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Friends: never around when I need a little help.

I have always been an admirer, if not a respecter, of bad weather, and, if truth be told, have never allowed my plans or schedule to be much affected by the whims of Nature. If I lived in a grass hut or a drafty cave, or had to walk to work or ride in an open wagon, I suppose I'd take a different attitude, but the vagaries of climate really don't cause me much discomfort or inconvenience.

"You mean you're going to drive to Baton Rouge in this weather? It's raining," my friends might inquire. "Sure. I've got a roof on my truck, the heater works, and I'm in no hurry. Why not?"

Why not, indeed. When the weather rages, I love to open the blinds and gaze out upon the storm, silently giving thanks for a warm, dry, snug house--protection from the violence and turbulence of the climatic world. Everyone may not be so fortunate, but most modern folks have effectively insulated themselves from the violence of Mother Nature.

When I was a very little boy, our family lived in relative isolation and seclusion on the banks of the Bayou Bonne Idee in northeastern Louisiana. When those furious spring storms came, if no lightning was nearby, my younger sister and I quickly shed excess clothing and played in the driving rains, cavorting in our underwear through the yard, puddles, and gravel roads. When we reached high school age, my parents saw that my sister's cavorting was causing serious traffic and gawking problems in the neighborhood, so they put an end to the practice, but the love of inclement weather lingered.

When I spent a year as an obsessed runner in the early 1980s, I never let harsh weather interfere with my running schedule, nor much alter the costume in which I trained. Regardless of the climate, I wore a pair of light running shorts and shoes. If the weather turned really cold, I'd add a t-shirt, knit cap, and a pair of gloves. Many times, I'd suffer the stares of dry, warm vehicular passengers who would ogle my dripping figure while I gamely cranked out my daily five miles in the relentless torrent. In sub-freezing weather, I'd often return to the house with ice caked in my moustache and beard, and little sensation in my extremities. Sort of gave me a feeling of invulnerability to be outdoors when the wimps were all snug inside.

Two weeks ago today, as usual, I left the office at five o'clock sharp. Normally, I head straight north at a snappy clip, daring slower motorists and aged pedestrians to get in my way. Happiness is Log Cabin, Louisiana, with City Hall in my rearview mirror.

On this day, however, with black clouds gathering overhead, I was detained by a quick visit to a local cemetery, as I wanted to check out a lead in a murder case that I can't tell you about. When I finally neared the homestead, about 5:30, I was delayed by a work crew clearing a fallen tree from the highway. As I pulled into the driveway, I sensed that something was amiss, although I couldn't immediately put my finger on the reason, aside from the massive accumulation of downed limbs in the front yard.

When I parked, I was greeted by my faithful cat, Sam, who was actually sobbing as he looked eastward into the pasture. Roofing shingles covered the backyard, the little barn was demolished, two large trees were now horizontal, and the roof of our neighbor's tractor shed had opened a large gap in my fence en route to its final resting place in my pasture. Sheets of tin were nestled high in the upper branches of oak trees, and the sheep and goat were wide-eyed.

The neighbors were slowly walking toward the yard, and we met for a quick conference and an assessment of the damage. Two doors to the south, the five o'clock tornado had missed Mike and Ann's house by about 50 feet, roaring furiously as it took down an outbuilding before continuing into Mr. Hemphill's yard. There, it helped itself to a large tractor shed, completely pulverizing it, then turned east to wreck his barn and cause a very large hardwood tree to "explode" and fall northward across our common fence.

Mr. Hemphill watched as the funnel continued into the Sims pasturage, lifting my small stable off its foundation and smashing it to the ground, before splintering yet another oak, whose circumference I can't span with both arms. It veered off to the southeast, then lifted, only to come down again on Bonita Road before fizzling. The next-door neighbor to the north received no damage, with the exception of some litter and debris from our erstwhile structures.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

After the initial shock, we soon realized that we had been truly lucky. Had the whirlwind struck just 50 or a hundred feet farther west, three families could easily have been homeless. Since the fences had been breached, I rounded up the goat and the less skittish of the pair of sheep, and moved them to the enclosure around Loch Sims, our oxidation pond.

Two mornings later, on my way to work, I noticed that the incarcerated sheep was not immediately visible, so I walked out to the pond. Sheep are notoriously stupid animals, and this very large specimen had managed to fall into the pond and drown. The weather had turned cold, with a thin film of ice covering the sewage, so I figured that the natural refrigeration would allow me to wait until after work to handle the problem.

When a person casually mentions to his friends that he has a 350-pound animal floating in his sewage pond, those same friends suddenly develop pressing engagements elsewhere. I left work a couple of hours early, gathered up my faithful daughter Ellie, and addressed the situation. Armed with a whole lot of rope, a pair of rubber boots, a backup set of chest waders, and a reluctant daughter, I surveyed the sodden carcass, which was riding substantially lower in the water than it had during the morning hours.

"How are you going to get the rope around it?" Ellie asked. "Very carefully," I answered, as I very gently eased into the shallower water near the bank. My boots sank alarmingly into the, er ... sediments, as I approached the bobbing ovine form. I grabbed a dry ear, and tried, to no avail, to lift the head high enough to pass the rope around the neck.

"I think you're going to have to put your arms in the water," Ellie suggested, somewhat gleefully, and from a generous distance, barely suppressing a smirk. I did--deeply into the water--and fastened one end of the line around the animal. As I climbed out of the odiferous ooze, she gingerly assisted me in pulling the deceased over to the other side of the pond, near the gate. I eased myself back into the fetid waters, tugging and pushing on the soggy beast, failing to budge it up the steep bank. All this time, the water lapped perilously close to the tops of my boots and my upper body was becoming covered with an unimaginably vile and malignant muck. Only with the aid of a tractor were we able to remove the sheep and move it to the back of the pasture. There the body was anointed with a full bag of lime, and I have now constructed a rather large funeral pyre over the remains.

Despite our close encounter, I am still fascinated by the beautiful power of the ever-changing Louisiana climate. A spring afternoon's thundershower is a perfect time to sit on the porch and watch Mamma Nature clean the house. A walk in the rain still washes the soul, and a winter wind blows away clouds from the spirit along with the leaves from the yard.

Everyone is invited to the sheep roast. The meat is well-marinated, and I'll furnish the plates. Bring your own ketchup.

GEORGE SIMS

MISSOURI

George Sims now lives in the Missouri Ozarks, and can be contacted at: bonneideefarm@hotmail.com, or at Route 2, Box 237-3, Mansfield, MO 65704-9564.
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Title Annotation:The hapless homesteader
Author:Sims, George
Publication:Countryside & Small Stock Journal
Date:Aug 26, 2010
Words:1367
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