Family Feed

On Whidbey Island with 'Farmer Bob' and His Inspiration Garden

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Farmer Bob's garden includes a greenhouse, barn, and chicken house. ©SueFrausePhoto

By Sue Frause

Editor's note: Today's 'inspiration garden' guest post is extra-special to me. I had the pleasure of working with writer Sue Frause back in 2007-09, when I served as deputy editor of Crosscut. Around the same time, I also had the privilege of staying at the guest apartment on Whidbey Island that she and 'Farmer Bob' offered to city folk like me. Whidbey is one of my most favorite places on the planet. It's a short ferry ride from Seattle but feels worlds away, and the Frause House easily undid me with its charm and the owners' hospitality. Here's Sue.

Welcome to Farmer Bob’s Garden on Whidbey Island. While many folks are sprouting green thumbs during the coronavirus pandemic, Farmer Bob’s turned green many moons ago. But first, a bit of backgrounder about Farmer Bob - who also happens to be my husband. 

Bob Frause and I were married in the summer of 1974, but his love of gardening started long before. “My first gardening experience was at age three at our home in Burien, south of Seattle,” said Bob. “It was always a large garden and a family affair, with work to be done.” That meant spading, laying down manure, weeding, and picking and preserving the crops. “One of my big dreams as a kid was to live on a farm and have a garden.” 

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A three-year old 'Farmer Bob' pictured in the 1940s at his family's garden south of Seattle.

Although our first year as a married couple started out in a Seattle apartment, that didn’t stop Bob from growing a few crops. He built small planter boxes and placed them outside our fourth-floor kitchen window on the fire escape. “We had lettuce and tomatoes coming up until the Seattle Fire Department made us remove them just as the crop was in full bloom,” recalled Bob. 

After moving to Whidbey Island in 1975, where we bought a 1930s house on three acres in Langley, Bob planted his first ‘official’ garden - and he’s been digging in the dirt ever since. During those early years, the yearly plowing of the garden was always a chore. Our first springtime tilling of the soil was done by a neighbor who rotovated the garden with his tractor. The next few years, we rented a rototiller, but eventually ended up buying a Masport cultivator from New Zealand. It was a small machine and took a long time to till, but it worked for several seasons. And then Farmer Bob moved into the ‘real gardening’ category, purchasing a used Troy-Bilt rear tine tiller from a friend’s father. To this day, Bob continues to use the Troy-Bilt for smaller finishing jobs, but for the past 7-8 years, he’s been working the soil with his Kubota tractor and its five-foot wide rototiller. 

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Ongoing improvements at Frause Acres are a big part of Farmer Bob’s garden. Fruit trees were planted early on and included apple, Italian plum, peach, and cherry trees (our neighbor’s goat devoured one of the apple trees down to the ground one year, but it survived and is now the largest tree in the garden). New structures were also added, including a large barn, chicken house, greenhouse, and a seven-foot high fence around the entire garden to keep out the deer. At the same time, we were also raising chickens, rabbits, turkeys, and cows - which resulted in plenty of free manure for the garden.

So what does Farmer Bob’s garden grow? Annual crops include arugula, beets, lettuce, radishes, spinach, garlic, onions, lettuce, carrots, beans (pole and dried), peas, corn, broccoli, cabbage, squash, cucumbers, 4-5 types of peppers, tomatoes, pumpkins, basil, and sunflowers. Perennials in the garden include artichokes, herbs, raspberries, strawberries, horseradish, and a variety of flowers. 

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A basket of summer vegetables from Farmer Bob's garden. ©SueFrausePhoto

Over the past 40+ years, we established a farm business and sold beef, eggs, vegetables, and preserves - the idea being to defray the expenses of farming and gardening. And for a number of years, Farmer Bob sold basil to local stores and restaurants under the Bob’s Basil Factory brand.

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Farmer Bob brings in a batch of basil for pesto making. ©SueFrausePhoto

So what about harvest time? “Processing the bounty has been a chore, but fun,” says Bob. “We freeze, dry, pickle, and juice a lot of what we grow.” He even designed Farmer Bob labels for jams, jellies, and pickles. Vegetables from the garden (along with veggie starts from the greenhouse) are given to family, friends, and neighbors.

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Farmer Bob's Whidbey Island Raspberry Jam. ©SueFrausePhoto

Several aspects of Farmer Bob’s garden have evolved since those early days. For several years, we invited friends for a summer dinner party in the garden. The only requirement was that all the dishes (except the meat/fish of choice and beverages) had to originate from the garden. This was long before ‘farm to table’ became a global trend. 

