All this month we sang new lyrics to The Arky Arky Song that we learned in Sunday School as kids. “It rained and rained, for twenty-eight daysies, daysies, it rained and rained for twenty-eight daysies, daysies, nearly drove those horses crazy crazies, children of the Lord.” We planned a day in March to gather gopher wood and pitch if the flood waters continued to rise.
The Bomb Cyclone of January became the “Areal Flood” of February. At first, my wife and I thought it was a typo on her weather app. Was it “a real flood warning” without a space between the a and r, or was it “area flood warning” with an extra “l” thrown in by mistake? But no, it was yet another weird term concocted by the fake weather services to explain the whacky and unpredictable weather.
What the heck is an “Areal Flood Warning” anyway? It appears The National Weather Service recently adopted the new term which means the same as the more commonly used “Flood Watch” designation. Basically, an Areal Flood Watch means there is potential for flooding over a large area. The word “areal” is the adjective version of the noun “area.”
There’s no word on why they changed the name of the watch. The definition of “areal” is an area which is an expanse of space or a region of land. This version of the word should not be confused with “aerial” which means of or relating to the air. I suppose if you were on an airplane, it would be an aerial areal view. Ha! And neither of these should be confused with Ariel the Little Mermaid, Ariel, the angel from the Bible, nor with Areal, Rio de Janeiro, a municipality in Brazil.
Confused? Yes, so were we.
Here is what we do know. It rained and rained, for twenty-eight daysies, daysies. Almost twelve inches of rain virtually obliterated the sun. It was the most precipitation to fall in February since record keeping began in 1870. To put this in soggy perspective, it was the wettest February in at least 148 years. And it was a short month—during that almost 150-year span, a leap year with an extra day occurred thirty-seven times and still could not accumulate a foot of rainfall.
According to my observations, in the year 2018, there were only six sunny days in February. Rain fell on twenty-two days. Most of them were steady, all-day showers with wind. Rain in these foothills is not uncommon, but it rarely adds up to this enormous amount.
A person once said, “Some people feel the rain, others just get wet.” That sentimental arse apparently didn’t live on a farm with horses with an old barn at the bottom of a ridge with a dirt floor. It was probably some city dweller, who was never raised to take care of so much as a Pomeranian. I’m sure they take delivery of their food in plastic packages and hire someone to walk the dog.
We celebrated the “rain” for about seven days and the rest of the month we got wet. Soaking wet. Drenched. Our skin shriveled up, and we found mold growing in unusual places on our bodies. Obviously, we didn’t get “wet” enough because we would run in from the cold rain and promptly soak in a jacuzzi full of hot water.
Our barn had seen better days. Over fifty years of bomb cyclones and areal floods had taken its toll. The structure that once kept the weather off the horses and the summer hay now leaks more than a gap-toothed sailor. The roof that had once been shiny metal is rusted and pitted. Gutters are missing or sticking up at awkward angles. In places, a stubborn patch of metal conduit clung to the wooden eaves, but otherwise, they were as corroded as the roof around it.
A stable usually has that ammonia smell and the air swirls with dust, but all that was washed out and diluted by the mud. Wet, soft, earthy, mucky, oozy, sludgy, slushy soil. The miry clay sucks regular boots off with a sound like a wet fart and pulls them under like quicksand never to be seen again. And the mud on a Tennessee farm is ice cold. I have come to believe if hell is real and intended to punish us for our sins, it will not be a lake of fire, it will be a barn of mud.
The only boots that can survive this miry clay are called Muck Boots. I suppose we should go to a commercial for a moment. Let me hasten to say I receive no remuneration for this shout out.
You could call them the official boot of Kalien. Built to keep farmers dry, this boot has a rugged waffle outsole and a full rubber exterior. The soft sock-lining keeps your feet warm and dry in any weather condition, which makes this a great boot for the swamp our farm in the mountains became this month.
No matter what season they are an essential addition to one’s wardrobe. More on that later, but suffice it to say these boots are expensive as hell and worth every penny. Thankfully, my son-in-law gave me a pair for Father’s Day. They are woody blaze camouflage, knee-high, and 100% waterproof.
For the fashion conscious, their website states they have a boot for every occasion and guarantees they will always be comfortable no matter where life takes you. You could wear them to the most elegant eating establishment in our area and fit right in. In my will, I’ve requested that when I die, I want to be buried with my Muck Boots on. Enough said.
We were not the only ones having a difficult time with the rain and mud. Needing an escape, we borrowed a canoe and floated over to Ebel’s Tavern for a well-needed drink and warm meal. The town was quiet, and anyone who was out moved briskly looking with misgiving at the gray sky as though it was about to unleash again at any moment. Carthage is a farm town, and in the first two months of 2018 the wrath of Mother Nature had sullied dispositions and given everyone a severe case of cabin fever.
