Fire Follow-up

The support we received after our fire through the blog posting on facebook was really heartwarming. Tonight after supper Russell asked me to read to him all the comments. He found it all very encouraging, we both did. He is still talking about the phone calls and offers of help that were a big part of Sunday. Thank you for all this support.

I have a few tidbits that are leftovers and also follow-up to share.

We really really value humor in our house. It has helped us cope with alot and Sunday was no different. Morgan has made us laugh many times with his imitation of me waking him up on the morning of the fire. Here is the way it really went down…….I thought I should go outside to the fire and hang out with Russell, be available, be seen, I don’t know what my real goal was, but at one point I had every intention of going out. Morgan was still sleeping. It struck me that it could be quite upsetting to wake and find the house empty and the world in chaos so I figured I better wake him up and give him the lowdown before going out. So that is what I did. Here is how he tells it, picture this with him speaking in a sweet toned kind’ve hushed falsetto voice, “good morning honey, are you awake, yeah, well, I just wanted to let you know that we like, uh, don’t have any water in the house and, also, like, the whole farm is on fire and I am going to go outside and I think you might want to get up and I can’t find Dad or Ron.” That is how he tells and retells it. After the crisis had passed it was pretty powerful how funny his imitation was. He had exaggerated, as comics often do, I knew where Russ and Ron were and it was just the shop not the whole farm, but perhaps Morgan’s imitation illumines a bit about what my words meant to his ears.

The follow-up after the fire has gone better than I could have hoped. Our insurance people have been good to work with and kind. Close to home that has been the story too. Our friend Shawn at the lumber yard went in on Sunday afternoon and opened up the shop for us to get supplies we needed. Through consulting with him we got the ball rolling with finding a contractor to repair the hole and by Monday at lunch one of the reccomended people was on site to assess. He returned this morning, a day so cold the school buses were canceled, and he set to work to close in the shop. Dalton gave me permission to use this picture I took of him here in the blog. He was unbelievably positive and capably addressed the first phase of the repairs. This is a blessing that brings us closer to feeling and functioning normally. There is a long way to go yet. There are some complicated aspects of the repair ahead.

One of the tricky parts about experiencing things like this is the after effects. It feels like we have had many difficult things to contend with over the last few years, fire and injuries and intense weather, it definitely leaves me feeling like, excuse the expression, “shit happens.” I am not able to write too much more about it right now, but I am naming it. Many many people have lived it, they know of this. I do find myself wondering, “how do I manage this so that going into the future I don’t let fear have its way with me.” Right now I think Russ and I both feel it is better if we don’t ever leave the ranch again so that we can be here for whatever arises. That is silly. We have to live. We have to contend with our utter vulnerability at all times, we have so many things that could go wrong and mostly go very right. Perhaps the prayer that flows from this is, “God, give me the strength to handle things when they go wrong and keep me ever mindful of the multitude of things that go right, very right every day.”

Today, on the coldest day of the year so far, the power was on, the house was warm, the well worked perfectly, we had one sick calf that Russ spotted and was able to treat, one of my friends got fantastic news and passed it on to us right away, Dalton was here for repairs and so easy going amid the cold, the machinery worked well enough that we got our cows fed, I tested negative for Covid again, Russell’s worst symptoms of Covid are loosening and Jill and Gina both worked today with no troubles to report with health or vehicles. If any one of those things had been different it would have been hard, quite hard in some cases. So…………I need to remind myself of all this.

When I sat down to write I had four things on my mind, three have stayed with me, and that is probably enough.

Four days until Christmas eve……

A Big Day

It has been a weird, really weird set of days. The result of all that weirdness is that I have not been able to blog. Today was a bad day, it was also a good day and it has had the effect of getting me back to the blog, back to saying, “here is what its like to be me, ranching with my family.”

This morning our hired man Ron discovered a fire burning in the wall of our shop. That has completely shaped our experiences today. Can I share with you a bunch of captioned pictures? I think that will help to illustrate how it was a bad day but also a good day.

Russ got up before me this morning and was chatting loudly with the dogs when I rather growled from my pillow, “I was hoping to sleep in today.” That was about 6:30. Russ discovered we had no water supply to the house but found that the kettle was full. He brought me a coffee and started getting dressed to go suss out the water situation. I got my head on straight before our outside guard dog came in to tell me about her night and get some love. She was just so dear that I had to take her picture. This was at 6:59am. Within the minute we would get a phone call from Ron that the shop was on fire. We could see the shop easily from our bedroom window but did not see any evidence of fire. Ron was on his way to the wellhouse when he noticed the smell and then the fire as he passed by the shop. Russ called 911 but passed me the phone, he quickly finished getting dressed. Talking to 911 can be frustrating, you just want them to dispatch help but there are necessary questions to get answered. Its also a call you just never want to be making. My tracker watch tells me my stress shot up to 100 at that point.

This next picture is so random but at 7:17 Jill messaged the family chat wondering if someone could send her the recipe for biscuits. I was thinking, “not right now Jill, the farm is on fire.” But then thought again, I was up, I had nothing I could do, why not pull out my recipe file and get it to her. So I sent this at 7:19 and said nothing about what was going on. Its always tricky to know when and how to share hard news. I wanted a few facts before weighing down my far away girls.