In 2021, Farmer Bob’s Garden turns 45 years old. Let’s hope we can all gather around the table once again for a summer dinner party in the garden with friends. And raise a toast to Farmer Bob, whose childhood dream to have a farm and garden really did come true.

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Bob and Sue Frause's son Max and granddaughter Emilia head out to feed the chickens. ©SueFrausePhoto

H-l-about

Sue Frause is a prolific, long-time journalist and photographer whose work has appeared in print and online in the U.S. and abroad. For 15 years, she wrote an award-winning column for The South Whidbey Record. She currently writes not one, not two, but three blogs: Eat|Play|Sleep, Closet Canuck, and married to martha. She is also a regular on Around the World Radio. In her many travels, she's visited all seven continents, but her favorite place in the world is right there on Whidbey Island.

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The Secret to Our Six-Pack Marriage

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By Lisa Brunette

This month marks our sixth anniversary; here we are at our wedding in Seattle back in 2014. I chose this image to front the post because it captures the secret to our success as a couple: We both have a good sense of humor, and we're not afraid to laugh at ourselves, either.

You'd have to be able to chuckle in the face of adversity to weather the slings and arrows of the past six years. It's been a tremendous time of change as we've taken on challenges that seem more befitting twentysomething newlyweds, rather than second-time-around middle-agers like us.

While we married six years ago, we've been a committed couple for nine, and in our first year together, we lost Anthony's mother, A. Grace, to pancreatic cancer. A truly independent soul, she'd wanted to change her name to just "Grace," but authorities said she had to at least have an initial along with it, so she chose A, and when asked, she would say it stood for "Amazing." So it was with a sense of charmed destiny that we held our wedding at a spiritual center where we'd found community, its name the same as hers.

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Grace made a deep, lasting impression on me in our short time together. Perhaps as a way to keep her with me, I named a major character in my novel series after her. The Dreamslippers series launched the month before our wedding.

A mere five months after our honeymoon, Anthony and I made the decision to move away from Seattle, the place we'd both called home for a decade. As a federal grant manager, his gigs were all term-limited to the length of the grant, usually two to three years, and his grant ran out. Not finding opportunity in Seattle, he cast a wider net, and a position presented itself in a little town called Chehalis.

It was both difficult and easy to leave Seattle. Difficult because of family - my stepson, then in high school - and friends it would be tough to be further away from. But Chehalis is only an hour and a half from Seattle, so we reasoned that these days, that's basically commuting distance, with regular train service between to ease the matter. Still, the decision was not taken lightly. Here we are with Zander at our wedding. 

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And here are my sisters in crime, with whom I shared many a drink and a laugh during years of losing loved ones, divorce, career drama, dating at middle age, and just living, the four of us exploring together all that Seattle has to offer. It hurt to leave them.

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So, in what way was leaving Seattle an easy decision? Anthony and I had been priced out of the housing market, and as Gen Xers, we'd consistently got the short end of the stick, surviving long periods of war, recession, and the dissolution of that nice little thing called pensions, with Social Security not likely to be there for us when we need it. Anthony and I were in our forties and staring into a future that showed little promise of that thing our parents' generation enjoyed: retirement. 

We'd also seen the city change dramatically in our decade as Seattleites, and not usually for the better. I describe this in two farewell pieces I penned for the blog - Bye-bye, Bartell... And Seattle, Too and Seattle, A Love Letter.

We were able to buy a house in Chehalis, a burg of only 7,000 people located at the midpoint between Seattle and Portland.

My working life changed tremendously with the move. I continued to write and edit for the game company where I'd managed a team for the previous four years, but I stepped down from the role as supervisor, passing the baton to my number one hire. I worked 3/4-time and remotely, with once-a-quarter visits to the office. I now also had the responsibility of novelist, as Cat in the Flock had proved just successful enough to push me to write followup books in the series. 

Here's my work crew at our wedding.

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When Anthony first introduced me to Chehalis, I had been very skeptical. It's in a county with a relatively high unemployment rate, and its landscape has been ravaged by meth. But the rural vibe had a certain appeal, and what sold us on the plan was the cute Craftsman house we were able to purchase for a mere fraction of the price it would have fetched in Seattle. We found there a friendly, supportive community, and for awhile, it looked like we might stay.