We picked our way through the puddles thankful for temporary pleasures such as the wet but firm concrete of Main Street rather than the muddy quicksand of our farm. The warm and cozy interior of the underground pub lined with ancient brick walls was the perfect getaway. As we doffed our foul-weather gear and settled in at the bar, Cole, and Erika, the proprietors and lifetime residents of this area gave us warm hugs and commiserated with our loud complaints about the weather.
Every problem we could not blame on politicians was the fault of the climate. Although in the rural south where we live one does not mention the words climate and change in one sentence. One would immediately be viewed with suspicion and labeled a liberal—a description that was certain social suicide.
It is ironic that these salt-of-the-earth folks who are multi-generational farmers eeking their income from the Appalachian earth—and who spend most of their lives outside—cannot bring themselves to admit the dramatic meteorological changes. The natives I’ve met here still view the earth in Biblical terms and feel they are to subdue the earth and have dominion over it. They continue to live on the land and do not live of it.
We would do well to study the life and writings of fellow southerner Wendell Berry. At age 79, he still lives on the farm near Port Royal, Kentucky, where he grew up and uses traditional methods to work the land there. And he still speaks eloquently about the importance of local communities and of caring for the land, while warning of the destructive potential of industrialization and technology.
He says, “A deep familiarity between a local community and a local landscape is a precious thing. It’s also, down the line, money in the bank, because it helps you to preserve the working capital of the place. There’s less now of everything in the way of natural gifts, less of everything than what was there when we came. Sometimes we have radically reduced the original gift. And so for Americans to talk about sustainability is a bit of a joke, because we haven’t sustained anything very long — and a lot of things we haven’t sustained at all.”
These are good discussions to have at a bar such as Ebel’s, but unfortunately, they are still far removed from reality. And as I’ve long said, Americans suck at debate. So we bitch about lousy weather and politics—neither of which we can change—and eventually wander back to our respective arks.
As we arrived home later that day, we noticed that our little colt Aegon was laying down by the fence. We commented on how sweet that was until we noticed to our horror that he was trapped under the fence and could not move. He had slid in the mud (probably while attempting to wallow and scratch his back) and had wedged his two front legs tight.
As we swam our way to his side, my heart missed a beat; it appeared at first impression that the accident had amputated his front left leg. As a bit of panic ensued, it became evident it was only an optical illusion caused by the angle, mud, and his position. After we gathered ourselves, I reached down and put my arm around his neck and peered into those terrified brown eyes so full you could see the red background, making him appear to be wild-eyed. I stroked and attempted to calm him to no avail.
My wife hurried around the fence into the paddock and positioned herself below him to hold his legs down. I then circled my arms around his stomach and pulled with all my strength. His dead weight of several hundred pounds, the lack of traction from the miry soil, and my awkward position made progress virtually impossible.
But adrenaline is a funny thing. Face to face with Aegon as he uttered a pitiful whimper and a feeble snort that warmed and wet my cheek, I desperately tried once more. He moved an inch. Again slight progress and after a few more grunts and pulls, he scrambled to his feet with a frenzied flurry of limbs, none the worse for wear.
That little horse and I bonded that day. He stood close by me for a second, and I could almost see a thank you in his eye as I tenderly stroked his neck before he shook his head and body furiously and wobbled off to join the other horses. Unbeknownst to us, that little accident-prone stallion would not be with us much longer.
A few rainy days and Mondays later, I was up the hill at the house checking our SUV’s trailer hitch to haul yet another load of hay for the horses. We ended up gathering over 224 bales of hay for the winter in loads of fifty-six. Our barn wouldn’t hold but around eighty so the farmer, Mr. Everett, agreed to store them in his lean-to for an additional twenty-five cents a bale until we needed them.
As I drove Helga, our Honda SXS, down the hill to the pasture, I noticed my wife awkwardly holding on to the gate. She had been cleaning and medicating a nasty gash on Aegon’s front right leg. He got it when Bella, one of our four rescue horses, reared and knocked the little guy into a screw jutting from the barn gate. They had been startled by the metallic clanking of a bulldozer across the road.
It was not healing correctly so my wife sent a photo of the injury to our new veterinarian and received text instructions for treatment. As she followed directions, she attached his lead line to a fence post and attempted to hose off the wound with a stream of water before application of the ointment. The sudden flow startled an already skittish Aegon and he jumped and reared in the air, whipped his entire body several feet, and promptly collided with her knee.
The loud pop and searing pain was the foreshadowing of a severe injury. She gamely finished applying the medicine, calmly released the colt, and limped several hundred feet to the gate. As I met her, I instantly knew something was wrong. Ironically Mr. Everett, the farmer who sold us the hay had just told us about his recent hip and knee replacement and how impressed he was with the orthopedic doctor.
