Another New Beginning

Reader Contribution by Suzanne Cox
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In 2011, I began blogging with GRIT with my very first blog titled “New Beginnings.” We had just moved onto our farm and had no idea of what life had in store for us here. In less than a year we experienced a whirlwind of building, fencing, relocating, layoff, the birth of our third child, and the homecoming of our very first livestock. What a year! This was one of the very first photographs I took of our new farm, my favorite part, the big red barn on the back hill.

Since that time, we have slowly expanded our operations. This year we were all prepared to continue that expansion with another 4 acres of fencing, a new shelter for our male alpacas, a machine shed for our growing inventory of farm equipment, and a much needed family-size truck for hauling and transportation.

So why ANOTHER new beginning? Well, as is our usual style we just can’t be boring.

On April 4, I awoke around 3 a.m. for no apparent reason, just an uneasy feeling I couldn’t explain.  I walked around checking on the kids, making sure the doors were locked, and then settled into the recliner and flipped on the TV to catch some early news. I wasn’t aware we were under a tornado watch, and watched for the next hour as severe thunderstorms moved into our area and encircled us. Nothing new for this time of year, and honestly nothing I was too worried about as we were not under a warning. By 3:45 a.m., the rough wind and pounding rain quieted and the regular morning news came on with all watches set to expire at 4 a.m. I dutifully stayed awake watching the news until 4 a.m., then turned the TV off and made my way back to bed hoping to get a few more hours of sleep before starting school with the kids at 8 a.m.

Moments after laying my head on my pillow, I heard a roar coming from the rear of the house. Odd, I thought, like a low flying plane. Moving once again into the kitchen I looked out the window to see … nothing. Everything looked peaceful and normal in the weak morning daybreak. But the sound, it was getting louder. I once again began rounds anxiously checking on kids and approached the front door. As I opened the door to look outside, the world exploded. The roaring was now a deafening howl, and I suddenly was not able to see past the front steps for this huge mass of GRAY. A wall of horizontal wind and sudden hail thundered down on the front lawn.

I slammed the door and ran to the girls’ room where the noise was loudest, grabbing the baby from her lower bunk, I screamed at Macey to wake up! She clumsily began climbing down from her upper bunk when all around us thousands of snapping sounds went off in a simultaneous orchestra of twisting wood. With the baby crying on my hip, Macey yelling for her daddy and a groggy and confused William walking from his room, I pushed them forward. Still not comprehending what was occurring; my only thought was our master bedroom was quietest. So we all ran from the noise, and directly into a bewildered Andrew standing next to our bed.  Seconds later, with three crying babies piled up on a mattress, we all sat wide-eyed and silent for what seemed like a lifetime as the war outside ended, and the world became silent once again. I’m not sure how long we sat there. Neither of us remembers our next actions, but we both very clearly remember opening the front door once again.

On TV, tornadoes look amazing, these terrifying and yet amazing towers of beautiful swirling clouds. You think you know what to do; first there is a tornado watch. So you keep the news on and go about your day. Then you hear a warning, you calmly gather your family into your safe place where you wait until all is clear and danger has passed. Oh, but it isn’t that simple! In my head that is exactly how I had always imagined it. Somehow I pictured this certainty of knowing exactly what it was and how to react. I was not prepared for a rogue cloud, something missed by radar and completely not mentioned on the news. I was not prepared for the confusion of the moment, the uncertainty about what was actually occurring until well after danger had passed. And none of us were prepared to open that door.

We were all safe. Our home was amazingly untouched save for a few loose shingles and pieces of siding pulled loose. For that we will always be thankful for God’s wonderful protection. Our cedar grove in our pasture wasn’t so lucky. All of our beautiful shade trees were twisted and snapped like toothpicks and scattered throughout the pasture and across fencing.

Another answered prayer, all of the livestock that usually sleep under those trees were safe! A few bumps and cuts, but no lives lost. We took stock of the property damage to fencing, pig shelter, trees, just all around us fallen trees. Moving to the back of the house we found more fencing twisted, huge hardwoods toppled in different directions and some very scared alpacas completely confused as to where their fence was. I kept telling myself, “Its OK. This is OK.” We can patch fencing, fix that shelter, and pick up our scattered belongings blown loose throughout the neighbor’s field.

A short while later, Andrew goes to check on the cows in the back field while I concentrate on calming the kids and making phone calls to family. My first thought when he walked back in the door was the cows were dead. You know that look that says I lost my best friend, my car broke down, and it was raining all at the same time? “The barn is gone.” I stared at him a moment before asking what he meant. “The barn is GONE. It’s not there.”

A few hours later with the help of a friend’s extra chainsaws and a few strong men, we cleared a path to the back field to view the damage. Amazing, how something strong enough to literally pick up and move a 26-by-40-foot barn hundreds of feet and shear steel T-posts off at ground level can leave the contents neatly piled in a stack.

A neighbor came down to check on us and gave her account of what happened. She and her daughter were up watching the weather when they heard the same strange noise. When they went to investigate, they saw a funnel cloud drop down from the sky on our back property line. It made its way straight through the center of our property, lifting and tossing the barn “like a bunch of toothpicks” before moving through the hay field, into the woods, and out of their view. It literally cut a path straight down the center of our property, briefly touched a few trees on our neighbors’ joining property line, and then rose back up into the sky.

Our home sits directly in that straight-line path. By some miracle, the tornado hit the woods in our backyard and hopped over the house, landing in the front yard right in front of the porch where I saw it when I opened the door, never comprehending that the horizontal wind I was seeing was actually a funnel cloud!

So here we are, four months later. Our fencing has been repaired. The largest of trees have been removed from driveways and paths. Piles of limbs and brush still stand in the pastures; the twisted metal skeleton of that big red barn that first sold me on this property is now being broken down and sorted into scrap and salvageable material to hopefully use towards another shelter. All of our machinery and equipment sits exposed near the driveway without the protection of the big barn. There is nowhere to store hay so we have chosen to use round bales instead of square this year. Our male alpacas do not have a shelter. And our hopes for expanding this year have been sidelined.

We are now in another new beginning. One of recovery and repair to regain what was already accomplished and then lost. It has been rough, and progress is slow. But we are getting there! Construction is nearly finished on a smaller barn for the front pasture. Soon we will start on a run-in shed for the boys. While we still occasionally grumble about what was lost, we are mindful that it could have been so much worse! Buildings can be re-built. Trees can be replanted. Family is never replaced.

“Sometimes God calms the storm. Sometimes He lets the storm rage, and calms His child.”

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