But then that light bulb of an idea blinked off, in a hurry.

I'd made a solid decision to exit the game company after five years, bolstered by the success of my first novel. Unfortunately, a year after Cat in the Flock released, the self-publishing bubble burst. So I turned to the freelance writing that had provided an income in the past, both journalism and game writing. However, another problem surfaced: Anthony's grant would come to an end, and contrary to what his boss had promised him during the hiring process, she was not going to retire and vacate her (permanent) position. Also, the college president who'd foreshadowed great things for Anthony was, um, fired. With few job prospects in our vicinity, we were in danger of soon finding ourselves without health care and other benefits. Efforts to turn up other opportunities failed.

We'd also, truth told, had a rough time of it in Chehalis. Zander fell into some wrong crowds back in Seattle, and we had to resort to some pretty drastic interventions in order to get him back on track. Of course we blamed ourselves even if it wasn't our fault, and it didn't help that the kid's mother tried to cast blame on us as well. We moved him to Chehalis with us, and he finished his last year of high school there. We also suffered a series of major health problems, and unfortunately discovered that Chehalis' medical offerings left a lot to be desired as we found ourselves taking frequent (and expensive) jaunts to Seattle to see specialists we wouldn't have to report for malpractice.

I know, this all sounds a bit too grave. Here, look at this fun piñata pic from our wedding!

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Fortunately, our extensive efforts to circle the wagons around Zander paid off. We're the proud parents of a hard-working, upstanding, promising young man. He's enrolled full-time at University of Washington and works as an assistant manager in a grocery store. During this very trying spring, he donned a mask and continued on as an essential worker. He also turned out to support his community during the protests that held Seattle for much of the spring. He visited us for two weeks this summer, one as our official intern at Brunette Games.

But back to Chehalis. With the books not earning an income and the full-time job prospects for us both slim, Anthony and I again began to plot our next move. We scoured the scene for opportunities in Walla Walla, his home town, and St. Louis, mine. We got a hit in St. Louis.

After I spotted the university's call for applicants to teach game design in late spring 2017, things moved rather quickly. They offered me a position as visiting professor, and I'd need to start work in St. Louis in July. That left us no time to sell our house, get Zander off to college, pack up, and make the cross-country journey. It proceeded about as awkwardly as you can imagine, with Anthony and I living apart for three months, me trying to string together affordable Airbnbs and having some truly awful experiences (drug deals, broken appliances, and dirty dishes, oh, my!), and the two of us having to put our Chehalis home onto the rental market when it wouldn't sell.

Feeling blue again? Check out this place setting from our wedding.

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I wish I could tell you that St. Louis and this teacher gig were the answer to our prayers, but they were... most decidedly... not.

Fortunately for me, two of the games I'd consulted on and written as a freelancer gained attention, one for its experimental innovation and the other for its commercial success. Suddenly, I had opportunity out the ying-yang, just at a time when I realized the university had overstated its promise of release time for such professional pursuits. Soon I'd have not just a full-time job's worth of game writing on my hands, but enough to hire additional help. Still, I loved teaching, and I had really wanted the university role to work.

But in early 2018, I withdrew my candidacy for tenure. It had become clear that the department's toxic environment would only bring me intense frustration in the years ahead. I also had no respect for the other visiting professor in our rather new, rather small program, and I did not relish the idea of trying to work with him for the long haul.

I ended up dodging a bullet. By spring, my office was barraged with complaints against that other professor, one of them a very serious allegation of sexual harassment. I don't want to spend more ink on this than I already have, so let's just say that I was monumentally relieved that I'd already made the decision to leave. That individual is no longer working at the university, thank goodness, but the fallout will be long-lasting.

Now I know you really need to see this pic of what a little girl looks like when she sees the bride for the first time.

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So in 2018 I hired some of my former game design students, as well as the Seattle-based editor of my books, and we were off to the races as Brunette Games, official. We've been thick with clients and games ever since. By 2019, I was already overwhelmed with the demands of running a business as well as a team, so I cast a sideways glance at Anthony, who worked for a micromanaging boss he didn't respect. He'd landed a position at a local non-profit, but obviously, it was the wrong fit. 

He had a decade of experience in grant management, preceded by a decade in the game industry as a brand manager. We'd already taught together when, in my final semester at the university, we linked my course in narrative design with his course in tabletop games, and it was a huge success. We had a solid marriage built on trust and communication. Surely we could work together, too.