At 7:23 the first fire truck pulled in. That is amazing. We are a 12 minute drive from the firestation in Carnduff. The volunteer firefighters woke up, got to the station, suited up and got to us 23 minutes after we dialled 911. It makes my stomach quiver as I write this. It just reminds me of how incredibly vulnerable we felt in those moments. Russ was out there thinking there is no way we can save the shop, we had acetylene, tractors and a skid steer all in the shop. We had our diesel and gas fuel tanks about 12 feet away from the fire, outside, and we had the heating fuel tank for the shop outside but right where the fire appeared to be. The worst case scenarios were running through Russell’s head. This was the picture I could grab from our front door. This picture was taken at 7:36am.

Russ grabbed this next picture from his perspective on the ground. I am not sure what time it was. The shop was absolutely smoke filled. The firefighters wore breathing tanks, when one got close to empty its alarm went off and the sound of that is something we have discussed a few times today. About these volunteers……Russ says, “when they come, they are your friends, neighbors and family, they come with so much love and respect for those they are helping.” They know their stuff and did amazing work, by 8am everything felt so much better.

Russ took this next picture of the firefighters assessing roof status, and the possibility of any fire remaining in the roof I believe.

I could not watch this action non-stop. Just too much. So I bumbled around the house, it had no power by that point, and put stuff away and kept myself busy. I prayed that the firefighters would have the wisdom, safety and strength that they needed. I kept checking back and at one point saw a truck whiz through the yard that looked just like Laurie’s truck. It was. He had heard from work that the fire department had requested water trucks and he came straight out. He is a person whose presence puts the rest of us at ease. I am sure that is why Russell grabbed this picture of him when everyone could breathe just a little easier.

When the fire department left this was the exterior damage. They were so careful to cause as little damage as they could while still rooting in to the fire itself. That huge smoky scene from the hour before looks unrelated to this patch of damage. There the heating fuel tank is, dangerously close. Russ had snuck in and turned the valve off on this tank before the fire department got there. He found it fairly warm.

A wee story: we had a guest in the house this morning. He had never visited our home before. As he rounded the corner from the hall into the kitchen he let out a small gasp, he admired the house. Russ walked him into the living room. With my back turned as I stood at a counter fussing over some coffee preparations I heard Russell say this, “my wife comes from Saskatoon, when she was a girl her family had a cottage where she spent her summers. Then she went and married a rancher. No time for lake holidays. So when we built this house we made her a room that feels like her cabin. And sometimes we have 30 cowboys home for supper, it all works out really good.” It is hard to describe how I felt as I heard those words of Russell’s. It was warm. It was soothing. It was a gift. What I heard in those sentences was the message, “I see her, I want her to feel good, I want to give her what I can.” I kept at my work, and fought back my tears. It was the best moment of my day.

The picture below is our cabin in the early 80s when it was being finished. It looks like we were having a reading party on the front lawn. The big deal about that space was what those big upper windows did for the space.

Back to 2022………the rest of this day has been spent taking care of business. I called in about insurance. I hate those kinds of jobs. Russ handled all he could relating to the fire and then turned to the reality that we had hungry animals to get fed. It was a huge stressor. A major piece in the day unfolding as well as possible is that our electrician re-arranged his life and was back and forth enabling us to keep going as much as possible by re-working electrical realities so that it was possible and safe to power our well house, fuel pumps and eventually light and some power to the shop. We could therefore keep our watering bowls going and our underground lines from freezing and get some heat in the shop. Major. It was -27 with the windchill today. At one point Russell phoned me and said, “when you see Morgan you gotta brag him up. He has done stellar today. He drove through a quarter section that had not been plowed, and didn’t get stuck, he backed into the chute for the first time in his life and didn’t get stuck there either, he got on his horse, went and found the cow and ran her into the corral and he loaded her into the trailer. Pretty good for a guy with a learners license. He was awesome. ” Later Russ called me and said, “I know its been a stressful day but you gotta go outside and see the sundog, its a double, its a little piece of beauty for us at the end of this hard day.” I was on my way out anyways so I went to the end of the lane to grab the picture. I didn’t catch the fullness of the sundog at all because I spotted Morgan backing into the corral to drop off the cow he had loaded at the calving pasture. Our poor cow Mary is having a tough time. She needs some TLC. Morgan handled getting her home. I was able to catch this picture of him in action with his trusty sidekick Coffee dog at his side.

The amazing sky with the lingering sundogs.

Once I got the sundog pic I went and called to Morgan, who had Mary unloaded in that short time, “Morgan, if I could make you any dessert you wanted tonight, what would it be?” There was a pause. From across the corral he called back, “rice krispie cake with brown sugar icing.” I headed straight in to do that. Earlier in the day I had been on the phone with Russell, I said to him, “I am thinking of making you butter tarts, would that suit you?” He said, “honestly, I don’t even care. I am so grouchy. I just wanna go to bed and I have 12 hours work left to do.” He wasn’t nasty, just honest. So Morgan got first choice on dessert action. He was pretty happy with the cake although this picture is not the best depiction of that.

