Oct 3, 2011

Whew! Has it really been so long? Does the fact that we nearly burned to a crisp count as an excuse?

I am chagrined that it has been so long since I have even visited this blog. It is like the closet door that you keep closed because you know that you simply must get it straightened out but you just really don't have the time, not today...

Except that unlike that closet that keeps being put off due to being such an unwelcome job, this blog is a task that is enjoyed, it has been more a matter of not feeling that I could justify the time to sit and visit, there were simply too many other important things to work on, you know?

Until I had readers of the blog that I have never even met hunt me down and leave messages on the phone wondering if we were still among the land of the living! I have always been a big believer in the concept that relationship and community is built online just as surely as any other place that people may meet, even if the meeting is not shaped by a physical meeting place. This makes it even more shameful that I have neglected relationship in such a manner and at the risk of sounding grandiose regarding this blog and the place that it occupies for those that visit here, I have to apologize and ask for forgiveness.

That being said...I do have a few excu...make that reasons that I have not been consistent. They include the reality that summer is a crazy season for us with baby goats, increased milk volume meaning more cheese making and the fact that with a husband who drives a school bus our regular schedule goes out the window when he is home for the summer break. Throw in oldest daughter going to New York for a month to help at the dairy that she interned at last year and the wildfires all while still trying to raise those kids and sell at those markets and you get the picture.

The last post I wrote gave updates after the Dyer Mill Fire just a few miles north of us at Swede Farm. It is ironic that the first post back will be yet another fire update, shared from our newsletter.

It has been a rollercoaster, here at Swede Farm! By now I am sure that most of our customers have heard of the adventures of the past few weeks, but for those who have not--

On Labor Day, Swede Farm was evacuated due to the Riley Road fire rapidly approaching from the East. If you have visited the farm and driven from Magnolia, Conroe or the Woodlands, you likely followed the directions on the webpage and drove up 1774 and down Riley Rd. If you make that trip again, Riley Rd and 1774 will look very different. The fire moved quickly that first day. We were able to get probably 2/3 of the goats in milk off of the property to a farm approximately five miles southwest of our farm. Tim and two of the older girls remained behind and LeeAnne and the other ten of the children spent the night in a shelter. On Tuesday things seemed to be more in control, so we milked morning and evening at the other farm--having to pour out many gallons of milk onto the ground and returned home in the evening via a back road that wasn't blocked off. Just in case things blew up again, we took shifts in case we needed to leave again in a hurry but Wednesday morning dawned clear. Tim went to drive the morning school bus route and we started making plans to go milk at the other farm, expecting to return the goats home by midday. Two girls were left behind to try to get product started for the week's sales. As we turned the corner in the big white van, I saw that the back road that we had taken back into the neighborhood the night before was blocked--every road was blocked. Rather than looking like things were letting up, these guys looked serious! I felt that they were probably being overly cautious--until I happened to glance ahead and saw just over the trees 1/4 of a mile away thick, dark plumes of smoke filling the sky. I turned back towards home--I knew that if we left the "neighborhood" that there would be no returning and I couldn't leave without a bit more planning. We still had animals at the farm, not to mention two of the older girls were at home with only the cantankerous-sometimes works, sometimes doesn't station wagon! By the time we made it the half a mile home again I could tell that things were anything but calm and in control as I had thought just a few minutes prior. The animals were clearly restless, milling about. The air was filled with the sound of many sirens coming from all directions and we could hear the smoke alarms going off inside our home from the smoke outside. I called Tim to see if he was on his way home only to learn he was sitting at a roadblock half a mile away and was not being allowed to return even though the law enforcement knew that he had not only animals but children still at home. We managed to get the remaining milk goats and what baby goats we could catch into the livestock trailer, hitched it to the ailing station wagon and prayed that it was up to the task. We scooped up the house dogs and a kitten plus ten children into the big white van, tossed all of our market supplies onto the ground in order to load a few precious household items and the pasteurizer into the cargo trailer and flew past the roadblocks as the air filled with smoke.

We spent the next five days with our goats five miles south of our home. We could see the smoke filling the sky over our home, in fact the picture above was taken by our host from his bedroom window of the sky over our farm. We had left behind Emma's chickens, our livestock guardian dogs, heritage hogs, alpaca and many bucks (boy goats) and baby goats. We received word occasionally from circuitous routes (a neighbor's cousin's brother-in-law who is a firefighter/sheriff/animal control/etc) that the house was good but the fire was a mile, half a mile, right behind, directly East, etc of the house but although that provides some hope and encouragement, it isn't quite the same as seeing it with your own eyes.

Finally, we were allowed home. The house and dairy was intact, and we had suffered no animal loss other than a meat rabbit. We lost the food in the fridge, had some smoke damage (lots of laundry!) and thanks to the fact that we had left sprinklers running on the roof of the house when we left to try to protect our home, we had a flooded living room. No complaining--a flooded living room is better than no living room!

We were not able to have goats and equipment returned, hooked up and running as expected until four days after we came home and the goats (clearly having taken a hit, stress-wise) have not yet returned to the milk production levels that they were at before the fire, in fact they are down by a full third. But we are up and running again and thankful beyond measure for that blessing.

So you see, we have been rather distracted. We are still under extreme drought conditions that lend themselves to a very high fire risk. Daily we hear fire sirens and the Tri-County Fire Department is kept busy tending to grass fires and flare-ups despite a very strict burn ban. Every siren, every sighting of flashing lights or whiff of smoke causes us to be on edge but things are slowly returning to normal although it is, as a friend said, a new normal. We see things differently, having come so close (four tenths of a mile to be exact) to being a statistic. The goats are seeing things differently as well--the stress has caused a drop in milk production that unfortunately seems like it will last until the goats freshen (deliver their babies and come into milk) again. We are even more than ever eying a streamlined, pared back life--if for no other reason than it makes it easier to pack in a hurry! I have listened in as some of the kids share their own fire dreams with each other--some of them scary, some comforting and some weirdly odd as only dreams can be. Yet for all the stresses, it is not unlike having that proverbial new lease on life and that is good.

And it is good to be back here.


goatldi said...

Glad to know you are home and all are safe. I somewhat understand the feelings you have experienced after going through the Lighting Strike Fire in Mendocino Co. a couple of years back. But thankfully we were safe with no evac.

Right now it is raining here, settling the dust and maybe decreasing the still high fire danger all around us due to lots of vegetation from Spring rains.

Wishing you all some of our rain and the best of Fall coming your way!

liese4 said...

Well finally, I even asked Tim on Google+ if you were back in your house. Glad everyone is safe.

Suzanne said...

So glad that you are all okay and things are getting back to the new normal. I can honestly say that no family has impressed me after a first time meeting as yours did (Maifest this year). I'm so glad you have this blog and I can keep up with Swede Farm.

LeeAnne said...

That is so sweet of you, Suzanne, we enjoyed meeting you as well! You know you are welcome to come and visit us here on the farm. We do farm tours as well as have customers here frequently to buy product, just give us a call.