It's been a year and a half since Anthony joined Brunette Games, and we have no regrets. I'm not going to sugarcoat how excruciatingly stressful it can be to go into business for yourselves, but somehow, it's easier knowing you have each other's backs. 

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I call this our "six-pack" marriage for the six years packed full of major life events, and not any other reason. We certainly aren't sporting six packs here, and since we've both lost the ability to drink, we can't count on a six pack to ease our pains. 

But we can crack a joke like anyone's business. We never forget to laugh, or to reach for each other's hand.

P.S. Who took our lovely wedding photos? Alexandra Knight Photography.

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How to Build a Squash Tunnel out of Bamboo - for Almost Nothing!

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By Anthony Valterra

My father is a very handy man. He's the type of guy who sees a brick patio and thinks, "I could do that." And then he figures out how to do it. And actually does it. And it looks awesome. As his son, it is both heartening to see what can be done and discouraging when you see how often your attempts at doing something awesome falls short. But as my grandfather used to say, "It's good enuf fer who it's fer." It took me years to translate that from his Oklahoma twang to my more prosaic American standard into, "It is good enough for whom it is for." I always liked Grandpa's attitude towards life.

So, it is with this familial background that I announced with a casual and cavalier attitude that I would build a squash tunnel for the Dragon Flower Farm. I had no idea how. But we have the Internet, and I undertook some research. These days, however, it seems like there is nothing you can't buy pre-made. 

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This one is available from www.gardeners.com. No, we don't have any kind of arrangement with them. I'm just offering this as an example of a squash arch that's pre-made.

But with a limited budget, and with a DIY attitude, we decided to forego purchasing in favor of building. Most people build squash tunnels from things like cattle panels. Here's a step-by-step guide for doing that over at Jobe's. 

The cattle panel versions seem to be very functional, and we were leaning that direction for some time. In fact, we may have used that method if the shelter-in-place quarantine had not occurred. We were about to pull the trigger and go to our local big box garden/home supply store, buy some cattle panels, and go for it. But once the virus hit, we avoided going out to large, crowded stores, and the whole thing became a bit trickier and more DIY. One solution is the rustic, "let's-tie-some-sticks-together" look.

That one struck me as just a bit too rustic. I was hoping for something in the middle. Lisa and I were out for a walk, and we passed by one of our neighbors, who has a large grove of bamboo growing on the side of his property. Bamboo grows really fast. So, he has to cut it back a couple of times a year. He just has the city come and pick it up as yard waste. We'd already snagged a few of his excess bamboo canes previously, using them as tree stakes. And then the light went on - bamboo is great building material! He has all kinds of lengths and thicknesses. And since the shutdown, yard waste has not been picked up (with reduced staff and more garbage and recycling material being produced by everyone staying home, the city's workers were overwhelmed, and so they temporarily suspended pick-up). Well, talk about your win-win. He was thrilled to have us haul away all of his bamboo, and we got free building material.

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You need close to 30 canes to do this right. Any leftovers can be repurposed as garden stakes.

Now, all I had to do was figure out how to build a squash tunnel using bamboo. No biggie, right? Here is what I came up with. Will it work? I guess we will all find out by the fall. It will either collapse from the weight of the plants on it, be blown away in a storm, or be standing and provide some lovely images. Stay tuned to find out which scenario plays out.

First things first - what tools and supplies did I need? Well, other than the bamboo itself, this is literally all I needed.

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Saw, tape measure, twine, hand cutters, and a rubber mallet.

So the arch, all total, can be had for the cost of twine, provided you get the bamboo for free and already have these tools. Now here's how I built it.

I laid out two bamboo rods that were going to be my base supports to get an idea on the length of the tunnel.

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I then cut 6 pieces of bamboo into one-foot lengths, with a sharp 45-degree cut.

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These were going to become my stakes. They were surprisingly easy to drive into the ground. Using my hand and bodyweight, I could push them 6 inches into the ground and then use the rubber mallet to drive them down until about 2-3 inches stuck up above the ground. I then lashed the base supports to the stakes with the twine.

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Then I cut the side vertical supports the same way I cut the stakes - with a 45-degree end. This allowed me to drive them into the ground using just my bodyweight next to the stakes. 

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Overhead view - the sharp end will be driven into the ground next to the stake.

Once the vertical supports were in place, they were strengthened with horizontal supports on each side, which was lashed to the standing vertical support.

