This is a story I wish I never had to write. My heart aches. But my eyes are clear and I’ve accepted the lessons.
I awoke unsure of the time. Noticing an orange glow from the bedroom window, I wrongly assumed dawn had come, that my alarm had failed. I was wrong. Looking out I saw an 8′ flame standing in the southern peak of the barn and my heart cracked. I can still feel the bewilderment and anguish as I cried out,” MY GOD, THE BARN’S ON FIRE!!”
My god, the girls, my god, THE GIRLS!!!
Leah’s cries seemed to come from another world, as I bolted from the room. I gave her my phone and told her to call 911. I threw on a coat and boots over my sleeping clothes and sprinted to the barn. The windows were dark, which meant the fire was in the loft. I had little hope. Ann’s body was partially blocking the door. In my effort to push it open, my elbow went through the window. Time stopped as I stared into the darkness. The silence was total, nothing moved except the thick smoke. My decade on the fire department told me that only death awaits inside. I dragged Ann clear, but she, though seemingly uninjured, was lifeless and cold. None of the others came forward. My worst fears confirmed. Time started again and I could hear the hissing crackle above in the loft. The fire, fed by the inrush of air from the open door, leapt from the roof, shooting 20′ into the winter storm that had descended upon us the night before.
So I backed off. And waited an eternity for the first responding unit. This is when I snapped the picture above. In that eternal moment.
By the time they left, around 430, my world had changed. Coyote had come to visit, gleefully sewing mischief to teach me a hard cold lesson I never wanted but obviously needed. Here’s the punchline , I would go from that smoking ruin to work 3 16 hour days helping people who had lost power due to trees on power lines in the very same storm. A storm that brought 50+ mph wind gusts and 8″ of snow. There was nothing I could do about the animals. The fire smoldered until a new 2″ snow fall on the following Wednesday stomped it down. See, there were 40 bales of straw and 25 bales of hay in the loft. It would have taken several thousand more gallons of water to eradicate the fire for good. It was Monday evening after work before we could address removing the bodies. Here is where my most profound lessons lie.
Disseminating the news showed me that we finally have true friends in the area. Folks who truly GET IT when it comes to a loss like this. When I asked for folks to check on Leah, they didn’t hesitate. That embrace was inspiring. When I asked for help dealing with the dead, again, they came without hesitation. I could see in their eyes that sense of loss I felt in my gut. Yes, they likely felt for Leah and I, but I suspect they were thinking of their own farms and their own families. In those quiet moments , as we lifted the dead from the cold ground, wreathed in smoke, my heart was lifted, even as I wept. And as I wept, I knew that I wept not for myself, for the loss of brick and mortar, wood and nails, rather I wept for the loss of life. Such fragile creatures, tentative sparks of life, however limited in their self awareness. I wept for the unborn, never having seen the sun. I wept for having failed them. For not guarding them. Not providing them a place to flourish. Coyote took notice of my tears. I believe Coyote smiled his viscous, knowing smile then, safe in the knowledge of a lesson learned. I feel that he also smiled, knowing of how tragedy can draw people together. While the cost of this lesson was steep, I am grateful.
An awkward moment occurred as the fire raged, I smiled. Even then, I could feel Coyote dancing just out of sight. I even laughed at one point. Laughed out loud in fact. If someone had been standing there with me, they would have thought me mad. “I guess I won’t need to be buying feed for a while. Think of all the money I’ll save.”
There are many more lessons to be learned here. I can suspect, at least, the topic of a few of them. But others will remain a mystery until Coyote decides I’m ready for them.
Life is a big funny thing.
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A note to anyone commenting on Facebook. I, Charles, don’t have FB access, so I can’t see any of your posts. If you want to reach out to me directly, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Also, this has been a VERY trying time for both Leah and myself. Sharing the news of this event has been slow, due, mainly, to being forced to relive those terrible hours with every retelling. It was hard enough the first time. If we don’t get back to you quickly, please be patient with us.