Feeding the animals Sunday night was a chore. It was hard to walk through the wind and soaking rain of Irma's outer bands. I carried a bale of hay to the cattle, but they were already in a storm circle. The bigger cattle laid down on high ground with the smaller ones inside. They were probably not going to eat the hay, but it was there. Happily, Libby was making full use of her stall. I think she is a clever horse and she proved it true once again. I am sorry I ever doubted her. The wind noise was much better than the driving rain. The pony, goat, and baby donkey look bright and calm from their stall and the sheep were snuggled in a corner. Everyone had plenty of hay and clean bedding, because I had a chance to clean their stalls earlier on Sunday. Everyone received pets and treats. Two chickens escaped under the gate. I found one (Thunder) back in the old coop yard and the other running around the farm. I found the spot where they wiggled under the gate and blocked it. One more chicken was in the barn, annoying Bagheera, the barn kitty. I caught Red and returned her to the coop. At the last minute, I moved the extra large dog crate to the other side of the barn. It seemed to be a better spot. The fifteen, half-grown chicks inside protested the move, but I got them settled with fresh bedding, and more feed and water. The wind and rain fought me all the way to the back door. I stripped my wet clothes and threw them in the washer. We still had power. I hoped we would keep it long enough for the dryer. We ate dinner using paper plates and plastic utensils, then cleaned and cleared and organized everything. I had just pulled out the dry clothes when we lost power. We had been keeping track of what was on throughout the night in anticipation of lost power. It paid off as we easily transitioned to lanterns and candles. The hurricane was steadily getting worse by bedtime. We camped out in one bedroom; my husband and I, our son, three cats and two dogs. There was no sleep for the grown ups.
The wind was the worst I have ever heard. I was in Virginia during Hurricane Isabel and the eye went right over my little farm. The noise during this hurricane was different. It rose with the same voracious fury, but with a much greater staying power. During a hurricane, the highest winds have a distinct roar that rises and rises until you think it couldn't possibly rise anymore, then, it begins to abate until the next heavy wind rises. They are not unlike heavy seas which roll and pass. However, this hurricane was different. It's size must have been what made it different. It rose and rose for much longer and held on much longer, as if the wave would never end. When it finally fell, it was almost as if whatever was resisting it was exhausted by the fall itself. At one point, something large fell and leaves from our magnolia tree pressed against the window. We were not even halfway into the heaviest winds. We couldn't tell what came down or whether or not it was a tree on the house (our biggest fear). We found the lantern and evacuated into the living room. We set up on the floor and couch, with the dogs and cats curled up around us. I read to our son about the Ingalls on the prairie (we are going through the series) to ease him back to sleep. Ironically enough, it was the chapter about building a roof on the log cabin. As I read, I wondered how much of our own roof we would need to build. He fell asleep after two chapters, but there was no sleep for me. The wind and rain continued it's assault through the night and early morning. The hardest hours were those when the worst of the hurricane had passed, but it was too dark to see the damage outside.
We buzzed around inside until I could dare a step out to check on the animals. It was light enough, but the weather was still violent. I avoided being close to trees and stayed alert. The horse barn was fine. Bewildered, but safe, the animals all talked to me about breakfast. I checked them over for injuries and fed them all. They were fine.
My husband got on the roof, as soon as the winds allowed, and found the branches that had fallen. No tree fell on the house, but we had big branches down all over. Several big cedar branches were laying on the power lines attached to the house, which made a hazard in case the power came back on. He threw those off, as well as the magnolia branch that had worried us in the darkness. His chainsaw buzzed as I assessed the animals.
The hay barn was not fine. About 40% of the roof had been peeled back from the top of the barn as if with a giant can opener. The chickens were a little damp, but their part of the roof was intact. The chicks in the dog crate would have drowned in the original spot, but I had moved their crate at the last moment and that saved them. They were also under a little intact roof. Bagheera meowed at me continuously to tell me about all she had been through, but she was safe and dry on top of the small stack of 19 bales of hay under the shelf. One chicken was missing. I searched by the old coop and horse barn and found her tracks leading underneath the tack room. The clever little hen had found a dry spot. She fluttered across the yard when I called and I finally caught her and returned her home. I blocked the hole under the gate more securely.
The cattle were hungry and safe by the back gate waiting for me. I petted heads and scratched favorite spots to calm them as they settled in to breakfast. All were fine.
The chicken coop roof was ripped up as well. Moving the chickens had been the right thing to do.
I returned to the house to get breakfast for us. In addition to camp food, I had baked bread, hard boiled some eggs, and made cookies on Saturday, so we had plenty to last us without power. After breakfast, the wind was still whipping around, so John and I checked the front pasture fence. It was fine, so we let the horses out for some freedom. Little Rosie bucked and snorted her way around her elders, as carefree as our son. For Rosie and our son, John, it was more adventure than hardship. For me, there was a little of that sense, but not for my poor husband. The weight of his worries and the annoyance at sub-par coffee made this not in the least bit fun.
After breakfast, the cleanup began. Our farm looked like this under every tree:
There was a county wide curfew in effect through Monday night. We heard through friends that Black Creek in Middleburg had risen to a new record height. Already, we knew people who had water all the way up to their roof. Another family we knew was rescued by the Coast Guard. They lived a half mile from a very narrow section of Black Creek (only canoe wide)! Our new land was very close to them but further from Black Creek. We worried about my husband's family, who were near water. We also worried about our parish family and our son's Catholic school.
Tuesday morning was bright and sunny. Not too warm and not yet chilly. A beautiful day to dry out and enjoy the sunshine. I fed the animals and dragged the dog crate full of young chickens out into the fenced garden. I set them up and turned them loose. The green weeds and plentiful bugs excited the chicks as they preened and ran around in the sun. The horse, pony, and donkey were still in the pasture enjoying the sunshine and grass, as were the cattle. The sheep and goat lounged in sunny spots in their paddocks. The rabbit cages came back out into the barn aisle to enjoy fresh breezes. The sun soothed us all.
We drove into town on Tuesday, mostly because my husband had to find a route to work. We also had to check on the house of an evacuated family member and see if our new property flooded. Our nearest town, Keystone Heights, had some power late Tuesday, but no fuel. Middleburg, however, was still partially under water. Many roads by the creek were flooded. The main bridge through town was fine, but traffic was diverted around a long stretch that was under water. The detours were long and winding because Black Creek effectively divides the town in half. Unfortunately, everything we need to get to is on the far half. We went home disappointed Tuesday morning, We were an island of dry in a sea of flooded roads. By afternoon, however, we heard more roads had opened due to the receding water. Another venture into town was successful Tuesday afternoon. We had to be careful with gas because we didn't know how long the power would be out. We wound around through back roads to another highway and finally reached my husband's office. We also found a gas station with fuel and checked our new property. There is a little creek along one side of our new land that we fenced out to leave wild. There was only one tree down on the fence and the water didn't reach our pastures. We could see the traces of where our tame little creek (which is not named yet) turned into a raging river and poured over the bridge past our property. A few boats tied to trees marked how high the water was at it's peak. Our neighbors down the road had suffered much greater losses than we did.
We made it through and our damage is really more annoyance than the devastation experienced by some of our neighbors. Prayers for us all to make it through, not as individuals, but as a community. There will be plenty of work to do, beyond our own farm, in the coming months.
After the hurricane pictures. The sheep, (Dulcie and Marmalade), Libby, Rosie, and Maggie.
The cows and Bagheera the barn kitty: