a great deal of work on my own land through the years - cutting limbs, piling and burning brush, planting, mowing, but dealing with barbed wire was something with which I had lost contact. So, it was nice working out of doors like this with my dad again; touching childhood memories, still somewhat shocked at the magnitude of the destruction and the amount of fence work still to do eventually.
Eventually. When the storm first struck my dad worked himself into complete exhaustion over the course of about a week. Then the weather turned too wet and cold to work in much. Now, with so much debris either hauled away or piled up and with the barn slowly disappearing and with the new storage shed arriving soon, there is not such a frenzy of activity in his mind. He knows it will take time. He has accepted that. He knows he is too old to do it all. He has accepted that too. So, now it is just a matter of moving from one thing to the next and knowing it will all improve, eventually.
My mom is a different story. She is a depressed crying wreck much of the time. She cannot escape the destruction of everything around her. She has no sense of appreciation of the present and has become largely disconnected from it. This is partly because it is natural for many people to become “shell-shocked” when faced with such utter ruin. But, though she often puts up a good front, on a deeper level she doesn’t seem to be pulling out of it. Her grief continues too long and unrelenting, in my opinion. She might have a touch of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. I’ll have to keep a close watch on her.
On Sunday Jennifer, my daughter, and I spent a good chuck of the afternoon over there, around the barn again. Like scavengers, bringing things of value over to our place. Two truckloads of nicely weathered old siding from the barn for some possible future art project. Another truck load of odds and ends like an old bench swing and four gates that once opened and closed the four stalls that were in the barn. I have no clue what we are going to do with a lot of it.
The stuff was added to our collection of random tools and assorted paraphernalia from my dad’s former sheds. Stuff we wanted to keep out of the rain so it wouldn’t rust, now sitting in my carport and pole barn. We’ll be loading those pieces back up sometime soon and returning them to the farm. To the new storage building, more specifically. Then, at last, like the section of fence we worked on this weekend, things will start finding a place and an order again. The fence work will last for several weeks to come. But, all this disorder that saddens everyone’s heart and threatens my mom’s sanity to some degree will slowly start to give way to the many details of a reconstructed life. Eventually.
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