As the car crept along behind my husband walking with the cow and calf I watched the other cars passing us. They were pausing to take pictures of the cows walking down the road. My anger flared up like a fire. Why do people find it necessary to photograph people while they are going through something devastating? People in car wrecks. People being helicoptered out of devastated areas. And people having to walk their livestock out during an evacuation. Why do people do that? Why do they feel the need to post pictures of people they don’t even know, during a stressful time, on their FB pages and on twitter and whatever other social media there is out there? It was disturbing to me. I swallowed hard again and tried not to be bothered by the fact that my husband and my cattle would likely be gracing various fb pages and such in the next 24 hours.
About a mile into the trek I saw the trailer coming towards us and relief swept over me. We loaded the cows in right there in the middle of the road. We told the guy where to take them, and to wait for us, we were going back to get the truck at the barrier with the sheep in it. I drove my husband back and we all met up at the fairgrounds. We put the cows in one small stall and the sheep in another. I tried to hold back the tears. These were very small stalls, and while the sheep were probably fine, I did not like my mama cow and her calf squeezed into a tiny stall for who-knows-how-long. I told my husband we would have to hurry and find another place for them. He agreed.
After we got them settled, and thanked the man who helped us, we headed over to my in-laws office to figure out what the next step was and to return their car. Once there my husband told my in-laws and I that he and the kids had loaded suitcases and such into our SUV, and, since we now knew we could off-road out of there, we needed to go back and get that out, with the house dog, Holly in it too. But what about the other animals? What as the plan for them? They couldn’t go in a stall at the fairgrounds, when night fell it would be a raccoon feast of rabbits and chickens. And how exactly were we going to get them out? Crates? Boxes? In vehicles? or on foot? The place we were off-roading through had a gate, and we were not sure if the property owner would close it. Also, the roads that we drove on to get to the off-road area were breaking as we spoke. How much longer could we safely drive in and out? Not to mention, if we would be out for 3-9 months, and there would be no electricity and utilities, we needed to winterize the house, and empty the fridges and freezers so we wouldn’t come home to massive damage and rotting food. We could bring some food out in the suv, but there was a whole freezer of meat from the cow elk we got and from last year’s steer. “We might have to just throw it out on in the yard for scavengers, instead of risk it thawing and rotting,” my husband said. I felt woozy. All that meat. All that work. Gone. “And we need to decide about the chickens and rabbits. Do we evacuate them all? Do we need to…you know?” I did know. He didn’t want to discuss butchering some of the animals in front of the kids so we didn’t have to evacuate so many. Our kids understand butchering. They have participated, and they know that we raise these animals for meat. But this was different. This was VERY different.
There were so many unknowns. We didn’t know how long before we could go back. We didn’t know how long for utilities. We didn’t know if more road would be gone and this would be our last trip in with a vehicle or not. We didn’t know if the main road would go and this would be our last trip back in for a long time, even on foot. Would we still be able to park at the barrier and walk in indefinitely? If so, do we leave the small animals and just hike in twice a day to care for them? But if we can’t even hike in, then what? Or maybe we will be able to drive in and then we definitely should leave them. But what if we can’t? It all swirreled around and around in my head, making me dizzy, as my husband and in-laws continued discussing the options. I finally yelled out “How can we possibly make all these huge decisions without any information!!??!!??” And then I burst into tears.
My mother-in-law graciously grabbed the kids and said “Let’s give mom and dad some time to talk alone.” And she led them away. I crumpled to the floor.
“We cannot throw all our food out and butcher our animals without knowing what the heck is going to happen. What if we are allowed back in in a week? What if we have utilities in a month? Then we will have killed them for nothing, and wasted all that meat. We CAN’T make these decisions. It is too hard! What if they are right? What if it IS 9 months? Then we can’t keep all these animals boarded somewhere else for all that time, it doesn’t make sense. In which case we SHOULD butcher them. But, oh, ALL the work we have done to build up the chicken breeding program. All those chicks! What use are young chicks butchered? They aren’t going to be worth eating, so it will be useless pointless slaughter. And we have to go allllll the way back to square one again. This is just AWFUL! How can we possibly do this?” I sobbed. I had reached my breaking point. I couldn’t handle the thought of killing my animals. I couldn’t handle the thought of throwing away all the food we had stored up. I couldn’t do it. It was too much. My husband held me as I cried.
The day was quickly coming to an end, and we needed to hurry up and decide the next step. I didn’t have time for this necessary break down. And we didn’t have the time we needed to make all these very important decisions.
My husband gently started, “I know this is hard, honey, but we have to take the next step forward. We can’t freeze up. We have to take the next step. So, I need you to get the kids to my parent’s house and just try to settle and calm everything down. I am going back in, with my dad. We will deal with everything. I will pray and make a good decision. I don’t want you to have to worry about the decisions, God will tell me what to do and I will do it. But I do need you to tell me one thing. I know this is hard. But I need you to do it. Please tell me, IF you had to keep only some of the chickens, which ones would they be? I don’t know the chickens like you do, I can’t make the right choices, so IF I have to butcher them, I NEED to know which ones you want to keep. Can you please tell me that?”
One thing. He was only asking me to do one thing. He would carry the burden of the rest if I could just do one thing. But it felt like one impossible thing.
No, I told myself, it is not impossible. You know those birds. You need to do this. You need to help him. He is willing to carry you and everything else through this, he just needs you to do this one thing. I listed off the birds that were “most important” to our flock, and our breeding program, and our progress.
Just then, our oldest son walked into the room. His eyes were filled to the brim, but not spilling over. “Dad, I understand if we need to butcher my rabbits. Do what you have to do. God gave me this business and has helped grow it beyond what we ever thought it would be. He will replace them if that is what needs to happen.”
I started crying again. This time because of the maturity of my son, and his faith, and his trust. I needed to trust like that. I needed to have that faith. No matter what had to happen with these animals, it would be ok. God built up this farm once, He would help us build it again if necessary. Our son left the room. I turned to my husband and said “I will pray that He will give you the right answers on what to do when you go back in there. I trust you to make the right decisions. I will take the kids and give them some joy over at your parent’s, don’t worry about us.” And my heart broke. My heart broke for my husband and the huge task he had ahead of him. I hurt for him, that he had to make these decisions and then carry them out. And I was so thankful that he was my husband, and that he was so brave and strong.
I took the kids and went to my in-laws with them. We played and I tried to not think about what was going on.
I cannot tell the story of what happened when my husband went back in, because I wasn’t there. And so, for the first time ever on this blog, my husband is going to write. He will tell what happened in the next post, Evacuation Day 1 – Part 3.