This is so 2 weeks ago, but I’m still having the occasional nightmares about my house being full of water. Clearly I have PTSD due to the Great Mary’s River Flood of 2012. Clearly the only therapy is to deposit a bunch of pictures and video on my blog to make myself feel better.
The Mary’s River went over its banks on January 18 and began a small diversion through our field that morning. La-de-da, thought I, and I carried on with my usual Wednesday delivery route to Eugene and Corvallis stores. Around 2 pm, I began receiving frantic messages from friends saying, “The river is continuing to rise and your chickens are in danger!” I stopped lolly-gagging around, and went home to discover that the water was so high I couldn’t reach the farm from my house. A soberness had settled over the neighborhood. This was big and it was starting to get scary. I walked around the block the long way only to find a line of pickup trucks and horse trailers pulling up in front of the horse-boarding facility near us. Folks were evacuating horses through chest-deep water and trying to load the poor, frightened beasts into trailers. The stress was almost palpable. I watched the scene while I repeatedly dialed my friend Lisa to bring a tractor from the farm and ferry me across the road. Finally, she picked up and I waited for what seemed an interminable length of time as she carefully drove the tractor through water that was steadily rising on Chapel Drive.
At some point, I called Keith and told him that he’d better come home from work soon, or he wouldn’t be able to navigate the roads. He left Marvell immediately and we both set to work loading hens into the Eggmobiles. We had to head for higher ground and to do that, we had to hitch the hen house to the tractor and drive it through rushing water that was over 3 feet deep and rising quickly. It was dark and cold by the time we carefully towed the last Eggmobile across the water. The amount of dry land was decreasing before our very eyes and I really didn’t know if our chickens would be safe overnight.
We took the tractor home that night, as 13th Street was now a torrent of river water. Around 11 pm, we went back to the farm to check on the chickens and could see that the water was now beginning to cover all remaining dry ground. We put in another hour of work bringing poultry crates for the birds to perch on. Surely the flooding would stop by morning, right? Surely this effort would be enough.
By the time morning arrived, we had water lapping up our driveway on 13th Street. Up and down the street we could see our neighbors standing stunned in their yards. No one would be going to work that day. As we fired up the bright orange Kubota, people called out their best wishes and let us know they could come help us at the farm if need be. I wanted to savor that moment – the disruption of our daily lives meant neighbors noticed one anothers’ faces, not just their make of car or how late they’d left their Christmas lights up.
I usually feel so self-sufficient. I don’t like asking for help, but when we saw the situation at the farm, I knew we had to waste no time in calling our neighbors. Our chickens were literally inches away from complete deluge and the water was still rising! Thank God for Kubota tractors and helping hands. We had moved 500 hens from the hoophouse to the old stationary hen house in record time, though we had to wade through knee deep water to do it. Finally we could breathe a sigh of relief – the chickens were crowded but alive. Water was entering the hen house, but there were roosts that would afford the birds some safety.
Our attention turned on the dairy cows and the 2 week old baby calf, which were standing in 6 inches of water in the barn by that time. With help from some friends, we created a diversion for the water so it reduce the flow to about an inch in the loafing shed. It was better than nothing and the cows seemed content enough.
We had sandbags brought in via tractor and pickup and began defending Beverly’s antique shop. Water had already started lapping at the walls and was beginning its steady march across the floors. Lisa’s quick thinking got most of the valuable antiques up off the floor and onto card tables before any damage was done.
It goes without saying that this day was exceedingly exhausting, mentally and physically. Not only did we work frantically from dawn til nightfall, but we had so much on our minds. While the farm was flooding, our home just up the street was also getting inundated. Fortunately, it was built on a flood plain foundation, so no water entered the house, but we definitely had a river running through the crawlspace!
The funny thing is, just because you have a crisis going on the animals don’t stop laying eggs or producing milk or needing to be fed. I have this surreal memory of wading into the flooded barn and opening the door to the milk parlor to see Lisa up to her knees in brown water, busily milking the cows. Our eyes met and we shared a moment of silent disbelief at the strangeness of the scene, then I closed the door and went back to work.
We had to take the tractor out to the Eggmobiles to do chores. It’s a little hard to deliver feed and carry full egg baskets in 1+ feet of water. (Plus, you wouldn’t believe the strength of the current. I almost got knocked over a few times!)
We decided to stay at the farm that night. Since our house wasn’t in serious danger, we weren’t exactly evacuating, but it felt like it. Everything important went in one Nike duffel bag and Keith, Emmie and I left our home in the cab of a tractor. We didn’t know if we’d be able to make it back up the road if the water got any deeper, so it was necessary to be closer to the animals.
Shortly, night fell and there was no more to be done except wait it out. My nerves felt like they were on fire, like all the adrenaline from the last 24 hours was still pumping through my body. We were all worn out, but we couldn’t sit still. Besides, we were crazy hungry from all that hard work, so we got to work making a huge dinner with our very own grass-fed beef (yes, Keith packed frozen packages of beef in our duffel bag!) and locally grown butternut squash. Lisa brought up a very-much-deserved bottle of wine from Fritz & Beverly’s wine cellar and we dined like Kings and Queens. That right there is what I love about this farm life I’ve chosen. We work so very hard but at the end of even the hardest days, we sit down to the very best meals and we are often surrounded by friends. I really can’t think of anything more satisfying!
Did I mention that Fritz and Beverly (who own the farm) were on vacation in Arizona during all of this? They were frustratingly unperturbed by our anxious calls about their home and property flooding. I can’t much blame them…they were soaking up the Arizona sunshine and I probably wouldn’t have cared about a little Oregon rain either. I guess they knew their place was in capable hands and didn’t begrudge us a couple bottles of wine around their fireplace that night.
I feel a kinship with Noah (of the Ark experience) now, for when I looked out the upstairs window the next morning, there were spots of green where before only water had stood. I sent out my dog (lacking a dove) to scout around and behold, she returned with her beloved flat basketball! At that point, we knew: it was safe to let the poor, crowded hens out of their house to roam around on dry land.
It wasn’t long before the water had gone down enough for us to begin the clean-up process. Our perimeter fence along Chapel Drive is almost entirely destroyed, due to the odd assortment of trashcans and wood pallets that were driven through it. All the outbuildings had thick sediment all over and we had a lot of pressure-washing to do. But all of that doesn’t really matter too much. The big things were okay: houses, animals and us.
I want to sincerely thank everyone who came down to the farm and stacked sandbags, brought food/drinking water, moved chickens, and wielded a pitchfork or pressure-washer gun. The outcome of this story might not have been so good without the support from our many generous friends. Thank you, thank you, thank you!
More videos can be found on my YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/latiguera884/videos