(Disclaimer: I’m having a horrible time with my internet. This post was supposed to be filled with fabulous pictures but I can’t even get on long enough to load the post! Because the information needs out there…I’ll add pics later if I can! If not…enjoy all the words!)
I’ve been absent from the blogosphere the last few weeks, but very present in my life. Which is how it should be! (I love you guys, dear readers, but my family life is my real life!)
It has been one of those months of just running from one event to the next.
Man of My Dreams and I celebrated our 20th wedding anniversary and then flew to Illinois to celebrate the wedding of the daughter of dear friends. (Congrats, Sophie and Sam!)
There are changes at work and changes in my profession that involves study and keeping up including scheduling a class in April that means hotels and airplanes and all those reservations that must be made.
We are getting ready for our son’s wedding in May so we are figuring out guest lists and invitations and I had to take a shopping trip for my dress.
Today is a couple’s shower for our Pastor’s son so I’ve been decorating and baking cupcakes like a mad woman.
And in the middle of all of that, Man of My Dreams starting building my dream mud room that we’ve been talking about for years! (I’ll post pics when it is done. It is a wonderful addition to our home! Trust me. You’ll have mud-room envy!)
It’s been a crazy busy but fun time.
But in the midst of it, my heart has broken for the farmers and ranchers caught in the largest wildfire in Kansas history. But the fires didn’t just affect Kansas–In one week, fires raged across Kansas, but also in Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado. Small towns and families are still reeling and cleaning up in the aftermath of a disaster that has received little attention nationally.
And with the modern miracle of social media, I read in real time horror as friends in all those places fought fires and evacuated homes and tried to move cattle and help their neighbors. Some were called by the fire departments and told to evacuate but also given the news that they had no trucks to send to save their homes. Some stayed with their homes fighting a fire driven by 40 mph winds with water hoses and beating back the flames with wet gunny sacks. Some won the battle. Others didn’t. Some barely beat the fire to escape to safety.
I grew up in Protection, KS which was evacuated twice during the fires. Friends and acquaintances were interviewed on local news as they waited to find out if their homes still stood. Friends faces showed up on other news stations with tales of fighting the fires as they struggled for life and breath and could not see through the thick smoke. Some of them were fortunate. Some, not so much. Blessedly, there was no loss of human life in Protection, but the toll on livestock and pastures and homes and families is still being counted. Ashland, KS was also evacuated in the midst of the fires that swept through farm and ranch land but missed the town. Ashland was in our league and we played sports, sang at music festivals, and debated against the kids from their small town just 16 miles from us. We were rivals, but also friends.
And my newsfeed on Facebook was filled with pleas for prayer as fire departments converged on Clark County to fight the monster fire that eventually consumed over 600,000 acres. Over 30 homes.
Tragically, there was one human death– a truck driver who drove into the blinding smoke and was overcome by it as he tried to turn around.
The toll of lost cattle is still being counted. Many cattle who survived the fire had to be put down later due to their injuries.
One rancher ran out of bullets, shooting those too injured to survive. Killing the cattle he’d care for to end their suffering.
Over and over and over. Can you even imagine?
I’ve lived in NW Kansas for 24 years, but Southwest Kansas is still home.
It is where my grandparents homesteaded south of Protection in what is called the Pleasant Valley district.
It is where my Dad lived his whole life, farming that same land “down south” as he said.
It is where I was raised in a turquoise house with red petunia’s out front and a tree house in the back that my Dad built.
It is the place where my memories reside.
Memories of lazy days at the swimming pool. A hamburger at Ruby’s Cafe. Driving the back roads of Comanche County in the summer, barefoot in cut off jean shorts, drinking a bottle of Coke from the pop machine at Louck’s service station, singing to KOMA at the top of my lungs. Dragging Main with friends. Walking the railroad tracks. Wading the creek at the “Slab.” Yelling till hoarse, cheering for the Protection Panthers football team.
Learning. Growing. Living a life that I had no idea how blessed it was until many years later.
So when the fires started, my heart longed to be home. And Man of My Dreams being just that, began to look for ways to help. And so a week ago we drove the 5 hours for me to go home. To take Milk Replacer for orphaned calves that are being fed by 4-H kids in Meade, KS. To drop off eye drops and cough drops for those who fought the fires and still suffer the aftermath.
It was a drop in the bucket of the needs, but it felt good to go and do something. Even small.
And I saw people I knew and firefighters I didn’t . They came from all over in response to the call. It’s what they do.
When we arrived, the school was full. Volunteers. Cooking meals for firefighters and those who’d come to help. Feeding those who no longer had a kitchen to prepare a meal. Local people. Unloading and sorting boxes of donations. Teenagers. On a Saturday. School officials. On a Saturday.
The word went out and truckers volunteered to haul hay that farmers and ranchers from all over the United States donated. North Dakota. Missouri. Iowa. Michigan.
Making a long trip to help someone else in need. Because it could have been them. But it wasn’t. And they could give.
We walked into the high school in Ashland where I’d attended ball games those many years ago (I even played basketball on that court–hard as that was for Man of My Dreams to believe!) and tables overflowing with donations lined the halls. Canned goods. Clothes. Medicines. Toothbrushes and toothpaste. Paper goods. Anything that anyone could think of that might be needed by those who lost their homes.