By the time dessert rolled around Russ was pretty cheered up. Jeremy our electrician had worked his magic, Russ had some very supportive phone calls and our cows were fed. One of our friends had delivered hot pizza to us for supper. It was so delicious. The world felt okay. Russ was a little more interested in dessert. When he heard brown sugar icing was being prepped he suggested throwing some cookie dough slices in the oven (we bought a prepped box from Costco), he thought this was the perfect time to try a combo he had been thinking about….brown sugar icing on macadamia nut cookies, I believe he gives this Russ recipe a 9/10.

There were so many many emotions that were a part of our day. The one that breaks through and colors everything is gratitude. Is gratitude an emotion? Is it a perspetive or an action or is it all three? I am not sure. But this could have turned out so differently, we are reminded that every single day a very large volume of things goes right, today was not a day when every thing worked as it was designed to, something buggered up in our shop, but it happened at a time of day when we were pretty quickly able to notice and get help. We got help. So much help. So much help that came from caring hearts. No-one was hurt. We lost very little. We are so grateful.

Sorry this is so long. Just a bit more…..

Russ tested postive for Covid on Wedneday. I have remained negative despite our decision not to isolate from each other. He has been sick but has kept working almost as much as usual. Today he is five days past the start of symptoms so he can be out and about again. Kindv’e handy with 17 firefighters in our yard.

Jill (moved to Regina) and Gina (moved to Toronto) are both doing great and we are so happy, proud and relieved. However, having them both leave for such permanent destinations within 8 days of each other has been quite a bit harder on me than I thought it would be. I believe Russ has only cried once. Morgan is keeping his opinion about all this close to his chest.

Good night for December 18th, signing off from the Bar MW Ranch.

The Tenderlands – Where there is sparks…..

Its Saturday night.  It has been a good day and a hard day.  Our whole family was in the saddle today as we participated in the Hubbard’s annual trail ride.  That was very good and deserves a whole blog post.  Towards the end of the ride Russ got a call from our man Ron, he was cutting the last of the hay and his cutting knife hit a rock, threw a spark and started a grass fire.  It all turned out better than anyone could have hoped for, no people or machinery were hurt, the neighbors’ cows were not affected.    We have lots to be thankful for.

After Russ got the initial call a series of conversations happened, most extremely brief,  some in person and some over the phone.  It all resulted in the Carievale and Gainsborough volunteer fire departments being dispatched, the nearest truck being hijacked, me jumping off the mule I was riding, and jumping in with Russ and one of the volunteer firemen who was on the trail with us.  We sped south about 30km to the pasture where the fire was. 

We arrived to find the fire departments on site and the fire completely under control.   

They continued to do what they train so well for and the fire was out before too long.  Little smoking hotspots were evident.  Our trail friend Gord had a steel broom he pulled out to start dealing with those.  I asked if he had a second one, he did, so I got to do something, which was a relief. 

I have titled this blog in “the tenderlands” series because of the way this event reminded me of how vulnerable we are.  It is humbling and heartwarming to need so much help and to get it. 

At this point in the late afternoon the temperature was 30 degrees celsius, the firefighter pictured here is in full protective gear. Thank you for being there.

As I stood on the prairie with the steel broom Gord had given me I had two main things I was pondering.  The news of the fire was scary but as I did my bit with my broom I realized I was handling my stress about it by playing the “it could have been worse” game.   I was relieved that the bad news we were reckoning with on this day was not about one of my family, one of my friends, or one of my friends’ kids being injured on the trail.  That is one of my biggest worries.  This fire was hard and upsetting but if I had to choose between being in an ambulance or holding a broom on a smoking prairie, I would choose that broom any day.  Ideally a day holds no big suffering, most of our days are like that.  But we are human and if you will excuse my language, shit goes south sometimes.   This particular storm of it could have been much more serious, much more.  We were given a reminder of how fragile the balance is and how vulnerable we are, but in the end were given a very easy pill to swallow. 

I also found myself thinking about the idea of “stewardship.”  It’s the idea that we are responsible to care for the people and resources that have been entrusted to us.  I am not sure I can put into words what my head is thinking, but bear with me.  The image of a woman with a broom is rather iconic in my mind.  It’s a big part of the tending work that I have done in all the homes I have lived in.  I like sweeping, its rewarding.  Standing on the prairie with a broom in my hand just gave me this very strong sense that I was doing the best I could in that particular moment to care for the land that I have been entrusted with.   It felt like an act of love.  I have a strong sense of love for our animals, but I have not had that feeling arise greatly regarding the land.  Maybe it was because in a very small sense, that land needed me.  I don’t know.  I just know that standing on the prairie with a broom in my hand was stirring and made me think in a new way about caring for our land. 

An aerial shot taken by a drone owned by one of the firemen and sent to us.

That’s all I got.  I am really weary.  It was important to write this tonight, to grab the heart action that was a part of this unexpected part of our day.  While my heart is the realm of the tenderlands, the lands we very literally tend are tender too.  It was a hard day for our Carievale field today.  Thanks to many committed people much harm was prevented.