Pitching Hay Into the Wind
Thoughts on the Jan. 14 Perkins County, South Dakota “Windy Fire” and the “Divide Fire” March 29-30
January 14th was one of those days, when if you had had an umbrella like Mary Poppins, or even a five gallon bucket (as I did), you could have flown away. In a normal January, it would have been a blizzard, and no one would have stirred a wheel except to feed the cows, because you couldn’t have seen the neighbors’ place, let alone the stripes on the highway.
But South Dakota, being a lady of variable tastes, is gifting us with an open winter this year. November, December, and now January, have brought week upon week of clear skies, above freezing temperatures, and minimal precipitation. To be fair, she did send us a foot of snow in October, long before snow was in vogue, but that is long gone and the prairie is brown from horizon to horizon.
As I tried to pitch hay to my colts into the forty mile per hour wind, I wondered how much of it they’d actually get into their bellies before most of it blew to the neighbors. Or the next county. There’s just no good way to do that job under such conditions. No matter which way you point the pitchfork, the hay leaves. I got more in my eyes and down my collar than I did into their feeder, I am sure.
Pitching hay into the wind is one of those things that makes a person inclined to say, with Solomon, that ‘all is vanity.’ And as I pitched, or made a stab at it, I thought of other things that can make one feel that life is an empty effort and all has been in vain. I made my mental list of the hard things, the things that knock us to our knees, that make us toss the tools aside. Life is full of them, and in agriculture we are frequently made aware that we are not the ones in control. Just like the wind ripping the hay off my pitchfork, the best laid plans and brightest dreams can be gone—literally—with the wind. A blizzard, a fire, a flash flood, a market crash, a case of coccidiosis, a drought, a cancer diagnosis, a four wheeler accident, and life changes irreparably in an instant.
And there’s no picking up the pieces.
As the hay flew past my face instead of staying in the feeder, I thought of how life is often just like that.
That sometimes despite all of our best efforts what we have worked so hard for is ripped out of our hands and it is gone.
I had no idea then, that mere hours later I would be watching that drama play out, larger than life, in flames that spread wildly across the horizon from northwest to southeast, flames that would race twenty miles in just over two hours driven by the same wind that relentlessly blew the hay off the tines of my pitchfork.
Flames that would impact my family, my friends, my neighbors, my community. I knew their general trajectory, though in the dark I couldn’t tell the exact path of the fire. Still, I knew that no matter where it burned, it would touch someone that I knew. And I thought of the cows, the saddle horses, the haystacks that fed them, the barns and corrals that represented generations of blood, sweat and tears, the homes that held life and laughter and love. And I knew the frantic rush of doing all that could be done to keep these things safe, and I saw that the fire was leaving little time to accomplish that.
And I prayed. Knowing, but not knowing. And I watched the little dots of flashing lights moving past, moving toward the inferno. And I knew that while I watched and prayed, others were doing. That together, dozens of volunteer fire departments and hundreds of people were walking into the face of that monster and saying ‘no.’
It looked impossible. But they didn’t give up. And they fought a good fight. Eventually the angry orange monster that spanned the skyline was reduced to small bright spots on the horizon. By dawn, there was darkness again. The battle was won. By the mercy of God, the fire was stopped.
But it’s not over. There are fences to be fixed, trees to be replanted, livestock to be accounted for; there are things that are gone that can never be replaced. There are hearts that are scarred with fear and trauma and loss. But my neighbors will find a way. They will rebuild and replant. Spring will come and green will cover the black, charred scars on the earth. We will pull together as a community, pick up our fencing tools, load up hay and supplies, dig postholes and plant seedling trees. We will find hope and resilience and life again.
God’s mercies are new every morning. Great is Thy faithfulness!
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