We called for his name, researched his reviews and credentials, and promptly visited the office. The collision had fractured the tibial plateau of her left knee in two places. The prognosis stated that complete healing could be possible without surgery by immobilizing the knee for six weeks. We left the medical complex with her on crutches wearing a fancy leg brace and this equine newbie wondering how the hell am I going to take care of four wild horses alone for a month-and-a-half.
As we had cocktails (several, I might add) that evening, we began a painful discussion that perhaps rescue animals were an overly ambitious goal at this point in our lives. We only wanted a couple of horses we could enjoy, and ride and somehow we had obtained four animals that had suffered through a past of mistreatment and abuse.
With my wife Gina’s capable instructions, I managed to care and feed the horses during her rehabilitation, but along the way, we decided they had to go back to the rescue ranch to be adopted by persons younger and agiler than us. We began a search for horses that were more compatible.
It was a somber day when Ms. Alisha returned with that rickety horse trailer. Gina hobbled to the store as she could not bear to say goodbye to Bella, Bulleit, Katie, and Aegon. I stood there with moist eyes looking down the road for a long time after the rattle of the trailer had long receded in the distance.
As the rain continued to fall nearly every day there was no opportunity for the land to dry out. And so the barn became a sea of uneven muck with hundreds of potholes caused by the horses’ hooves filled with brown water.
Donning our rain suits, we assessed the terrain of the stable floor. Gina’s crutches had sunk almost a foot into the ground and looked as if she was bending over looking at the mud. As she impatiently pulled the ends of her supports out of the slime with a slurping sound, I noticed tears streaming down her face. She was done.
Over the past three years of strenuous and grueling work here at the farm, we struck an agreement that if either of us were at the end of our rope, we only had to utter the word “zombie” and immediately both of us had to quit working for the day, no questions asked. That eerie and fateful word had only been invoked thrice in all those months of hard labor.
But sinking in the mud that day as the driving cold rain pelted us, she screamed a blood-curdling “ZOMBIE!!!!!!!” The rain did not let up, but the moment we got back to the warm house and had dried off, I called my excavator friend, Robin Grisham.
The rural southern way to do business is to shoot the breeze first. So as we caught each other up on the events of the past few weeks, I heard an audible sigh on the other end of the line. “Bear, (the nickname he has given me) I told you those horses was liable to hurt you. Now, is Miss Gina gonna be okay?”
I assured him she was healing well. We discussed the bad weather, and he moaned about being so far behind because of the endless rain. We debated the merits of putting what he calls “crusher run” (a mixture of dust and gravel that will harden over time like concrete) on the ground of the barn.
“But Randy, I can’t promise you when I might get your way. It’s gonna be a while. I’ve never seen rain like this-this time of year. It’s crazy. Now, you better watch out with those horses. I told you a man gets what he pays for.”
“My uncle one time got kicked to the ground and trampled by his mule and he just got up, and hauled off and hit him on the noggin with a sledgehammer. That durn mule has behaved himself ever since. Now I’m not saying you need to do like my uncle, Bear, I don’t like mistreating dumb animals, but I’m just sayin’.”
It’s true; it has been rainy and wet this month; at times I’ve felt like a modern-day Noah. But the rain is of good quality, steady in its fall, filling the cascades of the streams, and keeping the whole farm fresh and alive. And anything more delightful than the shining weather after the rain–the bright, slanted sun-days of February–can hardly be found anywhere.
The mountains, with clouds of mist about them, cast ill-defined shadows, and the horizon changes to pale blue-gray with just a trace of lime-green in it.
But as the rains of February nourish the warming days of March, there is the hope of a glorious awakening. The cool haziness of the air vanishes, and the richer, sunbeams, pouring from on high, make all the ridges and leaves shine. The light-green topped trees brightly emerge about the edges of the slopes, and many a bud-shaped blossom floats among them, where the forest is stirred by some passing breeze.
On the mountains, and in the high-walled hollows that fringe the farm, still more excellent is the work of the sunshine. The warm air throbs and wavers, and makes itself felt as a life-giving, energizing breeze embracing all the earth. Filled with ozone, our pulses bound, and we are warmed and quickened into empathy with everything, taken back into the heart of nature, from whence we came.
We feel the life and motion already about us, and the universal beauty: the seasons marching back and forth with weariless industry, laving the beautiful woodlands, and swaying the yellow daffodils of the broad meadows where the wildlife is fed; the oveflowing streams foaming white with waterfalls, the coppice ever alive and ever in song, spreading their branches over a thousand mountains; the vast forests feeding on the drenching sunbeams, every particle in a dance of enjoyment; misty clouds of insects stirring the air; the wild turkey and deer on the grassy meadows above the woods, squirrels in the berry-tangles, mink and beaver and groundhogs far back on many a creek and pond; farmers and ranchers pursuing their lonely ways; birds tending their young–everywhere, everywhere, beauty and life, and glad, rejoicing song.
In the words of that wise philosopher Eeyore, “The nicest thing about the rain is that it always stops. Eventually.”