Beyond the obligatory photos of my kids playing in the snow, the first place I usually head to with a camera after a snowfall is a farm. Yesterday, with this intention, I put my winter gear on and out I went. But yesterday was different. A phone call from Michael, Patch's editor would have me heading to a farm for a different reason all together. A barn full of animals had partially collapsed. I headed up Jackson Hill Road with a sinking feeling. Having photographed this farm many times before today, I new it well.
Looming up the hill, flashing lights sent the message that something wasn’t right. A day that should have been defined by spectacular winter views was tarnished by misfortune. I ventured towards the barn with a heavy heart.
I could hear the boisterous murmur of a backhoe as it moved sheets of twisted roofing metal from the ground. A full-scale rescue effort was in full swing. Men and women from Middlefield Fire and Rescue were moving pieces of splintered lumber and debris. Strangely, the right side of the barn was fully in tact as the animals routinely went about their day. On the opposite side of the barn, a tragic story was unfolding. I could see four animals in the debris. Rescue workers dug with shovels and their hands trying to get to the trapped animals. Too make it ever more heart breaking; one of the trapped cows would periodically let out a large bellow as she let them know her pain.
I didn’t see any tears from anyone, which helped keep my emotions in check. They worked with purpose. They were trying to save lives. I knew my purpose. It wasn’t to record a rescue, but to capture the emotions of the rescue. I could see the animals that had already been brought out of harms way. Cows covered in lacerations were brought to the milking room in an effort to relieve their discomfort. The delicate operation of moving rubble and snow continued around the animals.
Soon, members of DART (the Durham Animal Rescue Team) came in with large boxes full of blankets and medical supplies. They got right to work. Painstakingly the rescuers would get straps underneath the animals to try to lift them from their entrapments. They would support the animals’ heads throughout the ordeal. It hardly seemed any different from the way they would work with human rescue victims. As each animal emerged, it was clear by their inability to stand, that some cows wouldn’t make it.
Throughout their efforts I closely watched the faces of the rescue workers. Resolved and determined, they worked in unison. Some seemed to lead, while others provided the essential hands needed to get the job done. It was cold; despite this, a woman from DART pulled off her gloves to get the dexterity she needed to administer meds. The scenery had familiar faces. In firefighter gear, I recognized local farmers that I often see at rural sites. This could have been their farm and you could see the purpose in their eyes. Throughout the whole ordeal the rescuers' compassion was apparent in simple gestures of touch and quiet words of encouragement.
From the hill I could now see the Durham Rescue team descend into the scene. Momentum had shifted and things were moving more quickly now. The rescue would continue into the evening.
I returned home to kids playfully jumping off of snow banks, a stark difference to where I had just been. I knew the rescue efforts would be ongoing and realized that the first responders would be missing dinners with their families and playtime in the snow. We owe a great debt to the people who do jobs like theirs.
Early this morning, I received a text from Margret, the manager of the farm. A calf had been born that she aptly named Faith. Somehow along with death, new life emerged. It’s my hope that the rescuers and farmers who witnessed yesterday’s losses can have some hope and solace in the early morning delivery. Maybe it’s inherent in the job, but a rescuer knows life’s value because they have seen it stolen away too often. The next time you see a first responder be sure to thank them for what they do.