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Here you can see the vertical support driven into the ground and tied to the stake at the bottom and the horizontal support lashed to higher up.

All that was left to do was to bend the vertical support bamboo to form the arch and tie them together. If there is a place where this falls apart, it is here. I wish I had started this project as soon as I had the bamboo when it was still green and very supple. But I waited a few days and the bamboo had begun to dry out and become more brittle. It still bent, but I think it might be more likely to break.

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The full arch. I put another horizontal brace at the very top where the two sides of the arch meet for more support. We chose to leave some of the leaves on because we thought they looked nice. But as the bamboo dries, they may just fall off or be stolen by birds for their nests. We'll see. The real question is... will it support our squash? That is unknown. It also might be that the horizontal bracing is too high off the ground for the squash to reach, and there may just need to be more bracing on the sides for the squash to grow on. But that will be an easy addition if needed.

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Lisa inside the tunnel. This clearly shows the first horizontal brace might be too high up. It is about thigh-high on Lisa. We may need to put another one below it about halfway to the ground. And perhaps one above it as well. Stay tuned!

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How the Right Foods Can Help with Springtime Moods

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Image by composita from Pixabay

Editor's note: Today on the blog, we've asked Lindsey Thompson, an East Asian medical practitioner, to describe how everyday, healthy foods can help you decrease the heightened mood swings that often accompany spring. Lindsey manages an acupuncture clinic in Walla Walla, Washington, and yes, that is Anthony's hometown. This talented woman is our sister-in-law; she's married to Anthony's younger brother, Thomas. Here's Lindsey.

Early spring is known for remarkable shifts in weather. One minute it could be a brilliant, sunny day, and a moment later, winds drive in a hail storm that lasts for 20 minutes. Some spring days will take you on an adventure through all four seasons in a 24-hour cycle. This is the energy of early spring, and our emotions may follow a similar pattern of extraordinary mood swings during this season.

The effort it takes for our bodies to move from the inward energies of autumn and winter into the more expansive, outward energies of spring and summer are intense - and they can take our bodies for a bit of a jerky ride. You can observe this in the early springtime bulbs and plants this time of year. You may even see it in the people around you. You might see more road rage and more impatience in check-out lines, at coffee shops, and with people on the phone.

Most of us see the obvious signs in our emotions. Some might see changes in digestion. Others might experience wandering joint pain, and injuries to the tendons and ligaments sometimes get temporarily worse in early spring. For many people, seasonal allergies return.

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Image by cenczi from Pixabay

In East Asian Medicine, we look at nutritional ways of ameliorating the effects of spring on the body.

Our emotions can run the gamut quite quickly from the more expansive and rising emotions of anger, irritation, frustration, and anxiety, to the sinking emotions of feeling melancholy, or even a bit depressed.

In spring, these emotions can sometimes seem out of place. Often the rising emotions of anger, irritation, and anxiety seem like overreactions, while the sinking emotions seem to come on without rhyme or reason. If this is the case, then you are partially feeling the natural energies of early spring. If the mood swings have tall peaks and valleys, this is often an indicator that your liver and gallbladder channels need a little extra help, and that can come from your food.

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Image by congerdesign from Pixabay

The Power of Sweet and Sour

When emotions are of the rising, expansive nature, it is important to try to use food to anchor the energy of the body, and specifically, the liver. Foods that soothe the liver and consolidate its energy are equally helpful.

The flavor that soothes the liver is sweet - not the sweetness of refined sugar, pastries, and candy, but the sweetness found in root vegetables and whole grains. If you chew whole grains long enough, you’ll notice a natural sweetness that gets released in your mouth.

Root vegetables also help anchor the energy of the liver due to the simple fact that they grew deeply in the ground. Part of looking at Chinese nutrition is learning to see the metaphor in how the plant grew, to more accurately see how it influences the energy of the body.

Sour flavors can also aid in consolidating the energy of the liver back into the organ itself.

To put all of this together: On days or weeks when you're subject to an increase in irritability, frustration, or anxiety, look at combining roasted or steamed root vegetables with a sour flavor. Squeeze a lime over roasted sweet potatoes. Toss steamed beets with oil and your favorite vinegar. Consider including drinking vinegars, also known as 'shrubs,' or hibiscus tea into your daily routine to draw on more of the sour flavors.

