September 6, 2004 Simple Serenity Farm Update
by Carla Offenburger
Within a matter of 20 minutes Sunday evening, Chuck and I saw life – and Simple Serenity Farm – in a whole new light.
We survived a tornado, which was on the ground, bearing down on us from less than a quarter-mile away. Not only were we and our pets unhurt, but our house and other buildings were almost unscathed by this storm. Our trees are a mess, with huge limbs down all around our three acres, but that seemed inconsequential considering what could have happened.
We saw it – a funnel blasting a 50-yard-wide path of destruction. And we didn’t see how it could miss our house as we raced to the basement, knelt on the floor, hugged each other and the dog, and said a prayer asking that we be spared.
We heard it – roaring like a freight train, just like they always say – and we figured any second we’d be hearing the house tear loose above us and be gone.
But that never happened, and two or three minutes later, when we walked up the stairs and saw how light our damage was, we couldn’t help but tremble – in relief and in gratitude. The twister had passed just west of our house, apparently bouncing from a rise just southwest of us, above our west tree line, and then down and through our north tree line, taking the tops of several trees there. It probably came within 100 yards of our house.
A sudden violent storm blew in on us Sunday evening, September 5, at Simple Serenity Farm. We looked out our southwest window to see a huge funnel cloud on the ground, racing at us from a quarter-mile away, stirring a 50-yard-wide path of destruction. We ran to the basement, said a prayer and held our breath. It indeed sounded like a freight train roaring past us, and when it was gone, we came out to find things a mess. But we Offenburgers, the dog, three cats and the house were all fine.
About 90 minutes later, when we were sitting in nearby Jefferson eating a pizza that became our late dinner, we started trembling again when we remembered what we had done during the noon hour on Sunday – just six hours before the storm hit.
That’s when the two of us finally took time to go stand out in front of the house to read a special prayer. It had been written for us by our new friend Kathy Hankel, of Jefferson, as a highly unusual kind of housewarming gift. It asks for a special blessing to make the house our home. Kathy gave it to us a good three weeks ago, but I said we were not going to rush to do it. We’d wait until we had time to do it right, reading it together out loud and reflecting on what it means. Like I said, at midday Sunday, that’s what we did.
After what happened Sunday evening, Kathy, our thanks to you for this beautiful prayer is ever more profound.
More about that in a moment.
The storm, which hit about 6 p.m., roared violently across southern Greene County at 40 or 50 miles per hour, blowing down grain bins, corn cribs, a large livestock building and a whole lot of corn and soybeans on farms within two miles of us. It clipped just the northwest corner of the tiny town of Cooper, located a mile north of us, dropping trees and power lines and there was one report of an unused mobile home there being destroyed.
Miraculously, by nightfall, there were still no reports of injuries.
We’re now sitting and thinking of families who lose everything – a lot of people in hurricane-ravaged Florida are in that situation right now – and we can’t begin to comprehend the emotions they feel.
We lost little, except for some big tree branches. One of the biggest limbs that came down wound up resting against our front picture window, without breaking it. We think the south wall of our old garage may have been pulled slightly away from the other walls. Our picnic table and barbecue grill took a beating when they were launched some 50 feet behind our house.
Our heavy, steel-framed picnic table was tossed more than 50 feet north off our patio after a tornado passed less than a quarter-mile west of our house Sunday evening, September 5.
Everything that was on our wrap-around porch except for the old church pew is strewn around the yard. Out in my garden, the old hog farrowing house I’ve used as my tool shed was blown into pieces. I can see garden buckets clear at the back of our property, and perhaps beyond. I had picked garden produce twice on Sunday and left it in five-gallon buckets on the porch. Now we have fresh vegetables all over the front and side yards. I haven’t found those buckets yet. We had a pair of antique ice cream chairs on the front porch, and one is now in the patio garden and we haven’t found the other one.
It happened so quickly.
Chuck was working at his computer in the late afternoon and I was cleaning the living room. It had been windy and rainy all afternoon, and there were thunderstorm warnings for Sunday night, but we were unaware of any tornado warning. Suddenly I heard that sound like a freight train. I looked out our southwest living room window and there was the tornado – on the ground, on the rise just southwest of us. I yelled at Chuck to come NOW. He seemed slow reacting, and I yelled again. He barely made it to the window in time to say “get to the basement!” We hollered at Ginger, our old dog that instantly became as scared as we were, and we ran down the stairs to the cellar. There the three of us were, huddled together, with two of us asking God’s protection. I think I might have started to cry.
What we expected to hear above us was our house being destroyed. We both thought we were going to lose it. That’s how loud and ugly the noise was. Minutes later, we slowly walked up to see what walls were down or windows shattered. When the house was in one piece and still standing, our prayer of thanksgiving was immediate.
