Friday, June 10, 2011

Of fire, plague, and calamity.

I haven't written lately because I hate recounting bad news. Opposite from the drama queen tendency toward whining and complaining and telling sob stories is the desire to put one's head down and soldier on. I have really tried to cultivate the latter in the past few years, sometimes to the detriment of friendships. People who love you tend to want to know if you've fallen from a building or caught leprosy or gone to rehab for shoe shopping addiction.
In the last month I would have welcomed the chance to tell of shoe shopping rehab or my exciting leprosy treatments. A few minor calamities have piled up and managed to take the wind out of my sails.
In case you care, here's the lowdown:


Burning the knoll sounds like something you should see a dermatologist for. It isn't, though. Life in the pine belt means dealing with a blanket of pine straw pretty much everywhere. We should have done a controlled burn before we broke ground on the house but it was easy to add that to the list of things that could wait. On a clear, calm, early morning in May we decided to go ahead and burn off the undergrowth and pine straw that had built up over the last few years.
We raked and shovelled and minded half a dozen fires until the whole hill was nearly clean. Mom showed up, as she tends to do, at just the right moment bearing fruit smoothies and cheese and crackers and avacados for a mid-morning picnic. We lay in the grass of the pasture just in front of the knoll and cooled off and relaxed as the wind picked up around us. Mid-bite dad jumped up and shouted to drag out the hoses. The fire had restarted and jumped its boundaries. It swooped quickly in the wind dangerously close to our beloved and much used tractor. I jumped on, started it and backed it as far from the fire as the clearing would allow, then grabbed a shovel and began wrestling the dozen tiny fires into submission. As the kiddo and my dad hosed and raked and stomped, I shovelled and beat at the blazes. A particularly big gust of wind blew embers down the back of my shirt and into my eyes. I leaned against a tree to put the sparks in my shirt out and blinked wildly to clear my eyes.
Finally, we had it out and hose puddles around all the hot spots until the steaming stopped.
If only that had been the end of the story. I went to close my eyes for a bit in the hottest part of the day, hoping my eyes would feel better. Dad got some work done at his house. In an amazing serendipidous twist, my mom and sister-in-law went to sit on my parent's back porch, closest to the creek that seperates our properties. Hearing an explosion and seeing black smoke they realized that the fire, with an amazing, stubborn persistance, had fought its way back to life and taken over the knoll.
By the time they and dad and my brother had raced over, the fire had burned many of dad's best power tools, a chainsaw, our picnic table, the hoses which we had thought had completely put the fire out, paints and woodstains, a case of liquid nails, my dad's good camera, toolbelt and gloves, and various other jobsite fodder. Miraculously, it had only approached his trusty Ford farm truck close enough to melt the headlight but not cause any damage which would render it unsuitable for use. And my farm truck was across the creek awaiting a trip to the dump.
Over dinner, The Professor had sagely and a little sadly related the wisdom: "Sometimes the most important lessons are the most expensive ones."
"Isn't it the cost of the lesson that makes it an important one?", I asked.
In true always-the-educator form, he replied, "That's what I said."
Hmm. Either great minds think alike or mediocre minds BS similarly.
The next day, still seeing black clouds in my left eye, I went to the doctor who found I had done some minor damage to the surface of my eye. After cleaning it up, administering gooey purple drops to it, he put an adhesive bandage over it followed by a very Errol Flynn black eyepatch. Suddenly I felt naked without my blunderbus and peg leg.
I won't say that I loved piping at Memorial Day observances with an eyepatch but I will admit to having had a bit of fun telling the story of my injury (you know the which I rescued orphans from a charging elephant in Mogadishu, losing my eye but saving so many lives) to a group of soldiers gathered around the guns which would fire their salute after I played Amazing Grace between the memorial monuments.
I only wish that when the eyepatch finally came off I had been able to stop saying "Arrrgh" at the end of all my sentences.

The day after the eyepatch came off, a virus swept through our family turning us all into fevered, coughing zombies within hours. I could try to write about the week of being sick but my fever addled brain was probably back in Mogadishu with the elephants or watching the bugs dance on the ceiling. Suffice it to say, less work was accomplished than we had aimed to get done. The kiddo's virus settled into his asthma-affected lungs and turned into pneumonia, my cough settled into a very respectable immitation of Doc Holliday and his poor consumptive hacking. Dad fought to work through his sickness and wore himself out each morning before most people were even out of bed.
With the delivery of the trusses looming ahead of us we dosed ourselves with massive amounts of vitamin C, ate our chicken soup and gradually returned from our zombie-like states.

Finally well and 2 days from truss delivery, we were scrambling to finish the timber framing portion of the house and stain as much wood siding as we could before things really started kicking into high gear. Happily working the morning away, we were interupted when my sweet pup, Seamus, was hit and killed by the garbage truck.
Mercifully, he didn't suffer and couldn't have known what happened. Still, I am devastated. As a rescue pup with some health problems due to neglect, my only goal for him was happiness and health. He had turned into so much greater a dog than I had expected and he was a perfect counterpart to my female Australian Shepherd, Ripley.
After having a cry kneeling on the dirt road next to him, I let mom and dad help take him to the orchard on the corner of the pasture to be buried. Growing up I had a pet cemetary behind our barn that held all the menagerie of animals that a family of stray rescuers would love and inevitably lose over a lifetime in a home. I never imagined I would begin such a graveyard so soon at the new house. We live so far from traffic and danger that I imagined my pups would grow old here.
Funnily, we noticed while staining the beams for the porch and all the siding for the house that the pecan color the wood turned as it dried was the exact color of Seamus's coat. We had joked he would match the house when sleeping on the porch. I will be glad of the reminder of his smiling little face running through the pasture. I only wish he could've lived in the house with us.
R.I.P. Seamus. We love and miss you!

Which brings us to today. After a week of working long shifts on each side of the dangerously hot hours of the day, dad (and to a lesser extent, I) have everything in place to stand the timber frame section up, place the last wall in its spot, and begin raising the trusses with the help of every able-bodied sucker we could recruit. Tomorrow will be the most exciting day since the foundation was poured. I am nervous, excited, and more than a little bit prayerful. Smooth sailing is exactly what we need right now.
This morning, reflecting back on the previous month, The Sage Professor told me "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." I couldn't help wondering silently if I could throw my hammer just hard enough to make him stronger....

More soon. Prayers and safe thoughts appreciated tomorrow!