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Greens and Herbs to Lift You Up

When our emotions are sinking in nature, we need to do the opposite. To counteract the emotions of feeling melancholy, weighed down, or slightly depressed, eat baby greens, sprouts, and the tiny carrots or beets that you thin out of the garden. These fresh baby greens are full of the energy and vitality of the young plants reaching upwards toward the sun. The energy in these greens is naturally lifting.

It's also important to use aromatic culinary herbs, as well as citrus, which can help move energy through the body. You might think about how to use spices like rosemary, basil, thyme, mint, lemon, orange and lime zest, and other energizers.

Simply making a salad with baby greens and roasted or pan-fried veggies, plus a homemade dressing with olive oil, tarragon, pepper, and lemon zest - will blend the rising nature of the baby greens, with the aromatics of the herbs in the dressing. You’ll further protect your digestion by adding some cooked vegetables to the salad, and voila, you have a meal or side dish that helps lift you up.

If you eat meat, consider rubbing chicken breasts or other meat with a mixture of aromatic spices before pan frying, roasting, or baking.

If you're near the Walla Walla area, you can reach out to me and my fellow practitioners for acupuncture and nutritional guidance at Thompson Family Acupuncture. If you would like to continue learning from me, check out our virtual class schedule here - you can take the classes from anywhere. I am also the author of a video series available online called Ancient Roots: What Chinese Medicine Can Teach Us About Our Diets

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Lindsey Thompson holds a master's in acupuncture and East Asian medicine from the Oregon College of Oriental Medicine (OCOM) in Portland, OR, with extra training in the Dr. Shen Pulse Analysis system, an 18-month internship in Five Element Acupuncture, and advanced cupping training from the International Cupping Therapy Association. After graduating from OCOM in 2012, Lindsey volunteered with the Acupuncture Relief Project in Nepal to hone her clinical skills at their high-volume clinic in rural Nepal.

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Fire! In the Middle of One Apocalypse, We Get Another

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This is the point where Anthony realized wetting down our fence was no longer the move. We'd just been advised to vacate.

By Lisa Brunette

It's been three weeks since the fire, but it still smells like smoke at Dragon Flower Farm.

I was sitting on the couch with my cell phone, on hold with a service provider, listening to the recorded Muzak. I had already showered and changed into PJs. It was early Sunday evening, we'd spent the day working on the farm project, and Anthony was in the kitchen, cooking. 

I smelled smoke and called out to Anthony about it, thinking it might be dinner. It was a nice day, though, and the windows were open, and suddenly, I heard people yelling. I also heard another sound: like a loud electrical burst. Then I noticed the smoke and got up to look out our back window. The neighbors next door often have bonfires out of a metal fire pit back there, and occasionally those fires have roared a bit too large for my comfort, especially since their pit sits on grass lawn. So I thought at first it was that. But then I noticed heat waves far too big to be caused by a fire pit.

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View from our backyard.

My heart pounding, I hung up on my still-on-hold call and tapped in 911. I gave Anthony the phone, as he was still in street clothes, and he walked over to get a closer look at the building where the fire was. I ran upstairs and changed out of my PJ bottoms into the first pair of pants I could find. I threw a jacket over my pajama top. 

If you've ever experienced a panic situation, maybe you know what this is like. Some other part of your brain takes over, assessing and prioritizing. It told me I didn't have time to change the PJ top. But then the order of things gets fuzzy for me as I look back now. I remember my heart pounding, a bitter adrenaline taste in my mouth.

At one point I looked outside the upstairs window and saw a huge piece of burning building fly into a pile of leaves. I grabbed the fire extinguisher. My husband was there in the backyard, hosing down our fence. The burning piece in the pile of leaves, thankfully, had gone out. But the fire was engulfing the back side of the house one building over, way too close. If it caught our neighbor's wooden deck, we'd be next, as there's barely a shoulder's distance between our two buildings. Our house is wood frame.

Here's a video taken by our neighbors on the street behind us. You can see they had a better view of just how bad this thing was.

There was a moment when the fire roared and we realized there was nothing we could do to stop its spread. A sickening, helpless feeling came over me. I prayed for the fire trucks, with their lifesaving water hoses. Anthony had not been able to get through on 911. But he'd seen that several other witnesses also had cell phones and hoped that someone got through. Soon the first fire truck arrived, and let me tell you that is the strongest sense of relief I've ever experienced.

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In the time before the fire trucks arrived, I felt helpless, as there was nothing I could do to save my home.