Chuck went right to the phone to report the tornado to the Law Enforcement Center in Jefferson. Within minutes, officials were driving our whole rural neighborhood, checking on the damage. There were Iowa Department of Natural Resources officers in a pick-up, a Greene County Sheriff’s deputy, fire trucks and a rescue unit from the Jefferson Fire Department, and a whole lot of other neighbors.
It was reassuring to see how quick their response was, especially since 15 minutes earlier, we had been thinking it was going to be entirely possible that we’d be trapped in our basement.
Chuck also immediately phoned our neighbor Jim Giese, who lives a half-mile to the west of us. He got no answer, but left a message, and was worrying that Giese’s farm might have been hit. But 20 minutes later, Giese called and could hardly believe what had happened at our place – because he had not heard or seen a thing!
“I was watching a movie, ‘Jurassic Park,’ and I was eating supper, and that’s why I didn’t answer the phone when you called,” Giese explained. “I can’t believe I didn’t hear that storm, as loud as you say it was.”
Chuck suggested to him that one of those roars he thought he was hearing from a dinosaur in the movie might, in fact, been happening between our two farms!
Violent weather bounced around western and central Iowa for several more hours Sunday night, and hopefully everybody has come through it as luckily as we did. And as we pick up our yard the next few days, I’m sure it will come even clearer how fortunate we’ve been.
So, as one little token of our gratitude, let me share the “House to Home Blessing” that Kathy Hankel wrote for our place. Just for the record, Chuck and I stayed dressed up after church on Sunday until we had read and reflected on this prayer in the formal way we thought it deserved.
We began reading it together – and aloud – while standing at the bottom of the steps leading up to our front porch, just as Kathy had suggested. We continued reading it as we walked up and into our living room. We paused at the end, kissed each other and then I put the blessing in our little treasure box. This is what we read:
“Hello! Greetings to the heart and soul of this new setting.
This is our chosen place. We have come to call it home.
We call down a Blessing upon this space.
May we have an increasing awareness that the Creator of the Universe dwells here.
May this space that we inhabit have spiritual meaning in our lives. A connection with each other, a nurturing one to the other.
May we be aware of the imprint of hands and footprints of those that came before us and will follow us.
May we honor the divine qualities of the materials of the earth and the talents of the craftsmen that formed this dwelling.
May we celebrate its wonders and peculiarities so that this space may contribute to our spiritual journey.
May we remember daily that mankind is a spiritual being on a human path rather than a human being on a spiritual path.
May we be worthy caretakers of this space and may our belongings placed within these walls honor each room.
May we obtain freedom here to try on different selves.
May we often find something new about ourselves in this space.
May our sleep be restful, our laughter be genuine and our work honorable.
May we let God be God and celebrate His Mystery.
We do indeed feel like Simple Serenity is becoming our home, and we feel blessed by many things – drinkable water, beautiful bean fields, a bountiful garden, pheasants, hummingbirds, the bald eagle flying above us on the Raccoon River Valley Trail, new friends who give us such beautiful words to sprinkle over our home, and now, surviving what could have been a deadly storm.
Twenty minutes after the tornado had skipped past Simple Serenity Farm on Sunday evening, September 5, a beautiful rainbow appeared overhead, offering celestial reassurance that all was well again.
It was quite a week.
One day early in the week, I walked in from doing errands in town and found a faxed report from the State Hygenic Lab taped to my computer with the word “Hurrah!” scrawled across it in blue. It was the second water test we had from Tim Haley, the Greene County Sanitarian, confirming our well water is now indeed safe for consumption. It won’t have to be tested again for a year.
“I looked it up, and we’ve tested your well 13 times,” Haley said. When asked if that might be a Greene County record on one new well, he said, ''Oh, yeah, by a long ways.''
Neither he nor well driller Gene Hicks has ever had this much difficulty getting a new well treated sufficiently to be in compliance with the state water standards. But they stood by us, confident that the coliform bacteria level would drop to a safe level and indeed it now has. Needless to say, we appreciate their persistence.
Meanwhile, work by our “Committee for a Super Cooper” continues on the fundraising effort to pay for new restrooms in the Cooper Community Building. We got a boost last Sunday, August 29, when the Cooper United Methodist Church’s had its annual ice cream social in the building and had their ''biggest crowd ever.'' Enthusiasm for the building improvements was contagious in that big crowd, and several donations were made in the next day or two.
