Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mother Nature's Wild Ride

The stress level around here has been a bit extreme. The Thursday before Hurricane Irene began her crazy run up the East Coast, my husband had the good sense to pick up a generator. We couldn’t find an electrician who would wire up a transfer switch immediately, so Mark rolled up his sleeves and figured out how to do it himself. I was busy securing the barn and the house and getting provisions. My daughter was going to have a big back to school party on Saturday night, so there was lots of agonizing about whether to re-schedule it.

As we watched the frenzied, fear provoking weather reports, I began having nightmares about trying to reach the horses in the barn during the storm, which they said would go on for 24 hours. And I was really worried that the huge hickory tree which stands over the barn would fall on it. So, Saturday morning, I made arrangements to walk the horses up the hill to my friend’s concrete block barn. It was a bit scary since the wind was blowing hard and there were dogs barking like crazy behind an electric fence. Just after we got Silk and Siete inside their stalls, the rain started to pour. My friend reassured me that he would somehow make it out to the barn on Sunday morning to feed the girls no matter how bad it was blowing. My husband was frantically running around trying to find some of the connectors for the generator since everything was sold out. He managed to finally locate what he needed, but for a while it was a bit tense since it looked like the generator wasn’t going to be ready in time.

Saturday night, we started out sleeping in our beds, but around midnight, Maark woke me and suggested that we move to the pull-out couch in the living room. We have big beech trees next to the house, and we were worried that they might come crashing through our roof. We dragged the puppy crate downstairs with us and almost as soon as we all snuggled up together, there was a huge crash from across the road, and the power went out. About a half hour later, there was a big explosion around the corner as the transformer blew. Then, at 5 am, the wind was so strong that there were a series of four large cracking explosions as the trees in the woods around us started to break and topple. My daughter leaped up and announced, “We’re going to the basement!” We grabbed the dog and the cat and went downstairs to our little nest that we had carved in one corner. I could see out the window in the garage, and these huge trees were bending and waving around like they were feathers. We had a radio so we could listen to a New York City station as they broadcast updates on Irene’s approach. At 7 am, the basement started flooding and we fired up the generator to get the sump pump working. We edged our way cautiously back upstairs where the coffee maker and the donuts were. Around 8, our neighbors started showing up on our doorstep, and we had a little impromptu party gathered around the TV. By mid-afternoon, I was able to go up to my friend’s barn to see Silk and Siete. Getting there wasn’t easy since trees and downed power lines blocked all directions except one. I had a winding route that took an extra ten minutes, but I was able to reach them. The horses were totally fine, and I was so grateful that I had made the decision to move them.

Unfortunately, one of the other two horses who live in the barn decided that she hated my girls. The next day, when we turned them out in separate pastures, this psycho mare tried to tear down the fence and attack Siete. She was rearing and screaming and biting, but Silk just got right up next to her with the fence between them and peed in her face. The crazy horse stopped suddenly and sniffed Silk’s butt and then backed off. Soon after, she raced towards the fence again, and she and Siete started to snort and carry on. Again, Silk stepped right in between them. The owner of the barn was really worried that the psycho horse would crash through the fence and get hurt. I put my girls back in their stalls and started to plan an exit strategy. Luckily, my neighbor down the road who has a big hunter/jumper barn agreed to help me and bring her trailer up as close as she could get, given all the downed lines and trees. We were able to walk Silk and Siete around to the trailer and bring them near enough to walk to our house. Our little narrow street was the only one open to traffic, so it had become a major throughfare. Then, as cars drove past at 40 mph, my husband and I led the horses back to our yard. It was scary but nobody spooked. When Silk saw her own barn, she was so happy that she actually whinnied. Both of the girls were amazingly good even in all these strange, tense situations, and I couldn’t be more proud of them.

We had no power for five days, which makes for some strange routines. I was just relieved to have the horses back in our barn and to have water for all of us, even though we didn’t have enough room on the generator for the hot water heater. Oh those cold showers! The barn flooded, but we were able to drain it and dump a dozen bags of wood pellets in the stalls to dry things up. The corral and the pasture and the ditch were just starting to clear up but now it’s pouring again. We’re going to get 3 inches of rain today and tomorrow, which seems like no big deal compared to the 10 inches that Irene brought us.

Mostly, we feel like we were very lucky. If Irene had been stronger, with 80 mph winds, the damage would have been so much worse. During the middle of the storm, my daughter was really frightened and I told her, “Mother Nature is beautiful and cruel. This is a reality check for all of us, a reminder that even though we think we control everything, we don’t.” We love our magnificent old trees, but this experience has taught us a good lesson. This week, I’m going to call the tree trimmer and see about taking down the hickory and thinning the beech trees since we won’t be moving the house or the barn. Hurricane season continues through October, and I hope that this wasn’t just a practice run.