At some point I ran outside and told a police officer on the scene about the string of wooden decks in back, asking him if we needed to vacate. He said, "I would definitely do that, yes."

My lizard brain took over again, and I decided the only priorities were Anthony and Chaco, our cat. I told my husband we needed to leave, which I know was a hard moment for him, captured in the image at the top of this post. I'm surprised I had the presence of mind to snap that pic, but maybe my ecstasy of relief at the arrival of the fire engines had calmed me. Plus, I've always retained a bit of the journalist in me somewhere, so some part of my brain said this was a moment I wanted to get down.

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Fire departments from seven different municipalities responded to the alarm.

Getting Chaco meant grabbing my purse for my keys, as I realized we had not taken the time to get him a new cat carrier, and the last time we'd used his cloth one, he had successfully broken out of it at the vet. I would have to get him in the carrier and then into the car. By this time, the street was filled with fire engines from as many as seven neighboring municipalities, and the last thing we needed was for our skittish mini-cat to get lost in the fray.

It took some time to locate the cat carrier and then get him into it and into the car.

Luckily for us, we had the time. While that fire grew to an engulfing, raging size with alarming quickness, the fire departments were on scene and battling it before it could spread. Thanks to them, no one was hurt, and only one building was damaged. 

Ladder_Window

Everyone who lived in the four-family flat escaped unharmed, but the fire gutted their apartments, destroying everything they owned, only the brick structure remaining.

The fire blew out the windows in the building next door to us and melted the siding off the home on the other side. It blistered that wooden deck we worried would catch fire.

That was all just really too close.

Before the fire was extinguished, I worried about how we'd cope with losing both our home and business, since we work out of a home office. My anxiety was pushed even higher at the thought of having to continue to quarantine without a home to stay locked down within. My heart goes out to our neighbors, who've lost their homes during an already difficult time. We're glad to hear they received some emergency support from the Red Cross, and that all of them had a place in town they could go to stay.

In the middle of one apocalypse, they got another. After pandemic and then fire, what's left?

But it's always good to remind ourselves of how fortunate we are, and that goes for many of us in dealing with the pandemic. Anthony and I are very lucky we can continue to work through the quarantine, and are relieved that no one we know has suffered from COVID-19. We're also grateful to live in a place and time in which a formidable fire foe can rear its fearsome fury, and a legion of water warriors arrives to vanquish it... just... like... that.

Back_Deck

Our neighbors reported the fire was started by an accident with a barbecue grill. The enclosed porch on the back of the flat was reduced to char. Once the blaze was extinguished, firefighters pulled down what remained of the porch, just skeletal burnt debris. Here's how the back of the building looked the next morning.

Back_After

In addition to the prospect of having to rebuild our homes and livelihood if we'd lost it all in the fire, we also hated the idea of losing all that we've done at Dragon Flower Farm - the past three years' work to create something wonderful here we can both be proud of. We're grateful we haven't had to sacrifice that either.

Chaco, by the way, was unharmed. And he did break out of his carrier. At some point during the night, we looked over to see him perched on the dashboard of our car, taking in the whole scene. It was a surreal sight!

We learned through this experience that our disaster preparedness needs some tweaks. We've got a better cat carrier now, and it's in the coat closet within easy reach. We're also working on a "go bag" and other measures.

Front_Dusk

It's worth taking a moment to recognize the people who put themselves in danger in order to help others. It's quite a calling to be a firefighter. The rest of us could only stand on the sidelines - trying our best to maintain social distancing - and watch in awe as they did their swift, expert work to squelch the fire. 

I know our local fire firefighters had actually been hoping to pass a measure this spring for increased funding for equipment, but the election has been delayed due to the shelter-in-place order. We reached out to the fire department to see if we could donate, and they suggested we give to The Backstoppers, so we have. Their mission is to provide:

Ongoing needed financial assistance and support to the spouses and dependent children of all police officers, firefighters and volunteer firefighters, and publicly-funded paramedics and EMTs in our coverage area who have lost their lives in the line of duty.

The flat's brick structure is still standing, and there's every indication they will eventually rebuild. But for now, we have this view over our pear tree. It's a reminder of how close we came to disaster.

View_Backyard

But hope springs eternal here at Dragon Flower Farm. We're counting our blessings this season and looking forward to summer, and all that comes after.

Note: The fire was covered in 40 South News, and a local filmmaker created a short documentary of the event:

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