We were shocked at how big the crowd was for the Cooper United Methodist Church's annual ice cream social, held on a Sunday evening in the Cooper Community Building. A $10,000 fundraising campaign is nearing its goal and will pay for new restrooms in the building, making it an even better gathering spot than it already is. The ''Committee for a Super Cooper'' is planning a number of new events there.
We have now passed the $7,000 mark on our way to $10,000, and with the restroom project now virtually assured, we’re beginning to plan fun public events in the building in the coming months.
I’ve been making fun of our committee members since they know most of the people who are donating. I tell them I’m going to get my readers to donate and when the checks arrive they’ll all have to sit around scratching their heads saying, “Chris Woods, wasn’t she Class of 1948?” And then another will say, “No, no, she was in the same class as Darrell, wasn’t she?” And I can be smiling at the end of the table, and chirp in with, “No, she’s my sister!”
So, dear readers help me out here – and help Cooper out at the same time – mail your donation to “Cooper Community Building,” Box 15, Cooper, Iowa 50059. And make it even more fun by including a note about something you “remember” about your Cooper years, especially if you were never here. I’ll be in stitches, of course. And we’ll assure you tickets when we start having craft fairs, holiday parties, church choir festivals, stage plays, dances, basketball tournaments and more.
Incidentally, at the church’s ice cream social, we introduced ourselves to George Henning, the farmer who owns the big terraced soybean field across the road from us which, as it has turned autumn gold the last two weeks, is as pretty as a postcard.
“George, I don’t think you’re taking enough time appreciating just how beautiful that soybean field is,” Chuck said to him. “So I want you to come sit on our front porch with us, and we’ll have a cup of coffee and just look at that field.”
George got a pretty funny look on his face, but then said, “You know, that field wasn’t worth a hill of beans until I put those terraces in, and now it’s won several conservation awards.”
We told farmer George Henning that he needed to come sit on our front porch so he could join us in admiring the beauty of his soybean field just across the road. He looked at us a little funny when we told him that.
There have been many other signs of autumn besides George’s gold soybeans.
The pheasants surrounding our three acres were all stirred up when the idled fields on three sides of our property were mowed, apparently to comply with Conservation Reserve Program regulations. What a project that appeared to be, mowing those 80 acres of weeds and grass grown chest-high. One tractor with a large mower behind it ran continuously for a full, long day. Meanwhile, we enjoyed watching the pheasants fluttering about, and I was thankful it wasn’t hunting season yet. I’m already worrying about whether I can provide a safe and effective refuge for the dozens of the beautiful birds that live around us.
Pheasants weren’t the only things flying around us this past week. We saw the smallest and most petite of birds, as well as the largest and most majestic.
One early morning I looked out on the porch and saw a hummingbird enjoying the red geraniums I have. I’m still thrilled that a hummingbird found my red flowers clear out here “in the middle of nowhere.” I realize hummingbirds are probably migrating right now, but I hope they remember me next year.
On Wednesday night Chuck and I took a quick bike ride up north to the Raccoon River bridge on the bike trail, and we were thrilled when a bald eagle flew right over us there on the bridge. What a sight it was! We hope it sticks around for the winter!
We continue to eat fresh vegetables from the garden twice a day, every day. Chuck is especially enjoying the Yukon gold potatoes I’m digging up. The squash are almost ready to pick, and the tomatoes are piling up. I’ll be canning tomato soup before the end of this coming week. I pickled more cucumbers, green beans and garlic this week. Everyone I know should be getting pickles for Christmas!
We’ve also found our way to Deal’s Orchard, owned by Jerry and Cindy Deal, just a few miles southwest of Jefferson, where we are buying our share of Gala apples to enjoy. Nothing is better than a fresh apple in the middle of the afternoon. I volunteered to work for Jerry during their fall festival weekend in October. I figured, why not? I’ll meet a whole lot of new folks and have fun doing it. And get paid!
Oh yes, life is good at Simple Serenity Farm. Real good, after what we went through Sunday evening!
So, what do you readers think of all this?
Sue Polk, Chuck’s sister in Elkhorn, Nebraska: “Glad to hear your water problem has been solved. I’m sure that has been a relief for you both. As for the garbage problem (deciding what to burn, recycle, compost, bury or get to the landfill), it made us think about when we were in Okinawa. We lived for about a year in an Okinawan village, where most residents were Americans, and the only way to dispose of garbage was to throw it over the East China Sea wall which was about a block from our house. When the tide came in, it would then wash the garbage out to sea. Gross! I was really opposed to this at first, and we let our garbage pile up for awhile, and then finally caved and decided ‘When in Okinawa, do as the Okinawans.’ It still gives me the creeps that we did that.”
Send your comments to carla@Offenburger.com or chuck@Offenburger.com
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