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Keeping the Farm Safe (and Sacred) as Hurricane Sandy Looms

The Hayes family gathers in prayer and gratitude for the ancient Celtic celebration of Samhain, which marks the beginning of winter and the new year. But this year’s beginning will be unlike any other.

Hurricane Sandy

Photo by Oliver Rich.

Hurricane Irene was a shock. Hurricane Lee, only one week later, was a freakish incident. But now, as the winds begin to stir around the house and we brace ourselves for hurricane Sandy, it’s clear to me that what we’re facing is a new weather pattern.

We’ve done our best to prepare. We winterized the bees, staked down the hives, cleared away the patio furniture. We caught up on laundry and bathing. We split enough kindling for the week, and filled the spaces beside the woodstove and masonry stove with firewood. 

Down at the farm, Grammie and Pop Pop found plywood sheets for the living room windows. We brought all the livestock in out of the pastures, and secured the turkeys in the new barn (built in response to last year’s hurricanes). 

We discussed where everyone would be safest. Grammie and Pop Pop will stay at the farm near the livestock, we’ll stay at our home with the kids, where we have a cellar that can be accessed from indoors. 

The bathtub has been filled, along with an additional 12 gallons of water in glass jars for drinking, a few giant stock pots for cooking water, a few five-gallon buckets for spare water. Oil lamps are out on the kitchen table, candles along the kitchen counter. Flashlights, batteries, wind-up radio, cell phone, and even a brand-new ipad with a pay-as-you-go wireless internet plan are in an emergency electronics bag beside the basement stairs, along with sleeping bags, a piss bucket, wet wipes, extra warm clothes, medical supplies, water in steel bottles, non-perishable food, more candles, a few novels to read to the kids, a drawing and coloring kit, and one comfort item for each member of the family: Saoirse’s stuffed Froggy, Ula’s stuffed beaver Buckskin, my knitting basket with my journal tucked inside, Bob’s guitar. If the winds get too bad up here on our mountain, we’re headed for the cellar.

The most fitting thing we could think to do as we stared down this unknown threat looming on the horizon was to spend the evening together in ceremony and prayer.

Once everything on our preparedness list was checked off, we readied for Samhain. I pulled the last of the beets and carrots from the garden (I’d hate to lose them if it floods at the farm), we cleared a space to make an altar with antlers, mums, skulls, pumpkins and squash, one remaining enormous zucchini, a small pot of this year’s honey, felted animals, the last of the tomatoes and peppers, candles from our beef tallow, and pictures of our loved ones who have moved on. I made a stew using something from every animal on the farm. Bob and the girls lashed together a Crohn from asparagus fronds and grape vines. Grammie and Pop Pop finished their preparations and came to join us.

The most fitting thing we could think to do as we stared down this unknown threat looming on the horizon was to spend the evening together in ceremony and prayer. We made special meals for our pets: Spriggy and Dusky got stew for dinner (Ramona the cat eschewed the stew, but helped herself to the buttercream frosting on the pumpkin cupcakes when we weren’t looking). 

flooding, photo by Chad Furst
Radical Homemakers vs. the Hurricane

Last year, Schoharie County, New York, which was hard-hit by Hurricane Irene.

We set out pictures of our family members who have gone before us. We poured home-pressed cider on the garden, scattered cupcakes in the woods for the birds, wildlife, and the fairies. We asked them to stay safe. We gave thanks for the animals who gave their lives for our benefit, for our ancestors who watch over us, for the friends who have passed on. We gave thanks for the harvest. We raised our glasses to our ancestors, and asked them to watch over us in the coming days. We kissed and hugged each other goodbye, revisited our plans for communicating if and when lines go down, then tucked ourselves into bed to wait.

It is early Monday morning as I write this. I step outside to take the puppy for a brief walk, and the ominous silence, broken only by the unsettling swirl of the wind, makes her run back for the door in fear. I suspect there will be a few puddles and other surprises on my floor to reckon with in the coming days. I push that thought aside.

As we go into this storm, half of me is focused on making sure my family is safe. The other half is focused on gratitude. This year’s hurricane has come later. The leaves are off the trees, a summer drought has lowered our water levels considerably, making room for sudden flow. For many of us, the harvest is in. I do not know what the coming days will bring, and I cannot claim to be ready for anything. But as we navigate our way through the wind and water, I hope to remain centered by the grace we’ve had in our lives, which warms the walls of this house as we continue to celebrate Samhain through this hurricane.


Shannon HayesShannon Hayes wrote this article for YES! Magazine, a national, nonprofit media organization that fuses powerful ideas with practical actions. Shannon is the author of Radical Homemakers: Reclaiming Domesticity from a Consumer Culture, The Grassfed Gourmet and The Farmer and the Grill. Her newest book is Long Way on a Little: An Earth Lover's Companion for Enjoying Meat, Pinching Pennies and Living Deliciously. She is the host of Grassfedcooking.com andRadicalHomemakers.com. Hayes works with her family on Sap Bush Hollow Farm in Upstate New York.

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