by Kayann Short
A week after the flood, I woke early. My first thought: Are they gone? We’d heard rumors the day before that the barricade behind which our farm was corralled would be moved further west on Highway 66. The barrier had been hastily assembled to protect our nearby town of Lyons, Colorado, until its evacuated residents could return. Because our farm borders the highway over which the floodwaters rushed, we were caught within the restricted zone, even though we’d had no flood damage and no reason to leave.
I dressed quickly and walked down our driveway toward 66. No traffic on the normally busy highway suggested the barricade remained. We’d been to the checkpoint many times to negotiate with guards as we tried to conduct normal farm business. Officials weren’t happy we’d remained, despite crops and animals that kept us in place.
Now I turned onto the highway and looked to the rising sun.
The road was empty as far as I could see. No gates, no guards, no guns. During the night, they’d disappeared. Nothing remained but grey concrete vanishing into the horizon.
“Whoohoo! They’re gone!” I yelled, pumping my fist into the air that 66 would be open to our farm again. Then I glanced around. The road was clear of trucks and equipment. I was glad no one had seen me celebrating in the midst of our town’s devastation.
But the highway wasn’t completely bare. In the middle of the road sat a brown paper sack. I’d seen workers handed a similar lunch each morning. Figuring no one would return once the day’s work of rock and rubble began, I took the bag back to the kitchen without looking inside and forgot about it until John came in at noon. “What’s this?” he asked. Curious what some agency had packed for a laborer’s lunch, we found a tuna kit; small bags of treats; pita bread, a pear; and a Twix bar.
As organic farmers, John and I don’t each much packaged food, especially of the plastic cubicle variety. Still, someone’s hands had prepared this meal and some worker would go without. It didn’t seem right to waste food in these post-flood days when thrift seemed a virtue and feeding people was on our minds. Food seemed a gift, whether from the soil or a brown paper bag.
John ate the peanuts; I ate the pita, craisins, and Twix bar. The chickens loved the pretzels. Later, we told friends we’d composted the pear because it wasn’t organic. “Like the Twix bar was!” they teased. We’ve still got the tuna kit. It’s our take-away that life can change instantly, leaving you choices you’d never considered.
When disaster hits, people have little time to grab what’s most important. Loved ones–human and animal–come first; computers, photos, and family heirlooms next to preserve our lives before. But if memories were objects, which would you take as you rushed out the door? I’d take that morning’s call to an empty highway, “The barricade’s gone–and we’re still here.”
Kayann Short is a writer, farmer, teacher, and activist at Stonebridge Farm in the foothills of the Colorado Rockies. She is the author of A Bushel’s Worth: An Ecobiography (Torrey House Press), a memoir of reunion with her grandmothers’ farming past and a call to action for local farmland preservation today.