It is the one-year anniversary of the Historic Southern Ice Storm, so I thought I’d repost :-)
I grew up in the Midwest so I am used to winter weather. Blizzards, arctic temperatures, snowdrifts and black ice were never a big deal. It was just weather, and although annoying, not anything to spend much time worrying about.
My childhood memories of winter are simplistic. Snow days were rare, but fun. I remember waking up in the middle of night, looking outside at the whiteout conditions and feeling buoyed by the certainty that school would be canceled for the next day. Those fleeting thoughts and the dream of a day of snowman-building and sledding were quickly dashed because while I sat peering out the window I could make out the familiar sight of the strobe-lighted snowplow, followed by the loud clank of the salt truck coming in behind. Life was pretty easy and fairly predictable.
I have just experienced my first winter storm south of the Mason Dixon Line and it was an eye-opener. I remember laughing at news stories about a little snow in the south effectively shutting down the entire economy. “What wimps”, I would say. “It’s just a little snow and ice, for God’s sake”. How wrong I was.
I am a farmer now so this isn’t a trivial issue anymore. Once again I am humbled by the life I have chosen and the ignorance I have displayed in regards to what this life means. Farming can be exhilarating, but it can be devastating too. I never recognized that there is potential for real loss in these situations. The day of the storm and the aftermath was surreal. Instead of wondering whether or not there would be snow days off for everyone, I was consumed by worry.
A winter storm and the possibility of power outages is a real concern. We have new baby chicks that have not yet grown their protective feathers. They have been brooding in our unheated garage, where it is warmer than the barn, but artificial heat is vital. If a heat lamp isn’t available, they will die within a couple of hours. We also have a freezer full of last season’s crops and butchered chickens that we depend on for meals. We have guinea fowl and laying chickens to tend to; it is our job to make sure that they are warm, fed and dry. Our fig, pear and apple trees have buds emerging, as do our blueberry bushes, putting them all in a delicate state.
Instead of cozying up by the fire, Steve and I spent the day lugging warm water out to the guineas and chickens, while trying to keep the freezing air out of their coops. Our greenhouse has been recently planted so the seedlings are fragile. We borrowed a gas heater from our neighbor so we could blow hot air onto the budding plants. The heater was also critical in keeping the entire greenhouse structure from collapsing because of the weight of the ice forming on top. Hours into the storm, we lost power due to the ice snapping power lines. Once the power went out, we had to go out every couple of hours to manually remove the snow and ice, while keeping our fingers crossed that the plants would survive without heat.
We have a generator but it is earmarked for providing electricity to the chick’s heat lamp, and our freezers. Gas will only last so long, so we had to hope that power would be restored soon or else the chicks would die and our stockpile of food would spoil. Our warmth and comfort came last.
I write this not as a plea to join a pity party for me, but instead to allow you a peek into the life of a farmer. Until recently, I never quite grasped the full significance of what weather in rural farming country really means. Steve and I are fortunate because we have had careers prior to farming that have allowed us some savings and a little more security. I think of those living near me who have historically relied on providing for themselves and their families through working the land. Some of these folks live year-to-year, crop-to-crop. I think of the potential loss of livelihood just because of a two-day ice storm. I am frustrated that I am powerless to change the situation for them and for us.
Worry is an understatement.