We humbly added our box to the rest. Overwhelmed at the goodness of people trying to help.
I’d bought a dozen pair of good leather gloves that laid across the top of our box. A man and his wife walked by. He saw the gloves and stopped. “I don’t have gloves,” he said to his wife, then looked at us standing there. There was a question in his eyes. “Take them,” I said. “We brought them to help out.” He nodded over a lump he tried to swallow and picked out a pair. I could tell he was used to giving…not receiving. Like most of these hard working people.
One of my prized possessions is a pair of worn leather gloves I dug out of Daddy’s pick up after he was killed in an accident 4 years ago.
I’d written notes saying the gloves were donated in Daddy’s memory and tucked one into each pair. I think Daddy would be pleased to know I’d learned the value of a good pair of gloves. It was his preferred gift to my husband every Christmas because it was something he knew every working man needs.
These men will spend months and months rebuilding fence. They’ll need good gloves and I love the idea that Daddy is taking a small part because if he were still alive, he’d be giving in some way.
It’s who he was.
And it is who these men and women of rural America are.
There was a fire in Haxtun, CO that was put out even while the fires raged in Kansas. A friend called wanting to donate their excess bottled water and Gatorade that had been donated to their efforts. Blessed to be a blessing.
The media is beginning to pick up the story. But I hope they don’t miss it.
The fire is not the real story.
The real story is the people.
The real story is that for all the division that has been sown in America that says we are a nation divided, it’s not true in the heartland. It’s not true for any people of the land.
The people in cities may have forgotten what it means to love your neighbor. They may expect that a government program will solve that problem down the street.
But not here.
Here, in the land that I love, neighbors help neighbors. Neighbors who realized they couldn’t save their own home, went to help save their neighbor’s home. They rejoiced with those who could rejoice. They mourned the loss with those who mourned. People who are hurting in a horrible farm economy who say, “I’ll help” and load up a semi full of hay or go to the local Co-Op and purchase Milk Replacer to save the calves of a farmer they don’t even know.
Mom’s who go through their overflowing toy boxes to fill the heart of a child who lost every toy.
People going through their closets and pantries to find something to give.
Friends who take in friends who no longer have a home.
Ladies baking desserts and side dishes every day for weeks to feed those who have come to help. 600 meals served a day for a week in a town whose population is a little over 800.
Phones ringing off the wall of a feed store and a vet clinic and a high school miles away, wondering how they can help.
Big corporations like Cargill have stepped up, donating $50,000.00 of fencing materials. Spott’s Lumber in Ashland is selling fencing materials at cost. But it costs $10,000 to build 1 mile of fence. That includes labor. And many fences crisscrossed the land where 1,000 square miles burned.
When we visited, I finally understood the term “scorched earth.” Not a stick or blade of grass left in a fire that burned so hot it melted the glass in vehicles. (From my glass work I know that means a fire is at least 1500 degrees.) A fire that destroyed everything in its wake.
Except the spirit of the people who call Clark and Comanche County home.
That is the story.
That youth groups and 4 H groups and FFA kids are taking Spring break or coming after school is out to help build fence organized by a woman who once called Ashland home.
That church groups from nearby towns and ranchers not from around there bringing horses and saddles and tack to help.
And college kids who grew up there and people who once called Clark County or Comanche County home but haven’t lived there for years coming back to roll up wire or sift through buildings or help find the dead cattle and account for them before burying them because they knew their help was needed.
Because home resides in your heart not just at your current address.
THAT is the story.
That the greatness of America and the pioneer spirit that raised barns and helped bring in the harvests together still lives in hearts that beat with love for their neighbors….and for strangers in need.
That not just out of abundance, gifts are given, but those who have little give to those who have lost everything.
That as divided as America seems to be, in the aftermath of disaster, we are standing together and lifting each other up.
At least in the heartland.
God bless them.
God bless them every one.
And may God heal and rebuild our land.
How can you help? Though much has been given, much more will be needed as this disaster is dealt with.
To volunteer to help with fence building, clean up, etc. : Holly Rankin Fast–620-635-2297 or 620-635-6021
To donate: Fencing supplies–Spott’s Lumber has set up a fund that will be divvied up to ranchers in need. They are selling the supplies at cost. 620-635-2613
Ashland Vet Supply–Medicines, volunteers, supplies, hay donation. They will make sure it gets where it needs to go. 620-635-2641
Ashland Feed Supply–Milk Replacer for orphaned calves, mineral, hay donations and supplements–selling at a reduced rate. Will get the supplies where they need to go. 620-635-2856
For further information about donating in Clark or Comanche County: Aaron Sawyers 620-635-6334 Megan Snyder 620-635-5080
Peoples State Bank has a fund to help the firefighters. These are volunteer fire departments and these fires have taken a huge toll on the fire fighters. 620-582-2166 or 800-889-9887
I know these businesses and individuals and you can trust them. If you donate, the money will get to where it needs to go.
You can also donate through the Kansas Livestock Association at www.KLA.org or the Working Ranch Cowboy Association at www.wrca.org.
Bless you as you give!